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 Mrs. Jennings, telling Elinor, “all that she wants is gossip,” even though Mrs. Jennings was attempting to be kind.
Marianne is unsure of how to think of Willoughby, since his recent behavior is so out of line with what she thought his character was. She is irritated with Mrs. Jennings and the gossipy society she represents, even as Mrs. Jennings attempts to be kind and sympathetic.
Mrs. Jennings brought Marianne 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 that Mrs. Jennings had been cruel in getting her hopes up.
Marianne is still emotionally sensitive and is unable to hold back her tears. She still hopes for more explanation from Willoughby for his out-of-character coldness.
Mrs. Dashwood had written to Marianne after Elinor had written to her. 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 her miss her mother and wish to be back home with her. Her mother “was dearer to her than ever.”
Mrs. Dashwood’s ill-timed letter reminds Marianne of her former hopes about Willoughby. Marianne misses her mother and wants the support of her loving family all together at Barton.
Mrs. Jennings left and Elinor began writing a letter to her mother. Then, Colonel Brandon came to the door. He said that he had come across Mrs. Jennings on the street and she had told him to visit Marianne and Elinor. He talked with Elinor alone and told her that he had something to tell her that might help her and Marianne.
Colonel Brandon continues to show his kind character, as well his enduring affection for Marianne, by visiting again.
In order to explain, Brandon had to go back to when he suddenly left Barton Park. He said that Marianne reminded him very much of someone he knew named Eliza, who had “the same warmth of heart, the same eagerness of fancy and spirits.” Eliza and Brandon were deeply in love, but she was married “against her inclination” to Brandon’s brother, who didn’t even love her.
Brandon’s story about Eliza offers another example of a loving relationship that did not progress to a happy marriage. A successful marriage in the world of the novel requires more than just love.
Brandon and Eliza tried to elope, but were caught. Eliza “resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation.” Brandon left the country for three years to serve in the army. When he returned, he tried to find Eliza, who had divorced his brother, been seduced by several men, and was in a desperate situation. He finally found her in a house where she was confined for debt, as she was dying of consumption.
Eliza’s fate shows what can happen to a vulnerable woman in this society, when she does not have family or a husband to help her.
Brandon was clearly pained as he told this story, but continued on. Eliza had a daughter, also named Eliza, whom she entrusted to Brandon. Brandon looked out for her and put her in school. After she went with some friends to Bath recently, though, she disappeared. While 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.
This story shows that Willoughby has a history of seducing and abandoning women. He may not be quite the noble gentleman Marianne thought he was.
Elinor was shocked that Willoughby had done this, and Brandon told her, “His character is now before you.” Brandon told Elinor that he had been worried that Willoughby was using Marianne as he had used the younger Eliza. He had seen Willoughby recently, and challenged him to a duel, but both “returned unwounded.” Brandon left, and Elinor was “full of compassion and esteem for him,” for telling her about Willoughby.
Brandon has told Elinor this story to show her Willoughby’s true character. His attempted duel with Willoughby evidences his own virtuous character.