Ah, spring is here and with it, a new deadline hovers before me: my retelling of Jane Austen’s book, Sense and Sensibility.
So far, this has been my favorite book to retell, mostly because there are such rich characters and complicated relationships!
When I study a novel, it takes a long time to dissect and examine each aspect of the story. There are so many layers to Jane Austen’s novels! Simply reading them as a “story” is not enough. True Janeites know this only too well. 😉
And that is where my passion begins.
Such tragedy for these Dashwood women! First their father dies and hands over their future into the hands of a weak and spineless older half-brother who leaves them in poverty. Next Elinor is abandoned by the love of her life. And Marianne is forced to watch her loved one deny his feelings for, discarded for a place in society and money.
The one common thread that really struck me is the fact that all of these women thought they knew the men who cared so little for their emotional well-being.
A father. A brother. A starry-eyed lover (in the purest sense of the word as opposed to the intimate sense). How upsetting for these Dashwood women! And, the decorum of high society certainly prevented them from speaking out about the injustice of their situations.
As usual, our dear Jane Austen has found a timeless theme to weave throughout her story. What is it that makes people abandon individuals during their time of need? Mr. Henry Dashwood’s death was followed by some period of mourning. Yet, the loss of a husband and father does not simply heal itself within days or, even, weeks. One visit to the mourners is not sufficient to wipe the dirt from our hands and check off “compassion for those in need.”
Yet, isn’t that what truly happened?
It’s as if they are saying “Carry on, my dear, for the time of mourning is over. Besides, I have just inherited Norland and this, now, is all about me, not you.”
In today’s society, I wonder how Jane Austen would approach the subject of prudence over passion? Elinor’s dedication to maintaining good judgement, no matter how much it hurts, contradicts Marianne’s sensitivities toward her emotions and desires. Of course, we shall not forget to add John and Fanny’s complete lack of either sense or sensitivity toward the Dashwood women and combine this with Edward Ferrars’ and Willoughby’s self-indulgence without any thought to the emotional train wrecks they leave in their wake.
It makes for a deliciously addictive story…whether set in the late 18th century England or early 21st century Amish society.
I dare say that Jane Austen would have enough fodder to write a series of books on just this very topic. Technology has created the perfect storm for modern day Dashwoods to suffer at the hands of people who focus on themselves and not others, all for the sake of crawling ahead in society. I believe that, today, we would be hard pressed to find a Colonel Brandon to rescue the broken heart and give to Marianne the very thing that her Willoughby sought: status. As for Edward, his devotion to Elinor is another trait that endears me to this novel for he knew that deserting his obligation would damage his reputation in her eyes. Again, I fail to see where many young people would offer their own happiness as a sacrifice to maintain a promise made at a tender age—and despite their feelings having moved onto another.
All of Jane Austen’s books have more than just a “story” within them. They have a structure to society that exists even today. We might read these books and think we are quite fortunate to no longer be held prisoner to a male-dominated world. But if we dig a bit deeper, I believe Jane Austen has a deeper tale to tell…and far greater morals that need to be repeated over and over again with all generations. Without doing so, sense and sensibility might be lost forever.