Off The Bookshelf: Sense and Sensibility

Back in January, I finally returned to my Off The Bookshelf segment with a review of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. So today, I’d like to continue my reviews by writing about the other Austen novel I read last year. Since I’ve definitely been enjoying reading her literature, there was really only one novel could I review next: Sense and Sensibility!

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Summary

Sense and Sensibility was Austen’s debut novel, first published in London in 1811. The story follows sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood as they adjust to their new life with their widowed mother and younger sister, who have all been left impoverished after Mr. Dashwood’s death. Over the course of the narrative, the sisters experience love, romance, and heartbreak, and eventually come to realize that they must learn to master the delicate balance between sense and sensibility in order to achieve happiness.

Review

Though I wouldn’t say I liked it as much as Pride and Prejudice, I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility for Austen’s realistic take on romance and manners, seasoned with all her classic humor and wit. Much like in the author’s more popular novel, the main characters of this story are faced with the challenge of finding love in a world where their low income and social status put them at a severe disadvantage. What really sets this novel apart from its successor, however, is the comparison it draws between the tempers of Elinor and Marianne, who each occupy one extreme of the romance-realism spectrum.

Movie poster for Sense and Sensibility (1995)

As the title suggests, the most prominent theme in Sense and Sensibility is the contrast between good sense and overt sensitivity (known as sensibility back then). As the eldest Dashwood sister, Elinor has the best judgment in her family and is highly skilled at exercising good sense and composure. Her younger sister Marianne, on the other hand, has no control over her emotions and no desire to keep her overly sensitive demeanor in check, favoring romantic idealism over etiquette. This contrast between their personalities makes for several interesting situations throughout the story, but in the end both sisters learn the same valuable lesson: too much sense or sensibility only leads to unhappiness. Only after Elinor learns to open her heart to sensibility and Marianne learns to temper her spontaneity with sense do they both achieve their happy endings.

Another major theme in the book is the role of money and social standing in romance. Though her novels all have happy endings, Jane Austen was never one to tell an idealistic love story; in her view, even the truest love isn’t immune to the real-world obstacle of low income. In the most notable example, Marianne and Willoughby seem like a perfect match: they’re both romantic and outspoken about their opinions on art and love, and spend so much time together that everyone assumes they’re engaged before they even say a word. Unfortunately, being one of the author’s well-known “hero caricatures”, the charming Willoughby couldn’t be anything less than a scoundrel, and sure enough, his expensive tastes coupled with Marianne’s poverty lead him to jilt her for a wealthy young lady he doesn’t love. Funnily enough, the same obstacle of wealth turns out to be a saving grace for Edward Ferrars, who for most of the story finds himself honor-bound to a loveless engagement only to be saved at the end from said commitment by his disinheritance from his mother, leaving him free to give his heart to Elinor after his conniving fiancé abandons him. From beginning to end, wherever there are love and romance, the shadow of money looms in the background.

Overall, Sense and Sensibility is an enjoyable read that shows less-than-idealistic romance in a humorous light, as well as an interesting dynamic of character development between two polar opposite sisters. Just as Marianne learns from Elinor that excessive emotion can destroy one’s life, Elinor learns from Marianne that excessive repression of emotion leads to intense suffering and risk of abandonment. Still, in true Austen fashion, both sisters achieve their happy endings by the story’s conclusion, finding comfortable lives with gentlemen who can provide them with all the security and emotional fulfillment they desire. In this way, from her very first novel, the author reveals that despite all the realistic obstacles in its way, romance can still thrive in a world plagued with social barriers, a hope not yet forgotten in the modern age.

Inspiration

Much like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility offers a glimpse into the romantic and realistic elements of past life that have survived into the present. The novel also teaches a valuable lesson on the importance of both practicing good sense and being willingly sensitive, albeit a somewhat imbalanced one that favors sense. We shouldn’t give our emotions total control over our happiness, but we also shouldn’t be afraid to feel vulnerable in the pursuit of love. There are plenty of opportunities in life to be both sensible and sensitive; it’s all a matter of exercising the right judgment.

Though her novels often highlight the limitations placed on women in the society of her day, Jane Austen clearly had a way of demonstrating the strength that women have always had to succeed within their means. Because of that, I know I can always turn to one of her novels for inspiration on writing heroines with real personalities, issues, and aspirations. Whether you seek inspiration for historical fiction, realistic characters, or contrasting themes in human behavior, Sense and Sensibility is an excellent novel that warrants a place beside Pride and Prejudice on any Austen fan’s bookshelf.

Word of the Week: Prelude

Word: prelude

Pronunciation: PRE-l(y)ood / PRAY-l(y)ood

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s a relatively common word that every writer should know. Sometimes when writing fiction, you may want to set up the world of your story before diving into the plot. In this case, a short introduction might be a good option to help you set the tone for the rest of your work. For writers and musicians especially, the “prelude” is a handy tool to keep in your arsenal!

A “prelude” is an event or action that serves as an introduction to something more important. The word arose in the mid 16th century and traces back through the French noun prélude to the Latin verb praeludere, meaning “to play beforehand”. This verb consists of the preposition prae “before” and the verb ludere “to play”.

In the context of art, a “prelude” is an introduction to a piece of music or literary work, such as an orchestral opening to an opera act or an introductory part of a poem. The word can also be used as a verb to mean “serve as a prelude or introduction to”. If you need to introduce important events or you like to include opening pieces in your stories or poetry (or have your characters do the same), “prelude” is a good word to know!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

14 More Redundant Phrases You Should Edit in Your Writing

Remember that list of redundant phrases I shared on my blog a few weeks ago? Well, here are some more examples of phrases collected from the Elevate – Brain Training app that should be edited for brevity. Sometimes it seems like we never run out of these common redundancies, doesn’t it? One of the many reasons editing will always be a necessity for writers!

So for your reference, here are 14 more redundant phrases you should simplify during your editing phase. Enjoy!

Edit to: “If you buy one shirt, you’ll get another free.”

1) Absolutely crucial: Crucial already implies that something is absolutely important. Simplify “absolutely crucial” to “crucial”.

2) Added bonus: Bonus indicates something extra, making the word “added” unnecessary. Simplify “added bonus” to “bonus”.

3) ATM machine: ATM stands for “automated teller machine”, so the word “machine” is redundant. Simplify “ATM machine” to “ATM”.

4) Circle around: To circle already means to move all the way around something. Simplify “circle around” to “circle”.

5) Close proximity: Proximity already means the state of being close. Simplify “close proximity” to “proximity”.

6) First introduced: Introduced already indicates something that was seen or shown for the first time. Simplify “first introduced” to “introduced”.

7) For free: Free by itself means no charge, so the preposition “for” is unnecessary. Simplify “for free” to “free”.

8) Honest truth: Both the words “honest” and “truth” indicate an adherence to facts and reality. Simplify “honest truth” to “truth”.

9) Necessary prerequisite: A prerequisite, by definition, is a requirement, so the word “necessary” is redundant. Simplify “necessary prerequisite” to “prerequisite”.

10) New discovery: Discovery already implies that a finding is new. Simplify “new discovery” to “discovery”.

11) Temper tantrum: A tantrum is an outburst of anger, so the word “temper” (in the sense “an angry state of mind”) is redundant. Simplify “temper tantrum” to “tantrum”.

12) Temporary reprieve: A reprieve is short-term relief from something unpleasant, so the word “temporary” is unnecessary. Simplify “temporary reprieve” to “reprieve”.

13) Various differences: Differences are ways in which things vary, making the word “various” redundant. Simplify “various differences” to “differences”.

14) Visible to the eye: Visible already means able to be seen with the eyes. Simplify “visible to the eye” to “visible”.

Do you use any of these redundant phrases in your writing? What others would you add to this list?

Word of the Week: Materfamilias

Word: materfamilias

Pronunciation: may-tər-fə-MI-lee-əs / mah-tər-fə-MI-lee-əs

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the female head of a family or household

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Happy belated Mother’s Day to those of you who celebrated this weekend! Here’s an interesting new word for mothers who run a household. I learned today’s vocabulary word after looking up synonyms for “mother”, and since I’d never seen or heard it before, I knew I had to write about it for my Word of the Week segment. If you celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday, chances are you either are or know a “materfamilias”!

A “materfamilias” is the female head of a household or family. The word comes from the Latin phrase mater familias, meaning “mother of the household”. This phrase comprises the noun mater “mother” and the noun familia “family”.

Fun fact: the plural form of this word is “matresfamilias”. Though I find it highly interesting for its Latin origin, I doubt I’d be able to find a place for the word “materfamilias” in any of my writing outside of poetry. Given how advanced and archaic it sounds, writers of historical nonfiction would likely find the most use for it, but it may also prove useful to fiction writers who tend to overuse the word “matriarch” in their stories. If you write main characters who are mothers and/or female heads of their households, “materfamilias” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

My 5 Favorite Fictional Mothers

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and to mark the occasion, I thought it would be fun to share a list of some favorite moms in fiction! Mothers are undeniably among the most important figures in family dynamics, so it’s no surprise that fictional mothers also play a highly influential role in the lives of other characters in a story. There are so many famous mothers in literature, television, and film that it was hard to narrow this list down, but at last I managed to put together a post on the memorable moms in my favorite stories. They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but in the end, they’re all loving and dedicated parents!

So to celebrate the upcoming holiday, here is a list of my five favorite mothers in fiction. Enjoy, and Happy Mother’s Day!

1) Molly Weasley (The Harry Potter series)

NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH! – Molly Weasley to Bellatrix Lestrange, whose Killing Curse had just narrowly missed Ginny

Molly Weasley, Ron’s mother in the Harry Potter series, may well be one of my favorite moms in all of literature. Not only has she raised seven children (and done a fine job of it too), but her maternal instincts are so strong that she extends her nurturing love to her youngest son’s best friends. Molly makes perfectly clear to Harry and Hermione that they’re always welcome in her home, and within moments of their first meeting, she quickly becomes to Harry the mother figure he never had growing up. Mrs. Weasley is proof that whether a witch or a Muggle, a mother will do anything for her children: while she runs a tight household and never hesitates to keep her mischievous sons in check, she is so fiercely protective of her children that she willingly steps between them and Death itself (namely Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange) to keep them safe. The ideal mix of loving parent and badass witch, Molly Weasley is truly everyone’s favorite magical mom!

2) Margaret “Marmee” March (Little Women)

Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all? – Mrs. March to her daughters after their week-long “experiment” in being idle

While Little Women centers on the various stories of four sisters growing up in 19th-century New England, it’s made clear in the beginning of the book that they all share a common aspiration: to live up to the example of their mother. Among women in classic literature, Mrs. March (known as “Marmee” by her daughters) is often held up as the image of the perfect mother: patient, compassionate, and highly principled. She works hard to support her family while her husband is at war, she cheerfully contributes to charity and the war effort, and she always has time to console her daughters no matter how busy she is. Yet Marmee does even more for her children by raising them all to be the best people they can possibly be, ensuring they’re all well educated and independent thinkers, encouraging them to marry for love instead of money, and always being there to offer them advice while still allowing them to learn from their own mistakes. With such a strong and loving mother to guide them, it’s no wonder the March sisters aspire to be such fine “little women”!

3) Queen Elinor of DunBroch (Brave)

Oh, my brave wee lass, I’m here. I’ll always be right here. – Elinor to a frightened young Merida

I’ve mentioned before that I often watch Brave and see my own relationship with my mother in Princess Merida’s relationship with hers. From the beginning of the film, Queen Elinor is determined to teach her daughter every possible lesson on proper princess behavior, from etiquette to diplomacy to compassion. Though at first it seems that her words never stick due to Merida’s strong will and stubbornness, it becomes clear toward the end of the story that no matter how many times they’ve butted heads over the years, Elinor’s wisdom did make an impression on her daughter after all. Merida mostly takes after her father on the outside, but it’s her mother’s lessons that help her calm the other royal families and ultimately get her through her trial. Elinor in turn also learns much about Merida throughout their adventure, enough to eventually shed her uptight persona and allow her daughter the freedom she’s always wanted to live her own life. A mother and daughter may not always see eye to eye, but the love between them is still one of the strongest bonds in the world!

4) Lady Cora Crawley (Downton Abbey)

You are being tested. And you know what they say, my darling: being tested only makes you stronger. – Cora to Edith after the latter was left at the altar

The Dowager Countess may be one of my favorite characters overall in Julian Fellowes’ popular period drama, but as far as mothers go, Lady Grantham probably sets the best example in Downton Abbey. Cora Crawley is the mother of three daughters, each with her own personality and aspirations, yet she always seems to know how best to handle each one—a difficult task given how the two elder sisters are always at each other’s throats. Generally sweet and willing to believe the best of anyone, Her Ladyship also proves to be a strong and highly capable woman: during World War I, she agrees to make Downton a convalescent home for recovering soldiers and works full-time to assist in running it, an experience that prepares her for her eventual position as President of Downton Hospital at the end of the series. She is quicker to embrace change than the rest of her family and is kind even to her servants, earning her immense respect among the staff of Downton. Overall, Cora is a loving motherly figure and, even as an American heiress and aristocrat in early 20th-century England, sets an exceptional example of a modern woman for her daughters!

5) Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

When you have five daughters, Lizzie, tell me what else will occupy your thoughts, and then perhaps you will understand. – Mrs. Bennet to Elizabeth on why she thinks of nothing but marrying off her daughters

Yes, I know she’s not the best mother, or even a good mother on many counts, but given all the times she made me laugh, there was no way I could leave Mrs. Bennet off this list. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s father and younger sisters are embarrassing enough, but her mother proves by far the most humiliating of all. Foolish, noisy, and downright vulgar, Mrs. Bennet’s actions are solely driven by her desperation to marry her five daughters off to fine gentlemen, which often has the adverse effect of driving away the very suitors she tries to attract. Still, this simple woman provides much of the comedy in Jane Austen’s beloved novel, and for all the grief she gives her eldest daughters, she still manages to get what she wants in the end, gaining two wealthy sons-in-law and happy marriages for the most deserving of her children. She may go about it the wrong way, but readers can’t deny that her intentions, however misguided, are always good, even if just for a few laughs!

Who are your favorite fictional mothers? What other mothers in fiction would you add to this list?

Dedicated to my mom and all the other amazing mothers out there! Thank you for all your love, patience, and support! Happy Mother’s Day!

Word of the Week: Eucatastrophe

Word: eucatastrophe

Pronunciation: yoo-kə-TA-strə-fee

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I picked up from Oxford Dictionaries‘ Word of the Day entries. Every author should be familiar with terms related to the craft of writing, even the more obscure examples. Today’s featured word is one such literary term, specifically a type of conflict resolution to bring a story to a favorable conclusion. When you need a happy ending for the direst situations, sometimes the only solution is a “eucatastrophe”!

A “eucatastrophe” is a favorable and sudden resolution of events in a story, resulting in a happy ending. The word is said to have been coined by fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, who was known to use this device frequently in his fiction. Tolkien created this word by combining the Greek prefix eu- “good” with the noun “catastrophe” (in the sense “the denouement of a drama”), which comes from the Greek noun katastrophḗ “overturning”. This noun comprises the preposition katá “against” and the noun strophḗ “turning”.

As a literary device, the “eucatastrophe” has been subcategorized as a form of deus ex machina due to its common manifestation as a sudden resolution of an impossible problem, though Tolkien argued that this needn’t always be the case. A notable difference between these two devices is that the former stems entirely from an optimistic view of history and the world, that is, the idea that any course of events will naturally lean toward a positive outcome. Given its implausible nature, the “eucatastrophe” is probably most useful to fantasy and science fiction writers who favor happy endings. If your plots often call for a strong twist to save your characters from almost certain doom, you can definitely find good use for a “eucatastrophe” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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