Confession: I had never actually read S&S before now. Shocking, I know. But now I have.
Since I’ve seen both versions of the movie countless times, I initially visualized certain characters as the different actors portrayed (which is always a con of watching movies before reading the books – your imagination is stumped by the movie). But I found the further in I read, the more my own imagination took over the various characters and now it’s basically a separate story from the movie, which I am happy about.
Let’s talk characters, since we pretty much all know the story and I don’t feel the need to give a plot outline.
Miss Lucy Steele: Ugh. She’s awful. The movies portray her as a slyly friendly and somewhat bratty young woman. But she’s actually so much worse. She is manipulative and nasty, with the façade of being sweet and innocent. She is probably what many good men fear – a beautiful woman being more focused on his money and her own desires then truly loving him. Lucy uses Edward very badly – they rashly become engaged at a young age, and despite his obvious indifference now, she holds him to it, feigning ignorance to his indifference, and in fact playing up their “deep love”. She treats Elinor with contempt, layered in a thick coat of familiarity and friendship. Yet ever-good Elinor is nothing but patient and accepting of this.
Mrs. Jenkins & Sir John: Austen does love her ridiculous characters. But what I do appreciate in these two (along with Miss Bates in “Emma”) is their utter and complete desire to treat their friends kindly and do everything they can for said friends. Yes they try Elinor & Mariann’e patience at times, embarrass them, and have a jolly laugh at their expense when it comes to teasing about men. But they always mean well, even if they don’t perceive how they are trying their friends. There is no reason to dislike these two characters, save for their being overly accommodating to the point of frustration (which is in fact NOT a reason to dislike someone).
Mrs. Dashwood: Oh that more of the world had mothers like Mrs. Dashwood! She is all feminine tenderness, motherly affection, and earnest love for her family. She has her faults, which include allowing her sensibilities too much freedom. But she loved and relied on her husband, who, based on references toward him, I gather, was her counter-balance in that regard. She does all she can by her daughters in kindness, love and concern.
John Willoughby: Scoundrel. (Ever so slightly comforting that he did fall in love with Marianne during the time he was simply amusing himself with her, which he wasn’t expecting. It doesn’t change that he’s a scoundrel, but at least he is the worse off between the two, since he knew he would long for her years after she’d forgotten about him).
John Dashwood: Pathetic excuse for a brother and man. I’d sock him a good one if he were my brother. Thankfully my brothers are men. The only redeeming quality about him is that he has a genuine concern for his sister’s well-being – even if he’s incapable of doing anything worth while to make it come about, or man-up against his wife.
Fanny Farrars Dashwood: Worst sister-in-law ever. Selfish, snobby, the sister-in-law equivalent to an evil-stepmother.
Marianne: Sensibility. Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve, takes and gives everything as it is. She is innocent, if naïve, and assumes the world is the beautiful, perfect place she assumes it to be. She lacks prudence in discerning the characters of others, and follows Willoughby’s lead in being uncharitable in thought and word against Colonol Brandon, whom she finds boring and stiff. (I would note that Willoughby finds fault in Colonol Brandon only on account of Brandon’s over-all goodness and seeming severity. Hardly things to be considered faults in such a virtuous character – might Willoughby feel animosity towards Colonol Brandon because of the inferiority he feels when around the Colonol?). Marianne means well in all she does, though she lacks the sense and discernment that Elinor has.
As a side note, in Austen’s day, “sensibility” meant something quite different then it’s current meaning today. In Austen’s writings it refers to one being strongly affected or lead by one’s emotions, or one’s actions being emotionally influenced. “Sensitivity” would be the world we use nowadays in place of “sensibility”.
Colonol Brandon: Ahh, what a man. Perhaps he is seemingly severe in his quiet and strength. But his genuine care, attention, and kindness to his friends (and even friends of his friends he has never met) is an humble and unassuming virtue. He has loved and lost, but holds true to love as it expanded to a child in need of him. He is upright, thoughtful, generous, and unshakable in his character. Would that any Marianne’s of the world be given a man such as Brandon.
Edward Ferrars: Oh Edward, you dear, you. The poor man was badly done by, at the hand of everyone who should have been caring for him. The kind, genuine and uncomplicated young man spent so much time in Plymouth because he found a tutor and friends who appreciated him, and whose company he enjoyed more then his own dreadfully stuck-up family. Naturally, with a mother and sister such as his, he would be starved for female affection, and easily fell for the steely Lucy (please take a moment to appreciate my witty pun, for puns are not my forte). But alas, his young age quickly matured and he realized his mistake. For he had, in fact, engaged himself to a dame just as cold as his mother and sister. Elinor’s friendship is precisely the female companionship his gentle, honourable self was in need of. But, his honour, or rather, attention to Lucy’s honour, holds him to his engagement. As awful as Lucy is, it’s the same awful in her we dislike that brings her to transfer her “affection” from Edward to his brother Robert, and she breaks off the engagement with Edward herself. Bravo! Our hero will finally be free to marry the one woman he adores for her virtue. The two are so well suited.
Elinor: Sense. I gathered that Elinor’s character was similar to her deceased father. She was “her father’s daughter” it would seem. After his death, she is the strength of the family. She holds her mother and sisters up, she is the sense and leadership in a family of women desperately in need of their patriarchal leader. (That’s right, I just used the words ‘need’ and ‘patriarch’ in the same sentence.) Her wise, sensible, balanced, and kind approach to life helps her mother to make more balanced decisions, encourages her sister to higher virtue, is the draw of a friendship with kindred spirit Colonol Brandon. These are also the very virtues that enkindle such a true love from our virtuous hero Edward. I appreciated that the book contains a less perfect Elinor, we read her faults – her personal anxiety and frustration with Lucy Steele – but we also read her unshakable kindness and patience with Lucy in public and when speaking of her to others, even during the most trying social times. Elinor must be one of the most virtuous fictional female characters who’s story I’ve read.
And now that I’ve finally read Sense & Sensibility, my mind is slightly more at ease in the classic literature department. And doubtless, I’ll read it many more times in future. But seriously, Colonol Brandon though.