3.) Sensibility We have discussed the overblown representation of sensibility (as defined by Janet Todd) in Austen’s novella Love and Freindship.
Paraphrase how it is represented in this short work,
then explain the degree to which one or more characters in her Pride and Prejudice comes closest to the representation in her novella.
Then, finally, comment on which film version you think best represents the representation of sensibility in Love and Freindship. Substantiate your insights with material from primary and/or secondary sources.
Love and Freindship was written to satirically attack the ideals of sensibility. By using ironic demonstrations of narratives, Austen oversimplifies the themes of love and friendship to clearly showcase the stereotypes of sensibility. These exaggerations of characters created comical clichés. Even at an adolescent age, Austen was able to identify the flaws of the romantic views of her time. Austen openly ridicules the sensibility movement through sentimental letters. By completely contrasting the Romantic period, she is able to write about endless partnership between two characters while simultaneously insulting the meaning of true (sensible) love. Love and Freindship is snickering at the concept of “love at first sight.”
This novella is composed of fifteen letters, narrated by Laura to her friend, Isabel, and Isabel’s daughter Marianne. Each woman is written to comically display the explicit ideals of the cult of sensibility. This resulted in implausible plots, fainting spells, nervous system attacks, and passionate emotions. “Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground – I screamed and instantly ran mad. We remained thus mutually deprived of our senses, some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate situation – Sophia fainting every moment and I running mad as often. At length a groan from the hapless Edward (who alone retained any share of life) restored us to ourselves” (Austen, Letter 13). These events were purposefully illogical, Austen was exaggerating the already exaggerated women she was seeing in other romances of her time. Only women in these novels were so erratic, whereas Austen wanted to see characters as more realistic with coherent thought rather than the spur of the moment notions of romanticism. Love and Freindship is sodden with disdain and scolding remarks on love, and Austen’s true feelings are brought out. She is obvious in her sarcasm when Laura and Edward spontaneously wed, resulting in Edward’s boast of ignoring his father’s parental consent. The most obvious use of sensibility, however can be seen towards the end of the novella in letter fourteen, many dramatic events have happened and many more are ensued in the last letter, but Austen tastefully pokes fun at sensible literature when Laura writes, “Beware of fainting-fits… Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet beleive me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution… My fate will teach you this… I die a Martyr to my greif for the loss of Augustus… One fatal swoon has cost me my Life… Beware of swoons, Dear Laura… A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to Health in its consequences — Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint –“ (Austen, Letter 14).
The character who suffers most at the hands of sensibility in Pride and Prejudice is Mrs. Bennet. She is in a constant state of fluttering and dramatic reactions to ever minor detail of her daughters’ love lives. She cares about nothing but the marriages of her children. Her single-minded thought process and display result in the opposite of what she would like to happen; rather than attracting men such as Bingley and Darcy, she pushes them away with her lack of manners. Austen clearly wrote Mrs. Bennet as a representation of the ridiculousness of sensible characters, almost like a new, re-personification of Laura and Sophia put together in a new woman. By lacking self-awareness, Mrs. Bennet causes more harm than good by consistently embarrassing her daughters; she is frivolous and irrational, using her “nerves” to excuse her behavior. “Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way! You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves” (Austen, ?). Austen even describes her as "a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper" (Austen, ?). She is a failure as a parent which results in Jane and Elizabeth’s embarrassment of her, and Lydia’s elopement thus demonstrating that Mrs. Bennet is her own worst enemy; and all her familial drama is a result of her actions, or lack thereof. Even as her family delves into a catastrophe, as consequence of her deficiency of parenting, Mrs. Bennet does nothing to relieve or resolve the situation and has a prolonged episode in her bedroom, “Not that I have much pleasure indeed in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer!–But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied” (Austen, ?).