One of the plenary speakers for the JASNA Annual General Meeting was Joan Ray. Joan is a professor of English and President’s Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, but you probably know her as the author of Jane Austen for Dummies. Joan is a walking encyclopedia of Austen and her works. If you cut her, she would bleed Austen—not the Austen of Masterpiece Theater or feature-length films—but the writer of six novels. Here is what Joan wrote in the 200th Anniversary Guide to the JASNA AGM:
For many readers, Sense and Sensibility is Austen’s most problematic novel; they note, for example, that Edward Ferrars, the hero, is a liar and that Colonel Brandon’s (whom some scholars even deem “elderly”: he’s 36!) marrying Marianne turns her into a Regency trophy wife.
There is a difference between the novel and its adaptations. To begin with, Hollywood (a generic term for movie makers) has decided that Elinor, our heroine, is taller and fairer than her immature sister, Marianne. That is exactly opposite of what Austen had written. Because of Hollywood, we think of Col. Brandon as being something of a stick in the mud, not a good match at all for the more exuberant Marianne Dashwood. But according to Joan Ray, this too is wrong. Col. Brandon, he of the flannel waistcoat, is “merrier” than Marianne and capable of strong emotions. After all, he had enough spunk to fight a duel! Again, according to Ray, it is not that the colonel is misunderstood, but merely under read. It is Ray’s contention that Col. Brandon is perfect for Marianne, but in order to know that, we must read the novel. After listening to her presentation, I came away convinced that Marianne will be happy with the colonel, something the film and television adaptations had failed to do.
However, the novel remains problematic. Although Austen resolved Edward and Elinor’s problems with a deus ex machina of Robert Ferrars marrying Lucy Steele, Elinor still has a tough row to hoe being married to a curate. And in her quieter moments, will Elinor ponder the unhappy truth that her husband is capable of lying and concealment? I wonder.
For more on this topic, click here to read Joan Ray's essay, "The Amiable Prejudices of a Young Writer's Mind: The Problems of Sense and Sensibility."