Love and romance are central issues which the characters struggle with in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The novel focuses on the journey of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, to find their future husbands and how they deal with the excitements and disappointments in their relationships. Colonel Brandon is the Dashwoods’ neighbor who falls for Marianne. Many characters, including Marianne, describe Brandon as “silent,” “grave,” “old,” and unfit to be a lover. These observations portray him as a good, but passive man who does not capture the attention of many people.
Alternatively, his actions indicate that he is actually a daring eloper and ideal lover. Jane Austen develops Colonel Brandon in this light as a commentary on ideal love. Colonel Brandon’s past love life reveals that he was once a daring eloper. He fell passionately in love with his playfellow and friend Eliza, but was prevented from marrying her. Brandon’s father disapproved and forced Eliza to marry Colonel Brandon’s older brother so he would inherit the estate. The colonel would have been able to handle this blow had Eliza’s marriage been happy, but his brother “had no regard for her” (Austen 159).
The word “regard” is complex because it has many meanings that reflect their miserable marriage and how Colonel Brandon would have treated Eliza, had they been married. On the surface, it can refer to merely having respect for another as a human being. On a deeper level, it implies having an affection, kindly feeling, protective duty, and interest in caring for Eliza (Oxford English Dictionary). Brandon’s love for Eliza was genuine; however, due to the politics involved in marriage it still might not have worked had they eloped.
As the saying goes, “when you marry someone you marry the family members too. ” It is unclear whether their relationship would have sustained the stresses of eloping. On the other hand, this experience could have been designed to teach him a lesson in love. Austen contrasts two daring elopers in Sense and Sensibility: John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. One might question whether being a daring eloper is really an admirable quality. Both Willoughby and Brandon are guided by their hearts when they pursue Marianne and Eliza respectively.
They both fail to settle down with these two women, but for different reasons. The narrator describes Willoughby as a “young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open affection [… ] exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart” (Austen 57). He is a charming young many who attracts, seduces, and leaves the ladies. Willoughby’s motivations for pursing relationships are superficial, physical, and short-lived. He is never satisfied with love or money leaving him with regrets at the end of the novel. Alternatively, Colonel Brandon is forced to leave Eliza.
When he comes back to Eliza on her deathbed, Brandon states that he “could not believe the melancholy and sickly figure before [him], to be the remains of the lovely, blooming, healthful girl, on whom [he] had once doated” (160). The word “doated” is interesting because it can mean to be utterly in love or to act foolishly. This suggests the Brandon understands that love was not enough to sustain a marriage in his younger years. Unlike Willoughby, he still loves Eliza enough to care for her on her deathbed and promises to look after her daughter Eliza II.
This could be due to the fact that he feels guilty for Eliza’s misfortunes or because he still loves her, but either way, he is still true to his word. Brandon’s desires to elope ultimately got him in a lot of trouble, yet he learned a valuable lesson from his experience. His tale serves as a warning of the dangers of elopement to Marianne. Brandon is a dynamic character whose life experiences redefine the way he pursues love, making his journey toward ideal love admirable. The experience Brandon had with Eliza transforms him into the character that Marianne describes.
It is important to look at who is making judgments on Brandon’s character. Many people in the novel evaluate Brandon’s personality and their opinions provide insight into their respective worldviews. Through free indirect discourse, Marianne criticizes Brandon as a “silent,” “grave,” “old bachelor” who has “outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment” (Austen 48). The words “silent,” “grave,” and “old” can all be connected to death and infirmity claiming that Brandon does not have enough spirit to persevere or fall in love again.
Marianne is a very free-spirited young woman who lets her emotions guide her actions. This suggests that her view of Brandon might be an overstatement. Her mother even laughingly says, “at this rate you must be in continual terror of my decay; and it must seem to you a miracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty” (50). Although her description might be slightly flawed, it does provide insight into Brandon’s new style of love.
The term “silent” denotes one who is quiet or cautious in conversations. This is not always a horrible trait because it allows him to think rationally and avoid making rash decisions. Another noteworthy meaning for “silent” is a man who conceals and controls his emotions (OED). Colonel Brandon quietly and patiently expresses his love in a nontraditional sense compared to Willoughby’s forward flirtations. Willoughby, like Marianne, views Colonel Brandon with a strong prejudice because he is neither spirited nor youthful.
Willoughby expresses his opinion of Colonel Brandon when he says that he is a man “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to” (Austen 58). This phrase is written in parallel structure showing the dichotomy between the general population (“every body” and “all”) and their view of Brandon and Willoughby’s personal estimation. Willoughby is the “nobody” who does not care about Colonel Brandon and who does not make an effort to talk to him.
The selfish and petty always hate the nice, resenting their presence as an affront. Perhaps Willoughby does not talk to Brandon because he is prejudiced and unwilling to learn from another man with more life experience. There are many people who do talk to Colonel Brandon including Elinor, Eliza II, Mrs. Jennings, Sir John Middleton, and many others. This evil remark might also foreshadow his envy for Brandon at the end of the novel because Brandon marries Marianne. Although Brandon does not particularly like Willoughby, he at least gives him a chance if it will make Marianne happy.
When he finds out that Willoughby is Eliza’s seducer, he has a valid reason for detesting him. Willoughby hurt his first love’s child, whom Brandon is now obligated to care for and protect. No doubt Colonel Brandon is not perfect because he is human after all. Brandon’s briefly mentioned duel with Willoughby could be considered revenge. Alternatively he is seeking justice in order to protect Eliza II and follow through with his promise to his first love, even after her death. After the protagonists hear of Willoughby’s marriage, the colonel goes to comfort Marianne but she does not want to see him.
Instead he tells Elinor of Willoughby’s true character. This revelation could be deemed as gossip because it is not Elinor’s business, but by revealing this truth to Miss Dashwood he is actually teaching Marianne. Elinor will eventually tell Marianne about Willoughby’s charming deceit. Colonel Brandon even prefaces his story by stating, “My object-my wish-my sole wish in desiring it-I hope, I believe it is-is to be a means of giving comfort; no, I must not say comfort-not present comfort-but conviction, lasting conviction to your sister’s mind” (158).
The dashes suggest that the colonel has something pressing to say, yet he is anxious and unsure of how to begin. Colonel Brandon’s actions could be deemed as revenge and gossip; however, I argue that he is really seeking justice and truth which are both necessary qualities in a romantic lover. Ultimately, Brandon is happily married to Marianne due to his patient and persistent love for Marianne. Brandon enjoys receiving his “chief reward for the painful exertion of disclosing past sorrows and present humiliations, given in the pitying eye with which Marianne sometimes observe[s] him” (166).
He uses his past hurts to gain compassion from Marianne, which eventually becomes whole hearted love in marriage. He shows strong devotion when he brings Mrs. Dashwood to Marianne when she is sick. In the carriage ride back to the Palmers’ estate, the colonel reveals his love for Marianne and opens “his whole heart” (246). Even though Mrs. Dashwood only recognizes his one good deed of fetching her, Elinor knows that this is not a spur of the moment confession because the colonel has fancied Marianne for some time.
Through his marriage to Marianne, Colonel Brandon is “happy,[… ] consoled for every past affliction; [Marianne’s] regard and society restored [Brandon’s] mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfulness” (274). Brandon’s recovers from his past afflictions, is happy, and regains his spirit when Marianne returns his love. He finds true love through patience and perseverance rather than spontaneous emotion. Colonel Brandon is an ideal lover not because he is perfect, but because he loves in a nontraditional sense and is willing to change his approach.
He learned from his past emotionally charged relationship with Eliza that love is not the only thing necessary to sustain a marriage. Willoughby and Marianne symbolize the superficial, spirited, youthful, energetic, and quick to judge mindset leading them to fall in and quickly out of love. When his daring elopement fails, Brandon is willing to try another approach leading him to embody several qualities of ideal love. He exhibits courage, patience, kindness, truthfulness, and protection to the ones he loves in Sense and Sensibility. Despite his gravity and reserve, his quiet and patient love for Marianne is rewarded.