Sense and Sensibility

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John Willoughby Character Analysis

Willoughby is a charming gentleman who literally sweeps Marianne off her feet when he picks her up after she has fallen in a rainstorm. He shares Marianne’s sensibility and artistic tastes, and the two quickly become very close. They appear to be falling in love together, but he suddenly abandons her and goes to London. When Marianne sees him there, he ignores her and claims that he was never romantically attached to her. As Elinor learns from Colonel Brandon, Willoughby has a history of seducing and abandoning women. Marianne is thus forced to reevaluate the character of the man she thought she knew and loved. When his aunt Mrs. Smith disinherits him, he is desperate for wealth so he marries Miss Grey for her money. Late in the novel, he finally offers Elinor an explanation of his behavior, saying that he hurt Marianne unintentionally, regrets his foolish behavior, and really does love Marianne. Marianne and Elinor (and the reader) must then reevaluate Willoughby yet again, and his ultimate character is still somewhat ambiguous at the end of the novel.

John Willoughby Quotes in Sense and Sensibility

The Sense and Sensibility quotes below are all either spoken by John Willoughby or refer to John Willoughby. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Sense and Sensibility published in 2003.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each—or if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm; and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

Related Characters: Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne has been shown to be dissatisfied and impatient with the way Elinor has acted regarding Edward Ferrars, and with the sensible judgments on their compatibility or lack thereof that define how Elinor understands her relationships. Marianne's interactions with Willoughby could not be more different. Here, finally, she has the chance to measure what "taste" might mean in another; it turns out that sharing the same taste - books and passages "idolized," for instance - is, for Marianne, a sign of shared sensibility and thus of complete compatibility. She takes the fact that they feel the same way about such things to be indicative of strength of character, not simply of shared interests. Marianne holds the deeply romantic view of shared souls, believing in signs that two people can be meant for each other if they share certain feelings. She is so strident in this belief that she breaks with social custom in getting to know Willoughby much more quickly than is usually the case.

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Chapter 11 Quotes

Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at all times, was an illustration of their opinions.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Elinor might prefer for Marianne to be in love with Colonel Brandon, who adores her and for whom Elinor feels great compassion, since he has loved and lost before. Still, she is not one to judge Marianne's choice of suitor - she disapproves only of the way in which Marianne chooses to carry out this courtship. Here, the narrator makes another distinction between the characters of Marianne and Elinor, one that can be mapped onto the difference between sense and sensibility. For Marianne, attempting to conceal one's feelings for another person, or even one's beliefs in general, is dishonest and disingenuous. If there is nothing wrong with how she feels about Willoughby, as she believes (and he does he as well), then there is no reason for her to hide how she feels about him.

Elinor, however, believes that such openness is not a positive trait in any circumstances, even if the reasons are justifiable. Since she can never know what might happen next or where things may go wrong, it is better, she finds, not to share everything with the world. Marriage, in particular, is such a bedrock of society and such an important means of stability for women that she considers it better to be prudent rather than to expose one's feelings immediately.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Willoughby. She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left her in no danger of incurring it. She was awake the whole night, and she wept the greatest part of it. She got up with a headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. Her sensibility was potent enough!

Related Characters: Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

The rest of the family is still not sure exactly what happened between Marianne and Willoughby, but it is certain that Marianne is desperately unhappy. We have already seen how important Marianne has felt it to be not to hide any of her true feelings - how she has considered this unpleasantly dishonest. At the very least, Marianne is consistent in her beliefs about character: now that her true feelings are no longer joy but despair, she similarly cannot imagine failing to reveal these sentiments around others. It is not just that Marianne is really physically suffering from her emotional unhappiness: as it seeps into every part of her daily life, she finds it necessary to ensure that her family recognizes how she is feeling.

The narrator does not parody or caricature Marianne's feelings or the way she shows them, but we are meant to look skeptically on her obvious displays of despair. Rather than critiquing sensibility entirely, this passage suggests that it is the exaggerated exhibition of sensibility that is to be smiled at, if not totally dismissed.

Chapter 20 Quotes

Elinor was again obliged to decline her invitation; and by changing the subject, put a stop to her entreaties. She thought it probable that as they lived in the same county, Mrs. Palmer might be able to give some more particular account of Willoughby's general character, than could be gathered from the Middletons' partial acquaintance with him; and she was eager to gain from any one, such a confirmation of his merits as might remove the possibility of fear from Marianne.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby, Charlotte Palmer
Page Number: 110-111
Explanation and Analysis:

Elinor has taken it upon herself to arrange her and her sisters' social affairs and invitations, since Marianne is too distraught over Willoughby and their mother is too flighty to be of much help. Here, she thinks strategically about which invitations to accept and which to avoid, as well as whom she might be in touch with in order to gain greater knowledge about Willoughby for Marianne's sake. In a society where friends might not see each other for weeks or months, and news traveled more slowly than it does today, people - especially women, who were less free to travel around alone - had to plan at greater length how to find out what they wished to know about people's characters and past lives.

Indeed, Elinor, while troubled by Marianne's feelings, takes the more pragmatic approach of attempting to figure out exactly what kind of a man Willoughby is, rather than of simply waiting for him as Marianne seems to be doing. Although Marianne might scorn Elinor's attitude towards romantic relationships, she remains unaware that her sister's practical, sensible mindset may well work in her favor.

Chapter 28 Quotes

At that moment she first perceived him, and her whole countenance glowing with sudden delight, she would have moved towards him instantly, had not her sister caught hold of her.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "he is there—he is there—Oh! why does he not look at me? why cannot I speak to him?"
"Pray, pray be composed," cried Elinor, "and do not betray what you feel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet."
This however was more than she could believe herself; and to be composed at
such a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne, it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience which affected every feature.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood (speaker), Marianne Dashwood (speaker), John Willoughby
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne and Elinor have arrived at Lady Middleton's party, and Marianne has caught a glimpse of Willoughby from the other side of the room. Even though Willoughby has failed to return Marianne's messages and to get in touch with her while the sisters are in London, Marianne doesn't think anything might be amiss, and is absolutely delighted to see him. Elinor, on the other hand, is more skeptical. Even if she believed that everything was ideal between Marianne and Willoughby, she would still believe it better for Marianne to reign in her emotions and to "keep composed," as she says, if only so as not to share everything she feels with everyone in the room.

It is even more important, in Elinor's eyes, that Marianne act with greater reserve, since Elinor is thinking more rationally regarding the couple's relationship, and is wary of what Willoughby's present situation might actually be. Once again, the book emphasizes that Marianne's embrace of sensibility is not simply because she has no ability to restrain herself, but because she believes earnestness or openness to be a positive good, such that she sees no reason to change her actions.

Chapter 45 Quotes

Willoughby, he, whom only half an hour ago she had abhorred as the most worthless of men, Willoughby, in spite of all his faults, excited a degree of commiseration for the sufferings produced by them, which made her think of him as now separated for ever from her family, with a tenderness, a regret, rather in proportion, as she soon acknowledged within herself—to his wishes than to his merits. She felt that his influence over her mind was heightened by circumstances which ought not in reason to have weight; by that person of uncommon attraction, that open, affectionate, and lively manner which it was no merit to possess; and by that still ardent love for Marianne, which it was not even innocent to indulge.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

After Willoughby has shared his long story with Elinor, she finds herself once again having to reevaluate his character, having to reevaluate the significance of his prior actions - and, in particular, the relationship between his behavior and his true feelings for Marianne. She is initially wary of feeling any pity for a man who caused her sister such pain, and whom she knows to have made a great deal of mistakes in his life. However, she is now confident that Willoughby can never be with Marianne: he is "separated for ever from her family."

Elinor regretfully admits to herself that she is allowing her own sensibility to win out to a certain extent over her sense: her judgment of Willoughby is softened by her knowledge that he still deeply loves Marianne. Still, she has come to recognize that she finally understands his character better than she ever has. She and Marianne were privy only to an aspect of it while he and Marianne were courting, and Colonel Brandon exposed a greater, though incomplete, part of it: now his character lies open to be judged and understood as well-intentioned and fundamentally good but also deeply weak.

Chapter 46 Quotes

As they approached Barton, indeed, and entered on scenes of which every field and every tree brought some peculiar, some painful recollection, she grew silent and thoughtful, and turning away her face from their notice, sat earnestly gazing through the window. But here, Elinor could neither wonder nor blame; and when she saw, as she assisted Marianne from the carriage, that she had been crying, she saw only an emotion too natural in itself to raise any thing less tender than pity, and in its unobtrusiveness entitled to praise. In the whole of her subsequent manner, she traced the direction of a mind awakened to reasonable exertion; for no sooner had they entered their common sitting-room, than Marianne turned her eyes around it with a look of resolute firmness, as if determined at once to accustom herself to the sight of every object with which the remembrance of Willoughby could be connected.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne has finally recovered enough from her illness to travel with Elinor and their mother back home to Barton. Marianne hasn't been here since she and Willoughby were in the midst of a happy courtship, and now everything she sees reminds her of Willoughby. Still, it is obvious that Marianne has grown up a great deal in the time since she left. Her "resolute firmness" is certainly something new, as she comes to terms with the fact that she will have to suffer the recollection of Willoughby for some time yet.

The novel is clear in pointing out that Marianne's character does not undergo a complete revolution. She is still quite susceptible to emotional exaggeration, and she cannot entirely reign in her emotions: she cries much of the way home, for instance. But we are meant to see that significant life experiences can work some changes on people, so that within the character traits that define them a certain measure of development is actually possible.

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John Willoughby Character Timeline in Sense and Sensibility

The timeline below shows where the character John Willoughby appears in Sense and Sensibility. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
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The gentleman introduced himself as Willoughby, and offered to visit the cottage the next day, then left. All the Dashwoods admired... (full context)
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Sir John said that Willoughby was staying nearby with a relative and told Marianne that he was “very well worth... (full context)
Chapter 10
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When Willoughby paid his visit to the cottage, Marianne learned that he was fond of music and... (full context)
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Willoughby seemed to be as fond of Marianne as she was of him, and he continued... (full context)
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Elinor gradually now realized that Colonel Brandon also liked Marianne, and, as Marianne and Willoughby grew closer, she felt bad for him, since she admired his serious, but mild manners... (full context)
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One day, Willoughby and Marianne were discussing Colonel Brandon and Elinor defended him. Marianne teased Elinor at how... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...her daughters soon found themselves busy with many social engagements at Barton Park. Marianne and Willoughby became closer and closer, and Elinor had to advise Marianne to restrain herself and not... (full context)
Chapter 12
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As Marianne was walking one morning with Elinor, she told her sister that Willoughby had given her a horse. Marianne was very excited about the gift, but Elinor was... (full context)
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...to their mother, so Marianne agreed to decline the gift the next time she saw Willoughby. She kept her promise, but Willoughby insisted that the horse was still hers and promised... (full context)
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Margaret overheard this conversation between Willoughby and Marianne and guessed that they were engaged. She told this to Elinor, but Elinor... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...happened, but Colonel Brandon would give no details and insisted on leaving immediately. Marianne and Willoughby agreed to each other that Brandon was someone unable to “bear a party of pleasure.” (full context)
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...planned trip, Sir John suggested that everyone go driving around in the country. Marianne and Willoughby happily got into a carriage by themselves and went to his nearby home at Allenham,... (full context)
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...hosted a dance at Barton Park. Mrs. Jennings told Marianne she knew where she and Willoughby had gone earlier that day. Elinor was disturbed by the impropriety of Marianne’s trip with... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...have caused him to leave so quickly, guessing and conjecturing all sorts of things. Meanwhile, Willoughby’s behavior toward Marianne continued to suggest that he was attached to her, though it was... (full context)
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To Marianne, Willoughby’s actions clearly meant that he loved her. One day, when Mrs. Dashwood spoke of altering... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...went to visit Lady Middleton, leaving Marianne at home. When they got back, they saw Willoughby’s carriage outside. But when they entered the cottage, they saw Marianne run to her room... (full context)
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Mrs. Dashwood invited him to visit Barton Cottage often, but Willoughby was evasive. He said he had to leave, and took off quickly, leaving Elinor and... (full context)
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Elinor wasn’t entirely convinced by this, and remained suspicious of Willoughby. She wanted proof of his engagement to Marianne, even though Mrs. Dashwood was sure they... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Marianne stayed up all night, troubled over Willoughby’s sudden departure. The next day, she was still clearly upset and would talk to no... (full context)
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Elinor was uneasy, as no letters came from Willoughby. She asked her mother to ask Marianne whether or not she was engaged to Willoughby,... (full context)
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...a man approaching on a horse and Marianne excitedly exclaimed that it had to be Willoughby. But, when the man came closer, they saw that he was actually Edward Ferrars. He,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Sir John and Mrs. Jennings invited everyone to a dance at Barton Park. Since Willoughby wouldn’t be there, Marianne cried out, “Impossible! Who is to dance?” Sir John said he... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...didn’t allow her emotions to show, in great contrast to how Marianne had behaved when Willoughby had left. Marianne was dismayed that Elinor did not appear more troubled. (full context)
Chapter 20
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...and her husband in London. They declined the invitation. Sir John joked with Marianne about Willoughby and complimented her on her taste in men. (full context)
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...them over Christmas. The two sisters again politely declined. Elinor asked if Mrs. Palmer knew Willoughby. She said she knew of him, and said she was glad that Willoughby was going... (full context)
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Elinor asked what Mrs. Palmer knew about Willoughby, and she said that he was generally well thought of. She then told Elinor more... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Sir John told the Steeles about Willoughby and Marianne, and the Steeles congratulated Elinor on her sister’s engagement. Sir John joked with... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...Marianne would like to be in London so that she might be able to see Willoughby again, so she softened her resolve not to go, and said that it was up... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Elinor wondered what would happen between Willoughby and Marianne, reflecting on how much more hopeful Marianne’s situation was than her own with... (full context)
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...told Elinor she was not writing to their mother. Elinor guessed she was writing to Willoughby. (full context)
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...came to the door of Mrs. Jennings’ apartment, and Marianne exclaimed, “Oh, Elinor, it is Willoughby, indeed it is!” But when the door opened, it turned out to be Colonel Brandon.... (full context)
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...and Elinor and joked to Colonel Brandon, “I do not know what you and Mr. Willoughby will do between you” with Marianne. After Colonel Brandon left, Elinor and Marianne went to... (full context)
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...her, but there was not. Elinor worried about what was going on with Marianne and Willoughby, since their apparent engagement was “so doubtful, so mysterious.” Marianne continued to wait expectantly for... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...morning, Mrs. Jennings commented on the bad weather, and Marianne cheered up immediately, thinking that Willoughby might have been kept in the country by the weather. Elinor guessed that Marianne would... (full context)
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...week after they had come to London, Marianne came back to the apartment to find Willoughby’s card on a table, proof that he had stopped by while she was out in... (full context)
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The next day, Marianne stayed at home, waiting for Willoughby’s visit, but he never came. Nor did any letter come for Marianne. Elinor asked if... (full context)
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...Marianne was not in the mood to go, as she still had not heard from Willoughby. They went to the dinner nonetheless, along with Colonel Brandon, Mrs. Jennings, and the Palmers. (full context)
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...Jennings said she knew why Marianne was upset, and said that it was odd of Willoughby not to come to the dinner, when he had been invited. Marianne was hurt by... (full context)
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...Colonel Brandon came to the door, and talked with Elinor. He asked when Marianne and Willoughby were to be married, and said that their engagement was “universally talked of.” He asked... (full context)
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...of the engagement, but that she was sure of the “mutual affection” between Marianne and Willoughby. Brandon wished Marianne happiness with Willoughby and left. Elinor felt uncomfortable. (full context)
Chapter 28
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For the next three or four days, Willoughby neither came to see Marianne nor wrote her. Elinor and Marianne went to a party... (full context)
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Willoughby saw Marianne and Elinor and came over. He greeted Elinor, but ignored Marianne. Elinor was... (full context)
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...party. Marianne “was in a silent agony,” as they went back home. Elinor thought that Willoughby must have had “a thorough change of sentiment,” and felt sympathetically for her miserable sister. (full context)
Chapter 29
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...her. She ran to her room to read it. Unaware of what had happened with Willoughby, Mrs. Jennings joked to Elinor about Marianne and asked when she was to be married. (full context)
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Elinor answered that Marianne and Willoughby were not going to be married, and told Mrs. Jennings not to spread that rumor.... (full context)
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The first letter was from Willoughby, which said that he enjoyed his time with the Dashwoods, but felt no more than... (full context)
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...Edward. Marianne insisted that nothing could take away her misery. Elinor learned that Marianne and Willoughby had never been formally engaged, and that he had only ever implied his love for... (full context)
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Elinor read the letters Marianne had sent to Willoughby. First, an excited one telling him that she was in London. Then, a concerned one... (full context)
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Elinor thought it was improper that Marianne had written such letters when she and Willoughby were not even engaged. Marianne said that she felt “as solemnly engaged to him, as... (full context)
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Marianne refused to believe that Willoughby was “capable of such cruelty,” and thought that people had spread rumors about her, ruining... (full context)
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Rereading Willoughby’s heartless letter, Marianne called him “barbarously insolent” and asked whether anything could justify his behavior.... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Mrs. Jennings came back home and checked on Marianne. She had heard of Willoughby’s upcoming engagement to a Miss Grey, and tried to comfort Marianne by saying that she... (full context)
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...Marianne, and Elinor returned the politeness. When Marianne left the table, Mrs. Jennings lamented that Willoughby had used Marianne, but said that he evidently cared only about money, as Miss Grey... (full context)
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Elinor admitted to Mrs. Jennings that Willoughby had broken no formal engagement with Marianne, but Mrs. Jennings would have none of her... (full context)
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...and tried to persuade her to go to bed, Colonel Brandon arrived, having heard about Willoughby’s engagement. He asked Elinor how Marianne was doing, and Elinor told him he could imagine... (full context)
Chapter 31
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The next day, Marianne was still miserable. She talked with Elinor, sometimes thinking that Willoughby was innocent and sometimes feeling that he was cruel and guilty. She tried to avoid... (full context)
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...a letter, telling her it would cheer her up. Marianne imagined it might be from Willoughby, but was disappointed when it turned out to be from her mother. She cried, feeling... (full context)
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...In the letter, Mrs. Dashwood asked Marianne to be more open about her engagement with Willoughby and talked as if they were surely to be married. This upset Marianne and made... (full context)
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...at Barton, Brandon had received a letter informing him that Eliza had been seduced by Willoughby and then abandoned after she became pregnant. This was why he had left so suddenly. (full context)
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Elinor was shocked that Willoughby had done this, and Brandon told her, “His character is now before you.” Brandon told... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...Colonel Brandon, but it didn’t cheer her up. Marianne was sad at “the loss of Willoughby’s character,” now that she knew him to be dishonest. Mrs. Dashwood, having learned of the... (full context)
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...shorten their stay with Mrs. Jennings, as everything at Barton would likely remind Marianne of Willoughby, and she thought Marianne might find something to distract her and occupy her time in... (full context)
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Elinor did her best to keep anyone from mentioning Willoughby’s name around Marianne. Sir John was shocked when he heard about what happened, as he... (full context)
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Early in February, Willoughby married Miss Grey, and Elinor informed Marianne. Marianne tried to control her emotions, but couldn’t... (full context)
Chapter 37
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...to “represent herself as suffering much.” Marianne was shocked. To her, “Edward seemed a second Willoughby.” She apologized for talking of Elinor and Edward and thinking that they were happily together,... (full context)
Chapter 39
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...and they invited the Dashwood sisters. Marianne didn’t want to go, because Cleveland was near Willoughby’s home, but Elinor persuaded her to, by telling her that this would fix an end-date... (full context)
Chapter 42
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...Marianne had “a heart swelling with emotion” from being so close to Barton and to Willoughby’s home. She planned to spend most of her time there on solitary walks outside. Mrs.... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...it was her mother. However, when she went to the door, she found it was Willoughby. (full context)
Chapter 44
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Elinor was shocked and tried to walk away, but Willoughby asked her to listen to him for just ten minutes. He told her he had... (full context)
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Willoughby explained that when he first met the Dashwoods he had no intentions of finding a... (full context)
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Elinor asked Willoughby to stop, but he continued explaining his behavior. He said that his fortune was “never... (full context)
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Willoughby said that he became “sincerely fond” of Marianne. But then his aunt Mrs. Smith, from... (full context)
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Mrs. Smith disinherited Willoughby, and now his “affection for Marianne” was outweighed by his “dread of poverty.” He felt... (full context)
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In London, Willoughby was pained to receive Marianne’s letters. He watched Mrs. Jennings’ house and waited until Marianne... (full context)
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Willoughby enquired again about Marianne’s health, and then continued his story. Miss Grey had become suspicious... (full context)
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Willoughby said that he and Miss Grey did not love each other. Elinor admitted that she... (full context)
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Willoughby now prepared to leave, and Elinor “forgave, pitied, wished him well.” He said that for... (full context)
Chapter 45
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...also delighted at the reunion. Elinor tried to sleep that night, but kept thinking of Willoughby, whom she now called “poor Willoughby” in her mind. (full context)
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...met. Mrs. Dashwood said that his love was “more sincere or constant” that that of Willoughby. Elinor agreed that Colonel Brandon was “an excellent man.” (full context)
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...gladly encourage his union with Marianne, but he worried that Marianne still had affections for Willoughby and would not love him. Mrs. Dashwood, though, was convinced that Marianne would be happier... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...to see this positive change in Marianne’s behavior, but was worried about having to share Willoughby’s revelation with her. One morning, Marianne and Elinor went for a walk together. They walked... (full context)
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...think about her past and her life. She realized that she had behaved imprudently with Willoughby, and that she had brought on her own illness by her “negligence of [her] own... (full context)
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...me.” She promised to restrain her emotions with reason. Elinor took this opportunity to relate Willoughby’s recent explanation for his behavior. Marianne listened to the whole story as they walked back... (full context)
Chapter 47
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Mrs. Dashwood was happy to hear about Willoughby and “rejoiced in his being cleared from some part of his imputed guilt,” though she... (full context)
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Elinor agreed that Willoughby would have made a bad husband for her, and called him selfish. She said that... (full context)
Chapter 50
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...They married, and her fondness grew even more, as she “could never love by halves.” Willoughby heard of Marianne’s marriage with some pain, but eventually found “no inconsiderable degree of domestic... (full context)