Clearly the careful observation of those around us is crucial if we are to form reliable, balanced judgements. Elinor embodies this process, while Marianne resists it. Elinor is able to appreciate the complexity of those around her; for instance, she comes to "really love" (p. 304) Mrs. Jennings, whose vulgarity is mixed with real kindness. Marianne, on the other hand, does not alter her judgements once they have been made and only at the end of the novel is able to be civil to Colonel Brandon. She judges differently from Elinor, in a way consistent with their different characters. Marianne believes in the supremacy of her own judgement, but her judgements are not based on careful observation of her environment as Elinor's are. This is made clear when Elinor berates Marianne for having gone to Allenham while Mrs. Smith was there:
"'I am afraid,' replied Elinor, 'that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.'
'On the contrary, nothing can be stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.'" (p. 97-87)
Marianne feels that she could not have acted wrongly without being aware of it; this, however, discounts the possibility that she might have acted in a way incompatible with general notions of what is improper. Elinor cites the comments of Mrs. Jennings to prove her point: the fact that Mrs. Jennings mentioned the incident in an insinuating tone, as if having found Marianne in the act of doing something indiscreet, shows clearly that Marianne should not have gone to Allenham. Marianne brushes Mrs. Jennings's opinion aside, saying that it is worthless. Elinor, however, realises that the opinion of those who may be less intelligent or well-mannered than herself is still a valuable guide to behaviour. She cannot discount any evidence of how society judges people; this is part of her careful observation of those around her.
Accurate judgement is made more difficult by the prevalence of secrecy and deception in Austen's world. Judging correctly becomes a process of reading between the lines and seeing through social facades. Thus, Elinor has to see behind Lucy's claim that she only told Elinor about her engagement because she wanted to hear about her prospective mother-in-law to the truth, that Lucy told her in order to make it clear to her that Edward belongs to someone else. Elinor is then able to protect herself by adopting a social façade of her own and manufacturing an indifference to their engagement.
It would be too harsh to say that Marianne misjudged Willoughby, because there is no way that she could have known about what he had done in the past or that he would also reject her. However, it is notable that Elinor was always more careful in her judgement of him. Marianne, like her mother, cannot "love by halves" (p. 367) and so threw herself unrestrainedly into her affection for Willoughby. In such a position, she was automatically vulnerable. Elinor, on the other hand, is the first to suggest that there may be something underhand in Willoughby's sudden departure from Barton. As regards her own suitor, she does not overstate her feelings for Edward, with the result that Marianne thinks her "cold- hearted" (p. 55). Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne, it comes out, had assumed that they were already engaged. They have leapt from an incomplete observation to a false judgement. This parallels Elinor's uncertainty over whether Marianne and Willoughby were engaged; she, however, is judging as accurately as she can from the evidence before her and comes to no certain conclusion because of the contradictory nature of that evidence. In certain cases, making no judgement at all is as sensible as making an accurate one.
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