The novels of sensibility by Rousseau and Goethe, which had a great influence on Austen's novels of sensibility, do not punish extramarital relationships and glorify romantic and passionate love. In contrast, Austen treats extramarital relationships ...
The novels of sensibility by Rousseau and Goethe, which had a great influence on Austen's novels of sensibility, do not punish extramarital relationships and glorify romantic and passionate love. In contrast, Austen treats extramarital relationships and passionate love as deviances and represses them, thereby revising French and German novels of sensibility to accommodate puritanical English literary customs.
Colonel Brandon is captivated by Marianne's youth and liveliness but his story about Eliza reveals his repressed fear of unregulated female sexuality that her sensibility contains. In the 18th- and 19th century, upper-middle class women who had to get a husband to survive faced the daunting task of looking attractive to men to arouse their sexual desire while they look like innocent angels devoid of sexual desire to alleviate their fear of female sexuality. Therefore, Marianne's 'maturation' at the end of the novel means nothing other than that Brandon and Elinor have successfully purged Marianne of sexual desire and disciplined her to become a docile angel.
Austen refuses to acknowledge that sensibility has the positive power to stand up against materialistic and snobbish high class society. Obviously, the high class society whose members include the mercenary John and Fanny Dashwood, the mediocre Sir Middleton and cold Lady Middleton, and the inquisitive Mrs. Jennings is something that the romantic and sensitive Marianne cannot accept. While Austen mocks these contemptible characters, she clearly shows preference for the prudent and cleverly compromising Elinor and criticizes Marianne's sensibility. Austen seems to be wary of sensibility as she thinks that it can bring about licentious behavior and subsequent fall of the woman, as is evidenced by the case of Eliza. Marianne's dangerous disease following Willoughby's betrayal signifies that female sexual desire underlying her sensibility should be repressed so that she can live in safety within the established society. After undergoing dangerous fever, her sensibility is domesticated, and her body, the locus of sexual desire, is chastised and is transformed into an obedient and dutiful body.
Austen's upper-middle class heroines and heroes are continuously denied the immediate gratification of desire and its fulfillment is endlessly deferred until their sensibility is chastised at the end of the novel. They are required to repress their sensibility and punish their body before their desire is gratified. In Austen's novels, younger sons and daughters who are not entitled to inheriting property try to keep their social and economic prerogatives through profitable union with wealthy heirs or heiresses. Consequently, they have to sacrifice genuine love for marriage of convenience. For most of Austen's heroines who will be relegated to lower-middle class unless they have profitable marriage, the immediate fulfillment of desire means unsatisfactory and impoverished marriage and the denial of immediate gratification means ultimate bliss in marriage. Thus Marianne and Elizabeth are rewarded with happy wedded life after repressing sensibility and chastising their body; on the other hand, Wickham and Lydia become poor and their married life remains unsatisfactory since they have sought the immediate gratification of desire.
When Marianne and Elizabeth are finally rewarded with happy marriage after the endless and painful procrastination of the fulfillment of desire, paradoxically they look too impotent to gratify their desire. Therefore, the 'happy' marriage of Marianne and Brandon, and Elizabeth and Darcy seems to be unanimated and boring and the reader is glad to evoke happy memories of liveliness and vigor of 'deviant' sensibility.
Austen broadens the scope of realism in her novels of sensibility by throughly investigating and exposing the cold and unromantic reality that underlies the romantic courtship and marriage of young people.