Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sense and Sensibility is hardly a fairy tale.

After reading this article on why women supposedly like Jane Austen, I decided I needed to write a post on why "Sense and Sensibility" means so much to me, and why it hardly acts as "female wish fulfillment."

The Dashwood sisters are not rich, or even financially comfortable young ladies who can spend all their days practicing feminine accomplishments. They are gentlewomen in distressed circumstances and owe the roof over their heads to the generosity of a distant relative. It is only due to the kindness of others that they receive the opportunity for such things as nice dinners, a bit of dancing, or a chance to see London. Nor do they have any sort of fatherly protection. It is only due to Marianne's lack of fortune that saves her from marrying an unrepentant seducer.

These are young women that are forced to become independent in every sense of the word. They have only the wisdom of each other to rely upon (which places Elinor in a very lonely position indeed). They are forced to worry about such things as budgets, and spend their days in a tiny, drafty cottage. They cannot have fine dinners or parties and are lucky if they're invited to join others in their extremely desolate neighborhood.

But despite all this, do Elinor and Marianne sit around and mope about their circumstances? No. Well Marianne overdramatizes a bit, but in the end they learn how to make the best of it. They trade pianos and ballrooms for wildflowers and country amusements and determine how to expand their tiny cottage. They learn that appearances are deceiving, and the worth of a man is not judged by his looks and wealth, but by his integrity and honor (Going back to that article I mentioned at the beginning, Edward Ferrers and Colonel Brandon are hardly princes on white horses!).

Indeed, when all is said and done, I strongly feel that Marianne and Elinor, more than any other Austen heroines, live lives and learn lessons that are similar and applicable to young women of today.


Liz B said...

Very well said! Though, sometimes certain parts of Austen novels very much seem like a fairy-tale, just from the fact that they were written in 1800. Unlike the author on that website, I must disagree that I'd hate to live during Austen's time. I probably wouldn't like the stifled life SOME of the time, but other times, living a life of leisure would seem least at first. I'm sure it was quite difficult, but that doesn't mean I don't wish it, because, like sure is difficult now too!

Anyway, I'm reading S&S now, after having seen the 1995 movie. I think I may like this story-line best of all...just because it is so applicable to modern-day lives as well...exactly as you say. It's one of the more depressing stories, but I guess all of Austen's novels are. They aren't all fairy-tales, and I don't think women like them because of that.

I love the Austen novels because of the characters, and true-life scenarios. And also the loveliness of Regency England of course. :)

~Liz B

Maggie D said...

"Overdramatizes a bit"? lol, that's something of an understatement, considering that she *******SPOILER****** almost dies from her overdramatizing!

After looking at the article, the guy does seem to misunderstand it, but it's true that for me, at least, part of the attraction of Austen is her world - its piety, courtesy, civilization. It's not the primary attraction, but it is a sweet respite from the unremitting vulgarity of the 21st century. Even when she pokes fun at her characters (which is most of the time, and very good fun it is too!) it is with an affectionate smile. With the occasional exception for the bad characters.

Maggie D said...

btw, love the poll! I've actually read all of those (plus most of his literary criticism and all his fiction), but surely "The Great Divorce" isn't nonfiction? More of an allegory.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

It's an intentional understatement. ;)

And yes, the Great Divorce is an allegory, but I only realized this after making the poll. Oh well!