Initially it may seem hard to reconcile a position of feminism for Jane Austen when all of her heroines end up in love and ultimately married. However, when one looks a little deeper one can see that Austen clearly deconstructs the world of advantage that men inhabit. Remember the very sobering and distressing story of Decent and Dependable Colonel Brandon’s ward Eliza in Sense and Sensibility’? Her story illustrates the terrible consequences for women in such an unfair world: Eliza’s mother, also called Eliza, is forced to marry for fortune and was treated cruelly by her husband. Unable to endure her married life she runs away. Without male protection she is exploited. She gives birth to a little baby girl and then, in very straightened circumstances, dies of consumption. Colonel Brandon, Decent and Dependable, was her only friend and he takes guardianship of the child, Eliza. Alas at seventeen, calamity repeats itself and Eliza fell for the Prince-Charming-Willoughby. Austen tells us, that Prince-Charming-Willoughby:
“had left the girl, whose youth and innocence he had seduced, in a situation of the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her promising to return: he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her.”
And while Eliza suffers the fate of the fallen woman, we learn later that Prince-Charming-Willoughby plays again: this time with the affections of our sentimental and spirited Marianne. Later, when he finds himself, broke and in debt, our Prince Charming ditches Marianne for the heiress with 50,000 pounds. His actions are unconscionable. Jane Austen is making it clear that Prince-Charming-Willoughby, despite his inherent attractiveness, is not worthy of our heroine, Sentimental-and-Spirited -Marianne. And a society that allows him to prosper, while Eliza is abandoned, is inherently unfair.
- Modernising Jane Austen: 10 traps to avoid (theguardian.com)
- Does Austen challenge nineteenth-century definitions of femininity? (lightandbrightandsparkling.wordpress.com)
- Joanna Trollope on rewriting Sense & Sensibility (scotsman.com)