Book Club Reviews: Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is a classic piece of English literature. Its literary merit is well known, but does that make it a successful choice for your book club?

As different books are appropriate in different situations, the purpose of our Book Club Reviews is to determine a book’s suitability for book clubs. Today’s focus is Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811.  The novel tells the story of the Dashwood ladies, with its primary focus on Elinor and Marianne, both of whom are of marriageable age. The story begins with a death in the family and subsequent drama surrounding how much money goes to which family members. This results in the Dashwood women moving to a new home, where they attend a variety of social gatherings and entertain possible suitors. The primary bachelors vying for the attention of Elinor and Marianne are Edward Ferrars, a respectable relation of the family who is fond of Elinor; John Willoughby, a womanizing neighbor who publicly flirts with Marianne; and Colonel Brandon, an “older” gentleman and good friend of the family (He’s 35 years old, making him positively ancient in 19th century terms.). The tale follows the social adventures of this group, along with a few others, until both eligible young ladies have found proper husbands.

The main point of discussion for a typical book club would be comparing and contrasting the dating and social traditions of the early 1800s with today. This does offer a healthy amount of discussion material and will keep your book club amused for some time. Of course, discussing the characters, plot, etc. is a good route as well. Dissecting the language is also an interesting point of discussion, as this book is full of intriguing vocabulary. However, aside from that, unless your book club is very familiar with this era of literature, most discussion might end there.

Additionally, a potential caveat of selecting Sense and Sensibility is whether or not all your book club members will have the stamina to finish the novel. The prose can feel a bit dense for the modern reader. Many busy readers will likely not complete the book. So, unless your book club is filled with avid 19th century literature fans, this is a possible problem. And if nobody has read it, it becomes difficult to discuss it.

So, in the end, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility might not be the best choice for your book club (unless your book club is full of Janeites/Austenites and 19th century literature fans, which it very well may be). Should you read Sense and Sensibility? Yes, you should, it’s a lovely read, but perhaps it’s a better choice for your own time than for your book club.

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