“two Hundred Years of Sense and Sensibility” marks not only the bicentenary of a novel but—if we set aside the possibility that Sophia Sentiment’s letter in The Loiterer is the work of a young Jane Austen—the bicentenary of a published writer. Austen of course had readers before the end of October 1811 when Sense and Sensibility was advertised in The Star and The Morning Chronicle. Friends and family read her juvenilia. Her friend Martha Lloyd apparently read “First Impressions” enough times that Jane Austen could joke that she “means to publish it from Memory” (11 June 1799). And presumably the editor at Crosby who purchased the manuscript “Susan” read it before laying out £10.
But at the end of 1811, the circle of Jane Austen’s readers widened. On November 24, before Austen’s first novel had been a month in print, the Countess of Bessborough wrote to Lord Granville Leveson Gower: “Have you read ‘Sense and Sensibility’? It is a clever novel. They were full of it at Althorp, and tho’ it ends stupidly I was much amused by it.” Two months later, on January 22, 1812, Princess Charlotte wrote enthusiastically of her connection to “Maryanne” and concluded that the novel “interested me much.” In February, the anonymous voice of The Critical Review defined the quality of Sense and Sensibility in terms of both delight and instruction—though with a different opinion of the ending than Lady Bessborough’s:
A genteel, well-written novel is as agreeable a lounge as a genteel comedy, from which both amusement and instruction may be derived. Sense and Sensibility is one amongst the few, which can claim this fair praise. It is well written; the characters are in genteel life, naturally drawn, and judiciously supported. The incidents are probable, and highly pleasing, and interesting; the conclusion such as the reader must wish it should be, and the whole is just long enough to interest without fatiguing.
And in May, the anonymous reviewer of The British Critic praised Sense and Sensibility for its “many sober and salutary maxims of the conduct of life, exemplified in a very pleasing and entertaining narrative.”
Readers of Sense and Sensibility gathering in Fort Worth for JASNA’s 2011 AGM varied in their estimation of Elinor and Marianne, of Edward and Brandon and Willoughby, of the proportion of instruction and delight. No one, however, challenged the novel’s ability to interest without fatiguing. A part of the very delightful and instructive program put together by Cheryl Kinney, Rosalie Sternberg, and Theresa Kenney is represented here. (More will appear in Persuasions 33.) In essays deriving from their plenary panel, Elaine Bander, Juliet McMaster, and Peter Sabor explore the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Sense and Sensibility—of character and characters, duels, and letters. Other pieces consider the novel in terms of its relationship to visual representation. Jeffrey A. Nigro and Kristen Miller Zohn examine Austen’s use of two kinds of artistic traditions: Nigro focuses on the depiction of Sensibility by British and French painters while Zohn considers the history of miniatures and hairwork. Kazuko Hisamori also focuses on Austen’s relation to visual art, comparing her use of miniatures to that of Mary Shelley. Three essays consider—at least partly—the problem of masculinity in Sense and Sensibility. Mary Watson charts the development of Edward Ferrars in terms of the dichotomy set out by the novel’s title; Joanna Thaler analyzes the duels and considers what Andrew Davies’s 2008 adaptation adds to the novel; Nora Foster Stovel examines Emma Thompson’s 1995 version.
The Miscellany provides an equally delightful and instructive mixture. David Meisel trains our vision on starlight dating from the birth of Jane Austen. Laurie Kaplan presents the fruits of an enviable teaching experience—helping students read Austen’s novels through the topography of London. Essays by Katherine Elizabeth Curtis, Megan Stoner Morgan, and Kelly Hagen analyze fictional tactics and the heroines’ characters in Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park. Theresa Kenney examines Aisha, a Bollywood version of Emma. And Deborah Barnum provides not merely the Jane Austen Bibliography for 2010 but also for 2007, one of the years lost due to Barry Roth’s untimely death.
As always, this issue represents the collaborative efforts of many. In particular, I would like to thank the judicious members of the Editorial Board (listed on the title page) for their very generous contributions of intellectual energy and time; JASNA’s President Iris Lutz for her support of the journal; JASNA’s past President Marsha Huff, who contributed her valuable proofreading skills; and JASNA’s indefatigable web manager Carol Moss, whose dedication to Persuasions On-Line helps make it pleasing, entertaining, and very interesting.