In my college career I have encountered a countless number of books and articles used in my academic curriculum. Of these countless numbers of books, a few stand out as the ones I remember most. I remember them because they are either extremely entertaining or extremely boring. Recently in my Comparative Literature class, I read the novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Which category does this book belong in? This book belongs in the extremely boring category. If you ever want to read a book for fun, do not even consider Sense and Sensibility. The book was published in eighteen eleven and therefore the language used in it is also from that time period. For the reader in search of an entertaining book to read, Sense and Sensibility presents a multitude of super-long sentences, each with its vast collection of commas and semi-colons. To this casual reader, all the punctuation marks make reading a chore. Adding to that chore is the fact that many portions of the novel require a close, in-depth reading in order to understand what the passage really means. This repeating process of reading a passage closely chapter after chapter is exhausting and takes away from the pleasure of reading a book. Because of the necessity of a tedious close reading, reading Sense and Sensibility becomes choppy and uninteresting to the casual reader.
One of the longest passages in the book occurs in volume II, chapter II:
Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the first rubber, and the confidential discourse of the two ladies was therefore at an end, to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, for nothing had been said on either side to make them dislike each other less than they had done before; and Elinor sat down to the card-table with the melancholy persuasion that Edward was not only without affection for the person who was to be his wife but that he had not even the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage, which sincere affection on her side would have given; for self-interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man to an engagement of which she seemed so thoroughly aware that he was weary.
Although this passage looks like a paragraph, it is really a giant sentence, a sentence that has a hundred and twenty-eight words, and it is a sentence that today would be considered a run-on sentence; and if I wrote a sentence like that for a comparative literature paper, I would not receive good marks, and as you can see, I am doing so right now, and you, the reader, can probably see my point by now. As you can see, it is difficult to follow such a long “sentence” of sentences. This type of sentence is found everywhere throughout the book. The first few times you encounter one, you would probably take the time to read it closely and evaluate what the sentence is saying. For this sentence, you would notice that “Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the first rubber, and the confidential discourse of the two ladies was therefore at an end …” meaning that Elinor, one of the main characters in the novel, had been talking to Lucy, the woman engaged to Elinor’s love, Edward. When the other members of their party finished a hand of Casino, they called Elinor to their table, ” … to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, for nothing had been said on either side to make them dislike each other less than they had done before …” Neither Elinor nor Lucy wanted to continue in their conversation, because they had said what needed to be said and still felt the same way about each other. Elinor, unhappy about Lucy and Edward’s engagement, is convinced that Edward would not be happy if he married Lucy because he does not love her. Elinor feels that Edward would be better off marrying her instead. Elinor also seems to know that Edward does not feel any affection for Lucy, and that Lucy is only considering her own desires and feelings in her relationship with Edward. After taking the time to deduce all the information from one single sentence, the casual reader becomes disinterested with the book and hopes for an outlet. Unfortunately for him, he encounters another long sentence.
Another long sentence is in chapter I of Volume II:
She wanted to hear many particulars of their engagement repeated again; she wanted more clearly to understand what Lucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him; and she particularly wanted to convince Lucy, by her readiness to enter on the matter again and her calmness in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested in it that as a friend, which she very much feared her involuntary agitation in their morning discourse must have left at least doubtful.
Once again the casual reader encounters a sentence that looks like a paragraph. This sentence is eighty-nine words long. By this time, he is probably wondering why he is still reading the book. Taking another close read, he realizes that Lucy had informed Elinor earlier that Lucy is engaged to Edward, and now Elinor wants to get some further information on the matter. Elinor, in denial, wants to know if Lucy really is in love with Edward, whether she is sincere. Elinor also wants to show that she is only concerned as a friend of Edward’s, because in her previous conversation with Lucy she made it seem as if Edward was more than a friend to her. Although these close readings may seem trivial, they actually help the casual reader to understand what is going on better. When the reader reads the sentence all at once, he simply cannot comprehend what is exactly going on. For example, try reading the sentence out loud and see if you run out of breath. If the reader takes a closer look and breaks up the sentence into smaller ideas, however, then it is easy to figure out what is happening. Even though to some Jane Austen’s work is excellent and insightful to the mores and manners of her time, the casual reader only wants to know what the story is. He does not want to make the extra effort to do the close reading and break up the giant sentences. Unfortunately, most of Sense and Sensibility is full of these long, boring sentences.
Besides long, boring sentences, there are short, boring sentences. Although these sentences are not extremely long, they still require a deep, close reading in order for them to be understood. At first, deciphering what these passages mean is no chore, but after half a book of them, it becomes quite tedious. For example, take this passage from volume II, chapter I:
The necessity of concealing from her mother and Marianne what had been entrusted in confidence to herself, though it obliged her to unceasing exertion, was no aggravation of Elinor’s distress. On the contrary it was a relief to her to be spared the communication of what would give such affliction to them, and to be saved likewise from hearing that condemnation of Edward which would probably flow from the excess of their partial affection for herself, and which was more than she felt equal to support.
The sentences in this passage are short, and at first glance it may seem difficult to decipher their meaning. The reality is, if you take the time to uncover their meaning then it is quite easy to understand what is going on. “The necessity of concealing from her mother and Marianne what had been entrusted to herself” refers to Elinor’s withholding from her mother and her sister Marianne the fact that Lucy is engaged to Edward. By withholding this fact, however, Elinor is obliged to “unceasing exertion.” Yet, this “unceasing exertion” did not distress Elinor too much. It was “no aggravation of Elinor’s distress.” Elinor is instead relieved because she does not want to let her family know about the situation and cause them anguish. She is also relieved because she knows that if her family knows, they would blast Edward because they love her so much, and she could not stand to see them do such a thing to her love. Only after the close reading can the reader really understand what is going on in this passage. It is this act of close reading that makes Sense and Sensibility a chore to read, because the reader has to make one close reading after another in order to figure out what is happening. This is an extremely tedious process and bores the reader to death.
What bores the casual reader in Sense and Sensibility is the need to do close readings for the majority of the novel. This need to do close readings repeatedly causes the reading to become choppy and uninteresting. In addition to the need for close readings, the sentence length in Sense and Sensibility discourages the reader from wanting to advance further in the novel. He wants to skip to the next sentence. When he does so, he misses vital information. For the casual reader who is only interested in entertaining himself, Sense and Sensibility fails by delivering a complex story that cannot be read smoothly. Personally, I passionately dislike this book because of the reasons I have mentioned. They make the book extremely boring, choppy, and time consuming to read. I feel like I am wasting time when I read this book. I will, however, always remember this book, because it will become a part of my most boring college book list.