Elinor: I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him – that I greatly esteem him… I like him.
Marianne: Esteem him? Like him? Use those insipid words again and I shall leave the room this instant.
No two sisters could be quite as unlike, and yet so close, as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor, the older sister, governs herself with sense and wisdom, always practical and not allowing her emotions to run away with her. Marianne, on the other hand, feels deeply and passionately and lets others know it. Their approaches to life vary greatly: after the death of their father at the beginning of the story, Marianne spends much time weeping and playing mournful songs on the pianoforte, while Elinor rallies herself to help her family find a new home. Their approaches to romance differ very greatly too: Elinor keeps her heart and waits patiently and does not share her emotional struggles with others, while Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve; when she falls in love, she falls totally in. When someone steps in and destroys Elinor’s hope of love and marriage, Elinor hides her emotions from others and keeps her promise to Lucy to remain silent (reminding me of the verse in Psalms that speaks of the righteous person who “swears to [her] own her and does not change”); Marianne, on the other hand, when her romance is suddenly shattered, weeps night and day and even risks her health by walking out in the rain to see the house that would have one day been her own.
The following dialogues, in separate scenes of the movie, illustrate the girls’ very different outlooks on and responses to matters of love:
Mrs. Dashwood: You must miss him Elinor.
Elinor Dashwood: We are not engaged Mamma.
Mrs. Dashwood: But he loves you dearest, of that I am sure.
Elinor Dashwood: I am by no means assured of his regard and even were he to feel such a preference I think we should both be very foolish to assume that there would not be many obstacles to his marrying a woman of no rank who cannot afford to buy sugar.
Mrs. Dashwood: But Elinor, your heart must tell you…
Elinor Dashwood: In such a case it is perhaps better to use one’s head.
Mrs. Dashwood: Why so grave? You disapprove her choice?
Marianne: By no means. Edward is very amiable.
Mrs. Dashwood: Amiable? But?
Marianne: There is something wanting. He’s too sedate. His reading last night…
Mrs. Dashwood: Elinor has not your feelings. His reserve suits her.
Marianne: Can he love her? Can the soul be really be satisfied with such polite affections? To love is to burn – to be on fire, like Juliet or Guinevere or Eloise…
Mrs. Dashwood: They made rather pathetic ends, dear.
Marianne: Pathetic? To die for love? How can you say so? What could be more glorious?
Mrs. Dashwood: I think that would be taking your romantic sensibilities a little far.
While the sisters think and feel so differently, they remain close friends and are a beautiful picture of what sisters can be to each other. In the 2008 BBC miniseries of Sense and Sensibility, we see the sisters talking quite frequently– conversing about their family, about Marianne’s love interests, about life in general, enjoying each other’s company. Elinor is bold yet loving when she confronts Marianne about her behavior, and Marianne stands by Elinor even when she can’t understand her and says, “Let me hope for you.” They stand up for each other and encourage each other and wish the best for each other. There are times when their relationship hits bumps in the road– Marianne sometimes, without realizing it, says things in the height of her emotion that hurt Elinor– and yet they stay together, and their love for each other is sweet to watch. And in the end, we see Marianne turn to Elinor and say, “I compare [my behavior] with what it ought to have been. I compare it with yours.”
I love Sense and Sensibility, partly because it is such a beautiful story, mainly because the Dashwood sisters remind me so much of my own family, and the circumstances related are so REAL. I do not know how Jane Austen managed to make her characters and story events so true to life, so applicable to us today, but somehow she did.
We have often joked around and called my older sister Marianne because she is so very like Marianne Dashwood. At the same time, she and I are actually an even mix between Elinor and Marianne– she is more romantic than I, and I tend to be very reserved and slow to “fall in love”, but she has more of Elinor’s “oldest-sister sense” (careful consideration of economy, for instance) while I bear the most shocking resemblance to Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Marianne, in the many “second-child” mannerisms that weren’t necessarily portrayed in the book or by Charity Wakefield (think: Marianne and Margaret bickering in the carriage on the way home from Sir John’s, dropping her silverware in exasperation at Fanny, rolling her eyes at Mrs. Jennings’ fascination with Mr. “F”, etc.) My sister shares Marianne’s passion for music, and I share Elinor’s love for art. She is more “hot-headed”, likes to be unconventional (a mild example would be not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day :-)) and unafraid of what people think, while I am more reserved, and perhaps too concerned about convention and what people think. We also are very close like the Dashwood sisters, and share many enjoyable chats about our lives, our hobbies, our love interests…We are very different from each other, like Elinor and Marianne, and yet we listen to each other and learn from each other.
And let us not forget Margaret. I imagine that as Margaret grew older and as her mind matured, she probably grew to be as close friends with her sisters as they were with each other. We coined our younger sister “Margaret” years ago because she resembled her to the T– picture Margaret, in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility, poking around in the swamp for creatures, playing swordfighting with Edward, calling through the halls, “Please don’t say anything important!” “Wait for me!!” In the last year or two, our “Margaret” has matured a lot and we have come to include her in more of our sisterly chats and activities, and she is a little to big to be Margaret now in any of our movie scene re-makes, but she is still… “Margaret”. 🙂 I am confident that when Margaret Dashwood was our “Margaret’s” age, she must have been very like her indeed. And she is every bit as much as part of the sisterhood as Elinor and Marianne. 🙂
Jane Austen hit the nail on the head when she crafted the characters of Sense and Sensibility, especially the Dashwood sisters. A mix of sense and of sensibility, of reserve and of emotion; balancing each other; sticking together in difficult times and being there for one another; learning from each other and helping each other. In the words of that one song, “All kinds of weather, we stick together; the same in the rain and sun…” This is sisterhood.
|Our “Dashwood” Family: Elinor, Marianne, Mamma, Margaret 🙂|