Jane Austen is a master of the delicate romance. She writes of the repressed feelings of her heroines, the discomfort and obstacles of their situation, the lack of self-awareness and a slow progression to a romantic and happy ending. The honest and heart strong Marianne Dashwood, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility goes entirely against the mold of more conventional Austen heroines, such as Elinor Dashwood or Anne Elliott. Marianne is scrutinized for her selfishness, lack of propriety, and immaturity, but these accusations glance merely at the surface. Upon deeper analysis of Marianne’s character, she is revealed to be a modern young woman with a strict yet evolving code, which guides her actions through sensibility, intellect and independence of spirit. To accuse her to simply be an immature, overzealous adolescent girl is to fall prey to the same errors in judgment that befall Marianne.
The narrator introduces Marianne to the novel with an affable description, an immediate comparison to Elinor and a slight nod to a lack of maturity in judgment. “Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent.”(1.V) This is a good introduction because it encapsulates much of what is evaluated in Marianne throughout the novel. First, the two sisters are compared and contrasted for the similarities and differences in their demeanor, values, self -control and interactions in society and various relationships. Then, in Marianne alone, there is a clear lack of balance between the sense and sensibility of her actions and feelings. Finally, her judgment...
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...ves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.” (203.III. XIV)
Marianne is not a perfect character, but her emotions and spirit add a depth and realness that jumps off the page. Her ethical code of values allows her find balance and saves her from tragedy. It is Marianne’s conversion in Sense and Sensibility that holds the novel together and where the lesson lies. The romantic appeal of Marianne as a heroine is strong; readers must ascertain a balance of sense and sensibility along side Marianne. Critics of Marianne are too harsh and in their judgment miss a coming of age character that undergoes a philosophical progression. In the end, Marianne overcomes her own obstacles and becomes a timeless and beloved heroine.
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York. Penguin Group Inc. 2006.