Friday, November 11, 2011

Final Report from AGM on Sense and Sensibility

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."


  1. Joan Ray is the BEST example of the most perfect teacher!!! I took several classes with her in college and she is the reason why I made literature awesome for MY students. I remember a small class that I took with her, and we'd bring in tea, sit around a large wooden table, and discuss the works we were reading....I wish I could go back now....she's amazing!!

  2. I completely agree...Dr. Ray "knows her stuff" about Jane Austen and made reading and learning about her works an absolute pleasure. Her passion for the subject matter and the woman behind the novels is contagious!

  3. Hello, Ladies. I'm jealous that you had this gifted lady for a teacher. I was absolutely captivated by Joan's manner of presentation. It was more like a conversation.

  4. I found your posting interesting because I have not read this novel since- well let's just say it was a while ago. The movies have all come out since and I have raced to watch them. These points are good to keep in perspective the truth of the story- and it appears that I really need to re-read the book soon. (-;

    Thanks for posting!

  5. I would like to hear Joan Ray speak. She sounds as though she knows her stuff and how to teach it. Yes ,"you two," obviously had a great teacher.

    Edward Ferrers being a liar? Are there moral reasons for ever lieing?

  6. TheRealGirl and theSilverLining80, WOW, you are so lucky to have had Dr. Ray as a teacher!

    Dr. Ray was a wonderful speaker at the AGM. I enjoyed her insights and she was very amusing! I wonder if she and Andrew Davies had a chance to sit down and have a nice chat about JA stories. That would have been an interesting and educational conversation!

    Thanks for posting this, Mary! I was on information overload that weekend! But it was so fun!