Sunday, 22 May 2011


Welcome to the May issue of the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration. This month, I'm glad to host Jane Odiwe's contribution to the discussion of Jane Austen's first published novel, its characters and its themes: "Willoughby, a Rogue on Trial" . Jane Odiwe is the author of  a Sense and Sensibility continuation, Willoughby's Return (my review HERE and  author interview HERE), so she has much to say about this novel and this character. We'll wait for your comments and contributions to the discussion, with the chance to be entered May giveaway (read note below)
Let us know: do you feel any more sympathy for Mr John Willoughby after reading ?

May Giveaway - Commenting this blogpost you'll have the chance to be entered the giveaway of a signed copy of Jane Odiwe's Willoughby's Return. But don't forget your e-mail address!  Open internationally, the giveaway ends on 31st May.

 Willoughby, A Rogue on Trial 

I was very conscious when my publisher suggested that I change the title of my Sense and Sensibility continuation, which I had entitled, Mrs. Brandon’s Invitation, to Willoughby’s Return, that it might give people the idea that I am a firm supporter of Mr. Willoughby. That is not to say that he does not have his charms, and who among us can say we do not succumb a little to them at the beginning of Jane Austen’s wonderful book or certainly in any number of the adaptations? (I have to admit Greg Wise is my favourite, and it’s almost impossible to see him as a villain at all, but I digress.) However, in Willoughby’s Return, I did want to find out for myself whether I thought he was truly sorry for his past behaviour or discover whether he had been acting a part from the start.
When we first meet Mr. Willoughby in S&S, it is very clear that Jane wishes us to fall in love with him too. He is depicted as the archetypal, romantic hero as he lifts Marianne, who has taken a tumble, into his manly arms to carry her back to Barton cottage. It is not only Marianne who is smitten; he is immediately an object of ‘secret admiration’ with all the ladies. Willoughby is ‘handsome’, possesses a graceful manner with additional charms from his voice and expression. Jane is lavish in her praise. Youth, beauty and elegance, are three words used to sum up his appearance, she wants us to love him as much as Marianne does. I think it’s interesting that she also stresses his sportsman-like pursuits of shooting, and in particular hunting, because we learn later on that he is very much a predator. Marianne cannot help herself, she discovers that they share exactly the same tastes in music, literature and poetry, and he appears to be open and affectionate.

So, Willoughby has all the appearance of the perfect man, but unfortunately it is not long before the cracks start to show especially when it comes to discussing Colonel Brandon. Here Jane often uses Elinor to witness what is being said. She, of course, is becoming increasingly concerned by the overt, demonstrative behaviour of Willoughby and her sister Marianne. Willoughby declares that, “Brandon is just the kind of man, whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.” He goes on to declare that it isn’t that he dislikes him, but by the end of his conversation with Elinor, he has found three reasons for disliking him forever! And from here, it just gets worse.

Willoughby seems to show little thought about his public behaviour towards Marianne. He thinks nothing of dancing with her constantly, which is not the done thing; he takes her out for rides in his carriage alone, and brings her a horse, without considering how she is going to be able to afford to look after it. Now, it is at this point, I feel some of the adults like Marianne’s mother, Mrs. Dashwood, and Mrs. Jennings are at fault and neglectful. Far from stopping Marianne from being alone with this rogue, they positively encourage it. Mrs. Dashwood is equally blinded by Willoughby, and so keen to promote a match between them that she allows it to carry on. That is not to say I am excusing Willoughby at all, but he is bound to take advantage of such a situation. In slight defence of Mrs. Dashwood, it seems she has decided that such carryings on indicate that the couple must be engaged or very near it. When Willoughby declares that, ‘this place will always have one claim on my affection, which no other can possibly share’, Mrs. Dashwood is completely convinced that he is to ask for Marianne’s hand.
The next day, he arrives to say he is leaving for London at his benefactor’s request and will be gone for some time. His manner is guilty, Elinor is immediately suspicious, and Marianne only cries. Again we see Willoughby through Elinor’s eyes; thinking he does not behave as an ardent lover should.
The Dashwood sisters go to London with Mrs. Jennings, and Marianne hopes to see Willoughby, but of course when they finally meet, he snubs her, and afterwards sends a cruel letter declaring that he is astonished to think she thought there was more to the friendship. On top of that, she then learns that he is to marry Miss Grey with a fortune of £50,000. Can it get any worse? Yes, it can!!!

Colonel Brandon attempts to explain Willoughby’s behaviour. Willoughby has seduced and abandoned the Colonel’s ward leaving her with his child. Now we see how well the image of the hunter as a man who preys on young women fits him. Is there any way we will ever come to think of him in a good light again?
Marianne becomes dangerously ill, and it is only when Willoughby turns up to speak to Elinor that we reconsider his character…a little. I think for most people, however much Willoughby protests, he will always be thought of as a cad. But, I think it very interesting, that apart from him telling Elinor that he only realized what love meant when he met Marianne, which softens both Elinor’s and our attitudes towards him, Jane Austen also adds something else for us to think about too. She appears to challenge the idea that the Colonel’s ward was wholly a victim, and that she might have been as willing to consummate their relationship as Willoughby. He says, “I do not mean to justify myself, but at the same time cannot leave you to suppose that I have nothing to urge, - that because she was injured she was irreproachable; and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint. If the violence of her passions, the weakness of her understanding - I do not mean, however, to defend myself.” Of course, we only have Willoughby’s word for it, but nevertheless, I think Jane is making a little point that the case is not as simple as seducer and seduced, and that women can also be assertive in relationships. Remember, we are talking about Regency Britain whose more open attitudes were completely different to the following generation. 

Do we feel any more sympathy towards Willoughby after he implies that the reason he could not marry the Colonel’s ward was because of his feelings for Marianne? If we have any, those sympathetic feelings soon disappear when he admits that the thought of a life of poverty was too much to bear. Again, we see he is driven by selfish motives and avarice. Although he genuinely appears to regret his behaviour towards both women, in the end his actions have outweighed any consideration for them. Money is far more important.
In the end, he gets his just deserts: Willoughby could not hear of her marriage without a pang; and his punishment was soon afterwards complete in the voluntary forgiveness of Mrs. Smith, who, by stating his marriage with a woman of character, as the source of her clemency, gave him reason for believing, that had be behaved with honour towards Marianne, he might at once have been happy and rich.
 The next sentence is the one that inspired Willoughby’s Return. For Marianne, however - in spite of his incivility in surviving her loss - he always retained that decided regard which interested him in everything that befell her, and made her his secret standard of perfection in woman; and many a rising beauty would be slighted by him in after days as bearing no comparison with Mrs. Brandon.
I wondered what would happen if they were to meet again. You may be surprised to learn that my novel is not a defence of Willoughby, though I did give him a chance to redeem himself a little more before the end, and of course, there is a happy ending for all concerned!
 Jane Odiwe

Jane Odiwe latest publication is Mr Darcy's Secret. Discover more about her, her novels and illustrations on her Blog Site and on Twitter.


cyn209 said...

congrats & good luck, Jane, on Willoughby's Return!! i've yet to read any Sense&Sensibility continuation & am excited to include yours on my ToBeReadList!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!!!


Margaret said...

This sounds very interesting! I actually love the character of Marianne so am I would love to see Willoughby apologize for breaking her heart (and mine lol!) Thanks so much for the giveaway!


Linda said...

I really have no sympathy for Willoughby at all. I'm curious as to whether reading this novel will improve his image in my opinion. thanks for the giveaway.

Rebecca said...

This one is definitely tugging my attention ... I've never been one to succumb to Willoughby - something about him always fails to ring true to me, maybe because he reminds me of people I know who also fail to ring true - but this does present a very interesting take on things ... Must try to acquire this & read it for my own S&S challenge books!


Ri The Bard said...

I am a bit embarassed to say I was enchanted with Willoughby in the begining, and as heartbroken as Marianne in the end. I see all your points but I really find it hard to forgive him, because in my imagination there were more then just three women. He was always on the move and he was hunter.
Good luck on the book, It sounds very interesting;

phastings said...

Once a bad boy, always a bad boy? Although I feel for Colonel Brandon already. Willoughby's Return sounds delicious. I can't wait to read how Jane spins her tale. Thanks for a chance to win a copy.


Margay said...

I always like to see if bad boys can be redeemed!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts on Willoughby Jane! - true to all of Austen's characters in S&S - there is a little bit of good and bad in each of them - no one perfect, and some more bad than others! I have felt sympathy for Willoughby - I do think he loves Marianne, or at least as far as he is able, but living well was far more important to him. The scene where Willoughby arrives to speak to Elinor is very Bronteesque in my view - and while he is hoping for forgiveness, I think he only proves his shortcomings all the more - the speech is all about HIM - but the fact that even Elinor is swayed in his favor shows just how strong his attractions are, how powerful a presence he must have been!

Jane, I have your book upon my shelf, alas! unread - was not sure I wanted to see Willoughby redeemed! - thank you for this thoughtful essay! - and Maria - thank you for hosting this fine tribute to S&S!

Kirsten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you everyone for your comments - I loved writing this book, I hope you all get a chance to read it!

Luthien84 said...

I have a little sympathy for Willoughby after hearing that he did try to explain his actions to Elinor when he found out that Marianne was seriously ill. But after Jane Odiwe made a very good argument that he puts more importance on money rather than his intentions, I believe I have less sympathy for him.

Do not enter me for this giveaway for I already own a copy of the novel.

_snitchbitch said...

I'll admit to being a fan of Willoughby. He's one of the nicer villains that seems to be complying with the expectations of society at the time. But since I then came to love Col. Brandon, I found it hard to like Willoughby as much. Still, this was a very interesting read! I'm adding this to my favourites :)

Claudia said...

I think Willoughby will always be a womanizer. In life as in fiction, I'd really like to believe there could be a chance of redemption for them but, I speak from experience, I think not ;) Anyway, Willoughby is an adorable bad guy! Thanks for the giveaway,

Judit said...

This sounds very interesting! I'd like reading this book very much! I hiope, I will... :)

Anonymous said...

The Colonel’s ward was only fifteen years old -- same age as Georgiana Darcy and Mary King when Wickhead went after them. All three girls were also orphans. So I don't believe JA was challenging the idea that the Colonel’s ward, or Georgiana or Mary King, were victims. Yes, they were willing to accept the attentions of Willoughby and Wicky, but it was because they were too young and naive to know any better, and had no mother to advise them.

Willoughby's words to Elinor... I thought he was almost psychopathic, and that his words were just lies. Nope, I have never liked him!

~ junewilliams7 at yahoo dot com

Debbie Brown said...

I love the use of these photographs in Austen related posts. We all feel like we know the characters so well and the photos give an even more familiar feel.

Would love to enter the drawing!


word search puzzles said...

wonderful article, Maria! I loved the book and i loved the movie, i think Kate Winslet was really good in it