Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sense and Sensibility

One of my jobs at my library is to coordinate and facilitate the monthly book discussion group for adults. My co-coordinator is the Director of the Adult Education program at the high school. Shortly after beginning this job we discovered that we both loved Jane Austen, and talked about how much fun it would be to spend time focusing on Austen's novels.

Well, we finally worked it out, and this fall will discuss 4 of Austen's novels: Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (our personal favorite). We didn't do Pride and Prejudice as we discussed that a couple of years ago, and time precluded us from doing Emma. The discussion of Persuasion in December will be held n time for Jane's birthday, so we're planning an English Tea party as a special treat that month.

When we planned this we were hoping that the regular book discussion participants would not mind us doing this, and that a few more people might join us for this special program. Incredibly, the response has been overwhelming! We decided beforehand that we would limit attendance to 20, since a larger group would make it difficult for everyone to participate. Between the regulars who were excited about the proposition and those who found out right away, we got our 20 participants within a week of announcing the program. The waiting list started to grow, so we decided to add an additional evening to handle the overflow.

So now, I'll be facilitating a discussion of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings this week! We are both thrilled that there is such an interest in books that we have loved for years.

My introduction to Jane Austen began when I was 15 years old, in my sophomore English class back in Nebraska. Our teacher had an incredible struggle controlling the class, and in an effort to bring some semblance of order had the boys read one book (Huckleberry Finn I think) and the girls another, Sense and Sensibility.

I think I was probably one of the few girls who actually finished the book, as class time was total chaos. I don't recall much about my opinion of the book at the time, but I suspect that I was far more sympathetic to Marianne than I was this time around. I've probably read it a couple of times since then, but reading it in preparation to lead a discussion gave me a new perspective. I've always loved Austen, but until now have never truly appreciated her wicked sense of humor and her turns of phrases. For example, when Willoughby leaves Marianne to go to London, she spends her days mourning his absence: "and this nourishment of grief was every day applied." What a great phrase! When the Miss Steeles first come to Barton park "they were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the park, and to assist in the due celebration of that festival which requires a more than ordinary share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim its importance." I would never think to refer to the Christmas holiday in this way.

All this has given me a brand new appreciation of Austen, and I can't wait to hear what others in our group(s!) have to say about her. Some will be old friends, and some are now reading her for the first time, and I'm hoping for a lively discussion.

Here are a couple of websites that might be of interest to Austen fans. The first is a podcast from Penguin books on the enduring popularity of Austen. The second is a fan site dedicated to all things Austen:

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