"Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love."
~Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility 1995)
Marianne Dashwood. Her very name inspires a vivid picture of her personality. She is one of the most real of Jane Austen's characters (not that any of JA's girls are un-real!) and she's a delight to read about. Romantic and high-spirited, passionate and full of feeling, Marianne leaps off the page. Of Jane Austen's heroines, she is the one who grows and matures the most throughout her book. The ambiguous title (is it Sense along with Sensibility or Sense versus Sensibility?) captures Marianne very well. Sensibility, or emotion, defines her. She's never flat or indifferent. As Austen herself said, "She was sensible and clever, but eager in everything. Her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was every thing but prudent." Marianne doesn't sit back and let the world go by; instead, she dances out in the midst of it.
Charity Wakefield as Marianne (2008)
Marianne's impulsiveness, though endearing, doesn't serve her well. She gets swept up in her exuberant feelings and often doesn't stop to think; and when John Willoughby comes on the scene, she falls for him like a ton of bricks. (That's an overused cliche, but at the moment I can't think of anything better.) Willoughby is charming, handsome and pleasant, and he reads poetry with great expression. On the surface, he seems to be the perfect one for Marianne. Until, of course, she discovers his true character.
Greg Wise and Kate Winslet as Willoughby and Marianne (1995)
Then there's Colonel Brandon, who's in love with Marianne but doesn't say anything about it because he thinks he's too old for her. He's more concerned with her happiness than with his own. And Marianne, though she likes Colonel Brandon, thinks he's boring and unromantic. She firmly believes in love at first sight, heroes on white horses and the undying love of Romeo and Juliet. (Romeo and Juliet? Ewwww.)
I think S&S has a running theme of "appearances can be deceiving". Obviously Willoughby is not what he seems. Nor is Colonel Brandon--he's ultimately the hero. Edward Ferrars really isn't the shy, stuttering person that Marianne condemns for a lack of feeling. Lucy Steele is most certainly not sweet and charming. (I have to say, though, that I liked her at first. Well, I did. How was I to know how awful she really was? I honestly thought she was just confiding in Elinor, not gloating.)
Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan as Marianne and Elinor (2008)
It's Marianne, though, that I'm talking about here. Marianne is impulsive and idealistic, naive and exuberant, governed by her emotions, seemingly a little shallow. But by the end of the book, the reader realizes that Marianne isn't quite what she seems. She's not shallow or flighty; she has a depth of perception that developed over the course of the novel. At first she didn't think twice about Colonel Brandon, but by the time the story ends, she appreciates him for who and what he is. Maybe the Colonel's not the dashing prince she dreamed of, but in the end he is the hero (and Willoughby's the bad guy). Character wins out over charisma.
I love this (unfortunately very short) scene of Marianne and Colonel Brandon--I only wish the movie showed more of their developing relationship. Marianne is finally beginning to realize that her true hero was there all along... and the Shakespeare sonnets make it 10x more romantic, of course. :)
Marianne is eager in everything, as Jane Austen says, and that includes eagerness to learn. And that's what she does: she learns from Colonel Brandon, from Elinor, from Edward, and even from Willoughby himself. She grows and matures throughout Sense and Sensibility--and in the end, the title fits her perfectly. She's acquired some sense, but she hasn't lost her sensibilities. She's toned down a little, but she's still Marianne.