By Brenda S. Cox
“Till this moment I never knew myself.”—Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, after reading Darcy’s letter
Here’s a deeper way of knowing yourself. The Enneagram (the first part sounds like the word “any”; stress on first syllable) is an ancient way of describing character types. It’s quite popular today; you’ll find lots of books about it, each with a different perspective.
The Enneagram classifies people into nine types, based on their underlying motivations. The idea is that in childhood we develop a strategy for dealing with life. We may use it successfully for many years, but eventually its flaws appear and we need to grow.
Any Enneagram type can be “healthy” or “unhealthy.” (Some authors call this mature or immature, or the “true self” or “false self.”) In a novel, a healthy version of any type could be a hero, while an unhealthy version of the same type could be a villain.
Experts say we should not try to classify someone else’s Enneagram type. Each person should figure it out for himself. We can see what people do, but not why they do it; only they know their deepest motivations. Of course, for a character in a novel we also can’t be sure of why they act as they do. But for fun, let’s try to guess what Enneagram types some of Jane Austen’s characters might be. I hope this will also help us understand the types better.
Type One: The Perfectionist (or The Reformer)
Elinor Dashwood might be a healthy One. According to The Enneagram Made Easy, Ones are “realistic, conscientious, and principled. They strive to live up to their high ideals.” They have a need to be perfect, and for the world around them to be perfect. Although Elinor is in great pain, she follows her principles rather than her feelings. She is careful not to break her word, say bad things about others, or be unkind. She is trying to live up to her perfect self, though that breaks down somewhat when she thinks Edward is married. Her family is shocked at her collapse.
Type Two: The Helper
Emma Woodhouse is a Two. She loves to be needed—by her father, and by her friend Harriet. Being needed makes her feel important and valuable. Twos are “warm, concerned, nurturing, and sensitive to other people’s needs.” Emma is proud of all she does for Harriet—until she finds that she is not doing what’s best for Harriet after all. Then Emma is humbled. It turns out she was really trying to help Harriet because it made Emma feel good, not because it actually benefited Harriet.
Type Three: The Achiever (or The Status Seeker)
Threes are “energetic, optimistic, self-assured, and goal-oriented.” They strive for success. In Emma, both Mr. Weston and his son Frank Churchill may be Threes. When they decide there is to be a ball in Highbury, they make it happen. Threes are also good at adapting themselves to people’s expectations. They may wear many faces. Frank easily hides his engagement to Jane. He manages to keep his exacting aunt, Mrs. Churchill, happy, while also pleasing his family and friends in Highbury. Frank achieves his goals, though not with the honor and integrity that Mr. Knightley would expect.
Type Four: The Romantic (or The Artist)
Obviously, romantic Marianne Dashwood is a Four. The Four has a need to be special. “Romantics have sensitive feelings and are warm and perceptive.” Marianne’s artistic side comes out in her love of music. She goes to an unhealthy extreme in grief, both after her father’s death and after Willoughby rejects her. After her self-inflicted illness, though, she moves toward becoming a healthy Four, determined to find balance in her life.
Type Five: The Observer (or The Thinker)
Fanny Price is a Five, sitting back, observing, analyzing, and seeing what others do not. Nothing escapes her as the others are involved in producing “Lover’s Vows.” Fives “have a need for knowledge and are introverted, curious, analytical, and insightful.”
Mr. Darcy may also be a Five. He stands back and watches Elizabeth carefully rather than being involved in her conversations. He also observes Jane, to try to discern her feelings for Mr. Bingley. But Fives eventually have to engage in life, as Darcy did when he wanted to please Elizabeth.
Type Six: The Questioner (or The Loyalist)
Sixes have a strong need for security. Mrs. Bennet is an unhealthy Six. Her fears control her—fears that she and the girls will be left penniless when her husband dies; fears that the Mr. Bennet will fight a duel with Wickham and be killed; fears that the family is ruined. To some extent, her fears are quite reasonable. But she deals with them badly: moaning, complaining, and seeking sympathy.
On the other hand, healthy Sixes are “responsible, trustworthy, and value loyalty to family, friends, groups, and causes.” Colonel Brandon is a healthy Six. A military man, he no doubt is loyal to his country and colleagues. In Sense and Sensibility, he shows his loyalty to the Dashwood family, even when he thinks Marianne will marry Willoughby. His solid worth eventually gains Marianne’s affection. (Colonel Brandon might alternatively be a One, seeking perfection in always doing what is right.)
Type Seven: The Adventurer (or The Generalist)
Sevens are “adventurous, lively, and optimistic. They want to contribute to the world.” They seek to avoid pain and enjoy the delights of life. Elizabeth Bennet is a healthy Seven. She loves to laugh, and loves to travel. She remembers the past only as it gives her pleasure.
Cheerful Mr. Bingley is another Seven, as well as enthusiastic Mr. Parker, the ardent developer of Sanditon. Lydia Bennet is an unhealthy Seven, seeking only pleasure and nothing else.
Sevens, however, eventually have to experience pain, confront themselves, and grow. Elizabeth does this after Darcy’s failed proposal, and when she has to deal with Lydia’s shame.
Type Eight: The Asserter (or The Leader)
Eights “are direct, self-reliant, self-confident, and protective.” They need to be in control. They have a need “to be against”—to confront injustice or other issues.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh is an unhealthy Eight. Dictatorial and grandiose, she cannot tolerate contradiction. She finally reaches a situation she can’t control. Darcy and Elizabeth are determined to be married. She will have to come to peace with not getting her way.
Captain Wentworth might be a healthy Eight. The healthy Eight “becomes magnanimous, self-restrained, courageous, possibly heroic.” Wentworth is decisive, protective, and honorable. (He might alternatively be a healthy Three; it’s difficult to tell.)
Type Nine: The Peacemaker
Jane Bennet is a healthy Nine. Nines “are receptive, good-natured, and supportive. They seek union with others and the world around them.” They avoid conflict. Jane is able to see others’ points of view and understand and accept them, trying to reconcile the differences around her. But, after trying to justify Wickham, she eventually has to accept that he is not a good man. She learns to see more realistically.
Anne Elliot is also a healthy Nine. She resolves other people’s conflicts and problems, and deals calmly with the crisis of Louisa’s fall from the Cobb.
It’s easy for Nines to sublimate their own personalities and needs in trying to make everyone around them happy. They can learn, though, like Anne and Jane, to find their own happiness.
What type do you identify with most? Much deeper explanations of the types and their implications are available. You may want to investigate some of the sources listed below.
I don’t find online Enneagram tests very helpful. I needed to read and re-read thorough descriptions of the types (from the Rohr book below) in order to identify myself. (I’m a One). The type that you are most uncomfortable with, as you read it, may well be the one that fits you. So, if you are interested in this, take your time. It’s often hard for us to see ourselves clearly.
And remember that we are all, of course, unique. Any personality typing will only describe parts of who you are.
I find it most helpful to use the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual growth. It helps identify our underlying motivations. Christian interpretations use the Enneagram to identify our weaknesses and help us become more balanced, whole people.
More Personality Types in Jane Austen:
Secular books on the Enneagram
The Enneagram Made Easy, by Renee Barton and Elizabeth Wagele, is the source of the quotes and type names above. The book is an easy, clear introduction to the Enneagram, from a secular viewpoint. Quotes above are from this book.
Personality Types by Don Richard Riso includes descriptions of healthy, unhealthy, and average traits of each types, and is the sources of the alternate type names above. It is also secular, but goes into each type in more depth, including the idea of “wings.” (People usually have characteristics of one of the types adjacent to theirs, called their “wing.”) (Link is to an updated version I haven’t read.)
Christian books on the Enneagram (two of my favorites)
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert gives a deep and challenging view of each type and ways to grow spiritually. I suggest you start by reading Part II: The Nine Types. For me, reading through Rohr’s type descriptions several times was the best way to figure out my type; by seeing what resonated with me and even made me uncomfortable! (This just recently became available on kindle.)
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron gives a good, easily readable introduction to the Enneagram and the types, from a Christian perspective, with suggestions for spiritual growth.
There are many other excellent books that investigate various aspects of the Enneagram.
And, I want to direct you again to a great book on many ways of typing personality, with practical applications: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel. This book introduced me to the idea of HSPs (discussed in my previous post) and helped me draw together a lot of ideas. Highly recommended!