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Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

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How do Elinor and Marianne Dashwoods' characterizations compare and contrast, especially with respect to their grief over their father's death and over lost love, as we see in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are quite different from one another, with respect to their emotions and how they show their feelings. Both characters feel intense loss over their father's death, but Marianne displays her emotions, while Elinor is much more reserved. Elinor can control her feelings. Marianne does not want to. For instance, when the sharpness of her heartache eases, Marianne attempts to rekindle her grief so that it is as acute as when their father first died. Marianne is given to “violent” emotions, which causes Elinor concern. Elinor sees “the excess of her sister'

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Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are quite different from one another, with respect to their emotions and how they show their feelings. Both characters feel intense loss over their father's death, but Marianne displays her emotions, while Elinor is much more reserved. Elinor can control her feelings. Marianne does not want...

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Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are quite different from one another, with respect to their emotions and how they show their feelings. Both characters feel intense loss over their father's death, but Marianne displays her emotions, while Elinor is much more reserved. Elinor can control her feelings. Marianne does not want to. For instance, when the sharpness of her heartache eases, Marianne attempts to rekindle her grief so that it is as acute as when their father first died.

Marianne is given to “violent” emotions, which causes Elinor concern. Elinor sees

“the excess of her sister's sensibility …The agony of grief which overpowered [Marianne and their mother] at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, and was created again and again.”

Although Elinor is also “deeply afflicted” by her grief, “she could struggle, she could exert herself.” Elinor is able to counsel her mother following the death of their father. Austen says,

“Elinor … possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother.”

Elinor's "feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them.” This is key to understanding the difference between the two sisters. Elinor feels things deeply but she knows how to control and often mask her feelings. Conversely, Marianne is in love with romance and the idea of masking or controlling her feelings is anathema to her.

When Colonel Brandon says of Marianne, “there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions," Elinor disagrees. She believes that Marianne's intense emotions and the way she embraces romance are too extreme. Marianne is the sensibility to Elinor’s sense. The author specifically says, “Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility.”

Austen says that

Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever,

but unlike Elinor, who can control her feelings, Marianne’s “sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.”

Austen describes Marianne as

everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

The reader can surmise that the contrast between Marianne and Elinor, with respect to their emotions, is also “strikingly great.”

The way the two sisters feel the pain of lost love is similar to the way they feel the pain of their father's death. Marianne becomes sick with emotions following Willoughby's betrayal, while Elinor puts on a brave face after she learns that Edward is engaged.

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Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne begin as complementary opposites, but during the course of the novel their personalities grow more similar. Their father's death is a burden on them, but grief is not emphasized. The upheaval of moving and reduced circumstances is severe, however.

Elinor has good common sense and, being the oldest of the three sisters, has the most responsibility in the family to help their mother and manage the household. While she suffers terribly from the loss of their father, she acknowledges the challenges that the family is facing.

Marianne is very different. She is uninhibited, and cherishes her irresponsibility. She defends her point of view loudly and tactlessly criticizes her sister. This lack of inhibition threatens to endanger her reputation when she takes up with Willoughby, such as driving around the countryside.

When Elinor finds out that Lucy is engaged to Edward, she basically does nothing. She keeps the confidence entrusted in her, bottles up her emotions, and tries to behave as if nothing had changed. She maintains this posture even when she thinks that they are married. But in the end, when she finds out that it is not Edward but his brother Robert that Lucy has married, she completely falls apart, weeping for joy.

Marianne becomes obsessed with Willoughby. When she realizes that he has thrown her over, she is overcome with melancholy. Disregarding her health, she goes walking in bad weather. This results in her catching a cold, which turns into a severe illness (possibly pneumonia) that almost kills her. Colonel Brandon plays an essential role in aiding her recovery. In the end, she becomes as devoted to him in her way as he has been to her.

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As the title suggests, the main difference between the characterizations of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, is that Elinor is described as relying on sense to govern her actions, while Marianne believes on governing all things with her emotions, or sensibilities. One good chapter to use to examine their differences in characterization, especially in terms of how they handle their father's death, is the very first chapter.

In the first chapter, Austen uses some paragraphs of direct characterizations to describe Elinor as being sensible, rational, calm, cool, collected, and the one their mother relies on for advice. Marianne, on the other hand, while recognized as "sensible and clever," is also characterized as being "eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation" (Ch. 1). In other words, Marianne believes in being governed by unrestrained emotions. As a result of their different beliefs concerning emotions, both Marianne and her mother believe in being violent about their grief over their father, while Elinor believes in controlling her grief so that she can carry on with what needs to be done. As Austen relays, "The agony of [Marianne's and Mrs. Dashwood's] grief, which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again" (Ch. 1). In contrast, "Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself" (Ch. 1).

We see the same difference in the two sisters' reaction to love. Both are equally brokenhearted. But Elinor believes it's her duty not be selfish by indulging in her grief. She believes that she must keep silent due to her promise to Lucy; but she also believes it is her duty to protect Marianne and her mother from being hurt by the news. In contrast, Marianne believes that giving way to her violent emotions is her way of showing how much she loved Willoughby. She doesn't realize, but then later does, that giving way to her emotions is actually being cruel to both herself and those who care for her that are trying to console her.

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