Having been invited by my gracious friend Doris to attend a tea given by the Jane Austen Society of North America, I felt it incumbent upon me to take up one of the novels by that worthy author and once again immerse myself in her wonderfully self-contained world. Having recently purchased this anniversary edition of Sense and Sensibility, that estimable work seemed the logical choice.
Imagine my dismay, Dear Reader, when, upon essaying the very first chapter I came a-cropper. So confused was I by Miss Austen’s laying out of the relationships among the several principal characters that I was stopped in my tracks. (One cause of my perplexity was the fact that Austen referred to Mrs. Dashwood as John Dashwood’s mother-in-law, whereas we would call her his stepmother. At least, I think that is correct. Any Janeites out there, feel free to weigh in on this issue.) Come now, though I to myself, Many years ago you read and enjoyed the entire Austen oeuvre. I pray nothing untoward now afflicts your faculties. (In other words, are my brains turning to mush…?)
I knew that a remedy lay to hand: I needs must read the chapter over again in an effort to fully grasp the author’s meaning. I am pleased to report that this second attempt met with considerable success. In fact, my curiosity was well and truly piqued. What is going to happen to Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, mutually devoted sisters with such different temperaments, not to mention living in somewhat straitened circumstances? And so I read on…and on…..
As you have no doubt already surmised, I am now thoroughly entranced by Sense and Sensibility. Thoroughly, but not exclusively. For I am also reading Tag Man, the latest entry in Archer Mayor’s superb Joe Gunther series. While I would not necessarily characterize Mayor’s novels as hard-boiled, there is certainly a wide variance in prose style between himself and Miss Austen. To wit:
From Sense and Sensibility:
Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions.
This is lovely prose, but let’s face it, the present day reader – at least, this present day reader – must attend carefully while perusing such a quaintly antique style. Where Tag Man is concerned, however, one can be forgiven for picking up the pace to a considerable degree:
Leo Metelica favored a .45 caliber model 1911 semiautomatic. It looked like the one seen in all the World War II movies–big, heavy, black, and ominous–but he’d actually made it himself–in a fashion–assembling it from the best components available, custom fitting them in his kitchen-based workshop. It was beautiful to handle, a perfect fit to his hand with its checkered walnut grips, and a hair trigger and night sights that had set him back a chunk of change.
How grateful I am that the House of Fiction has so many delightful mansions!
Those of you who know Audrey Niffenegger as the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry might be interested to know that she is an artist as well as a novelist. The drawing on the cover of the Penguin’s bicentennial edition of Sense and Sensibility, pictured above, is hers. She has also done the cover for Penguin’s edition of Persuasion.