Reshaping the Sexes in Sense and Sensibility

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University of Virginia Press, 1998 - Literary Criticism - 208 pages
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Moreland Perkins's Reshaping the Sexes in "Sense and Sensibility" is an accessible yet sophisticated exploration of Jane Austen's revision and reversal of sexual stereotypes. He argues that Austen's first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, embodies her most sustained effort at correcting dominant concepts of gender in her era. Through an engaging, often witty analysis of the text, he demonstrates how the novel's protagonists deviate from ruling ideas of their sexes and reveal Austen's own feminist tendencies.By comparing Elinor Dashwood to Austen's other female protagonists, Perkins argues that she alone exemplified a type of heroine unique for her time and still unacknowledged: an intellectual. With her acute sense of honor and her commitment to civic responsibility, Elinor is one of Austen's most complex constructions. Perkins also shows that Elinor's passions are more intense and interesting than many readers have seen. Critics have described Marianne Dashwood's love ethic as emotive and her illness as brought on by Freudian repression, but Perkins finds her sexually unrepressed and rational in her ethic. Edward Ferrars's modesty, shyness as lover, and merely domestic ambitions also challenge gender stereotypes. Yet his wit, moral courage, and farmerly practicality enrich his portrait in a way that helps us appreciate Elinor's love.Perkins prefers to scrutinize, not theorize. Seeking reconstruction, never reconstruction, he offers new readings of puzzling actions, such as Marianne's marrying Colonel Brandon, and Elinor's assisting Brandon to enable Edward to marry her "fair rival".Perkins shows that this underestimated novel offers important insights into Austen'snotion of what a woman can be and a man should be, and into the deeply social conception of felt emotion that drives and structures her fiction. Gracefully written and deftly argued, this book makes a persuasive case for taking a
 

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Contents

Introduction i
1
The Heroine as an Intellectual
11
Edward Ferrars and Jane Austens Democracy
37
Elinors Emotions
69
Deception Formality Patriarchy
104
A Heroine as Public Servant 1
127
A Heroine as Public Servant 2
154
Problematic Marianne
176
Notes
201
Copyright

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Jane Austen
Robert P. Irvine
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About the author (1998)

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Maryland at College Park.

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