Book Review: The Dowry by Margaret Culkin Banning

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Author: Margaret Culkin Banning
Published: 1954
Genre: Romance, Drama, Fiction, Social Commentary

At first glance, Margaret Culkin Banning’s 1954 novel, The Dowry, reads like a brilliantly written but simple exploration of how ambition, insecurity, and betrayal, can wreck a wonderful marriage. Our lead characters include Katherine “Kay” Ryland, a 37-year-old interior decorator with her own design firm, and her husband, Stephen “Steve” Ryland, a 38-year-old lawyer and Speaker of the House who’s on the fast track for Radisson’s governorship.

Although the two are very much in love and committed to their marriage, cracks in their 17-year union surface within the first few pages of the book. Despite Stephen’s success in his political career, Kay is their family’s main breadwinner. She earns a lot more than her husband. And while he had initially been thankful for her contributions to the family, constant reminders of this fact was wreaking havoc with his pride.

When he finds out that Radisson’s current governor is keen on passing the baton to him, Stephen realizes that taking on the 2-year governorship means that Kay would have to give up her company. As Governor Elston points out, being a governor’s wife is a full-time job. Things are further complicated when Stephen meets Lisa Bowes—a rich and beautiful widower and the niece of Governor Elston’s wife.

Stephen falls for the beautiful and manipulative Lisa. He wants Kay to divorce him, but his wife is keen on saving their marriage. Kay and Stephen’s heartbreaking story unfolds alongside the stories of a medley of well-written secondary characters.

Now, for this particular reader, The Dowry isn’t a story to be chewed lightly. A novel of this magnitude deserves a more thorough digestion. So, indulge me as I attempt to go through the most significant themes in this densely packed narrative.

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Book Review: Good Benito by Alan Lightman

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Title: Good Benito
Author: Alan Lightman
Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman
First Published: 1994, Pantheon Books

In a world where the everyman struggles to perfect one craft, Alan Lightman is one of those rare individuals whose immense talents lie in multiple fields. Not only is Lightman an award-winning novelist, he is also a celebrated physicist and social entrepreneur. In his fictional works, he deftly injects a touch of physics into the novel’s equation. His first novel, Einstein’s Dreams offers a whimsical and fictionalized take on a slice of Einstein’s life—featuring dreams that lead up to the theoretical physicist’s formulation of the theories of relativity.

Einstein’s Dreams was an absolute delight to read. Its stunning prose and breathtaking ideas left a serious and indelible imprint in my mind’s landscape. So it was with tremendous excitement that I turned to Lightman’s second novel, Good Benito.

Simply put, Good Benito is a non-linear account of the life of Bennett Lang, a physicist trying to make a name in the world of science and academics while struggling to comprehend and navigate the chaotic plane of human emotions and relationships. Each chapter reads like a vignette, showing an episode of Bennett’s life. We see his journey from an emotionally stunted child, creating his first ‘rocket,’ to an assistant professor for a second-tier college—still trying to find his place in the academic world.

Along the way, we meet a myriad of interesting, well fleshed-out, and incredibly flawed characters that helped shape Bennett’s viewpoint of the world. We meet his emotionally distant father who had dreamt of being a WWII hero but now wishes he had died with his men, his lonely mother trying to find happiness anywhere she can, his African American nanny who has let him into her life but refuses to let him into her house, his uncle with a severe gambling problem, and his self-destructive wife who pushes Bennett into becoming a cruel version of himself. We see how a promising romance and marriage devolves into an emotionally abusive relationship that ends in divorce.

All this, we witness through Lightman’s naked, prosaic, but impossibly precise prose. Though not as beautifully, or rather as poetically, written as Einstein’s Dreams, what makes Good Benito so compelling is how grounded the whole work feels. The matter-of-fact and yet introspective and eloquent manner by which Lightman writes ensures that the reader is along for the ride in this strikingly profound novel.

Rating: A+

Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad-Jennifer Egan

Title: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Author: Jennifer Egan

Genre: Fiction

First Published: 2010

Uncategorizable, experimental, but like most of its characters, unsinkable—A Visit from the Goon Squad breaks the usual mold of Fiction, then comes out victorious in its ultra-realistic portrayal of life. This Pulitzer-winning (2011) offering from Jennifer Egan is told in a non-linear (time-wise) and non-traditional format.

Is it a novel or a pastiche of short stories? Whatever it is, it’s one complex and gripping piece of literature that engages the reader and commands the reader to sit still and pay attention. Blink and you might lose the thread that links all the stories together. What Egan does in A Visit from the Goon Squad is she gives you glimpses of the lives of a number of highly different, and yet, interconnected characters. Okay, that’s oversimplifying it. She doesn’t give you a glimpse of their lives as if you’d know each character at a single glance. She lets you in on specific moments of the characters lives, and encourages you to put two and two together.

Mind you, this isn’t a piece of fiction that you can breeze through without going back a page or two to digest what’s going on. And yet, that’s what keeps the reader (this one, at least) hooked. You’ll end up trying to guess who’s next. Which minor figure in the current chapter will become the next chapter’s main protagonist? How does this character figure into the whole story, if ever, there was a ‘whole story’?

Now, normally, I would attempt to give you a brief summary of the book—and give me a second or two, and I will try—but it might be an ambitious attempt on my part when it comes to this one. You might just have to trust me when I tell you that this is a book worth reading. Either way, here goes nothing: [SPOILERS AHEAD]

A Visit from the Goon Squad starts off with a 20-something woman named Sasha, and her attempt to curb her kleptomania. We learn in the next chapter, that she works as Bennie’s personal assistant. Bennie is a recording executive whose mentor, Lou, discovered him when he was a bassist in his high school band, Flaming Dildos. Lou had a bit of a fling with Jocelyn, Bennie’s bandmate, who was also the sort-of girlfriend of Scotty (their guitarist). Of course, this was all before Bennie married Stephanie, a PR agent who tried to bring back the flagging career of the aging has-been rockstar, Bosco. Bosco, seeing something special in Stephanie’s brother, Jules, decides to give him the exclusive story to his ‘suicide tour.’ We learn that Jules actually has the writing chops for this story, after all, he was a former journalist whose career ended when he tried to rape a Hollywood starlet named Kitty Jackson. Kitty, will eventually work with La Doll, Stephanie’s former boss, as La Doll tries to soften the image of a foreign genocidal general. La Doll, who was once the toast of Hollywood, saw the collapse of her fascinating career during a huge PR spectacle that was simply too hot to handle. Of course, during the time of the PR fiasco, Sasha would’ve been a young prostitute in Naples—right before she went back to college where she met her future husband, Drew. The two will eventually move to the desert to raise their two kids. As for Bennie, at the end of the book, he would’ve found a way to bring back Scottie’s career through working with Alex, an old fling of Sasha’s.

So, Complex? Oh, YES. Confusing? Yup, a bit. Compelling? Definitely. All in all, this is a book that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a good read.

Grade: A+

Book Review: Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

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Title: Falling Angels

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Genre: Fiction, Novel, Post-Victorian Age

First Published: 2002

Pages: 324

Status: Read

Told through the shifting perspectives of the members of two very different families in turn-of-the-century England, Falling Angels highlights Tracy Chevalier’s ability to create a cohesive piece of fiction out of a myriad of mindsets. The novel is set in the early 1900s, opening with the death of Queen Victoria. The Queen’s death ushers in this new age of awareness and revolution against the rigidity of what was considered the ‘norm’ during this period.

In this novel, Chevalier touches on Victorian sensibilities that flit between frivolity and inflexibility. Kitty Coleman’s boredom with her life as a married woman pushes her to deny her husband, Richard, and child, Maude, affection. Her cold nature affects sensitive and straitlaced, Maude, who is terribly lonely as an only child.

Maude eventually finds the companionship she craves with Simon Field, the son of a gravedigger, and Lavinia Waterhouse, the spoiled child of the Coleman’s graveyard plot neighbors. The Waterhouses are quite different from the Colemans. For starters, Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude, is a stickler to tradition. She sees Kitty as inappropriate, though she cannot exactly dissuade Lavinia from being friends with Kitty’s daughter. The two families eventually become neighbors, and while niceties are exchanged once in a while, Gertrude and Kitty find that their only commonality lies in Maude and Lavinia’s friendship.

The relationship between the two families become even more estranged when Kitty, after some traumatic events, immerses herself in the Suffragette movement. Take note, the book only starts to really pick up at this point. The series of tragedies in the book seems crammed in the last hundred pages.

Though Falling Angels has been lauded as being ‘engaging,’ ‘appealing,’ and ‘bewitching,’ in this reader’s humble opinion, the book mostly fails to maintain interest due to the marked similarities between the voices of some of its heroines. Kitty’s initial venture into the Suffragette movement even falls somewhat flat, for though the movement itself ought to be exciting enough, Kitty’s main mover, a certain Caroline Black, has caricature-ish elements to her personality. The movement feels cartooned somehow. (Oh Virginia Woolf, how you’ve spoiled me.)

Falling Angels’ saving grace comes in its final hundred pages. The pace picks up, the characters grow up, and essentially, the novel becomes a worthy read. Now, would one consider it Chevalier’s best work? Well, in this reader’s case, No. I’d recommend that first-time Chevalier readers go for either Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Lady and the Unicorn.

Grade: B-

Book Review: Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

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Title: Juliet, Naked

Author: Nick Hornby

Genre: Fiction, Novel, Romance

First Published: 2009

Pages: 406

Status: Reread

 

I am no Nick Hornby expert, but I do consider myself a fan. I also believe Juliet, Naked is one of Hornby’s best works. In it, the author showcases his unique ability to create something beautiful out of a messed-up relationship and an unhealthy obsession with a washed-out musician.

The novel, in a nutshell, tells the story of how nobody is ever completely beyond redemption—how no life is beyond salvaging. In the book, we follow the lives of our three main characters—Annie, Duncan, and Tucker Crowe. Annie and Duncan are residents of Gooleness, a small, bleak, and dull town in the East Coast of England. Nothing ever happens in Gooleness, the same way nothing ever happens in Duncan and Annie’s 15-year relationship. Like the dead-end town, theirs is a relationship that’s free of burning passion. At least, free of the kind of passion that Annie wants in her life.

Duncan is passionate enough about one particular topic—the retired and reclusive 80s musician, Tucker Crowe. Duncan’s obsession makes him the ultimate Crowologist, an expert in all things Tucker Crowe. He owns thousands of bootlegged copies of Crowe’s performances. He dissects the lyrics of Crowe’s songs to find ‘hidden meaning’ that eludes even the actual songwriter. Though almost seeming like a caricature of a ‘fan’, one can’t help but recognize how there’s a bit of Duncan in all of us. That passion Duncan feels for Crowe stems from the same brook where our own unhealthy fascination for Late Greats like Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, and in my case, Sylvia Plath, springs from.

And though Annie doesn’t exactly share the obsession Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, she recognizes it, tolerates it. She tolerates it enough to join Duncan on a trip to the States to look at a toilet in a small bar in Minneapolis. Of course, the toilet isn’t just any toilet for Duncan. It is THE toilet where Crowe had an amazing epiphany that caused him to walk out of his own life forever—which isn’t to say he died, so much as disappeared from the face of the earth, its public face anyway. The fact that Tucker Crowe did this right after the release of his most critically acclaimed album, the break-up masterpiece Juliet, just adds to the mystery of his quitting.

Although Annie puts up with Duncan’s obsession with Tucker Crowe, cracks in their staid relationship begin to show when the pared down version of Juliet is released. The album becomes known as Juliet, Naked. Duncan, understandably, almost wets himself in excitement after hearing the album. In it, he sees genius. Annie, on the other hand, sees just potential. Both write their respective reviews on a Tucker tribute website, which Duncan owns. But when the real Tucker Crowe contacts Annie, the lives of our three protagonists begin to change drastically.

Now, Hornby has always had the gift of bringing his characters to life. For some odd reason, despite being deeply flawed, all the characters in Juliet, Naked are also quite lovable. Even the music nerd Duncan, with his arrogance and elitism has his great speech, his flaw-free moment.

When Duncan reveals the extent of his obsession with Tucker, the reader can’t help but feel embarrassed for the guy. After spending over 20 years trying to establish himself as a credible and serious Crowologist, he becomes no different from some deranged fan who breaks into someone else’s home. And yet, can one really hate Duncan for it, I wonder? If you had the chance to ransack the drawers of your favorite writer or musician and no one would ever find out, wouldn’t you do the same? That type of dedication is rare, creepy, flawed, and yet so telling of the extent of one’s love. To debase yourself for another—ah, but I digress.

Then, there’s Annie, who is the quintessential modern heroine. Dissatisfaction is her primary mover. At one point in the novel, she asks Tucker Crowe: “What do you do if you think you’ve wasted fifteen years of your life?” To which Tucker, the King of Time Wasted, tells Annie to reevaluate her life by using some complex formula that would account for the years ‘wasted.’ Though the advice was clever enough, I was more struck by the question. Isn’t it completely human to feel like we’ve wasted time? I thought, where does one waste 15 years? And then I realized the answer was in the everyday. We waste it on the sameness of the everyday. We look at the conflict between contentment and happiness without fully grasping how those two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Yes, compromise is necessary in living, but there has to be some sort of self-imposed limit on compromising. And I digress, even more.

Lastly, there’s Tucker Crowe. The washed-up, once-was musician. At the time of the novel, he was a recovering alcoholic who has done nothing in the last 22 years that constitutes as ‘work’. For decades, he depended on his ex-wives to keep him afloat. And though he hates this dependency, he feels powerless to work through it. In a way, Tucker feels like the most hopeless of all three characters. His, seemed like the hardest character to redeem.

And yet, there is some form of redemption for all three characters. Maybe not the kind that’s perfect, but there are lessons learned and changes made. To quote Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And ever the optimist, I do believe that Duncan, Tucker, and Annie have all taken the first step by the end of the book.

So obviously, one of the central themes of the novel is “Time Lost”. One of the lingering questions from the book is whether or not we can still salvage our remaining years—few as they may seem.

The book’s ending is for the affirmative. Yes, it’s never too late to find happiness. And though the book’s ending is, well, open to interpretation, Annie’s conversation with her shrink, Malcolm, is enough to give the reader some hope. Hope that maybe things will work out for Annie and Tucker, at least.

 

SPOILER ALERT: How does Juliet, Naked really end?

Well, I find that its ending really depends on what you want to believe. In true Nick Hornby fashion, our dear author gives no certainties of sad or happy endings. The story doesn’t end, it merely stops. It mimics the fluidity of real life.

Now, the first time I read Juliet, Naked, I fell upon the bleakest ending. Like Annie predicted, life slid into place after Tucker. As for Tucker, his next album was a major disappointment.

But upon rereading the book, I discovered the possibility of something good. Maybe, just maybe, Annie and Tucker found their way back to each other. That would certainly explain Tucker’s newfound contentment and new album. After combing the net for like interpretations, I found that a number of readers believe that “Uptown Girl” in the forums is actually Annie. They believe that Annie married Tucker in the end. Also a likely outcome, IMO. I think if we read between the lines hard enough, ala Duncan, maybe we can come up with even more possible endings for the book!

Either way, with its endless possibilities, its endless questions, there is no doubt in my mind that Juliet, Naked is the type of book that is truly worth reading and re-exploring. Highly recommended to all book lovers.

GRADE: A+

Austen Marathon: Pride and Prejudice

 

Title: Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Fiction; Classic, Romance

First Published: 1813

Pages: 480

Rating: A+

Status: Reread (for the 4th time!)

 

Pride and Prejudice is, arguably, Jane Austen’s most popular work—and rightfully so! There is much to love about this novel. At its worst, it’s one of the wittiest, sweetest, and most heartbreaking romantic novels out there. At its best, it’s a stunning critique on nineteenth century etiquette and vanity. There is a reason why Austen’s works endure—why they’re still well-read and well-loved til now. Despite containing a plethora of archaic customs, these works are timeless when it comes to their relatability.

To demonstrate Austen’s wit, Pride and Prejudice starts with one of the most unforgettable lines in Fiction—“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Let’s take a moment to appreciate the perfection of that line. It sets the tone for the entire novel. It lets the reader know what to expect from the book—a heavy dose of romance laced with just the right touch of comedy.

To sum up a good book in a few lines, Pride and Prejudice follows the unlikely romance between the story’s main character, Elizabeth Bennet, and the immensely wealthy and seemingly proud, Mr. Darcy. Throw in Elizabeth’s meddling and sometimes-scandalous family; a failed romance between Jane Bennet (Elizabeth’s sister) and Darcy’s best friend, Mr. Bingley; and the sly machinations of the charming, Mr. Wickham—and what you have is an engaging and heartwarming piece of Literature.

Obviously, to say that I enjoyed the novel would be an understatement. Pride and Prejudice is, actually, one of my go-to novels whenever I feel colossal disappointment over one thing or another. That’s why this novel gets an A+ for me.

 

PLOT

Pride and Prejudice begins when a charming and wealthy gentleman, called Mr. Bingley, moves into Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire, where Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live with their five daughters. The Bennet family isn’t rich, and their estate will be passed to their closest male relation upon Mr. Bennet’s death. To ensure that their children will be provided for, Mrs. Bennet has made it her duty to marry off each of her children to a wealthy young man. She rejoices when her eldest, Jane, catches Mr. Bingley’s eye. The two seem to form an attachment, but before much could be done (or celebrated), the pair is separated by Bingley’s best friend, the handsome and affluent Mr. Darcy, and his sisters.

The twist comes when Mr. Darcy falls for Jane’s younger sister, the fiercely independent and witty, Elizabeth Bennet. And while I would love to go on a blow-by-blow account of how the two eventually fall in love, that would ruin the book’s buildup for you. (See? I learned from my last post!) And I would love for anyone to read this literary masterpiece, so I’ll stop right here.

Plot-wise, the story is tight. Like its predecessor, Sense and Sensibility, this story contains a series of ‘surprise’ turns. But it deals with each turn well. Although circumstances do change the characters’ mindsets, these changes aren’t dubious or unexplained. These changes are the obvious reactions to specific situations. In short, you won’t find any OOC (out-of-character) moments here.

 

CHARACTERS

Once again, Austen aces character development (and relatability). Her characters are, by no means, two-dimensional. Their personalities are distinct, their actions apt according to their respective natures. Austen also demonstrates her wit through the likes of Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth.

Top 5 Characters from Pride and Prejudice

  1. Jane Bennet. I know that a lot of people identify with Elizabeth more, but to me, there’s much to love about Jane’s agreeable nature. Like Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, Jane epitomizes grace under pressure.
  2. Elizabeth Bennet. This list just isn’t complete without the novel’s lovable and opinionated heroine. Elizabeth, much like Marianne, is high-spirited, intelligent, and attractive. However, she also displays tremendous maturity, especially upon realizing her prejudices.
  3. Mr. Darcy. Alright, I’ll admit it. Mr. Darcy is, undoubtedly, one of the most swoon-worthy men in fiction. He’s quiet, reserved, handsome, intelligent, and incredibly wealthy. He’s the whole package. Why it took Elizabeth so long to come around, is beyond me. Okay, so maybe she was insulted at the ball, but how can one not love Mr. Darcy?
  4. Lydia Bennet. Lydia Bennet is the character you’d love to hate. She’s pigheaded and vapid, shameless and selfish. And yet, there’s something about her foolishness that’s perfectly attributable to her upbringing and age.
  5. Mr. Bennet. It’s easy to see which parent Elizabeth takes after. Mr. Bennet is witty and amusing. He’s also a bit cruel, sometimes—but he eventually gets his fill of humble pie (as does everyone else in the book).

 

OVERALL: Definitely worth a reread.

There’s a reason why Pride and Prejudice is considered the quintessential love story. It has all the elements of a great romcom with a dash of drama. I think that’s also the reason why there are countless literary adaptations to this piece. This is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone who’s looking for a good romance novel—or for first-time Classic readers.

 

FAVORITE LINES

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” – Ms. Bingley, Chapter 11

““In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” – Mr. Darcy; Chapter 34

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” – Mary Bennet, Chapter 5

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – Mr. Darcy, Chapter 60. After Elizabeth asked him when he fell in love with her.

“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.” – Mr. Darcy, Chapter 58

Austen Marathon: Sense and Sensibility

 

 

Title: Sense and Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Fiction; Classic, Romance

First Published: 1811

Pages: 389

Rating: A+++++++

Status: Reread (for the 5th time!)

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, we follow the life and loves of two of Austen’s most memorable heroines, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Despite the close bond between the two sisters, it immediately becomes apparent how vastly different they are from one another. Elinor is sensible, too sensible for her own good. She is polite to a fault, and somewhat reserved. Marianne, on the other hand, takes after her mother, in the sense that she’s much too romantic, too emotional, and too expressive.

When the novel begins, the sisters live in Norland Park with their mother and younger sister, Margaret. Their father had passed on, and had left them with a small income—a pittance compared to what their half-brother (a product of a previous marriage for Mr. Dashwood), John, received. The entire Norland Park was handed to him. And although he had promised his father that he would take care of his sisters, his selfish wife, Fanny, convinces him that to offer to help his sisters move to a different home is help enough for them.

Meanwhile, we learn of a growing attachment between the ever-sensible Elinor, and Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars. Before any formal agreements can be made, however, Fanny learns of their growing closeness and insinuates herself into the thick of things by taking over Norland Park as its new mistress.

Miffed by the sudden intrusion of John’s domineering and snobbish wife, Mrs. Dashwood accepts the offer of lodging from a distant relation—a certain Sir John Middleton from Devonshire. She moves her entire family to Barton Cottage, where the group is warmly received by Sir John and his family. There, the Dashwoods meet the local society. Despite their initial determination to keep to themselves, the family grows close to the affable Sir John, his reserved and elegant wife, Lady Middleton; her gossipy, matchmaking mother, Mrs. Jenkins; and Sir John’s good friend, the honorable Colonel Christopher Brandon.

Colonel Brandon immediately falls for the beautiful and romantic, Marianne. But she remains uninterested and ignores the colonel in favor of the dashing and debonair, John Willoughby. By all appearances, the two appear in love and ready to wed. That is, until Willoughby abruptly leaves Barton Park for London. We later learn that Willoughby has traded Marianne in for a wealthier wife. Although he later attempts to justify his behavior, understanding the root of his greed only humanizes him—it does not redeem him.

As for Elinor, she’s met with an even worse fate. Although Edward does make a brief appearance in Barton Park, we learn that he is engaged to another—the uneducated and cunning cousin of Lady Middleton, Lucy Steele. Though Lucy appears saccharine sweet, she doesn’t fool Elinor (and the reader) for a minute. Lucy is a master of passive-aggressive retaliation. Upon hearing of Elinor’s attachment to Edward, she immediately makes Elinor familiar with her ‘secret’ engagement. Elinor is sworn to secrecy. So while Marianne openly weeps for a lost love, Elinor suffers in secret.

The good news is that both sisters do find their ‘happy ending’. Having proven his enduring love for her, Colonel Brandon eventually wins Marianne over. As for Elinor and Edward, their happy ending comes at a hefty price. Upon learning of Edward’s engagement to Lucy, his mother cuts him off financially. The wealth he stood to earn as the firstborn son was passed on to his vain and selfish brother, Robert—who incidentally, ends up under the claws of the ultra-clever, Lucy.

 

PLOT: Oh what a tangled web…

There’s a lot that goes on in Sense and Sensibility—but that’s the beauty of this novel. All these twists are integrated perfectly, seamlessly, so to speak. I didn’t feel like anything was ‘forced’ in the novel. When Willoughby and Marianne fell in love in the span of a week, it was relatable. Considering Marianne’s age, (not even 17 at the start of the novel!), it’s easy to see how her world could revolve around the handsome and rugged, Mr. Willoughby.

And though, these days, it may be difficult to find a woman possessing Elinor’s reserve, fortitude, and forbearance, considering the setting of this novel, her behavior makes perfect sense. The novel was set in the years between 1792 and 1797—a time when decorum took centerstage.

Now, I know that some people don’t like the ending—with many wishing Marianne ended up with Willoughby, but I think the ending was apt. The greatest of passions often burn quick and extinguish in the night. The great loves are those that endure, like a slow, steady flame. At least, that’s what I believe—that’s why this book makes sense to me.

 

CHARACTERS:

One of Austen’s greatest strengths as a writer is her ability to create a myriad of ‘real’ characters—and it really is a joy reading about their interactions. From the passive aggressive arguments between Elinor and Lucy to the impassioned speeches of Marianne and Willoughby, Austen creates a dynamic world filled with dynamic characters. Now, if I were to be nitpicky and pick out the least fleshed-out character, then I’d have to say, Margaret. She’s not poorly-written, not at all. She simply falls into the background and is forgotten for a long time. But all good stories have their wallflowers, so this is hardly a point against Austen or Sense and Sensibility. 

Top 5 Characters from Sense and Sensibility:

  1. Elinor Dashwood. Some would call Elinor reserved, or even cold. But to me, she’s a lovely example of inner poise and graciousness. The way she handled Lucy’s constant barbs had me cheering her on, and secretly wishing she’d b*tch-slap the two-faced B.
  2. Charlotte and Mr. Palmer. They just might be my favorite couple in the novel. Charlotte and her dear Mr. Palmer were an extremely clever addition to the group. They provided comedic relief when needed, and they also showcased Austen’s versatility as a writer.
  3. Lucy Steele. Oh dear. Lucy is the perfect villain in this piece. She’s extremely cunning and extremely fake—how could one not hate her (or love her)?
  4. Marianne Dashwood. Marianne may have acted like a brat 60 percent of the time, but she did learn her lesson, and at least, she was true to herself.
  5. John Willoughby. Everybody loves a bad boy—and I can definitely see Willoughby’s charm. He’s the epitome of a man’s man. The fact that he’s a bit of a libertine just adds to the whole appeal. And that’s why he beat out Edward in this list.

 

OVERALL: Definitely worth an annual reread!

Sense and Sensibility never fails to lift my spirits. I try to reread it at least once every few years. If/When I get married, I’d love to hand out this book to my female guests. Maybe fancy pens for male guests. Hmmm.

 

FAVORITE LINES:

Elinor:  I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him–that I esteem him.

Marianne:  Esteem him!  Like him!  Cold-hearted Elinor!  Oh!  Worse than cold-hearted!  Ashamed of being otherwise.  Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.

“Can he really love her? Can the soul really be satisfied with such polite affections?  To love is to burn, to be on fire, all full of passion…– Marianne

“Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have provided proof enough of a broken heart, even for you.”Elinor (this line makes me cry—every.single.time.)

 “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”