Thoughts on “Economy” by Henry David Thoreau

Walden

 

Title: Economy (from Walden)

Author: Henry David Thoreau

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay, Philosophy, Memoir

First Published: 1854

 

Before starting the actual review, let me stress that this is just my thoughts on the first chapter of Henry David Thoreau’s acclaimed work, Walden. I find it necessary for us to have at least a brief overview of the main text; that way, we can have a fuller grasp of the reasonings behind the creation of this compelling piece of literature.

Now, Walden is essentially the byproduct of Henry David Thoreau’s ‘immersion’ in nature. For two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau decided to live apart from society and its stifling standards by erecting a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond—about two miles from his home. There, he sought to understand society and its workings by paring down life to its bare essentials. This act of ‘economizing’ life had tremendous impact on Thoreau and his views; and this shows, especially when the reader explores the philosophies introduced by the writer in this chapter.

These days, when we say economy, we often use it to refer to either the economic climate or conditions of a particular country or area, or to the prudent and efficient use of finite resources. In the chapter aptly titled: Economy, the reader is given both an accurate portrait of the economic mindset of early-to-mid nineteenth century America, and an extensive how-to on keeping one’s daily expenditures at the bare minimum.

Note that the previous paragraph reads: “an accurate portrait of an economic mindset,” and not an economic state. This is deliberate; because while Thoreau does touch on fiscal matters and household management, he focuses more on denouncing the notion of the common mode of living as being the only socially acceptable one. He recognizes the futility of laboring constantly to meet the living standards set by society; standards which are not so much suggested as they are levied on the common man’s head. This is a sentiment, which I still find relevant today. Let me qualify that statement by dissecting the text with you.

In Economy, Thoreau uses very strong pronouncements such as “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… but it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things (p.11),” and “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines or rather indicates his fate (p.10),” to illustrate what he thinks of man’s reasons for his laboring. Thoreau believes that man has begun to live according to lofty standards dictated, not by his personal nature, but by an external force which one can only surmise as the “popular opinion” of a society geared towards consumerist living. The following excerpt sums up the essence of the author’s beliefs regarding this particular mindset:

“When we consider what, to use the words of catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. (p.11)”

Thoreau urges the reader to reconsider this popular “meaning of life” by recognizing that “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind,” further stating that “With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor (p.15).”

He explains these statements by pointing out that man, like most other animals, need only fuel, heat, and shelter to survive. To attain fuel, man eats—but he does not stop at eating to nourish, he feasts to taste. To retain heat, man covers himself with clothes—but he doesn’t wear clothes just to stay warm. He must wear the latest fashion, to rise in the esteem of his peers. And lastly, he doesn’t settle for whatever shelter can protect him from the elements, he must decorate his home, lest it be deemed unacceptable by his neighbors.

Now, let us explore each category, for I fear I do Thoreau no justice with such elementary summations. [My personal thoughts contained in brackets.]

On Fashion:

“No man has ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. (p.21)”

Though the statement may appear harsh, it must be understood that Thoreau’s views on fashion stemmed from his own experiences of having been prematurely judged based on his clothing or appearance. In Economy, he shared one such experience. While being measured for a new coat, Thoreau mused: “Of what use this measuring of me if she does not measure my character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to hang a coat on?”

He offers the notion of freeing oneself from the pressures of fashion, to enjoy a certain liberty, as is enjoyed by “a man clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark…that if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.” (p.23)

[Though this particular idea may seem extreme, it’s one that I feel quite strongly about. For how many of us have been judged unfairly by our appearance or outwardly garb?  Being a woman of a particular color and stature, I cannot count how many times I have been subject to once-overs or been given a different brand of service inside certain establishments. While vanity has always been a shortcoming of mine, I have always believed in personal choice and personal style. I have always believed that if a man was to be judged, it would be according to his character, not his costume.]

 

On Shelter:

“While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. (p.30)”

In discussing the topic of shelter, Thoreau does not deny the necessity of having one, though he does make a case about how man has opted to rent “a larger and more luxurious box, (p.27)” when one of a simpler nature would suffice—such as the wigwams occupied by the Native Americans. The chapter discusses how the dwelling of the chief of a village offers little disparity when compared to the wigwams of his tribesmen; while in a ‘more civilized nation,’ less than half of the population can afford to own homes. People opt to pay annual tax to rent these luxurious boxes, ‘which would buy a village of wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. (p.28)”

He further illustrates this point through a poignant example of how a farmer tries to make a living using a “formula more complicated than the problem itself (p.30).” He speaks of how the farmer uses his skills ‘to catch comfort and independence,’ not knowing that he himself has been caught in his own trap.  Man thinks that by obtaining luxuries he can attain freedom from a life of strife, and yet he spends his entire life working hard to maintain what luxuries he’s got .As Thoreau puts it, “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. (p.30)”

 

On the Perpetual State of Discontent:

“Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have… Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less? (p.32)”

In man’s pursuit for something greater, “Men have become the tools of their tools. (p.33)” That is the truth that Thoreau preaches throughout Economy. Man’s constant state of discontent propels him into action—but it is that very action that keeps him in a rat race that can only be broken by a change in perception. This feeling of dissatisfaction and the limitations it produces extends beyond the citizen’s private life.

“Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. (p.48)”

 

On the Practice of Philanthropy

“Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our selfishness which overrates it. (p.63)”

Thoreau offers an unconventional and somewhat unpopular view on the idea of charity. With staggering declarations like “As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. (p.60),” and “There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. (p.61),” it is easy to misconstrue what the writer is trying to say. While he expressly states that philanthropy is an exercise that is not for him, he also explains that he would not stand in the way of genuine charity. He only asks that the intentions be pure and that the acts of charity be true. He believes that goodness should not be transitory or incomplete, rather, that the do-gooder would also spend himself alongside his money and would persevere even after public or private discouragements.

 

Verdict: All in all, Economy is a solid introduction to an extremely powerful piece of literary history. The persuasive and sound nature of Henry David Thoreau’s arguments guarantees his place as one of the greatest American writers and philosophers of all time.

Book Review: Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
My tattered copy of Virginia Woolf’s essays

Title: Three Guineas

Author: Virginia Woolf

Genre:  Essay

First Published:  1938

“Three years is a long time to leave a letter unanswered…” And thus begins Three Guineas–Virginia Woolf’s powerful essay on how the practices of the Victorian patriarchal system could be likened to the unarguable evils of tyranny and fascism. The essay is drafted as a response to the letter of an educated gentleman seeking Woolf’s opinions on how war could be prevented. Though many answers have suggested themselves to Woolf, the gentleman’s letter went unanswered for over three years.

Woolf clarifies that this is because none of these answers could be left without ample explanation. The differences in the psyche of the educated man and his sister had created a seemingly unbridgeable chasm that made immediate understanding of the reasonings of each sex near impossible. So, to answer the gentleman’s question, Woolf had to delve into the root of this ‘misunderstanding’ and find what unique and effective solutions could arise from it.

To illustrate the differences between the ways of thinking of the educated man and his sister, Woolf offers the reader the AEF or Arthur’s Education Fund. The AEF, as seen in the Pendennis, figures into household ledgers as the educational funds set aside for the sons in the family. This fund is designed to pay for more than man’s schooling, it also pays for all the other ‘essential parts’ of his education–including travel, leisure, lodging, and society. According to Woolf, the account has been in existence since the 13th century, and the educated man’s sister has paid her dues to the AEF for just as long. Though monetary contribution was out of the question–for the daughter of an educated man had no money of her own to contribute–she paid her dues through the sacrifices she was forced to make for her brother. For centuries, women were barred, not just from the professions but also the universities.

For a long time, Psychology became the only unpaid-for education available to women. This is, of course, going with the assumption that choosing a husband and making a marriage work are forms of practical Psychology within themselves. For a long time too, up until 1919 in fact, marriage was the only ‘profession’ open to women.  So you can understand how the social, physical, and educational limitations imposed on women during this period could affect her understanding of the necessity of war and violence. While a great majority of men saw war as either the ultimate manifestation of machismo or the natural expression of patriotism, out of their own shared experience under patriarchal rule, women were more inclined to question the need for war. Having been brought up to submit to fathers, brothers, and husbands, these women found no glory in violence. Faced with the possibility of war, they were more inclined to ask, “Why fight?”

Even the need for patriotism was questioned; for how has patriotism directly benefited the educated man’s daughter? During Woolf’s period, when a woman married a foreigner, she was asked to relinquish her citizenship and take on her husband’s. How then was she to form loyalties with a country that was not her own once she married outside of it? What did she owe a society that had caged her for as long as she could remember? But the possibility of war must be fought–as is made evident by the abundance of pictures laid out before Woolf. Images of homes torn asunder by bombs, the countless and faceless dead… But how to effectively prevent it?

While answering the gentleman’s letter, Woolf turns to two other documents that lie open on her desk. One is a request for funds to rebuild a women’s college, the other asks for financial support to help women gain a more secure footing within the professions. Woolf then uses these letters to illustrate how supporting these causes can, in fact, also be considered support for the anti-war movement. She addresses the gentleman:

“…But we have sworn that we will do all we can to help you to prevent war by using our influence–our earned money influence. And education is the obvious way. Since she is poor, since she is asking for money, and since the giver of money is entitled to dictate terms, let us risk it and draft a letter to her, laying down the terms upon which she shall have our money to help rebuild her college.”  – excerpt from Vintage Classic’s A Room of One’s Own & Three Guineas. p.129

And that is exactly what Virginia Woolf does. She imagines this experimental college founded on youth and poverty. This cheap college that focuses not on segregating and specializing, but a college that offers freedom from ‘the miserable distinctions of rich and poor, of clever and stupid…’ (p.133) It was, by all means, a college that did not breed vanity, competition, jealousy, and unreal loyalties. Instead, it was there to educate women, to help them earn their livings, and more importantly, to give them the freedom to have an opinion that is other than what is taught in the household, in church, or in whatever institution demands their blind loyalty…To the treasurer of the women’s college, Woolf relinquished her first guinea.

Then, it was time to look at the other letter. This one was from the honorary treasurer of a society designed to help women find employment in the professions. Here is where Woolf discusses the politics of economy as seen in the household. As Woolf puts it, ‘It seems that the person to whom the salary is actually paid is the person who has the actual right to decide how that salary should be spent…’ (p. 155) Marriage, by all descriptions, is just as noble as any other profession–but it is one that is unpaid. Woolf posits that without power over her own finances, a woman is robbed of the right to participate in such noble causes as that of the gentleman writer’s, if her husband disagrees with it. And so goes Woolf’s second guinea. As she puts it:

“…It was necessary to answer her letter and the letter from the honorary treasurer of the college rebuilding fund, and to send them both guineas before answering you letter, because unless they are helped, first to educate the daughters of educated men, and then to earn their living in the professions, those daughters cannot possess an independent and disinterested influence with which to help you to prevent war…” (p.182)

Finally, after much meandering–though it was justified meandering–Woolf addresses the gentleman fully. To his cause, she offers her third and last guinea. She explains that while she supports his anti-war effort, she cannot become a member of his society. For the fundamental differences between the male and female perspectives must remain for continued (mental, political, societal, cultural, et al.) progress to be attained.

The Verdict: A+.

Although Three Guineas was written almost 80 years ago, this supercharged polemic from Virginia Woolf is just as moving as it was back in the day. It certainly isn’t what you’d call a ‘quick read.’ In fact, if it took Woolf three years to draft this letter, it took me three months (and several shots of tequila) to write this review. Well, technically, I wrote this in one go, but the ideas have been simmering in the back burner for months.  So while it isn’t an easy read, it is one that is ‘necessary.’ There is much to glean from Woolf’s writings. That is why I’m putting this up as a ‘must-read’ for everyone. Believe me, it will do you a world of good.

Read my review of Virginia Woolf‘s “A Room of One’s Own.”

Book Review: Persuasion – Jane Austen

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Title: Persuasion

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Romance

First Published: 1818 (posthumously)

Pages: 254

 

Persuasion marks the last of Jane Austen’s novels—the completed ones, at least. It starts in media res (in the thick of things). In it, we follow the life of our lovable heroine, Anne Elliott. At 27, Anne is still unmarried. Her youth and bloom having disappeared early, Anne is the shell of her former self. As the story progresses, we soon learn the reason behind her resigned air and fading good looks.

About eight years prior to the start of the novel, Anne had entered into an engagement with a handsome navy officer, Frederick Wentworth. Though she loved him, she reneged on her word after her family and close friend expressed their disapproval of the ‘imprudent’ match. To them, Frederick was most unworthy of Anne. She was, after all, the daughter of a wealthy baronet, and he was a poor navy officer with little to offer. The two part ways with much ill-feeling between them.

Though the years soon pass, Anne’s feelings for Frederick remains unchanged. This becomes most apparent when the two cross paths again. But Frederick, now a successful and wealthy Captain, appears to want little to do with Anne. Will the two end up together? Well, considering this is a novel by Austen, the answer shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out. And there lies the central story of Persuasion.

Despite its seemingly simple plot, Persuasion is made interesting by its plethora of unforgettable characters. In it, we have the incredibly vain and selfish trio that composes Anne’s family—her father, Sir Walter Elliott, and her sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. We also have the scheming duo of Mr. Elliott and Mrs. Clay. But my favorite of all peripheral characters is the kind-hearted and romantic, Captain Benwick. In him, I see this sanguine personality that no amount of melancholia can completely sink. His natural disposition is to find love and give love, and though there is no disputing the appeal of the manly and handsome Captain Frederick Wentworth, there is much to love about Benwick, as well.

Beyond my usual praise for Austen’s incredible ability to infuse excitement in the everyday, what I love about Persuasion is that it showcases Austen’s growth as a writer. Many consider this final novel as somewhat unpolished compared to Emma and Mansfield Park, to me, however, the relative absence of the author breaking the fourth wall only heightens the subtlety and wit of Persuasion. Also, who doesn’t love the massive rewards delayed gratification brings?

All in all, Persuasion is a fine book which I would gladly recommend to all Classic readers and romantics.

Favorite Line: “He had an affectionate heart. He must love somebody.” – Captain James Benwick

Grade: A+

Book Review: Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

northanger abbey-jane austen

Title: Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Romance

First Published: 1818 (posthumously)

Pages: 236

 

Northanger Abbey follows the story of Catherine Morland, an unexceptional young woman from the country, who finds herself suddenly a part of the elegant and complex society in Bath. Under the ‘guidance’ of the vapid, though not cruel, Mrs. Allen, Catherine finds herself acquainted with the wrong crowd.

When she is befriended by the deceitful and coquettish Isabella Thorpe, our unlikely heroine falls under the manipulations of Isabella and her brother, John. For a while, she is bullied into participating in indiscreet activities that could make an impact on her reputation. Take note, reader, these activities are by no means as racy as the sentence might suggest. It is, basically, the reputation you get when you quite literally, ‘ride in the car with boys.’

Mercifully, she is saved from further social mishaps when she joins the company of the handsome, though somewhat unromantic, Henry Tilney, and his lovely sister, Eleanor. As would be expected, she falls for Henry, and there is reason to think that he begins to feel the same for her. The only setback lies in the meddling of Henry’s father, General Tilney. Therein, is the real story, and it starts quite late in the novel.

Although the rest of the novel is pleasant enough to read, Northanger Abbey is a lot like Emma, in the sense that the story is not as rich or eventful as Jane Austen’s other works. Notably, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. What gets the reader through the piece though, is the strength of Catherine’s character.

Yes, Jane Austen does take pains to establish how Catherine is unremarkable in almost all aspects—but she also makes our heroine incredibly interesting. Austen infuses her with youth. Catherine’s curiosity and naivety makes her relatable—and that is the mark of a good character.

Northanger Abbey is often regarded as Austen’s earliest work. This shows, especially in Austen’s immense presence in the text. The author makes her thoughts known in a very direct manner throughout the book. In her latter works like Persuasion and Mansfield Park, you get less of the author in the story.  Some critics regard Northanger Abbey as one of the keys to Austen’s mindset. With little else to go by, Austen having requested that all her letters be burnt upon her death, such personal works as this one becomes crucial to historians, literary professors and majors, and Janeites alike. This novel gives as a clue as to what Austen’s mindset was during the period when she wrote this story.

As a parody of Gothic literature, this book also succeeds in being possibly the most lighthearted and easy-to-read novel from Austen. This is why I highly recommend this book to all first-time Austen/Classic readers.

Rating: A-

Austen Marathon: Emma

Emma by Jane Austen - 2008 BBC edition
Emma by Jane Austen – 2008 BBC edition

 

 

Title: Emma

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Romance

First Published: 1815

Pages: 495

In Emma, Jane Austen deviates from her usual course, where the poor though lovable heroine falls in love with a wealthy gentleman or clergyman. Instead, Austen chooses to flex her writing skills by creating a character which the author, herself, has described as, “a heroine whom no one but myself [Austen] will much like.”

And true enough, unlike her predecessors (the Dashwood sisters, the Bennet sisters, and Fanny Price), Emma isn’t the type of character that pulls on one’s heartstrings. Emma is privileged, independent, outspoken, and beautiful. She’s stubborn and, though good-intentioned, meddlesome. She has little inclination or interest to fall in love or marry.

Though wealthy on her own, Emma is, in a way, held captive by her love for her father. Her father’s fragile nature, (although hypochondriac also comes to mind), prevents Emma from straying too far or too often away from home. Bored by the simplicity of small town life, Emma finds real passion and excitement in matchmaking.

This becomes most apparent when she takes Harriet Smith under her wing. Harriet is a beautiful and amiable young lady of unknown parentage. Despite her numerous good qualities, Harriet’s station in life greatly limits her prospects when it comes to love and marriage. This, however, does not stop Emma from attempting to elevate Harriet’s status by finding the latter a respectable and acceptable suitor. She sets her eyes on the handsome and well-liked local vicar, Mr. Elton. In the process of bringing Mr. Elton and Harriet together Emma separates Harriet from a growing attachment with the young farmer, Robert Martin. She even dissuades the other young lady from accepting a proposal from Martin by emphasizing the farmer’s lack of finesse and lowly station in life.

Emma’s plans eventually backfire when it becomes clear that Mr. Elton has been trying to impress her all along. Desperate to make things right with Harriet, Emma digs herself a deeper hole by becoming even more meddlesome and scheming in her matchmaking. In the end, the result of her efforts prove satisfactory, though not because of her doing but in spite of it. Harriet finds true love with her farmer friend, and Emma ultimately rethinks her stand in marriage when she realizes her true feelings for her close friend, George Knightley.

Like Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, there is enough comedy in Emma to excuse any meanderings in Austen’s part. Although Austen has always exerted tremendous attention to detail, Emma’s circumstances, her lack of actual freedom because of her ‘ailing’ father, makes it necessary for the writer to make the most out of Highbury. The reader becomes immersed in Emma’s everyday life. This is a dangerous technique. One runs the risk of boring the reader with the ‘details’. But as usual, Austen manages to pull everything off with her wit and her lovable characters.

 

Favorite Character/s: Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax. Though vastly different in temperament and behavior, both women exhibit strength in character. For Ms. Fairfax, fortitude. For Emma, willfulness—the good kind, mostly.

Favorite Quote: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.” – Emma

Rating: A

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.” 

September: The Jane Austen Marathon

 

September is my Austen Month—and what better way to kick-start my Jane Austen Marathon than with her first published work (and a personal favorite), Sense and Sensibility? Yes, I do intend to get swept off my feet by the wicked and dashing Willoughby. I also fully intend on immersing myself completely in Marianne’s and Elinor’s affairs. Never mind that I’ve read this novel far too many times for my own good—five times, but who’s keeping count, right? I will reread each of Austen’s novels and review each work. If all goes well, I’ll also be making side-by-side comparisons when it comes to character development, technique, and the general plot.

That may seem like a tall order, but ever the Girl Scout, I have started reading Sense and Sensibility. I started a couple of days ago and things are just about to get juicy. Just anticipating what will happen next creates a strange feeling in my bosom. A feeling that can only be accurately described as nerdgasmic.

 Now, over the last few years, I’ve formed certain opinions about Austen’s works. Let’s see if this year’s marathon will change any of them:

Favorite Work: Sense and Sensibility

Favorite Character: Elinor Dashwood (S&S)

Favorite Villain/s: Lucy Steele (S&S), Mary Crawford (Mansfield Park)

Favorite Love Interest: Fitzwilliam Darcy (P&P)

Least Favorite Character: Fanny Price (Mansfield Park)

Least Favorite Work: Mansfield Park

I can see a few changes in that list happening. But I refuse to replace anything without having finished all six of Austen’s novels. Now, I plan on reading her works by order of publication—which means I’ll start off with Sense and Sensibility (1811), followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), then Mansfield Park (1814), then Emma (1815), then Northanger Abbey (posthumous, 1818), and finally, end with Persuasion (posthumous, 1818). Should be a great month, I think. And, back to reading.

 

Image: Jane Austen as drawn by her sister, Cassandra Austen. (1810)