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A Body Of Truth? John Wiltshire's Outlook On Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility

1989 words - 8 pages

Although John Wiltshire's book Jane Austen and the Body is very well-written and in may ways fascinating, he falls short several times by either not fully explaining the significance of his findings according to his thesis, or by totally contradicting his thesis altogether. His very first paragraph in a sense contradicts his entire theme by saying,Jane Austen's novels, I will admit, seem among the least likely texts on which to found a discussion of the body. Isn't the body absent, suspended, at best regulated to the inferior partner in the dyad of mind and body... virtually banished from her work? (1)Wiltshire hits very close to the mark here- closer than he means to, and therefore much of his discussion in no way even mentions the body. The chapter I focused on entitled "Sense, Sensibility, and the proofs of affection" comes directly after the introduction, yet speaks less of the body, on which the introduction (and the entire book, for that matter) is based, than perhaps any of the other chapters. The chapters on Emma and Persuasion come at the end of the book and hold well to the ideas presented in the introduction, however the chapter on Sense and Sensibility does not. For this reason, I chose to critique "Sense, Sensibility, and the proofs of affection." The purpose of the introduction in Jane Austen and the Body is to begin looking at how the physical body is presented in Austen's novels and to correlate it with what other critical sources have had to say on the body, or Austen, in general. Though occasionally referring to some rather abstract sources that I'm not convinced fit in with his purpose, he successfully introduces his topic and makes the book seem well worth reading. The body is discussed primarily in terms of health, rather than appearance. Wiltshire proposes that Austen relates health mostly in terms of community, morality, and emotions. The latter is especially the case in Sense and Sensibility, whereas health is associated to community primarily in terms of Emma and Persuasion. The illness of Mary Elliot causes Anne to stay with her, and therefore creates a greater tie between them. Likewise, the injury of Louisa is what initiates the relationship between herself and Mr. Bentley. In Emma, it is partially Mr. Woodhouse's illness that causes everyone to care for him, and Harriet's sore throat is a basis of Emma's scheming to unite her and Mr. Elton. Similarly, Jane's illness is what causes Frank Churchill to officiate the engagement. Health also has importance in social transactions. John Dashwood is quick to remind Elinor that Marianne's marriage market price is decreased by her illness. It is also Colonel Brandons wearing of a flannel waistcoat which appalls Marianne. However, it is the lack of health or injury that that first brings Willoughby on the scene, and also Marianne's illness which brings Colonel Brandon to love her even more deeply. Health as related to morality very closely ties into health...

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