After their father dies and leaves pretty much everything to their older half-brother, the three Misses Dashwood and their widowed mother have to find a new place to live, which isn’t exactly easy with the meagre income they have. After some searching, a cousin of Mrs. Dashwood’s offer them lodging in a little cottage on his estate in Devon. The eldest daughter, Elinor, admonishes them to make the best of it, but the middle sister, Marianne, is determined to be miserable. Then she meets the dashing John Willoughby, and Devon suddenly becomes the only place in the world she wishes to be.
Elinor too has a prospective suitor, Edward Ferrars, the eldest brother of her sister-in-law, but he seems most reluctant to declare himself before they leave for Devon and she comes to believe that she may have misread the situation entirely. Elinor worries about Marianne’s behaviour with Willoughby and how heedlessly she throws herself into her infatuation. When he suddenly has to leave Devon, without any good explanation, she fears the worst for Marianne.
The kind, yet frivolous Mrs. Jennings invites the eldest Dashwood girls to come to London with her, and Marianne is delighted, as it means she may be reunited with Willoughby. Elinor, on the other hand, having learned why Edward never made any real advances towards her and seemed so reticent, dreads going, because it means the possibility of having to see him and interact with a man she can likely never have.
Sense and Sensibility was the first novel Jane Austen ever published, anonymously as “A Lady”. The Dashwood sisters experience loss, reduced finances, love, heartbreak and eventually happiness over the course of the novel. It was the second Austen I ever read, but unlike Pride and Prejudice and Emma, I had never re-read it as an adult woman. Obviously, one’s perspective changes quite a lot in twenty years. I remember liking it a lot as a teenager (I read it during a skiing vacation with my family in the mountains, and seem to recall being told to put the book away more than once, so I could join the family in card games, rather than “being so anti-social” – story of my life), but I doubt I found Marianne quite so unbearable as I did now. Seriously, Marianne’s drama-queen behaviour in this book almost ruined my enjoyment of the book. After some fairly considerable heartbreak and a life-threatening illness, she finally starts to see how self-centred and oblivious she’s been, but to me, it was almost a case of too little, too late.