The Life Library: Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Just to get one thing out of the way to begin with: all of Jane Austen’s books are on my life bookshelf. Of course. So why mention Sense and Sensibility specifically? Well – it was my first. And you never forget your first, do you?

As with so many of my formative books, my mother handed me this one. She wasn’t a Janeite, as far as I know. (Mom?) I believe the line of thinking was more along the lines of, my daughter has read basically all of Montgomery, maybe it’s time for Jane Austen. I don’t know why Sense and Sensibility, specifically – perhaps she chose it because it was Austen’s first published novel, or maybe based on the plot synopsis. It’s not Austen’s most famous (Pride and Prejudice) and I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s her best (I believe the debate raging there is Pride and Prejudice vs. Persuasion vs. Emma). Although anything Austen writes is basically perfect, so there is that.

I vaguely remember my first paperback copy of S&S, but what stands out more in my memory was my mom’s suggestion that I tell my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Stone, that I was reading my first Jane Austen, and ask her for her advice. I can’t recall if I had that conversation, although I suspect I probably did – I was a dutiful kid who generally did what she was told, and I would have viewed my mom’s suggestion as an instruction and complied. I also loved my teacher, and the opportunity to casually mention to her that I was reading a real grown-up classic and then have a discussion like a real grown-up reader would have been irresistible.

One of Jane Austen’s several residences in Bath.

Sense and Sensibility made a huge impression on me, obviously. (How could it not?) I identified with diligent, practical Elinor and rolled my eyes at whimsical, dramatic Marianne. (As an adult, I have some different opinions about the events and characters of Sense and Sensibility. I have much less tolerance for Edward Ferrars and his sticky situation, and much more sympathy for Marianne – although I still maintain that Colonel Brandon should have married Elinor.) Most valuably, Elinor Dashwood opened the door to a lifetime membership in the Janeite society; this is a society that has brought me endless hours of entertainment and many friendships, both “real life” and online – for sheer emotional riches, I don’t think any other author on my life bookshelf can compete with Jane Austen.

My fourteen-year-old self would have been delighted to know that my almost-thirty-year-old self walked in Austen’s footsteps in Bath, trailed by a non-bookish but very indulgent husband, and turned the pages of Persausion while treading the same footpath that provided the setting for Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s climactic scene. Now to plan a trip to Chawton.

Who was the first “grown-up” author you loved?

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