Thursday, September 30, 2010

Profile: Elinor Dashwood

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;--her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

Name: Elinor Dashwood

Age: 19

Hobbies: Drawing

Most charming quality: A satiric wit that gently admonishes those in error, amuses the perceptive, and never disrespects those who are not.

Most detrimental tendency: Emotional repression

Greatest strength: Emotional intelligence

Truest friend: Marianne Dashwood

Worst enemy: Lucy Steele

Prospects: Greatly reduced from what she would have expected had her father lived. She has one thousand pounds (approximately fifty a year), and can expect her share of the seven thousand pounds belonging to her mother upon that good lady's death.

Favorite quotations: "It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."

"Infirmity!" said Elinor, "do you call Colonel Brandon infirm? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to my mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the use of his limbs!"

"You decide on his imperfections so much in the mass," replied Elinor, "and so much on the strength of your own imagination, that the commendation I am able to give of him is comparatively cold and insipid. I can only pronounce him to be a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart."

"I confess," replied Elinor, "that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence." 

"But perhaps the abuse of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for the regard of Lady Middleton and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust."

"Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah! if you knew!--And can you believe me to be so, while I see you so wretched!

Musings: Elinor and Marianne are two side of the same coin, and it is difficult to discuss one without considering the other. It's very clever what Austen does in Sense and Sensibility, her only novel featuring two heroines. By balancing a lady of nineteen against a sister of sixteen, she provides perspective on the development of a young woman's mind. Of course, there is Margaret in the background, who, at thirteen, gives the reader a complete picture of a woman's journey from childhood to adulthood, and the remarkable changes that occur during this time. While Marianne is physically mature, her mind has not yet developed beyond the passionate and oh so selfish transports of the teenage years. Most women were like Marianne once, ready to be catapulted to the highest peaks of excitement only to plummet afterward into self-exasperated wallowing. Then we become Elinors (hopefully), and while we might remember our youthful exploits fondly, perhaps even mourning those days of dizzying emotion, we are thankful we have learned to govern ourselves. It reminds me of the beginning of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey", and I unconsciously just echoed some of his language: "That time is past,/And all its aching joys are now no more,/And all its dizzy raptures."

So while Elinor has grown beyond the time of "aching joys", Marianne, who in proper teenage fashion contributes the drama to our tale, is right in the middle of them. The result is that Elinor is presented as almost inconceivably perfect: a clear predecessor to Anne Elliot. She never makes a social misstep, privately or publicly, absorbing the kind of abuse that would drive Elizabeth Bennet to deliver an indignant set down with graceful indifference. Who does not wish to be so reasonable? So much in command of one's self at all times? It is impossible, but we are certainly better for trying.   



  1. Thanks for this post. I'm working on an essay for S&S for a college course and want to focus on Elinor!