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Classic Rewind, Part I: Making Sense of Jane Austen

Classic Rewind, Part I: Making Sense of Jane Austen

I’m the first person to admit that I doodled my way through the Modern Library Classics; when we read Jane Eyre in 8th Grade, I spent more time focusing on the weird dancing human that adorned each page of the book [providing a visual for those unfamiliar with the truly bizarre figure; it’s in the left corner]. When we read Pride & Prejudice, I did a bit more of the same. Frankly, I was busying myself with the likes of Chuck Palanhniuk and Bret Easton Ellis during my extracurricular hours in high school, and I didn’t have much time for the British classics; I found them especially dull when compared to the American authors we read, such as Faulkner [yes, it’s a bit *weird*, but I highly recommend As I Lay Dying], James Baldwin, and Flannery O’Connor. However, once high school was behind me, and I abandoned my original plan of becoming an English major in favor of more political pursuits, I no longer got my—albeit required and not always welcomed—fix of classic, capital-L Literature. Yes, I read Locke, Aristotle, and Hobbes for my Introduction to Political Theory Course [yes, I read them all the night before my exam, but I don’t see why that shouldn’t count], but past freshman spring, it seemed I was drowning in a sea of scholarly literature, and, while I did genuinely enjoy reading about the ethical considerations of political manipulation and the mechanics of the Japanese Diet [this is their political cabinet, not sushi. Don’t be fooled.], when I heard my friends in English courses discussing all of the books they’d read, I felt what I can only describe as intellectual FOMO [wow I’m insufferable]. As an antidote to this terrible affliction, I began forming my own literary canon—one that consisted of all the classics I seemed to have missed out on. At the beginning of this summer, when I was still in the midst of my job search and not exactly wanting for free time, I decided to write down all of the classic books I hadn’t yet read that I wanted to conquer within the next year. Without further ado:

  • Sense & Sensibility

  • Wuthering Heights

  • Great Expectations

  • Dalloway

  • War & Peace

  • Emma

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls

  • Crime & Punishment

  • The Sun Also Rises

  • The Odyssey

  • The Custom of the Country

My first draft pick in the “Classic Canon” series was Sense & Sensibility, which I am here to discuss today. The moral of this review: even if you read this in 10th Grade English (I bet you did), give it another try. I think it took me about two weeks to get past Page 11 of this book, and that is likely because I was suffering from an inability to disconnect Jane Austen as an author from Jane Austen, whose other book, Pride & Prejudice, I was once forced to excessively active read, analyze, and conclude whether certain parts in the book were allusions to other things or indicative of a larger theme within the novel. Once I realized that I was in no way obligated to do such a thing with an Austen book I was reading outside of the confines of the classroom, I began to settle into the plot and appreciate the nuances and humor that existed within.

Sense & Sensibility follows Elinor & Marianne, two sisters completely opposite in temperament [Elinor cool, calm, and collected; Marianne passionate and outspoken] through their romantic trials and tribulations. Elinor is dating a man, Edward Ferrars, who seems rather dull, yet well-suited to her introverted nature—until Marianne begins to suspect he’s already betrothed, and things get a lot less dull. Marianne is infatuated with a young man who seems to feel the same way about her, until, one day, she simply stops hearing from him. The book chronicles the girls’ sometimes futile and often humorous effort to move past their problems. What I was pleased to discover was that the book, as I briefly alluded to above, was quite funny, even by today’s standards, and—bear with me here—quite modern. Austen’s females aren’t as crazy about romance as some analyses [thanks again, English class] might make them seem; in fact, both Elinor & Marianne are intensely focused on educational pursuits as well—Marianne often taking refuge in a book, and Elinor preferring painting and piano as her methods of expression. With all that being said, the book is also a delightful glimpse into old-fashioned London society; from the horse & carriages to the dinners and balls held in grand dining rooms, the backdrop of the book is a study in contrast, indicating how much the world has changed even if those who populate it have not.

Current Classic: Wuthering Heights

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