Sense and Sensibility vs. Persuasion

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

I know that not everyone would come down this way on the judging. Vote in the poll below and leave your reasoning for your decision in the comments!

[poll id=”2″]

Categories: Features, Fiction, Reviews, Versus


  • Lorren

    While I genuinely enjoy both of these books, Sense and Sensibility has always been my favorite. I think it might be because it was my first Jane Austen.

  • Kaprekar

    Oh I can’t agree with this – Persuasion for me every time..for example, what about Wentworth’s letter to Anne “You pierce my soul”!!!! How can anyone resist that!! I find Edward Ferrars such a weak and timid character in contrast, I just can’t warm to him.

  • Melody (Fingers & Prose)

    These are probably my two favorite Austen novels – what a choice! I love Austen’s wit and storytelling abilities, but I adore the introspective contemplation in Persuasion. Persuasion was almost more about getting to know Austen herself rather than just the characters for me…she felt the most transparent here.

    I actually really identified with Anne Eliot, so it’s always interesting for me to read people’s reactions to her! I don’t read her as too-perfect and aloof, (though I don’t think you said “aloof”…) I read her as an introvert surrounded by extroverts, the quintessential “middle child” that just wants everyone to be happy, the sole observant, deep-thinker in her small group of acquaintances. Maybe I’m projecting some of my own experiences onto her! Anyhow, I really enjoyed reading your comparison — nice way to approach Austen.

  • Jenny

    I have to go for Persuasion mainly because I was 28 when I read it and have always been way too concerned with my family and friend’s advice. So I could relate. Though, I didn’t have some handsome man I’d turned down. :(

    It also gets points just because it made me really FEEL things while reading it. In other words, I cried like a baby. ;)

  • Melody (Fingers & Prose)

    I love both of these books – what a choice! I loved S&S, but adore Persuasion. I feel like Jane Austen is most transparent in Persuasion. Also, I really identified with Anne Eliot…so it’s always fun to see people’s responses to her! I saw her as an introvert surrounded by extroverts, the oddball and quintessential middle child. (Maybe I’m projecting my own experiences here!)

    I love how you compared them–a perfect way to approach Austen.

  • Jessica

    Lorren – Aww. I love that SENSE & SENSIBILITY was your first Austen. Though it wasn’t my first, I found it particularly delightful too.

    Kaprekar – I do agree that Captain Wentworth’s letter is swoon-worthy and that Edward is . . . less exciting. If I were to choose between the two books on the two male “leads” alone, it would definitely be PERSUASION.

    Jenny – I can’t imagine you emoting all over PERSUASION. :) But I totally understand how it is when a particular book speaks to you.

    Kathy – They are both really wonderful. (As are most of the films!)

    Melody – I love them both too. I don’t think that I had quite remembered Anne to be a middle child. Interesting. And I do think our own experiences color things a lot. As someone who married rather young, I may be less sympathetic with Anne’s concerns. (Thank you for the compliment.)

  • Melody (Fingers & Prose)

    (whoops, sorry for the double comment earlier! I wasn’t getting any notifications and it threw me for a loop.) Interesting your comment about being married young, because I was too…so why on earth did I identify with Anne? Weird! Maybe it isn’t that at all, maybe it’s more an issue of me really loving her extremes–I love Northanger Abbey for the blatant scathing wit and Persuasion for the insight and introspection. You have me wanting to reread S&S though, I remember loving it.

  • Jessica

    Melody – No worries at all. I totally understand about comment troubles. And that is interesting that you were married young too. I do think that is one of the reasons I don’t identify with Anne, but it is by no means the complete reason. Nice point about Austen’s extremes. I haven’t read NORTHANGER ABBEY yet. It’s next on the Austen list though!

  • Jenny

    I like Persuasion better of these two, but both of them are in the bottom half of my personal Austen rankings. Emma and P&P are my real favorites. I think I get along better with stronger-willed Austen heroines — I like Emma and Lizzie and Catherine miles better than Fanny and Anne and Elinor (although I love Elinor’s name).

  • Bookzilla

    I didn’t at all enjoy reading Persuasion. I think it was too passive. By this I mean that all of Austen’s books are set in the present — the misunderstandings and love and fear and loss and joy are all happening now. But in Persuasion, the meat of the story has already happened; Anne and the captain have already met, already had a falling out, already everything. The novel itself is a slog through the sad years after. It’s dull.

    Also, the supporting characters get way too much focus. I don’t care about Sir Walter or Mary or any of Anne’s relatives or friends. I want to know what Anne is doing, what the captain is doing. Too much of the former and not enough of the latter for me to enjoy the book.

  • Jessica

    Jenny – Neither of these bumped PRIDE & PREJUDICE out of my number one Austen slot either. And I have yet to read EMMA (!), so the verdict is still out on how that one will affect the rankings.

    Bookzilla – You make a very interesting point about how most of the story in PERSUASION has already occurred. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, my inability to really engage. And, as I mentioned, I was bothered by Anne and Captain Wentworth’s lack of screen time. I wasn’t invested in them enough to truly squee over them getting (back) together.

  • Stephanie

    Sense and Sensibility is the only Austen book I didn’t enjoy. I read it four or five years ago, so I think I am due for a re read!

  • Amy

    Sense and Sensibility is my favorite of Jane Austen’s books so I was thrilled to see it won in your post against Persuasion. There are several dreadful although hilarious characters in Persuasion. In S&S, the Dashwood’s I disliked in particular but she, especially was pathetically amusing. Willoughby, on the otherhand I was disgusted with and wanted him to fall flat on his face in the dirt. I love Marianne and Colonel Bradford, they’re my favorite characters. I liked Elinor a lot. I think as the oldest, she felt a responsibility to do things properly as a good example. I felt sorry for Elinor, too . I thought her need to be perfect masked insecurity as well as fear she would be alone her entire life, something that even just the thought of humiliated her. I wanted more of Elinor and Edward alone. The romance seemed almost secondary, which for Austen I guess it was

    I really enjoyed this post!

  • Emily

    Hmm, I’m going to have to disagree with you here. I like Persuasion a lot more than Sense and Sensibility. It’s the only Austen book I’ve (intentionally) read more than once. Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve read S & S, so I would have to reread it before I could declare Persuasion to be the winner.

    I love the structure of this post! An Austen face-off – what a cool idea.

  • Jessica

    Stephanie – I’d be interested to hear if your opinion changes after a reread.

    Amy – Thanks for weighing in (and for agreeing with me). I really love all of the SENSE & SENSIBILITY characters. That’s what sealed the win for me.

    Emily – I know lots of people whose favorite is PERSUASION. I frankly expected it to be a PERSUASION landslide.

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