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

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Melissa Deneufbourg


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.

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