In Pursuit of Virtue: A Vindication of Reason and Sensibility in Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft

Melissa Deneufbourg

Abstract


Jane Austen holds a distinguished role in modern society as a heritage author,
whose novels depict proper ladies with excellent manners. While critics have
often characterized Austen’s works as conservative, others have more recently
established the connection between Austen’s novels, specifically her first
published work Sense and Sensibility (1811), and Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical
treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). However, previous
analyses have failed to place reason and sensibility at the center of
Wollstonecraft’s influence on Austen’s writing. In this essay, I argue that Sense
and Sensibility builds on Wollstonecraft’s criticism of women’s under-education,
which informs and guides her radical critique of sensibility. A close examination
of Wollstonecraft helps the reader to see that both Wollstonecraft and Austen
contend that reason and sensibility are essential in constituting women’s agency
and distinguishing themselves as virtuous individuals.


Keywords


Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Reason, Sensibility, Virtue, Women’s Education, Agency

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