Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
For five years now I’ve made it a tradition to spend my Christmas break reading an annotated edition of a Jane Austen novel, and each year I treasure the time I spend reading these editions that enhance and elucidate the writing I already adore and admire! I’ve been alternating between the annotated editions by Harvard University Press and the annotated series by David Shapard. This year it was HUP’s turn and I chose Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (who did the edits for HUP’s Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition.
With all of my reviews of annotated editions, my rating and comments are based on the annotations and observations made by the editors and not Jane Austen’s magnificent and beloved masterpieces.
Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading Patricia Meyer Spacks’s annotations:
- Sense AND Sensibility: When I’ve thought of this work I’ve always thought about it as displaying two opposite sides of the spectrum, more of a dichotomous study of sense opposing sensibility. In her introduction and annotations, Ms. Spacks focuses heavily on the words “sense” and “sensibility,” and their various meanings and uses throughout Jane Austen’s writing. She pointedly addresses the misconception I was guilty of: “The book is about sense and sensibility, not sense as opposed to sensibility; it explores combinations as well as oppositions of such character traits.” (page 41) It felt like I was seeing this work through a whole new lens and truly comprehending what Jane Austen was trying to communicate through her tale.
- Reoccurring Themes:
- Besides sense and sensibility, Ms. Spacks analyzes in detail the importance and attention to money and financial concerns in S&S. She points out that many specific descriptions about finances and money takes place in the narrative and dialogue (perhaps more so than in any other Jane Austen novel). And how throughout the novel Jane Austen illustrates that money can control characters, give freedom, open possibilities, and also ruin lives.
- Ms. Spacks also makes note of how often the word “exertion” is used to describe Elinor and her actions. Like Anne Elliot from Persuasion, Elinor is not a passive character – she is constantly exerting herself to mask her true feelings, keep Lucy’s secret, and complacently observe the social niceties that Marianne would like to ignore.
- Female Power!: When I think of S&S I often feel it is an echo of Jane Austen’s own life at the time – she was living in an all-female household with a small income. And like the Dashwoods, they were dependent on others. With that being in the forefront of my mind, I didn’t quite recognize all the representations of powerful females in this tale. Ms. Spacks points out how Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny Dashwood, and even Lucy Steele exert power and control over the men in their lives.
- Entertaining Asides: Just like with her annotations in Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, Ms. Spacks was not shy about adding a few comic asides that show she has much fun laughing at the whims and follies of others as Elizabeth Bennet. One of my favorites is when Mrs. Jennings observes Colonel Brandon’s discussion with Elinor: “Mrs. Jennings is ‘too honorable to listen,’ but not too honorable to lip-read.” (page 322)
Since rereading any Jane Austen work (even without annotations) is like a new experience, and readers often make new discoveries on subsequent re-readings, I thought I’d share some of mine here:
- Master of an Estate: This perhaps more of a new question than a new discovery, and one I didn’t find an answer to in the annotations. Why is Edward Ferrars not being groomed to become master of an estate like Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley? He is the eldest son, the heir – who usually inherits the bulk of the family property. Later in Volume III, Chapter 1, we learn that his mother was planning on settling an estate on him if he married Miss Morton. Why wasn’t it already settled on him? And furthermore why was there so much desire for him to find a profession if he was the heir? It doesn’t seem necessary for him to work. If anything, it would seem to be necessary for his younger brother to seek a profession.
- Something There: The realization that Mrs. Jennings, John Dashwood, and even Edward Ferrars all assumed something might be there between Elinor and Colonel Brandon makes me sometimes question if the pair of them would have been a better match? While I do love Marianne and think her liveliness well-suited for Colonel Brandon’s grave manner, I must admit that Jane Austen doesn’t give us a lot to love about Edward, and I kind of think Elinor deserves better.
For readers who want to gain a better and deeper understanding of Jane Austen’s writing, her characters, and the world they lived in I highly recommend reading an annotated edition, such as the immensely handsome and informative Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks.