I have to confess that I enjoyed this one less on this reading. It seems to me the most bitter and most editorialising of all her books. They all have an argument of sorts to make, but this one involves more direct and repeated attack than the others. Marianne and her mother's sensibility is not always allowed to expose itself, but draws the ire and commentary of the author time after time. Though Elinor can sometimes appear unfeeling, and principled to the point of pedantry, there is no acknowledgement from the author of these faults. She is held up, and the others put down, more than is necessary or agreeable to the reader. Marianne's repentance and conversion is perhaps a little too total to retrieve the novel from the realms of a morality tale.
However, the minor characters in this novel are so well and simply drawn that there is no arguing with them. Lady Middleton “had nothing to say one day that she had not said the day before” - how damning! yet how commonplace. Mrs Jennings and Sir John make an endearing team: “With the assistance of his mother-in-law, Sir John was not long in discovering that the name of Ferrars began with an F. and this prepared a future mine of raillery against the devoted Elinor.”
But in Robert Ferrars I think we have one of the finest comic creations of all. We meet him first when he is ordering a jewelled toothpick case, and naming “the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession” of it. When Elinor dances with him, he talks of his enthusiasm for cottages, and the valuable architectural assistance he rendered to a friend:
“My friend Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi's. I was to decide on the best of them. ‘My dear Courtland,’ said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, ‘do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.’” And finally, when he learns of Edward's intention to take orders, he laughs “immoderately.” “The idea of Edward's being a clergyman, and living in a small parsonage-house, diverted him beyond measure;—and when to that was added the fanciful imagery of Edward reading prayers in a white surplice, and publishing the banns of marriage between John Smith and Mary Brown, he could conceive nothing more ridiculous.” Austen's contempt for such a fop is palpable and delicious.
I should also mention how much I love the 1995 Ang Lee movie, for which Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. Though it contains many additions and departures, it is a gorgeous realisation, made with more art and insight than many of the more faithful adaptations. Kate Winslet as Marianne is simply perfect.