Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
Jane Austen's novels never sound interesting summarised on paper. Sense and Sensibility focusses on two sisters - one who is emotionally reserved, and one who is emotionally volatile - and how they cope with relationships, social behaviours and conventions, in their different ways. It sounds incredibly dull and lifeless, I agree, but once you pick the novel up, Austen's plot, characterisation, and sheer skill take over.
Austen's characters are completely well-rounded, some with amazingly detailed and deep back stories. There is huge variation to their likeability, and each of them have a different balance of good and bad qualities. This allows the reader themselves to decide who is to be forgiven, and also gives the characters a good degree of realism. The characters and their behaviours are used by Austen to ask the question in book's title - is it better to conceal your true emotions and behave in the way society dictates, or should we be free with our emotions, let them run wild, and let others see us as we are? Austen explores this through Elinor and Marianne, but both sense and sensibility is apparent in her other characters, and we are taken on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the entire novel.
The correctness of Austen's time can be unfathomable in parts. The way her women conduct themselves so properly, and the pains they take to express their emotions in an acceptable and correct way absolutely astounds me. Solving a dispute these days involves women dragging each other outside the pub by the hair, but there's something far colder and hurtful that comes from a cutting comment in refined company. It's completely fascinating how these characters behave, and Austen is able to show us their emotions without displaying them outwardly for the other characters to see.
The book also focuses largely on income, and its affect on the emotions of the characters. The power money has over the characters is huge - especially surrounding marriage. Austen's cutting commentary around this is incredible, and the number of hearts which were broken simply due to financial constraints was unbelievable.
Lastly, the romance. Austen is old school chick-lit, and although I generally stay away from new school chick-lit, I was caught up in the romance here. It's just so true. We're given flawed couples, unlikely connections, romance which fades away, and characters behaving ridiculously in the name of love. The people who you believe are meant to be together don't end up together. Prince Charming has more than one fatal flaw, but we love him anyway. Real life doesn't get more real.
I love Jane Austen. I believe she's a literary genius, and a badass of her time. I love that her books are laden with sly little sarcasms surrounding societal and financial expectations. I particularly love the fact that this book was written when she was only nineteen. If that doesn't make you feel like you've done absolutely nothing with your life, then I'm not sure what will. I'd encourage anyone to pick up Austen - it looks boring in summary, but it's wonderful in form. And men - you will enjoy this too, it's not just for girls. You will see yourself in the heroes. Well, maybe.