Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen – Rosalyn Landor

Like most fine books, there is something new here every time I read it – or listen to it.

I don’t remember being quite so shocked at the characters before. Lucy Steele … wow. She is a nasty, scheming piece of work. She knew every step of the way what she was doing, and did it with spite and glee.

The fact that Edward could find the creature attractive enough to not just pant after for a summer or so but actually engage himself to her … it just dents my opinion of Edward that much more – and it was already pretty dinged up after this re-read. I loved Hugh Grant’s Edmund in the movie – but in addition to his charming dorkiness that was because of Emma Thompson’s judicious editorial choices and additions. That lady spun his story to downplay the worst of it and focus on the adorable. In point of fact, though, the only differences between Edmund’s situation and Willoughby’s are that the latter got a girl pregnant and dropped her (and blamed this fifteen year old girl for the affair – see below), and that the former’s predicament was not all about money. (Though the secrecy surely was – knowing that Mama Ferrars would react as, in fact, she did, they kept it all very clandestine.) Both men courted a girl (a Dashwood sister, in fact), gave every indication that a marriage proposal was imminent, and then turned out to be (surprise!) engaged to someone else. And neither had the ba – er, inner fortitude to actually ever tell the Dashwood girl what was going on, allowing them to find out in the most painful ways imaginable.

(what an anachronistic cover…)

Actually, in a lot of ways Edward is the worse of the two. Why would Edward not take off that blasted ring on visiting the Dashwoods? And did he really write to Lucy at the Middletons’ not realizing that Elinor would become – be made – aware? Yes, Willoughby is a bounder and completely irresponsible, and what he did to Eliza is completely unacceptable – but hell, he’s a roue. A cad. (Sound of Music reference.) You can’t expect too much from him, whatever he seems like at first glance. He has a pattern of lying, wenching, and looking out for himself, covered by an extremely charming and credible front. (There was, I believe, a Criminal Minds episode called “Charm and Harm”. That could be the caption under Willoughby’s portrait.) Edward, though … Mr. “I want to join the clergy” not only betrays his original betrothed by making googly eyes at Elinor, he every step of the way betrays Elinor because of that original commitment. And in the period of the book that original commitment is nothing to be taken lightly. Willoughby just disappears and refuses to respond to Marianne until he has no choice – and then the horribleness of his letter is, apparently, wrought by his fiancée. Edward disappears from their lives, reneging on promises to visit, but continues his correspondence with Lucy Steele throughout – which means that he knew, she made sure he know, about the manipulations of Lucy upon Elinor. She has to have at the very least told him she had become acquainted with Elinor, and – to me more likely – at worst told him all about her cat and mouse game, though of course with pride and an air of “aren’t I so clever”. And yet he remained silent and absent for months, allowing Elinor to twist in the wind and Lucy to dig her claws in over and over, deeper and deeper.

Yeah… I can feel a little bit sorry for Willoughby in the end. But of the other couple it’s Elinor I worry about.

While to the modern eye the age difference between Brandon and Marianne is a little scary, I love them as a couple. The growth of Marianne is so very nice, from a clever but heedless girl, self-centered and scornful, to a young woman beginning to learn wisdom and kindness and to be worthy of the love of a good man. And Brandon is a good man – willing to be gossiped about as having a “natural child” stowed away somewhere (and I was a little stunned at how casually that was mentioned, and taken, and never held against him in terms of his eligibility to marry a well brought up girl) rather than expose his unfortunate ward to the public eye – willing to look after not only the girl he loved when she had fallen about as low as a girl could fall in the early 19th century, but then to all but adopt her daughter … And then to not only quietly suffer the slings and arrows of the gossips, but the unkindness of the new love of his life and her boyfriend – and love the girl throughout, deserving or not…. To abandon a party including his light o’ love to rush to his ailing ward … He’s kind of wonderful. He’s worthy of having been played by Alan Rickman.

Marianne “would buy up every copy [of her beloved books] to keep them from falling into unworthy hands”. Ahem. I’ve done something like that. When I’ve seen a copy of a book like The Lord of the Rings, or Tigana, at a library book sale, it has been hard not to buy it, even though I might already have a copy (or two, or three). It’s partly to keep them out of unworthy hands – but also to have extras to give out to worthy hands. I don’t loan books, but gifts? I can do that.

My new favorite quote: “Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

One point of enjoyment throughout the book was the deep pleasure of remembering just how wonderful Emma Thompson’s film adaptation of the book really was. The story was so clean and pared down, so economically told and still true to the book that I want to hug her. Even the one moment which seemed completely over the top last time I watched it, Fanny’s reaction to the truth about Lucy, was actually dead on: “She fell into violent hysterics immediately, with such screams as reached your brother’s ears”. Wonderful.

The narration was lovely. Rosalyn Landor’s character voices were on point, and her masculine voices worked beautifully. I’m a fan.

Willoughby on Eliza, and Brandon, negating any sympathy I start to feel for him, ever:

“Remember,” cried Willoughby, “from whom you received the account. Could it be an impartial one? I acknowledge that her situation and her character ought to have been respected by me. I do not mean to justify myself, but at the same time cannot leave you to suppose that I have nothing to urge—that because she was injured she was irreproachable, and because I was a libertine, SHE must be a saint. If the violence of her passions, the weakness of her understanding—I do not mean, however, to defend myself. Her affection for me deserved better treatment, and I often, with great self-reproach, recall the tenderness which, for a very short time, had the power of creating any return. I wish—I heartily wish it had never been. But I have injured more than herself; and I have injured one, whose affection for me—(may I say it?) was scarcely less warm than hers; and whose mind—Oh! how infinitely superior!”

This has been Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, read by Rosalyn Landor, published 1/12/16 by Dreamscape Media, at twelve hours and 29 minutes, received through Audiobook Jukebox for review – thank you!

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