Jan 082018

Enriching, Immensely Handsome, and Informative!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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.

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  29 Responses to “Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition – Jane Austen (Edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks)”


    What a wonderful post! Thanks, Meredith! And love the pic with the book and your Xmas tree 🙂


    Lovely review Meredith! It’s been a while since I last read S&S. You do make some very valid points regarding ‘Master of an Estate’ and ‘Something There’.


    Excellent review! I especially like that you gave significant time to Spacks’s ideas about the combinations and permutations of sense and sensibility in the novel. That really struck me, too, when I read this edition last year.

    Your comments about the master of an estate are interesting as well, and I hadn’t thought much about the question before you raised it in such detail. I have a couple of speculations. (1) Everything about the Ferrars family screams “nouveau” to me—it may be that, like Mr. Bingley (the original one), they became rich and are only now settling into landed gentry life. The fact that Mrs. Ferrars has total control over the money implies this: an older family would have entails or other traditions determining inheritance, and a widow would not have such power over her sons. They may own an estate or two, but don’t have the tradition of managing land ingrained into the family culture. (2) I think the specific profession Mrs. Ferrars is pushing on Edward is key: politics. The family is wealthy and now they are reaching for a title, and at the turn of the nineteenth century, becoming an important politician was the main (perhaps only) road to getting one. She is making Edward the vehicle of her ambition.

    Anyway, those would be my guesses!


      Thank you, Abigail! I had so much to say about this book (this is quite a long review for me!) and so much I didn’t say but wanted to! While I do agree David Shapard gives a more thorough and critical annotation, I really enjoyed the astute observations from Ms. Spacks.

      I think you are definitely onto something about the Ferrars family. I did think that too that they might be nouveau. And it makes sense if the Norfolk estate was something Mrs. Ferrars solely inherited and that is why it is an estate she can choose to bestow how she pleases. Yes, Mrs. Ferrars definitely wants to see her son in a “distinguished public profession” which is maybe the main drive for a profession, but it seemed like Edward was also contemplating a profession on his own such as one in the navy or as clergyman. Which again, struck me since I didn’t think there was a need for him to have a profession at all.

      Thanks so much for sharing! I value the exchange of ideas on this topic!


    You presented new reasons to take a closer look at S&S. I love annotated editions and would like to add this one to my library.


      It is a beauty and one that I am very happy to own! I am a visual person so I love the elegance of this edition – the hardbound cover, beautiful color images that are largely displayed. I’d recommend either this one or P&P Edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks.


    Great review Meredith. You’ve really made me think about this one. I agree with you about Edward. He wasn’t exactly portrayed as hero material. Eleanor loved him I think, because he wasn’t complicated. She’d probably had enough of that in life already. I’d love to read an annotated version but it’s a big commitment. I just don’t have the time at the moment.


      Thanks so much for checking out my review, Teresa! That is a good point about Edward. For whatever reason, I wish we saw more of Edward’s admirable traits so we, as readers, can fall in love with him too. 🙂

      It is a big time commitment, which is why I read it during Christmas break! 😉


    Good points to bring out in your latest Annotated read. I think I’ve had the same notion about the title, too. That it was a ‘versus’ thing rather than a true ‘and’.
    Also good question about the estate part. I think Abigail’s reply is a great explanation.
    Oh, and yes, I did have those ‘what if’ thoughts about Colonel Brandon and Elinor.


      Thanks for checking out my thoughts, Sophia! I guess with such differing heroines I focused on the disparity between the two and didn’t think about them together.

      Yes, I agree! Abigail’s brings up a great point. 🙂

      Glad I’m not the only one who likes Colonel Brandon with Elinor. 🙂


    I have always wondered why Mrs. Ferras was able to transfer the inheritance irrevocably? I can only assume there were no ramifications/consequence when the younger son married Lucy? It seems so unfair to Edward.


      It looks like she has power to do what she wants with the money, no strings attached. It seems like she didn’t want to change the will again for Robert, I believe he was her more favored child. It is very unfair to Edward. I agree.


    I really appreciate this post, Meredith. Thank you. I, too, enjoy and feel enriched by a good annotation.


    Great review Meredith! I always like a good annotated version. My favorite is David Shapard’s. I’ve read before about the “and” comment. It does change things. I like Abigail’s explanation of things.


      Thanks, Suzan! 🙂 I like his annotations to, especially how he is a little more critical on Jane Austen and points out some flaws or weaknesses in her story or characters. 🙂


    Hi Meredith,
    Thanks for your insightful review. You´re right (and Patricia Meyer) when saying that “Sense and Sensibility” is the work of Jane Austen where the financial matters appear are explained with more details. This novel was the first one I read of Jane Austen and I remembered the anxiety I felt when the Dashwood suffered scarcity from their own relatives. The XVIII laws in England were unfair for women preventing them from inheriting their own property.
    And speaking about Marianne and Colonel Brandon and their “unexpected” affair, well, I also think Elinor would have fitted better with Brandon than her sister but, maybe there´s an explanation: I think it was in the biography of Jane Austen written by Claire Tomalin where I learnt that, at first, it was in Jane Austen´s mind to “kill” Marianne (well, not “kill” but she thought Marianne should die) because, in some ways, Marianne had broken the moral codes with Willoughby but at the end Jane felt pity and affection for Marianne and decided to “save” her from death by marrying Brandon as it was a kind of penance… at least this end is better than having a dying Marianne!.
    Anyway, as years passed by, I understand better the good marriage between Brandon and Marianne although it would have been great to have a more loving Edward Ferrars for Elinor and a younger Brandon for Marianne (or a reformed Willoughby!) LOL 😉


      Hi Teresa! That’s great that S&S was your first. I’m wondering if the financial details came from the fact that Jane Austen was living a similar situation and the fact that her mother, sister, Martha, and herself had to be so careful about spending and living within their means.

      Oh wow, that is the first time I heard that theory! I am so glad that was not Marianne’s fate, I would definitely have been not a fan of this story if that happened. And what that would have done to poor Colonel Brandon who was so tortured by losing Eliza!?!

      I agree a more loving Edward would have been great. Out of all the male characters in S&S, he is definitely the weakest in my opinion.


    beautiful cover


    Great review…I have always wanted to read an annotated copy. S&S is not one of my favourite Austen’s, I have always felt Jane got it wrong…I really think Elinorr and Colonel Brandon were a better match…and I have no sympathy for Marianne..too much like Lydia for my liking.


      Thanks, Stephanie. It isn’t my favorite either. I still love it because Jane Austen is a master story-teller and I adore the world she creates with her characters. I agree about Marianne, she definitely shares some similarities with Lydia in the first half of the novel, but I really like her new self-awareness and ability to see her own flaws and work towards making changes. That is admirable.


        I agree that Marianne evolves in a way Lydia doesn’t. I still just see Elinor in a more equal marriage with the Colonel than Edward. Edward is not one of Austens strongest male heroes.


    Love those huge ‘coffee table edition’ annotated Austen books, woo! I don’t yet have one for myself, but they are on my mammoth wish list. I do love my David Shapard editions, though. Still, I want to read another point of view and the results of the research another writer has done.

    I felt Elinor admired Col. Brandon and if courted she could’ve been happy with him. But he so obviously has it bad for Marianne. So, why let your heart even go there when the object of possible affection is focused on another, and on someone you love so very much too? Besides, you don’t always get to choose who captures your heart. Somehow, Edward did capture Elinor’s. He is honorable but not a saint. He grew out of Lucy, but had made a promise….although it’s off screen, I tend to think she kind of threw herself at him (just my opinion.) He visits the Dashwoods not able to stay away from people whose affection he would much rather enjoy than dear old Mum’s conditional love, and still doesn’t share his ‘secret.’ Perhaps he was hoping Lucy would come to want someone else. Well, she did. A little too late, but…. Oh well, I have way too many more ideas about S&S and won’t bore you to sleep now. zzzzzz

    I see those cute little striped socks peeking out from under the big book. What a cozy picture. Love it.


      Very true. It will be interesting to see how the two editions may compare with each other. I’ve read 2 David Shapard editions and this is my 3rd Harvard University Press edition. I’m starting to notice a difference in style. Mr. Shapard does tend towards more scholarly and critical analysis and in the HUP usually focus a lot on language and word usage. Both share a lot and give the reader much to learn and appreciate. 🙂

      LOL! I love your thoughts about S&S and the hearts of the characters there-in, they do mirror my own. I agree about Colonel Brandon being irrevocably lost to Marianne. <3

      Thanks! I thought it would be fun to share some of the pictures I take and share on FB here with my reviews. 😉


    Sense and Sensibility is on my re-read list this year and having read David Shapard’s edition of Emma last year, I’m planning on getting his edition of S&S for that purpose. It was only the second of Jane Austen’s works that I ever read (P&P was the first) and I’m still very fond of it over 45 years later. One of the things I remember from that very first reading was the mention of Colonel Brandon’s age. To my teenage self, it seemed so old! Now to my 60-something self, he seems so young! Ah well!

    As to the debate over who should end up with whom, it seems to me that pairing Elinor and the Colonel would be a bit like pairing Jane Bennet with Darcy. Two people with such similar personality traits could be a disaster waiting to happen. Whereas Marianne would be like an Elizabeth to the Colonel’s Darcy. She would liven him up a bit and he’d be a steadying influence on her. The age gap does seem large to our modern sensibilities, as with Emma and her Mr. Knightley, but I believe it was a lot commoner 200 years ago for that to happen. To my mind, Elinor would become a kind of behind-the-scenes guiding light for Edward, whcih she’d never be able to do for the Colonel.

    I wonder how much Jane Austen’s personal circumstances influenced the editing and re-writing of S&S that she did at Chawton before publication? Though the early draft(s) had to have been written at Steventon, there were the intervening years in Bath and Southampton after her father first retired and then sadly died, meaning that money, or lack thereof, became a much more important factor in her life. Echoes of that appear in the circumstances that afflicted the Dashwood ladies.

    Like Michelle, I’ll stop now, before I get too carried away!


      Anji, dear! So thrilled to have you share your thoughts! What a long love affair with Jane Austen’s works! I believe S&S was the fourth work I read by Jane Austen. I love hearing how your first impression of Colonel Brandon has changed! And very true about the similarities between Jane Bennet and Darcy and Elinor and Colonel Brandon. And I like your positive outlook for Edward and Elinor. 🙂

      It echoes strongly. It would be fascinating to learn about what changes took place between that earlier draft and her later composition. And to see if our theories are correct about Jane Austen’s personal circumstances influencing her story.

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