Upon their father’s untimely death, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, along with their mother and younger sister, are forced to leave their childhood home of Norland for distant Devonshire, where they must live in significantly reduced circumstances, and with significantly less chance of making good marriages. Love, however, can come from unexpected places – and unexpected people.
Of all of Jane Austen’s books, Sense & Sensibility has long been the one I had the least interest in reading, for reasons that are entirely irrational: I was prejudiced against it when, at the age of about 10, I attempted to watch the 1995 adaptation (featuring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) and was rendered bored within the first ten minutes. This isn’t all that surprising, considering the attention span of the average ten-year-old, but I am surprised by how long it’s taken me to give this story another chance…
And I ended up really enjoying it! (Not quite as much as Pride & Prejudice or Emma, but considering my extreme love for both those books, that’s not really saying much.) The story was wonderfully crafted, full of mysteries, and unexpected twists and turns – and although there were quite a few slow parts, I was so absorbed in Austen’s witty writing style that I barely noticed them, and wasn’t bothered by them in the slightest.
Elinor and Marianne both made excellent leads, and contrasted one another perfectly – Marianne wild and romantic, Elinor unfailingly proper and reserved, but no less feeling – and I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite from between them. Marianne comes across as quite silly early on in the book, but goes through some really amazing character development, and the way Elinor internalises all her struggles for appearance’s sake is really heart-wrenching. I also really liked both of their romances, and felt that they were both resolved in a very satisfactory manner, as was the friendship between them, which became much deeper as the story progressed.
My absolute favourite thing about this book, however, was the wide and varied cast of supporting characters. Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, was unfortunately rather a non-entity for much of the book, but with that one exception, all of the side characters were remarkably well fleshed-out, and extremely memorable, from the delightfully awful (e.g. John and Fanny Dashwood, the sisters’ half-brother and his wife; the snobbish Mrs. Ferrars), to the perplexing (e.g. Lucy Steele, whose bizarre methods confused me up until the very last pages of the book), to the lovable (e.g. Mrs. Jennings and her daughter Charlotte, who, though not the most proper, were two of the warmest, most friendly characters in the story).
[EDIT (4/1/2020): Changed rating from 5 to 4 stars after re-reading.]