This is an addendum to my last piece, but I couldn’t figure out a good way to incorporate this there, so: a PS, of sorts.
Elinor and Marianne are two sides of the same coin–womanhood. In the Catholic idea of womanhood, women have warmth, receptivity, intuition, and sensitivity. Not emotionalism–not what “sensibility” was called in Jane’s time–but being sensitive to others, feeling things, responding to people’s needs and emotions.
Elinor and Marianne both do this, to different degrees, and both fail to embody these things, to different degrees. Elinor is the “sense”, and she has much more common sense than her mother, to begin with, and even Marianne in some places. Elinor has a good head on her shoulders, we could say. But she is also a bit scared of love, I think, afraid of attachment, afraid of being in too deep. And yet, with Edward, she is those things. She allows herself to fall in love with her brother-in-law, and then the discovery of Lucy Steele’s “engagement” to him wounds her deeply. She does not show it openly, like Marianne does, and that’s no doubt a more mature reaction–Marianne’s loss of Willoughby almost leads to her death. Elinor would never allow herself to do that. But in a way, she tries to hide her affection for Edward and stuff it down in herself so deep that it could scar her heart. Would she have survived, living in her cottage with her mother and without marriage? Yes. But would she be happy? No. Probably not.
Marianne, on the other hand, loves too freely. She has abundant receptivity and intuition when it comes to other people’s feelings, and she is right that Willoughby loved her truly (much more than he will ever love the woman he married for fifty thousand pounds). But she allows herself to sink too deeply into her emotions and allows them to rule her. As a musician, having her feelings so easily accessible allows her to turn in tremendous performances. But it isn’t a healthy way to live.
Finally, both of them come to learn from the other–Marianne, perhaps, more than Elinor. But Elinor isn’t a perfect character, either, and she has to allow some warmth into her heart, which, eventually, she does, with Edward’s proposal. Once Elinor feels free to love, I believe she does it well. But there is such a thing as being too practical and too pragmatic.
A woman needs her special characteristics, and she needs to use them–but with reason, as Aquinas would surely advocate. A cold heart is just as dangerous as one that is too easily tipped to brimming.