View Full Version : Edward vs Willoughby

09-30-2008, 09:23 PM
I was wondering what everyone thought about Edward versus Willoughby? I am taking a class, and everyone in that class seems to think that Edward's behavior in the book was just as bad as Willoughby's -- but instead of being condemned by Elinor, he is rewarded with her love. What do you guys think about this? Do you like Edward? Do you dislike him? Does Austen manipulate the reader into liking Edward, or do we like him because Elinor does? I know that I like him, and I certainly don't see why his actions in the story were as bad as Willoughby's. Help?

09-30-2008, 10:05 PM
There is a reason that this is probably the least loved of Austen's novels. It is because Heroes and heroines in this novel are all anti-heroic. The only one who really wins in the end, so to speak, is colonel Brandon, who is a stiff (Though made sympathetic in the movie by being portrayed by the excellent Alan Rickman). In truth, Edward is the better person, because he sticks to honor, rather than greed, whereas Willoughby sides with greed. Neither are attractive characters, per say, but Edward at least redeems himself by staying consistent, though cold.

10-02-2008, 12:15 PM
I don't think there really is any comparison. Willougby has a history of horrible abuse of women: He leaves Eliza Williams destute and pregnant, he leaves Marianne not knowing what is going on just when she thinks he's about to propose and he marries someone else. Plus, he admits he was just playing with her emotions at the beginning at the end of the book. Then he has no respect for the woman he ends up marrying.

Edward loved Elinor, but he only treated her with friendship and regard, nothing more was implied by him. He didn't make her any promises he couldn't keep. Willoughby constantly did things with Marianne that made people assume they were engaged when in fact they were not. Edward did not string Elinor along like that. Plus, Elinor was so guarded that Edward thought only his heart was on the line. He says so when Elinor asks him why he stayed so long with them when he was engaged.

10-03-2008, 09:07 AM
I don't think that Edward is in any way as bad as Willoughby; the similarities in their situations only really serve to emphasize the differences in their characters.

Edward always acted with honour, whereas Willoughby certainly did not - and he was in a wa rewarded at the end as he ended up with the woman he loved. Edward's only real fault was in a youthful folly which his sense of propriety elongated, whereas Willoughby continually acted wrongly and selfishly, with no concern for anyone else.

I don't think that JA in any way manipulates us into liking Edward: his faults and weaknesses are laid out so that we can make our own minds up, although the contrast she establishes between him and Willoughby probably makes the reader more sympathetic towards Edward than we would be if Willoughby was not there.

Having said that, I feel quite sorry for Willoughby - he does not act at all well, but his love for Marianne does seem to be genuine, which makes me pity him in his misery at the end. (Although I am NOT saying that Marianne should have married him).

As a final point, Elinor's love for Edward does not seem to be blind - she is not like Marianne and intent to see only good in the one she loves. Having established her as a sensible and reliable character, perhaps JA is reinforcing that Edward's actions were not in fact so bad in that Elinor could still love him?

10-03-2008, 04:54 PM
Thank you all for your replies. I agree completely with all of your points about Edward and Willoughby. Edward treats Elinor with respect and honor throughout the novel. He does what he thinks is honorable to his previous obligations, gives up fortune and family for honor, and never woos Elinor or gives her the impression that he will propose to her.

I do disagree with you on your last point, Lioness_Heart. While Elinor is certainly a more reliable character than Marianne, I do believe that she is a little blinded in love for Edward. There is an instance in the beginning of Chapter 4 (Vol I in my book) where she says that "Had he ever been in the way of learning, I think he would have drawn very well," which I don't believe is a very rational comment to make (just because you have the opportunity to learn to do something, doesn't necessarily mean that you will do it well), and signifies that Elinor is not completely immune to blind love.

I also thought of another question, in trying to see why my classmates were so obstinate to believe ill of Edward. Is Edward at fault for not acknowledging the love between himself and Elinor, and at least letting Elinor know that he was unavailable? At first, he was unaware that he was in love with her. Then, when he was aware of his love, he excused his behavior for staying so long with them at Barton cottage by saying that it was his heart only that was on the line. "The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody but myself." But, knowing the opinions of Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne, as must have been very clear as neither know how to keep their mouths shut about things, shouldn't he have made sure that Elinor felt nothing for him? Shouldn't he at least have tried to drop some kind of hint that he was unavailable?

10-04-2008, 10:54 AM
Edward probably is at fault there, as you say, but it doesn't seems more insensitive and unthinking than malicious. It's kind of understandable that when he was with Elinor, he would want to forget Lucy, or at least keep her from his mind, so that he could, in a way, fool himself into believing that he and Elinor had a future. I don't think that it's at all the right thing to do, and it was selfish and insensitive of him to think about its effects only in terms of himself, but I can understand that period of self-delusion - after all, being in love would probably have blinded him to sense and made him not want to face up to the truth.

And men are often really bad at noticing thing like that - I don't know whether it's a modern phenomenon or was something that Jane Austen noticed too...

10-04-2008, 05:33 PM
Elinor does realize that he should have handled the situation better, and she calls him on it, but is able to overlook it and forgive him. It might have been better for him to break up with Lucy when he realized he didn't love her anymore. He couldn't have got out of the engagement in the best way because the secret was known.