Sense and Sensibility, or why I’ve never liked Marianne

Alright, I understand. We’re not supposed to like Marianne. Jane Austen, as ever, was making a point when she created that insufferable brat. Anybody who storms around the place declaring heavily emphasised poetry and crashes out deeply romantic and tortured piano sonatas deserves to be caught in a few rain storms and tumble down a few hills. 

Elinor isn’t supposed to get away without criticism either; she’s her sister’s polar opposite, cool and calm in a crisis. Too cool and calm – what real woman could have tolerated Lucy Steele’s simpering confidences about the man she loves? Elinor is too self-sacrificing; her happiness is an afterthought, the result of the venal action of a money-obsessed social climber, not because of any action on her part. For all of Marianne’s teenage dramatics, she at least tried to be a bit proactive when it came to her love life. 

However, whenever I re-read it, or listen to the audio version, or watch the Emma Thompson film, I do so side with poor Elinor, the sole voice of reason in an overcrowded cottage filled with pre-, post- and actual menstrual hormones. There’s a scene in the film where Marianne is crying -again- because Willoughby has turned out to be less than trustworthy. The mother starts crying because her hopes for her middle daughter haves been dashed. The younger daughter starts to cry because everyone else is crying. Elinor is left alone in the hallway, clutching a cup of tea. Does she cry too? No, she’s too sensible. She sits on the stairs and drinks the tea, probably wondering if there’s any chance of a biscuit. 

I think that I am one of nature’s Elinors. I too am usually wondering if there’s a chance of a biscuit. 

I just cannot bear Marianne’s story arc in this book.  After being disgraced in London when discovering Willoughby has ditched her for a £50000 dowry, Marianne goes on an insane walk in the countryside and gets caught in the rain which brings about a life-threatening fever. 

Can this woman not just catch a simple cold? Not that being wet brings on a cold, of course, but artistic license and all that. 

Once she has recovered from the fever, she finally notices the well-off middle aged man who has been inappropriately lusting over her since the Dashwoods moved into Devon. She decides, in what is in no way a snap decision brought on by a traumatic incident, that she needs to have more sense and less sensibility in her life so she marries Colonel Brandon, a man she has never expressed a positive opinion about before. 

We’re supposed to see this marriage as her becoming more rational and sensible – Brandon is a catch, after all, if your taste runs to strangely affluent ex-soldiers. I can’t help but see it as yet another Marianne snap decision, an action she hasn’t fully thought through. Being Mrs Brandon gets you out of the crowded cottage but it does resign her to a middle age caring for an old, invalid husband. Has she truly come to care for him, or is this her clutching at straws? 

Has Marianne actually started to act with sense? I’m not completely convinced. I think this act of “sense” is just an over abundance of sensibility in disguise. 

I dislike the teenage hysterics of Marianne. If she were around today I’d hate to read her Tumblr.  It would be mostly quotes from poems she hasn’t read all the way through with a few arty black and white shots of naked male torsos. I pity her, but as an innate Elinor I just cannot understand her depth of emotion. Willoughby was a lying arsehole? Move on! Don’t go on cross-country hikes to check out his  house, especially when it’s raining. It’s the modern equivalent of stalking his social media feeds. 
Trust me- that house will still be there once the rain has stopped, Marianne.  Delete him from your contacts. 

She just does stupid, irritating things that annoy me. She doesn’t think. She just does whatever she feels like and hopes it isn’t a complete disaster. 

I really think that this book needs just to be called Sense, showing that thinking rationally gets you what you want better than having hysterics.

Pass me another biscuit, please. 

Review my book! Welcome To Havenbrook, by Eleanor Bennett

Come to my page at askDavid.com and review my book! Welcome To Havenbrook! – The naughtiest town in North …

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It’s a great collection of short stories about the wonderful town of Havenbrook, a secret spanker’s paradise! Join couples old and new as they try spanking as foreplay, domestic discipline and role-playing!

Buy it from Amazon UK here!

Buy it from Amazon US here!

Oh my word! Oh my lots of words, actually!

Today I’ve seen my first self-published ebook, Welcome To Havenbrook! jump up the Amazon rankings!

It’s unbelievable – in the course of maybe twelve hours, it’s gone from #44 to #13 in the erotica short story ranking, according to the UK Amazon site!

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I wish I had paid attention to the other rankings, but I can only assume that they’ve gone up too.

This is so exciting! I know that that I won’t make any money from this book, but hey – somebody’s actually bought it! My words are on their Kindle!

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Here it is! Buy from the British Amazon site here!

Buy from the American Amazon site here!

Now I’m going to find some ice cream to celebrate!

A Room Of One’s Own

I must admit that I’m a little bit afraid of Virginia Woolf – residual damage from being forced to read To The Lighthouse in the Upper Sixth, I think. All that fuss over a major character, to kill her off in a paragraph and not mention her again. Oh, groundbreaking literary style, I know, but oh Lord, so difficult to understand! I would rather have read more Chaucer and if that isn’t a searing enditement of my struggle with that damned book literary masterpiece, I don’t know what is.

(Looking back, I may have disliked my A Level Lit syllabus far more than I realised at the time. But hey, Don’t Look Back In Anger…oh wait, I didn’t like that one either….)

The one thing that I do agree with Virginia Woolf on is her idea that to write fiction, a woman was in need of a “room of her own”.

Now, I’ve benefited from the sort of education that Woolf was challenging the world to give to women. Because of that education I have a job that allows me to support myself independently of a husband. Of course, that job isn’t best-selling novelist, more’s the pity! But that job lets me borrow a shockingly large amount of money from a bank to buy my own late Victorian house brick by crumbling brick. In that house, I have a room of my own to write in, although I don’t tend to use it. I’m far more likely to be found on the couch downstairs with my netbook on my lap than in the spare bedroom where the desk and The World’s Oldest Computer live. Perhaps it’s because there are so many bits and bobs related to my job in there that I just don’t feel comfortable writing fiction in it. Perhaps it’s the dusty vibration plate machine staring balefully at me from the corner of the room sending me – hah – bad vibes.

I think I’m going to have to do something with that room – repaint it, perhaps, or move the job-related junk to another place. I could certainly shift the furniture around. I’m a dab hand at that, a gift from my loving mother who isn’t happy unless she’s rotated the living room furniture three times a year.

I can’t stay on the couch for much longer – my back is killing me! I’m certainly going to have to accept Woolf’s idea and create a room of my own.

If I had been alive in the nineteenth century, they’d have locked me in an asylum

Feminism and the historical romance novel:  two concepts that I’ve found are pretty hard to reconcile with each other, if I’m going to be completely honest.

I am a feminist; I believe totally that men and women should have equality in all aspects of their lives. However, I choose to write about a time period where women were very much not equal.

Women were not educated in the same way that men were. Upper class ladies were taught the feminine arts – a foreign language (usually French) how to sing and play an instrument, drawing, painting or embroidery and perhaps, if their mothers valued it, enough mathematics to manage household accounting. The richer the lady, the worse her education often was; why bother to stuff your daughter’s head full of knowledge she’d never use as the wife of a man who could afford servants to run the house, write his letters and manage his accounts? Instead she practised her handwriting for placement cards and memorised the orders of precedence so that she did not commit a social faux pas.

In the UK, women did not get the vote until 1928. Some could vote beforehand if they met the property qualifications, but it took the efforts of the Suffragist movements and the social impact of the First World War to get men in power to understand that women were capable of taking a full role in the political life of the nation. They could hold drawing rooms and salons hosting famous politicians, they could even canvass for votes and appear on the hustings, but they could not enter a voting booth until 1928.  How utterly ridiculous.

Rules about divorce and child custody changed during the nineteenth century but they were always weighted heavily in favour of the men. In 1857 a law was passed allowing men to divorce their wife in court without needing an Act of Parliament if one case of adultery could be proved. Married women were not allowed to divorce their husbands. Custody of the children of the marriage was granted to the husband, who could ban his wife from seeing their children.

It wasn’t until 1882 that a woman was able to keep control of her money, property and earnings after marriage. If she married before then, her father would have had to do some nifty legal footwork to protect them from becoming the legal property of her husband.

A woman’s body was not her own – it was not seen as possible for a man to rape his wife, as consent was deemed to have been given from the moment of their marriage vows and could not be retracted by her. A woman disappeared as a legal entity once she married.

Who would want to have been a woman then? And why on earth would a committed feminist like myself write at all positively about the time period?

I find it difficult, I have to admit, to write female characters in a Victorian setting that do not set my teeth on edge. They would have been brought up with very strict ideas about what was correct and proper, and what women should and shouldn’t do. My heroines have to be defiant and ahead of their times for me to even think about liking them. I cannot write passive, submissive women, content with their lot in life as a second class citizen. It goes against every feminist bone in my body! I also cannot read a book with characters like that. Why do we like Elizabeth Bennet so much? Because she stands up to herself to Mr Darcy, that’s why. Politely (just!) and within the rules of early nineteenth century society, but she’s no pushover. Why has Jane Eyre lasted so long as a famous heroine? Because she would only accept Mr Rochester on her terms, not his. She may have been following the rules of society in not willing to be a mistress, but she stood up for herself against a strong and domineering character. It’s only once he is maimed and blinded that she takes him as her husband – note the word order in that famous line, “Reader, I married him.” I know who wears the trousers in that household!

I love nineteenth century writing. I grew up with the What Katy Did books, Little Women and Eight Cousins. I moved onto Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch.  All these books have strong female characters in them. Who among us did not admire brave Jo March, who cut off her hair to raise money for the family? Who didn’t cheer when young Jane Eyre told evil Mr Brocklehurst that the way to go to heaven was to stay in good health, and do not die? Who didn’t love Elizabeth Bennet for popping Mr Darcy’s balloon of priggishness?

These characters were all strong despite the awful restrictions placed on their lives. Although my writing can’t hold a candle to Eliot, Bronte, Austen or Alcott, these great authors have shown me that it is possible to create female characters that can be admired and respected despite their terrible context.

So at my keyboard I sit, trying to create a few fictional women who won’t let a few stupid laws and the ideas of a stuffy, overly-moralistic society stop them from being strong, independent and clever. And being somebody I wouldn’t mind having a drink with!

passionate about the past