Family in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

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For ages, families have been the basic unit of the society. Without the existence and cooperation of the families, then there is no unit like a society. In different social organizations, families exist varyingly. Some of the families live in harmony and love, while others are daily trouble spots. It appears in most families that men take the role of leadership, but not that of uniting the family emotionally, that is for the females. It is the sentimental values of the woman of the family that are due to shape the state of the family. According to Jane Todd, “families exists not as images of a harmonious society, infused with sentimental female values, but as constricting forces.” In this essay, I would like to agree with the concept of Jane Todd using illustrations from three books which are; Manon Lescaut by the Abbe Prevost, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The book Sense and Sensibility premises on the dangers of excessive emotions. Austen’s concern is about the sensitive altitude in this romantic publication (Austen, n.p). After the 1760s, different from when the writings focused on the intellectual endowments, the novelists turned to emphasize on the sentimental heritage of the society. There was a huge influence which came up with the change of the thematic concern. At the era, man’s philanthropy was core as propelled by a philosophy of one lord Shaftesbury. Other famous works at the period which supported the theme of the book were the Noble Savage by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and The Extreme depiction of the Emotional Life of the Women by Samuel Richardson. The female novelists were writing towards a substantial female audience at the time. They addressed the issues that did affect them while seeking for solace and solution at the same time. The Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie was the book that brought up this line of novels. The book brought along the emotional side of affairs, ranging from a lot of tears and sighs. Austen on her book discredits this mode of sentimentality by showing the dangers it is capable of posing.

In Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

In Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, her portrayal of the family is more from an economic perspective rather than a sentimental one. In the families, the most vital relationships shown are those between the children and their parents. Jane in her book wants to divert the people from their regularly accepted convention of the family’s obligation and onus. She does that by trying to show that for the children to be happy, they must be willing to leave the family limits. She reveals that families, to different people can mean a huge range of things. Austen avails different types of family relationships that exist to depict the diversity of meanings demonstrated by families. She goes ahead to show a few examples of how love in the family can help one to go through and recover from personal crisis. On the other hand, she shows how the same families can portray the lack of feelings towards one of their own and cruel when one is in need of them most.

In the book

In the book, there are all sorts of family cruelty. The parents go ahead to disown their own born children while some were mistreating their children. There is also love in the family as can be seen with established strong sisterhood bonds. A mass of experience possibilities might result from the families. Some are the bitter experiences while others are of intimacy. At the end, no matter how much the life of a family character displeases, it remains vital to the existence of the characters incorporated in the story.

Jane Austen disagrees with the perception

Jane Austen disagrees with the perception that the females are made of sugar and spice, rather all the sweet things that there are in the world. She appears to be very real in the book. The reality she expresses is something different from what people have in their fantasy world about women. She portrays women in a way that appears to be harsh in sense and sensibility. She shows that there is always more than what meets the eye when it comes to women in the society. Beyond their affectionate presumed character and esteemed values, we have a view of disappointments, perilous passion and in one case in particular where there is a bit of malice. Through the characters that she uses in the context, her depiction of women comes out to be a real one and a challenging one at the other end. She carefully infuses them to bring out who women are in families and the society at large.

Austen has tried to discourage the sentimentality

Austen has tried to discourage the sentimentality by showing that it can be dangerous. She has used the situation revolving Marianne and the portrayal of the sense superiority on the part of Elinor (Todd, 8). Both Marianne and Elinor pursue their love life on the bases of their beliefs and their temperaments. At the beginning of their romance affairs, no one among them is happy to have entered their relationship. The two feel like they were not supposed to be where they were since there was no satisfaction nor stability. Marianne and Willoughby are used to show sensibility in a family while Elinor and Edward have been used to portray sense. In the case of Marianne, their family work out well and progresses in a lot of love. Unfortunately, it lasts for a short while before Willoughby leaves her. On the other hand, Elinor has posed threats from the beginning of their family. She is restrained and sensible too unlike on the situation of Marianne who has never been controlled and is always impassioned.

Summing up the situation of families in the novel

Summing up the situation of families in the novel, harmony has been less expressed from households. Families’ existence is not that of images of a harmonious society, infused with sentimental female values. There are challenges facing the families from a point to the other.  There is a justification of sense, while sensibility is portrayed as a weakness. Marianne had priory vowed never to marry an old man, but that is what happens at the end of it all. She settles to make up a family with an older prosaic man of who also has Marianne as his second love. Their first love already broken, they had no option to settle together and have a family. On the other hand, the fate of the fate of Elinor is far much different. She has a lovely family with Edward and very happy to have married the country parson. To Austen, the moral characteristics of being right and being loyal to your own family are a vital part of the good sense depicted in the novel. The morals are critical towards the development of a stable and happy family. It is only Elinor and Brandon who remain unharmed since they have the sense and sensibility. John, Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny Dashwood, and Willoughby, the antagonists of the book, do not have the essential human sentiments and hence cannot escape the scathe.

The Manon Lescaut

The Manon Lescaut is a French book written by Abbé Prévost back in the sentimental heritage era. It tends to be one of the first kind of a French novel to combine realism and romance in one story. The story centers on two lovers, Manon, and Chevalier. The book talks about the love experience of the two since when they met after Manon left the carriage. At the time, Manon was on hold by an old man who did not want her beauty exposed. Chevalier is determined to help her flee the situation, and they depart for Paris. They do not spend a lot of time together in Paris before the father to chevalier sends some of his men to come and pick him. He has to be locked in the house for six weeks to prevent him from loving Manon which he does not. Through Tiberge, he got a plan to join the seminary since it was the only way he would be let out. He joins, and one day as he is speaking in the church, Manon appears to be among the audience. After the speech, Manon gets to Chevalier, and they escape once more. While living a luxurious life in Paris, fire destroys all they have, and they had to find new means of getting money. Manon is forced to steal from the rich men while Chevalier cheats in gambling (Woods, 259-261). They are arrested but then released, and they escape to Louisiana. On their escape, Manon dies, and Chevalier has to go back to his friend Tieberge.

In the book, the family loses the sentimental part

In the book, the family loses the sentimental part of its presumed character. The brother of Manon, Monsieur Lescaut, telling her to go and flirt with noble men for money portrayed the lack of tender emotions and care. All that the brother cares is that her sister Manon should try and get money and does not care the mode she will use. The only person who is against this and tries to find a way out for her is his lover, Chevalier. At long last, we see Manon moving with the old man to fetch money. There were some expectation of more compassion from a brother more than he gave. Monsieur would have been more concerned and depicted family sentimentality if he tried to help her sister with her needs. There will be no harmony in the society if the siblings cannot be there for each other. If one cannot be of help to their own blood, then there is doubt he will tend to help those from outside in the society.

From the story, we see the father to Chevalier locking him up

From the story, we see the father to Chevalier locking him up to eliminate his love with Manon. Chevalier has had to stay behind doors for six good days. It is only for the plan of Tiberger of him joining the seminary that he can get out. There is a minor expectation of such a situation from the father. If it were for the parents of Manon doing this, then it would be more appropriate. It shows the family disputes appearing between the parents and their children. Harmony is no longer prevailing in homes. The members have to deal with crisis arising among themselves. Thus, if harmony was supposed to begin at home to form a harmonious society, the roots are already dry.

The book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

The book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is the book termed to have marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a famous literary genre. The book emerged to earn a range of copyrights, not only for books but also in films and television. In his book, Daniel talks about Crusoe. He is a boy who escapes home for a sea voyage after his parents dictate unto him to take a career in law. The journey at sea is a disaster as Crusoe ends up enslaved and his ship taken. After two years, he escapes and goes ahead to leave on an island which he calls the island of despair. At the island, he reads the Bible and becomes religious (Greif, 552-554). He manages to escape from the island with two of the prisoners he has helped, Friday and his father. When he arrives home after escaping the island, he realizes that his family had presumed him dead. His father had not even left him anything in the will. He goes to Portugal and comes back with all his wealth earned through the estates in Brazil.

In the book, the family of Crusoe appears to be in tartars

In the book, the family of Crusoe appears to be in tartars. First, they want Crusoe to pursue a profession he has no interest in at all. Then, Crusoe is not in inclusion in his father’s will. The family of Crusoe is portrayed to be in crisis, disagreements are an element of their household. There is no harmony to allow for their consent on several issues. It is a surprise that the family already imposed death on Crusoe without knowing the truth about his fate. The father should have at least confirmed on the whereabouts of Crusoe before declaring him dead and leaving him a no share in the will. On the other hand, Crusoe should have settled the issue with his parents instead of departing without their knowledge. All these events show the break of harmony connection from the family to the society at large.


In conclusion, the point of families existing not as images of a harmonious society, infused with sentimental female values, but as constricting forces by Jane Todd has portrayal in the three novels. As can be seen by the illustration from the three books families cannot be relied on as images of a harmonious society. Each family has their points of problems which they are trying to solve hence cannot be depended on to settle the issues in the community. Sentimental values are absent in families. The siblings are working on the concept of satisfying their own needs. The only faint relationship left is for the parent and their children, and the latter is trying to move off the family limits.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane, Margaret Anne Doody, and Claire Lamont. Sense and sensibility. Oxford             University Press, 2008.

Greif, Martin J. "The Conversion of Robinson Crusoe."Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900       6.3 (1966): 551-574.

Todd, Janet. The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. Cambridge University Press, 2015: pp          8-14.

Woods, William S. "L'Abbe Prevost and the Gender of New Orleans."Modern Language Notes          (1951): 259-261.

November 24, 2023
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