Marianne and Willoughby

Read and watch a series of letters from Sense and Sensibility, in which Marianne and Willoughby break up.

Marianne Dashwood’s letter to Willoughby

Sense and Sensibility, ch.29

Marianne is 16-17 years old – impulsive, open, eager, artistic, romantic. When she meets the handsome John Willoughby she quickly falls in love, but then he suddenly goes away and she doesn’t hear from him. When she visits London she writes him several letters trying to reconnect and then bumps into him at a ball at which he is distant and cold towards her.

In this letter she reproaches him for his behaviour and asks for an explanation.

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“What am I to imagine, Willoughby, by your behaviour last night? Again I demand an explanation of it. I was prepared to meet you with the pleasure which our separation naturally produced, with the familiarity which our intimacy at Barton appeared to me to justify. I was repulsed indeed! I have passed a wretched night in endeavouring to excuse a conduct which can scarcely be called less than insulting; but though I have not yet been able to form any reasonable apology for your behaviour, I am perfectly ready to hear your justification of it. You have perhaps been misinformed, or purposely deceived, in something concerning me, which may have lowered me in your opinion. Tell me what it is, explain the grounds on which you acted, and I shall be satisfied, in being able to satisfy you. It would grieve me indeed to be obliged to think ill of you; but if I am to do it, if I am to learn that you are not what we have hitherto believed you, that your regard for us all was insincere, that your behaviour to me was intended only to deceive, let it be told as soon as possible. My feelings are at present in a state of dreadful indecision; I wish to acquit you, but certainty on either side will be ease to what I now suffer. If your sentiments are no longer what they were, you will return my notes, and the lock of my hair which is in your possession.”

Sense and Sensibility, chapter 29

Watch the letter below, performed by Kirsten Scharneck.

John Willoughby

Sense and Sensibility, ch. 29

Willoughby is 25 years old, handsome, dashing, confident, lively. He meets Marianne Dashwood and they quickly fall in love. He appears to be the perfect romantic hero. Then he goes to London and disappears from the scene – we later find out he has become engaged to someone else.

In his reply to Marianne’s letter, he coolly ends their relationship and apologises for letting her think he was in love with her. (We later find out that this letter was really written by his new fiancé, who is jealous of Marianne.)

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MY DEAR MADAM,
“I have just had the honour of receiving your letter, for which I beg to return my sincere acknowledgments. I am much concerned to find there was anything in my behaviour last night that did not meet your approbation; and though I am quite at a loss to discover in what point I could be so unfortunate as to offend you, I entreat your forgiveness of what I can assure you to have been perfectly unintentional. I shall never reflect on my former acquaintance with your family in Devonshire without the most grateful pleasure, and flatter myself it will not be broken by any mistake or misapprehension of my actions. My esteem for your whole family is very sincere; but if I have been so unfortunate as to give rise to a belief of more than I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself for not having been more guarded in my professions of that esteem. That I should ever have meant more you will allow to be impossible, when you understand that my affections have been long engaged elsewhere, and it will not be many weeks, I believe, before this engagement is fulfilled. It is with great regret that I obey your commands in returning the letters with which I have been honoured from you, and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed on me.

“I am, dear Madam,
“Your most obedient
“humble servant,
“JOHN WILLOUGHBY.”

Watch the letter below, performed by Liam Holmes and Tanwen Stokes.