When Charlotte Bronte said of Jane Austen’s novels ‘I should hardly like to live with their ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses’ she was referring to the physical confinement of an interior versus an exterior setting. This confinement of the setting mirrors the social confinement of a woman versus a man in the societal structure at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. While Austen studies the societal position of women in most of her novels, her early work Sense and Sensibility, is perhaps the most interesting to take into consideration when reviewing the issue of confinement. In it Austen juxtaposes the freedom of the countryside exteriors with the confinement of the city’s interiors. These settings serve as a backdrop for the exploration of two female characters whose social status has been set back as a result of the primogeniture of the time.
Austen’s novels have always been lauded for their social commentary and critique. The most common issue they depict is the dependency of women in society upon men, specifically their reliance on marriage as a source of income. The characters of Marianne and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility are two such characters, who due to their estate and income being inherited by their stepbrother, are left to their own devices of securing a favorable marriage. The two sisters, so different in character, mirror the contrast of the depictions of interiors and nature in the novel. The free-spirited Marianne, with her love of the picturesque is a reflection of Austen’s descriptions of nature, while the sensible Elinor reflects the confined spaces of the interior descriptions.
Marianne’s sensibility and strong link to nature is best depicted in her farewell speech to Norland Park. She begins her speech by addressing the estate with ‘Dear, dear Norland!’ , as if it were a close friend rather than an inanimate structure. However further in her speech she talks to the trees, thus humanizing the estate when she says:
‘And you, ye well-known trees! - but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!’.
Marianne’s address, while an excellent example of her sensibility is also a reflection upon confinement. While homeowners may change and the interiors will be altered, nature will continue as it always has, because nature cannot be confined least of all by social confinements such as primogeniture that lead to the change in ownership.
The critic Rosemarie Bodenheimer describes the manner in which Marianne addresses the trees as being ‘a performance’ . Bodenheimer argues that Austen links Marianne’s sensibility and ‘performance’ to her unrealistic view of her place in society, saying that ‘they encourage her to cultivate a partial and...