A few weeks ago, I wrote a short article about my favorite Jane Austen book, Sense and Sensibility. I wrote mostly about Elinor, the eldest sister, and perhaps sounded as though I was looking a the younger Dashwood sister less than favorably. But the truth is, I LOVE Marianne. While I adore Elinor and I admire her common sense and her ability to think with her head rather than her heart I can’t help but love Marianne in equal measure.
Marianne is the romantic sister, the one who has her head in the clouds. Marianne is that aspect of all of us who longs to be carried off into the sunset by the dashing prince. She is the hopeful, idealistic sister, even in the face of evidence that is contrary to her beliefs. She believes in love and happy endings, and as Elinor says in the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, “Marianne does not approve of hiding her emotions. In fact, her romantic prejudices have the unfortunate tendency to set propriety at naught.”
While I’d like to think that I have Elinor’s common sense, there is also that Marianne side to me as well. It’s not that I don’t love being a romantic idealist, but such ideas can get a person into trouble, as we all know when the dashing Willoughby acts less than honorably. Marianne thinks with her heart–and our hearts don’t always coincide with the real world around us. It’s not always a person either–sometimes our ideals can be shattered by circumstances that don’t match what we had hoped to see. Our ideals can also clash with the beliefs and opinions of others, clouding our own perceptions. And yet, even knowing this, I wouldn’t trade my romanticism for anything in the world. It is this same romantic idealism that allows me to dream and to consider possibilities, even if those possibilities turn into bad ideas or situations rather than good ones.
Marianne’s romanticism allows her to be openly affectionate and warm with other people. When chastised by Elinor for being too forthcoming in her feelings for Willoughby during their first meeting, she responds, “It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.” As someone who loves people, I admire this quality in Marianne. At the same time, I understand the need for caution when forming relationships with other people–it’s important and advisable to get to know others and to maintain good boundaries.
Elinor and Marianne are symbolic of two different virtues–that of realism, and that of idealism. It’s a wonderful example of what can happen when either of these virtues is carried to an extreme. For instance, a woman with too much common sense, and too little romance, may be unable to envision all the possibilities, all the options that could be available to her. LIkewise a woman who is too much of an idealist, too much of a dreamer, might not have the ability to focus her attention in such a way that she can truly achieve those dreams she holds most dear. Personally, I don’t think you can be complete without having at least a little of “Elinor” and a little of “Marianne” within.