On Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Why I Love Marianne


At the beginning of December I was in the mood to read a lot of classics and that’s why I decided to participate in Advent with Austen. I didn’t manage to read or watch anything else that is Austen related apart from Sense and Sensibility  (1811). Today is the last day of the readalong. If you would like to read more enthusiastic takes on the book it might be good to visit Reading, fuelled by Tea.

What about my impression of Sense and Sensibilty? Boy, this was painful. Babushka-like reading. You know, the little doll inside of the little doll, inside of the little doll… Every time I peeled off a layer of pages, the book got magically longer and longer.

I suffered especially all through the first 100 pages. Yes, there were many witty sentences but all in all it was about money, marriages and talk, talk, talk. We could watch a bunch of nasty, fairly rich and scheming characters trying to kill time, marry right, secure their income and avoid at all times introspection and spending time on their own.

But then Marianne fell in love and started to suffer so terribly when Willoughby left for London, that I couldn’t help but being interested.

In many of the comments and posts I read, people state they like Elinor but not Marianne. Why? I think Elinor is a likable character but I love Marianne. She is the only truly honest person in this phony world and that’s why she falls so violently ill. She knows that there is a fine line between politeness and hypocrisy and her body reacts strongly to all the rules and laws of this society.

Some of the scenes in this novel made me cringe. I cannot picture myself in them. At 17, like Marianne, I would have fallen stupidly in love and ill as well. Nowadays, as a saner version of myself, I would just smash a few windows and ruffle whole bagloads of feathers.

Gossip and small-talk, insipid conversations and endless games is the essence of how the society in this book spends its time. People have to be glued to each other constantly. They can’t bear to be on their own. Although they are constantly around each other, they hardly ever connect. The only person who openly disregards this, is Marianne. She is often perceived as impolite, yet all she is, is honest.

I really liked her more and more. Whenever they arrive at a new place, she doesn’t participate in the tedious chit-chat that is soon to follow but walks off, looking for the library.

Elinor, however little concerned in it, joined in their discourse, and Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family, soon procured herself a book.

Pretending and lying gives her headaches and she retires to her rooms. Realizing that she has been betrayed by Willoughby affects her so deeply, there is no more behaving or pretending, on the very contrary, she litterally screams, cries and gets very ill.

Despite her psychosomatic ailments after Willoughby’s departure and his breaking up with her, the most critical illness is still to come.

After she hears what Elinor had to endure without being able to talk about it, she is so shocked about having been so self-centered that she develops some late reaction and falls even more seriously ill.

Reading his I was amazed how audacious this really is and how modern but then comes the final part and Jane Austen spoils it. When Marianne has recovered and speaks about her illness, all she sees in it is an experience that helped her better herself, make her more fit for society. It’s not surprising then, that Jane Austen marries the tamed Marianne to the man she thought so ridiculous at the beginning of the novel.

I really didn’t like the book as a whole but Marianne will from now on be one of my favourite heroines of all time and I would have wished for another ending.

As I wrote earlier, the book is witty. Language has always a prominet place in Jane Austen’s novels. The differences between Marianne and Elinor are never as eloquent as when they speak about things they like. This is one of my favourite quotes and one that made me like Marianne even more:

“Dear, dear Norland, ” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh!” cried Marianne, ” with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked to see them driven in the showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven, as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one, ” said Elinor, ” who has your passion for dead leaves.”

This was my fourth Jane Austen novel and it was the only one I didn’t like. So far Pride and Prejudice is still my favourite. But I haven’t read Persuasion yet. I have a feeling I will like it.

How about you, do you like Sense and Sensibility and Jane Austen in general? Do you have a favourite novel?

And what about the movies? I have seen Sense and Sensibility and liked the movie well enough although I thought Emma Thompson was far too old as Elinor. I liked the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice but I liked the film with Keira Knightley even better. Yesterday I discovered that I have a TV version of Mansfield Park on one of my DVD shelves.

34 thoughts on “On Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Why I Love Marianne

  1. My favourite Austen is Mansfield Park followed by Pride and Prejudice. I was disappointed in the film version of S&S as, like you, Emma Thompson was too old for the part. She couldn’t pass as a teenager and youthful indiscretion was partly what the book was about.

    • I haven’t read Mansfield Park yet, it’s the longest and after this adventure I’m reluctant to read it soon. But it’s good to know you liked it, it should be far better than this one then.
      Now that I read Sense and Sensibilty I understand the choice for the actors even less but to be honest, I think almost all the Austen movies have the wrong cast. Especially the Janes in the P&P. Emma may be an exception.

    • Oh yes, she is melodramatic but I didn’t mind it, she was too impulsive too and despised and loved quickly. Towards the end I felt they were chnging, Elinor became more emotional and Marianne more sober.
      The book as a whole didn’t not work for me, I found those endless conversations boring. But I’m looking forward to read Persuasion next year.

    • Oh I liked Northanger Abbey a lot, it was my first but it’s overshadowed by Pride and Prejudice, maybe because I saw the movies.
      I would have liked Marianne to wait longer until a worthy Willoughby (someone like him, I mean) would have come. It seems so sudden. She is ill recovers and repents and marries the person she didn’t really like. Of course she was wrong about him but still I think, he isn’t for her. And frankly, would you want a man who sees another woman in you?
      You did like Sense and Sensibility? I liked Emma.

  2. The first time I tried S&S I couldn’t get into it, but several years later I gave it another go and it clicked much better with me. I sort of like all the drawing room talk, but if you’re not enjoying a story it might drive you a little crazy! 🙂 My favorite is Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice is always a delight! I just watched the Keira Knightley version this past weekend (though I hate the ending they tacked on–heard it was only the US version?–and Donald Sutherland’s last few lines were sort of weird (or they came off sort of strange anyway)), but otherwise I quite enjoy that adaptation.

    • I was wonderrinwhether it was so much different from Pride and Pejudice in the drawing room talk parts… Pride and Prejudice captivated me. The story in this one didn’t, or let’s say Marianne’s did but this mix up with Edward felt so artificial.
      The beginning and how they were tricked out of their money was very good.
      I like the Keira Knightley version and remember having two endings on my DVD. I think there is a US one. I need to re-watch it as I cannot remember Donald Sutherland anymore.

  3. I liked both sisters – at the beginning of the book Elinor was my favourite but I gradually started to like Marianne more and more. I agree that the way Marianne’s story ended wasn’t very satisfactory and I would rather have seen her wait until she met somebody else.

    I’ve now read all of Jane Austen’s novels and my favourite was Persuasion – I hope you enjoy that one when you read it!

    • I love Marianne for her honesty and who can blame a young girl/woman to fall in love with the wrong man. She was not that wrong about his feelings after all. I don’t think a girl like Marianne would have married Colonel Brandon. I loved the ida of her studying six hours per day and improve herself. I also didn’t fully understand his love for her. It was purely based on looks and at that because she reminded him of another one?
      This was my third Jane Austen and I had a feeling it would be the one I would like the least. The title already made me always think it would be Pride and Prejudice’s pale sister.
      I’m looking forward to Persuasion.

  4. I’ve read this twice (admittedly, both times were a while back), and I just couldn’t get into it. Neither of them really impressed me as characters, and I recall just feeling annoyed the whole time…

    …of course, I’ll probably give it another go some day 😉

    • I tend to re-read when I either love or do not like a book. I’d say there is a chance I might re-read this one as well but first I have to read Mansfield Park and Persuasion.
      That you didn’t get into it the second time either, isn’t promising.
      I did like Marianne, she had such disruptive, almost anarchic qualities, too bad she had to be tamed in the end.
      But all in all, it’s amazing how boring these people were. And what about Margaret? Why was there a third sister? She had absolutely no use.

  5. “They can’t bear to be on their own” I’d say it wasn’t proper to stay on their own. They had no privacy. Jane Austen wrote in the family living-room and hid what she was doing.

    I don’t like Marianne as much as you do. To Romantic, that quote about dead leaves kills me. And why does she have to be ill? Every time a woman has a big emotion in a novel of that time, she gets sick and most of the time dies. But I agree with you, Marianne is utterly honest.

    I thought Emma Thompson too old for the part and it wasn’t good for the film. As I said to Litlove, my husband’s been calling Hugh Grant “Indeed” and Alan Rickman “Va chercher” since he watched this movie!

    My favourite ones are Pride & Prejudice and Emma. I don’t remember Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey very well, I should re-read them.

    I’ve seen the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice. It’s good because it’s really faithful to the book and Colin Firth is an excellent Mr Darcy (Though I don’t know why there’s so much fuss about that scene with the pond) But I didn’t like Jennifer Ehle. She looks too old for the part. I wish they had chosen Keira Knightley in the BBC version or Colin Firth in the film. (Matthew McFayden is a little “fadasse”)

    I think the film version of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow is good.

    • The narrator mentions it often that some of the characters dread to be alone and that’s why the y invite many people and they have to do things together constantly. I’m sure the was some pressure from the society but not to such an extent or she wouldn’t have mentioned it as being special all that often (I think at least three times throughout the novel).
      I think Marianne’s illness is a bit different from other illnesses but I would have to re-read a lot to know for sure.
      She is a very darmatic person and seeing her mature is something I would have wished but only to the extent that her emotions wouldn’t make her ill anymore. It still prefer someone who wants to break free from such a society.
      I have no clue what the fuss about the pond scene is all about. I think I saw it mentioned in Bridget Jones first and later watched ti and didn’t even get that I had already seen it. But Colin Firth isn’t exactly my type, I think I liked McFayden better and certainly Keira Knightley but I could have thought for a better cast for all the Austen movies, with the exception of Emma.
      Hugh Grant is indeed an “indeed”….prototypically British

  6. I really liked Marianne’s inability to pretend and be hypocritical in society. I felt it was refreshing after Elinor’s endless self-twisting to be what the company wanted. But I felt that Jane was brave to write her, as it was so clearly unacceptable for women to speak their minds and to choose to be alone. In fact, having written that sentence, it feels like nothing much has changed!

    • I couldn’t agree more, I liked Marianne, and thought Jane Austen was audacious and can see how illness was one of the only possibilties to gain some privacy. The ending clearly shows how unacceptable the whole concept of a woman speaking her mind and acting so impulsively was.
      I wonder if it would eally not have been possible at all to let her stay on her own and waiting for a better time…
      I think things have changed a bit… But really only a bit.

  7. Interesting review, Caroline! I have heard many people say that ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is one of their favourite Austens and so it was interesting to read your thoughts on it. I haven’t read this book but have seen bits and pieces of the movie version. I have read only one Austen novel – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – and I loved it the first time I read it in school. I read it again last year and I had different thoughts on it – Austen fans will kill me if I share my thoughts on my recent reading experience 🙂 I have seen the movie version of ‘Mansfield Park’ and I loved it. It has Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price and even Harold Pinter plays an important role. You might want to check that out, if you haven’t seen it already. I have ‘Emma’ for the English literature course that I am doing at university and I am hoping to read that soon. I want to do an Austen festival sometime and read all her books one after another and think on which ones I like the most.

      • Yes, and I have also read the book and I liked both very much. Especially the movie. I might re-watch it, I cannot remember what they said about Pride and Prejudice. I love it when he makes her discover Ursula K. LeGuin.

        • Yes, that Ursula Le Guin discovery was really good. I also discovered Ursula Le Guin through that movie 🙂 I read the book after watching the movie and for a change, I liked the movie more.

          • I think I read the book first and thought it was OK but the movie was quite good and now when I think back they have sort of blended into each other.
            Every time I watch the movie it reminds me that I want to read more Ursula LeGuin. Next year I will!

    • I felt a bit bad after I re-read my review and hope I didn’t hurt anyone but I found it so boring. It seems I’m not the only one who had a problem getting into it. I would be so interested to know what you were thinking the second time you read Pride and Prejudice. I liked it a lot. I have a feeling I will read Persuasion very soon. I really liked Marianne. It’s interesting that In the readalong most people rooted for Elinor.
      I’ll try and watch Mansfield Park although I haven’t read it yet.

      • I am sure other readers enjoyed reading your review. I actually loved reading your review and it was refreshing to see interesting thoughts on ‘Sense and Sensibility’, which were different. Your impression of Marianne makes me want to read the book 🙂

        Hope you get to watch ‘Mansfield Park’ and like it.

  8. Awesome perspective on this novel!! It’s actually my favorite by Austen, though I have yet to read Mansfield Park or Emma. I love your thoughts on Marianne, as well as her place in the book’s ending. And the 1995 adaption by Emma Thompson? Is SOOOO good. 🙂

    • Thanks a lot, Jillian, I think now, looking back, although it didn’t work as a whole for me, that Marianne is such a great character, it makes it worth reading this book. I have seen the movie ages ago, and remember I liked it a lot, I need to watch it again.

  9. Hi. I really didn’t like “Sense and Sensibility” at all, and neither heroine impressed me as worth imitating. The reasons for that, however, are funny, perhaps. As an undergraduate in college, I got involved with someone who was as bad for me as Willoughby is for Marianne, and I acted just as hysterically and foolishly as she does, and I’ve had time over the rest of my life deeply to regret it and feel shamed and foolish. While Elinor is admirable for not having behaved badly in societal terms, she is cold and seems to be lacking in passion and feeling. There needs to be a middle ground. My favorite Austen novel is still “Emma,” and I saw the Gwyneth Paltrow–Jeremy Northam movie version 9 times in the movie theatre, not because I liked Paltrow’s nasally whining delivery of her lines, but because I have always found Northam to be a good actor and gorgeous to look at besides. But I prefer just about any Austen to no Austen at all, so someday I will likely re-read even “Sense and Sensibility.”

    • I still have Mafield Park and Persuasion to discover, so I’m not sure which I will end up liking.
      I feel I’m more of a Marianne type myself but that didn’t make me like Sense and Sensibility. If we don’t like a charcater and can recognize some traits in ourself that would not exactly make us like a novel. I can understand you.
      Haven’t we all been hysterical and fooolish some time in our past? I know I was.
      I can’t remember the film version of Emma. I would have to watch it again. I remeber Jeremy Northam from the film version of another novel you like a lot – Possession.

      • Wow! I didn’t know “Possession” had ever been made into a movie. I will have to try to find it somewhere (our local video store only carries recent movies for a while, and not many at that). Maybe if it’s good enough I can justify ordering it from Amazon.com.? Or maybe I can find it at the library.

        • I had a feeling you haven’t seen it. Since I still haven’t read the book, I cannot compare book and movie. I liked the film a lot. Funny enough, Gwyneth Paltrow is in it as well but she is paired with Aaron Eckhart while Northam is the period character together with Jennifer Ehle.

          • Thanks a lot for the info. There’s a good movie out (sorry, I don’t know the actors, it wasn’t a Hollywood do, maybe BBC) of “Persuasion,” maybe from about ten years ago. It adds some action to that non-movement sense of plot one gets (and the sense of frustration) from reading the book. I guess what I’m referring to is the total exasperation I feel (spoiler alert) knowing that the main character has allowed herself to be “persuaded” not to marry the man she’s in love with in the first place. Then, he turns back up years later. I won’t tell you more than that, but the weakness of personality of the main character is annoying. Unless, of course, Austen could be said to be making an ironic point about the nature of persuasion itself, but in that case, she needed to spend more time weaving theoretical webs in the narrative, and less showing us this timid Tessie of a character. Let me know what you think about the book, okay?

            • Strange that so many people identify with the heroine. On the other hand being peruade to do exactly the opposite of what one wants is quite common.
              I’m very tempted to read it now, just to find out whether I will like it.
              Let me know what you think of the movie version of Possession.

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