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Just when you thought you already knew Austen, The Annotated Sense and Sensibility delivers tons of illustrations, research, and more

Book Review: The Annotated Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, Edited and Annotated by David M. Shapard

Pride and Prejudice may be Jane Austen’s most well-known and popular novel, but Sense and Sensibility has always been my favorite. The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are two sides of the feminine personality coin — Elinor, so serious, who must think long and deeply about everything before she speaks or acts, and Marianne, the epitome of the Romantic ideal, lovely and emotional and impulsive — the perfect romantic heroine.

In The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, David M. Shapard has added annotations and images to augment Austen’s classic novel. It is a handsome paperback, but also a serious one to immerse oneself in — with over 700 pages of complete and unabridged text, all of Shapard’s notes on the right-hand pages. Contributing to the book’s heft, Shapard repeats definitions throughout the book, so the reader doesn’t need to flip back and check an earlier definition.

Annotations include black and white period illustrations, maps of England where the characters travel, word definitions, backgrounds in history, a chronology of events in the novel, a bibliography, and Shapard’s interpretations of Austen’s novel and her characters.

Sense and Sensibility was the first novel that Austen published, in 1811. The book, written “by a lady,” was even a financial success. The book is a romance — the two young Dashwood girls are having their first real adventures in love. Marianne is involved in a full-fledged romance with handsome neighbor Mr. Willoughby and can’t understand what her sister sees in the shy Edward Ferrars. She even complains about his lack of verve to her mother:

“Oh! Mama, how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!”

Marianne is fond of exclamation marks. But Sense and Sensibility is also about putting forth Austen’s philosophy of love — passion versus intellect. And Austen definitely weighs in favor of the latter.

Older sister Elinor is not quite as emotionless as her younger sister assumes. When pressed to speak about Edward and her feelings for him, she tells her sister,

“I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments, and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure… I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

That is a great admission for Elinor. She is putting her feelings out in the world and her heart on the line as much as the more demonstrative Marianne has done, but just in her own way.

Marianne is so open about her feelings for Willoughby that her behavior borders on scandalous (for the time.) As her relationship to Willoughby falls apart (she was never a suitable bride for him, as the Dashwood’s are not rich enough), Elinor also faces heartbreak, as Edward has long been betrothed to another. Sense and Sensibilty follows how both girls cope with their loves and their lives and is one of Austen’s most satisfying stories. The Annotated Sense and Sensibiity is a lovely addition to any Austen-philes’s collection, and a wonderful way for readers to immerse themselves not only in the timeless story, but in the customs of 19th century rural England.

About xoxoxoe

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