Friday, October 11, 2013

Defining the Austen Heroine - My Guest Post from Between the Covers

I was just thinking about this guest post I did for the blog Between the Covers (now inactive) about defining the Austen Heroine. I thought I would repost this article as a bit of a throw-back and because it really defines the qualities that all Austen characters share. I can't remember when I wrote this, but I think it was more than a year ago.

Defining the Austen Heroine
After reading one of her books, we really get a sense of who Jane Austen's heroines are. We learn their habits, their virtues, their vices, we understand what they are thinking and how they are feeling, we could read a quote and say "Yep, that sounds like a Lizzy Bennet." But what is it that defines an Austen heroine? What characteristics do they all share that define them as Austen heroines? After all, not all Austen Heroines are the same. Jane Austen's heroines reflect people that we may see in our lives (or maybe even ourselves), and though they are not identical, they share similarities that make them heroines. Some could even be considered opposites. For example, Emma Woodhouse from Emma and Fanny Price from Mansfield Park are pretty different when it comes to personality: Fanny is shy, and Emma is outgoing; Fanny has been described as dull, while Emma has been described as vivacious. But despite those differences, they have those qualities that make them heroines (for example, both attend and are involved in their church). As you read this post, keep in mind that some of the characteristics that I mention may apply to some heroines more than others.

Characteristic #1: A Strong Sense of Morality
When you read through a Jane Austen novel, you will notice that the book you are reading may fall under multiple categories. They're works of satire, they're comedies, they're romances (though not in the mushy sense), but they are also morality stories. Jane's heroines are a strong moral rock through which we watch the story in front of us unfold. Here are a couple of examples of this:

Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility)
Though not to say that her sister, Marianne, has no sense of morality, Elinor has both good sense and morality that makes her the strong moral rock in Sense and Sensibility. While reading Sense and Sensibility, there are times where Elinor tries to think the incidents of the novel with her good sense and morality. She tells Marianne when she is acting improperly (like when Marianne was touring Allenham with Willoughby: Elinor says to Marianne, ""I am afraid... that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety"). 

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
Elizabeth has a very strong sense of morality and the right way to act. She knows her younger sisters act improperly: they shamelessly flirt with all of the officers and don't seem to have any propriety. When Mr. Bennet refused to take all the Bennets to visit Brighton to visit the militia, Elizabeth is relieved since she knows how her younger sisters would act and how it would look to all of the Bennets. But when Lydia tells her that she is to go with Mrs. Forster, Elizabeth, with her sense of morality and knowing what Lydia is capable of acting like, pleaded with her father saying that he cannot let her go to Brighton because of Lydia's wild behavior. She knows that Lydia's behavior would affect all of the Bennets, and she proves to be correct when Lydia elopes with Wickham.

Fanny Price
Now, having not completed Mansfield Park (which I really need to get back to), I cannot fully comment on all of Fanny's behavior, but I think I have a clear enough of a picture of her to write up a short section. Fanny has a very high sense of morality, which can lead to many readers finding her dull (though I certainly do not!). That is what I like about Fanny, that in contrast to Mary Crawford she has a very strong sense of right and wrong. When Mary Crawford makes inappropriate remarks at dinner, Fanny realizes that it was wrong of her to do so.

Characteristic #2: Honesty (It is the best policy, after all)
How many of Jane Austen's heroines can you say are liars and cheaters? None. Every one of Jane Austen's heroines are honest. Not all of them are bluntly honest since some of them say things a little more delicately than others, but they are all honest. Here are some examples:

Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey)
"I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible." This is one of Catherine's most well known quote. Catherine, though she is a bit naive, is very honest. She doesn't always put things delicately, but you can never accuse her of purposely misleading anyone. When she was caught exploring Mrs. Tilney's room at Northanger Abbey, she doesn't cover up why she was there: she tells Henry Tilney up front why she was there; now, perhaps in that instance, she didn't need to mention her suspicions of General Tilney, but she didn't lie about why she was in Mrs. Tilney's room.

Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility)
Could anyone accuse Marianne of saying anything that she did not have her full heart in? No. Because she has so much heart in everything she says and does, Marianne is very honest... Sometimes too honest. If she doesn't like the way Mrs. Jennings is acting, she doesn't hide it. In some instances, she can sometimes say some mean things because of her severe honesty. She probably needs to work on putting things more delicately, but she ought to keep her honesty.

Characteristic #3: A Good Nature
Emma Woodhouse from Emma (2009)
All of Jane Austen characters have a good nature. There are many levels to having a "good nature", but Jane Austen's heroines have a good nature in more than one way. For one thing, there really isn't any malice in any of them. Sure, they may be wronged, but we don't see them say that they wish ill on those who wronged them. For instance, in Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne recovers from her illness and though Willoughby was the cause of it, she didn't wish ill on him: she only wishes that he will suffer no more than she has.
  What can also fall under a good nature is good intentions. In Emma, Emma Woodhouse makes a lot of mistakes, but you have to remember that she means well. She doesn't mess up on purpose, but she genuinely wants to help out her neighbors, though her attempts are usually met with failure.
  There is also a caring nature apart of that good nature. Persuasion's Anne Elliot is possibly one of the most caring characters in literature: she is a good listener and listens to all of her family's problems (even when it's about other family members) and she helps wherever she can.
  Sure, for a good nature, some Austen Heroines have different elements of a good nature, but they are all good-natured women.

Those three characteristics are some of the ways that an Austen Heroine can be defined. Jane Austen has created a variety of characters and a variety of heroines that though they are very different from each other have those characteristics that bind them together. In each of her heroines, we can see the role models that Jane Austen intended.

 God Bless,
 God Bless, Miss Elizabeth Bennet

1 comment:

  1. I think their honesty and good nature are a lot of why I like so many of Austen's heroines. Very good observations!


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