Restitution for Mrs. Dashwood in "Mrs. Dashwood Returns."
Despite the fact that "Pride and Prejudice" is the most popular Jane Austen novel, my favorite has always been "Sense and Sensibility." I love the dichotomy of the two sisters; complete opposites who ponder an essential question of their day, which was should you be sensible, or should you live a life letting your feeling and emotions rule. In the 18th century, being emotive was known as having a great deal of "sensibility."
Austen renders her characters of Marianne Dashwood, the romantic one, and Elinor Dashwood, the logical and reasonable one, completely and beautifully. We also learn a great deal about their love interests John Willoughby, Colonel Brandon, and Edward Ferrars.
Actress Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood in the 2008 PBS production of "Sense and Sensibility."
But there is a plethora of characters in this story that are known as "foils." Foils are minor characters that support the major ones. Of all the foils in S&S, my favorite has always been Mrs. Dashwood.
And I always thought Mrs. Dashwood got what you would call in the vernacular "A bum rap."
Why? Just look at the plot. The story begins with the tragedy of her losing her husband and her home. She is betrayed by her stepson through his greedy and evil wife, leaving her and her daughters nearly penniless. She is forced to move from Sussex to Devonshire (which if you look at a map of the U.K., you will see is a long way,) and live on the kindness of a relative.
She also goes through the pain of watching her daughters get jilted; Elinor finds out Edward has been secretly engaged for five years. Then of course there are Marianne's travails with Willoughby. But for them, like in all Austin novels, things are retified in the end, and our heroines live happily ever after.
But what about Mrs. Dashwood? Yes, it is implied she is happy with her daughters and their good luck to finally find husbands that they love, but what happens to her? It never sat right with me that John and Fanny Dashwood get to go on living and amassing wealth, and having absolutely no consequences for what they did to her and her family. The same goes for Willoughby. Sure, he doesn't love Sophia Gray, but he still comes out smelling like a rose if you ask me, living a life of luxury among the upper classes.
In writing this sequel, I decided Mrs. Dashwood needed her "day in court." Anyone who treated Mrs. Dashwood and her girls ill does not fair well in the story. And while Mary Dashwood is a kind and forgiving women, she is human, and at times has difficulty with that forgiveness. She finds great wealth in the story, along with true love, after a few bumps here and there. So now, not only does Elinor and Marianne live happily ever after, so does their mother, which I felt was greatly deserved.
Most of all, I wanted to portray her as a strong matriarch; a woman who loves her family deeply, and who isn't afraid to stand up for what is right, and what she believes in.