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Written by BarbaraB
(10/8/2009 5:17 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Predators, penned by Bridget D
First of all I see the issue of right and wrong as being assigned to two areas which have to some extent been discussed: civil and moral. Man, because we recognize our own imperfections, feel there is more justice to look at crimes as bad, worse, and worst, if you will. There is first, second and third degree murder, for instance, though I wager the victim might argue the point. Morally, right and wrong, from my humble observations, are generally grounded in religion and there are no degrees: a wrong is a wrong is a wrong/a sin is a sin is a sin. Elinor tells white lies, for example. As humans we forgive this because it avoids giving harm instead of causing it. We’ve probably all done it to avoid hurt feelings. Morally though, a lie is a lie is a lie.
I have to admit when this topic of whether Willoughby is predatory came up, I wasn’t completely sure where I stood. But I have read all the posts and taken the time to collect my thoughts. The word predatory and how one interprets it depends a great deal on how he/she filters the definition through their own perceptions it seems. I personally think a person can be both predatory and an opportunist practicing ‘either/or’ or doing it simultaneously. He can both always be on the look-out for those who are weak to take down as suits his needs as well as take advantage of not looking a gift horse in the mouth if it presents itself unexpectedly. I was just out hunting and a girl just tumbles down the hill in front of me. (I wonder if the fact that he was out ‘hunting’ has any significance. Hmmmm.)
In one post you say that Eliza is willing to be seduced. I feel it is the other way around, that a seduction takes place to make a person willing. A seduction, as I see it does not even have to be for a sexual conquest. Georgiana is such a person. Wickham seduces her into believing that he loves her and to elope with him. This is a sweet, well brought-up and respectable young lady who has been persuaded to go against the rules of society and a brother she loves. Elopements were always risky because, as we saw with Lydia, you could never be sure you would actually end up married. In Georgina’s case, Wickham would have gone through with it to get his hands on her money, but she was unaware of that when she agreed to go off with him. Once Wickham married her, he could have thrown her out with the trash if he wanted.
As for Willoughby, if we’re looking at it from a civil/human understanding, then perhaps incrementally he can be placed slightly above a Henry Crawford on a scale of who’s the most villainous. Morally they would be judged equally wrong. With Willoughby we see a system of “practice and pattern” as with some of the other JA villains. Maybe Willoughby did start out as this cavalier young man who just seduced girls as the opportunity came but the fact that he does it over and over knowingly leaving destruction and mayhem as he goes without a care in the world for his victims and their families (who are often innocent and must also partake of any scandal) means he has taken on a predatory nature in my opinion. Morally his intent and influence would be considered evil, particularly when it is planned and the resulting effect is evil and he is aware that it will be so. This is nothing like the goals which people set for themselves if they are in fact honorable. If your goals will knowingly affect others adversely, then even they can be said to be wicked.
The likes of Willoughby and some of his villain-cohorts are the reason laws were put on the books to begin with---to protect young girls. I think it eventually became clear that just because a young girl might think herself physically ready to consent to a relationship with a man, she may not be emotionally and mentally ready which made her vulnerable to be taken advantage of by unsavory men.
As to blame, society put all of it on the woman which is why Eliza is living somewhere in a remote location while Willoughby gets to continue to live “The Life of Riley” and there was no legal recourse. Now on a human level, people deemed men such as Willoughby and Wickham scoundrels and honor was redeemed by duels, so loss of life or quality of life in the event of a wound was possible. Willoughby, apparently calculated his risk small because he chose women without men to challenge him. This is why I feel he did not know that Colonel Brandon was her guardian.
Even as we speak, the news is full of the case of the thirteen year old who slept with an older man and it was consensual. I think, this is the crux of the issue, the age factor. If, say, it came out that she had slept with a fourteen year old would their be such outrage? Throw the bum in jail! I don’t think so. We look at girls like Eliza and Marianne and we know that young girls such as this often fill their heads with notions of romance and fairy tales and are in love with the idea of ‘being in love’ and loved back. She is generally not aware of how quickly things can get out of hand, how her body can suddenly react betraying all thought processes if she is not prepared for it. But a much older, practiced and skilled man does know this about her and uses that against her. If you take the same fourteen year old boy above and make the girl eight, then something changes. The outrage would be there because of the age factor. Willoughby is about ten years older than Eliza and as far as experience with life and men goes, the young women he seduces are just out of nappies. I’m not saying that Eliza wasn’t taught the rules of courtship and as such she should have adhered to them, but she was ill-prepared for making good judgements about who might be an okay acquaintance and who might not. It is something we see Catherine Moreland struggle with, making her way through a minefield of people trying to determine how to make judgements about where to step and where not to step. She was fortunate to be getting good guidance from several people of good character as she went about it, something Eliza lacked.
Most girls of the Regency did not get to experience life as we do as they were growing up. They generally did not ‘go to school’ and everywhere they went someone was chaperoning and taking care and I doubt they were getting the ‘men and all that entailed talk’ because the system was so structured with all the courtship rules and designed to send them straight from their parents’ home to their husband’s with little room for much in between. If any loopholes appeared, not taking care or chaperoning, women were at the mercy of whatever came their way without benefit of life experiences and a real understanding of how things could go with men.
I don’t know how right or wrong I might be in anything I’ve said or how much I will be agreed or disagreed with but I do know one thing for sure: if I were the regency parent of a sixteen year-old girl who disappeared and whom I was trying to track down for months only to have her show up pregnant and abandoned, I wouldn’t feel any better that it was done by a Willoughby who was a tic better than a Henry Crawford on the Richter Scale.
Just wanted to say that I do admire your ability and consistency to stick with your point of view in the face of a great deal of disagreement. Your posts have been interesting reading along with all the others and I've had much to consider from all the different thoughts on this issue. To everyone who made it to this word, :) thanks for hanging in there with me.
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