The community of women in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility


July 17, 2012 by Vicki

  Sense and Sensibility, despite being a story involved with love, is mostly a story centered on the community of women. I cannot think of a modern novel which focuses on the lives of women and the interactions between women to the same degree. The two main characters, Elinor and Marianne, are sister who have completely opposite personalities. Elinor, the eldest sister, keeps her emotions under control and always acts in a rationale manner. Her younger sister, Marianne, always acts in accordance to her emotions. Each, consequently, pursue love in a very different manner and both have their own struggles to overcome. However, both engage in these struggles within the framework of new and existing female companionship.

One such framework is the relationship between Elinor and Marianne. Despite their differences, Elinor and Marianne love each other deeply. Elinor tries to protect Marianne from the results of her impulsive actions. She always steps in to soothe away any hurt or misunderstanding before Marianne actions can be understood. Marianne, on the other hand, continually tries to make Elinor respond emotionally to that which surrounds her. Marianne cannot understand why Elinor would hide her responses to her own emotions. Their personalities guide their relationship but their abiding love for each other sees them through their various difficulties. By the end of the novel, Marianne sees that Elinor’s actions perhaps should have been her guide instead. (No, I won’t tell you why she would think this way. Go and read, my friends, go and read.)

Of course, not all female relationships are positive like the relationship between Marianne and Elinor. Mrs Lucy Steele enters the story as an antagonist towards Elinor. Mrs Lucy Steele informs Elinor that she has been secretly engaged to Mr Ferrrars, the man whom Elinor loves. Elinor quickly realizes that Lucy Steele suspects an attachment between herself and Mr Ferrars. Elinor must move to remove that suspicion. Lucy Steele’s secrecy forces Elinor to forgo the comfort of her sister’s understanding that would have otherwise taken place. Lucy Steele forces the appearance of friendship on her relationship with Elinor while, in truth, only maintaining the relationship in fear of losing her engagement. Elinor learns from Lucy Steele what a lack of education and lack of proper guidance can produce in a woman.

Sense and Sensibility also explores other female relationships such as the motherly attentions of the Dashwood’s neighbour Mrs Jennings. Mrs Jennings is a well-to-do widow with a married daughter. She spends her time with her friends the Middletons who have rented their cottage to the Dashwoods. Finding the two sisters of marriageable age, she teases them about their likely conquests and loves. Both sisters do not care for her style of teasing but Elinor knows that she means well by her actions. Marianne, on the other hand, finds her behaviour very trying and struggles to hide her disdain only for the sake of her sister.   Mrs Jennings true care for Marianne shines forth, however, when Marianne becomes ill. Mrs Jennings refuses to leave Marianne to Elinor’s care and sticks with them through both heartache and relief.

Elinor and Marianne learn of human nature and behaviour from the various female relationships that develop around them. They also learn something vital about themselves as well I believe. We, the reader, cannot help but partake and enjoy the detailed relationships within the story. I know that these frameworks are just as important to modern woman as they were in Sense and Sensibility. Where would we be without our mothers, sisters, aunts, female neighbours and friends? Sense and Sensibility examines these relationships and reminds us of their importance.

2 thoughts on “The community of women in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

  1. […] that I would associate with femininity. Both the female main characters in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility prided themselves on taking care of their families. The main character in Eat, Pray,  Love worried […]

    • Poorroott says:

      I think that today, having good connnctioes is still important to a lot of people. Not so much for marriage per say but, we still want to know people that can help us. I think that nowadays, it has more with getting ahead-landing jobs etc. It is true that to get your foot in the door it has a lot to do with who you know -those connnctioes!I’m sure that was true back then as well but perhaps not so much for women as men. However, I do seem to remember in Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford got Fanny’s brother a good position in the navy. I don’t have a lot of close friends-maybe 2 but I value them very much. ((Hugs))Laura

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