Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jane Austen the Heroine (with poll results)

Which of Jane Austen's heroines was the most like Jane Austen herself?

That was a poll I made, which just ended. I think it's an interesting discussion topic so I'm making this post a bit more than just the usual 'Poll Results'.

First of all I'll have the results; then I'll discuss them.

15 votes (65%) gives first place to Elizabeth Bennet.
4 votes (17%): Anne Elliot
3 votes (13%): Marianne Dashwood
1 vote (4%): Emma Woodhouse
(23 votes total)
Thanks to everyone who voted!

I often find, especially when I write stories, that I have feelings which compare to the ones I read about other authors having. If I am anything like other authors, I can say it is natural to use yourself, in some shape or form, as a base for your heroines; or at least give them a few tendencies that are similar to yourself. With myself, most of my characters have similarities to myself or at least my interests; so it made me wonder: which of her heroines, if any, did Jane Austen make the most like herself?

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is an easy answer, and the most popular.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Miss Jane Austen seem to have quite similar personalities, especially when Jane was around 20, like Elizabeth. They both have sparkling wit, a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor; they love to tease, but know when to be serious. From reading Jane's letters, it seems like you could be reading one from Elizabeth Bennet.

Their family situations also resemble each other to some extent. Elizabeth's best friend and confidante was her older sister Jane, and Jane Austen's was her older sister Cassandra. From what fanfiction I've read, Mr. and Mrs. Austen are usually based somewhat upon Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Perhaps she did draw ideas from her parents, and the Bennets could be an exaggeration of the Austens. Mr. Austen did seem to favor Jane, from what I've read; Mrs. Austen did try to marry off Cassandra and Jane. Mrs. Austen, of course, was much more clever than Mrs. Bennet, and I doubt Mr. Austen was so antisocial and sarcastic.

Next on my list is Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility.

Some take Jane's relationship with Tom Lefroy seriously, and some consider it a 'brief flirtation'; but either way, there are quite a few things to compare with Marianne and Willoughby.

One thing we know for sure is that Jane was quite a flirt with Tom Lefroy, such as made people talk, and her older sister Cassandra scold. (Sound familiar?) Although in Marianne's case, it was less of flirtation and more of...devotion.

If Jane's letters are to be taken seriously (I personally believe she was teasing most of the time; but there is almost always an element of truth in joking) then Jane was actually expecting Tom to 'make her an offer'. Willoughby, as we know, came very close, and actually did intend to, propose to Marianne. Then, he suddenly leaves, in both stories. With Jane Austen, they say a relation of Tom's didn't approve of Jane as a wife for Tom, and wanted to pull him away before anything serious developed. With Willoughby...well, the Dashwoods suspected a similar case, but it wasn't actually that way.
Now, this quote from a letter of Jane's to Cassandra ties in with my next point:

“You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you.”
Again, we have a similar sisterly relationship: Cassandra and Jane, Elinor and Marianne. (I plan on doing a whole post with sisterly comparisons, so I won't dwell on it now.) Cassandra trying to warn Jane, and Elinor tried to warn Marianne; also, in both cases, the elder sister can draw and the younger sister plays the pianoforte well.

One more occurrence in Jane's life may have given her an idea for one in S&S, that I learned from the documentary The Real Jane Austen (which is very good, by the way, and I recommend it; it can be found on YouTube), was when one of Jane's brothers and his wife were rather offensive in their hurry for the Austens to get out of their home so they could move in. In S&S, Henry Dashwood and his wife Fanny move into Norland when Mr. Dashwood dies; in Jane's life, clergyman James Austen is to take over Mr. Austen's church when he and his wife decide they should all move to Bath. Marianne and Jane were both devestated at having to leave their beloved homes.

Anne Elliot from Persuasion came in 2nd place on the poll.

For starters, here's what Miss Laurie of Old-fashioned Charm said:
"I voted for Anne Elliot because she's the heroine that gets a second chance on love as if the authoress was rewriting her own story a bit. I think she might have been a bit like Elizabeth Bennet when she was younger: clever, witty, loved to laugh at the follies of human nature, fond of dancing and even mild flirtations with nice gentlemen like Tom Lefroy. But she was clearly a better judge of character that Lizzy was. As she grew older and wiser she became more like Anne Elliot, she even had a rumored lost love who she met on the seaside at Lyme, and Jane Austen was also rumored to be quiet in her personal life."

That's does seem like Jane was a little different when she was older; more mature, and all that. And that's a good point about Lyme... that rumor has always interested me (much more than the 'romance' with Tom Lefroy).

Another thing I thought of was that they both had a great dislike of Bath, and both had to leave their homes to live there.


And then there was one vote for Emma Woodhouse from Emma.

I had a little trouble thinking of similarities between the two, so I asked Miss Laurie again (and I am very grateful; she's so cheerfully helpful!). Here's what she came up with:
"We may say that Jane Austen was similar to Emma Woodhouse in that she as authoress makes matches with ease, choosing who will marry who and when. But, like Harriet Smith many of her heroines have at least one refused suitor before coming at last to their perfect match; but 'the course of true love never did run straight'."

I'm not sure on this one, but I think I remember someone who knew Jane Austen saying she had hazel eyes, and Emma's eyes were hazel (that was actually described in the book!).

I'm not completely sure on this one either, as I only read it in one place: but I've heard that Jane Austen's favorite hero of her inventions was Mr. Knightley. Maybe, when she wrote Emma (her last novel to be published before her death about 2 1/2 years later) she was making him her ideal gentleman. Just a little thought. =)

~That's it for heroines people voted on, but I'd like to include a couple others as well.

Fanny Price in Manfield Park.

I have a feeling, when Jane Austen created Fanny Price, she made her, to some extent, the way she herself would like to be. I've read in one book that Fanny was Jane Austen's favorite heroine. 

Although their dispositions do not seem to be at all the same, I can think of a few parallels. They both studied people and their characters. Elizabeth Bennet also did this, but erred several times in her judgement, whereas Fanny did not; and as far as I know, neither did Jane.

When Mr. Austen died, the Austen ladies (Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane) were left with very little to live on, and had to actually stay with richer relatives some of the time. Maybe Jane was looked at sometimes as the 'poor relation', just as Fanny was.

Some of Jane's family members gave some descriptions of Jane that did sound rather like Fanny Price. For example, Jane's brother Henry put this on Jane's gravestone:
The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.
The next paragraph also describes her as charitable, devoted, and pure. 

Cassandra's touching letter to their niece Fanny Knight after Jane's death is also filled with loving, praiseful words about Jane. 

Now we know that often, after someone dies, everyone else tends to speak better of them than they actually would when they were living; but just the same, I think there is a good amount of truth in it.

Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey

What was Jane Austen like when she was seventeen? We can never know: her letters don't start until age 20, and people can change significantly in 3 years, especially when they are still quite young, I imagine. We know that Jane loved to read ever since she was a little girl; perhaps she was engrossed in Mrs. Radcliffe's works, even if she did rather make fun of them later. 

Here's an interesting bit I just read on the ever-useful website 'Pemberley':
"More than one reader has wondered whether the childhood of the character Catherine Morland in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey might not reflect her own childhood, at least in part -- Catherine enjoys "rolling down the green slope at the back of the house" and prefers cricket and baseball to girls' play."

Catherine and Jane both had quite a large number of siblings, and their fathers were clergymen (I think Catherine is the only heroine with a clergyman father).

And now my post comes to an abrupt end. ha

So, what do you think? Who did you vote for and why? =)


Kathryn Ross said...

Enjoyed the poll results and your review of each. I have always thought Catherine in her youth, Lizzie as a young adult, and Ann in her later years. Never tied Marianne into the mix - but I can see how a similar plot element might be drawn from her - she was far too foolish of a young girl and I think Jane had more sense - no pun intended. Fanny was also another heroine I hadn't considered too strongly - Jane was more popular among her friends and family and not always quite so serious - but she did have a servant's heart and put up with her mother's ailments much like Fanny did with her aunt.

Fun discussion - now I want to watch them ALL right now!!


Risa said...

I don't know how I missed the poll, but I enjoyed reading your article. Personally, I know absolutely zilch about Jane Austen's life. Whatever I do know is what I get through reading Austen blogs. This was, therefore, rather insightful for me. :D

Abby said...

Very interesting post! I agree that she was probably very like Elizabeth Bennet (especially as a young adult), and I think that can be seen very clearly from her style of writing. I had seen the similarities to Anne Elliot before, but I hadn't thought much about how Jane and Fanny could be similar, but what you said made a lot of sense :) What about Elinor? Perhaps she fits into the same category as Anne Elliot in terms of similarities, in that she was probably more like that when she was older. Just a thought!


Lauren said...

I always thought Jane Austen was a like Marianne, that's what I voted.

I can relate to Jane Austen by her favourite heroine, I love Fanny Price!!! I can't understand why so many people prefer Elizabeth Bennet!

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