It seemed appropriate to schedule a Jane Austen romance during February for my Young Ladies Literary Tea. Since we did Pride and Prejudice last fall, we were eager to compare the Bennet sisters to the Dashwood sisters, so we chased away the mid-winter blues with Sense and Sensibility. It was a marvelous club.
As usual, tea and sweet pastries were served by Giovanna while the girls and I talked about a lot of things, only some of which were related to Miss Austen’s writing. The more often we meet, the more we have to discuss. Each book builds on those we have read before, and each affords us new opportunities to talk about timeless topics.
This month we talked vigorously about what marriage is for. Of course we talked about the romances in the Miss Dashwoods’ world… we debated whether or not Colonel Brandon was rewarded by getting Marianne, or maybe would come to regret having such an emotional wife. We talked about how cowardly Edward is and how Elinor deserves better treatment. We talked about how well suited Fanny and John are, and how miserable Willoughby will not be because he always manages to take care of himself. But, at the core of it all, we talked about how irritatingly thin these marriages are, and how much harder and richer real marriage is. And that is the point of this club: the classics invite us into thoughtful study of real life.
By the way, we loved the book. We love books which make us love them while also giving us something substantial to discuss. We believe that Austen’s characters are more than one-dimensional, and we adore her writing, but we are glad that they are fiction because we don’t think much of their lives.
After we dissected my favorite Jane Austen novel, we started comparing it to other classics. Naturally, Ivanhoe came up. As it does almost every tea. Last fall I asked the girls if they wanted to read Ivanhoe. They didn’t. And yet, here we are, every month, comparing something to Ivanhoe. It is on the schedule for June. The girls have changed their minds. We talked about how thin Ivanhoe’s marriage will be. Those of us who know the story have nothing great to say about Rowena, and we all love Rebecca. The girls protested that Ivanhoe should have ended up with Rebecca. I reminded them that she was a Jewess. They challenged me, “Well, so, why does that matter?” That little retort opened the door to an hour-long discussion about the biblical purpose of marriage and the need to become spiritually one with our husband. We talked about Eve and her bad leadership of Adam. We talked about Mary’s rightly-ordered relationship with Joseph. And we talked about how important it is to look for someone who loves Jesus even more than we do.
The girls have agreed that we need to read Miss Austen once a semester. Next fall we will read Emma, and next winter we will read Persuasion. I love how excited they are to keep going on this reading journey!
(I could talk about Ivanhoe all day… so, just for fun… here are some other pics from the 1982 mini series which is my favorite adaptation. Best Rebecca, hands down.)