Episode 9: The Three Willoughbys

Welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for everyone who loves bold witty women, awkward handsome men, and dragons. It’s been a looooong time since last we spoke and a lot has happened since then, so let’s get down to it. 

In Austen News Today:

Sanditon is back

Georgiana and Charlotte Sanditon
“Sanditon’s” Georgiana and Charlotte will return for season 2.

Last episode we talked with Amanda-Rae Prescott about a wide range of topics focusing on race in the Austen communities. We talked about Sanditon, not knowing at the time if Sanditon would ever return to the TV screen. Well, Good news everyone! Sanditon will return for a season 2 AND season 3!

After months and years of campaigning on social media from the #SanditonSisterhood, it appears the main reason for the show’s renewal is the success of fellow Regency-era romance, Bridgerton

Season 1 ended with a massive cliffhanger as Sidney married his old flame, Charlotte was leaving Sanditon, and Young Stringer decided against leaving Sanditon after his father died. News broke May 6 when Masterpiece and Red Planet Pictures announced the renewal. 

Deadline reports that: (The show’s) success on PBS’ Masterpiece strand has paved the way for a two-season renewal order. PBS is bringing it back for Season 2 and Season 3.

BritBox, the streaming service run by ITV and the BBC, will be the initial UK partner rather than the linear broadcaster, which will have second-run rights.

Rose Williams will return to play the high-spirited and independent heroine Charlotte Heywood. The series is based on Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel and was developed by Andrew Davies. 

Unfortunately for it’s fans, the show will go on without one of its stars. Theo James announced that he would not return as Sidney for season 2. 

“Although I relished playing Sidney, for me, I’ve always maintained that his journey concluded as I wanted it to,” James wrote in an announcement posted to the show’s social media accounts on Friday. “The broken fairy-tale like ending between Charlotte and Sidney is different, unique and so interesting to me and I wish the cast and crew of Sanditon every success with future series.”

Charlotte will have to find another love interest. Personally, I stan Young Stringer. 

I’m also hoping the writers give Crystal Clarke’s Georgiana Lambe a good story after the disappointment of season 1 and hire some people of color as writers. 

Jane Austen’s House Museum refreshing plans faces criticism

Jane Austen's House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, UK is the final home of the author.

Jane Austen’s House Museum in Hampshire issued a statement explaining that its plans to “refresh the displays and decorations” did not amount to “woke madness” or revisionist history, of which it had been accused.

The museum had announced plans in late March to refresh displays and decorations within the house to reflect the world and times in which she lived. This includes the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Jane’s father, George was a trustee of a sugar plantation in Antigua. Additionally, nearly 25 years after her death, Jane’s brother Henry was a delegate at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention

So the museum has decided to include displays and information about these timely and related events and issues. The museum’s Twitter account stated “We are increasingly asked questions about this by our visitors and it is therefore appropriate that we share the information and research that already exists on her connections to slavery and its mention in her novels.”

We would like to offer reassurance that we will not, and have never had any intention to, interrogate Jane Austen, her characters or her readers for drinking tea…. 

The overarching aim of this long-term process is to bring Jane Austen’s brilliance and the extraordinary flourishing of creativity she experienced at the House to the heart of every visit. Since we are a museum of Jane Austen’s domestic and creative life, this interpretation will by its very nature include the Regency, Empire and Colonial contexts in which she grew up and lived and from which she drew inspiration for her works. This will be part of a layered and nuanced presentation which will be based on long established, peer reviewed academic research, alongside Jane Austen’s own words and our collection. We firmly believe that placing Austen in the context of her time at her home will only make her genius shine more brightly.

I think it’s interesting to learn more about the world in which Jane lived. Her life and her members of her family were affected by what happened across the world. So I’m going to save my pennies so that when I get back to England someday, I’ll be able to visit the museum. 

But what are your thoughts on this, and what do you think of the coverage? Plenty of British tabloids have covered it, and the New York Times picked up the story in late April. I’d like to know what you think. 


In other news, there will be competing versions of Persuasion coming to your screens. Dakota Johnson, of 50 Shades fame, Cosmo Jarvis of Lady MacBeth and Crazy Rich Asians hunk Henry Golding, will star in Netflix’s version of Jane’s final completed novel. This version has been described as a ‘“modern, witty approach” to a beloved story,’ according to Vanity

Netflix’s version will compete with Searchlight Picture’s Persuasions starring Sarah Snook, who played Shiv Roy on HBO’s drama Succession as Anne Elliot and Joel Fry, who played the infamous Hizdahr zo Loraq in Game of Thrones as Captain Wentworth.

hizdahr zo loraq
Joel Fry, who played Hizdahr zo Loraq in Game of Thrones, will play another love interest, as Captain Wentworth in one of two versions of Persuasion being filmed.

I suppose fans will choose their favorite Persuasion based on their preferred Anne and Wentworth. Just like we choose our Pride & Prejudice based on our favorite Elizabeth and Darcy. Personally, I’m a Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth fan for life. 

Data storage scientists save Mansfield Park in molecules

Finally, scientists working, aptly, at the University of Texas at Austin have used a molecular data storage technique to encode a quote from Mansfield Park. The quote, from Chapter 5 reads: “If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere”.

According to the team, the words can be read back without prior knowledge of the structures that encoded the passage. You can read more about the encoding technique in Cell Reports Physical Science.

mansfield park data
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have used a molecular data storage technique to encode a quote from Mansfield Park.

That’s all for Austen News Today. 

Chapter 9: Sense and Sensibility

In our last episode Marianne couldn’t comprehend why someone as old and ill as Colonel Brandon could be in love with her. He must be old and ill since he complains of aches and wears a flannel waistcoat. But she was far more concerned about Elinor. It had been weeks since they moved and there was no word about Edward visiting them. Elinor, however, appears indifferent, and Marianne can’t grasp her sister’s self control. 

Chapter 9 finds the Dashwood women making their new home their own. 

The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding them, were now become familiar, and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with far greater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford, since the loss of their father. Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them always employed.

So the Dashwoods are always doing something. As we’ve discussed before, Elinor paints and Marianne plays piano, so they’re obviously busy with those, but they also likely have a lot to do around the cottage. They also did a lot of sewing, making dresses, bonnets, and lots of other items, and of course embroidery. They definitely read novels, especially Marianne. But they also enjoy the outdoors. They, especially Marianne, who shares my love of trees, love nature and explore the nearby countryside and neighborhood around Barton. 

Part of this reason is likely because Mrs. D doesn’t want to borrow Sir John’s carriage in order to widen their social circle and visit more distant families. And there aren’t many families close enough for a walk.   

There were but few who could be so classed; and it was not all of them that were attainable. About a mile and a half from the cottage, along the narrow winding valley of Allenham, which issued from that of Barton, as formerly described, the girls had, in one of their earliest walks, discovered an ancient respectable looking mansion which, by reminding them a little of Norland, interested their imagination and made them wish to be better acquainted with it. But they learnt, on enquiry, that its possessor, an elderly lady of very good character, was unfortunately too infirm to mix with the world, and never stirred from home.

Since this limits the people the girls can visit, they spend their time outdoors.

The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were a happy alternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up their superior beauties; and towards one of these hills did Marianne and Margaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two others from their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne’s declaration that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud would be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set off together.

This has been the weather in my neck of the woods for weeks. Rainy days with occasional sunshine. I wish I had downs to walk across. 

So Marianne and Margaret have been cooped up for two days because of rain. We know Marianne by now and she must have been bored stiff. So of course she’s going to risk getting caught in the rain and she probably doesn’t need to convince Margaret to go with her. Those high downs are finally appearing after probably being hidden by rain clouds and they’re calling to the girls. Of course, sensible Elinor is not going to risk getting muddy, so she and Mrs. D stay home to draw and read. 

They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of a high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations.

“Is there a felicity in the world,” said Marianne, “superior to this?—Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours.”

Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set full in their face. Chagrined and surprised, they were obliged, though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their own house. One consolation however remained for them, to which the exigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety,—it was that of running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill which led immediately to their garden gate.

They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage, but a false step brought her suddenly to the ground; and Margaret, unable to stop herself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and reached the bottom in safety.

I’m gonna stop here for a minute. 

Oh Marianne. Her decision to go out has come back to bite her, in the ankle. But they actually take advantage of the rain here to run down the hill. It wasn’t proper for women, or girls to run. Because they might accidentally show their legs, and you know. Women couldn’t show legs, they basically had to pretend they didn’t have them. But they have the excuse of the rain to stretch out and run. 

The description of the peeps of blue sky amind the clouds, the steep hill, and this southwesterly wind, which in southwestern England brings rain. It conjures such an image. You can actually see the girls running helter skelter down the hill in the wind and the rain, laughing as they go. 

But they are totally out of control. Marianne takes a false step and falls, and Margaret can’t stop. She’s running so fast that gravity takes her all the way to her front door. 

These paragraphs are so visual. You can see everything here, and I don’t think you always can in Austen, but here it’s visceral.

A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Marianne, when her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in her fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services; and perceiving that her modesty declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without farther delay, and carried her down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directly into the house, whither Margaret was just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated her in a chair in the parlour.

There it is. A damsel in distress saved by a handsome stranger who appears out of nowhere. So romantic. A man obviously dressed as a gentleman with two hunting dogs is just walking up the hill past Marianne when she falls. I wonder if she was checking him out when she fell? Anyways. He puts down the gun, runs to help her and she can’t stand up, but she also can’t ask him to help her up. That would be far too personal. Women and men did not touch in public, especially strangers. That’s why dancing was so important, because they could touch hands. So Marianne can’t ask him to even help her up. But this stranger literally sweeps her off her feet and carries her home.

Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.

She thanked him again and again; and, with a sweetness of address which always attended her, invited him to be seated. But this he declined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Dashwood then begged to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby, and his present home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would allow him the honour of calling tomorrow to enquire after Miss Dashwood. The honour was readily granted, and he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.

He sweeps in from nowhere, rescues the fair maiden and disappears again into the rain. 

This is so good. How can you not enjoy this? Even if it’s kind of trite after 200 years of the trope, it’s still romantic. Handsome, elegant, dashing, and heroic (we think). There is no getting over this. 

Willoughby’s History

I want to briefly sidebar here about Willoughby. In episode 1, I talked about some of the influences on Sense and Sensibility, but we’ve kind of ignored them for the past eight chapters. I wanted to bring up the influences again today because I’ve been looking into the influences for Willoughby, particularly his entrance. 

We’ve discussed the influences of Pamela, Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa, Richardson, Cowper, and Radcliffe, on the podcast, but we haven’t looked at Frances Burney’s Evelina or Charlotte Smith’s Celestina.

Frances Burney Evelina
Frances Burney’s Evelina featured a baronet named Sir Clement Willoughby.

Both of these books have male characters named Willoughby. Burney’s Sir Clement Willoughby is a baronet, and one of Evelina’s suitors. He’s this super aggressive creep and constantly pesters and propositions Evelina while she’s in London. Truth be told, I haven’t read this book…yet. But it’s on my very long list of books to read. 

Charlotte Smith’s George Willoughby is actually the hero of this sentimental novel and Celstina’s beloved, who together have a happily ever after in the end. So we have two very different Willoughbys. A sexual predator and a romantic hero of sensibility. 

Our Willoughby, or rather Marianne’s Willoughby, is something of a mix of these two characters. 

In my research on this topic, I found a volume of Persuasions Online, the journal of the Jane Austen Society of North American. of Persuasions Online, the journal of Jane Austen Society of North America. The essay, “What Happens at the Party: Jane Austen Converses with Charlotte Smith,” by Jacqueline Labbe was published in Volume 30 No. 2 in Spring 2010. 

…Smith’s Willoughby acts as a bridge between Sir Clement Willoughby, the rake in Evelina, and John Willoughby, whose mysterious transformation from lover in sensibility mode to selfish gold-digger with a libertine past has disturbed many readers (Labbe 113-14). Smith’s George Willoughby begins and ends Celestina as a man of feeling, but he spends much of the middle portion of the novel engaged to an heiress at the behest of his aunt, so that his estates may be disencumbered. Celestina voices the anxiety that Austen’s characters come to feel:  “Willoughby—but no!  it is impossible:  he cannot be unworthy—he cannot have cruelly deceived me—it is impossible” (156).  She is reassured that “it is indeed . . . impossible for Mr. Willoughby to be guilty of any unworthy action,” and so it proves, eventually; but Austen, by employing both her models, creates a Willoughby who is simultaneously a man of feeling and a desiring rake. Her contemporary readers, well versed in their Burney and their Smith, may thus have had a forewarning of Willoughby’s unstable status subsequently lost to later readers for whom Smith was not so much a closed as an unknown book.


Spoiler, John Willoughby, that is Marianne’s Willoughby, is a sexy romantic hero turned villain. Sorry to ruin the ending for you, if you haven’t read the book, but that’s what’s going to happen. 

Anyways, we now have this handsome, mysterious man who rescues our romantic beautiful heroine and has disappeared back into the rain, but the Dashwood women are not about to let this event drop. They have to talk about the babe, uh man. 

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions. Marianne herself had seen less of his person than the rest, for the confusion which crimsoned over her face, on his lifting her up, had robbed her of the power of regarding him after their entering the house. But she had seen enough of him to join in all the admiration of the others, and with an energy which always adorned her praise. His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story; and in his carrying her into the house with so little previous formality, there was a rapidity of thought which particularly recommended the action to her. Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting. His name was good, his residence was in their favourite village, and she soon found out that of all manly dresses a shooting-jacket was the most becoming. Her imagination was busy, her reflections were pleasant, and the pain of a sprained ankle was disregarded.

So this guy is hot. Like super hot and super nice and the girls can’t stop talking about him. They tease Marianne for being rescued by this romantic hero, like from one of the books she loves so much. Marianne, of course, couldn’t see much of him from in his arms. And she was properly embarrassed to be saved like that by a stranger, so she really couldn’t gape at him while he carried her. She didn’t get a really good look at him until he put her down. So I guess she wasn’t staring at him when she fell. 

The circumstances, his looks and the whirlwind of the storybook romance all make him that much more interesting to Marianne. His relationship with the owner of the old mansion they see on their walks adds to her interest, and within minutes, Marianne is over her ankle and ready to fall again. This time for Willoughby instead of in front of him. 

Well, Willoughby is the talk of Barton Cottage for the rest of the day and luckily for them, Sir John comes to visit. 

Sir John called on them as soon as the next interval of fair weather that morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Marianne’s accident being related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew any gentleman of the name of Willoughby at Allenham.

“Willoughby!” cried Sir John; “what, is he in the country? That is good news however; I will ride over tomorrow, and ask him to dinner on Thursday.”

“You know him then,” said Mrs. Dashwood.

“Know him! to be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year.”

“And what sort of a young man is he?”

“As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.”

“And is that all you can say for him?” cried Marianne, indignantly. “But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius?”

Sir John was rather puzzled.

“Upon my soul,” said he, “I do not know much about him as to all that. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?”

Of course Sir John is puzzled, these are all the attributes Sir John looks for in a man. Willoughby is a good rider, a good shot, and has a beautiful dog. The narrator tells us this in Chapter 7. “[H]e esteems only those of his sex who are sportsmen likewise.” 

He only cares about other sportsmen. A description like he gave would probably be enough for him to promise his own daughter to a man. 

But Marianne isn’t satisfied, and neither are we. 

Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr. Willoughby’s pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.

Then sensible Elinor comes to the rescue with some questions Sir John can actually answer. 

“But who is he?” said Elinor. “Where does he come from? Has he a house at Allenham?”

Sir John can provide more info here. He says Willoughby is staying with a relative at Allenham Court, which he will one day inherit, Sir John assumes. Then he pulls a Mrs Jennings and teases Marianne. 

“Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching I can tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger sister, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Miss Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon will be jealous, if she does not take care.”

But Mrs. Dashwood is not Mrs. Bennet. She does not encourage her girls to chase men. 

“I do not believe,” said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good humoured smile, “that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of my daughters towards what you call catching him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe with us, let them be ever so rich.”

Can you imagine Mrs. Bennet saying that? Well, she might say it, but she certainly wouldn’t mean it and no one who’s met her would believe her. Mrs. D is the anti Mrs. Bennet. She really means this. The Dashwood girls have not been raised to chase men. That doesn’t mean they’re not in the marriage market. Finding a suitable husband was serious business in Georgian England. Hell, it should still be serious business.

But this doesn’t mean Mrs. D isn’t interested in what Sir John has to say about Willoughby. 

“I am glad to find, however, from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose acquaintance will not be ineligible.”

“He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived,” repeated Sir John. “I remember last Christmas at a little hop at the park, he danced from eight o’clock till four, without once sitting down.”

“Did he indeed?” cried Marianne with sparkling eyes, “and with elegance, with spirit?”

“Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert.”

“That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue.”

This is what Marianne wanted to hear! She wants that Man of Feeling, a man with spirit who can stay up all night and still be ready to go hunting the next morning. Basically, Marianne wants–or thinks she wants–a party boy. 

Oh 17. Remember that age? When the fun boys were far more interesting than the studious ones? Here it is: Elinor in her subtle, restrained way, is attracted to the studious guy while her sister wants the party boy. 

Sir John sees right through her:

“Aye, aye, I see how it will be,” said Sir John, “I see how it will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poor Brandon.”

“That is an expression, Sir John,” said Marianne, warmly, “which I particularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man,’ or ‘making a conquest,’ are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity.”

Sir John did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed as heartily as if he did, and then replied,

“Ay, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other. Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already, and he is very well worth setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling about and spraining of ankles.”

Marianne reproaches Sir John again for teasing her. She really doesn’t like these cliches or adages. They’re trite and over-used to the point where they’ve lost their uniqueness, according to Marianne. But Sir John doesn’t really get what she’s saying and thinks she’s joking, or maybe he’s confused and laughing through his confusion. I do that. 

But he feels for Brandon, who is crushing hard on Marianne, and Sir John does think highly of his friend. Regardless of his ability to describe Willoughby, and the fact that he likes everyone, Sir John is trying to describe Brandon’s worth to her in the only way he’s able to. 

Brandon is “very well worth setting your cap at…,” he has far more than the ability to dance all night and hunt all day. Even though Sir John has little in common with Brandon, he understands his worth as a potential husband. 

Well, this has been a busy episode, and I hope you have all enjoyed today’s readings. I know I have. Next episode we’ll read Chapter 10 and learn more of how Willoughby fits Marianne’s standard for the perfect man, and how Elinor begins to stan Brandon. 

That’s all for today. Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. Today’s episode was written and edited by me, Casey Meserve, and produced by Jeremy Meserve. 

You can listen to all our episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen. If you’d like to leave a rating or review on Apple Podcasts that would really help us out. 

 You can write to me at entsandsensibility at gmail.com And follow Ents and Sensibility on Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram. 

If you’d like to purchase any of the books mentioned on the show, check out the Bookshelf page on EntsandSensibility.com. We also have show notes on every show, and much more. 

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