Happy 200th Anniversary, Sense and Sensibility!

Books GeekMom
Jane Austen drawing
Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This year, 2011, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It was the first of her six novels to be published, so this year starts the several-year celebration of the 200th anniversary of all of her novel publications (two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously, in 1818).

I find that many literary geeks are also Jane Austen geeks. I don’t label myself a literary geek, but once I got entranced by Jane Austen’s stories, I’ve done my best to become as much of an expert on her time and her stories as possible (I’m still working on it).

The first time I tried to read a Jane Austen book, I did so without first knowing the story. Not the plot, not the characters, nothing about the time period. I was completely lost. The 200-year space between when she wrote and when I read proved to be too much.

But after years of watching many movie versions of her six books, I did manage to read a couple of them. Now I’m going through them all again, successfully reading, enjoying, and understanding what is going on. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice (a couple of times), Persuasion (my second favorite story), Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and I’m currently working on Emma. Mansfield Park, my least favorite story, will come last. I hope the book is much better than the stories shown in the movie versions I have seen.

Jane Austen for Dummies
Image: For Dummies

A couple of books written by others have helped me along the way to understand Jane Austen’s writing more deeply. I did a great deal of research into which books on Jane Austen’s time I should read, poring over descriptions and tables of contents, and reading dozens of reviews. Here is what I came up with.

The incredibly informative but unfortunately titled Jane Austen for Dummies has been the most helpful. It gives specific information on many aspects of life during Jane Austen’s time in the different classes, but particularly the gentry. In Jane’s books, a subtle look here, a word dropped there, now had a whole new meaning for me. One minor detail meant someone’s life had changed drastically. They were disinherited. Or were slighted. Or were obligated. Or were in love. I could now read and appreciate all the specifics in the books, the subtleties of Jane’s writing, and of life in her sphere during that time. For example, shaking someone’s hand or using someone’s first name both held different meanings then than they do now.

Jane Austen manners
Image: Bloomsbury USA

Another book which was helpful was Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders. It’s a beautiful little book with a ribbon bookmark and lovely watercolor illustrations. It contains organized etiquette rules, divided up into topics. You’ll never doubt when you need to return a call (an in-person visit) again! If you’re in Regency England, that is. It also contains fun analyses of travel times and yearly budgets, figuring out more details about the lives of characters from Jane’s books.

If you like romance or excellent literature and you’ve never tried reading Jane Austen before, give it a try. It it proves insurmountable, try watching a movie version first, and then re-reading the book. Once you understand the sometimes complicated relationships among the characters, the books are much easier to understand.

Jane Austen’s six novels are available for free on Kindle or Project Gutenberg, or you can buy bound volumes online for various prices. Jane Austen for Dummies retails for $19.99. Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders retails for $14.95.

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9 thoughts on “Happy 200th Anniversary, Sense and Sensibility!

  1. I love Jane Austen’s books but there were always some little details (mostly about people’s incomes or professions or living situations) that confused me. Thanks for the reading suggestions; I’ll be sure to check them out and hopefully get a little more depth to my enjoyment of her novels!

  2. Mansfield Park creeped me out a little bit since the main character is in love with her first cousin. I understand that at the time it wasn’t as creepy, but all the same… I might also suggest, in keeping with reading Austen’s works, to go to Project Gutenberg and look up her History of England. It was written in her school years and is very funny almost to the point of snarky. One more suggestion: Barnes & Noble sells a $20 hard cover book with seven of Austen’s novels. After I read Pride and Prejudice, I picked up the book since it was cheaper than purchasing them individually.

    1. OH YES (I am hoping this reply is attaching itself to Melanie’s comment about the History of England, because that’s what I’m OH YES-ing here, but the comment box popped down to the bottom, so just in case, that’s what I’m OH YES-ing to). Also Love and Freindship (spelled like that). Just get hold of an entire collection of her juvenilia, really, it’s all hilarious.

      And I want to add, if you AREN’T a fan of romances, you should give Jane a try ANYWAY. I usually hate romance, but Austen is one of my favorite writers EVER. And I think it’s because the focus is not on the ROMANCE per se, but on the interactions between interesting and well-developed characters. Also, usually funny characters too.

  3. I am a huge Jane Austen fan but could definitely improve my knowledge of the period – those books sound great! It looks like Amazon also carries some annotated Jane Austen books which I think could also be a lot of (informative) fun.

  4. I followed the exact same path and now am well on my way to becoming a Jane Austen fanatic. But it took a few movies (My favorite being PBS’s Emma) to get me on that wagon. Heaven knows I tried, but like you said 200 years is a long time. I could read Dante’s Inferno in high school and the Illiad in college but Austen stumped me until motherhood struck.

  5. If you’re also a graphic novel geek (or a wife of one, in my case), you might want to check out both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” in graphic form by Nancy Butler. Not as verbose as the novels, obviously, but still fun to read. 😉

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