Sense and Sensibility: Insight Edition

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

This is a review of the annotated Insight Edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility.

We do not have the living dead to offer in our annotated look at Sense and Sensibility [a reference to P&P&Z and S&S&SM 1]. Nor do we threaten her with dull, scholarly analysis. Rather, we leave Jane’s classic story untouched and focus on providing notes, facts, and thoughts in the margins that we hope will help you understand the story a little better, see the characters in a new light, or simply make you smile.

No PhD Austen scholars have joined our editorial team since [our annotation of Pride and Prejudice]. Through our research, we feel we know her life and work better, but we’re still just devoted fans. We reread her works, enjoy the same spinoff books you do, and argue over the same filmed versions. And because we work at Bethany House, we enjoy highlighting the quiet notes of faith that shine in her characters’ actions and words. (from the Editors’ Note, p. 7 2)

Some of the notes in this edition were interesting. The historical asides were sometimes handy when they defined words and the notes on Jane Austen’s life were also interesting on occasion. Very few of the other notes seemed worthwhile — informing us of such things as that Hugh Grant looked like his neck was in a brace in the 1995 movie and that Dad Stevens was too handsome for the part of Edward (p. 20). I was hoping that the “themes of faith” notes would be more thought-provoking than they turned out to be.

The notes were divided into seven categories: 1) “Historical and cultural details and definitions from England in the early 1800s”, 2) “Facts and tidbits from Austen’s life that parallel or illuminate the novel”, 3) “References to S&S in today’s culture, particularly in film”, 4) “Unscientific ranking of the novel’s most frustrating characters”, 5) “Themes of faith drawn from the novel or Austen’s life”, 6) “Comments and asides on the book’s characters and plot”, and 7) “The parts of the novel that just make us smile” (p. 8).

Probably the most helpful of the notes were the “Historical and cultural” notes. They give the definitions of such words as “superannuated”, “demesne”, and “jointure”, as well as commenting on Cowper, carriages, places such as Devon and Sussex, life expectancy, &c. Most of these notes are only a few words long, but a few have more to them. An example is the note to Edward Ferrar’s listing of his career options, “I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since.” The editors noted, “The careers Edward lists are the only options socially acceptable to the gentry and aristocracy. In some ways, men were almost as trapped by societal constraints as women.” (p. 100).

The “Facts and tidbits from Austen’s life” were sometimes interesting. To the line from the novel “What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters!” the tidbit is offered, “Jane’s brother, Edward, offered Chawton Cottage to his mother, Jane, and Cassandra — four years after their father died.” (p. 15). To Marianne’s comment that “A woman of seven and twenty … can never hope to feel or inspire affection again”, the notes observe that “Jane was 19 when she began S&S and 36 when she published it.” (p. 42).

Very few of the “References to S&S in today’s culture” were particularly interesting. They inform the reader of such things as “In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Colonel Brandon receives a summons to Sub-station Beta, a domed, undersea city” (p. 66) instead of the telegram that breaks up the party to Whitwell. Or, “It must be stated that the hairstyles of the Colonel, Sir John, and John Dashwood in the 1971 miniseries seems to have been stolen from the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes. And not from the humans …” There are also listings of the editors’ favorite Brandons, Mariannes, and Elinors from the various movie renditions. These would probably have been more interesting if they had stated why they were their favorites.

The “rankings of the novel’s most frustrating characters” are just that — lists of unlikable characters, headed by whichever happens to be the most annoying or despicable at the moment.

The “Themes of faith” were not very deep, but there were a few that were interesting. When Willoughby tells Elinor, “I have, by raising myself to affluence, lost everything that could make it a blessing”, the editors comment, “This rare bit of perception on Willoughby’s part brings to mind the words of Christ in the Gospels, ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'” (p. 286). There were excerpts from prayers that Jane Austen wrote, jotted in at appropriate passages. However, many of the notes were no more than observing that “Out of sacrificial love, Elinor looks first to the needs of others” (p. 28), when she allows her mother to move farther from Norland than she wished to do.

A number of the “Comments and asides on the book’s characters and plot” were thought-provoking. One question that gets several notes is the “question of when self-control becomes denial or emotional dishonesty” (p. 101). Quite a few of them, however, were nothing more than, “That was a 110-word sentence” (p. 121) or, to Willoughby’s cutting a lock of Marianne’s hair, “This is an old-fashioned romantic gesture that weirds us out a little” (p. 62).

“The parts of the novel that just make us smile” notes are little asides on the humorous side of the novel. To Marianne being “reasonable enough to allow that a man of five and thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment” and being “perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required”, the editors comment that “Those of us over 35 would take offense, but we’ve outlived the ability to be annoyed.” (p. 39). That comment did make me smile!

There is a list of twelve “Questions for Conversation” in the back of the book — “perfect for book discussion groups”, according to the back cover. One of the questions is one that is considered several times in the notes: “Was Elinor right in holding her secret about Edward from her mother and Marianne? Is there a difference between being emotionally composed and lying about your feelings?” (p. 340). One of the questions focuses on Marianne’s worldview: “Do you believe ‘true love’ means loving only one person in a lifetime?” (p. 340). Another of the questions is “Which of the many aggravating characters did you like the least?” (p. 341).

I do not agree with the editors’ interpretations of everything. For example, the editors suggest that Edward kept his engagement to Lucy Steele partly to avoid “a costly lawsuit” (p. 235). Jane Austen, however, writes that Edward had always believed Lucy “to be a well-disposed, good-hearted girl, and thoroughly attached to himself. Nothing but such a persuasion could have prevented his putting an end to [their] engagement” (Ch. 49, p. 327). I also found many of the notes dull. This edition is a light look at Sense and Sensibility — it really did not add much to my reading experience. However, for those who just want a little unobtrusive insight while they read, this is a fine choice.

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1 That is, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (by Seth Grahame-Smith) and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (by Ben H. Winters): “Since our annotation of Pride and Prejudice was published, a bright spotlight has shone on Jane Austen’s world and her novels. Anne Hathaway portrayed her on the big screen, new interpretations of her novels were shown on PBS and the BBC, and her most beloved characters were attacked by zombies and giant lobsters.” (from the Editors’ Note, p. 7).

2 All quotes with their page numbers are taken from Sense and Sensbility (Insight Edition), by Jane Austen, notes prepared by Jeff Braun, Carra Carr, Ellen Chalifoux, Amanda Hall, Julie Klassen, David Long, Sarah Long, Charlene Patterson, Carly Rygwalski, Raela Schoenherr, Karen Schurrer, and Sarah Young (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7642-0740-2).

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Sense and Sensibility: 2008 Movie Adaptation

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

To begin on a positive note, there were several aspects that I liked about the 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Both Elinor and Marianne seemed pretty close to the right age for their parts. The character Anne Steele made it in and was delightfully funny. There was some very pretty scenery and the music (by Martin Phipps) was beautiful.

The acting was good in this miniseries, though not excellent. Marianne acts like the fifteen or sixteen year old girl that she is, and Charity Wakefield does a good job of portraying her vulnerability, as well as her irritability and enthusiasm. She has at times, however, an artificial quality to her voice that is annoying, and her crying when she receives Willoughby’s letter (wasn’t it nice of him to send all of those lovely flower petals with his letter?) seems fake. She lacks the refinement, the elegance, the charm that Marianne had. Hattie Morahan plays a sensible Elinor, though with a little more of a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense manner than I imagined Elinor having. I can’t think of anything in particular that she did wrong, but somehow I found her characterization of Elinor to be rather uninspiring. There were a number of good scenes with her, however.

Dan Stevens played an Edward who was at times exuberant and confident, and at other times brooding and almost morose. He was handsome and dashing, but he wasn’t from the book. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, played a rather non-dashing Willoughby. He seemed more of a spoiled kid than a romantic hero. He portrayed Willoughby’s impetuousness and selfishness and his love for Marianne well, though. David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon was interesting, although he brooded too much. His character was given several distasteful things to do, and I had to get over seeing him as Bradley Headstone (a part he acted in 1998 ‘Our Mutual Friend’), but other than that he was fine.

None of the comic characters besides Anne Steele were as funny as they ought to have been, though at times Sir John was quite amusing. Mrs. Jennings and the Palmers were very disappointing in the comedy department. None of John and Fanny Dashwood’s doings came across as amusing.

One of the advantages to this movie is that it is a mini-series and able to include a great deal of the book that the 1995 version was obliged to leave out. Here we are treated to views of a suitably apathetic Lady Middleton and her (albeit very tame) children, young Harry Dashwood (if you can call it a treat in this version), and a properly stiff and rude Mrs. Ferrars. We get to see Willoughby offer Marianne a horse, and take her around Allenham. We get to see Anne Steele spill the beans about Edward and Lucy in a delightfully funny scene. Even the duel is included!

What I thought strangest about this version were the number of elements that it shares with the 1995 version but that are not in the novel. The conversation between John and Fanny Dashwood about what to do for his step-mother and sisters takes place in a carriage on their way to Norland, instead of after she joins him at Norland. Margaret is made into a bit of a tomboy. Elinor explains to Margaret that houses go from father to son, that men inherit, not women — an oversimplification, as I discussed in my review of the 1995 version. Marianne’s hair is curly, while Elinor’s is not, and Fanny has little curls plastered around her forehead. There is a scene in the Norland library that involves Edward, Fanny, Margaret, and Elinor. Edward hits it off with Margaret (riding his horse with her in this version, sword fighting with her in the 1995 version, &c.). Edward gives Elinor a gift (his handkerchief, a book), and later Elinor sits (or stands) brooding by herself over this item. Edward actually seeks a private interview with Elinor before she leaves Norland, instead of avoiding being alone with her as he does in the book, and in both versions it is made to sound at first as if he is going to propose to her. Margaret does not want to go on the walk with Marianne that ends with Marianne spraining her ankle in the rain. Edward does not immediately notice Lucy when he comes to visit Elinor and Marianne in London. Marianne takes a walk in the rain at Cleveland and is rescued by Colonel Brandon. When Margaret announces that Edward is coming, in a scene near the end of the movie, everyone hurries out of aprons, &c. and rushes to the parlour to meet him. Since none of these elements are in the book, it looks as if in many ways the 2008 version was just copying the 1995 adaptation.

There were quite a few other bizarre facets to this version, as well. Marianne calls her sister-in-law “Aunt Fanny”, Fanny addresses her mother-in-law as “Mary”, and John Dashwood refers to Edward as Elinor’s “cousin”. Colonel Brandon seems to know something against Willoughby right from the beginning, and later asks him what his intentions towards Marianne are (to which Willoughby very reasonably replies, “What right have you to ask me?”). The single word “Willoughby” is enough to explain why a young woman is acting distressed. Fanny refers to Marianne as possibly being “damaged goods”. Marianne has time to fall in love with and get engaged to Colonel Brandon before Lucy marries Robert, thereby releasing Edward. (One wonders where they’ve been all this time.) Willoughby and Colonel Brandon are both given to acting like medical men — with Willoughby’s “I have experience in these things” and assurances to Mrs. Dashwood that Marianne’s is only a minor sprain and giving her the number of days it will take to heal and Brandon’s advice on how to take care of Marianne at Cleveland: “I’ve seen this too many times”. Mrs. Ferrars eats what appears to be gold-plated food.

The scene at the beginning of this mini-series was unnecessary and inappropriate. (It is a scene of Willoughby seducing Eliza.) Also inappropriate was having Colonel Brandon beginning to unfasten Marianne’s clothes when she is ill at Cleveland. He stops quickly, and leaves her to her sister, but it’s still repulsive. Also unpalatable was the whole Colonel Brandon taming Marianne theme at the end, where she is compared to a wild horse that will follow him because of his kindness and to a hawk that comes when he bids.

Besides the seduction scene at the beginning, other bad content includes some low cut dresses and a bit of swearing. There is also mention of a young girl having a child out of wedlock, mention of a young woman being “damaged goods”, and that sort of thing.

All-in-all, I was disappointed in this version. Though interesting to watch a few times, for me it is not a definitive version. It doesn’t even come close, and there are some aspects of it that really detract from its enjoyableness, as far as I’m concerned.

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This is a review of Sense and Sensibility 2008 – movie version, adapted by Andrew Davies.

Screencap of Marianne’s letters from angelfish_icons. Publicity shots from Period Films.

Sense and Sensibility: 1995 Movie Adaptation

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

The 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility is an enjoyable film. It manages to be quite good, despite several odd elements.

In the movie, Elinor tells Margaret that “houses go from father to son … not from father to daughter”. The only reason that Norland went to their brother John is because their uncle entailed it to him. Otherwise Henry Dashwood would have been able to leave it to his wife and daughters, which he probably would have done since his son John already had a fortune left to him by his mother. There are plenty of women with property in the book. Mrs. Ferrars’s fortune is completely at her disposal, and she was able easily to cut Edward out of her will. She could have just as easily cut Robert out as well and left everything to Fanny (as Elinor suspected she might do after Robert married against Mrs. Ferrars’s wishes). Mrs. Smith (called Lady Allen in the movie) owns Allenham, which she plans on leaving to Willoughby. When he displeases her, however, she disinherits him. Even Mrs. Jennings has some money left her by her husband, and the elder Eliza Williams had such a large fortune that her guardian coerced her into marrying his elder son to get possession of it. The conversation between Elinor and Edward in the film, where she tells him that he will inherit his fortune, while she can’t even earn hers, is something of a continuation of this theme. Of course, Edward’s mother ends up disinheriting him (he does have two thousand pounds of his own, however), while, in the book at least, Elinor has a fortune of one thousand pounds from her uncle.

The other big oddity I noticed, was how poor the Dashwoods are made. In the movie they can’t afford beef or sugar. In the book they were poor, but not paupers. They couldn’t afford to keep a horse (with the subsequent expenses of another servant, a horse for the servant, &c.) and Mrs. Dashwood sold her carriage. However, in the book she actually considered building on to their cottage! If they were starving, or even having to go without beef and sugar, she would never have even thought about such an expense as building.

Another strange change that was made was dropping Willoughby’s visit to Cleveland to explain himself. This in itself isn’t so strange, as what they chose to put in instead. In the movie Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that he has learned from Lady Allen (i.e. Mrs. Smith) that Willoughby did mean to propose to Marianne. This is rather odd, as, in the first place, Willoughby never told Lady Allen that he was planning on proposing to Marianne. In the second place, if Lady Allen had known about Willoughby’s behaviour to Marianne, she would probably have let him marry her (in the book she forgives him and reinstates him as her heir because of his marriage to a woman of character). And, finally, what was Lady Allen doing telling Colonel Brandon about all of this anyway?

There are other changes. Marianne’s illness is made much more serious in the film than it was in the book — probably for dramatic effect. In the book, the doctor never thinks that Marianne is in any danger of dying. In a dramatic addition, Colonel Brandon is shown carrying an almost unconscious Marianne in the rain over a great distance into the house at Cleveland. Artistic license, I guess. Another interesting addition in this movie is a scene where Edward attempts to tell Elinor about his engagement — a scene which never takes place in the book. As is common in adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, scenes have been added in an attempt to bring the heroes more to the front.

Of course, there are many deletions from the novel, to fit the movie into such a short time slot. A number of characters are dropped. Young Harry Dashwood, Lady Middleton and her children, and Anne Steele are all excluded, as is any reference to Colonel Brandon’s older brother. (That latter deletion changes Colonel Brandon’s back story a great deal as Eliza is made penniless to explain why he could not marry her.)

Quite a few scenes from the book are also edited, or simply dropped. Some of the ruder doings of Willoughby and Marianne, for example, are dropped (e.g. going to visit Allenham alone with Mrs. Smith/Lady Allen in the house). They are made self-absorbed enough, however, that those particular deletions are hardly noticeable.

On the positive side, this is a beautiful movie with some great acting. All of the actors were superb. As has been stated many times, Emma Thompson was much too old to play the part of nineteen year old Elinor Dashwood, but she does such a good job acting her, that it is not difficult to overlook this. Kate Winslet completely epitomized Marianne Dashwood. She is beautiful, charming, sweet, passionate, inconsiderate, honest, impulsive, pathetic, and everything else that Marianne is. The comic characters (e.g. Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Jennings, and Mr. and Mrs. Palmer) were fantastic. The men (Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, and John Willoughby) were good, especially Greg Wise as Willoughby. Imogen Stubbs as Lucy Steele was perfect. I can’t think of a single character who was miscast. There have been complaints about Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, but I thought he did a fine job. Edward is supposed to be an awkward, reticent man.

The “chapter 2” scenes at the beginning, where Fanny Dashwood talks her husband out of helping his sisters, were done brilliantly. Mr. Palmer was wonderfully droll in his scenes. This movie is funny, as Jane Austen meant the story to be.

In The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries (New York: Newmarket Press, 1996), Emma Thompson, who wrote the screenplay of the film, stated, “In nearly all the weepy scenes I’ve tried to get one good joke. Less indulgent.” (p. 266). This is quite effective, balancing humour and pathos beautifully. An example of this is the scene where a heartbroken Marianne reads Willoughby’s letter to Elinor. Mrs. Jennings comes in and suggests olives as something that might cheer her up. Mrs. Jennings’s bumbling good-nature keeps the scene from wallowing in tears too much, without lessening the effectiveness of Marianne’s sorrow.

This movie is visually very beautiful. The costumes, the houses, the scenery — all are lovely. Several of the costumes are very pretty indeed, and the scenery in particular is gorgeous.

Bad content is minimal in this film. There are several low cut gowns, a mention of a young woman being “passed from man to man”, and of another young woman having a child out of wedlock. Marianne’s illness may be frightening for small children. A woman pinches another woman’s nose and chases her from the house, and Sir John calls a pointer bitch, a pointer bitch.

I probably spent as much time on the points I disliked in this film as on the parts that I approved, but taking everything into account, I do like this movie — and it is the only version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that I have seen that I can say that about.

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This is a review of Sense and Sensibility, 1995 movie version, adapted by Emma Thompson.

Sense and Sensibility: Marvel Illustrated

This is one of my reviews for the ‘Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011’ hosted by Laurel Ann of Austenprose. (Here is my introductory post: ‘By a Lady’.)

A review of Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated), adapted by Nancy Butler, illustrated by Sonny Liew.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I borrowed this book, as I have never read any comic books of this kind before. I was very pleasantly surprised, as it follows the novel much more closely than any other rewrite or film adaption I have ever read or viewed. A great deal of the dialogue is simply lifted from the novel! The rest follows the book very closely, and, though somewhat simplified or condensed, it is done quite tastefully. Where more dialogue was needed, it was often taken directly from the narration in Sense and Sensibility. There were a few odd changes. Instead of speaking of the poet Cowper, Marianne is portrayed as admiring Byron, a poet not even mentioned in the novel. Besides minor changes like that, however, it was very accurate. It’s mostly Sense and Sensibility — what more can I say?

The illustrations were okay. Some of the pictures were pretty, but I am not in general a fan of comic style drawings. For their style, however, I thought that they were fairly good. My biggest complaint is that for some reason they made Elinor bald in front. However, they were pretty enough. They were playful and portrayed the personalities of the characters well. They also seemed to portray the period suitably. I’m not a historian, but nothing struck me as particularly out of place.

Overall, I was quite impressed with this work.

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Sense and Sensibility, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen. Written by Nancy Butler, and illustrated by Sonny Liew. Contains material originally published in magazine form as SENSE & SENSIBILITY #1-5. ISBN-13:  978-0-7851-4819-7. Published by MARVEL WORLDWIDE, INC., a subsidiary of MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT, LLC. OFFICE OF PUBLICATION: 417 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Copyright © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.