Published in 1811, Sense and Sensibilityhas delighted generations of readers with its masterfully crafted portrait of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Forced to leave their home after their father's death, Elinor and Marianne must rely on making good marriages as their means of support. But unscrupulous cads, meddlesome matriarchs, and various guileless and artful women impinge on their chances for love and happiness. The novelist Elizabeth Bowen wrote, "The technique of [Jane Austen's novels] is beyond praise....Her mastery of the art she chose, or that chose her, is complete."
Austen's novels (e.g., Pride and Prejudice, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/1/92) have lately received so much well-deserved media attention that another version of her first novel, in yet another format, may appear redundant to persons not sufficiently acquainted with the author's charms. However, for her many admirers, both present and future, this new audiobook is a treasure, thanks to a superb reading by actress Susannah Harker. The talented narrator is an ideal interpreter of Austen's delightful paean to the virtue of sense as she traces the struggles of her young heroines to achieve happiness. Harker skillfully captures each character's personality through subtle inflection, and she keenly, yet unobtrusively, underscores the author's delicious irony. With a reading of such quality, the romantic predicaments of the Miss Dashwoods become all-absorbing and the hours fly by too quickly. Most highly recommended for all libraries.-Sister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 25, 2004
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Excerpt from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility, the first of those metaphorical bits of "ivory" on which Jane Austen said she worked with "so fine a brush," jackhammers away at the idea that to conjecture is a vain and hopeless reflex of the mind. But I'll venture this much: If she'd done nothing else, we'd still be in awe of her. Wuthering Heights alone put Emily Bronte in the pantheon, and her sister Charlotte and their older contemporary Mary Shelley might as well have saved themselves the trouble of writing anything but Jane Eyre and Frankenstein. Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is at least as mighty a work as any of these, and smarter than all three put together. And it would surely impress us even more without Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815) towering just up ahead. Austen wrote its ur-version, Elinor and Marianne, when she was nineteen, a year before First Impressions, which became Pride and Prejudice; she reconceived it as Sense and Sensibility when she was twenty-two, and she was thirty-six when it finally appeared. Like most first novels, it lays out what will be its author's lasting preoccupations: the "three or four families in a country village" (which Austen told her niece, in an often-quoted letter, was "the very thing to work on").
The interlocking anxieties over marriages, estates, and ecclesiastical "livings." The secrets, deceptions, and self-deceptions that take several hundred pages to straighten out-to the extent that they get straightened out. The radical skepticism about human knowledge, human communication, and human possibility that informs almost every scene right up to the sort-of-happy ending. And the distinctive characters-the negligent or overindulgent parents, the bifurcating siblings (smart sister, beautiful sister; serious brother, coxcomb brother), the charming, corrupted young libertines. Unlike most first novels, though, Sense and Sensibility doesn't need our indulgence. It's good to go.