Are You an Elinor or a Marianne?
July 6, 2021
The other day, I was walking around my new neighborhood, admiring all the little Craftsman houses and lusting over the billions of hydrangeas. (I’m 100% getting some next year – did you know they come in DARK PURPLE?)
Right when I was passing what I’m pretty sure is Miss Havisham’s Atlanta outpost – the wrought-iron gate and house are covered in vines and the yard is delightfully overgrown and full of chickens and ducks, for some reason), a massive thunderclap cracked. And then it just hung in the air, probably because the 120% humidity was functioning like an echo chamber.
Instead of running back to my house like a normal person, I flung my arms wide and skipped a few steps. And I thought, “is there anything more glorious than this.” At which point, I congratulated my inner Marianne on fighting her way to the surface, while my inner Elinor got my feet moving fast back in the direction of my house.
So, are you an Elinor or a Marianne?
This is when I out myself as a massive Jane Austen fan. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when I was nine. I’m sure I didn’t understand half of what I was reading, but I loved the bits that I did pick up. I have all the movies, individual books, and at least two omnibus collections of all her work – one that’s all hardcover and gilt, one that’s paperback and battered from travel and wear.
If you’re not an Austen mega-fan, no worries. I’m gonna lay this all out in fairy-tale terms.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are sisters and the protagonists of Austen’s masterpiece Sense and Sensibility. Elinor is dependable and responsible. When the Dashwood family loses their father and their home, Elinor figures out where they’re going to live and calculates a budget. She comforts her sister and her mother, and when she falls in love, she shoves her feelings into the back of the deepest closet because of honor and prudence.
In a nutshell, Elinor is sense. Or, in fairy-tale terms, she’s kind of a Snow White (of “Snow White and Rose Red,” not the fairy tale “Snow White.”) She’s quiet and a little guarded and she thinks before she speaks.
By contrast, Marianne is passionate and Romantic (and romantic, too, for that matter.) She wears her heart on her sleeve and plays dramatic and depressing music on the piano. She doesn’t believe in hiding her feelings, and when she falls in love, she goes for it.
Marianne is sensibility. She’s emotional and a little wild, a poem come to life. She’s Rose Red, Snow White’s bold sister, a creature of movement and energy and feeling.
I’ve always been an Elinor.
This may come as something of a surprise. I have a PhD in fairy tales and started a magical folklore school on the internet. These things do not scream sense.
But I’m terminally responsible. When I was a kid, I’d come home from school, unpack my bookbag, and sit down to do all my homework at the kitchen counter right away because I wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy my evening until it was done. Put another way: I’m a quadruple Virgo, and I act like one. I’m practical, logical, and diligent AF. (Seriously, Brittany will back me up on this.)
Marianne used to drive me NUTS. She was so flighty! She just…did stuff, without thinking through the consequences first! She got snubbed at balls because she didn’t take a minute to stop and read the room before flinging herself at this slimy rake she was obsessed with!
But the older I get, the more I appreciate, and even admire, Marianne. I’ve realized that I’ve kept my inner Marianne locked down under Elinor’s key. Because it’s scary to be passionate, uncomfortable (at least for me) to follow my heart…even as I’ve done it, but always with my metaphorical teeth gritted, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I envy that Marianne isn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even if her instincts aren’t always right, even if her impulses sometimes backfire.
So now I practice channeling Marianne. I’ve always been good at trusting my gut, and I’ve always loved poetry, both very Marianne, but what I admire most is her fearlessness.
We could all stand to be a little more fearless about what we love, right?
So really, are you an Elinor or a Marianne? A Snow White or Rose Red? What do you admire about them both? I’d love to hear from you.