Sister Sensibilities

The Books

Sense & Sensibility 1

 

Sense & Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen

Genre: Classics

Published: 1811

Number of Pages: 272

 

Marianne Dashwood is a girl after her own mother’s heart—passionate and impulsive, with a tendency for the melodramatic. Elinor Dashwood is characterized by her reason, restraint, and general ability to let absolutely nothing faze her—at least not on the surface. The lives and prospects of both sisters are changed forever with the untimely death of their father. The family manor, grounds, and almost all its wealth passes not to the ladies, but to their older half-brother.  Summoned to a different county by the kindness of a distant relation, the sisters navigate 18th century British society life in the face of grief, gossip, romance, and heartbreak.

 

Housekeeping 1

 

Housekeeping

Author: Marilynne Robinson

Genre: fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 1980

Number of Pages: 219

 

Sisters Ruthie and Lucille arrive in Fingerbone, Idaho in tow of their emotionally-distraught mother. Stopping just long enough to thrust the girls upon their grandmother, Helen Foster Stone commits suicide by driving off a cliff into the same lake that killed her father years earlier.

Left motherless in Fingerbone, the sisters are raised by a succession of legal guardians, each with different values and ideas in regards to childrearing and housekeeping.

 

The Ties That Bind

 

Warning: Mild spoilers follow in the form of certain details or plot points. Though general plot points will be mentioned, no particulars will be given away.

 

Both books depict a set of sisters whose lives are impacted by the death of a parent. Furthermore, the sisters in each story react to their circumstances and environments very differently, resulting in very different personalities and values.

In Sense & Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne endure almost identical circumstances of heartbreak. Each sister falls in love with a young gentleman of wealth and standing. Each sister hopes for a marriage proposal. Each sister parts with her suitor for what she thinks will be a short separation only to eventually find that he is, in fact, engaged to another woman.

Their reactions, however, are complete opposites. Marianne cries for days, refuses to eat, and falls to pieces at the mention of anything relating to her former suitor. Elinor bears her own heartache in silence. None of her acquaintances are even aware of her pain. Marianne in particular accuses her sister of being perfectly happy. In the actions of each, it is clear that Marianne values fierce emotion and candor while Elinor prizes self-control and responsibility.

 

In Housekeeping, Ruthie and Lucille are raised by a parade of female relatives. Though they are very close in the early years after their mother’s death, the sisters begin to drift apart as they grow up—especially after the arrival of their aunt Sylvie. Slyvie, a former hobo, has ideas and values which Ruthie, the eldest, takes in stride. Lucille, however, resists her aunt’s strange ways of housekeeping and finds herself drawn more and more to conventional society.

One striking difference in the two novels is the stance taken by the authors. Jane Austen takes the side of “sense” or conventional society and therefore presents Elinor’s views and actions as favorable and more “right”. Marilynne Robinson, on the other hand, chose to tell her story through the eyes of Ruthie—the sister who is open to a way of thinking and living that is outside of the norm. Both books do, however, go to show how sisters with identical experiences can form very different reactions and values.

 

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