Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Jane’s First Novel Makes Much Sense

Mention Jane Austen and people go “Pride and Prejudice.“Why don’t they go, “Sense and Sensibility?”  It was, after all, her first novel, and it has much going for it.  Okay, okay, Edward isn’t exactly Darcy, but all the other elements are there:

  • close sisters (Marianne and Elinor meet Elizabeth and Jane)
  • an annoying mother (not Mrs Dashwood–Mrs Jennings)
  • an insufferable matriarch (boo Mrs Ferrars)
  • mixed up romances (just hang in there, Marianne/Elinor/Lizzie/Jane)
  • a charming cad (yo whazzup, Willoughby–yah, itz good, Wickham)
  • wealth (30,000 a year!)
  • poverty (250 a year!)
  • sex without marriage (tsk tsk Kitty, poor Eliza)
  • catty women (meow Fanny)
  • happy endings after waiting and waiting for things to get sorted out
English: "I saw him cut it off" - Ma...

English: “I saw him cut it off” – Margaret tells Elinor that she saw Willoughby cut a lock of Marianne’s hair off. Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London: George Allen, 1899. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, why doesn’t Sense and Sensibility make the connection with JA word association?  It might be because we relate to “pride” and “prejudice” more than we do “sense” and “sensibility.”  What the snuffbox is “sensibility” anyhow?

According to the old Wikipedster it relates to sentimentality or the emotional response, which JA wasn’t too keen on, and hoped her novel would point out the need to have rationalism rather than emotionalism. I think we moderns can respond and relate to the emotional response idea but we don’t necessarily live there.  Instead I think we counter react by not not reacting and create characters known for not having emotions, like House or  siccing out zombies as a means of coping with sensory overload.  Hysterics are in vogue right now it seems; on the other hand we do recognize everybody or every creature isn’t all bad. Maybe that’s why monsters these days have feelings.  Unlike the original Barnabas Collins modern vampires twinkle or is that sparkle? Perhaps that explains the odd coupling of monsters with Regency mavens such as Elizabeth and Elinor. Could it be Regency meets Modernism?  An odd ying yang match? Give me the old-fashioned classic sans monsters, please.

Another theory about the second novel surpassing the first is Jane’s choice of title. I’ve been trying them out:

1. Practical and Passion–still has that alliteration and ideology
2. Sedate and Sensitive–nope, sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit
3. Reason and Raison d’être–or is that the same thing?
4. Sensible and Silly–that’s being rather harsh on Marianne, I suppose
5. No-nonsense and Neurotic–maybe too modern

Pride and Prejudice is definitely a great read, after all it’s a classic; personally I believe it makes for better films than a novel.  Of all the JA novels I’ve been revisiting, Sense and Sensibility is the only one I’ve snuck to school in hopes of reading on my lunch break (two pages before students found me).  Maybe it’s because I “watched” while I read since I had just come off a three film S&S film fest (1981, 1995, 2008) and had each major scene indelibly imprinted in my mind as I scoured the chapters comparing and assessing the plot.

So far in my rediscovering reading of JA Sense and Sensibility leads.  I’m off to reread Persuasion. I’ll let you know the score after I turn the last page.

REad ThiS                                                                                                   NOT ThiS


  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

    image: Barnes and Noble


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5 thoughts on “Jane’s First Novel Makes Much Sense

  1. Always avoided this sort of classic, possibly thinking of having a crack at one this year though maybe…

  2. Pingback: Egads, Those Cads of Literature « cricketmuse

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