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Saturday, 20 August 2016

Jane Austen's Willoughby ('Sense and Sensibility') - the Snake!

In Chapter 18 of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Palmer unwittingly plants the idea in Colonel Brandon's head that Marianne is going to marry Willoughby. For all the reasons he later explains in Chapter 31, Brandon did not expose Willoughby. In Chapter 25, it is winter and Mrs. Jennings takes the Miss Dashwoods to London. Willoughby has not counted on this, and he also does not know whether Brandon has told the Miss Dashwoods the truth, but he is hoping he has not (and he is right). Eventually Willloughby's engagement to Miss King causes Brandon to reveal the sordid story to Elinor.

Jane Austen makes very little of this explicit; but it seems a reasonable interpretation of events.


Willoughby is snake-like even when he makes his final explanation to Elinor during Marianne’s illness. He tries to exonerate himself over the seduction of Eliza: 

…because she was injured she was irreproachable, and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint...the violence of her passions...the weakness of her understanding -- I do not mean, however, to defend myself. 

He stops at a critical point: if she had a weak understanding, then he did take advantage of her. He had a full understanding. 

He says Mrs. Smith offered to forgive the past, if I would marry Eliza. That could not be.

Why could it not be? Because she was poor? Probably not as poor as Marianne! Marianne has £1000, but Colonel Brandon surely had at least the same or more put aside for Eliza.

This does not seem to occur to Elinor, however.