18300265Persuasion is an exquisite novel. It has one of the most expert depictions of inner emotional experience that I think—that I know—I’ve ever read. Persuasion is not a novel about Anne Elliot; it’s a novel that is Anne Elliot. This is a novel that lives and breathes in its character’s psyche. Its emotional nuance and minuteness allows it to derive its most significant, personal moments from those that seem the most unremarkable: fleeting moments of eye contact, perfunctory questions, gestures of politeness. And so just like life’s, the stuff of Persuasion is more about derived rather than imposed meaning: the novel doesn’t need to orchestrate for events to happen on a grand scale for those events to be considered momentous and so meaningful.Instead, it’s concerned, in Austen’s words, with the “solid” and the “substance”—what something appears to be and what it actually is—and how its characters, namely Anne, discern and make meaning out of the discrepancies between the two.

anne elliot: *exists*

Oh, and also, Anne Elliot is just a marvel of a character. I love her so much, and I always feel for her so immensely.No, I’ve never had my engagement to a man broken off only to have that same man come back 8 years later and propose to me again—but I might as well have, because I could so easily identify with Anne. She really is, as Austen describes her, a combination of fortitude and gentleness, a character whose hold on you is all the more remarkable because she never outright demands any attention—she earns it.

Anyway, I love this book, if you couldn’t tell.


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Sense and Sensibility is not, I think, a novel that is especially lovable. Not to say that there’s nothing in it to love—rather, that it’s not a novel that is easy to love. It’s not as “sparkling” as Austen’s other works—Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey—but is a decidedly dimmer story, filled with compromises and serious hardship and some very close, if not actual, brushes with tragedy. It’s not easy to reconcile yourself to a lot of what happens in this narrative: to (spoilers!) Marianne marrying Colonel Brandon, to what Willoughby does to Marianne, to how he redeems, but also not quite redeems, himself. This is a novel wherein so much is about what could’ve been but wasn’t; it’s one wherein the tinge of those could’ve beens prevents you from gleaning a real contentedness with the book’s ending.

But “easy” is not tantamount to “good.” Just because S&S isn’t perhaps as easily digestible as Austen’s other novels doesn’t mean that it’s not any less worthy as a story. As much as I have qualified my enjoyment of this novel—I definitely didn’t unabashedly love it as much as Pride and Prejudice or Emma—I still absolutely found it to be an especially compelling and nuanced character study. It is an Austen novel, after all, with no shortage of substantial, thought-provoking ideas: discussions, of course, of sense and sensibility and what place they have in polite society, but also of propriety, of emotion as a means of communication, of commitment and duty. But more than just providing a fodder for discussion, Austen renders her characters sensitively and sympathetically—that is to say, her novel is not just intellectually, but also emotionally, potent. I was genuinely affected by these characters’ stories, by Elinor and Marianne’s, yes, but also Willougby and Colonel Brandon’s.

S&S is not my favourite of Austen’s novels, but that’s not really saying much. Austen has set the bar so high for herself that saying one of her novels isn’t my favourite isn’t exactly helpful. For me, when it comes to the quality of Austen’s novels, the question is not if they are good, or how good they are, but rather what kind of good they offer. Of course you have your Pride and Prejudices and Northanger Abbeys, the ones you go back to to laugh and delight in their characters’ ridiculousness. But you also have your Sense and Sensibilitys, the ones you perhaps return to to once again acutely feel their characters’ struggles, to see those characters slowly and complicatedly try to unravel the strands of those struggles.


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Loved this even more the second time around, and boy do I have a lot of thoughts to share:

► Gotta admit, I totally underestimated Catherine the first time I read this. She deserves so much more credit for her resolute principles and “general integrity,” as Henry puts it.

“If I am wrong, I am doing what I believe to be right…If I could not be persuaded into doing what I thought wrong, I never will be tricked into it.”

In fact, Henry describes Catherine perfectly when he says she’s “open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.” Not just that, but Catherine, as oblivious as she oftentimes is, is quite observant (some might say tooobservant)—something in equal parts strengthened and weakened by her introspection. She notices a lot, but is often too insecure to put those observations to use—and who can blame her? She’s young, she’s barely been out in society, and she’s not really sure what goes and what doesn’t in terms of social conduct; no wonder she has a hard time making judgements. Naive she is, but dumb she most certainly is not.

“…but why should he say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?” I feel you Catherine, I feel you.

► As for Henry, he is a national treasure; so playful and quick-witted and teasing, but never to the point of being disrespectful or offensive. Oh, and also, A TOTAL FEMINIST. Henry has so many great lines:

“Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, ‘Have you been long in Bath, madam?’
‘About a week, sir,’ replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
‘Really!’ with affected astonishment.
‘Why should you be surprised, sir?’
‘Why, indeed!’ said he, in his natural tone. ‘But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other.’”

LOL Henry you sarcastic shit

“’As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter–writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars.’
‘And what are they?’
‘A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar…I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.’”

again with the lovable sarcasm. MY BOY GETS IT

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

Actually LOL’d at this. How anyone could not love Henry is beyond me. (THE MAN UNDERSTANDS MUSLIN !!!!)

► Now we move on to Isabella, who is, I think, one of Austen’s best characters. Isabella is a total fiend, but damn, she’s a brilliant character. She’s just one of those people who bullshit their way so masterfully through life. If Isabella were a superhero, her power would be bullshit, EASY. Pretty much 99.9% of whatever comes out of her mouth is complete, not-to-be-trusted BS, and yet, she still plays people like a fiddle. Characters like Isabella are why I’ve said time and time again that Austen writes some of the best characters that you love to hate. As much of a piece of shit as Isabella is, I can imagine her existing in the real world (& people like her probably do), spewing lie after lie to get what she wants—and that’s what makes her so great. :’)

“What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter.”

Oh, Isabella.

► This is a Jane Austen novel, so of course it comes peppered with completely badass feminist gems:

“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it.”

“She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; and to her treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. But Catherine did not know her own advantages—did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Jane Austen does not give a shit. my girl WENT OFF

► Speaking of Jane Austen going off:

“’And what are you reading, Miss—?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”



“Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.” LOL harsh but true. Mrs. Allen, you need a personality DESPERATELY

► A particularly great passage:

“She was actually under the abbey walls…without feeling one awful foreboding of future misery to herself, or one moment’s suspicion of any past scenes of horror being acted within the solemn edifice. The breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her; it had wafted nothing worse than a thick mizzling rain; and having given a good shake to her habit, she was ready to be shown into the common drawing-room, and capable of considering where she was.”

“the breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her”? Austen is, as always, hilarious.

► I love that the narrator of the story openly acknowledges her role as such in Northanger Abbey, something which Austen’s other novels don’t feature. You’ll be casually reading the story then BAM the narrator steps in and says something funny or sarcastic or witty and it’s just such a lovely surprise.

“The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.”


► I had to have at least a bullet point for John, douchebag that he is.

“With whomsoever [John] was, or was likely to be connected, his own consequence always required that theirs should be great, and as his intimacy with any acquaintance grew, so regularly grew their fortune. The expectations of his friend Morland, therefore, from the first overrated, had ever since his introduction to Isabella been gradually increasing; and by merely adding twice as much for the grandeur of the moment, by doubling what he chose to think the amount of Mr. Morland’s preferment, trebling his private fortune, bestowing a rich aunt, and sinking half the children, he was able to represent the whole family to the general in a most respectable light.”

lol classic John, amirite?

► Last but not least, the Northanger Abbey adaptation, which I will say I mostly enjoyed. Felicity Jones as Catherine and JJ Feilds as Henry were perfect. Carey Mulligan as Isabella was also great, but I wish we’d seen more of her and her wonderful duplicity. Overall though, I think the adaptation kinda missed the whole point of the story. This nagged at me a little bit while watching the movie, but reading this essaysolidified all my doubts. The movie amps up the gothic, whereas the whole book parodies it. The movie also adds a bunch of…salacious content to the story that didn’t need to be there (Catherine’s weird dreams, for example).

JJ FEILDS THOUGH. As if Henry needed to be even MORE charming.

Though I preferred its first to its second half, I really loved Northanger Abbey. Austen’s whip-smart voice shines as much in this book as any of her others.


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