Reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ in Lockdown

Image result for sense and sensibility.  One woman has a book on her lap and is looking directly at the viewer.  The other is looking unconvincingly into space.
Most S&S covers emphasise the outdoors and the freedom of the characters. I now think this is a selective reading. I like this cover because they both look kind of bored.

As last year’s hiatus demonstrates, lockdown has been tough at Shoshi’s Book Blog. This has always been a place for me to share the books I’ve loved reading, and that is not easy when I’m in my current lock-down induced reading slump.

I am trying to pull myself out of this. There are weekly blogs scheduled for the coming month, but these are actually for books I read at the start of January. I’m hoping to have discovered other novels that work for my short attention span and unhelpfully picky state of mind by the time they’re all out, but it’s not easy.

So with that in mind, I did what any normal book lover would do. I went back to Austen. I was hoping for escape into a happier reading time. What I wasn’t expecting was to learn that Austen writes perfect lockdown novels. Her characters are so confined and their social lives so limited they’re almost 21st century how-to guides for how to cope with less. I’ve always been struck by the moment at the start of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Mr Bennet asks Lizzy when her next ball will be and she answers ‘Tomorrow fortnight.’ Previously I’ve found this oddly pathetic; it seems the only event in the Bennet girls’ diary isn’t for over two weeks. What a depressingly boring social life I used to think, how do they manage to entertain themselves so uncomplainingly for those long, long gaps between mildly interesting evenings out?

In my newly enlightened and far less superior state, I’m now approaching ‘Sense and Sensibility’ with a distinctly 2021 frame of reference. And I’ve realised it’s actually a book written for the Coronavirus pandemic. We start with the bereaved Eleanor and Marianne, the poor girls having lost their grandfather (who lived with them) and their father within just over a year. It doesn’t say what illness they died of, but we can infer…

The grief-stricken family don’t have a huge amount of support; the assumption of society appears to be that they should take it in their stride, including dealing with the financial implications of their reduced family circumstances. Then, in a technically appropriate, but clearly selfish move, their half-brother, his wife and their small child all move in to the family home. Where they’re all stuck together for the next six months. Finally (I’m imagining around September 2020), Eleanor, Marianne, Margaret and their mother are able to find a small place for themselves. They take the opportunity to move in, but once they have they’re stuck again – for reasons of social delicacy Mrs. Dashwood restricts their social interactions to within a walking distance of their home. We all now recognise that feeling of not being able to meet anyone who lives far away, far away having a very different meaning in lockdown … In one of the dramatic ‘events’ of the book, Marianne and Margaret go for a walk outside, ‘unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned.’ It’s another line I’ve previously read without empathy. How times have changed.

While I’m loving the book, I must admit I’m now hoping for a modern-set film adaptation. I’ve always adored ‘Clueless’ for its brilliant interpretation of ‘Emma’ set in the privileged, hierarchical world of wealthy LA teens. I’m now desperate for ‘Sense and Sensibility’ set in present day England. Marianne can learn the folly of her romantic prejudice against online dating in contrast to falling in love after eyes meet across a crowded room. Eleanor can try to be rational and calm as she tries to avoid the insincere but insistent ‘friendship’ of aspiring influencer Lucy Steele. I think Edward is going to have to face redundancy from his boring, low-paid job – will he realise Eleanor still loves him for who he is, or is he going to succumb to his family’s insistence he join his brother’s high profile PPE start-up? Poor Eleanor and Edward, is the pressure of having to continually postpone their wedding because his mother won’t accept the limited guest numbers allowed by the government going to put too much strain on the relationship?

Over the coming weeks I’ll be entertaining myself by working on the screenplay. And hopefully reading more books to blog about. Fortunately, if the later plan doesn’t work out, I know I’ll always have Austen.

This entry was posted in Austen, Lockdown reading and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ in Lockdown

  1. roomofjoy says:

    This is brilliant. Completely relate with the need to adapt our reading habits to this weird time, and loving the screenplay ideas!

  2. Elle says:

    I love this reading! Agree that Austen is very well suited to lockdown. I hope you find some more things to enjoy soon, but Sense and Sensibility is a pretty good way to start climbing out of your slump 🙂

  3. Gosh, I never would have thought about Austen being lockdown reading, but of course women’s lives were so physically restricted in the past. Fascinating!

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