Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reader Question #2: Willoughby - Sympathetic or Scoundrel?

Question #2 comes from Miss Dashwood from Yet Another Period Drama Blog. Miss Dashwood asked:

Do you believe Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility is a sympathetic character or an out-and-out scoundrel?

Like Miss Dashwood said in her original comment, I have seen there are two sides to the argument. On the one hand, some people say that Willoughby is sympathetic since because of his abandonment of Eliza Williams and the fact that he was subsequently disinherited, he is now married to a woman he does not love, is away from the woman he loves, and finds out that he could have been married to the woman he loves and get his inheritance back. On the other, some say that his actions were so awful that he is a scoundrel, period.

So, for my opinion now. I believe that Willoughby is a out-and-out scoundrel and the author of his misery. I do not have any sympathy for him at all. Why? Well, besides the fact that his actions were awful: 

1. He made some very bad decisions and kept making them.
It seems to me that if Willoughby did not make his first initial mistakes, he would not have caused as much pain as he did (to himself and others) and wouldn't have been the scoundrel that he became. As we read/watch Sense and Sensibility, we find out eventually that Willoughby abandoned Eliza Williams (Colonel Brandon's ward) and left her to care for her child alone. After he made those mistakes, he continually kept making more and more bad decisions.  It became a very slippery slope for him. Let's look at the bad decisions and results after the initial bad decisions and how they lead into each other:
  • Bad Decision: After leaving Eliza, Willoughby meets Marianne Dashwood and encouraged her to love him without any intention of returning her feelings. Result: Willoughby ends up falling in love with Marianne anyways.
  • Bad Decision: When Mrs. Smith finds out about Willoughby's initial bad decisions, she tells Willoughby to do the honorable thing and marry Eliza Williams. Willoughby does not: he doesn't love Eliza and loves Marianne. Result: Willoughby is disinherited and has no way to pay of the debts he has.
  • Bad Decision: Willoughby now has two choices: watch the money he currently has, economize, and marry Marianne or find a rich woman to marry and abandon Marianne completely. Guess which one he picks. (It's the latter for those who don't know). Result: Marianne is heart broken and Willoughby marries Miss Grey with fifty-thousand pounds a year and is in an unhappy marriage.
  • Overall Effect: Because of the initial bad decision, he is now married to a woman that he does not love and is separated forever by the woman he loves.
What would have happened if Willoughby had done the right thing in the first place and not have done the harm he did to Eliza? Eliza wouldn't be disgraced and could find a respectable husband. Willoughby would be free to marry the woman he loved. None of the pain that he caused would have been inflicted in the first place.

Okay, so I suppose you can say, "Well, it's all nice and well to say that he shouldn't have done something. But it still happened and what was he to do?" Yes, it did happen, but he could have put a stop to all the pain by stopping himself from continuing to make all the bad decisions that he made. One bad decision lead to another when he could have stopped making bad/wrong decisions and ended the train of bad decisions. Similarly to how if someone lies and then they have to come up with more lies to cover up the first lie, and lies to cover up those lies... I could go on with that analogy, but it would take too long and we'd never see the end of it.

2. He shirks his responsibilities.
This kind of coincides with #1, but it's also on its own too. Willoughby doesn't take responsibilities for his bad decisions, which leads to even more bad decisions. He shirks his responsibilities when he abandoned Eliza Williams. He abandons Marianne very suddenly and doesn't make up for it. The way he shirks his responsibilities is not something a gentleman would do. Since he shirks his responsibilities, he winds up paying for it in the end by marrying Miss Grey and being in an unhappy marriage.

3. He's just an overall jerk!
Even ignoring how he continually makes bad decisions and shirks his responsibilities, Willoughby is simply a jerk and a bad influence on Marianne. If he doesn't particularly care for Colonel Brandon, fine, but don't talk about him behind his back and encourage the woman that Colonel Brandon loves to also talk behind his back too! He also encouraged Marianne to do things that would give the impression to everyone that they were engaged when he had no intention of marrying her at the time (remember the horse he tried to give her?).

So, that is my opinion on Willoughby: in short, I believe he is a scoundrel. What do you think? Is Willoughby sympathetic or is he a scoundrel? Leave a comment!

Thank you, Miss Dashwood, for sending in your question! If you have a question you would like to submit for me to do a post on, leave a comment. Just follow these guidelines. It can be about anything related to this blog: period dramas, blogging, reviews, etc.

 God Bless,
God Bless, Miss Elizabeth Bennet


  1. I entirely agree! I'm glad you're one of the Willoughby-Is-Too-a-Scoundrel people. ;)

  2. Yay! This was exactly the answer I was hoping you'd give. Bravo, bravo-- you stated exactly what I was thinking in the best possible way. :D Thanks for answering my question!

    1. You're very welcome! I had fun answering it!

  3. Totally agree. Willoughby is a scoundrel!

    Okay, I have a question for you. =) In Little Dorrit, Amy receives a proposal from a wonderful guy, John Chivery, but she rejects him and ends up marrying Arthur Clennam. Likewise, in Bleak House, Esther initially accepts Mr. Jarndyce's proposal, but ends up marrying Alan Woodcourt. Both Mr. Jarndyce and John Chivery are amazing guys and true gentlemen, and it's hard to watch them get rejected. So should Amy have married John? Should Esther have married Mr. Jarndyce? Whose team are you on? =)

    1. Great Question! And I watched Bleak House recently, so I'll be able to answer both parts of the question. I'll get to work on it!

  4. BTW, I noticed in the "Links" on your sidebar, the link to my blog is wrong. :P It goes to my old blogger blog and not my new wordpress one. Just thought I'd let you know! =)

    1. Ah! I hadn't realized that I didn't change your blog's address. I'll take care of that right now!

  5. I have to admit, I find him a sympathetic scoundrel. Definitely still has bad points, but I always find anyone who regrets their actions sweet in a way, it's like a reflex.

  6. Scoundrel all the way!!! Completely, totally and utterly.

  7. ["What would have happened if Willoughby had done the right thing in the first place and not have done the harm he did to Eliza? Eliza wouldn't be disgraced and could find a respectable husband. Willoughby would be free to marry the woman he loved. None of the pain that he caused would have been inflicted in the first place."]

    What if, despite doing the right thing, Willoughby ended up marrying Marianne? How long do you think their "happiness" would have lasted? Personally, I don't know. But considering Willoughby's personality, I have my doubts.


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