Willoughby’s Confession

August 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm (books) (, , , )

I was close to finishing Sense & Sensibility last evening, when I got stuck on the chapter comprising Willoughby’s ‘confession’. Rather than continue reading, I turned back and RE-read this chapter.

Am I the only one who thinks less of Willoughby after this chapter?

There are so many moments when I wonder if Austen actually meant this appearance to expiate Willoughby — or condemn him a bit further, thereby drawing a line for the credulity of Elinor.

For instance: Did Miss Grey really “dictate” Willoughby’s letter to Marianne? She could certainly play that card, but that’s a position of power for her. With her fortune, Miss Grey could have had her pick of men. There’s just something about her” jealousy,” as Willoughby tells of it, that doesn’t jibe.

What first got me thinking this way? Willoughby’s talking about all stories having two sides and how Elinor mustn’t think him rascal and Eliza saint — as he reminds her to beware who told her one side of this story, he then proceeds to tell her one side of his story. Are we meant to believe it?

Should readers juxtapose this chapter with the *comical* chapter where Brandon offers the Delaford living while Mrs Jennings thinks him offering Elinor his hand? That opens to interpretation the notion that What Willoughby Says may not be what Willoughby in truth is saying.

Frankly, I’m in total confusion…

After last night, I’ve become more like Mrs Dashwood: Ready to write him off as a scoundrel.

Why has Austen included this chapter? Are parts of it truth, and parts of it untruth? Is this confession supposed to point up the “say anything” part of Willoughby’s character? What did he hope to gain? Just to leave Marianne (and Elinor) with such good feelings towards him that she never could say ‘yes’ to the one man Willoughby dreads her marrying? What am I missing here?

Very frustrating at this moment, though I’ve enjoyed this reading of the novel even more than when I read it last (3 years ago).


  1. Kelly said,

    I was just thinking the same thing a few weeks ago when I was watching the end of the most recent adaptation. Willoughby hadn’t come because he felt truly contrite, but because he was a selfish scoundrel who couldn’t live with the thought of Marianne going to her grave without him having the last word. Re-reading that chapter just now only confirmed my assessment. How Elinor could forgive him, I don’t know. Everything he said was twisted to make himself the victim in the three reprehensible situations where he was most certainly the villian. Ugh, I HATE Willoughby so much!

    ~ Kelly

  2. Janeite Deb said,

    Hi Kelly,

    I always thought this passage in S&S accomplishes two things: it shows that Elinor is not all “sense”, that which she is oft accused of – she is “softened” by Willoughby’s entreaty, she ends “pitying” him, she indeed shows how, knowledgeable though she be as to his true character, she is taken in by him, just as her mother and Marianne were.

    Secondly, if you read this passage over many times, it smacks of an almost gothic nature – all the exclamation points, the “horror”, “amazement” – would do well in a Bronte! – but you see that all that Willoughby does here is talk about himself, his feelings, his loss, his pain – and the author’s intention I believe is to show how awful he really is – his selfishness – with Marianne just barely escaping from death’s door, all he is thinking about is what they all think of him – his explanations are the perfect renderings of a narcissist – he blames everyone else for his problems – indeed blames Eliza for his problem with her [he calls her “an unlucky circumstance”] – she not a saint [he blames her for nor figuring out how to get in touch with him!]; he blames his Aunt for following convention and requiring him to marry her and then disinheriting him, forcing him to marry for money; etc, and he ends by bewailing that Marianne might marry Brandon, all to hurt him.

    Austen is brilliant in this depiction of a self-absorbed, but nonetheless charming fellow – and having Elinor “softening” to him is the final touch – we can all easily fall victim to such a character – indeed, some of us surely have! – she says “you are wrong, very blameable….you made your own choice. It was not forced upon you.” – but still she is softened, content in the knowing that he “truly” loved Marianne – Elinor is really too good and incapable of understanding the depth of his narcissism …

    Interesting to note that Elinor Thompson in her adaptation did not include this scene – she only has Willoughby wistfully looking down at the wedding party – I believe she felt that there was no way to put in there without causing some confusion and taking away from the festivities – one forgets that in the book two years pass between Marianne’s recovery and her marriage to Brandon…

    Good question though Kelly – this scene has for 200 years caused many to stop and scratch their heads!

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