Jane Austen’s six novels each portray a strong female lead. There are similarities between the characters at first glance, most of them being youthful and excitable, but Jane’s novels extend further, creating characters who hold your interest.
Jane Austen’s six novels each portray a strong female lead. There are similarities between the characters at first glance, most of them being youthful and excitable, but Jane’s novels extend so much further, creating characters who hold your interest.
Eleanor and Marianne
Sense and Sensibility, Jane’s first published book in 1811, features Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood. Here we see two passionate sisters, although Eleanor (the older) is more in control of her feelings and is considered cold and unloving by Marianne at times. We see Eleanor struggle with a long and faithful love to one man, whose family do not approve of her, while Marianne falls instantly for a handsome and lovable man, who is not as open and honest as he first seems. On the sidelines stands a man who genuinely loves her and Marianne develops through the novel to maturity and the realisation of true love.
Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, created Jane’s most likeable heroine. In Lizzie, she developed a character who is honest, independent and vibrant. Called headstrong and foolish in the book, Lizzie is loved for her flaws and quick temper as much as anything and although she may have shocked some of the 19th Century ladies, she is likely to have been admired and considered an inspiration by many.
Fanny Price in Mansfield Park is taken to live with her rich aunt and uncle and brought up as the poor relation. She is never considered to be on a par with her wealthy and beautiful cousins, but she nevertheless finds her own sense of worth and refuses to settle for a man, who her uncle promotes as a good match, but whose devious tendencies Fanny has seen for herself. Fanny almost seems unremarkable in this novel, however she is stronger than she appears and although young and inexperienced like the majority of Jane’s heroines, she travels an emotional journey to happiness.
Emma, of the book of the same name published in 1815, is a matchmaker who whilst appearing to scorn love finds herself unexpectedly swept off her feet. Whilst this novel is still entertaining and original, Emma has to be considered one of the most universally irritating and self-obsessed characters in fiction. Even when she appears to understand that she has only hindered her friends and acquaintances with her actions, her first thought appears to remain with herself.
Catherine Morland, in Northanger Abbey published posthumously in 1817, appears to the reader to be the most immature of Jane’s characters. She is yet another woman who’s path to happiness cannot be smooth and her naivety and inexperience are clear throughout. As she encounters difficult characters and many with ulterior motives, her maturity begins to progress and she realises that she cannot rely on and trust everyone she meets. Northanger Abbey is more in the vein of a Gothic novel, with Catherine being an avid reader and admirer of the Gothic novel and allowing her imagination to run away with her.
Anne Elliot, of Persuasion, Jane’s last book to be published posthumously in 1817, appears the most autobiographical of her works, as a woman who refused the man she loved at the impressionable age of 19 as a result of the disapproval of her family. She continued to remain single and regret her actions for the following 8 years. Her love for this man was “constant” and whilst she is pitied for getting older and being unmarried, the reader can see that she is merely unwilling to settle for anything less than she would have had the first time around. Anne does appear quite weak at first, but her strengths show themselves in her manner of handling her difficult family, her kindness to a sick friend and in her honesty and loyalty.
I bring this article to a close almost where it began with Lizzie, who will follow her heart and who is still one of the most admirable females leads today. A woman with beauty, intelligence and charm who can still make the same mistakes and errors in judgment as the rest of us.