July 29, 2010

Character Connection: Elinor Dashwood

This meme involves picking a character each week that we have connected with, and is hosted by The Introverted Reader.

I first read Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility in my mid-teens, and although I did prefer Elinor over Marianne to begin with, I don't think I was able to identify with either character all that much. Now that I am re-reading the novel years later, I have found that there's a lot to Elinor that I missed the first time around (also, Marianne is annoying me even more now).


At nineteen, Elinor Dashwood is the eldest of three sisters, and as such, she is expected to bear the brunt of the responsibility in the family. She's the most level-headed of everyone, including her mother, whose emotional and passionate, but altogether impractical, nature has been passed down to her daughter Marianne. Perhaps because she has been used to it for many years, Elinor shoulders her burdens without complaint. It's clear to the reader that even Austen herself thinks highly of Elinor: "Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother...She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate; and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them..."

It is this last quality that distinguishes Elinor quite solidly from Marianne, who allows her feelings to govern her. Elinor, on the other hand, guards herself from relying on her gut instincts or fleeting emotions in making decisions. Even when distraught and broken-hearted, Elinor keeps her feelings to herself, partly to preserve another character's secret, but also partly because she wishes to keep her mother and sister from sharing in her troubles. Which brings me to another excellent character trait: that Elinor frequently thinks of others over herself.

This happens even with people she doesn't like all that much - for instance, Mrs. Jennings, her daughter Mrs. Parker, and the extremely reprehensible Lucy Steele. And because her sister Marianne cannot be bothered to make polite conversation with people she does not respect or care for, it often falls to Elinor to be civil to others when she, too, has no desire to converse with them. Indeed, Marianne appears to take it entirely for granted that Elinor will always be willing to fill this role (and Elinor is so forbearing and thoughtful that she does!) This also means that Elinor is forced to tell little white lies a lot of the time, although she does her best to phrase her comments as to be honest as much as possible.

A bit like Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, Elinor looks for the good in others, although it seems she often does this because she thinks she should, not because it's second nature to her. Unlike Jane, however, she quite accurately assesses others' characters, both their strengths and their flaws. She sees Lucy Steele for what she is: conniving, disingenuous, and deliberately hurtful. Yet she is so honourable that when Lucy confides in her, Elinor keeps her secret from everyone else for months, even though the knowledge pains her greatly. This unwillingness to stoop to Lucy's level is one of the things that makes Elinor Dashwood so admirable. She finds out in the worst possible way that she has been betrayed by Edward, the man she loves, and that there is likely no chance they will have a future together - and yet she doesn't strike back in anger. Elinor doesn't seek to hurt him or Lucy Steele even though in no way was any of this her fault; she has been the only one used in this situation. Indeed, she is so good as to pass on to Edward a generous offer from Colonel Brandon that would make Edward's life a little easier - and Elinor's a little more painful. It is this conscientiousness and sense of duty that makes her one of the strongest of Austen's female role models - and definitely one that a reader can easily sympathize with.

Just curious - did anyone prefer Marianne?

9 comments:

  1. I loved reading this because I totally agree. I love Sense and Sensibility and I've always identified with Elinor, actually she's one of my favorite literary characters. :)

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  2. Thanks Ava! Glad you liked it - I had lots of fun delving into her character :)

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  3. Hmmmm.... I do not know the book, but she sounds like a character who should learn to stand up for herself.

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  4. Fantastic post! I definitely admire Elinor more than Marianne although as a teen I was probably more like Marianne unfortunately.

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  5. What a lovely post and I do agree with you completely.

    Marianne annoys me so much, she thinks she's so superior, I do like where she ends up (though part of me does think Colonel Brandon is too good for her).

    Elinor is one of my favorite characters too.

    I also prefer the mini-series to the movie of Sense and Sensibility, except for Brandon, Alan Rickman was an awesome Brandon, the guy in the mini series was a bit bland.

    Alex

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  6. Thanks everyone for the comments!

    @AnimeGirl: I don't know if I can choose between the mini-series and the movie...I think I prefer the Edward from the mini-series but I thought Willoughby was much better in the original movie.

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  7. This was one of my first Austen novels, and I regret to say that I don't remember much about it. I mostly remember that Marianne irritated the heck out of me and I'm glad my younger sister isn't like her! Whenever I take that "Which Austen heroine are you?" quiz, I always come out as Elinor. I really should re-visit this one again sometime.

    Oh, one of my GoodReads friends just loves Marianne. This is what she wrote in a comment on one of my reviews: "I love her because she's so UNLIKE me. I am definitely more of the Elinor kind, but I love Marianne's passion... IN the book. If I knew her in real life, I'd probably be tempted to slap her! LOL ;)"

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  8. Interesting post, I just started taking part in Character Connection too. I haven't read Sense and Sensibility yet but have just started my first Austen novel. S and S is now on my TBR list :)

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  9. so she doesn't really have any flaws at all? that's what I dislike about Austen heroines... they're too perfect. in fact, some are made out to be so flawed that they become flawless (mostly Lizzie). It makes me prefer Jane and Marianne, more heartfelt characters that aiming to be like will probably be more useful in the long run. Elinor has no flaws, unlike gushy, emotional Marianne.

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