Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen and Patricia Meyer Spacks (2013 )From the desk of Kathleen Elder:

Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published, in 1811. A second edition came out in 1813 with author corrections, and that edition was used as the definitive version by Dr. Chapman who noted changes from the first edition. This annotated version also uses Chapman’s second edition, and changes from the first edition are recorded in the footnotes; I appreciate having that information available with other comments/explanations.

At the center of the novel are sisters, Elinor & Marianne Dashwood, who live with their younger sister Margaret and their widowed mother. The plot revolves around these two sisters and their love stories, though the novel is much more than that: it is also a social commentary on the limited options for gentlewomen with small incomes and a critique on extreme sensibility (or “emotional extravagance,”  “a matter of concern in the eighteenth century” – Introduction, p. 1).

Patricia Meyer Spacks previously edited an annotated version of Pride and Prejudice. Like that annotation, Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition contains footnotes that:

  • define/explain terms no longer used or used today in a different sense;
  • describe geographical locations;
  • illuminate characters
  • explain some of the incidents and importance thereof; and
  • offer literary criticism/opinion (both Spacks’ own and those of other scholars/critics).
Illustration from Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thomson, Macmillian (1901)Mrs. Jennings assured him directly that she should not stand upon ceremony,” illustration by Hugh Thomson for the Macmillian edition (1901). John Dashwood looks tentative, Elinor looks prim, and Mrs. Jennings looks jolly; all very appropriate. p. 269

In addition to the footnotes, this edition contains about ninety illustrations. The illustrations include: period paintings; pictures of items mentioned in the novel; illustrations by Hugh Thomson for the 1901 Macmillan edition of the novel; and screen shots from the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee.

With the exception of the footnotes in the Introduction, all footnotes are in the margins, easy to access. In one or two instances it is necessary to turn one page to read (or just finish) footnotes from a preceding page, but this is not inconvenient. The OED (Oxford Edition) is cited for some definitions, but most definitions are unsourced. There are comparisons to Jane Austen’s other writings (novels, Juvenilia, letters) that are interesting, and the scholarly analyses (about characters and motivations, extreme sensibility, inter alia) are thought-provoking. In addition to her own observations, Spacks included critical comments from more than 40 other scholars along with the sources of those comments. At the back of the book there is a list of books (Further Reading) providing materials for further study.

Kensington Gardens by John Martin (1789-1854)

Kensington Gardens, by John Martin (1789-1854). Martin produced several paintings of Kensington Gardens. An appealing subject for artists because they provided both natural beauty and human subjects, the gardens were also popular among the fashionable and would-be-fashionable. p. 313

The illustrations enhance the enjoyment of this annotated edition of the novel. In this ARC all of the illustrations are in black and white; many/most of these will be color (this is true for the illustrations in Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition), which will make them more vibrant.  Some of the illustrations are familiar, such as the watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister (p. 3), but I find the paintings from the era (e.g., gentlemen in hunting/shooting attire on p. 86 et. al.) and items mentioned in the novel (e.g., toothpick cases on p. 264) to be especially useful for a better understanding of the culture. There is also a map at the front of the book that is a great aid in placing the events of the novel in their proper locations in southern England.

I noticed a few errors which I found distracting. To start with a minor error, I found one in the text of the novel, in Volume 3, Chapter 13. In Mrs. Jennings’ letter to Elinor, the phrase “Lucy’s crossness not to take them along with them in the chaise” should read “Lucy’s crossness not to take her along with them in the chaise,” with “her” referring to Nancy Steele – this is the way it reads in Chapman’s (second) edition.

The Dance by Tomas Stothard (1755-1838)

The Dance, by Thomas Stothard (1755-1838). Private dances might provide opportunities for displaying elegant dress and elegant attitudes. Lady Middleton’s gathering lacked the kind of architectural detail indicated in Stothard’s painting, but it too included a crowd of well-dressed people. p. 220

There are also some errors in the editorial comments. In her introduction (p. 28), Spacks makes reference to “Sir John Dashwood, full of good will though he is … .”  John Dashwood is not full of good will nor is he titled Sir, so the reference must be to Sir John Middleton instead. In Volume 1, Chapter 1, footnote #28 (p. 40) states that “Henry, Edward, and George, male names in Sense and Sensibility, are names also of Austen’s brothers” – but there is no character named George in this novel. Lastly, in Volume 3 Chapter 2, the caption for an illustration of a chimney board refers to “The one that Nancy Steele’s friend, Martha Sharpe, might hide behind …” – in the text, it is Lucy Steele who hid behind the chimney board to listen to Nancy and her friend Martha talking. These errors may seem inconsequential, but they detract from what seems otherwise to be a well-researched annotation; my worry is that some of the historical/cultural comments also contain errors of which I would not be aware. At the very least, the existence of such errors shows an occasional lack of careful writing/editing.

This is a fairly good, though not great, annotated edition of Sense and Sensibility. I wish there were more source citations (for definitions and explanations regarding cultural norms) and no errors, but the illustrations, literary commentary and definitions should be useful and interesting to any student of Jane Austen’s novels.

Illustration from Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thomson, Macmillian (1901)I entreat you to stay,” Illustration by Hugh Thomson for the Macmillian edition (1901). Rendering Willoughby as distraught and Elinor as rather frightened, Thomson captures the drama of the unexpected confrontation between the two. p. 359

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
Harvard University Press (2013)
Hardcover (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0674724556

Kathleen Elder is a life-long fan of Jane Austen’s writings. Recently retired from teaching mathematics, she spends some of her free time as a moderator on the Austen-related website pemberley.com.

Cover image courtesy Harvard University Press © 2013; text Kathleen Elder © 2013, Austenprose.com

5 thoughts on “Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks – A Review

  1. I enjoy the previous annotated editions in this series but I do find the turning of pages to continue reading the footnote very distracting. No one reads an annotated novel for the “flow” of it, but the flipping back and forth and having to scan the page again for the proper starting point has made these annotated editions very slow to read for me (I am currently working through Little Women in a similar format). The Shapard annotated editions are much more seamless in this respect. Thanks for the review!

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  2. I agree with you that those kinds of errors about obvious things make you wonder about the other errors about historical/academic points in the book. I hope the editors give the final version a better round of editing.

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  3. Thank you for your very helpful and cautious review! I’m sorry they had errors – it does make one wonder just where the errors are. In this day of eBooks, they should be able to make corrections easily and distribute the revised version.

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