I love Pride and Prejudice. It is one of my favorite books, and I reread it often. I do not have the same depth of emotion about Sense and Sensibility, however: in fact until two days ago I had never been able to finish it. I could not put my finger on what I found so off-putting about this novel, until I realized that it was Marianne Dashwood.
Marianne Dashwood, one of the two sisters at the heart of the story (to whom the “sensibility” of the title refers) makes my list of the top ten most annoying characters in literature. She’s not Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, nor Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights, but she is extremely irritating.
She is self-indulgent. She is over-emotional. She gives free reign to her fancies. She is impulsive. She is given to letting her emotions run ahead of reason. She is imprudent. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She is a drama queen, par excellence.
Sort of like me, actually.
Not completely, of course — I’m nowhere near as extravagant in my demonstrativeness*, for one thing — but there is enough of the underlying emotional tendencies to make me uncomfortable. Sometimes the things you most dislike in other people are the aspects of your own character that are the most problematic.
I wish my temperament were more like Elinor Dashwood’s: strong, level-headed, restrained. She deals with heartbreak with fortitude and strength. She calmly assesses situations, and is a comfort to others in the midst of her own disappointment. She is resilient.
There is a chance for change: by the end of the book Marianne has come to the realization that her emotional tendencies are bad for her, and is determined to be more reasoned in her approach to life. It works out well — instead of marrying the scoundrel Willoughby, she ends up with the devoted, honorable
Alan Rickman Colonel Brandon.**
*I sincerely hope. I do try not to be a drama queen.
**When reading this book, I had to let go of my feeling that a thirty-six year old man being in love with a young woman of seventeen was very creepy. Different mores in Austen’s day, and all that.