Sense and Sensibility / Jane Austen

I know that I have been a bit remiss in my reading recommendations, so perhaps you are doubting my abilities as your literary trainer. Note: I do try to write a new entry every other week! And although I have all kinds of really bad excuses for not writing, this time, for once, I have a  really good one:  I was off celebrating my friend Claire’s bachelorette weekend in sunny Sonoma, California. We rented a house in the Russian River Valley, right on the Russian River. I was overwhelmed with all of the sunbathing I had to do, but somehow I managed to do a lot of reading, too. So, don’t doubt me.  If you don’t see an entry from me on my scheduled every-other-Friday, it is probably because I am doing some very important research–finding new books to dazzle you with and to stretch your minds.

That said, I did not read Sense and Sensibility while lounging on the dock. Rather, I read Mishna Wolff’s I’m Down–not a classic, but a damn funny memoir. Still, all that wedding talk got me thinking of “happy endings”–not the kind that you get at sketchy massage parlors, but the Cinderella, happily-ever-after kind. It was tough! The first story about marriage that came to mind was Dostoyevsky’s “A Gentle Creature,” which does not end happily at all. I thought that this might say something about my attitude toward marriage but then I remembered Jane Austen. Jane Austen. Of course!

I read Sense and Sensibility for the first time in my Western Civ class my freshman year of college. Doctor Kangas thought that reading a piece of literature might help his disinterested history students better understand the tensions between Romanticism and Rationalism during the Enlightenment. He was right. No joke. I have always attributed what (little) I understand of the Enlightenment to my reading Sense and Sensibility.

But, for some reason, I associate more strongly with this book a memory of my best friend Emily, who was my dorm-mate at the time, and also in the same class: The night before our papers comparing Elinor and Marianne were due, she decided that she hated what she had written and would stay up all night to rewrite the whole thing. I believe she received an A for this paper–a testament to her own “sense” although I think her other paper probably would have earner her an A, too.

I think I remember this because I have always felt a little bit like the Marianne to her Elinor, the Thelma to her Louise. Marianne is the romantically-inclined one, the one that gets burned. Elinor is the sharp one, the discerning one, the responsible one. That’s Emily. It’s one of the many reasons I have always admired her and looked up to her. She would never be gullible enough to believe the smooth lines delivered by some handsome stranger–much less lap them up like Marianne does. Like I have. Though, this isn’t to say that Emily hasn’t had her run-ins, too–there are plenty of selfish men for us all–but I don’t think Emily could delude herself like some of us might.

Also, I don’t want to suggest that Emily doesn’t have a romantic streak. Because she does. We all do. And I think that’s the point–right, Professor Kangas?

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