A Partial Reconciliation.


Today, feeling rather feverish, I spent the best part of the day in bed.

In the intervals when my eyes were open I finished reading Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’. It is more that 50 years since I decided I didn’t like her writing. Maybe, now I’m a little older, I thought I might give her another go.

The novel is beautifully crafted; the prose elegantly fastidious. The writer progressively builds her insightful characters, but I still find I don’t like them much. She was, of course, writing of a certain social class in her own time, but I can’t develop any rapport with people who are concerned only with appearances and presenting what others may wish to hear.

I suppose I have achieved a partial reconciliation with Miss Austen.

My 1949 Avalon Press edition is illustrated by Blair Hughes-Stanton.

Sense and Sensibility 001

The colour plates, one of which adorns the book jacket, are obscured by mist,

Sense and Sensibility 002

and figures in the vignettes appear to represent ghosts or zombies.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s tandoori chicken and boiled rice. She drank Hoegaarden and I drank lime squash.


  1. I detested Jane Austen, until I got the wit!
    It was always a giggly moment in younger days when the Gospel was read that said “Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with Fever”.
    Get well soon!

  2. Hope the fever abates.
    Perhaps you’re not engaged with Austen’s characters because your taking them at face value? I gather they’re satires, gentle digs at folks’ pretensions so, if you take them as read [v. literally!!], you’re putting yourself in the same position as the fictionally true people for whose (dubious) benefit the fictionally true airs were put on, and maybe that’s why it’s not working for you. Also, it might, as an ex-social worker, go against the grain for you to be in a position of passing judgement on another, which is the basis of Austen’s sly humour.

  3. Do hope you begin to feel better soon.
    (Pride and Prejudice was on my A level English book list: I really did not get to grips with it at all.)
    Take care.

  4. It always makes me smile when a reader doesn’t like ‘great’ authors that one is supposed to like. Plus, if so many learned/fashionable people like them, are we revealing that we completely missed the boat, since we don’t like them? (which might be the entire point of Austen’s P and P and S and S).
    I like her writing, because one sees these pretensions and prejudices still today – humans being what we are. And speaking of prejudice, have you tried Austen’s Mansfield Park? May be the closest she came to identifying actual events and actual characters of the time.And why not? So much of English wealth was gained by the slave trade.

    1. Many thanks, Cynthia. Yes – she is witty and subtle – but the humour is all at her characters’ expense. And, much as I can appreciate today’s TV satire, I don’t like it.

  5. What I love about Jane’s writing is its subversiveness (surprise – it’s a word!) and yes, humour. Perhaps it’s chick fic (surprise – fic is not a word?), Derrick and you don’t have our sense and sensibility? πŸ™‚ You can do worse than taking Jane (yes we are on first name basis) to bed. πŸ™‚

  6. As someone who considers Jane Austen to be the greatest of all novelists, I am delighted that you are partially reconciled to her. I am reminded of the passage in ‘Northanger Abbey’. A dialogue between the heroine, Catherine Moreland and the hero Henry Tilney.

    What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”
    “And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”
    “Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”
    “But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

  7. I find that I don’t have to like the characters in a novel, if they ring true. But I have to like the voice of the writer who is creating them, for example the voice of Jane Austen. And of course, like you, I appreciate her exquisite craftsmanship.

    As Paul says, Austen is passing judgement…something most of us cannot help doing, even if we are too kind or correct to express it in daily life.

    It does depend, doesn’t it, on what we seek when we choose to read. I admire your willingness to try again. I find myself re-reading some of my favorites these days, and reading something which I read at an earlier age becomes almost an entirely new experience.

    Please take care, and be well.

  8. I am an Austin fan Derrick, since having realised she is an astute social and political commentator whose commentary spans the centuries………. You said it yourself: ‘but I can’t develop any rapport with people who are concerned only with appearances and presenting what others may wish to hear.’ I hope your fever abates soon and you return to your senses – and can perambulate about the garden once more, camera in hand. xo

  9. My dear friend I do hope you feel better soon. I know it’s horrid when you feel that way and well done for having the strength to post. BIG HUG to you and hoping J is making you some lovely soup to help you feel better asap. xoxo

  10. What a lovely round of comments that post generated. I cannot offer an opinion on whether I loved Jane Austen or not, as I read so many books in my younger years, hers included, that the details of each is now gone from memory. I really feel as if I need to start all over again. All I can say is, when I was writing the memoir, and my narrative became too wordy, formal or outdated in style, my editor friend would say, “you’ve gone all Jane Austen on me again!” Hope you feel better again soon. Fever does not sound the most attractive bedmate.

    1. Thanks, Gwen. Neither was Jane an attractive bedmate. But I am so pleased that a post for which I was forced to drag myself away from her has generated such an array of opinions

  11. Hope you are feeling better! I find it difficult to read when I’m sick. On the subject of Miss Austen, I forced myself to read her collected works several years ago. Like you, I found it difficult to care overmuch about the lives and mores of the times. She is wickedly funny though, but my goodness, her sentences go on forever.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. Today she would have field day with your Presidential candidates; and that, in truth, is what I don’t like – the wit is all at the expense of her characters.

  12. I am neutral on Jane, having read and enjoyed her, but moved on to others without becoming a Janeite. So glad to hear someone express an honest opinion about a famous author! I also read in bed while sick. It seems very soothing. I hope you were revived by your lovely meal and feel perfect again soon.

      1. Good to hear Derrick, I think all books have value, just the readers quite rightly have different opinions, I must have missed something in your post mate, I see by comments you haven’t been well.
        Best wishes for a full return to health Derrick.

  13. I am ashamed to say that, like you, Derrick, I did not engage with Jane Austeen’s characters, who seemed to embody what was, in my view, many, many years ago, what was most detestable about social class, particularly in England. Since then, I managed to watch some cinema versions of her books, which I liked and know I will have to revisit her, one day, with a different eye. I hope you get better soon πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Sylvie. The problem for me is that the writer doesn’t really like her own characters and the wit is all at their expense – a bit like today’s TV satires

  14. I’m with you on Jane Austen. Can’t get to grips at all I’m afraid, even though I know it’s supposed to be satire. Dreading the new English GCSE course as they’ve stuck Pride and Prejudice back on the curriculum. Even Colin Firth leaves me cold…
    Hope you’re feeling better – you could try more uplifting reading material!

    1. Many thanks, Jenny. I just don’t like wit at the expense of others. Here’s your chance to see if you have any sensitive students. You couldn’t get any wetter than Colin Firth πŸ™‚ A bit better today, thanks.

  15. I have a liking for Austen since I read “Pride and Prejudice” during my High School days. You better give her another chance, as you’ve said… πŸ™‚

    Wish you a speedy recovery, Derrick… πŸ™‚

  16. Excellent Derrick. She is a woman who never uses 5 words when 500 will do the same job. I think most people who say that they like Jane Austen actually mean that they like the BBC Drama Department’s production of it.

  17. I identify with that comment about the BBC as my liking for Jane Austen is based on TV and film (and I didn’t like all of them!). I also liked “Death Comes to Pemberley” and the trailer I saw for “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” looked pretty good too. The reviews aren’t great but after seeing a finely turned ankle, a dagger concealed in a garter and Mr Wickham as a zombie what’s not to like?

    Yes, I’m a Philistine, but after recently trying to plough through a lot of books I thought I ought to read I’m adopting a new approach to classic literature. Don’t even get me started on Don Quixote…

    Get well soon Derrick. πŸ˜‰

  18. Wow – Quite a bit of commentary here – I, as do we all, hope that you soon feel better.

    Re: Ms. Austen: I read (present tense) her books with the knowledge of her circumstances. Yes – they were fluffy romances – but she was a woman who was worth nothing in those days and subject to the whims of society. And yet, she was able to make fun of her circumstances. She saw the nonsense for what it was and called our attention to it. She was like a person drowning who was able to joke about her lack of oxygen. Yes, i am a fan.

    1. Thanks very much, Jodie. I agree about M(is)s Austen’s circumstances, and like the way you state your liking. Certainly the works have lasted 200 years. I am feeling rather better.

  19. I hope you feel better soon, Derrick! UGH it is no fun being sick. I would feel worse if I was trying to read Jane Austen while sick. I have never been able to get into any of her books. I like the movies okay, but I agree about not liking her characters much. I don’t like people who are always trying to impress others or who are so insecure no one really knows them because they are always presenting a false front for who they are.

  20. Derrick, I hope you are feeling better by the time you read this. I read your posts in reverse order.
    I like many authors, Jane Austen is one of them. I saved Chas. Dickens’s “Great Expectations,” T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” “Magnificent Obsession”, by Lloyd C. Douglas and “The Keys of the Kingdom” by A.J. Cronin.
    In fact, only one female adult book author was saved. (I saved many more children’s books.) “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou.
    I had piles of books in two splendid oak bookcases, but my simple one bedroom apt just meant I had to choose my “best.” πŸ™‚

    1. Many thank, Robin. I am getting better. We converted a garage to take my books. Of those in your list I have only read the Dickens and Maya Angelou. I’ll never get through all mine πŸ™‚

  21. We hope you are feeling much better now. We don’t quite agree with you as far as Austen goes. Perhaps Sense and Sensibility does not have the most sympathetic characters but her writing is wonderful. She does hold a mirror up to the society of those days. Without her books we may not have known how ridiculous some people could have been in their attitudes and how they may not have been so different from some people of today.

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