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Written by Barbara
(10/7/2009 1:02 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, ranging over town, penned by Bridget D
While it is probably true that Eliza and her friend were out and about in Bath, looking for whatever type of amusement they could find, the fact that she was 16 (she's 17 by the time Brandon tells the story) and Willoughby was 25 at the time this happened, makes him virtually 100% to blame in my opinion. He knew better. She didn't.
Yes, she may have been told to guard her virtue, etc. but we must also assume, considering that Eliza still loves him nearly a year later and doesn't want to confess his name to Colonel Brandon, that he convinced her that he felt a great deal more for her than he evidently did.
To her, he was a gorgeous, charming man saying all the right things, probably flattering her and being his uncommonly attractive self--in exactly the way that he did with Marianne and Miss Grey and who knows who else. For her to still be in love with him after all that time and all that happened, who knows what he might have said to her and seemed to have promised her? I can't imagine Eliza had ever even met anyone who treated her that way, spoke to her that way or made her feel that way before (just like Marianne). How was she to know that it was an amusement to him, that he didn't really mean it, that what he seemed to promise would never have happened?
Back in Ch. 13, there was this exchange between Marianne and Elinor following the ill-judged visit to Allenham:
"I am afraid," replied Elinor, "that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety."
"On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong."
But Marianne, as it turns out, didn't know that what she was doing was imprudent and wrong. In S&S 3, this scene showed Willoughby kissing Marianne while they were alone there, and possibly contemplating more. I think that might very well have been like what could have happened. Why should Eliza have known any better?
But Willoughby did know--he's older and he's experienced in these matters. Willoughby puts on a great act. He totally convinced Marianne and her mother, and nearly convinced Elinor of his feelings for Marianne. He's very, very, much more blameable.
I can't say he's 100% to blame, because Eliza did give in to whatever persuasion he used on her, and I'm not convinced Marianne would have before they were married. But again, how much can a 16 year old girl know what she's actually consenting to until it's too late?
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