I posted a link to an internet poll a few weeks ago – Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You? Hat tip: Julie Fairey. Going on clicks and hits and comments, it turned out to be one of the most well-read posts I have written (‘tho I still want to know why I get so many hits on my review of Barbie as the Island Princess).
On blog and off (some people were far too discreet to characterise themselves in public), just one person identified herself as passionate Marianne Dashwood, a couple as the lovely, reflective, and balanced Anne Elliot, and a few more as sparkling, witty, and fully alive Elizabeth Bennett. But most of us turned out to be Elinor Dashwood.
Without pretending that this amounts to anything more than idle speculation based on a few responses to a whimsical poll, I wonder why so many of us live like Elinor. She’s an interesting person – sensitive, feeling, passionate, but all overlaid by being sensible, by restraining herself, keeping her own counsel, not revealing what it is that she truly thinks and feels, always looking after other people, always taking responsibility for other people, and for herself. She is a good person, but I find, just somewhat dull, ground down a little by her cares, never quite cutting loose, and allowing herself to simply enjoy herself. I don’t think I can recall one instance of her simply enjoying a simple pleasure, giving herself up to the joys of the moment (‘though I’m happy to be corrected on this). She takes life, and herself, very seriously indeed.
I find Anne Elliot much more attractive. Like Elinor, she is sensible and responsible, but to me she seems to be a fuller character. Although she takes life seriously, she seems to remember to at least try to enjoy small things. She has the courage to look her past full in the face, and acknowledge to herself, that she made a great mistake, that she should have held firm, and married Wentworth. That’s a remarkable step – we often find it hard to admit to ourselves, that really, we have chosen the wrong path. Moreover, Anne admits her own complicity in this. She has sufficient maturity to lay some of the blame with Lady Russell too – not trying to pretend it was all her own fault, nor laying all responsibility at Lady Russell’s feet. Of course, when we meet Anne Elliot, this mistake and turmoil is some years in the past, and she has had time to reflect on it, and come to terms with it. No wonder she seems to be so adult in comparison to some of Austen’s other heroines. Elinor, however, is caught up in the midst of her seemingly blighted love affair. She has had no time to reflect on it. Perhaps the difference I am seeing between the two women is just one of the passage of years.
Be that as it may, why does it turn out that more of us are like Elinor? Taking responsibility, being sensible, doing our duty first, and putting ourselves, and our own feelings, last. Not taking time to smell the roses?
I know that in my own life, I don’t damn well have time to smell the bloody roses! Children to feed, house to clean, washing to do, school trips to go on, preparation work for a very small temporary part time job, research and writing to get going – endless tasks and duties, everyday. Anything for me comes bottom of the list. Of course, I can make time for me, and I have organised some things for me to do that are just for me, but even that is scheduled carefully, and fitted around everything else. Busy, busy, busy, with hardly ever a moment to think about what I really want. And I suspect that it’s much the same for most other people too, especially other parents.
Stop the world – I want to get off. But not until after I have cooked dinner.
It’s no wonder I turn out to be Elinor.