strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
I did enjoy this, but by the time I got to about chapter 9, I began to feel that it didn't quite have the same depth and complexity as the other Austen novels I've read to date: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I wondered whether this might be because it was an earlier effort that the other two, and when I checked, this turned out to be true - although she actually also wrote Pride and Prejudice between her original draft of S&S and the final, and significantly revised, published version, so things are a bit more complicated than their publication dates alone would suggest.

Compared to Austen's other novels, even the main characters here feel rather like stereotypes, and although Marianne in particular does develop over the course of the novel, it is not a particularly surprising or challenging course of development. The three men who become involved in the sisters' lives also seem rather deficient from a 21st-century point of view. Willoughby is a slimy, lying bastard, Edward Ferrars is as dull as ditchwater, and Colonel Brandon is self-centred and manipulative. I'm particularly curious as to whether Austen meant Willoughby's 'explanation' of his behaviour towards Marianne to sound convincing or reasonable. Since the sister who represents 'Sense' is swayed by it, I can only assume so, but to me it read like the worst kind of back-pedalling worming - the sort of stuff which the Sex and the City girls would see straight through. Then again, the entire plot revolves around social norms which Carrie and her friends would laugh at, so it's hardly fair to hold it up to the same standards.

The social satire and humour I associate with Austen is definitely here, though. I especially enjoyed Mr. Palmer and his wife as comic characters, although that view may be partly influenced by Hugh Laurie's brilliant performance as Mr. Palmer in the film. I also found myself wondering, in the light of Clueless, how this novel would play as a high school drama - and I think the answer is extremely well. Compared to most adult women today, the concerns and priorities of Austen's characters do appear rather green and teenaged, and if marriage to a man of fortune is only replaced by an invite to the prom date from a member of the high-school band, football team or whatever, the rest of the plot continues to work pretty well.

Finally, I owe an apology to the author of An American Boy. I complained when I read that about what seemed to me the over-done mannerism of writing all street-names in the format 'Wellington-terrace' instead of 'Wellington Terrace', feeling that it was a case of trying too hard to evoke a period feel. But it really is exactly what Jane Austen does with total consistency throughout this book - along with other idiosyncratic spellings like 'chuse', 'shew' and most interestingly 'our's' and 'her's'. I like that last one particularly, because it is one in the eye for the people who seem to believe that there was once a Golden Age of spelling in which everyone knew exactly how to use an apostrophe. I fear there never was - but I also believe that is no reason not to try to create one in the present.

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