Sense and Sensibility in the 21st century? by Sarah Price

Sense and Sensibility in the 21st century? by Sarah Price

Ah, spring is here and with it, a new deadline hovers before me: my retelling of Jane Austen’s book, Sense and Sensibility.

So far, this has been my favorite book to retell, mostly because there are such rich characters and complicated relationships!

When I study a novel, it takes a long time to dissect and examine each aspect of the story. There are so many layers to Jane Austen’s novels! Simply reading them as a “story” is not enough. True Janeites know this only too well.  😉

And that is where my passion begins.

Such tragedy for these Dashwood women! First their father dies and hands over their future into the hands of a weak and spineless older half-brother who leaves them in poverty. Next Elinor is abandoned by the love of her life. And Marianne is forced to watch her loved one deny his feelings for, discarded for a place in society and money.

The one common thread that really struck me is the fact that all of these women thought they knew the men who cared so little for their emotional well-being.

A father. A brother. A starry-eyed lover (in the purest sense of the word as opposed to the intimate sense). How upsetting for these Dashwood women! And, the decorum of high society certainly prevented them from speaking out about the injustice of their situations.

As usual, our dear Jane Austen has found a timeless theme to weave throughout her story. What is it that makes people abandon individuals during their time of need? Mr. Henry Dashwood’s death was followed by some period of mourning. Yet, the loss of a husband and father does not simply heal itself within days or, even, weeks. One visit to the mourners is not sufficient to wipe the dirt from our hands and check off  “compassion for those in need.”

Yet, isn’t that what truly happened?

It’s as if they are saying “Carry on, my dear, for the time of mourning is over. Besides, I have just inherited Norland and this, now, is all about me, not you.”

In today’s society, I wonder how Jane Austen would approach the subject of prudence over passion? Elinor’s dedication to maintaining good judgement, no matter how much it hurts, contradicts Marianne’s sensitivities toward her emotions and desires. Of course, we shall not forget to add John and Fanny’s complete lack of either sense or  sensitivity toward the Dashwood women and combine this with Edward Ferrars’ and Willoughby’s self-indulgence without any thought to the emotional train wrecks they leave in their wake.

It makes for a deliciously addictive story…whether set in the late 18th century England or early 21st century Amish society.

I dare say that Jane Austen would have enough fodder to write a series of books on just this very topic. Technology has created the perfect storm for modern day Dashwoods to suffer at the hands of people who focus on themselves and not others, all for the sake of crawling ahead in society. I believe that, today, we would be hard pressed to find a Colonel Brandon to rescue the broken heart and give to Marianne the very thing that her Willoughby sought: status. As for Edward, his devotion to Elinor is another trait that endears me to this novel for he knew that deserting his obligation would damage his reputation in her eyes. Again, I fail to see where many young people would offer their own happiness as a sacrifice to maintain a promise made at a tender age—and despite their feelings having moved onto another.

All of Jane Austen’s books have more than just a “story” within them. They have a structure to society that exists even today. We might read these books and think we are quite fortunate to no longer be held prisoner to a male-dominated world. But if we dig a bit deeper, I believe Jane Austen has a deeper tale to tell…and far greater morals that need to be repeated over and over again with all generations. Without doing so, sense and sensibility might be lost forever.

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May 11, 2015 11:50 AM

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Jane Austen’s first published work. Call me shallow but I have not finished reading it before, just watch the movie and mini-series adaptation. I am determined to start reading it again with a new and fresh perspective in mind.

May 1, 2015 3:58 PM

This is such an interesting post, Sarah. I definitely agree with you re. the change in morality in the last 200 years, it’s more acceptable to be self-centred now. This sort of change in society is what makes Sense & Sensibility need a few more tweaks to make sense in most modern versions. I read the Joanna Trollope update and for me it needed to be changed more for just the reasons you give. I look forward to reading your books at some point, hopefully not too far in the future!

Juanita Cook
Juanita Cook
April 29, 2015 7:52 PM

I have never read Sense & Sensibility before I started reading Sarah’s books. And I have to say that I an enjoying them and looking forward to book tree in this series.

Sharon Lathan
Sharon Lathan(@sharon)
April 29, 2015 11:21 AM

Your insights into the story are wonderful, Sarah. I have yet to read one of your novels (Bad Sharon!), but can easily imagine the morality and social structure of Austen’s era fitting into the Amish world. Not that this makes writing a modern adaptation easy… I don’t mean that… but rather, there is the wonderful opportunity to focus even more on the deeper emotions felt by the characters.

Good luck with meeting the deadline! We will be anxiously awaiting more from Sarah Price!!

Jennifer Petkus
Jennifer Petkus(@jenniferpetkus)
April 29, 2015 11:20 AM

Thanks, Sarah. One thing I enjoyed in the Sense and Sensibility musical that premiered here in Denver was that there was a scene that showed the Dashwoods in mourning. Sometimes I think the adaptations pay too much attention to their financial worries and not enough time addressing the fact that they have lost a husband and father.

Brenda Webb
Brenda Webb(@brendawebb)
April 29, 2015 10:46 AM

Interesting look at this story! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

April 29, 2015 7:12 AM

Thank you for this interesting post. Lots of food for thought.

Deborah Fortin
April 29, 2015 6:19 AM

I never looked at S&S this way. I have to reread it with these thoughts in mind.

Jenni James
Jenni James
April 29, 2015 2:36 AM

Love this! And I couldn’t agree more. I too, am in the midst of rewriting (modernizing for teen YA) Sense and Sensibility and I’ve enjoyed revisiting this book so much. I love the twists, the turns, and the GROWTH! Wow, such wonderful character development to work with. It’s such a fascinating story.

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