Mothers in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility Essay

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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
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Like Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood is romantic and whimsical, more prone to act on feelings than reason. Also similar to her youngest daughter, she often misjudges both the characters and situations of individuals. When Elinor tells Marianne of the difficulties Mrs. Ferrars presents in marrying Edward, "Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth" (18). Furthermore, Mrs. Dashwood's reaction to Willoughby is just as naïve as Marianne's. "In Mrs. Dashwood's opinion, he was as faultless as in Marianne's" (43). It is only Elinor, acting with the maternal caution her mother does not possess, who has reservations about Marianne's suitor.

Thus, Mrs. Dashwood clearly fails as an authority figure for her children. She does not discourage them from acting recklessly (such as Marianne's trip to Miss Smith's home with Willoughby without a chaperone), nor does she provide the sort of structure or discipline that would prevent such situations from arising in the first place. She does, however, possess the nurturing and affectionate disposition that allows us to see her as, if not always a good mother, at least a loving and well-intentioned one. When Marianne becomes ill, it is only her mother's presence that can put her at ease: "Marianne's ideas were still, at intervals, fixed incoherently on her mother" (264).

Mrs. Jennings, like Mrs. Dashwood, is a good-natured and kind woman,