I enjoyed this article on Sense and Sensibility forwarded to me by my mother, where “Elena Ferrante” defends both Elinor and Austen’s right to publish anonymously:
Ferrante’s warm and subtle defence completely changed my view of the book. Frequently it can read as a set piece novel with Elinor having no relationship with Marianne or family other than in opposition to them (without the successes of Anne Elliott in ‘Persuasion’), whilst Sylvia Townsend Warner’s quip that Elinor’s love for such a man as Edward must call into question her supposed good sense rings wincingly true.
However, Ferrante points out that “[b]oth sisters are educated; they value elegance, refined manners, kindness, intelligence and wit in conversation, narrative ability”, and that the difference is rather in how they apply these values. Ferrante’s analysis made me wonder whether Elinor is in fact Austen’s most daring experiment as a writer:
“Elinor is something else [from Marianne]. She has nothing of her mother and nothing of her sister. She has nothing of the world of females struggling to escape spinsterhood and secure for themselves a solid matrimonial arrangement. She has nothing of the women who manipulate men to safeguard their interests and those of their children. She has nothing of the women who are in daily conflict with other women. She doesn’t have their egoism, their treacherousness, their gossipy chattiness, their opacity as fiancées, wives, mothers. And yet she is totally absorbed by the hierarchy of values of her sex. Elinor knows that money counts and should be counted. Elinor wants love. She seeks a husband. She aspires to happiness and happiness is marriage. She has a strong sensibility that makes her tremble with desire, with suffering, with indignation. Her originality lies in the fact that she is both outside of and within the daily life of her sex.”
What do you think? Time for a re-read, maybe.