Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my daughters on stage as Marianne Dashwood in the play “Sense and Sensibility”, based on Jane Austin’s novel. It was an amazing performance, drawing you in with laughter and tears, and transporting you back to England in 1792.
The confining atmosphere of society gossip and the desperation of many of the female characters to need to make a good match leaves you with an eerie feeling. The necessity of marrying well is one of the central themes of the story. In Austen’s era, a woman’s survival depended on her ability to acquire a husband, if possible, an affluent one. The more manipulative and cunning women were often the ones who ended up winning this game for the wealthy spouses. Yet, the two main female characters, Elinor and Marianne, end up finding true love and happiness without manipulation.
Performance and photography by Cawthra Park Secondary School
I could muse on the Universal theme of being rejected in love, or the patriarchal society and how patriarchal beliefs still affect us at a subconscious level today. However, what fascinates me most is the relationship of the two eldest Dashwood sisters. In the development of the story, the friendships of the sisters and what they learn from each other is at least as important as their relationships with their love interests.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are complete opposites. Every female reader or audience member can identify with either the older one or the younger one. They are a perfect example for how siblings carry each others shadow traits. Elinor is all “sense” and reason, while Marianne represents “sensibility” and feelings. Elinor makes cautious decisions based on rational considerations, on what is prudent and proper, while Marianne lives life impulsively and on an emotional roller coaster of extreme highs and lows, being guided by her feelings alone.
Neither one of them is “whole”, as they have disowned the opposite energy represented by their sister. Just as Marianne needs to learn to adopt some of Elinor’s restraint and not to wear all her feelings on her sleeve, Elinor can learn to express her deeper emotions, warmth and spontaneity more.
We all have different primary personality parts and other more disowned parts or sub-personalities. As we witness Marianne’s impulsiveness which throws all caution or restraint to the wind, we recognize that part in all of us. We might anticipate and fear disaster for her as the story unfolds. We feel disappointment and sorrow when her love relationship with John Willoughby does not unfold as she anticipated.
Marianne’s sorrow is frightening to Elinor, who just wants her sister to stop sobbing and to compose herself. But Marianne cannot help but live life from her primary self of passion. She exclaims, “Leave me, hate me, forget me, but do not ask me not to feel!” After almost dying from a serious fever and her “broken heart”, Marianne eventually learns to appreciate the value of a quieter and less glamorous admirer in the older Colonel Brandon. She begins to embrace the more level-headed energy which Elinor has been mirroring for her. She also has to forgive John Willoughby for breaking her heart and let go of the past to move forward with the Colonel, the better man.
The story invites us to examine where in our lives we are out of balance between our rational and emotional sides, between caution and impulsiveness, between wearing a mask of civility and being our spontaneous and honest self. The plot calls us to consider how we show up in our relationships: passive or active, reluctant or forward-moving, polite or authentic. We are also encouraged to examine if we are stuck in the past and if we need to forgive somebody and let go, in order to move forward in our relationships.
We all grow up identifying with certain traits or parts in us and rejecting others. Jane Austin’s tale invites us to discover what we have disowned which might be useful to us. Accepting the ambivalence and moving beyond dualistic thinking of right and wrong, black and white, involves re-conceptualizing who we think we are and opening up to greater wholeness of our deeper selves.
What traits do you identify with and which opposite traits or shadows have you perhaps disowned? Do you feel judgment towards people who display what you have rejected for yourself? How does this affect you in your life or hold you back in your relationships?
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