Oxford World’s Classics: Sense and Sensibility – Our Diptych Review

Image of the cover to Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Oxford Unversity Press, (2008)“Pray, pray be composed,” cried Elinor,”and do not betray what you feel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet.” Elinor Dashwood to her sister Marianne, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 28 

Gentle readers, Please join us for the first in a series of six diptych reviews of the revised editions of Jane Austen’s six major novels and three minor works that were released this summer by Oxford World’s Classics. Austenprose editor Laurel Ann is honored to be joined by Austen scholar Prof. Ellen Moody, who will be adding her professional insights to complement my everyman’s view. 

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Oxford World’s Classics, Rev. Ed. (2008) 

Laurel Ann’s Review 

So you want to read Sense and Sensibility. Great choice! Jane Austen’s first published novel (1811) can get lost in the limelight of her other ‘darling child’, Pride and Prejudice, but is well worth the effort. There are many editions available in print today, and the text can stand on its own, but for those seeking a ‘friendlier’ version with notes and appendixes, the question arises of how much supplemental material do you need, and is it helpful? 

One option is the Oxford World’s Classics new revised edition of Sense and Sensibility that presents an interesting array of additional material that comfortably falls somewhere between just the text, and supplemental overload. This volume offers what I feel a good edition should be, an expansive introduction and detailed notes supporting the text in a clear, concise and friendly manner that the average reader can understand and enjoy. 

The material opens with a one paragraph biography of the life of Jane Austen which seemed rather slim to this Austen enthusiast’s sensibility, and most certainly too short for a neophyte. The introduction quickly made up for it in both size and content at a whopping 33 pages! Wow, author Margaret Anne Doody does not disappoint, and it is easy to understand why after eighteen years publishers continue to use her excellent essay in subsequent editions. 

Illustration by C.E. Brock, Sense and Sensibility, J. M. Dent, (1898)Amazingly, the introduction is not at all dated. The material covered is accessible to any era of reader, touching upon the novels publishing history, plot line, character analysis, and historical context. Doody thoughtfully presents the reader with an analysis of the major themes in the novel such as; the dichotomy of sense and sensibility as it relates to the two heroines Elinor and Marianne, the portrayal of negligent mothers, men represented as the ultimate hunter, secrecy, deceit and concealment, and the crippling impact of the inheritance laws and primogeniture on women during the Regency era. Interlaced with Doody’s interpretations are her astute observations of Austen’s writing style with references to pages in the novel and outside sources. The entire essay is well researched, populated with footnotes, and an enjoyable complement to the text. 

The notes on the text explain the editorial trail since the novel’s first publication in 1811, whose subtle changes and their significance I will defer to my more learned colleague Prof. Moody. The select bibliography is indeed select, and includes many editions that deserve recognition as the best of what is available in print on Jane Austen’s life, works and critical analysis. One of my favorites listed is Jane Austen: A Family Record (1913) by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye (1989). I was also pleasantly surprised to see a category including film versions and commentaries which is often overlooked by other publishers. 

The chronology of Jane Austen’s life lists both significant events and what transpired historically in matching columns. The choices are relevant and interesting with the exception of two events that this writer found humorous; – 1795 Jane Austen flirts with Tom Lefroy, and in 1815 Humphry Davy invents miner’s safety lamp. I have yet to be convinced that Austen’s flirtation with Tom Lefroy had a significant impact on her life, nor am I clear how a clergyman’s daughter living in southern England would be directly affected by the invention of a miner’s safety lamp. Just thinking out loud here! 

Illustration by C.M. Brock, from Sense and Sensibilty, 1896The two appendixes on rank and social status, and the intricacies of country dance touched upon both subjects clearly, but briefly, using stories from Jane Austen’s life to put the era in context. I appreciated the humorous example of how young women attending balls and assemblies were accompanied by chaperones, usually a mother or an older woman, who were expected to pass the time with cards or socializing rather than dancing themselves. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, thirty-seven year-old Austen recognizes the transition from dancer to on-looker when she writes “Bye the bye, I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of Chaperon for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like.” Too funny! Even though each of these appendixes is short, they do offer a list of books to explore further reading, which I was inspired to investigate. 

Since contemporary novels do cease to be contemporary the day that they are published, growing even more distant with each generation, notes can become indispensible to the enjoyment of the modern reader. Prof. Claire Lamont has supplied excellent and insightful explanatory notes, allowing for instant gratification with detailed descriptions of language usage, social and historical context, and character and plot insights. I found this the most interesting aspect of this edition, and reading the explanatory notes alone was like reading a condensed dictionary to Jane Austen, her times, and the plot and characters in Sense and Sensibility.  

In short, Oxford World’s Classics has pulled together just the right amount of supplemental material from reputable and readable sources for their revised edition of Sense and Sensibility. I found very little wanting in this edition, and recommend it to first time readers, or veterans seeking new insights.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Please join us again for the next review of Pride and Prejudice later this month.

Image of Molly the Oxford scholarSense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
Oxford World’s Classics
Oxford University Press, Rev. Ed. (2008)
Trade paperback, 384 pages, ISBN-13: 9780199535576
James Kinsley, editor

Supplemental Material 
Margaret Anne Doody: Introduction
Claire Lamont: Explanatory notes, Textural notes,
Vivien Jones: Select bibliography, Chronology and Appendixes


Prof. Ellen Moody’s Review

“Ours is a competitive business, sir:”
  the latest Oxford _Sense and Sensibility_

Image of the cover of Sense and Sensibility, Norton Critical Edition (2003)

 Cover of Sense and Sensibility, and landscape detail, Norton Critical Edition, (2003)

July 01, 2008

Gentle Austen readers,

Imagine my delight when Laurel asked me to join her in writing reviews of the recent reprint of the Oxford standard editions of Austen’s novels.  I’d get to gaze at the different covers, read introductions, notes, appendices, and if any were included, illustrations  Gentle reader, I’m one of those who partly choses to buy a book based on its cover. I enjoy introductions (occasionally more than the story they introduce), get a kick out of background maps and illustrations, and especially ironic notes.

Looking into the matter I discovered I’d have to sleuth what if anything was the difference between these new reprints and the earlier reprints of James Kinsley’s 1970-71 edition, from which all the subsequent Oxford texts have been taken. Why after examining the early texts did Kinsley made the choice to reprint R. W. Chapman’s 1923 edition of Austen’s novels with some emendations? Hmm. My curiosity made me unable to resist checking the Oxfords against the other editions of Austen’s novels I own.  In the case of Austen’s _Sense and Sensibility_, a novel I first read when I was 13 and the one closest to my heart, I own 14 different editions and reprints, and French and Italian translations [note 1].

The more cynical and less devoted reader of Austen may well say, wait a minute here.  What would be the point or interest, since probably the differences in the texts themselves would be miniscule, the paratexts just the sort of thing Catherine Morland would have skipped, and this upsurge of proliferating books simply the result of a highly competitive marketplace.  But that’s the point.  We can ask why provide all this if the goal is to produce an inexpensive handy text and the motive profit?  The answer comes back that Austen’s novels are at once high status, beloved, and best-selling texts which keep selling because they’re best-selling books. They have highly diverse and conflicting groups of (let us call them) consumers. So in order not to offend and to persuade as many readers as possible to buy at least once or yet again, publishers are driven to produce books which are informative and pleasing, accurate and accessible — and up-to-date.  Since the reprints cover more than a quarter of a century, we may watch different introducers struggling to present their respective agendas, which, like the changes in the covers of the books, reflect the ever-changing climate of a surprizingly stormy Austenland.  We also had more than the famous six books because since 1980 Oxford had chosen to accompany _Northanger Abbey_ with _Lady Susan_, _The Watsons_, and _Sanditon_, Austen’s lesser-known novels (the first epistolary, the last two unfinished).  Laurel and I had an intriguing journey ahead of us. 

We agreed we would form diptychs each time.  Sister reviews, each one a counterpart to the other. continue reading … 

Image of the covers of Sense and Sensibility, Signet (1980) and Mrs. Darcy\'s Dilemma, Sourcebook (2008)

Left, cover of Sense and Sensibility, Signet (1980). Right, the faithful lover of good Austen sequels will know the above cover is the one that appears on the second edition of Diana Birchall’s _Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma_.

4 thoughts on “Oxford World’s Classics: Sense and Sensibility – Our Diptych Review

  1. Pingback: Oxford World’s Classics Pride and Prejudice: Our Diptych Review « Austenprose

  2. Pingback: Oxford World’s Classics: Mansfield Park - Our Diptych Review « Austenprose

  3. Pingback: Oxford World’s Classics: Emma - Our Diptych Review « Austenprose

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