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|Willoughby as Villain
Written by Bridget D
(10/16/2009 4:33 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, I'm not sure where the onus of proof is, but..., penned by Tom P2
I am always finding myself defending W, and am surprised by your post.
I think that Austen’s attitude to him was that he was a young man with intelligence and potential, but that he was weak and selfish and allowed himself to become worse and worse, to the point where he did serious harm to people and clearly only had relatively slight pangs of conscience about it… such as Eliza. I think that as with Henry Crawford, she saw it as a shame that with his potential, he was so self indulgent that he became a really bad and harmful person, though I have always found Henry more calculating and sadistic than W or Wickham and hence much more dislikable.
I think when compared to Wickham, he is more attractive, but OTOH, there Is less excuse for him being calculating and marrying for money, since unlike Wickham he HAS got an estate and a small fortune…
However I also think that Austen might have been surprised to see so much discussion of Willoughby as a person, since for her the story was about the 2 sisters and their philosophies of life, rather than the actions and motivations of the villain… I think she might have felt “yes, of course he does harm, he is the villain, but Marianne would not have been so much harmed by him had she not given way to her own self indulgent emotions and had she exercised her own common sense…” There are always going to be flirts and selfish men out there, but I think that for Austen a woman with common sense and a strong character would be able to protect herself against them….
"He stopped just short of saying anything to Marianne that might make him legally liable for breach of promise." This one's a good catch, but the problem is that it's often followed by the claim that it's a cold and calculating and deliberate strategy on his part.
With regard to this point, I think I would agree with you. I’m not absolutely sure that Will might have felt it was wisest to avoid doing anything that might render him liable for breach of promise, but I’m not entirely convinced. I just don’t see Willoughby as quite that calculating… I think that he had intended a flirtation with Marianne, because she was pretty and interesting to talk to, and because she was so obviously attracted to him, but he found himself becoming more deeply involved. However I don’t see flirtation as such a bad thing as some may do.
I think that he didn’t write back to Marianne because when he went to London , he was aware that he had to, for financial reasons, reel in Miss Grey and he could not afford to pursue Marianne… so he dropped her…I don’t think that he thought, “if I write back, I’ll be getting into actionable waters”, I think he just thought “I’d better drop her, since she’s no good to me when I have all these debts….and the best thing to do is just ignore her letters and hope she doesn’t think of coming to London. No well that is unlikely as the Dashwoods are too poor to do the Season…”
But then again, M was in the wrong in writing so frequently to a man to whom she wasn’t formally engaged….
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