Thank you so much for this beautiful guest post.
Awesome Women: The Heroines of Jane Austen
When I agreed to write this guest post for Michelle, I had at least six different awesome women circulating my in head. And I thought it would be impossible to choose between so many inspirational people. I had Luisa Plaja, Sarah Dessen, Coco Chanel, Cleopatra and Boudicca. But there was one idea that I kept coming back to: the ever-inspiring heroines of Jane Austen’s novels.
From a young age my mum has raved to me about Jane Austen and the strength and vitality of her heroines, but it took me until my mid-teens to even pick one of her novels up. I read Pride and Prejudice first as it’s the most famous, followed by my mum’s favourite, Persuasion, and followed by Sense and Sensibility as I had loved the adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. And I fell in love.
“She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent.” (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 1)
There’s the passionate and dramatic Marianne whose romantic ideals are the epitome of what nearly every teen girl wants at some point: a handsome young man who recites Cowper and Keats at the drop of a hat and just generally has a way with sweeping, flowery words. He’s a Byronic hero, and who isn’t a sucker for one of those?!
For me, Marianne’s theatrical reaction to Willoughby’s betrayal is how we react inside when you get your heart broken, but you can't show it have because we have to carry on with our lives. Marianne doesn’t have those responsibilities. As the oldest daughter, Elinor takes the public face for the sisters and Marianne having not yet been introduced to society she can hide away and grieve for her broken heart. That moment when Kate Winslet as Marianne in the 1995 adaptation runs upstairs, throws herself across the bed and tells Elinor that she couldn’t possibly
imagine how she’s feeling after discovering Willoughby’s past is how every girl wants to behave in that situation. Instead, like Elinor, most of us take a deep breath, swallow the tears and smile softly. The freedom to be that passionate and carefree is rare for Jane Austen’s time and even now. And that’s a damn shame, in my opinion!
“She had an excellent heart;- her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them...” (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 1)
But though I love Marianne, I’ve always had a particular soft spot for Elinor. I remember reading Sense and Sensibility for the first time and my heart breaking as she waits for Edward to return; while Lucy Steele gushes about her betrothed and as she hears the news of Edward’s disinheritance and the reason for it. How she suffers in silence and doesn’t even tell her sister of the torture of her feelings. The strength and endurance that she shows throughout the novel blows my mind. I know that in her situation, I could never be that cool.
Even though I could never reach Elinor’s levels of awesome, I feel a kind of kinship with her. My first introduction to her story was when I was very little and watching Emma Thompson look longingly at Hugh Grant’s Edward Ferrars and there was no going back for me. We had a connection. It was then after my first reading of Sense and Sensibility and my declaration to my mum that I loved Elinor that she told me something that connected us further: “Why do you think your middle name is Eleanor?”. It turned out that that was what she had wanted to call me, after falling for Elinor herself, only my dad didn’t like it and so it was relegated to my middle name. I was always confused that I got a different spelling though...
"A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem." (Persuasion, Chapter 1)
My next favourite Austen heroine is Anne Elliot from Persuasion. For me, Anne is the balance of Elinor and Marianne in that she has Marianne’s passion and Elinor’s practicality. She is described as having lost the bloom of her youth and is no longer seen as a prospective wife. Anne’s family often overlooks and dismisses her position in the household and so she relies on Lady Russell as her confidante and mother-figure. This leads her to make the worst decision of her life that comes back to haunt her. My heart broke for her when it was rumoured that Captain Wentworth was in love with Louisa Musgrove and their engagement was to be announced any day soon. Her strength was admirable, and rather similar to Elinor’s, and I was fervently hoping that it wasn’t true and that Anne would get a second chance.
To me, Anne Elliot is the quiet, overlooked girl who sits at the back of the class whom once you get to know, you’re be shocked that you’ve never spoken to her before. Anne is the type of woman who you need to get to know and grow to love as she doesn’t really put herself out there and is instead fond of quiet conversation and more intimate gatherings. Sometimes I wonder how many amazing people are overlooked as Anne is purely because of their tendency to be introverted.
“She was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke, her countenance was pretty.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 2)
Another one of the Austen’s heroines that is overlooked by their families is Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. By many readers, Fanny is regarded as the most boring and lustreless of Austen’s heroines, but she’s one of my favourites. She withstands her cousins’ and Mrs Norris’s taunts and put-downs with dignity and poise until she is alone and is always modest and proper in society. But what I love most about Fanny is how she slowly becomes one of the most valuable members of the Bertram family and is eventually deeply cared for by her aunt and uncle as she
grows older and beings to attract the attention of Henry Crawford and comes into her own.
I know I have three of Austen’s heroines left: Lizzie Bennett, Emma and Catherine Moorland, but I actually don't like Lizzie and Emma Woodhouse, who Austen herself admitted that "...no one but myself will much like", too much and I’ve never read Northanger Abbey so I’m going to stop there. I’ve told you all, in this rather long post, my favourites of Austen’s heroines and I’d love to know who yours are.
I’d also like to say a huge thank you to Michelle for hosting such an amazing and inspiring feature.
Thank you so much Sophie! You are truly awesome. If you don't follow Sophie at So Many Books, So Little Time, please do so now.