Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sense Sensibility by Jane Austen


My first choice read is Jane Austen's "Sense & Sensibility." Thankfully for me, I have a mother who collects old/rare books of classic authors and many of the books I'll be seeking out, I will not have to go further than her shelves and chests to find. The particular edition I'm reading is a hardcover 1961 5th printing published by The New American Library featuring an afterward by Caroline G. Mercer.

Sadly I admit that I've never read this book though I have viewed the 1995 Columbia Pictures movie several times with much pleasure. And not 10 chapters into the book I see already how much can be altered from page to screen. Only time will tell which I will prefer in the end. I'm in the midst of trying to sort out characters as I realize that some have been swapped in the movie. Lady Middleton (John Middleton of Barton Park's wife) has in the movie, the character of Mrs. Jennings, who is Lady Middleton's mother in the book. And that leaves me to watch the movie again to figure out who Mrs. Jennings is in the movie, for I know there was one. If I think about it too long and hard now, I will give myself a headache.

Now on to a few other random passing items I've contemplated as I've started this book. Besides the resemblance of my name, Eleanor, to that of one of the lead characters, Elinor, I was intrigued as I read Jane's description of Edward Ferrars while reflecting on his portrayal in the movie, to find that this character resembles my boyfriend. However upon introduction to Colonel Brandon in the book and equal consideration of his character in the movie, I have to say, he also resembles my boyfriend. So, before i divulge more of my personal life than I ever planned, I will wrap up this analysis with the conclusion that I have the happy situation of being suited by a man who is a mixture of the two men of interest in this book. As you can see, I consider this an honourable situation indeed!

And this brings me to a very late hour, no further than chapter eight, and the bottom of a hot chocolate mug that was intended to be enjoyed over the pages of Sense & Sensibility, not my computer screen! I had decided over the preparation of this mug of hot chocolate to start this blog because as I waited for the microwave to heat my milk and melt the carmel I had put in it, I was earnestly reading and eagerly anticipating an evening curled in my chair with the hot chocolate, making head-ways on my ambitions to read through the BBC top 100 reads list. What seemed only seconds later, I realized the contents of the mug had begun to overflow into a puddle on the microwave tray, caking my mug in chocolaty milk skin. With amusement I cleaned up the mess and headed to the computer determined to record moments such as this for I'm sure there shall be more to come!

II - Of Assumptions, Judgements, & Prejudices

Precious few books have been privileged to have my attention for more than one reading of it's contents.  I have approached reading with the assumption that once I know what is going to happen, the book loses it's intrigue and reading it simply becomes a waste of time.  Therefore, I have been happy to find myself quite engaged with the plot of sense & sensibility.  So much so, that though I know what is coming, this knowledge actually motivates me in pressing on in my reading, to the point that should you have happened upon my place of employment at 5:30pm today, you'd have found me sitting on the sidewalk, intently reading as I waited to be picked up after work.  I am attributing this to my curiosity of discovering how closely the movie I've watched follows Jane's original storyline.  I have been impressed to find that right through to Volume II, Chapter 9, where I find myself now, the movie deviated very little from the sequence of events and from the dialogue text directly, and definitely not from the dialogue context.  Minor setting changes and omissions took place and additions made on occasion, but all with relevance to the original story.  And less I bore nobody (as I have yet to see evidence that anybody reads these posts....) with further remarks of comparisons, let me quickly highlight a thoughtful observation I have just read:
"She (Marianne) expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself." (pg 162)  This discription caught my attention because lately I have become aware of my own judgements of others based on my experiences and feelings and realized the narrow-mindedness of such an approach to people.  It is this premise of relating to people that births racism and prejudices.  How selfish; to demand that others be the same as myself or at least relate to me in such a way that my preferred emotional state is effected.  My thoughts in this regard were initially triggered by a quote of Oscar Wilde's I came accross in some other reading:  "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."  This quote has other implications in addition to the sinario with Marianne, however, I found the similarity of the thoughts notable and valuable in reinforcing my need to accept people and open myself up to them objectively rather than subjectively.  I do hope I shall one day be an understanding person, who finds ways to identify with others but only after having discovered them for who they truely are before making assumptions of them based on myself.  My I learn quickly and save myself from the drama of a state of mind such as Marianne's!

III - Does any other specie attend itself to the romantic attachments 
of others like we humans?

What is with the excessive narrative of the pairing of Elinor & Colonel Brandon by their friends and relations?!
I was not prepared for that element of the story as the movie doesn't address it.  As much as has changed since Jane Austen's time, I do believe this human tendency is still strongly present today.  This matching of people with no understanding of the reality of their heart's position.  And very often getting it wrong, but continuing in the behaviour because of all the times we read the situation for what it actually is.  Or in considering Miss Steele's desire for people to verbalize a pairing up of her and whatever doctor it is that she's infatuated with.  Yes, we still feed these infatuations for some people and insensitively cause distress to others whose heart is not aligned with our assumptions, by our obsession with making a match.  For either situation our attempts at pointing out the possibility of intimacy is very unhelpful to the individual developing a healthy attachment.  Oh, why are we so driven to interfere?

IV - Reflections on True Love

I made it all the way through!  Jane Austen is so wordy and at times it made my head throb wading through her lengthy narrations, proving that I could use more experience with 19th century writing.  For as small as the book is, it has taken me long enough to complete it!  Since I've been comparing the book and the movie since I began reading this book, I won't stop on my final post regarding this book.
Overall I would say the book and the movie are very comparable and complimentary.  Where the movie omits, the book is comprehensive.  Where the book is wordy and over informative, the movie is dramatic and engaging.  I don't know what I would do if I was compelled to pit the one against the other.  I think having seen the movie, it enhanced my enjoyment of the book, yet now having read the book, I feel like I know "the rest of the story."
Such as the scene in the book that the movie omits of Whiloughby coming to clear his reputation with Elinor and seek forgiveness.  The movie leaves much of Whiloughby's and even Marianne's heart positions and conclusions regarding their relationship implied and to be assumed.  It works for the movie.  But it was so much more enlightening to me to have it all laid out in the book.  It helps me in solidifying how I view romantic attachments and discern character in spite of my feelings.
I liked how the book also elaborated on Elinor and Edward.  It gives information regarding their life together.  But then, the movie follows Marianne and Colonel Brandon's relationship much closer than the book does.  Jane informs us of Marianne's change of heart and general attitudes towards romance, but gives very little insight into how she becomes favourable toward Colonel Brandon.  Somehow it feels like I got cheated out of a romantic tale.  But in the end, the novel wraps up loose ends and describes what the lives of the main characters going forward from the plot entailed.  Whereas, the movie tends to leave you hanging on several plot lines.  But such is the way of literature versus the way of motion pictures!
As I close this book and return it to mom's chest, I do so with respect for the wisdom I have gained from it's story.  It feels very relevant to me and anyone who is willing to accept what Jane is trying to present to us regarding the management of our emotions especially in relation to romantic attachments.  Only in honesty and self examination are we able to see past our emotional fog and others' image smoke screens into the character driving their actions.  It is not easy being open to reality.  Marianne was devastated to realize that selfishness drove Whiloughby in his interactions with her more than love for her.
Which leads to another subtle message from Jane about recognizing true love.  It has taken a lot of agony for me to recognize true love in my life.  It's easy to judge the presence of love by how I feel rather than by the actions of the one loving.  In Sense & Sensibility, Jane shows us that true love comes down to sacrifice.  The person who is willing to sacrifice everything that would benefit them for the good of someone else, is the person who is loving.  The other behaviours that arouse romantic attachments tend to be rooted in selfishness and result only in infatuation.  At the end of the movie I had always had this sense that Marianne was robbed of some happiness in her loss of Whiloughby.  But in the book Jane points out through Elinor's analysis that Whiloughby and Marianne would not have been happy together because he was not devoted to her.  His life would have been devoted to his own happiness and no marriage is happy if one or both of the partners is seeking their own happiness.  Even though Whiloughby's feelings for Marianne were true affection, they were still driven by his own experience of happiness rather than seeking the good of Marianne.  Here is the hardest and least learnt lesson in love.  Perhaps that is why I have read on reviews all over the web that this is most people's least favourite of Jane Austen's novels.  I cannot speak for myself, because this is yet the only one of her novels I have read.  But no matter where this novel ranks on my Jane Austen Novel favourites list, I will always regard it as a book that offers wisdom and food for lots of serious thought if I am willing to consider the ideas presented.

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