Martha and Mary Series: Sense and Sensibility

I love Jane Austin, and I love the different variations told of her stories. One of my absolute favorites is the hilarious Mormon version of Pride and Prejudice. And, the more and more I think about it, there is a Gospel-related version of Sense and Sensibility. Martha and Mary’s personalities mirror Elinor and Marianne’s.

To put it shortly:

Martha = Elinor = Sense

Mary = Marianne = Sensibility

Martha and Elinor

In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is the older sister. Now, while we don’t know of the ages of Martha and Mary, I’ve always envisioned her as the older sister. Elinor represents “sense”. That means that she has plenty of common sense. Elinor thinks rationally before she speaks, she follows cultural norms and expectations of Victorian women, and she is content to not live a rich and flamboyant lifestyle. Elinor helps keep her household of her mother and to younger sisters (all romantics and idealists) secure and above water–she helps with the finances, the decisions, and does most of the housework. In an aspect, she represents the Proverbs 31 woman.

We can see that in Martha. When Jesus came to their house, Martha was the one preparing, whereas Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet, listening to Him. Jewish custom dictated that the women of the household, the hostesses (which both were, especially since we don’t know who was the eldest), were to prepare and serve the meal. Martha got exasperated at Mary when she didn’t help her prepare (see Luke 10). But, Martha felt very strongly about serving the Lord by making sure His temporal needs were taken care of. That was her way to show the Lord love.

However, Elinor and Martha both have a wonderfully Christ-like attribute. They deeply love their family and are willing to do anything for them. Elinor multiple times sacrifices for Marianne. She makes sure that Marianne is safe, taken care of, and has her feelings cared for. Martha does the same for Mary. When their brother Lazarus died, Martha was the one to forget her mourning for a minute and seek out Christ. Mary was still at home mourning, but Martha cared so much for her brother and her sister, she forgot herself for a while to care for others. She had such exquisite faith in Christ and told him:

21 Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will giveit thee….

27 Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. (John 11:21-22, 27)

What faith, what love. We should strive to be like Martha and Elinor–being a steward of our siblings (for we are our brothers’ keepers), having tremendous faith, and thinking before we speak:

But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. (Mosiah 4:30 )

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Mary and Marianne

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne is the younger sister. She is a dreamer, an idealist, a hopeless romantic. Marianne doesn’t have a lot of common sense, but rather, let’s her passions lead and guide her. We can see that in Mary. Rather than help her sister, Martha, with preparing a meal for the Lord, she instead followed her passion and faith in Christ’s Gospel by listening to the Lord’s Word. In Luke 10:39, she is described as sitting at His feet. This is a very archetypal image of a dreaming, hopeless romantic woman. What better way to be romantic than romantic in the Gospel. After Martha tried chastising Mary for not helping, Christ said:

41 Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

We should follow Mary’s example of being passionate about the Gospel. A quote that has really stuck with me and meant a lot to me this year (and eventually led me to be part of She Teaches Fearlessly) is from Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the Seventy: There is no room for average or complacent disciples. Average is the enemy of excellence, and average commitment will prevent you from enduring to the end.

Marianne also wears her emotions on her sleeve, and everything she does is done with passion. Once again, Mary is her double in this attribute. When her brother Lazarus died, she “sat still in the house” (John 11:20). When Marianne was betrayed by her love Willoughby, she let her emotions overcome her. She began taking “impassioned  walks in the rain”, just letting her thoughts of betrayed love eat away at her soul. When Martha came back from seeking out Jesus, she told Mary that He sought her. I can just imagine it…Mary sitting quietly, tears all run out from mourning, Martha comes in and talks to her, Mary staring still straight ahead. She gets up because she loves and believes in the Lord, so she will do what He says, but she’s on autopilot. Traumatic music playing, rain falling (because I am comparing it to Sense and Sensibility after all). When she finally sees the Lord, “she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:32). She flung herself at his feet, dramatically, crying to the Lord.

But, although we may patronize or poke fun at those who are like Marianne, this attribute that she and Mary share is very important as well. Those who are very in tune with their own emotions are more likely to be in tune with emotions of others.  In Victorian times, “sensibility” meant being sensitive and intuitive. This is an important characteristic of being empathetic, which is part of our baptismal covenants:

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life— (Mosiah 18:9, emphasis added)

Jesus himself exhibited this personality trait with Mary in this very situation. When He saw her weeping at His feet over the death of her brother, Jesus didn’t pick her up, He didn’t give her a theological discussion like He did with Martha. No. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept”. He was mourning with those who mourned. He was empathetic.

So, as you can see, still both Martha and Mary have traits that we should aim for, no more one than the other. As daughters and disciples of God, we should develop both sense and sensibility.

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I am an English and history teacher turned stay-at-home mom to Rhys, the rambunctious toddler. I was blessed to marry my college best friend. I am obsessed with all things medieval, Welsh, historical, and fantasy. I love to read, write, cook, run, and learn. I have recently come to love and appreciate living in the center of Utah and close to both sides of our family.

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