Who is Jane Austen if not the quintessential embodiment of literary perfection. Yes, perfection. After beginning my first serious Austen read, I noticed first the consummation of cleanly arranged ideas by way of a surgically accurate articulation. I will admit, like with Shakespeare, one must allow her stylistic rhythms to set the pace, to shape the reader’s understanding according to her own wishes, like a pet on a leash. But what graceful and logically poetic dictation; words which scarcely leave room for the reader to breathe lest they skim over a word matched seamlessly to her desired expression. On a rudimentary level, a word must match the idea, like the cliche of perfectly matched souls wondering unfulfilled until stumbling upon each other. But Austen dictates a higher level of compositional power exemplifying how events and circumstances can perfectly arrange themselves in order to purely express a complex truth.
Like in the story of Pride and Prejudice, Austen directly employs characters, seemingly one-dimensionally, in order to symbolize the play and interaction of particular personality traits. In order to effectively express these ideas through characters, she contrasts her people carefully and potently, like choosing the perfect word. Marianne senselessly embellishes her natural sensibilities while Elinor sensibly exercises a high level of prudence in all her social dealings. Marianne views and respects the world and its inhabitants according to the pretense of her esteemed preferences and convictions. She creates her own standard. Elinor employs a more objective approach, embracing a willingness to alter her standards based on reason and good sense. Yet Elinor falls victim, in my opinion, to the era and its twisted social norms which dictate her sense and conclusions on proper prudence. Therefore, I found myself sympathizing with Marianne because I disdainfully denounce the fiscal dictation which lorded over social culture in this story as well as in other stories of the genre. So I personally thank Austen for her sarcasm and humor regarding those who worry and rejoice according to its rule. And yet, such awful circumstances construct the social world in which Marianne and Elinor must exist and, without the slightest complaint, they resort to the quality of their characters to make the best of their lives.
Other characters perform similar duties for Austen, acting as symbols for other personality traits – the wishful thinker, savior, rebel, ambitious and selfish survivor, proud social superior, etc. Yet the men, Edward and Willoughby, John Dashwood and Colonel Brandon, proved the counterparts to the two sisters. Yet, again, social norms and expectations dictate the quality of their actions. Willoughby indulges his sensibilities as eagerly as Marianne, yet he suffers a different experience than Marianne. Edward does the same, though less boisterously, in regard to Elinor. However, the men and the ladies thrive at the end because of choices either in conjunction with or against proper social “sense”. Willoughby, who chose the socially sensible thing which, in my opinion, renders him just as happy as Edward who chose the socially senseless thing. And the women of their choices, or not of their choices, settled happily under whichever circumstances because of their natures. The play of personalities within the construct of social norms create a kind of evolutionary microcosm of happiness which, for all, depends on the senseless sensibility and sensible prudence of each other.
However, I did feel a great deal of sympathy for Marianne. She compromised her personality, her tendency to indulge in her sensibilities, when no other character would. Only Marianne held within her a capacity for a passionate and disquieting happiness without the confines of sense. Of course, this blessing proffered the curse of diabolical sorrow as the pendulum would swing from one extreme to the other. Yet I hoped that she would find someone capable of partnering with her and, not only suffer her sensibility, but love it and share in it and consequently bring her a happiness beyond that available to the other characters. Alas, Marianne was “born to an extraordinary fate.”
At first, I wondered if Austen meant to express the necessity of balance between sense and sensibility within each person, to deny the one-dimensional exaggerations of her characters. However, it seems that extreme sense and sensibility flaunted by individual people play together like a symphony which ultimately crescendos and softly cadences in the happiness of all. Sense needs sensibility and sensibility needs sense, not within themselves, but as companions to drive circumstances in their respective favor. If sense discarded its partner, sensibility would lose itself in sorrow. And if sensibility abandoned sense, they may never discover true happiness. The sensibility in one may drive another, with sense, into a beautiful happiness without the slightest intention, as if destinies utterly depended on such dualities.