|2008 Sense and Sensibility|
We watched the 2008 Sense and Sensibility over the weekend. I've seen it many times, but the joy of a well-told story is the many different angles you can think through before you've exhausted it.
Sunday night I thought about Eleanor and Marianne in the context of their absent father-figure.
Marianne had no idea what a snake-oil suitor looked like, because she had no dad to tell her. She was ripe for the first Byron-reading Dark Destroyer that came her way. (Seriously, who would trust Dominic Cooper's Willoughby anyway?)
Eleanor carried a lot of the family head decision-making that her father would have carried if he had
Neither girl really had emotional stability. Eleanor had a good grip on keeping it concealed, but when it came down to it, she was just as hurting and vulnerable and confused as Marianne. We never really learn how their father's death affected Margaret. She seems to be a happy and well-adjusted young lady. But for the two older girls, losing their male protection at the most critical time in their lives led to the whole reason why this story exists.
Towards the crisis point, there's one wrenching scene where Marianne and Eleanor are hiding under the sheets, after everyone's gone to bed, talking. Marianne whispers, "What do men want with us? Perhaps they see us not as people, but as playthings, Eleanor."
There's nothing you want more than to hold them both close and hug them and whisper the truth. They're not playthings. And not all men, or even half, think of them as such. But they have an Edward who didn't tell the truth, and a Willoughby who seduced every pretty girl he saw; a brother John who abdicated responsibility, and a cousin John who teased them about lovers and saw them as pleasant company. Who can blame them for being confused and hurt?
Even Willoughby, when it comes down to it, had no father. I wonder what his father was like, and what it did to him.
Was Jane Austen trying to preach the stability that male headship brings to the home, and what happens when it is lacking? I have no idea. But whether she was trying to or not, the story screams loud and clear that girls need male protection. Not just to give them a roof over their heads: after all, Sir John did that, and there were still some huge gaps in their lives. But to be directly involved in their love interests, their emotional stability, and their spiritual well-being.
A couple of weeks ago our Bible study fellowship went through several chapters in Numbers. One of them, Numbers chapter 30, discusses women's vows. Our small group took ten minutes debating that chapter until the leader reigned us in. :) This chapter is important in illustrating the importance of fathers.
In this chapter, the Lord tells women that if they made a vow, and they were a daughter living in their father's house, their father could negate or cancel the vow when he heard of it. The same was true for wives living with their husbands. Only divorced or married women were bound to their vows no matter what. This was not to lessen the value of a woman's vow, or to give males tyrannical authority. It was a loving provision for the daughters of Israel, that if they made a foolish vow (and we ladies, being more emotional, are prone to do that) the Lord in his love allowed them a way to cancel it. Also, it's a chapter about how a father's involvement is central to the health of the family life. Fathers aren't designed to be passive lookers-on. They are the head of the family, and everything that happens in the family happens under their watch. Imagine the security and protection this gives. It's not intended to control behavior; it's intended to bless and give emotional stability in the home.
When women don't allow male protection, (Like Fanny Dashwood and Mrs. Ferrars) it's a downward spiral that leaves the children insecure (like Edward) stubborn (like Fanny) or silly (like Robert). When the father is missing from a sad circumstance, (like the Dashwood girls) it leads to implosion (like Eleanor) or lack of self-control (like Marianne).
Not until Eleanor and Marianne found another legitimate male head (Edward and Colonel Brandon) could life resume in any way as normal. Sense and Sensibility is not a story about chasing love and finding your soul mate. It's a story about how without men, women are easily preyed on, but in the biblically-designed unit of the family, they have the honor and love that God most desires.
I'm not trying to spark a huge debate here about college, or jobs, or single females. Please don't take it that far. But I am saying that I am so, so grateful to have a father in my life. From a young age he taught me the value of self-control, and even now I am secure in his protection and provision. I can't imagine what it must be like to be without that. My heart goes out to the girls who don't have it. For those reading who might be searching for a father-figure, let me say that Marianne and Eleanor's story doesn't end in searching for a male head. They find rest. Just like Ruth and Naomi lost their father and husband, and God eventually led them to Boaz.
I'm glad I have a father who cares for my well-being. And someday, maybe, I'll find a beau in Sussex who thinks the same way. ;)
How about you? Are there other girls in literature who struggled for lack of a father-figure?
*All photos from this post taken from the Enchanted Serenity of Period Films screencaps.