Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 44–45 (Volume 3, Chapters 8–9) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 44

Willoughby's first concern is Marianne's health, but once he knows she's out of danger, he admits to Elinor he rode from London to Cleveland "to offer some kind of explanation" and gain Marianne's forgiveness. He says that when he first met the Dashwoods at Barton Cottage, he meant merely to enjoy their company as a pleasant distraction. Then, bit by bit, Willoughby fell in love with Marianne. The days at Barton Cottage were the happiest of his life, but his finances were "greatly embarrassed" and at first prevented him from declaring his affections. Willoughby decided to tell Marianne he loved her just at the time that Mrs. Smith, his aunt and provider of his inheritance, learned about his disgraceful behavior with Eliza Williams, whom he insists shares the blame. Mrs. Smith told Willoughby to marry Eliza or be cut off. He refused to marry Eliza and then discovered that he feared poverty more than he loved Marianne. So instead of proposing to Marianne, he left Barton Park, plagued by guilt and loss.

When Marianne wrote from London, her words agonized Willoughby, renewing his remorse. Willoughby was by then engaged to Miss Grey and feigning love for her. Miss Grey intercepted Marianne's final letter and dictated the cold response Willoughby sent Marianne. She also forced him to return Marianne's letters and lock of hair. His punishment, he says, is separation from Marianne and marriage to the bitter Miss Grey. Elinor replies, "You have proved your heart less wicked" but reminds him of the misery he has caused. He asks Elinor to tell Marianne his story and says he came because Sir John said Marianne was dying. Just before he leaves he suggests that perhaps he might one day be free to court Marianne again; after Elinor reproves, him, he says he'll live in dread of Marianne's marriage.

Chapter 45

Overwhelmed by Willoughby's emotions and her reactions, Elinor guards against letting his manner of speaking sway her opinions. Soon Marianne wakes, feeling better, and Mrs. Dashwood arrives. Overnight, Elinor dreads telling Marianne about Willoughby's vindication. As Marianne's strength returns, Mrs. Dashwood reveals to Elinor that Colonel Brandon declared his love for Marianne during the trip to Cleveland. The match is good, she thinks, and one day Marianne will agree. Elinor is "pleased and pained, surprised and not surprised" to hear her mother speak warmly about Brandon's merits, Marianne's wounded heart, and the healing that time may bring.

Analysis

Willoughby's explanation of his behavior provides a dramatic and pivotal scene in the novel (and takes place on a stormy night [Chapter 43], in a slight touch of the gothic) and supports his role as the romantic love interest. However, his character is revealed, too, in the tangents that interrupt his main narrative. Two tangents in particular deserve attention. In the first, readers see Willoughby pretending to take responsibility for his wasteful habits but in fact shifting the blame. He admits that he is "expensive," but, he implies, how can he not be? His personal fortune is not large, yet he likes to mingle with wealthier poeple whose opinion of him will in large part determine his success in their class. Willoughby has to work the system, but he goes broke doing so—losing both his own inheritance and the happiness that love might have brought him, although he rebounds in a wealthy, loveless marriage. The second tangent involves Eliza, whose name Willoughby apparently can't bring himself to say. Willoughby admits that he should have respected Eliza's "situation and her character" and says he doesn't intend to excuse his deplorable behavior. But in his next breath, he shifts blame to Eliza, saying that her excessive feeling and her failure to realize that Willoughby would not marry her allowed him to take advantage of her. Willoughby shows a disturbing willingness to blame others for his actions—a sign of his continuing immaturity and inability to take responsibility.

Readers have now heard the accounts of both men in Eliza's life, which offers a good point of comparison. Willoughby regrets being found out, resents the assumption that he was to blame, and is quick to point out Eliza's complicity. He is unconcerned with the effects of their affair for Eliza and shows no interest in his child. What matters to him is having pleasant experiences regardless of the consequences. He is sensibility taken to the extreme. Brandon, in contrast, marries sense and sensibility. His role in Eliza's life is parental, though only out of affection for her mother, his cousin. He accepts complete responsibility for both Eliza and her child out of kindness; he has the means to help, so he does. He is consistent in his desire to help others whenever he can, as when he offered Edward the living at Delaford. His sensibility is tempered by empathy.

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