Thursday, 10 March 2011


Sense and Sensibility relives in this highly entertaining modern comedy by Cathleen Schine. Her homage to Jane Austen's first published achievement in the year of its bicentenary is funny, light, delightful. 
The events may be anticipated by Austen fans to whom the plot and its twists have no secret, but The Three Weissmanns of Westport  remains, however,  a surprisingly original and highly amusing novel. Those familiar with Sense and Sensibility will immediately spot parallels. 
Miranda is sensibility, hence,  a modern Marianne. She is not 17 any longer. She's middle-aged and a literary agent entangled in a series of scandals. Her Willoughby? Kit, a charmingly handsome  thirty-something, single parent, promising TV actor,  who succeeds in making her totally lose her head.
Annie is sense and, like Elinor she is the elder, more pragmatic sister, a library director who can't help  taking care of all those around her: her sister and her mother,  her two sons, her friends.
Both Annie and Miranda love quoting Louisa May Alcott: "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain" . And this is true, for both of them.

Their mother, Betty, a modern Mrs Dashwood on the brink of divorce,  has  unexpectedly been left by their  step-father, Josie, whom they have loved and esteemed as a dear father since they were very young children. 
Josie is now in love with Felicity, his blond and much younger secretary. A changed man.
The three Weissmanns, shocked and disappointed by an unacceptable behaviour from a  father/husband of forty-eight years,  leave their luxurious apartments in New York and move to a run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. Here we met a variety of  humorous characters,  from bizarre cousin Lou and his wife, Rosalyn, as well as her hilarious father, Mr Shunptov  to some romantic characters like Roberts - Colonel Brandon's  unfortunate correlative - and Frederick Barrow - aka a modern Edward Ferrars , whose awkwardly indecisive behaviour will make Annie suffer all through the story. Barrow, Felicity's brother, is a fascinating writer, rather prone to his own grown-up children, which makes his love affair with Annie very complicated. No Lucy Steele,  then? Yes, of course. She's called Amber and she's so young and even pregnant, poor Annie!

Books and money matters take the place of Jane Austen's propriety and decorum matters in this upper-middle-class world's conversations. The characters  live between New York, Los Angeles and Westport, Connecticut. Their being Jewish makes everything even more interesting. Though, they don't take it too seriously, their being Jewish sounds rather self-mocking . For instance, while they are decorating their Christmas tree, Josie reminds to young Annie and Miranda that that holiday " ...celebrates the birth of a man in whose name an entire religion has persecuted and murdered our people for thousand of years... And knowing that, why should we let them have all the fun?"
The happy ending can't be avoided and is very much welcome: Jane Austen docet, Cathleen Schine discit. Forgive my Latin jokes. I mean, Jane Austen teaches, Cathleen Schine has learnt. Joy will come in the end with a bit of nostalgia and, just like in Sense and and Sensibility, we have an imperfect happy ending.  
In conclusion,  this is a good example of how to  re-write  a well-known and beloved novel in a clever way: respect and love for the original behind every word.

This was my first task for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge  
hosted by Laurel Ann at

Thanks to Picador for kindly providing me with a review copy of this lovely book.


JaneGS said...

Glad to hear you liked the book--I thought it an enjoyable modern version of S&S, and yes, the ending isn't unqualified bliss, just as S&S's isn't.

Vintage Reading said...

I wasn't keen on this. Mainly because of the spoilt Miranda. She had nothing of the depth of Marianne. The book had its moments though.