Comment on the characters and behaviour of Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby in “Sense and Sensibility”
In the novel “Sense and Sensibility” the two characters Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby are foils. Jane Austen gives each three options in marriage – a previous attachment, Eliza Williams and Lucy Steele< a financially advantageous offer, Miss Grey and Miss Morton, and a genuine attachment, Marianne and Elinor. Jane Austen depicts their characters through their behaviour in this situation and others.
Elinor’s views of the characters Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby change a lot throughout the novel. At first Willoughby or “Marianne’s preserver” as Margaret names he seems like a handsome charming young man: “his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression.
Edward, on the other hand, is not handsome and is not an archetypal knight in shining armour. He is quite and unobtrusive which leads the family, particularly Mrs. Dashwood to like him as they are in mooning “he did not disturb the wretchedness of her mind by ill-timed conversation.”
The family’s liking towards Willoughby increases, Marianne in particular as they are so alike: “their taste was strikingly alike. The same books the same passages were idolized by each.” Elinor likes Willoughby but is a little uncomfortable as she feels he is rash and she doubts his veracity: “I love Willoughby, sincerely love him; and suspicion of his integrity cannot be more painful to yourself than to me.”, and throughout the book Jane Austen leads the reader to trust Elinor’s judgement. However when Elinor hears Willoughby call Marianne by her first name she puts her doubts aside because in the Georgian era men did not call women by their first names.
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Elinor’s high expectations of Edward are dashed as the novel progresses and she says “Edward seemed a second Willoughby.” Edward gave Elinor false impressions as Willoughby did to Marianne. Edward is redeemed as he behaves honourably to Lucy Steele whereas Willoughby deserts both Marianne and Colonel Brandon’s ward, Eliza Williams, to marry for money.
Willoughby ends up unhappy and to his relief less of a villain in the Dashwood’s minds after his visit to Cleveland. Edward on the other hand lives happily with Elinor: “...she found in Elinor and her husband.., one of the happiest couple in the world.”
Marianne’s views of the two gentlemen in “Sense and Sensibility” change throughout the novel. At first Willoughby is her perfect knight in shining armour. Eventually Willoughby’s character is revealed to the family. Even though Willoughby treated Marianne abominably she still forgives him almost immediately; “for Marianne does – she has long forgiven you.” However when Marianne looks back she sees that although Willoughby did treat her badly her behaviour was also partly to blame: ““Do you compare your conduct with his?”
“No I compare it with yours.””. The damage to Marianne’s reputation was not entirely Willoughby’s fault. Marianne flaunted the relationship, and gave everyone reason to believe they were engaged for example she gave Willoughby a lock of her hair and rode out in his carriage.
Marianne’s views of Edward also change although radically as her feelings towards Willoughby. At first Marianne finds Edward dull but realises he is good for Elinor and is ready to accept him as a brother. Marianne eventually realises that although Edward did seem dull he has many other qualities and does behave honourably.
Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby have very different attitudes to relationships. Edward is honourable, as he puts other people's feelings before his own. Edward is committed as he stands by Lucy Steele although he does not love her anymore. Edward understands the rules of society in the Georgian era unlike Willoughby who disobeys all societies’ rules and does as he pleases; Willoughby seduces Eliza Williams leaving hr pregnant and destitute with no means of contacting him. This was against all the social morals of his time and our time.
Edward, whilst staying at Norland falls in love with Elinor and is very tempted by her, but Edward unlike Willoughby is sensitive to other people’s feelings. Edward is aware of society’s conventions and he realises that spending to much time with Elinor without being engaged would ruin Elinor’s reputation so he draws back. Edward knows that if Elinor was seen to have had any previous attachments she would probably never regain her reputation according to all the society of the Georgian era’s rules.
Willoughby, on the other hand, disregards all societies’ rules and flaunts his relationship with Marianne knowing they were not engaged and that this would ruin Marianne’s reputation but not his own. At first Willoughby was flattered by engaging Marianne’s affections but did against t his own will fall in love with Marianne: “…I found myself by insensible degrees, sincerely fond of her;”
Edwards’s misconduct does not damage Elinor’s reputation in the slightest as they do not flaunt the relationship but Willoughby’s misconduct severely damages the reputations of two young girls. Luckily for Marianne she is able to recover. However Willoughby was not excluded from society because of this.
Edward draws back so Elinor is unsure as to whether Edward ever loved her: “In Edwards farewell there was not a distinction between Elinor and me it was the good wishes of an affectionate brother to both.” By doing this Edward softens the blow but Willoughby leaves Devonshire abruptly, does not write or visit and then the next time Marianne sees him he is engaged to Miss Grey, fully displaying the avarice of his character. Edward leaves his visit to Barton Cottage a few weeks so it cannot be interpreted as a romantic gesture only a social visit.
Edward and Willoughby have very different attitudes to money. Edward has an outlook on wealth which is different to many of the men in the Georgian era. Marrying for money and connections as Willoughby did was quite normal but to marry for love was virtually unheard of. We are told that Edward however does not want a wealthy lifestyle or a “barouche”, like his brother, he wants to become a clergyman and we are told “All his wishes centred in domestic comfort and the quiet of a private life.” Willoughby, on the other hand, marries for money: “it had been for some time my intention to re-establish my circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune.” Willoughby needed money because in the Georgian era a gentleman’s independence relied on their wealth.
Edwards fortune depend s entirely on the will of his mother and likewise Willoughby depends on the will of Miss Smith. Both Mrs Ferrars and Miss Smith try to use money to control the behaviour of Edward and Willoughby. Mrs Ferrars wants Edward to marry Miss Morton and break his engagement with Lucy Steele, Miss Smith however is trying to make Willoughby behave honourably and marry Eliza Williams but to no avail.
At first the reader is given very different first impressions of Willoughby an Edward. Willoughby is the romantic hero, he is handsome has an infectious enthusiasm. Edward however is reserved, not handsome and is not a hero. We are taught by this not to judge on first impressions.
Edward and Willoughby are both gentlemen in the same social class anticipating their independence. However through their characters and behaviour Jane Austen depicts Edward and Willoughby as tow very different people.