I'm familiar with many Jane Austen stories, but this is the first time I've successfully read one of her novels. Years ago, surely eight or nine years now, I made a very lackluster attempt to read Mansfield Park, but I gave up within a mere ten pages. My heart just wasn't in it at the time. More so than that of many of her contemporaries, the language Austen uses can be a chore to get through and I struggled to understand what I was reading (and why). The time has come, however, to give Austen another try.
Judging by the stories that have survived and remain in our hearts—from Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens to...—there really wasn't much difference in British drama for three hundreds years. Through the quirky interactions of memorable characters, these authors provide entertaining romps through sentimentality with a satirical edge. And yet, I would argue that Austen's stories were more realistic than those of her contemporaries. Certainly, Austen dwelt a bit heavily on the “woes” of the higher class, but the characters' wants and needs transcend status. Unlike many of the two-dimensional characters in the stories of the time, Austen's primary characters are individuals with ever-changing perspectives (secondary characters, not so much). Of course realism from a much more humble point-of-view was just a generation away with authors such as Anne Bronte being born in this era, but clearly Austen had her finger on the pulse of humanity.
And yet these stories lack realism. How anyone can be so oblivious is beyond me. Can two people carry on a conversation for so long without realizing they're talking about two very different things? Sure, it's humorous, but it's not believable. So are these stories meant to be believable, or not? Does love ever come so easily in the end? How is it that the destitute daughters of these tales always find the one descent human in the aristocracy? I think that's the magic of Austen and it certainly works well in Sense and Sensibility. These are characters that are human and though their situations may be very different from our own, they are very much like us. Through struggles and the embrace of all that is “good” and “right,” they enter the fairy tale that so many of us envy. These are the stories that capture the heart of the romantic.
Sense and Sensibility is double the romance. The characters are engaging. The wit is on point. The story is entertaining. And it's all so clever—there's an excellent word for the work of Jane Austen: clever.