Positive Prose

– Sense and Sensibility –

  • Chapters one through to twenty-three –

Strange as it may seem to you, I have two volumes of Penguin Book’s The Complete Novels of Jane Austen, the first one is tattered and has lost its cover long ago, and within it you will find many inked under-linings and asterisked marks in various parts of the old, soft-covered book. The second one is a newer version, and greets me always with Keira Knightly’s dashing smile.

I cannot tell you how many times I have re-read Miss Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and the others, I have lost count, but perhaps I can recall that I started reading Miss Austen’s nineteenth century, Edwardian-era novels from the early nineteen-nineties. At the turn of the millennium I was rather delighted that her work became a subject of my English studies, alongside that of William Shakespeare, George Elliot, Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf, in which Pride and Prejudice proved to be rather challenging for me to master at that stage, while my paper on Emma delighted not only me, but the good Professor as well.

I began to re-read Sense and Sensibility just a few days ago, and with over ten (or more) books that I am working from at any given time, I cannot emphasise any more what a relief it gives me to return to the countryside of Ms Austen and her characters, particularly, in this case, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood and their future beaux, the severe and seemingly dull Reverend Edward Ferrars and the wealthy, austere, but ultimately valiant Colonel Brandon. Well, on first impressions anyway, particularly that of the quick-willed younger Dashwood sister, Marianne.

jane austen

Whenever melancholy moods return, or the pressures of surroundings seem to force its way into the confines of my rooms, and even the subjects with which I am preoccupied with on any particular week suppress, repress and depress me, I find myself instinctively drawn to Ms Austen. Oh, had I met her in that day and age! And in this case, I find myself drawn to not only the reserved beauty and demeanour of Elinor, but her intellect and acute observations of those that surround her.

The comedy aspect of the novel is another entertaining drawing card, particularly the restricted interactions between Mr and Mrs Palmer who have called on the Mrs and Mesdames Dashwood, after the rambunctious and suspiciously dashing Mr Willoughby and the concerned Colonel Brandon have long departed to attend to urgent matters of personal business. The noisy and dim-witted Mrs Palmer is pretentious in her vain attempts at showcasing a successful and lively marriage, while Mr Palmer, mooted as a Member of Parliament, finds solace in the disturbing news of the day within the pages of his acquired newspaper.

How Miss Austen could survive such a repressive age I have often wondered. But, no stranger to irony herself, she may wonder how little has changed in today’s times when if I were to exclaim enthusiastically that I am gay I would still receive looks and glares and barely heard murmurs behind my back. Indeed, ill, she did die at a young age, not married, or properly attached, and possibly quite lonely in spite of the close surroundings of her middle-class family. She certainly sensed the constraints of her peers as young men were able to go out and establish themselves in the military, navy, commerce or legal offices, while the not-yet married women would be confined to a life of sewing, reading, drawing and entertaining well-heeled guests at the pianoforte.

Indeed, Mr Dashwood is extremely generous with his will that he leaves to his wife and their children, one son and three daughters. But the son, under the villainous and selfish influence of his wife, cuts his mother out of the lion’s share of that will, as is his birthright as a male. While Mrs Dashwood and her lovely daughters may be relegated from their prime estates to the smaller estate of Barton, thanks to the goodwill and generosity of our good Sir John Middleton, their country surroundings and its colourful inhabitants may yet bring them good fortune, in materials and in spirit.

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