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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The concept and presentation of love in Jane Austen Anderson , Judith


Critics of Jane Austen can be divided into three groups. The first group, which includes W. H. Helm, Sheila Kaye-Smith and G. B. Stern regards Marianne Dashwood as Jane Austen's only passionate heroine. Her other heroines are condemned for their common sense by these critics, who contend that love is an irrational phenomenon. Love and reason, they believe, are mutually exclusive. Jane Austen saw love as a marriage of these two facets of man's being. Aware of its duality, at once both emotional and rational, she saw the inadequacies (and dangers) of "love" which based itself solely on passion. Mr. Bennet is one of Austen's examples of a man who has failed to assess his chosen mate intelligently, and his subsequent life with her demonstrates the deficiency of a concept of love which does not involve use of the mind as well as of the heart. For Jane Austen, "to feel" was not enough. Marianne Dashwood, her so-called "passionate" heroine, is not meant to be admired, but is a satiric target, for Marianne despises any use of reason in the process of falling in love. For Jane Austen, she represents the antithesis of genuine love. The second group, among them Charlotte Brontë, Virginia Woolf, and Marjory Bald, sees no passion at all in Jane Austen's novels. They are considered to be "dry", "dusty", and superficial, and are said to ignore "[v]ice, adventure, passion." It is undoubtedly the subtlety of their presentation which has misled the critics. Jane Austen's sensitive artistry precluded a lengthy exposition of feeling. She provides us with the material necessary to complete the picture by suggesting and leading up to the direct expression of emotion, rather than expressing the emotion itself. The presentation is in fact an extension of her concept, for the truly passionate have not the capacity for facile articulation. Intense emotions cannot be easily expressed. The interplay of surface tensions conveys the strong undercurrents of emotion. Jane Austen's evocative technique reveals their existence, but neither she nor her best characters will wallow in the sensational slough which is thought by many to be the proper resting place for the passionate. The third group, whose first spokesman was Sir Walter Scott, and whose current advocate is Marvin Mudrick, views the marriages of Jane Austen's heroes and heroines as financial mergers, and not as unions of love. Her recognition of the economic pressures operating on her characters is misinterpreted, and seen as endorsement. Jane Austen was, in fact, extremely concerned with the fate of women in her society. Her concern involved a reconsideration of that society's basic values. Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates, and the Watson sisters are some of her sympathetically-treated symbols of the economic and social vulnerability of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Jane Austen does not believe that personal happiness should be subjected to financial considerations. She does show some of her characters succumbing to economic pressures. But they are censured within the novels, and her most admirable people never capitulate. Common to all of these groups is a misinterpretation of, or failure to understand, Jane Austen's concept and presentation of love. Using Jane Austen's novels and letters, this paper will attempt to correct the misinterpretations.

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