Characters / Sense and Sensibility

Elinor Dashwood

"If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered now."
Elinor is more or less the main character, with most of the book written from her own point of view. That view tends to be long-suffering and sarcastic as she navigates her family's newly reduced circumstances and the romantic (capital and lowercase R) tribulations of her sister Marianne.
  • Deadpan Snarker: She might have more restraint in her opinions than Marianne, but she certainly still holds them. Elinor is full of many sarcastic asides about the people around her and their foibles, but she usually keeps them to herself out of a. politeness or b. not even thinking the target is worth the effort.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: She give one of these speeches to Marianne who is shocked to discover what Elinor had to suffer and was silent about it. Her own mother is also horrified when she finds out she behaved insensibly, "almost unkind to her Elinor."
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Half-siblings John and Elinor Dashwood to siblings Fanny and Edward Ferrars.
  • Emotionless Girl: She appears to be one, but the truth is she has lots of true and deep feelings. She's just that polite and can control herself really well.
  • English Rose: She's a very pretty girl with loving nature, devoted to her family and polite even to people who don't deserve it. Her sister Marianne is said to be prettier, but she's a dark and exotic beauty. Elinor is fair like a true archetypal English Rose.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: She's the responsible one.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The conflict between Marianne's advocacy of her behavior and indulgence in sensibility and Elinor's practical sense and insistence she try to control herself more mirrors the glorious war between Freud's Id and Superego.
  • Hidden Depths: She really has deep feelings, only she doesn't parade them in front of everyone. She's a great reader and she draws and paints wonderfully.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: She doesn't force herself on Edward. Firstly because she knows his family wouldn't approve and secondly, she sincerely wishes that he and Lucy might be happy as a married couple. Elinor knows Lucy is fairly smart and hopes she also loves him. However, Elinor also sees Lucy's real self, her cunning nature and not so pretty ways.
  • Love Triangle: Elinor loves Edward and Edward loves Elinor. However, he used to love, nay, he was infatuated with Lucy Steele. He promised to marry her, and even when he falls in love with Elinor feels obligated by his word.
  • Not So Stoic: She's desperate when her sister is dying. And she really loses her cool when their servant announces them that Mr. Ferrars got married. Poor Elinor. And there's her reaction when Edward tells her he did not marry Lucy and would very much like to marry her.
  • Only Sane Woman: She's the reasonable one in her family. She's even more sensible than her mother. Had there been no Colonel Brandon, she would be the Only Sane Person in the entire novel.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Colonel Brandon, with whom she is very close, but there's not a smidge of romantic feeling between them. Their closeness is quite understandable since they're far and away the most sensible people in the entire cast.
  • The Quiet One: She listens far, far more than she speaks, a consequence of growing up with a very emotional mother and sister.
  • The Reliable One: After her father's death, she becomes the most responsible member in her family.
  • The Spock: She is the voice of reason and logic in her family.
  • Stepford Smiler: She manages to appear happy when she suffers inside horribly, knowing that Edward really loves her but is engaged to another one and wants to go through with the marriage.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: She resolutely maintains her composure through being turned out of her home, the embarrassing company of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, Lucy Steele's passive-aggressive "friendship", loss of Edward, and Marianne's dramatics.
  • The Stoic: Elinor is a master of resigning herself to the unpleasant and working to cope with the situation, from her father's death to her dashed hopes with Edward.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: She appears nearly emotionless and cold because she is so sensible and well-balanced, but she is capable of showing genuine love and concern to several people, particularly her family. Especially Marianne who she loves dearly. And of course, to Edward, her big love. She's also very nice and considerate to Mrs Jennings, unlike Marianne who almost snubs her at times.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: She sometimes feels this way. Her family — the other Dashwood ladies — are very intelligent, but exaggerate their passionate feelings. The Middletons, the Ferrars clan (save for Edward), her half-brother, the Steele sisters, Mrs. Palmer and Mrs. Jennings have all their fair share of silliness or stupidity. Thank God for Colonel Brandon.
  • Twice Shy: She and Edward have a hard time expressing their mutual affection, mainly because of Edward's mixed signals.

Marianne Dashwood

"I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every common-place notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful — had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."
Marianne starts the novel at age fifteen and, at this time of life, her opinions and values are fixed. Whatever emotion she feels, she indulges it to the highest degree and regards any restraint as dishonest, even if it's for the sake of politeness or common sense. She falls in love with a dashing young man named Willoughby.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Mildly to Elinor. She's embarrassingly open with her opinions without regard to tact or decorum, and doesn't notice Elinor's own distress until it's spelled out to her.
  • Character Development: Though it takes a very hard lesson, she learns to temper her emotions and take more care about practical matters, be more polite, and act with more consideration. Although she goes rather far in the other direction by vowing to spend all her available hours in reading and serious study, to Elinor's private amusement.
  • Damsel in Distress: Her romances with Willoughby and Colonel Brandon both start with them rescuing her.
  • Emo Teen: The Regency England version. She exaggerates her feelings for everything and everyone. She has genuinely deep love for poetry, music and nature.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Responsible Elinor and foolish Marianne, albeit one where the "foolish" daughter is portrayed fairly sympathetically.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The conflict between Marianne's advocation of her behavior and indulgence in sensibility and Elinor's practical sense and insistence she try to control herself more mirrors the glorious war between Freud's Id and Superego.
  • Ill Girl: Becomes ill and nearly dies towards the end of the novel. She partly caused it herself by exaggerating her passionate, desperate feelings and almost indulging herself in her suffering and Love Hurts drama. The final straw was taking a long walk in the rain and not changing to dry clothes afterwards, after weeks of ignoring food and sleep.
  • It's All About Me: Marianne is deeply self-absorbed, considering her feelings (whether positive or negative) absolutely irrepressible and in the process disregarding common politeness and the feelings of others; when circumstances force Elinor to confess that she too has been unhappy, Marianne breaks down in tears of remorse, forcing Elinor to comfort her again, and continues to wallow in her own unhappiness - with added guilt, now - rather than provide emotional support for Elinor. It takes near-death to smarten her up. Granted, she's a teenager, but it's a major contrast with Elinor, who's 19 and displays more responsibility and consideration for others than many people much older than her.
  • Love Triangle: She's involved in two — Marianne, Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, and also Marianne, Miss Gray and Willoughby. She loves Willoughby, who tries to trick her but later admits he really loves her too, but marries Miss Gray. Colonel Brandon loves her as well from the moment they met. She falls for him at the end of the novel.
  • The McCoy: She's the heart of her family. She's concerned with feelings, true affection and love.
  • Oblivious to Love: Marianne seems, through much of the story, like she's deliberately ignoring Colonel Brandon's undeclared love for her. On literally the second-to-last page, it's finally clarified that she honestly had no idea, and is stunned when she realizes it.
  • Parental Favouritism: It's clear that Marianne is her mother's favorite child. But to Mrs Dashwood's credit, she's never unkind to her two other daughters and she loves them all.
  • Wrong Guy First: Mr Willoughby was a mistake and it could have been even worse, considering his seducing ways with ladies and girls. Just ask Colonel Brandon's ward Eliza.

Edward Ferrars

The Dashwood sisters' brother-in-law. Edward is the only member of the Ferrars family who treats them with any civility, and when visiting Norland forms such a close friendship with Elinor that Mrs. and Marianne Dashwood consider them as good as married. Unfortunately, he has a previous engagement.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book establishes him as an amiable young man and tells us that he and Elinor became attracted without detailing the conversations between them before all the trouble starts. The major adaptations have numerous scenes that show why he and Elinor take such a liking to each other.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Just slightly, such as when he's talking to Marianne about their completely opposite tastes.
  • Honor Before Reason: He absolutely refuses to break his engagement to Lucy Steele, which was made years ago, and which has since lost any appeal for him.
  • Idle Rich: To his displeasure. Because nobody could agree what sort of distinction he should have, he was never trained in or given to any kind of active and useful trade. By the time he was eighteen, it was decided that being idle was suitably fashionable on its own.
  • Literal-Minded: He doesn't romanticize things and appreciates neat, technical detail to wild and untamed nature.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Elinor can't figure out if he likes her as just a friend or more than a friend because he swings between warm and cool. (He does like her, but he tries to pull back because of his engagement to Lucy.)
  • Nice Guy: He's an amiable young man. The Emma Thompson film elaborates greatly on this.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: His mother would never approve of him being engaged to Elinor or Lucy Steele, and she disinherits him when the latter is revealed.
  • Shrinking Violet: Described as shy and diffident.
  • The Unfavorite: Actually, his mother and sister both have great plans for him—plans which don't coincide with his own wish to be a clergyman. However, while he is disinherited for his engagement to Lucy Steele, his brother Robert remains his mother's absolute favorite and suffers no reprimand for marrying the very same Lucy Steele.
  • White Sheep: He is the only member of the Ferrars family who didn't contract their seemingly-genetic case of It's All About Me.

Colonel Brandon

Sir John's neighbor and owner of the Delaford estate. Brandon is thirty-five and rather grave, but he soon falls in love with the lively Marianne (which is clear to everyone but her). He and Elinor also become good friends, and it's made clear that he has very good reasons to be so melancholy.
  • Birds of a Feather: Played with. Numerous characters ship him and Elinor because of this, even though their feelings for each other remain strictly friendly throughout.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When Edward is disinherited for his unwise engagement, Brandon—keenly sensitive to the cruelty of families trying to separate young lovers—decides to give him the parish living at Delaford. As he hasn't met Edward personally, however, he asks Elinor to ask as an intermediary. He has no idea that he's asking her to offer the man she's in love with the means to marry another woman.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: After he finally returns from the disaster with his ward, he quickly hears the (inaccurate) gossip that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged. He goes to Elinor to confirm it and hopes that Marianne will be happy. (Understandably, he is immensely relieved that it's not true, as it would be much easier for his beloved to be happy not married to a scoundrel.)
  • Love at First Sight: With Marianne; she reminds him of his first love.
  • My Greatest Failure: He blames himself for the unhappy fate of his first love and, after her untimely death, fostered her illegitimate daughter. Later he blames himself for that daughter being seduced and impregnated herself because he somewhat spoiled her.
  • Only Sane Man: He's a man of thorough sense. Usually ends up hanging out with Elinor as a result.
  • Opposites Attract: An older and very steady man who's not given to fits of fancy or wild emotion. He falls quite in love with Marianne Dashwood, who's the opposite.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: In his backstory. When he and Eliza were discovered to be in love, she was quickly married to his brother and he was packed off into the Army.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Elinor, as they're the most level-headed people around.
  • Second Love: He and Marianne are this to each other.

John Dashwood

Mrs. Dashwood's stepson from the elder Dashwood's first marriage, the sisters' half-brother. John promises his father to look after them, but he's easily persuaded that the degree of "looking after" should involve as little expense as possible.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Leaving his sisters practically nothing was his wife's idea, but he doesn't make the least effort to stand up to her. Nor does he intervene in any way when his in-laws spite them.
  • First World Problems: He complains about his many expenses, mostly from "improvements" to Norland that weren't needed or a purchase of land that he didn't want to see in someone else's hands. He addresses them to Elinor while on a visit to the wealthy Ferrars' townhouse by way of assuring himself it would be irresponsible to buy a small present for his sisters (and, of course, so he can continue ignoring his promise to his father). Needless to say, it doesn't endear him to her.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Has just enough guilt over his neglect to be very eager for others to be generous to his stepmother and sisters.
  • Pet the Dog: He is genuinely happy to run into his sisters in town.
  • The Scrooge: He views everything in terms of money, from home comforts to relationships.

Mrs Dashwood

Elinor and Marianne's mother. She's more like her second daughter than the first—though she loves her children dearly, she too indulges more in the emotion of the moment than common sense.
  • Adult Fear: When Marianne is struck by fever, Mrs. Dashwood is faced with the prospect of losing a child.
  • Good Parents: She's a bit irresponsible and a little too passionate for a lady of her age, but she's a loving mother to all her three daughters.
  • Happily Married: To her late husband.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Norland was entailed to the male line. Although Mr. Dashwood did leave a son, he's a spineless ninny who turns out his stepmother and half-sisters at the suggestion of his wife.
  • Parents as People: She loves both of her daughters very much, but she somewhat favors Marianne, unintentionally neglects Elinor, and Elinor behaves more responsibly and rationally.
  • Widow Woman: She's widowed and reduced to a status of Impoverished Patrician who had to move from grand Norland mansion to a small cottage house.

Lucy Steele

Edward's secret fiancee. She instantly realizes that Elinor is in love with him too and goes to great lengths to jab Elinor with sugary skewers over it.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Gives all the appearance of a sweet and amiable girl to the outside world and portrays herself as someone who will stick by Edward through any difficulty, even disinheritance. Really she's calculating and mercenary and takes every opportunity she can to spite her rival.
  • Book Dumb: She's described as "illiterate and illiberal", but she recommends herself through calculated pleasingness and otherwise being clever.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: She and Edward promised to marry as teenagers, and though he no longer loves her, she's adamant about carrying it through.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: She knows that Edward and Elinor have feelings for each other, so she spitefully "befriends" Elinor and reminds her at every opportunity that she had Edward first.
  • Gold Digger: Although she first promises to marry Edward in spite of his new poverty, she quickly abandons him for his older brother. Elinor attributes her initial 'loyalty' to Edward to a hope that she could affect a reconciliation with his mother and reverse the Parental Marriage Veto.
  • Kick the Dog: After marrying Robert Ferrars, Lucy converses with the Dashwood's servant in such a way that he'll carry back news of "Mrs. Ferrars" without also saying which Ferrars she's the Mrs. of, just to cast one parting shot at Elinor.
  • Sugary Malice: She cultivates a friendship with Elinor and ropes her into the engagement secret, knowing that Elinor herself is in love with Edward. Every chance she gets, she reminds Elinor—in the guise of innocent friendship—that she and Edward are engaged. Elinor knows it, but she's too polite to do anything about it.

John Willoughby

A dashing young man living near Barton Cottage. He rescues Marianne when she sprains her ankle in a rainstorm and they soon fall passionately in love. He shares her romantic inclinations, but he lacks a sense of morality.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Subverted. At first, his lament over having to abandon his love for Marianne seems sympathetic, but then Elinor reminds herself of what he did to her and Colonel Brandon's ward which impelled said separation.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: After marrying Miss Gray, he visits the Dashwoods during Marianne's illness and says that he did genuinely love her.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: His charm conceals the fact that he is an irresponsible cad. It helps that what he feels for Marianne is genuine, he just feels for himself more than anyone else.
  • The Hedonist: He does whatever seems pleasurable at the moment. In Devonshire, that's romancing Marianne. But it's also seducing the fifteen-year-old ward of Colonel Brandon, and marrying a rich woman so he can maintain his lifestyle.
  • It's All About Me: Comes running when Marianne is sick...because he wants her to forgive him in case she dies. He is genuinely worried and remorseful, but his main aim is to convince the Dashwoods he isn't a bad guy, and he doesn't seem to clock that maybe they don't exactly need the extra stress of dealing with someone who badly mistreated a beloved family member.
  • Jerk Ass: Although he has some measure of conscience, and thus is a little better than some other Austen villains, his actions are still completely selfish and reprehensible.
  • Ladykiller in Love: He later admits that his initial flirtation with Marianne was quite idle on his end because he had always intended to marry wealthy, but he had soon resolved on proposing... right before his aunt disinherited him over Eliza.
  • Never My Fault: When trying to defend himself to Elinor, he claims that Eliza, the fifteen-year-old girl he seduced and abandoned, is just as much to blame as he is; after all, she consented to run away with him. His argument naturally falls flat, since the consequences of their tryst are infinitely worse for poor Eliza, and she is a naive teenager who had no idea what she was getting into, while he is a worldly young man. He also claims his wife dictated the cruel letter to Marianne, trying to paint her as a Clingy Jealous Girl and himself as a poor innocent victim.
  • Rescue Romance: He meets Marianne after she sprains her ankle and carries her home.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Subverted. He's compelled to marry immediately after impregnating young Eliza, but not to Eliza—he abandons her, is disinherited by his aunt for not agreeing to the Shotgun Wedding, and so immediately marries Miss Grey to escape poverty.
  • Take Back Your Gift: After he's engaged to Miss Grey, he sends back all of Marianne's letters and the lock of hair he asked of her.