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Sense and Sensibility Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Mar 5th

What prompted you to work on this series? What specifically is added to these volumes?

I love classic literature—especially English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries—and I want others to love these works, too! I often hear from people who say they wish they could take a class with me. The introductions and discussion questions in these books are drawn, in part, from class lectures, so the volumes will, I hope, be a little bit like taking a class with me. 

I especially want fellow Christians to appreciate the significance of these novels in history and culture, so I have written introductions with that particular context in mind. The discussion questions are quite thorough and are designed to help individual readers who want guidance in thinking through the works, and the questions would work wonderfully for book club discussions.

Who are these designed for?

I’ve written the introductions in hopes of both helping first-time readers of the works approach them more confidently and adding understanding and perspective to returning readers who already love these books (or maybe hated them when they were forced to read them in school). I’ve also emphasized what Christians can learn and apply from these works. There are countless editions of classic literary works and good introductions to many of them. But introductions written by and for Christians are hard, if not impossible, to find for many of these works. This series is a step toward filling that gap.

How did you choose the volumes? Which ones are you most excited about?

I began with works that are already in the public domain. This eliminates all of the more contemporary works and translations. From this pool, I chose works I’m most familiar with and love. And from those, I chose works I think are particularly important for Christians to read and appreciate. I also tried to choose works that might appeal as much to men as to women. Christian men, stereotypically anyway, tend to read theology and history and don’t always see how much theology and history (and much more) can be learned from good literary fiction. It is my hope that this series appeals to them, too.

Why is it important for Christians to read the classics?

Christians ought to love good literature because language is a gift from God. The gift of language God gave human beings is a reflection of his image in us. Reading good literature—an art form that uses language as its medium—is a way to steward this gift well. We understand ourselves through words (and ultimately through the Word), and the classics have become classics because they reveal this truth about the human condition so well. Not only can the classics show us universal truths told through the particulars of individuals in their time, place and situation, but they are also simply works of beauty. And it is good to take delight in good things.

What would you say to people who didn’t enjoy these stories in high school? Why should they give them another try?

Honestly, although I certainly want students introduced to the classics early on, many of these works are really written for adults. Without good preparation and intellectual maturity, most young people simply can’t appreciate these works until later in life. It is a completely different experience to go back and read books such as these with the experience, insight and abilities of an adult. No one is going to love every classic, and we all have differing tastes, but as adults, we are much more capable of appreciating the things these works offer. 

How are the themes in “Sense & Sensibility” and “Heart of Darkness” still relevant today?

I try to answer these questions more fully in the introductions, but most simply, these works have passed the test of time because they portray lasting truths about the human condition. These are very different works, of course; one is about the world of women and men of relative luxury trying to work out their familial relationships, and the other concerns human evil on a global scale. Yet each in its own context rings true to what we know about human relationships and human depravity (both ordinary and extraordinary) and our need to be reconciled with God and each other. We may never have lived in circumstances like the characters in these novels, yet the characters portray qualities we know to be true to life.