Elinor’s faults

Elinor does not achieve her Sense through Stolidity. Though I knew the twist, I was again moved to tears by her reunion with Edward. She moderates her feeling with rational consideration of facts, likelihoods, honour and propriety, and seeks to pacify it and not to show it.

Of course the novel is about many things, but in part it is a satire of other novels: that Willoughby was forever inconsolable, that he fled from society, or died of a broken heart, must not be depended on. This only makes sense if her earliest readers’ expectation had been just that. When I first read it, it seemed a scream of loneliness: Elinor has no friend to whom she can open her thoughts, none who has her level of understanding, none who can be trusted. All save Brandon, Edward, Marianne and her mother are ninnies, or monsters, or both, and Marianne and their mother are crippled by giving themselves over to emotional response to immediate stimulus, without further thought.

There is little criticism of a society in which rentiers live on the labour of others- John Dashwood’s enclosure of the commons shows his miserliness but is not disapproved. Women, who can not have education or employment beyond needlework, are dependent on marrying well; I cannot condemn Lucy Steele, who devotes all her energies to this, and Austen rewards her with a good marriage, with more wealth than she had expected, only lacking domestic harmony. Lucy, too, is an intelligent woman marooned among fools.

I find Elinor perfect, and cast around for fault in her. She values reality above appearance unlike most of society; she values Love between a couple, rather than just “a good match”; she is fully conscious of her feelings behind a calm exterior, never affected; she values probity and honour above propriety. She has a generous care for the feelings and rights of all, even Lucy, never responding to Lucy’s barbs in kind.

Possibly she could have opened up to Colonel Brandon earlier. She knows his merit. He is trustworthy, but she does not trust him. Half way through the book he calls on Mrs Jennings in London, and they talk desultorily, calmly, with little interest on either side. Had she opened her heart to him Marianne’s sufferings might have been less.

She could have trusted her mother more. She seeks to manage and care for her, fearing her Sensibility, where the mother could have been brought to understanding. However, either of these sensible courses would have shortened the novel and lessened its drama considerably.

She forgives Willoughby, a little, because of his charm, though recognising charm has no merit. Well, she has a warm heart and a female appreciation of male beauty.

I love the satire, of the foolishness, and the vicious angling for that Good Marriage. And now I hear that other novels of the period exalted Sensibility, I understand it more.

John Masey Wright, portrait of Mrs. Martha Udney

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