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Headscratchers: Sense and Sensibility
Did Colonel Brandon and Willoughby actually fight or something when they met in London for the first time after Brandon learned what he'd done to Eliza?
In Chapter 31, Brandon tells Elinor of how his ward Eliza (the daughter of his doomed sweetheart Eliza) disappeared and how he discovered upon finding her that she'd been seduced and abandoned by Willoughby (along with his child). When Elinor asks if he has seen Willoughby since this discovery, he replies yes, and this follows:
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."

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.

A footnote in my edition translates "met by appointment" as "Met to fight a duel." Is Brandon, as a soldier, being figurative, or did he really beat Willoughby up for what he did to Eliza? Three cheers for him if he did, of course, don't get me wrong, but it's just the last thing I'd expect in a Jane Austen novel.

  • That is what that means. Willoughby has effectively unmanned the Colonel by impregnating his ward and besmirched his honor. Brandon, being a man of honor, can not let Willoughby get away with this without dueling with him on the field of honor and, ostensibly, teaching him a lesson. Even if Brandon were to die or to lose the duel his status as an honorable man, the protector of his household would be restored. Willoughby's actions betray him as a dishonorable man, for an honorable man would never have had sex with a woman he wasn't married or betrothed to to begin with. A duel in the Regency period would be done with pistols and generally they both aimed away. It was the act of the challenge and the meeting that made it valid rather than an actual contest for life. It's also interesting to note that the reason that Elinor is scared or startled by this is not just the implied violence which would worry a well bred lady. It's that dueling was illegal at the time. The Colonel would not have beaten up Willoughby because that's not how gentlemen settle matters of honor.
    • Though it should also be recognised that, while duelling was illegal, it was still widely done by the gentry (even the Duke Of Wellington, several years later, while he was Prime Minister, had a very public duel over what he considered a slander by an opponent.) The last time a man was tried for murder after a duel was in 1823 (in times when duelling was legal, the case would not have come to court at all); the sentence was suspended, which goes to show that the code duello- at least for gentlemen- was tacitly acknowledged as valid even then. The end of duelling really came when increasing urbanisation caused men of consequence to stop carrying weapons, and the rise of the middle class- and more lawyers- turned people towards suing and associated litigation as a means of settling scores.

Why exactly did Elinor fall in love with Edward in the first place?
Edward's good qualities feel like Informed Attributes. Austen really doesn't give us a whole lot of explanation for what happens between Edward and Elinor. Do they spend a lot of time alone together, talking (like Thompson and Grant in the Ang Lee film)? Somehow, without a whole lot of description, it comes to pass that Elinor's in love and everyone is aware that Edward is returning her affections. It's just sort of odd.
  • After Edward moved into Norland with the John Dashwoods for a few months after Elinor's father died, they spent a lot of time together and are already in love by the time the main events of the novel (the Dashwood women moving to Barton) begin. Maybe we need a Hooked Up Before equivalent of Hooked Up Afterwards...
  • He seems bland only to overly romantic Marianne who wants somebody more dashing for her beloved sister, but Elinor has simpler tastes. It isn't weird at all that a young man falls in love with intelligent, beautiful and intelligent woman, when he's in company with her. Who were his other companions? His mean and petty sister Fanny, her jerkish husband Henry Dashwood and their small kid. Marianne is as intelligent as Elinor, but their personalities are not compatible. It seems perfectly logical that he would fall for her, and she for him, if she felt that he preferred her.

Jane AustenHeadscratchers/LiteraturePride and Prejudice

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