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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Jan Austen's Marianne - a Wife for Colonel Brandon?

Colonel Brandon is in fact a romantic: he and Eliza (the sweetheart of his youth) were within a few hours of eloping together to Scotland. Perhaps he is better suited to Marianne than Willoughby would have been. Willoughby, after playing at being romantic hero, did the sensible thing and married a wealthy woman.

Brandon, like Anne Elliot, has to re-learn romance as he grows older, the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning. It becomes apparent that he looks at Marianne and sees Eliza. In the matter of 'telling' and 'showing', it is a pity that Elinor has the function of providing the main 'proof' (by the very negative method of defending them) that Edward and Brandon are attractive. It is surely a weakness of the novel that there is nowhere a dialogue between Brandon and Marianne.

Colonel Brandon is indeed a surprising if devoted husband for Marianne. When Mrs. Jennings suggests he is in love with Marianne, the young lady does not know whether to laugh or be offended: ...he is old enough to be my father.... Did you not hear him complain of rheumatism, and is not that the commonest infirmity of declining life?... he talked of flannel waistcoats.... and with me a flannel waistcoat is invariably connected with aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble.

Yet, after recovering from her infatuation with Willoughby, she ends up marrying him. Elinor alone notices how hurt Brandon is when Willoughby wins Marianne's heart, for what could a silent man of five-and-thirty hope, when opposed by a very lively one of five-and-twenty? Brandon is the perfect gentleman – ever considerate and generous. And he has an attractive situation to offer – a beautiful home and gardens, with an income of two thousand a year. 

His past life, rich in sensation and coincidence of the kind Jane Austen parodied as a teenager, would make a novel itself. It left him with an orphan girl to bring up and her seduction by Willoughby to avenge. He even fought a duel over this affair. Marianne at last discovers the falsehood of her own opinions and overcomes an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, with the result that, at nineteen, she finds herself submitting to new attachments.