I live in a retirement community where the connecting buildings house over a thousand residents. The management encourages us to start clubs or activities. I started a club devoted to reading Jane Austen’s novels. Although I want the discussion to be able to go in any direction, as long as it is about the novels, I supply a list of questions to get people started.
We are reading the books in order of publication, which had us start with Sense and Sensibility. For every book, I have some generic questions:
- Did you like [Whichever Novel Being Discussed] Why or why not?
- Is there any scene that you enjoyed more than others? Explain.
- Is there any scene that you disliked? Explain.
- Is there a quote from the book you enjoyed?
- Is there a character you liked more than others? That doesn’t mean liked as a person, but as a character. For example, Lucy Steele and Mr. Wickham might be considered good characters but not good people.
Sense and Sensibility
- Did you sympathize more with Elinor or Marianne?
- Was Elinor unrealistically mature and sensible?
- Was Marianne charming, a spoiled brat, or something else?
- Some critics think Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars were both depressed. Were the symptoms of depression a result of their temperaments or their circumstances?
- On paper, Colonel Brandon seems like a romantic hero. He has a romantic past, he’s a man of action, he is a good person, he is sensible, he is generous, and he has traveled. Yet, many think he is stodgy. What do you think of him?
- Is it fair to judge Willoughby’s relationship with Eliza Williams, who was sixteen at the time, by today’s standards?
- Can you forgive Willoughby?
- Why were Colonel Brandon and Sir John Middleton friends?
My co-author, Summer Hanford, recommended I mention I was a teacher. To please her, I am doing so.
You may notice that I did not ask anything about symbolism or literary techniques, such as indirect speech. That is because I was a math teacher, not an English teacher. I’m quite happy with mathematical symbols, but literary ones must be explained to me.
Summer and I met in an online writing class, where our teacher criticized my work by saying not everything is plot. My main interest is plot, but characters and dialog must be consistent with the plot. Jane Austen makes her characters behave in a way that is believable. Therefore, my questions emphasize characters. Sense and Sensibility is hard to understand without understanding both the characters and the time in which they lived. A modern reaction would be to arrest Willoughby for statutory rape and to tell Marianne to get over it. When she doesn’t, she’s sent to counselling. I am inclined to want to tell both Elinor and Edward that they do not need to keep their word to Lucy Steele, although I respect both for their integrity.
What other questions should I have asked? Alternatively, pick a question and answer it. As this isn’t math, your responses will not be graded.