Senior Project Advisor

Mahoney, Kristin Mary

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009


Feminine self, Society's expectations


In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, propriety presents a mask for the women in the novel to conceal their agency and true identities. This mask divides their internal selves from the external expectations for women of the nineteenth century as presented in the conduct manuals. While women maintain this divided self, Austen also shows how men have more freedom to move between the social and the domestic spheres because they are able to operate in both spheres. In this essay I will expand on work the of critics like Nancy Armstrong, who argues that the feminine self is realized through the recognition of society’s expectations and that the nature of the feminine self is shaped by both internal and external forces. I will also build on the work of critics like Jenny Davidson, who argues that this mask of propriety presented by the main female characters shields their hypocrisy from society. I will argue that in Sense and Sensibility Austen presents a more progressive and modem version of women that acknowledges women’s agency and their intelligence by allowing them to divide their social and private selves. I will further argue that Austen’s recognition of the female division of self is portrayed in her promotion of Elinor’s ability to recognize her own power. Austen shows that women gain power through their ability to balance their internal and external selves and this power is manifested in their choices for marriage.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Women in literature; Women--Identity; Women--Attitudes; Women--Social conditions

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Sense and sensibility; Austen, Jane, 1775-1817--Characters--Women


student projects; term papers




Copying of this document in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this document for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author’s written permission.

Rights Statement