At the risk of being considered blasphemous by my many Austen-loving friends, I must say: I didn’t like this novel. Unlike P & P, I had trouble finishing this one. It took me over two weeks, and I finished a few other books in the interim.
There are two main reasons for my dislike: the writing style and the characters. The writing style reflects its time, of course, but even so, I had to wade through some convoluted sentences, sometimes reading them four or five times and parsing clauses to get at the meaning. This tendency towards complicated and often incomprehensible self-expression was especially chafing in dialog. Did people really talk like that 200 years ago?
The characters were even worse. There were very few I liked in the entire book, and all of the likable ones played second fiddle.
Marianne, one of the protagonists, was rude and self-absorbed, a typical egotistic teenager throughout the story without even one redeeming quality. For her, anyone over twenty seems only one step from absolute decrepitude. Everyone around her is inferior, coarse, unfeeling, or unforgivably old. Nobody could understand her suffering. Everybody is vulgar. She is so tactless herself, so uncivil to everyone, so blind to everyone else’s problems, she made me want to slap her silly face.
Elinor is much more gracious and accepting on the surface, but deep inside, she is even snobbier than her younger sister. She must have true friends stashed somewhere, but of the people she socializes with in the novel, everyone is beneath her, at least every female: ignorant, uneducated, too loud, less intelligent, not refined enough, etc. The only ones she genuinely respects are Edward and Colonel Brandon, both males.
Edward, Elinor’s love interest, seems a nice guy, but he is not given much page space. We mostly see him through Elinor’s eyes. Colonel Brandon talks a bit more, is given a bit more characterization, but with him I have a bone to pick. He is twice Marianne’s age, and she hardly considers him male. He is an old geezer for her, somewhere on the level of her grandfather. How could he possibly love her? They don’t converse. They don’t have anything in common.
He seems a sensible man, but his pull towards Marianne is obviously lust. He wants the fresh and pretty girl for himself and he gets her in the end, but who is talking about love? The guy wants to have his hands on her young skin and his dick inside her (pardon my crudity), but his persistent attraction to her seems almost indecent from my 21st century perspective.
The two most interesting personages in the novel are Lucy Steele, the delightfully manipulative and utterly bitchy villainess without a shred of conscience, and Mrs. Jennings, a kind woman who despite her kindness doesn’t command any deference from either Elinor or Marianne. Fortunately, she is pictured as having thick skin, so she doesn’t feel their hardly veiled scorn. Or does she?
And then there is Willoughby, a totally repulsive human being. He even tries to explain and justify his beastly behavior in the end, and both Elinor and Marianne seem on the way to absolve his sins. They are ready to take his sop story at its face value and forgive his treachery and duplicity, but they wouldn’t forgive the well-intentioned foolishness of Mrs. Jennings? Something was wrong there.
In the back blurb, the book is called “comedy of manners” but it didn’t seem like comedy to me. It wasn’t funny. It was dated (of course) and it presents all its characters in a very unflattering way. I didn’t care about any of them.
I’m set on reading or re-reading all Austen’s novels (I have already read P & P a couple months ago) and I hope the others will be better.