Mothers in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

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Mothers in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

"I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child". Jane Austen wrote these words about her novel, Sense and Sensibility, in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1811. Such a maternal feeling in Austen is interesting to note, particularly because any reader of hers is well aware of a lack of mothers in her novels. Frequently we encounter heroines and other major characters whom, if not motherless, have mothers who are deficient in maturity, showing affection, and/or common sense. Specifically, I would like to look at Sense and Sensibility, which, according to Ros Ballaster's introduction to the novel, "is full of, indeed over-crowded with, mothers" (vii). By discussing the maternal figures in this work, I hope to illustrate the varying possibilities of what mothering and motherhood can entail in Austen, and what this curious spectrum of strengths and weaknesses means for the heroine involved.

When discussing the mothers in Sense and Sensibility, it is only logical to begin with Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne's mother. We meet her just a few pages into the novel, and are immediately told of her genuine and unassuming interest in Elinor's relationship with Edward Ferrars. Unlike most of Austen's mothers, Mrs. Dashwood is neither calculating nor preoccupied with a particular agenda for her daughters:

"Some mothers might have encouraged intimacy from motives of interest...and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence...but Mrs. Dashwood was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her daughter, and that Elinor returned the partiality" (13).

As generous as thi...

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...line of thinking makes perfect sense when we consider Jane Austen's tendency, particularly in Sense and Sensibility, to use her writing as a vehicle for not only entertainment but also instruction. We may view the varying representations of mothers then, not only as examples for Elinor to learn from, but for us as readers as well.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Ballaster, Ros. "Introduction to Sense and Sensibility". Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

Duckworth, Alastair. The Improvement of the Estate. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972.

Gilbert, Susan, and Sandra Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1979.

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen's letters, 3rd. ed. Oxford University Press, 1995.
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