Versus is a feature in which two books face-off. Anything goes in the judging, but only one can be the winner.
NOTE: As this is a discussion of books by Jane Austen, whose plots most everyone knows, there are some spoilers.
I’d read Persuasion before. I liked it. But I was interested to see how it would fare on a second reading. This time around, I was particularly struck with the awfulness of Anne’s relatives. In a way they are both horrific and hilarious. I was amused that Sir Walter’s favorite “book” was the baronetage, in which his family line is set forth. But I was mostly annoyed that they are in debt up to their eyeballs and yet snub technically lower class people with money and refuse to live within their means. And Mary the hypochondriac was both fun and pathetic.
Despite some funny moments, there isn’t as much awesome Austen wit here. Rather, most of the book is concerned with the genuine feelings of Anne, who is practically an old maid at 28. I just never could warm up all that much to Anne. Or to Captain Wentworth for that matter. She’s too perfect. And I just don’t know exactly what he is. And I was uber-frustrated that the love story got so little page-time. Here’s the most frustrating quote in the world, which occurs after Anne and Captain Wentworth modestly announce their feelings:
Who can be in doubt of what followed? (266)
What? No details? Bah! Despite this rather disappointing conclusion to the love story, I did enjoy the book. There is a lot here to be discussed. For example, here’s one of my favorite quotes on female storytelling:
Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything. (251)
And here’s one on the titular theme:
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness, as a very resolute character. (124)
There is a also great cast of characters, and there are more mature musings on marriage and dependability and the relative benefits and drawbacks of being persuadable.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen [rating:4]
In contrast, this was my first time through Sense and Sensibility. As in Persuasion, there is a whole cast of terrible, horrible, and awful people: Mr. & Mrs. John Dashwood, Lucy Steele, Mrs. Ferrars and Richard Ferrars. And the indefensible Willoughby! But I did love Elinor and her constant struggle to be sensible against all odds. For some reason, I wasn’t as annoyed with Elinor’s perfection as I was with Anne’s. Perhaps because I was more privy to Elinor’s internal struggles?
And I loved the rest of the cast too. Marianne and Colonel Brandon are particular favorites. Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret. And Edward, of course (if I can get Hugh Grant out of my mind). But again, as I often feel with Austen, the love story did not get enough page-time. In fact, we spend almost no time with Elinor and Edward alone together. And again, a frustrating line where Edward is to propose:
How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however, how soon as opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told. (354, emphasis added)
Blurg. I want the details. But, there is something to be said for the freedom to imagine it how I will. Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first novel and is incredibly well formed. There are a number of developed themes here. One that particularly struck me was the idea that the characters of men and women can be improved or worsened based on their spouse and marriage. Oh, and there is plenty of my beloved witty banter. I just thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen [rating:4]
Between the two, I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility more. Perhaps it had to do with Anne being a bit of an austere old maid (28) and Elinor being more youthful (17). Or that Sense and Sensibility was Austen’s first novel; Persuasion her last. Or that Persuasion seems to center almost exclusively on Anne, while Sense and Sensibility has a wider cast. Probably, the themes in Persuasion are more developed. This is a close one, but, for me, the plot and characters of Sense and Sensibility win out.
Winner: Sense and Sensibility