Sense and Sensibility

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The Classics Club Spin #6 was good to me and not only did it land on a book I already owned but one I really wanted to read fairly soon: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. If I remember correctly this was the first Austen book I read when I was a teenager, choosing to shun the more conventional and better known Pride and Prejudice in the first instance. This was over a decade ago ( god that makes me feel old) and although I have watched various adaptations since then, such as the fantastic Emma Thompson one and one starring Dominic Cooper, I have been looking forward to a reread.

Sense and Sensibility follows the lives of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, from the death of their father and the subsequent loss of their family home to the dilemmas of love and loss that all women in an Austen novel seem to face. Elinor, the older sister, embodies sense; she loves Edward Ferrars but knows she cannot have him and so she carries her heartache with quiet dignity. On the other hand, her younger sister, Marianne falls head over heels in love with the cad, Willoughby and when he inevitable breaks her heart she falls into a devastation and simply cannot function because the loss of Willoughby is just too much.

I love Sense and Sensibility. I loved it when I first read it and I always had a sneaky suspicion that I loved it more than Pride and Prejudice and reading both of them in recent months I know that I do. What’s not to love? It has all the usual love drama of an Austen novel and a happy ending. The characters are so perfectly created that even over 200 years later you can spot their modern day counterparts in real life; we all know a meddlesome older lady who whilst annoying and a bit of a busy body, means well (luckily my grandma doesn’t understand the internet so she will never read that comment and to be fair I could be talking about her sister ha). I think her characters and how relatable they are is one of the reasons why I enjoy Austen’s writing and arguably why she has remained a significant part of literature as a whole. Everyone loves a story with good guys and bad guys and then a lovely happy ending, at least I know I do. And I do love a romance story every so often.

Overall, an enjoyable read and what made it even better was the lovely British sun over the weekend so I could actually sit outside, read and tan/burn slightly. I always find it so much easier to completely relax and read for hours when the sun is out and I can just lie there and not have to worry about anything. It doesn’t help the work situation, but hey ho, I’m happy. In the past year I have reread three of Austen’s novels (Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility) and I think now I’m halfway through, not including the unpublished one, I might as well continue and aim to the read the remaining three in the near future, mainly because I have a great looking book called What Really Matters in Jane Austen? that I have yet to pick up and a refreshed reading of her novels will certainly enrich my experience reading this book.

Challenges

As I said I reread Sense and Sensibility as part of The Classics Club Spin, so that’s one more book ticked off the list. ;

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Mansfield Park

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Last August I took part in RoofBeamReader’s Austen in August event and i was keen to participate again this summer; having read all six of Austen’s novels I was always going to be going for a reread, but the big question was which one? I’m not sure why I chose Mansfield Park, for a while I was trying to convince myself it was the novel I read the furtherest ago (if that makes sense?) but it isn’t, that honour goes to Sense and Sensibility. But whatever my reasons this was the book I took with me to Devon to enjoy on my week away.

At the age of nine, Fanny Price is sent away from her ever growing family in Portsmouth to live with her wealthy Aunt Bertram and her four cousins at Mansfield Park. At first she is scared, timid and unbelievably shy, believing that she is a burden to the family and that they few her as inferior. Whilst this is true for the majority of the family, her cousin Edmund encourages and welcomes her and she starts to feel more at home as the years go by. When Fanny is eighteen the society she lives in welcomes brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford and so the troubles begin, with illicit love affairs, unrequited proposals and family shame thrown in to the mix.

As I was reading Mansfield Park I glanced over the suggested book group questions at the back of my edition and became intrigued by one question in particular; how different is Fanny Price to other Austen heroines? The more I read the more I began to ponder this question, especially as my interest in the narrative wavered from time to time, something which rarely happens during an Austen novel. Usually I am swept away in the trials and tribulations of the feisty and animated heroine, but this was not the case and so I returned to the book club question. Yes, Fanny is incredibly different to the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse. It is true that she is virtuous, loyal and moral, everything a woman in the early nineteenth century was supposed to be, but she has no fight. When she believes Henry Crawford’s behaviour towards her engaged cousin is immoral, she says nothing. When she is scared her much loved cousin may marry the wrong woman, she says nothing. When she is abandoned for too long visiting relatives in Portsmouth, she says nothing. Admittedly she gets the life she hopes and dreams for at the end of the novel and she does deserve this, but she is a tad insipid for an Austen heroine in my humble opinion.

I was going to read Sense and Sensibility next and follow that up with Joh Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen? But I think I might make Northanger Abbey my next Austen read as it is a story I don’t really remember. Hopefully I’ll get round to it before the end of August, but I have started on an Agatha Christie marathon (more of which next week) so who knows.

Classics Club March Meme

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The Classics Club monthly meme for March is:

Do you love Jane Austen? Or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone?” (Mark Twain quotation)
Why?
Favourite Austen novel and why?

For me this is an easy question. I LOVE AUSTEN!

Austen has been on my radar since my early teens, but I didn’t read any of her novels until my mid/late teens and I didn’t study any of her novels until I was at university. In hindsight all of this was a blessing. It means I didn’t come to Austen with preconceived ideas or memories of drool teachers in stifling classrooms (as an English teacher I am determined to make any novels I teach exciting and engaging!) I came to Austen on my own terms, and yes I didn’t entirely enjoy Pride and Prejudice on first read, but luckily for me I didn’t write Austen off completely.

Since then I have read all of Austen’s novels and seen many TV and film adaptations and my love has only grown. Part of the reason I enjoy her novels stems from the witty language used throughout and the beautiful descriptions of each and every character. Yes, some of the characters grate on my nerves *cough* Lydia Bennett *cough* but they only add to the pleasure I derive from my read; don’t we all enjoy a great love/hate relationship with certain characters. The insightful depictions of family relationships and the trials and celebrations that come from these, as well as the closeness and the bond between sisters in the novels (not all) are one of the reasons her novels, for me, remain timeless.

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Arguably the most obvious reason Austen remains a well loved and prominent literary figure stems from the romantic attachments of her heroines. From Lizzie to Darcy, Emma to Mr Knightley, we can always expect a joyous romantic ending to an Austen novel. However, for some it is not the romance the endures, but the one that flashes by, that makes Austen novels a pleasure to read. A sentiment that leads me perfectly into my favourite Austen novel.

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Sense and Sensibility is my favourite Austen novel: I love the relationship between Elinor and Marianne and how their differences compliment one another and show up the flaws in the other’s personalities. For me it is the dastardly Mr Willoughby that earns this novel a special place in my heart. I do love a good villain. I find the confusion surrounding Elinor and Edward and their love for one another a fascinating storyline that still resonates with modern life.

And I don’t just love Austen for the novels. As mentioned there have been hundreds of TV and film adaptations of all Austen novels, as well as countless portrayals of her life, and it is through these that a share a special bond with my mum. She never seems to have time for reading (a truly shocking thought) however she does enjoy period dramas and it is Austen who holds the crown in this arena. You can’t beat a fantastic Austen adaptation: the beautiful buildings, enduring love stories and, of course, the ever present pianoforte!

Oh I have a yearning for an Austen-feat now!

Happy 200th Birthday

As I’m sure most people obsessed with books are aware today is he 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice and I couldn’t let this pass without marking such a momentous occasion. I reread the novel about a year ago (review)and haven’t watched any adaptations recently, but that doesn’t mean I can’t remember how amazing this novel is.

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So what is it about this novel that makes it such a popular read 200 years later? I can’t speak for everyone who adores this novel, but I am sure I can hazard a guess at a few good reasons.

Firstly, and arguably most obviously, is the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. How can you not fall in love with these characters and will them to be together? They are so blinded by their own pride and prejudice (see what I did there!) that they can’t see what is under their noses, and haven’t we all been guilty of that at some point in life? Elizabeth is so head strong and sure of herself that the reader wants her to succeed and outwit those irritating characters who try to tell her what they want her to do, and Mr Darcy is many women’s perfectly moody romantic hero.

Couple this with Austen’s simplistic and witty language and you have a novel that is a delight to escape into every time you pick it up. Austen is a master at creating hugely entertaining and loveable characters; even the annoying ones like Lydia are still a joy to read about and secretly hate!

I was watching a feature on Pride and Prejudice on the news this morning and a lady made the fantastic perception that thanks to Colin Firth’s wet shirt portrayal of Mr Darcy, a new generation of readers were introduced to, and consequently fell in love with Darcy, Elizabeth etc. Being all of 7/8 years old when the BBC made this adaptation, my introduction to Pride and Prejudice films comes from the more recent film version starring Kiera Knightly, so I am slightly bias and prefer this version, but I admit I can see the attraction on this one.

Oddly enough films are not the only spin off merchandise you can buy related to this novel, and on my little internet browse of book covers I found some lovely book confetti and a beautiful poster version on the novel too! Sadly I can’t afford to purchase anything as I am on the move yet again, but I can dream….

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Jane Austen: A Life

I have been pretty quiet on the whole blog front this past fortnight, mainly because I have been in London and off on holiday, but I will get to that in my Weekly, or should I say fortnightly since that’s what it will be this week, up date. Luckily I am still able to get blog updates on my phone and ipod, so I have been able to keep up with the blogs I follow, which I really enjoy doing. Due to all this craziness I have only finished one book, fortunately it was a good one!

Claire Tomalin first came to my attention when I heard snippets from her Dickens Biography on the radio, and since I have a teeny hatred for hardbacks (they are expensive, you can’t really read them in the bath and you certainly cannot carry them about in your handbag) I decided to wait until it came out in paperback. Yes, I realise it is available now, but I am supposed to be on a book buying ban, which I forgot about until just now and I bought two books from a charity shop this morning, but they were only 50p each, so how could I refuse? But anyway, we will forget about that mini transgression, and move on to Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen is an author I imagine most people have heard of, maybe they have only heard of one of her novels, or seen an adaptation on TV, but I think it is safe to say that she is a well known British author. But like most authors, it is her novels that hold the deepest interest for me. I did not study Austen at school, so came to her novels in my late teens, starting with the obvious, Pride and Prejudice, and finishing last year with Persuasion. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her novels, and admire her style of writing and how cleverly she has captured the trials and tribulation, loves and losses of all her characters…if only my own love life was like a Jane Austen novel! Despite all this, I knew very little about the woman herself: what inspired her? Why did she never marry? And something as simple as how many brothers and sisters did she have? So I was in dire need of a good Austen biography, and, although I have only read this one, I don’t think I could have picked anything better if I had tried.

Jane Austen: A Life is an incredible biography. It is well thought out, detailed, full of interesting snippets of Georgian life and the lives of the Austen family, and a completely engrossing read from start to finish. Tomalin offers detailed descriptions of the lives of Austen’s relatives and how they impacted on her and her writing, which was fascinating to read about, as it is obvious that Austen would not have succeeded without the input and support of her family, as female authors were a rarity in early 1800s Britain. It was great that Tomalin didn’t stop exploring the lives of the relatives as soon as Jane died, and instead discussed their achievements, and what they did with Jane’s letters, the majority of which were sadly burnt by various relations.

I know Jane Austen is almost synonymous with the city of Bath, and it was great to read about her experiences in the city. I was surprised and also quite pleased that one of the first house the Austen family inhabited in the city was on the same street as one of my brother’s old houses.

Tomalin dedicates several chapters to detailed discussions on Austen’s work, and these were possibly my favourite chapters. Tomalin offers valuable insight into all of Austen’s writing, from her novellas to her more popular novels, and I loved reading these sections. They really made me think about my own experiences with Austen and I cannot wait to reread all her novels with Tomalin’s comments in mind, as I know they will only benefit my reading.

I don’t like folding down the pages of some of my books, but I have made three tiny exemptions to my copy of Jane Austen, so I must have done so for very good reasons. I haven’t looked at them again until now, so who knows what I will find. Oh yes, so I have highlighted two particular quotes from Austen’s writing that I found somewhat significant to myself, both of which that made me smile for different reasons. The first comes from the novella The Watsons, and is on the subject of teaching, as a newly qualified English teacher, I do enjoy quotes about teaching.

‘ I would rather be Teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’ Elizabeth, better informed about the harsh realities of women’s lives, replies: ‘I would rather do any thing than be Teacher at a school…I have been at a school, Emma, and know what a Life they lead.’

Not sure I would have chosen a career in education back in Georgian times. The next quote also links to being single (yes this is very much on my mind at the moment) and is from Austen herself to a niece who is umming and ahhing over who to marry.

‘Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.’ How true!

The final fold was on the last page, primarily due to the last paragraph. It is incredibly long, so I am not going to retype it, but it speaks about Jane at various points in her life; as a child who loved reading, as a young adult who missed out in love right through to her prolonged illness that led to her early death. It is a poignant last paragraph, and reminded me why I had read the book and just what an incredible woman Jane Austen really was.

Pride and Prejudice

Oh I love Pride and Prejudice! I haven’t read it since I was at Sixth Form about six years, so finally re-reading this novel was a lovely end of PGCE treat. This is a story I know so well, being a HUGE fan of the most recent film and having watched the BBC Colin Firth version fairly recently, but it amazes me how Austen’s writing seems so fresh and kept me interested throughout my reading – yes it’s a cliche, but I couldn’t put it down. I could quite easily bang on about how much I love this novel, but I am going to demonstrate some self control and discuss a handful of sections I highlighted during my reading. I have a few versions of this novel: book form, on the Kindle and a version starring me as Elizabeth Bennet, which was a brilliant and unusual birthday present from a friend, but I opted for the Kindle, as I hadn’t picked it up for a while.

Let’s begin with the frightful Mrs Bennet and the truly terrible Lydia, who just becomes more irritating as the novel progresses. Straight away Mrs Bennet puts Lizzy down, claiming she is not as ‘handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia.‘ and this is an attitude that continues throughout the novel, with Lydia hardly able to put a foot wrong, whereas Lizzy is an embarrassment to her mother; the irony is that our perceptions of Lizzy and Lydia are reversed. This in turn leads me to Lydia, who drives me up the wall. She is selfish, irritating and a nuisance! Her flirtatious manner and her complete lack of regard for her family very nearly leads to her sisters’ ruin, and the best part is that she doesn’t even acknowledge the impact her actions will have on those around her. Her smugness on her marriage is infuriatingly good; when Mrs Bennet asks her to write often, Lydia responds with:

‘As often as I can. But you know married women have never much time for writing. My sisters may write to me. They will have nothing else to do.’

This is just classic Lydia; the world revolves around her and her life is the most fabulous and exciting. However I do like an annoying, love to hate character in a novel, and Austen has created a perfect one in Lydia, who, despite the various social changes to her life during the course of the novel, appears to progress or develop very little as a character. She is the same shallow and selfish little girl throughout.

Another of my love to hate characters who made an appearance in my recent Top Ten Baddies post is Lady Catherine De Bourgh. I highlighted the funniest quote relating to her which sums her up perfectly in my mind.

‘The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.’

Oh how I would love to have the power to determine the weather, and have people believe me…although in Britain it isn’t hard since there is always a high percent chance of rain!

I mentioned my love of the film version of Pride and Prejudice, it always makes me cry and moan about how I wished I lived then. I just had to share my favourite scene in the film (and one of the best parts of the novel); The Bennets’ reaction to Lizzy turning down Mr Collins’ proposal. Their differing reactions are hilarious, and just reinforce how different the Bennets are as a couple.

Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading Pride and Prejudice and this has just made me eager to begin re-reading all my Austen books, but alas they will have to wait. For the time being I am happy with my brief revisit to the romantic, beautiful and fabulous world of Jane Austen!