Gender, Persuasion, Womanhood

On Gender–Part 3

It is no secret that Jane Austen’s novels were influenced by her life, but I believe that as she grew in maturity, Austen’s heroine’s grew with her. I think this is why for so many female readers her characters have different levels of relatability at separate times in their lives.

When I first read Sense and Sensibility at about fifteen, I could feel in convincing detail every single melodramatic emotion that Marianne felt and I wept with her when she wept. I fell a little bit in love with Willoughby, didn’t understand any Colonel Brandon that wasn’t Alan Rickman, and my heart was shattered when she was jilted. I even daydreamed about playing her in a mini-series before they actually released one. I knew I was the only girl who really understood Marianne Dashwood and could portray her with any justice. I was a very intense fifteen year-old.

And on my most recent reading of Emma, I connected with her much more than I had in junior high when I first read it. I know I’ve had my know-it-all moments where I wouldn’t budge and I’ve slipped up and said insensitive things that were meant in jest when I was on a roll  exchanging humor with friends. I even understand why Frank Churchill is so irresistible either as a mate or just a friend. Too often I’ve fallen for the flirtatious guy who keeps pushing the joke just a little to close to the edge that you beg through giggles and exhausted tears to stop or at least keep his voice down. I know what it’s like to not know where the line falls between witty exchanges and flirting. I must admit that I have also daydreamed about playing Emma.

I love Persuasion’s story and I love the characters, but I can’t say that I entirely relate to Anne Elliot. I can fully understand her journey as I would like to consider myself an empathetic, imaginative person, but aside from her patience and endurance which I know all too well, I have never experienced a long-term separation like the one she had from Captain Wentworth If anything, I recognize qualities in her that I have seen in relatives that lost or were separated from a loved-one or sacrificed their own feelings for those of another. And I have certainly heard from others that they connect especially with Anne. I have not yet fantasized about playing her in any theatrical format.

Persuasion, like most of Austen’s novels, I think could only have been written from the first hand experience of a woman who had endured much and grown abundantly in wisdom. It follows a trend, I believe, of a woman who expressed her deepest passions and heartbreaks, as well as her silliest mistakes in pages that created an emotional depth that could not have been achieved purely from fantasy.

Final Thoughts, Gender, Northanger Abbey

On Gender–Part 2 (And Final Thoughts on Northanger Abbey)

In Northanger Abbey we have a heroine whose immaturity seems to outweigh her positive characteristics. In many ways she makes similar mistakes as Marianne and Emma, and although she learns her lessons just as painfully, she does not appear as wise by the end of the novel as the afore-mentioned characters. But she does have romantic partner that serves as a teacher poised to reprimand.

My question here is why does Austen so frequently assign a her heroes as the moral compasses and lecturers of her more misguided, young heroines?


One thing that these three heroines in particular have in common is the lack of parental involvement in their transition into adulthood. Marianne’s father passes while she is still in the state of adolescence and her mother behaves as if helpless. Emma has spent nearly her entire life without a mother and has a paranoid, childlike father incapable of giving her any real advice, though he cares very much for her welfare. Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Morland, who have too many children to give too much focus to anyone in particular. It would appear to be the case that, in the absence of strong father figures and engaged mothers, the responsibility of guiding a young maid safely into the proprieties of womanhood, oddly enough, falls onto her future husband.

More questions I’m having trouble answering: For an independent woman who writes female characters to have independent thought and free will, why give this sort of reign to the male characters in her novels? And why do we as readers respond so positively to this bizarre romantic dynamic? If this were a legitimate essay I would attempt answers to these questions, but I am honestly perplexed.

One thing I do know is that this characteristic of their romantic relationship brings even more awkwardness to the age differences between each couple. Perhaps, then this can all be tallied up to a cultural aspect of the time, but I find myself unconvinced. I find myself even a bit frustrated with Austen for not allowing her heroines to make their mistakes and grow into adults and choose their mates while maintaining their independent will.

I may be a bit disillusioned, but I can at least take comfort in the fact that I have coined a phrase to describe this phenomenon: The Knightley Effect.

Gender, Sense and Sensibility, The Reader

On Gender–Part 1(Plus Final Thoughts on Sense and Sensibility)

The other day I heard someone use the phrase “women-centric” in an interview with a member from a television series with a predominately female cast. My immediate reaction was to question if this is even a real word, which was followed by the thought that I hardly know what constitutes real words anymore and what defines language because A) I just took my first linguistics class which opened my perception of language evolution to new levels and pretty much blew my mind, and also B) YOLO (you only language once?)…but aside from that tangent and punctuation nightmare, I’ve been throwing the phrase around in my head in relation to Jane Austen’s body of work. I’ve mostly discovered that my thoughts on the subject are hardly concise enough for a coherent piece of writing, so I’ve decided to turn it into a series of posts relating to three of the Austen’s novels and their portrayal of gender as well as modern readers perceptions of gender within these novels. I know. It’s a bit rambly, but I’m getting somewhere with this.

Clearly the reader’s first reaction is to say, sure, Austen’s work is totally “women-centric.” How could it not be? All of her protagonists are female and most of them are bold and independent in their own ways *cough cough except Fanny Price cough cough.* But something about my die-hard Austenite friends reactions to the characters has been bugging me. Every Austen fan I know is obsessed with Austen’s heroes and her heroine’s end up almost being an after thought. Certainly, these fans have favorite heroines and ways in which they relate to them, but they are quick to point out these character’s faults when in their eyes the Mr. Darcy’s and George Knightley’s have none. I want to address this odd bias further in later posts, but for now I wish to discuss what I find to be the one exception: Sense and Sensibility.


It is my opinion that Sense and Sensibility celebrates womanhood and sisterhood, as well as the awkward “not a girl not yet a woman” Britney Spears stage of growing into adulthood, the most highly of all six of Austen’s novels. In some way the bond between Elinor and Marianne outweighs their affections for the men in the novel.


There is something about Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon that lacks the dashing qualities which we associate with so many of Austen’s heroes. Colonel Brandon possesses a quiet wisdom and emotional fortitude which give him the feeling of being somewhat withdrawn, and until he his moment of valiance in rescuing Marianne from the dreaded rain, he is mostly just lurking with the occasional purpose of being an intellectual companion to Elinor. We have so little first-hand experience with Edward Ferrars in the book. We hear from him about three times, in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end, and although he is extremely kind and honorable, he leaves much to be wanted in his personality. And then there is Willoughby. Sigh. His carelessness and vanity prevent his being entirely endearing, despite his amiable personality, even before the reader discovers his rake status.

What we do experience in great detail is the affection and the deep empathy and understanding that the elder Dashwood sister’s share despite the differences in their sensibilities and we see, through their acute pain and exquisite pleasure, each of their journeys into their own graceful womanhood.