What About Marianne? Does She Not Deserve Love?

What About Marianne? Does She Not Deserve Love?

A very popular question among Jane-ites is: “Who is your favorite Jane Austen hero?” Sadly, no one ever chooses Colonel Brandon. However, in the ongoing research I do for my Regency era novels, I found myself rereading a very good biography that I’m sure many of you know called, Jane Austen, A Life, by Claire Tomalin. In the discussion of Sense and Sensibility, I found Ms. Tomalin echoes a certain discomfiture I always feel at the end of the novel: the point at which Marianne Dashwood accepts the love of a man considerably older than she, and who Austen describes in this manner:

“Colonel Brandon was silent and grave. His appearance, however, was not unpleasing, in spite of his being, in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret, an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five-and-thirty; but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.”

Such is hardly the image of the dreamy hero. At this point, I wonder what Austen really means. She says his appearance is “not unpleasing,” so, he’s not downright ugly, and yet, “his face was not handsome.” So, what kind of a face is that? When, at the end of the book, Marianne does finally decide she will have Colonel Brandon, there’s always a sinking in my stomach, as I’m certain there is for many readers. Really? I think, Colonel Branden? Is that the only option? Yes, he’s a good man, a noble man, a true hero in many ways, who has suffered for the love of Marianne, but is he really the kind of hero Austen readers prefer?

In comparison, there’s Willoughby: handsome, romantic, Willoughby, who rejects Marianne in favor of a loveless marriage and a sizable fortune. We’re glad Willoughby is in the rear view mirror—kind of. But isn’t there a part of each dear reader, who wishes things could have worked out between them? Let his wife die so he can still have the money but be with the one he really loves! No. That’s a disgraceful thought. Moreover, he’s already showed himself to be a man of weak character, whereas Colonel Brandon is the very best kind of gentleman.


Yet where does Colonel Brandon fit in among the other heroes of Austen’s novels: the incomparable Mr. Darcy with his sexy smolder and mind-blowing fortune; the one that almost got away, love of Anne Elliot’s life, Captain Wentworth; the cute cousin of Fanny Price, (though I have trouble getting past that cousin thing) Edmund Bertram; handsome and clever Henry Tilney; and, one of my favorites, the slightly fatherly, yet got-it-going-on, Mr. Knightley.

Poor Colonel Brandon, twice as old as Marianne, unlucky in love, and without the benefit of wit, looks, or skill in poetic love-making. The late, great Alan Rickman’s portrayal of him in Ang Lee’s film version of the book was right on. Yes, you could learn to love that face with a noble character behind it, but, is he really the hero that makes our hearts go pitter-patter?

Will Marianne find passion with Colonel Brandon? We fear not. However, she has been chastened by her own impetuousness and tempered by a near-fatal illness. Maybe now she will be satisfied to live a quietly contented life. But in Colonel Brandon’s arms will she find herself picturing Willoughby’s face? Will some part of her heart always belong to him? Jane Austen attempts to answer that question with these words: “…that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his [Colonel Brandon’s], was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend. Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.”

To take Austen’s point of view here, many of us are happy in relationships with partners who may not be as handsome as Mr. Darcy, but have something else that makes them wonderful…and sexy: a great sense of humor, a kind nature, an honest and upright character… This is what I turn to when I think of Marianne Dashwood and her less-than-romance-novel marriage. I believe that Austen felt Marianne had the possibility for real happiness with Colonel Brandon, and mayhap, since we know Brandon feels a passion for her, she will feel that spark kindle within her own soul.

I invite you to share with us your thoughts on Marianne and the man she married. Were you satisfied with Marianne’s fate in Sense and Sensibility, or would you have rather it gone another way?



49 Responses to What About Marianne? Does She Not Deserve Love?

  1. I wouldn’t mind that he wasn’t a conventionally pretty man since tastes are different and I also tend to find people attractive that others call ugly. Nor his age, since different times and all. But it might be a problem that even in the end I don’t feel like she was IN love, just flattered and pressured into the marriage by others, and also settled for whoever was available when she was vulnerable, and he was pining for his childhood love rather than her. If whoever his first love was appeared on his doorstep, ready to elope with him, would he still choose Marianne?

  2. I think Marianne will grow fonder of Brandon as the daily convivence increases and he will also be prone to spoil her a lot (‘Regency Sugar Daddy’, lol) so I do think their marriage will be blessed with joy and plenty of children!

  3. I think Colonel Brandon gives hope to every guy who really loves a girl but has been friendzoned. He is able to win her heart in the end. Jorah Mormont should probably take notes. Lol

  4. I think it would have been a more satisfying ending had Marianne maturely rejected Colonel Brandon and then they would both move on.

  5. I get the feeling that the true reason so many have doubts about Marianne’s future with Colonel Brandon is because of his age and that he doesn’t come off as a “dashing” type. This attitude seemed to be based upon superficial reasons.

  6. I love Colonel Brandon. He is everything good. He was there for her in ways that Willoughby did not care to be. I always thought that her first love was mostly lust but that quiet Colonel Brandon showed her what real love looked like.

  7. I think that too many people have condemned Marianne and Colonel Brandon’s marriage based upon their own personal prejudices regarding age differences. If that was the case, why root for Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley’s romance? Besides, Marianne and Colonel Brandon grew to know each other for a year or two before they finally married.

    • The book does not indicate that Marianne loved Colonel Brandon going into the marriage. The book indicates that it took some time for Marianne to grow to love her husband. The book actually states: Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.”

      This is the reason that I and maybe others think that she settled for Brandon. She didn’t love him going into the marriage but came to love “her husband” in time. How long did it take for her to love him? 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? If she didn’t love him going into the marriage, what was her reason for marrying him?

  8. I always saw Colonel Brandon as a more mature version of Marianne. That he had been just as silly and romantic as she had when he was younger, but time and knowledge tempered that. I also think that she was just his sort of woman—and that he didn’t want her simply because she was young and pretty, otherwise he would’ve been married a long time ago.

    For Marianne, I always saw her as choosing Colonel Brandon, as proof that she grew up/matured, and understood what love truly was. I think that her initial judgement of him i.e. his age and looks, were based on her being a child–she wants a young, handsome, dashing figure to sweep her off her feet–despite the fact that they were the same sort of people i.e. romantically inclined.

    Basically I think if Colonel Brandon had been 10 years younger and more handsome, Marianne would not have utterly dismissed him. I never thought that she settled, more that she found someone who loved her for HER, and all that came with it i.e. her lack of fortune, etc. Willoughby was fine playing house until his allowance got cut off.

    I also really love that the romance isn’t at the forefront so much as the growth of the heroine.

    • I think that this is right on … Marianne is chastened by life’s blows and romantic ups and downs. She has also, recently, been through the death of her father and likely craves a sturdy port in a storm. Brandon is there for her. He is perhaps, not the handsomest of men, but he is attentive to her needs, wants and style of communication. And yes, he was also a reckless, impetuous young man!
      I agree with the point above that this is less about a Hallmark-card, smack-you-in-the -face romance, but more about the growth of the heroine, and her appreciation of the people who feel a genuine regard for her and value her.
      In that regard, Brandon fits the bill!

  9. Hello! I just happened to stumble across this post while checking for plagiarism from one of my students, and I just had to reply. I, too, when I was younger, really felt bad for Marianne and thought that she just settled. I also felt that she shouldn’t have had to have been tamed as a result of her passion for Willoughby. However, now that I, like Colonel Brandon, am on the wrong side of five-and-thirty, I would absolutely count this match as a win. My friends and I have been discussing for a few years now about what makes a person sexy, and our discussions have boiled down to reliability, honesty, and DOING SOMETHING. Brandon has all of those qualities in spades, and I only wish I could find my own Colonel Brandon now!

  10. Ria and Leenie, thanks for your excellent comments. It’s amazing hearing how well thought through this story is by so many of Jane’s faithful readers. I’m gaining so many new insights!

    • I meant the above comment to be a response to a post farther down the thread, but it applies to all the comments. I’m loving this discussion!

  11. Col. Brandon loves Marianne with a true, mature love – he thinks of her first and himself second. Willoughby loves himself first and loves her with an immature love. Thankfully, Marianne comes to understand the difference and overtime grew to love Col. Brandon with all her heart – to me, she ended up with the real Prince Charming of the story.

    • It sounds great and we can romanticize that she learned to love him over time but the fact is that she married someone that she did not love. If she didn’t love him, what was her reason for marrying him? Everyone is different, but would you want to marry someone who didn’t love you? Marianne wasn’t the only person in S&S who was willing to marry without love. Edward Ferrars was willing marry Lucy Steele knowing full well that he did not love her. His reason? To save face, to not look bad or to be perceived as a person who goes back on his word. It was not because he truly loved and wanted to be with Lucy.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this lately. Why is it such a big deal when Wickham- who is about 28- is chasing Georgiana (“She was but fifteen years old”) and even Lydia (16 maybe) but Perfectly OK for 35+year old Col Brandon to be after 16 year old Marianne? It just doesn’t sit right with me. Yes, he is Honorable and all that, but it is not at all normal for a mature man to stay single for 35+ years and then decide to marry a teenage. JMHO

  13. S&S is not my favourite Austen book and part of the reason is that I found the Marianne/Brandon romance unsatisfying. I feel like they both settled, she for somebody that everybody else feels she should marry, and he for a replacement of his lost love. I am glad that Austen assured us that Marianne would come to love him, as otherwise I’m not sure I’d have believed it 🙁

    • I hadn’t thought that perhaps Col. Brandon had settled too, but that’s a very good point. Now I’ll be wondering about that!

  14. Oh, I pick Col. Brandon as my favorite Austen hero! I adore the silent suffering types who are secretly full of great passion. His selflessness is sexy. A man that can put others first has got to be high on the list of desirable traits. And Col. Brandon is all about doing what is right for others.
    I just love his character! Any woman would be fortunate to have his love and devotion.

  15. I love Colonel Brandon. Always have and Alan Rickman made me love him more. I think Marianne did very well for herself with him. She needed someone with a steadying influence and he loved her to bits. She would have been miserable with Willoughby. I’m glad S&S ended up as it did.

    • Thanks for that thought! You’re probably right that Marianne would have been miserable with Willoughby. Sometimes those passionate romances are just flashes in the pan!

  16. I am a fan of less obvious studs in general, and in JA Colonel Brandon is my favorite. Mr. Darcy never really did it for me. (Yeah, yeah, get your jaw off the floor.)

  17. Marianne came to love Colonel Brandon. She had learned that flash and dash are nothing when a man is inconstant, and that devotion and respect are everything. I find their relationship highly romantic, and the good colonel ranks in the top three of Jane Austen’s heroes, in my book. And, she says flat out that Marianne gave her whole heart in love to Brandon, which in my mind translates to passion. Thanks for sharing your point of view with us!

    • Thank you, Zoe! It’s so great to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. I truly hope that Marianne, if she were real, found the passion she longed for with Col. Brandon.

  18. As was common in the Regency, men in their thirties often married younger women because of the dangers of childbirth. It was believed that the younger women could withstand the rigors of childbirth better than a “more mature” lady. In truth, when I first read the story as a teen, the difference in their ages was not a subject that crossed my mind. Many read Austen’s stories for the “love” story rather than to analyze every word the way we Janeites do. LOL!

    I must admit that Alan Rickman made me love S&S and Brandon more.

    • Very interesting, Regina, and an excellent point. I think I do a mix of reading and analyzing, and getting into the love story.

  19. This was a great read, because I never stopped to think about the other opinions people could have about their marriage. I’ve always been a fan of Colonel Brandon. I never considered that Marianne marrying him might be a less than perfect decision. He’s one of my very favorite male characters in all of Austen’s novels. To me, steadfastness, reliability, capability and reason are just about the most important traits in a husband. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a hero and well off. I will admit, handsome would be nice, but no one is perfect (I can hear you all thinking . . . except M. Darcy 🙂 ). In spite of how highly I regard Colonel Brandon, I’m intrigued by the idea it may not be an ideal match and would love to read variations where it doesn’t take place.

    • Oh, what an interesting idea: a variation where the marriage doesn’t take place. Does anyone know of one like that?

  20. Georgina, thank you for this thought provoking post. I believe Marianne did find true love. One that is built on things that really matter.

  21. Interesting post. How fortuitous this passage showed up on my Instagram this morning:

    Colonel Brandon was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be; in Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction; her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfulness; and that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his, was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend. Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband as it had once been to Willoughby.

    I would say, Austen sometimes skips to the end too fast for contemporary readers. She doesn’t really show us Marianne falling in love deeply with Brandon. But then, that would only be necessary if the point of the story is love. Rather, I think the point is that Marianne gains sense. Gone are the passionate emotions built on little to no logic which drove her to nearly die over Willoughby–who I believe is an awful, awful man incapable of loving anyone but himself. Instead, like Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne’s love grew from understanding Brandon’s character, deep respect for him, and knowing the security of his love. I am overjoyed she has a happy ending with Brandon at all. Willoughby’s MO is to NOT allow women a happy ending. And that’s really the point of the story of the two Elizas, one who had been with Willoughby and one who we learn early on was very much like Marianne. If anything, Austen’s ending for Marianne is nearly a fairy tale. Many girls who find themselves overly passionate for men such as Willoughby end up like one of the two Elizas.

    I’ll add that I was very much like Marianne at 16 and had my own Willoughby. Like her, I feel fortunate that I had a second chance with a better man.

    • This is a great response, Rose, one which I appreciate very much. You’re definitely looking beyond the romance story and into what Jane was really trying to communicate with this novel. I think many of us are lucky to have found a truly good man who is mature and thoughtful, and also, gosh-darn-it fun and a great companion. I’m happy for you, and I’m feeling more convinced, by the comments on this post, to think that Marianne is very lucky too.

    • I absolutely love this comment. I once fell for a Willaby, but now find myself in the early dating stages with a Colonel Brandon. I worry that since i don’t feel this passionate longing for him, that maybe it’s not the best idea. But the more time I spend with him, the more attractive I find his steadfast nature, dependability, kindness, and selflessness. I always felt like Marianne did get a fairytale ending, and enjoyed a deeper love- a lasting love with the constant Colonel Brandon.

      Rose, did it take some time for you to “fall” for your Colonel Brandon, or did you quickly see and pursue this noble man?

  22. I have never had peace with Marianne and Brandon. I actually am quite the fan of Col. Brandon (second to my Mr. Knightley), but putting him with Marianne always seemed off. Of course, who am I to second guess Lady Jane, but I always want Elinor and Brandon to have their friendship become love. It’s not age to me, it’s personality. Marianne may have had all of her bubbles burst and her romantic streak stifled a bit, but not enough for her to go from thinking him an old man in flannel to the keeper of her heart. Of course I don’t think Willoughby would have been a good fit unless we rehab him, which defeats the purpose entirely. Marianne should have been able to marry for love and I just can’t wrap my head around she and Brandon and it’s been nearly 30 years since I read it the first time.

    • Yes, good point, Stephanie. I guess maybe that’s what I find myself wishing, that there could be some option other than W or CB. Of course, it’s nice though that Brandon was made so happy by the marriage.

      • I too felt Elinor and Colonel Brandon were a better match. There was more interaction between them than between her and Edward. They seemed to have a mutual respect for one another. It’s interesting to me that Elinor (sense) married for love, and Marianne (sensibility) married for sense. My guess is Jane Austin was showing a character arch for both sisters. I get this but I was not happy with Marianne’s marriage to Colonel Brandon, not because I don’t like his character, but because initially she gave in to everyone’s wishes, accept her own. She chastised herself for being a passionate being, and decided she must do a complete 180 to be a better person. Her love affair with Edward and her illness could have taught her to curb her passions and be less selfish, but she didn’t have to change completely. She was lovely the way she was. Why give up intensity for dullness and normality?

  23. I always thought that Marianne and Colonel Brandon would do well together, as they have both deep feelings and loyalty. Brandon may not appear romantic, but he is in the true sense of the word. He did everything he could to find his lost love when he returned to England and become aware of her fate. He agreed to take care of her illegitimate daughter. It this is not love, what is it? He is then devoted to Marianne when she falls ill, an honorable force in her life. I always imagined that his heart had not truly healed from the separation he had to endure so that his worthless brother could marry the rich heiress he himself loved. My only concern is that of his seeing her in Marianne, as they have the same vivacity and honesty of feelings, and that maybe he is still loving her through Marianne. I imagine too that with him, Marianne opens to a different vision of romanticism, that it is not just about enjoying the same poets or dashing through country lanes in a fashionable curricle or even hearing pretty words, but that it is about caring if it should endure.

    We could wish for more passion for Marianne, but I don’t think that her and Willoughby would have been happy if they had married. He would soon have proved himself fickle and possibly selfish and mean. Once the blissful aura of being newlywed would have dissolved, Marianne would probably have been disappointed in his character, and this would have led to a miserable marriage. We know little, but he may have courted his Miss Grey for a while in London before travelling to Devonshire, fell in love with Marianne in some way and thought about marrying her, then did not have the courage to do so when his seducing of Elisa became known to his aund and fled. Willoughby is charming but not very mature, even in his love for Marianne.

    • This is such an interesting discussion going on here! Thank you, Nathalie, for adding to it. You’re words are giving me lots of food for thought.

  24. When I was a teenager, I didn’t understand why Marianne ended up with Colonel Brandon, but now I do. He was good in all circumstances. The worse thing that could be said against him was that he was friends with Sir John Middleton. Brandon would have been a good man to live with from day to day, but more importantly, he always came through in an emergency.

    He was a man of action, although he seemed very passive at first. He took care of his first love’s child. Instead of staying around near Marianne when she was gravely ill, he left her to get her mother. When he saw the injustice of Edward’s being disinherited, he stepped forward and did something. Although he doesn’t come across as a romantic hero, he behaves like an ideal one.

    • I think you’re right, Renata; that our reaction to the marriage between M and CB may have something to do with where we’re at in our own lives. I wonder if Jane knew the varied reaction that people would have to her ending when she wrote it.

  25. I never felt that Marianne was settling because she couldn’t have her first choice. Marianne learned the hard way what romance really is. Brandon is kind, generous, loyal and devoted. In the end those things were more important than being swooped up with excitement and a handsome face who is quick with pleasing words but unable to put love before his own comfort. I never trusted Willoughby or wanted them to end up together. I was hoping for the Colonel all along and relieved when Marianne was able to see his merits. The age difference is perhaps unfortunate but Colonel Brandon is by far the better match.

    • Yes! I was just going to say something similar to this, but then saw your response, Ria. This is the first Austen novel I read as a young teen (many years ago), and I cheered for Colonel Brandon when Marianne finally “smartened up” (yep, that is how I saw her liking Willoughby — not smart 🙂 ). I didn’t really consider the age difference a bit deal since it was a story from a time when that was the norm. And I don’t think I was thinking so much about whether they would have a passionate marriage of not when I was reading it (I was a very young teen). I was thinking that it would be a good marriage because his character was so strong. If I were to consider it now, the book does say she came to feel for him as strongly as she did Willoughby — so that must mean passionately enough to put herself in harms way for him? I am going to assume so and that with age and experience comes understanding and this passion would be much deeper and burn much longer, if not more brightly.

      • This ended up at the top, but I meant it to go here 🙂 Ria and Leenie, thanks for your excellent comments. It’s amazing hearing how well thought through this story is by so many of Jane’s faithful readers. I’m gaining so many new insights!

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.