Columns > Published on March 16th, 2012

Book Brawl: Sense And Sensibility vs. Pride And Prejudice

Every month I throw two books, somehow related, into the Book Brawl ring to fight it out for the coveted title of literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves.

Today, our contenders are Jane Austen staples Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). Let’s watch these two comedies of manners get impolite, shall we?

Round One: By Any Other Name

Sense and Sensibility refers to the two vastly different Dashwood sisters. Elinor, the eldest, is a rational, clear-headed woman who allows reason to dictate her actions. She is Sense. Marianne is Sensibility, a passionate, impetuous woman who lives by her heart.

The title Pride and Prejudice indicates the follies of star-crossed lovers Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy is extremely proud, often appearing arrogant when he is in fact reserved. Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy due to his pride and because she believes slanderous gossip she hears about him. Both titles are nicely alliterative and melodic.

Round One…is a draw!

Round Two: A Book By Its Cover

These two books have had countless covers over the years, so I chose my two favorites:

The cover for Sense and Sensibility is delicate and pretty. The color combination is lovely, as is the surprising contrast of flowers against geometric symmetry. But this cover offers a bit more form over function; it doesn't really capture the essence of the book.

Pride and Prejudice’s cover is wonderful. It’s lovely and interesting, capturing the feel of the balls and parties described so intricately by Austen. It represents the story and tone of the novel beautifully.

Round Two goes to…Pride and Prejudice!

Round Three: Does The Premise Have Promise?

Sense and Sensibility is about the Dashwood sisters and their mother, left quite poor by the death of Mr. Dashwood; as well as the churlish ways of their half-brother and his wife, Fanny. Elinor shares a deep connection with Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars, to the intense disapproval of Edward’s sister and mother. Meanwhile, Marianne falls in love with a handsome, rapturous young man named Willoughby. Marianne behaves imprudently with Willoughby while Elinor silently suffers, separated from her love by circumstance and a youthful engagement.

Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, one of five daughters with no brothers and very little wealth. Two rich, unmarried men come to town, and while Lizzie’s older sister Jane captures the attention of the amiable Mr. Bingley, Lizzie quickly finds herself at odds with Mr. Darcy. After hearing spurious rumors about Mr. Darcy’s character, Lizzie grows to loathe him just as he learns to love her. While I adore the novel, the premise alone sounds a little empty. 

Round Three goes to…Sense and Sensibility!

Round Four: The Heroines

Elinor Dashwood is a level-headed, reserved woman and a devoted sister and daughter. She is the sole sensible member of her family and therefore carries the burden of responsibility for all of them – particularly for her younger, more tempestuous sister Marianne. Throughout the torment of Edward’s distance and secret engagement, Elinor remains stoic and patient. She is, frankly, almost too good.

Elizabeth Bennet is an unrestrained, independent young woman with a wicked sense of humor. She is fiercely loyal to her sister Jane and her father - and patiently accepting of the many flaws of the rest of her family. Lizzie is hot-headed and impulsive and quite a match for the imposing Mr. Darcy. She isn’t perfect, but she’s awfully fun.

Round Four goes to…Pride and Prejudice!

Round Five: The Sisters

Marianne Dashwood is a free spirit, a lover of literature and art and most especially music. She plays and sings beautifully despite never being able to afford real lessons or a decent instrument. She runs barefoot in the rain and does everything with all-consuming passion. She makes several unwise decisions and always acts without thinking, but Marianne is a wonderful character.

Jane Bennet is Elizabeth’s beautiful, reticent older sister. She is shy and humble, patient and kind. She and Lizzie are quite close and she always gives Lizzie badly needed and very wise advice, but Jane is so flawless as to be a bit dull.

Round Five goes to…Sense and Sensibility!

Round Six: The Fellas

Sense and Sensibility offers two gentlemanly suitors, one for each of the elder Dashwood sisters. Edward Ferrars is the honorable and sensitive adorer of Elinor. He is gentle with the wild youngest Dashwood, Margaret, and cares very little about his wealth or Elinor’s lack thereof. He honors a youthful, misguided engagement to the manipulative Lucy Steele, all the while silently loving Elinor. Colonel Brandon is an ardent older gentleman with a tragic, romantic past. He worships Marianne from the very moment he first sees her play the piano, and he patiently withstands her folly with Willoughby. He’s a dear friend to Elinor and just about as dashing as they come.

Mr. Darcy is the proud, taciturn hero of my heart. While he is initially brusque, he is quickly revealed to have a gentle heart. He is a wonderful older brother, an honest and honorable gentleman, and he loves Lizzie with his whole heart. He grows into a kinder, better person for loving Lizzie, learning to accept her less than advantageous connections and adore her wild spirit. Even Edward and Brandon together, lovely as they are, could never supplant Darcy’s place in the Dreamboat Hall of Fame.

Round Six goes to…Pride and Prejudice!

Round Seven: The Cads

John Willoughby is the philandering admirer of Marianne. Like she, he is romantic, passionate and artistic. But he has already impregnated and abandoned Brandon’s ward by the time we meet him, and after he loses his inheritance, he throws Marianne over for a wealthy young woman whom he does not love. He did intend to marry Marianne, however. Willoughby’s a scoundrel, but he truly loved Marianne.

George Wickham is the shiftless ward of Darcy’s father. He is manipulative and lazy, albeit charming. Wickham flirts with Lizzie, spreads abhorrent gossip about Darcy, tries to elope with Darcy’s virginal younger sister and actually does elope with Lizzie’s trampy younger sister. Everything Wickham does is for sex or money; he has no honor. As far as cads go, no one trumps Wickham.

Round Seven goes to…Pride and Prejudice!

And the Book Brawl victor is…Pride and Prejudice! The crowd goes wild! Quite a close bout between Jane Austen’s two best loved novels, but ultimately, Pride and Prejudice reigns as the better book. Do you agree with the verdict? And what books would you like to see fight it out in the future, readers? Speak up in the comments!

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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