Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1811 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Cast
Despite having already made one attempt at this book, I decided to make it my third read in the audiobook series. I never finished it on my first read-through and despite having read 60% of it, I remembered nothing of the content, so I knew a re-read would be more like a first read now that I’ve discovered my appreciation of Austen.
I read the full cast audiobook in just 2 days and loved it so much more! I’d still place P&P at the top of my list, but I’m between S&S and Persuasion for the second. I think I’d give the edge to S&S as overall I enjoyed it more than Persuasion, I just didn’t like the ending quite as much. Had the ending gone a different way I think this might have been a 5-star read for me, but alas, I have a few criticisms.
First let’s talk about what I liked though. This book was about sisters! I know her other books have sisters too, but the relationship between Elinor and Marianne was really central to the theme of this book (though I do love Elizabeth and Jane’s relationship in P&P as well). Elinor and Marianne embody the title of the book and despite their close relationship, could not be more different from one another when it comes to their approach to love. Elinor is sensible while Marianne is wildly romantic.
While the book starts with Elinor’s flirtation with Edward Ferras, we are quickly swept up into Marianne’s whirlwind romance with Mr. Willoughby. Elinor makes no assumptions about her relationship with Edward, but Marianne abandons almost every sense of Victorian propriety in her desire for Mr. Willoughby. And through it all Colonel Brandon stands patiently by wishing both sisters all the best. I definitely related more to Elinor and found Marianne to be too impulsive, but I did come to love her romantic heart and appreciate that though over the top – her feelings were thoroughly encouraged by Willoughby and that she shouldn’t held too much to blame.
The one thing I did remember from this book from both readings was the conversation between Mr. Dashwood and Fanny in the first chapter of the book. I bring it up because I think it is such a fine example of Austen’s brilliance. It’s not often that you see so much dialogue in a book, but Austen really is the master of it. One conversation between John and Fanny about the fortunes of the Dashwood sisters told me everything I needed to know about both their characters. They really are the most odious people and if I was Elinor I would have found it so hard not to call them out on their selfishness and greed.
As a villain, I think Mr. Willoughby may be one of my favourites thus far. He is so deliciously evil, yet we get to see something from him that is absent from both villains in P&P and Persuasion: remorse. He’s still a total scoundrel, but his final conversation with Elinor humanizes him and I enjoyed getting to see a more 3-dimensional villain. That said, I also loved Elinor’s observation of his fickleness. He’s able to regret that he married for money rather than love now that he has the comfort of money. But had it been the other way around, he likely would have had the same regret that he married for love now that he had no money.
What I liked about S&S as well was the return to a well developed love interest. Colonel Brandon was such an example of caring and goodness. He’s a constant throughout the novel, yet he never asks anything of the Dashwood sisters. He supports them both, assists them in any way he can, and only wishes them both every happiness. We get an interesting back story about him that again, demonstrates the strength of his character.
What disappointed me was how the romance was resolved. I liked both Elinor and Marianne, but as the main focus of the novel, I related much more with Elinor and wanted so much to see her happy. I thought everyone was misreading Colonel Brandon’s intentions and that he was actually going to end up with Elinor. I cared much less for Edward. The whole saga with Lucy only served to make me care more for Elinor and resent both Lucy and Edward. I know we’re told he no longer cares for Lucy, but has too much honour to get out of it, but the treatment of the whole thing made me think him unworthy of Elinor.
He lead her on in the beginning and though he had real feelings for her, I felt he should never marry Lucy just because he made a promise to her. I understand that the thought was very different in Austen’s time and that couples came to really know one another after the marriage and that once a proposal was made, it should be kept, but Austen was ahead of her time and I thought Elinor and Colonel Brandon would have made a better couple. I would have been totally fine with Marianne not finding love at all in this book. She showed a lot of growth at the end and came out of her heartbreak with renewed love for her sister and appreciation for her family.
Which brings me to my final point. While I could see Elinor with Colonel Brandon, I just couldn’t see him with Marianne. They had little interaction throughout the novel and less chemistry. He was enamoured with her musical talent, but I thought he shared an emotional connection with Elinor and I found it hard to believe Marianne would fall for him. Likewise with Elinor becoming attached to Edward at the end, I felt we never really got to know Edward and I struggled to understand Elinor’s love for him.
So overall I really enjoyed the characters and storyline, but the ending left something to be desired. Austen is still a romanticist and I just wasn’t feeling the final pair-ups.
Highlights of the book for me were (in no particular order):
– the opening dialogue between John and Fanny Dashwood
– the relationship between Elinor and Marianne
– everything about Colonel Brandon, particularly his backstory
– Marianne’s unbridled desperation to see Willoughby
– the added depth to Willoughby’s character
– John Dashwood hoping everyone else but him would provide for his sisters
– John Dashwood not understanding why Colonel Brandon would selflessly help someone not from his family
– Lucy Steele being ridiculous
– Elinor constantly telling Marianne to restrain herself
– Marianne corresponding with a man out of wedlock *gasp*