Sunday, April 21, 2013

Heroine, or not?

Today I was browsing Cafe Press's Jane Austen-themed t-shirts just for fun, and came across one that was supposed to just be a list of the JA heroines; it said "Elizabeth & Catherine & Elinor & Emma & Anne & Fanny," or something to that effect. I noticed Marianne was missing from the list, as she sometimes is, which led to my current musing upon the subject.

There seem to be two disputable Jane Austen heroines: Marianne Dashwood and Jane Bennet. Some people make a list of eight heroines, and include Jane Bennet. Some people, as I was mentioning above, make a list of six (one for each novel) and exclude Marianne Dashwood.

Elizabeth and Jane, P&P 1995

So I thought, well hey, here's something to post about. What do all YOU think? Are they heroines, or are they just general main characters?  It seems to me that generally Marianne is considered to be a heroine. If that's the case, do you think that Jane should be? I'm putting a poll on the sidebar to gather opinions easily that way; but I'd love it if you commented and joined in the discussion. :)

As for my  thoughts on the subject... "read on!"

I can see why people might not include Marianne, because it's kind of tricky having seven heroines for only six books, and really when you read Sense and Sensibility, Elinor does seem to be the main character. The narrative generally stays with her, and you get more of a look into her head than you do Marianne's--but of course that is more necessary, since Marianne generally speaks her mind.  But think--we know from the moment Lucy mentions it about the thing to do with Edward (surely there is not anybody reading this who doesn't know S&S's story?), even though Elinor never tells anybody; but we don't know what happened between Marianne and Willoughby before he left, or even if they were engaged, until she finally tells about it.

Elinor and Marianne, S&S 2008

I'm still inclined to consider Marianne to be one of the heroines, though. After all, the story is generally heralded as a story about the two very different sisters--one has the sense and the other the sensibility (or sensitivity, if you'd rather), and all that. In fact the original name for the novel was Elinor and Marianne, so it was obviously about both of them.

And as far as Jane Bennet goes, I've never considered her to be a heroine, nor have I considered her and Mr. Bingley to be one of the main JA couples (although if you want an even eight that is sometimes convenient). She's just Elizabeth's older sister, and Mr. Bingley is just Mr. Darcy's best friend. (Ha, that brings another element into discussion--I guess Col. Brandon and Mr. Bingley, then, would be the two debatable JA heroes.) Although they both play a major part in the story, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are still the ones it is about. And Pride and Prejudice wasn't focused on the sisters' relationship, although it did of course come into play, and one can compare Jane and Elizabeth with Elinor and Marianne.

But I'll stop rambling now, and let you get your word in. :)

8 comments:

Lizzie said...

I had never consciously pondered whether or not Jane and Marianne should be considered heroines, but I have always considered Marianne to be a heroine, and not Jane. In mulling it over just now, I think Marianne deserves to be a heroine because her character receives a lot of development. Like you said, Sense and Sensibility is clearly about both Elinor and Marianne, although Elinor takes the lead (as she should, being the elder, hehe!). Jane Bennet's character does not develop - she is sweet, kind and gentle at the beginning, and she doesn't alter in the slightest.

Rachel said...

In general I have tended to think of both Marianne and Jane as heroines, but there is definitely a better support in regard to Marianne as a heroine. Maybe Jane would be better described as a "foil" character (I think that's the right term) for Lizzy?
Concerning Jane though, I'm not sure about using the lack of character development as a reason to say she is not a heroine, for this would throw Fanny's status as a heroine into question (since the argument is often made that her character doesn't develop).
Maybe one question that I (and probably others) need to ask is what makes someone a heroine/hero?

Melody said...

True, Rachel, on that ground some other heroines wouldn't be heroines either--Elinor herself doesn't have a more marked change than Fanny, I'd say--although it is another interesting way to look at it, Lizzie. Since, after all, one never disputes the fact that Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park... this is just talking about the differences between Marianne and Jane Bennet.

What makes somebody a heroine--well, in this case I'm talking main character. That's the thing; the second definition of "heroine" and the one usually discussed as far as literature and the like goes, is just the main female character in a story. Which is what would lead me to choose neither as a "heroine" before I would choose both of them... but I still think that Marianne is a heroine, because Elinor and Marianne are too close to equal footing as far as main characters in S&S go, whereas that isn't the case at all with Jane and Lizzy in P&P.

For the record, though I know what you mean, I wouldn't say that Fanny Price's character doesn't develop during MP. I mean, think about it; the story starts when she's ten years old. Of course there has to be a lot of development where that is concerned, what with adapting to a whole new way of living and everything! :) And I do think she learns and grows during the main part of MP, too, even though she didn't make the sort of mistakes that generally lead to a marked character development such as Elizabeth or Emma or Catherine. ;)

Rachel said...

Yes, Fanny's character does develop in regard to the time between the age of ten and eighteen, but we don't really see the other heroines at that age (who would of certainly developed during that time)--with the exception of a general description of Catherine's years growing up. The thing is, some heroines clearly develop as young women during most or all of the novel while there is not noticeable change in Fanny's character as a young adult. But, I think she has just as many flaws as the other heroines; they're just harder to see because they are internal (especially since she's a strong introvert), and her character development may be the same way--it's there, but it is hidden from the reader who generally sees only the Fanny the rest of the characters see instead of the strong inner character and personality known only to her (and probably Edmund as time goes on). [Sorry to continue on a mostly unrelated topic.]

Back to Marianne and Jane, I should probably re-read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility again (which I was planning to do anyway), and see if I can come to a stronger opinion one way or the other regarding their "heroine status," keeping what you've presented in mind. To be completely honest, although I have read both books twice I never really took the time to consider who the heroine(s) was/were of each book. Maybe that can be a personal focus as I enjoy both novels again.

Jessica said...

I think Marianne is a heroine, and Col. Brandon is a hero in S&S. However, I agree that, although important to the story, Jane and Mr. Bingley are secondary characters in P&P.

Miss Evelyn said...

I think that in Marianne's case, she is a heroine. As far as the title goes, Sense is talking about Elinor and Sensibility is talking about Marianne. That's quite obvious. I think one of the reasons for coming more from Elinor's view is that Jane Austen was more similar in character to Elinor than Marianne.
As for Jane, I would consider her 'qualified', but I do not think she is one. Again, the title: It's talking about Lizzie and Darcy. Not about Jane. I think one of the reasons that she seems so main character is because she was Lizzie's close sister, and best friend. (Besides Charlotte) Jane Austen had a sister (Cassandra) that was HER close sister, and best friend, so I think that it was natural for Austen's main character to have one. Especially since these were her first 2 books, she was 'new' at it and wrote what she was familiar with. Her life had always had a close sister in it... the result? So did Lizzie.

Melody said...

Rachel,
Well, maybe that's why we see more of Fanny's childhood. And because it's important; that's when her story starts, whereas with the other characters they didn't have any major changes in their lives when they were children; they were settled in the same spot with the same people.
I think Fanny does develop during the part of the story where she's older, too, although it seems to be the characters around her that have more changes than she does. She is part of a developing story, however, which I think is all similar. For my part, I think it's rather refreshing to have something a little out of the usual character mold.
Anyway, as I didn't mention before, I guess what "heroine" in this case means to me would be "female protagonist". ;)

Jessica,
Yep, I think that's it! :)

Miss Evelyn,
Yes, certainly, I agree. P&P is about Lizzy and S&S is about both Elinor and Marianne, and it especially seems that way with the titles. And yes, I often think Jane Bennet is a sort of Cassandra-figure. ;) In fact, I did a guest post with a friend about that, here: http://elegance-of-fashion.blogspot.com/2013/01/guest-post-by-melody-and-amy-dashwood.html
Ha, and yes, I think Charlotte can only be considered Lizzy's best friend if we are ruling sisters out of the picture because she is WAY more close to Jane. (I'm not even sure Lizzy considered Charlotte to be her best friend after the Mr. Collins Incident. She felt like it was a sort of rift in their friendship, and I don't really blame her...)

Melody said...

Rachel,
Haha, so I don't know if you'll see this, but I'm reading Mansfield Park right now and now I know how to answer you. :D So, Fanny's character does INDEED develop... she starts out as a girl pretty much dependent on what Edmund thinks. Like, she requires his opinions on everything and they totally agree. Then after a while some things start happening which cause her to start thinking for herself. She discovers she has a mind of her own, and that Edmund can be a blockhead when she knows full well what's going on. Hahaha.

:D
And that's just from reading the first 1/3...

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