Friday, August 7, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: Relatable Characters in Jane Austen

There are two reasons for which I read novels. 1) I like to be wholly engrossed in another person’s life bearing no resemblance to me whatsoever; or 2) I like to read about a character or characters whose emotions or actions are relatable and warrant empathy. I’ve spent the last year reading books in the former category. But just last week, I started reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen, but I’ve never read S&S and thought it was about time to do so. While reading in Chapter 16 last night, I realized something. I've been both Marianne and Elinor at different points in my life. Throughout my twenties I most closely reflected Marianne's impulsive, reckless, and passionate search for the sort of love that wrecks one’s world.

“She played over every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out for her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving.”

How often I have listened to songs over and over again that reminded me of a long lost love-interest, or recounted times, places, movies we experienced together. Marianne’s “violence of affliction” as Austen calls it, is proportionally related to the degree of expectation she poured into the relationship. Most of us have had our expectations dashed to the ground in love. Some things never change no matter the era.

In contrast, as I grew older, my view of love and relationships became much tamer and more practical—like Elinor. Unlike Marianne who throws 150% of her affection after Mr. Willoughby upon first meeting him, Elinor reserves her opinion and her judgment of his character, managing it deep within her own heart, regardless of what her fluttering emotions tell her. Elinor’s guardedness can be summed up in one short quote from Chapter 4: “I am by no means assured of his regard for me.” Elinor is much more inclined to use her head first, suppressing her emotions. In the end, of course, as they usually do one way or another, her true heart is revealed.

As my years of singleness stretched into my thirties, and after far too many heartbreaks, I realized that this was a much more sensible approach to take to relationships. I will say, however, that after waiting so many years for the right man to come along (and much like Elinor at the end of S&S), the emotion, relief, and gratitude was that much sweeter when I finally married my husband.

Here are a couple of clips from the 1996 movie starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. The scene regarding Marianne’s wild love for Willoughby is especially heart-rending.


What about you? What books/characters do you find most relatable?


  1. I've never read S&S either, but I think I would relate much more to Elinor.

    You've made me want to read this book!

  2. I think I'm going to read this book; sounds so very interesting. I had to laugh with Marianne's playing of the song over and over again; I so remember that from my youth too.


  3. I loved reading Sense and Sensibility. I always thought it would make a great character study for Tabby to read. So this past spring, we watched the movie (the version you have the clips from) then she read the book. She's in the Marianne stage of life while I'm Elinor. (You know, I think it might have been you I first saw this movie version with at the theater so many years ago!)

    1. I think you are right Lisa. I remember going to see that film with you. I think it's great you are using this with Tabby!

  4. I read this book, but it's been many, many years ago, so I might be due to read it again. Maybe. It can be so disappointing sometimes to re-read something one loved fifty-some years ago... and find it no longer appealing. But somehow, I think this one will stand the test of time. :)

    You nailed the two reasons I think most of us read. It's a joy both to have books "take us away" so we can experience people and things totally beyond our realm, and it's also a joy to find mirrored realities of our lives portrayed within the pages of a book.

    As for a character I most relate to in a book, it'd have to be Pearl, a character within my own novel, of course. :)

  5. I've always been FAR more Marianne than Elinor. When I was single, I wanted to be like Elinor--I NEEDED to be like Elinor. Isn't it funny how timeless things like love are?!

    1. Yes! I was much more Marianne growing up. And it got me in all sorts of trouble!