The Marvel Illustrated version of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility collects the five comic book series by Nancy Butler and Sonny Liew (illustrator) in a single volume. This graphic novel is a retelling of the classic novel, with the basic plot points condensed into dialogue and accompanied by a blend of serious and humorous illustrations to emphasize the different sides of the various characters.
I think this is my favorite of the Austen graphic novel adaptations so far (read my reviews of Emma and Pride & Prejudice). Butler simplifies the text for the graphic novel format, and at the same time, enables readers to really get to know the characters. From Elinor’s reserve to Marianne’s overwhelming emotion, from Fanny Dashwood’s arrogance and greed to Mrs. Jennings’ tendency to gossip, from Edward Ferrars’ morals to Colonel Brandon’s quiet suffering to Willoughby’s impropriety, Butler does a great job displaying the essential truths of Austen’s characters, and coupled with Liew’s detailed drawings and charming, almost doll-like portrayals, they are brought to life.
However, there were times that the artwork bothered me. In some scenes, Elinor’s head is elongated and looks ridiculous, and Liew occasionally incorporates chibi figures, which add some humor but also make the illustrations inconsistent. Butler also acknowledges in the author’s note at the beginning that she created some of the speeches in her adaptation because there was more narration than dialogue in Austen’s novel. But neither the artwork or added dialogue detracted from my enjoyment of the book. I expected Butler to make such changes given the graphic novel format, and there were times that I was so involved in the story that I realized I was paying little attention to the illustrations!
Sense and Sensibility was the first Jane Austen novel I read (back when I was in high school), and Butler’s adaptation reminds me that it’s time for a re-read. I really enjoyed it, but it made me long for Austen’s writing, particularly her rich observations of human behavior and social interaction. Overall, I think these graphic novels are a fun and fresh way for readers (especially young ones) to acquaint themselves with Jane Austen and learn that the classics can be very entertaining.
Disclosure: I borrowed Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated) from the public library.
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