Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 9 (ch 31) addendum

OMG! I nearly forgot that I wanted to talk about this bit from the conclusion of the chapter we covered yesterday in particular. It is of the utmost interest for a few reasons. First the exchange between Elinor and Colonel Brandon in question, then an explanation:

"Have you," she continued, after a short silence, "ever seen Mr Willoughby since you left him at Barton?"

"Yes," he replied gravely, "once I have. One meeting was unavoidable."

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying,

"What? have you met him to--"

"I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."
Although it is not spelled out on the page, it would have been glaringly obvious to a Regency era reader that Colonel Brandon had challenged Willoughby to a a duel. They both turned up, neither was injured, and no report of their highly illegal meeting spread through town.

I repeat my earlier refrain that we are dealing with Colonel Brandon, Man of Action! here. He cannot allow Willoughby's horrible treatment of Brandon's ward, Eliza, to go unpunished, so he quite literally calls Willoughby out on it.

Although we haven't done a group reading of Pride & Prejudice here yet, most of you know that story, and know how Mr. Darcy puts himself on the line to track down Elizabeth Bennet's wayward sister, Lydia, and her seducer, Mr. Wickham. Mr. Darcy stands on principle, but he stays within the bounds of the law; his actions under the circumstances are one of the things that establish him as being actually heroic, really. Colonel Brandon, who has always been a Man of Action, goes farther than Darcy by actually breaking the law in order to defend Eliza's honor. To my knowledge, he's the only of Austen's heroes to break the law - and it's such a glamourous sort of law-breaking (especially since nobody actually got hurt).

This is the sole mention of a duel in all of Austen's works. It seems to me highly probable that Brandon and Willoughby dueled with pistols, and quite possibly shot wide on purpose. (Also, pistols at the time were not exactly known for their marksmanship.) I say this because it seems likely that if they dueled with swords, Brandon would have given Willoughby some sort of wound. (Yeah, my money here is on Brandon - he's a former soldier, where Willoughby is merely a gentleman.) That said, I do love the choice made by the director of the 2008 BBC production to go with rapiers; I have mixed feelings about the way the depiction of the duel follows the assembly at which Willoughby walks away from Marianne, so that Brandon's anger seems prompted by that as much as (or more than) it has to do with Eliza - on the one hand, it's kind of extra swoon-worthy, on the other, it's simply NOT Brandon's motivation, although I'm sure the idea of kicking Willoughby's ass for (a) securing Marianne's affections in the first place and (b) casting her off must have held some secondary appeal. (If you want to see the film only as far as the end of chapter 9, stop watching at about the 11:25 mark):





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