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Feminine Manipulation in Sense and Sensibility

            Some feminist critics have argued that Jane Austen's novels portray women as subservient to men, lacking in individual authority and subject to a patriarchal power structure that marginalizes the female role in society. Although it is true that Austen's novels focus on the precarious role of women in Regency society, some of her female characters do, in fact, use their influence to obtain the ends they desire. Nowhere is this use of feminine influence more evident than in Sense and Sensibility. In this essay, I will first discuss how female characters in the novel use manipulation to gain power over male characters. I will then conclude with an examination of Austen's intentions in characterizing the power struggle between women and men in this way.
             Sense and Sensibility begins with an illustration of how a cunning woman can manipulate a weak man. The novel's first instance of dialogue centers on the exchange between Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood concerning his father's deathbed wish that John consider the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters. John initially formulates a plan giving his three half sisters the generous sum of one thousand pounds each. His wife, unwilling to part with any of the couple's income, convinces him that his father never actually meant for him to give the girls anything. By praising his nonexistent generosity and urging that he consider the future of their "poor little boy," Fanny proceeds to persuade John that his mother-in-law and sisters are in no real need of money and that their son Harry will surely live in penury should any be removed from his future estate. The skill with which Fanny manipulates John is impressive; her cunning leads him away from his original plan and down the path of her choosing. Fanny accomplishes this by using a variety of rhetorical tools to persuade him. First, she uses overstatement: "Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child" (26; vol.

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