Sense and sensibility, by Jane Austen

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Ed. Penguin, 1978. Size: 18,5 x 11,5 cm. With an introduction by Tony Tanner. Used excellent. 370 pages

Sense and sensibiliyJane Austen’s tale of two sister carries its subject in its title: good sense on the one hand and an excess of romantic “sensibility” on the other.

But this, as Tony Tanner makes clear in his introduction, is only a beginnig. Far from being crudely schematic, Sense and sensibility subtly probes, through the trials of its very real heroines, perennial questions about civilization and its descontents that have been more solemnly analysed in our times.

Sense and sensibility is also about secrecy and sickness. It opens with considerations of property and concludes with the symmetries of marriage, the two phenomena which determine the territorial divisions and the familial continuites of society, and this is entirely characteristic of what we take to be the Jane Austen world.

What is implied in all Jane Austen’s work is that human society ought to be very good indeed to justify the inroads made on “nature” -the feelings within us as well as the trees around us- to erect and secure it. To this end sense and sensibility should work together as closely as possible. But -it is another lesson of her novels- the work is not easy and there is the chance of pain at every step of the way.

For a perfect balance between the two must remain an artist’s dream, and meanwhile many houses serve merely as prisons for once brilliant dancers, and the greenhouses continue to go up where once the great trees swayed in the more liberal air.