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|Willoughby’s Silence—what’s up? (long) ;D
Written by Robbin
(9/29/2006 2:22 p.m.)
I have posted before on how Willoughby dislikes and envies Brandon and IMO gets satisfaction in disparaging him. In Chapter 13 when Brandon says he cannot go to Whitwell ruining the outing Willoughby makes a petty comment to Marianne about Brandon not being able to stand a party of pleasure but later, in the same scene, four excellent opportunities present themselves to make other snide remarks and he acts on none of them. The first is after Sir John says Brandon may not want to tell his business because it is shameful to him. I think the idea that Brandon should be ashamed of something is a perfect opportunity for Willoughby to make some comment to Marianne or Elinor to reinforce Brandon is not good enough for Marianne nor as good a man as Elinor thinks. What stops Willoughby from taking advantage?
The complaints and lamentations which politeness had hitherto restrained, now burst forth universally; and they all agreed again and again how provoking it was to be so disappointed. (Chapter 13)
Second, the above citation shows that everyone is voicing their disappointment and at this point Willoughby could also say something rude about Brandon but apparently he stays within the bounds of common provocation. The third opportunity is just after Brandon leaves Barton Park for town and Mrs. Jennings declares she knows what Brandon is about. I am a little surprised Willoughby does not make any suggestions of own on the Colonel’s business—it is another opportunity gone for easy criticism IMO. So for some unaccountable reason (to me at least) he remains silent but is he also not curious? Is Willoughby of the party that does not ask Mrs. Jennings what Brandon’s business is? Who is not part of “almost everybody?” I think it is an interesting question because JA makes a point that not all of the remaining party are curious and there must be a reason for it.
"I can guess what his business is, however," said Mrs. Jennings exultingly.
"Can you, ma'am?" said almost everybody.
The party gathered consists of Sir John and Lady Middleton, Mrs. Jennings, Brandon, two Carey sisters of Newton, the three Dashwood sisters and Willoughby. Sir John attended Brandon out of the room so they are not of the party any longer and cannot be of the silent minority. Lady Middleton IMO asked as she would be exhibiting wonder at what could make Brandon leave her breakfast-table so suddenly. I think the undistinguished Miss Careys are part of the questioning majority because as far as I can tell it is their only purpose besides “extras” as part of the background of the party of pleasure that never happens. Margaret, as proven by the Mr. F incident, cannot resist Mrs. Jennings authority so I feel she would be of the majority. Elinor I do not think would normally encourage Mrs. Jennings in speculation of any kind but as she is sitting right next to her I feel she would have felt obligated to ask her. Marianne is obviously part of the majority because she asks the follow-up question of “And who is Miss Williams?” which IMO is a significant clue to which group Willoughby belongs.
"Yes; it is about Miss Williams, I am sure."
"And who is Miss Williams?" asked Marianne.
"What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must have heard of her before. She is a relation of the Colonel's, my dear -- a very near relation. We will not say how near, for fear of shocking the young ladies." Then lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor, "She is his natural daughter."
I think Willoughby is the silent minority. IMO he would not be curious because he has probably heard the rumor of Brandon’s shameful something to which Sir John referred; IMO the shameful something could only be Eliza as Sir John believes along with Mrs. Jennings that she is Brandon’s natural daughter. I have to assume that Willoughby is aware of this rumor; I do not know how Willoughby could visit the Park for years and have not heard it numerous times from Mrs. Jennings—by Chapter 11 Elinor has already been subjected to the story of Mr. Jennings last illness and even his last words to his wife four times. Another clue that Willoughby knows about Brandon’s natural daughter is that Mrs. Jennings, who is the most likely person to have told him, is surprised Marianne does not know it too. Mrs. Jennings comment above makes me believe she thought Marianne’s fiancée would have informed her of such delicious neighborhood gossip as a natural daughter.
However, Mrs. Jennings is not surprised Elinor does not know and because she must inform her, indelicate though the subject be, she gives Willoughby a forth opportunity to say something uncomplimentary about Brandon without having to initiate the subject himself. Mrs. Jennings tells Elinor who is still sitting next to her and despite the surprising delicacy of lowering her voice a little, Willoughby who is still at Elinor’s other side could not but hear also with his extremely manly ears. Again however, Willoughby does not take the opportunity to appear better than his rival to Elinor, who was after all his defender in Chapter 10.
I think an oddity of the latter part of breakfast scene, after Brandon’s departure till they leave in the carriages, is that we do not see Willoughby attending to Marianne in any way after the “party of pleasure” remark. In other chapters with Willoughby we see his enthusiastic attention to Marianne either though the narrator’s point of view or in conservation; we are not even told they are absorbed in each other to the exclusion of others and except for his adding his voice to the chorus of universal disappointed provocation he is not only silent but he seems to be doing nothing.
It is true, I admit am prejudiced; I do not like Willoughby for his pointed dislike of the dear Colonel so I must wonder at Willoughby’s reticence in disparaging him throughout the latter part of breakfast when opportunities abound and for his uncharacteristic lack of attention to Marianne. It is hard for me to think Willoughby would be to embarrassed to make a comment because of the subject matter but I guess that is an option. I also find it hard to think Willoughby would refrain from saying something uncomplimentary about Brandon in front of the Park residents because he did so already with the “party of pleasure” remark. IMO the reason JA makes a point that not everyone is curious about Mrs. Jennings knowledge of Brandon’s business is too show Willoughby’s odd behavior. What does Willoughby’s odd behavior signify?
One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon had left the country, his heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood's happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect with him. (Chapter 14)
It is interesting that after a week of listening to Mrs. Jennings wonder about Brandon’s business in town Willoughby becomes more than usually open with his feelings of attachment to the objects around him at Barton Cottage, begging Mrs. Dashwood not to change it and even soliciting a promise from her not only to leave the cottage as is but for “you and yours” to remain “as unchanged as your dwelling” and “always consider me with the kindness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me.” Willoughby’s need for reassurance makes it seem to me that he is afraid something might happen to change their opinions of him.
I find these last few chapters ripe with clues to the mysterious departures of Brandon and Willoughby! Mrs. Jennings is not the only person who can be curious! ;D
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