Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Every Girl Needs a Daddy

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
been alive. Accounting. Helping them find a house. Helping her mother and sisters find security and adjust to a new life. Putting in a word of caution now and then to Marianne which was never very well received. Because she had no father, she thought that she had to hide her emotions and be strong for everyone else.

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 Edward made a lot of his bad choices because he lost his father young. Mrs. Ferrars was a selfish, bitter control-freak who wanted everyone to bend to her beck and call. John Dashwood never stood up to her or his wife (and in my opinion, his wife shares an equal part of the blame for that). Had Mr. Ferrars been alive, Edward would have been much more purposeful, the whole fiasco with the inheritance would never have happened--and Mrs. Ferrars would have been kept under control. Or at least, so I like to think.

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.


  1. Definitely! To bring up one just mentioned on the ACFW loop, Anne of Green Gables. Great post, Schuyler. Glad to connect w/you via the loop.


    1. Anne is a great example! I love how she found stability with Matthew and Marilla.

      Thanks for stopping by! It's fun to meet a fellow ACFW member. :)


  2. Oh, I do love this. <3 I love Sense and Sensibility and I love your message here - it's not something you see often anymore and I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

    1. Indeed, you are not alone. It is a subject I am most passionate on. :)

  3. Schuyler, hank you for summarizing that so well. This is one of my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations of all time! I love the truth you drew out it. I've never really thought about the story in this light, but I can now see how the theme weaves its way through every character and plot twist.

    I also appreciate the way you pointed out the frailty of both Eleanor and Marianne. It seems that Marianne always receives the harsher judgment simply because she wears her feelings on her sleeve. I like how you showed how Eleanor was just as vulnerable, she simply did a better job of hiding it.

    There are too many examples today of absent fathers or fathers who simply fail to provide the security and stability their daughters need. It's not about being overprotective and intimidating as much as it's about educating and loving your daughter in a way that sets her standards for any young gentleman who might be interested in her.

    I love my father and my brothers because they do such a good job of this. If not for them, I'm afraid I would be more like Marianne, prone to fall for any dashing womanizer who read poetry and rescued me in the rain. But because of the godly men in my life, I know what it is I need and I know that men like Willoughby can't provide what I need. They don't have the capacity to really love me.

    Thanks again!

    Dani from a vapor in the wind

    1. Thank-you for your lovely comment, Danielle. :)

      I always thought of Sense and Sensibility as a study in contrasts--one sister who went too far in one direction, and one who went too far in the other. Since I am a lot like Eleanor, I have a keen eye for her flaws. :) I love how both sisters have such a sweet relationship with each other.

      Yay for good fathers and brothers! :D


  4. I enjoyed this post and I enjoyed all the pictures you scattered throughout! :) I was also thinking about Lucy Steele--as far as we know, she lived with her uncle (?) instead of having a father. Striking similarity to Mary Crawford and her brother...
    Beautifully put together and good message! <3


    1. I never thought of Mary Crawford--but she's a great example of a woman who had only poor examples of men in her life, and desperately needed a father or husband to show her the truth. :) I'm glad you enjoyed it. <3


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