my relationship with Austen

by rachel

“Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!”

– Marianne; Sense and Sensibility

And at last I have finished Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She is one of the few classic writers to really engage me, to any degree. Our love affair began, somewhat ironically, not when I first read one of her books but when I watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice – is this blasphemy? Although this ten year old child watched the film again and again and again and grew to know a good number of the lines by heart, it never struck her to read the books. And so I didn’t attempt to read Austen, not till I was thirteen. When I did pick up a book by Austen, it wasn’t Pride and Prejudice. It was Emma, which I had found in a bookstore for cheap and decided to try out. Unfortunately for my rocky relationship with Austen, I didn’t quite fall in love with her writing upon reading Emma. Rather, the converse happened – it was too tiring a book for my young eyes and I soon put it down, without making it through to the end of the novel.

Fortunately, a few years later I decided to finally greet the characters I had grown to love from Pride and Prejudice in their original form by reading that novel. Fast forward to 2015, I find myself falling in love with Austen’s quick wit and sarcastic digs in their rawest form in The Beautifull Cassandra, a collection of short stories she wrote in her teenage years.

I mean just look at this little gem:

The singularity of his appearance, the beams which darted from his eyes, the brightness of his Wit, and the whole tout ensemble of his person had subdued the hearts of so many of the young Ladies, that of the six present at the Masquerade but five had returned uncaptivated.

– Jack and Alice

And so, with high hopes I arrived at Sense and Sensibility, determined to make it through a full length Austen text without having first been introduced to it through its movie adaptation. Admittedly, having fallen in love with the idiosyncrasies of the Bennett family, Mr. Collins, Mr. Darcy and so many of the other characters before hand very much aided the ease with which I read Pride and Prejudice. With Sense and Sensibility, I wanted to see if I could develop that same connection with the Dashwood sisters, Edward Ferrars, Mrs Jennings and Colonel Brandon by getting to know them only through Austen’s words. And I did.

I loved how we are invited to question each of her characters. How the Dashwood sisters’ initial judgement of Mrs. Jennings as a source of little real comfort, and a lady whom Elinor was initially reluctant to go to London with, is eventually overturned by the end of the novel when Elinor realizes that the bubbly lady can be counted on to offer her support in the absence of their mother and in the onset of Marianne’s illness. How Colonel Brandon, old and boring, slowly emerges to be a man of great character, growing in our eyes as he does in Elinor’s. How Lucy Steele is just so deliciously slimy and, for lack of a better word, bitchy. How can one not relish her insistent attempts at injuring Elinor veiled by loose declarations of friendship?

It’s been a long eight years since I’ve gotten acquainted with Austen’s characters and hopefully we will remain friends for far longer than the next eight. For now, after a momentary shift to other authors, I shall return to visit Emma once more.