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Annotating Jane Austen: What Would Elinor Do?

  Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.
-Sense and Sensibility

When Laura McDonald, the publisher of Girlebooks, asked me to annotate a new edition of Sense and Sensibility, I immediately said yes, because it sounded like a lot of fun. (I am all about fun when it comes to Jane Austen.) It turned out to be a much larger task than I had imagined, though even more fun than I thought.

The philosophy of this new edition was not to create a super-scholarly edition for jaded Janeites; we wanted to create a book that would be useful, fun, and attractive for 21st-century Austen fans, who were using and enjoying the book in new ways, including digitally. I thought that the approach I took to The Jane Austen Handbook–to try to explain the things about Jane Austen’s world that puzzled me as a first-time Austen reader–would work well for a general edition. I also planned “extras” such as the inclusion of related books and films, and the best extra of all would be provided by my friend, collaborator, and co-conspirator, Cassi Chouinard: charming illustrations with Cassi’s inimitable sense of humor that is so well-suited to illustrating Austen.

I was also pleased at the prospect of being able to offer an inexpensive ebook edition of the novel that still offered so many extras. My fellow ebook devotees know how frustrating it is to download a free public domain book with formatting issues and poor scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) issues. I appreciate Girlebooks’ public domain offerings because they are so well-done. OCR issues are minimal, and the hand-formatted texts are attractive and very easy to use, with nicely designed covers–way more attractive than the many public domain editions from dodgy “publishers” on the various ebook platforms–as well as a proper table of contents and other formatting that makes navigating the ebook easy. I’ve made a few ebooks in my time, so I know how much work Laura puts into the site.

I thought it absolutely necessary to include a short biography of Jane Austen and suggestions for further reading about Austen’s life and work: books I have found useful and informative, and that I consulted while writing the annotations. I also thought that since we were making an edition for the 21st-century reader, a reflection of the more fun aspects of Austen fandom were also called for: lists of film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, and some of the many paraliterature titles inspired by the novel. The general perception is that Austen paraliterature is nearly all Pride and Prejudice inspired (and certainly the vast majority is so inspired) but I was surprised how many books were inspired by Sense and Sensibility.

The best part about the project was the opportunity to immerse myself thoroughly in Sense and Sensibility. Having never before annotated a novel, I didn’t realize how submerged in the text one becomes; and such a delightful text it is! Sense and Sensibility is a truly remarkable novel–screamingly funny, shockingly truthful, with just enough romance and a happy ending. The characters are uniformly charming.

After spending the summer with Elinor Dashwood (resulting in a lot of What Would Elinor Do? comments on Twitter on my part), she is now my favorite heroine. Elinor is the embodiment of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling (himself a Janeite): “If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” Why then, you’ll be an Austen heroine, my dear! And yet Elinor is not annoyingly perfect; no picture of perfection to make us sick & wicked; and she has a wicked sense of humor to keep her from seeming priggish. In one of the best lines in any of Austen’s novels, when Robert Ferrars rattles on ridiculously about cottages, she “agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.” Elinor sees people clearly and has little patience with their foibles–except for Marianne, of course–but she maintains her civil exterior and always treats people with polite kindness and scrupulous ethics, especially when it is deserved–and even, in the case of Lucy Steele, when it is not.

Hilarious minor characters abound: Miss Steele, Robert Ferrars, the Middletons, the Palmers, Mrs. Jennings; as well as purely nasty ones: Lucy Steele and Mrs. Ferrars; and one of the most romantic heroes ever, Colonel Brandon. I have long been a vocal member of Team Brandon–indeed, from the first time I read Sense and Sensibility; not being seventeen years old and overly romantic, I was not frightened off by the flannel waistcoat. I can even appreciate the much-maligned Edward Ferrars, who is not a stuttering fool as he is sometimes portrayed. He is a man who can appreciate the qualities of Elinor Dashwood, and that’s a high recommendation in my book.

Sense and Sensibility is a delight, and, I think, gets an undeserved bad rap in some quarters. If you haven’t read it in a while, why not give it another try? And when faced with a dilemma, you, too, can ask yourself: What Would Elinor Do? Because if you do, it’s hard to go wrong.

Along with annotating the Jane Austen Bicentenary Library Edition of Sense and Sensibility, Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of The Jane Austen Handbook and There Must Be Murder, a sequel novella to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. She also is the author of “Heard of You,” a short story inspired by Persuasion, in Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress. Maggie is the Editrix of and the Jane Austen resource site She is slightly in awe of Elinor Dashwood, and trying hard not to be such a Marianne.


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“What Would Elinor Do?” Bracelet Tutorial

“The bracelets are in my possession, and everything I could wish them to be…”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
December 9, 1808

Elinor Dashwood, the heroine of Sense and Sensibility, is Jane Austen’s model heroine; and yet she’s not a prig or annoying about it. She is scrupulously ethical, refusing to share Lucy Steele’s secret about her engagement, though it is painful to her to not be able to confide in her mother and sister, and the secret was only shared in the first place to hurt Elinor. Elinor is also dismayed when Anne Steele shares information she overheard by listening at a closed door, though the information is useful. When the news of Lucy’s secret engagement gets out (not through Elinor’s fault, but Anne Steele’s), Edward Ferrars shows he has earned Elinor’s trust and esteem by behaving exactly as she would have: staying true to his word, though she knows he now wishes he had not given it, and that no one would blame him for backing out. Elinor is the type of person everyone wants for a friend. She will listen to your problems, give you excellent advice, and never tell another soul if that is your desire; and she has a great sense of humor and will amuse you with her set-downs of the annoying people around you!

What Would Elinor Do? In almost any situation, it is probably the right thing. Give yourself a useful self-check for any question or problem by making this fun bracelet.

If you are experienced with beading and making jewelry, this tutorial will probably not teach you anything new (indeed, you might be able to teach the author a few things); but feel free to take it as an inspiration!

Supplies Needed
The main thing you need for this bracelet is the alphabet beads. We used 6mm round plastic beads, which are available in large packages of assorted letters at most craft stores. These beads are available in a variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and materials; some online bead stores have sterling silver and pewter varieties, if you want to make a really high-end piece.

You can use whatever other beads you like. We played around with our bead stash, trying different sizes and shapes and colors, and decided on a set of blue-green 6mm glass beads, silver barrel-shaped spacing beads, and 6/0 silver glass seed beads, along with the alphabet beads. Craft stores have large varieties of beads in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and online stores have infinite varieties of beautiful beads.

A crimping tool and a wire nipper are also handy. You might be able to purchase an inexpensive combined tool that has chain nose pliers (which can be used to crimp the beads) and a wire cutter. Check your local craft store–they have tools at all price ranges. All materials for this bracelet were purchased at Michael’s. (Check the website for coupons and sales, and you can save a little money purchasing your supplies. Michael’s also has a free smartphone app that has coupons and sale listings.)

Here is our supply list, which makes a 7-inch bracelet. You can add or subtract beads for a bigger or smaller bracelet.

  • 4 6mm round alphabet beads (W, W, E, D)
  • 12 6mm round glass beads in blue/green shades
  • 10 barrel-shaped silver spacer beads
  • 7 silver 6/0 glass seed beads
  • silvertone lobster claw clasp
  • 6mm silvertone split ring
  • 2 #1 silvertone crimp beads
  • bead stringing wire
  • Crimping tool and wire nippers (or a combination tool; see instructions)
  • optional: beading board

I find it helpful to lay out my beads on a beading board, as the little trenches keep the beads from rolling around. Also, you can play with different bead combinations until you find one you like, and then string the beads. These boards can be purchased at most craft stores that carry beading supplies.

However, a beading board is not necessary; a clean, light-colored terry cloth towel laid on your work surface will also keep the beads from rolling around and provide a good working surface against which the beads can easily be seen.

Once you get the beads arranged how you want for your bracelet, you’re ready to start stringing the beads.

Cut a 10-inch piece of wire.

String the wire through one of the crimping beads, through the split ring, and then back through the crimping bead.

Tighten the bead down against the split ring, leaving a little space for the ring to move around (otherwise, you may have a hard time putting on the bracelet).

Crimp, or flatten, the bead using the flat edge of a crimping tool or the flat edges of chain-nose pliers.

That will keep the ends of the wire together. Do not cut off the end of the wire!

Start stringing the beads as you have them laid out. Remember to string the first few beads over the folded end of the wire as well.

When you get to the alphabet beads, make sure the beads are strung in the proper order and in the right direction, or you might have a Hooked On Phonics Worked For Me moment! If they are strung properly, they can roll over on the wire and will still be in the right direction.

When you are finished stringing all the beads, string on the second crimp bead and the lobster claw clasp, and loop the wire back through the crimp bead.

Pull on the end of the wire to tighten the bead and clasp against the strung beads. Like with the split ring, leave a little room for the clasp to move around.

Crimp the bead as before, using the chain-nose pliers or crimping tool.

String the end of the wire back through several beads and trim the wire close to the end of the last bead through which the wire was strung. Be careful to not cut the main bracelet wire.

You’re done! Enjoy your new bracelet, and remember: What Would Elinor Do?



Along with annotating the Jane Austen Bicentenary Library Edition of Sense and Sensibility, Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of The Jane Austen Handbook and There Must Be Murder, a sequel novella to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. She also is the author of “Heard of You,” a short story inspired by Persuasion, in Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress. Maggie is the Editrix of and the Jane Austen resource site She is slightly in awe of Elinor Dashwood, and trying hard not to be such a Marianne.