Can a second chance with John Willoughby allow Marianne to have the love they desire in their lives?
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Regency Sequel of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
Welcome back another post from my blog event, “Beyond ‘Pride & Prejudice,’: The Other Side of JAFF”, where I am sharing reviews and giveaways of variations and adaptations based on Austen’s other works. Today I am thrilled to review Jane Odiwe’s Willoughby’s Return.
I have longed to read a variation based on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility since the beginning of my JAFF journey. It is my second favorite of her six major works, and the 1995 adaptation, written and directed by Emma Thompson, who since then has been married to the delectable Greg Wise, is also my second favorite Jane Austen adaptation. On another note, the 1995 Sense and Sensibility soundtrack is my absolute favorite soundtrack from an Austen adaptation, so I’m sure you’re getting the sense of how much I love Sense and Sensibility.
Opinions vary when I speak with other Jane Austen readers about this story. Some find it to be a melancholy tale without the brightness and cheer conveyed in Pride and Prejudice, while other readers I have discussed it with believe it’s one of Austen’s more humorous works if one only scratches below its surface. In this fabulous interview with Patricia Meyer Spacks, Austen scholar and author of Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, she conveys many of my sentiments about this story. In her interview, when asked why she loves Sense and Sensibility, Professor Spacks states,
“Sense and Sensibility is a different kind of choice from the others. I wouldn’t say that I loved it the best. I wouldn’t even say that I loved it as much as I loved Northanger Abbey, which I didn’t put on the list. But I’m fascinated by it, because it has changed shape over the years for me as I reread it. I am currently writing a book about rereading, so I’m thinking a lot about what happens when you reread things.
“I started off with a sense of Sense and Sensibility as a rather stereotypical novel – very much like a lot of 18th century novels that I’ve read. There is a good sister and a bad sister, and the bad sister gets reformed and everybody lives happily ever after. But as I kept rereading it, I started to realise that it is actually a very dark novel, probably the darkest of Austen’s novels.”
“In the first place, because of the very real sense of financial danger which hovers around the characters, or at least the characters one likes. There is nothing like it elsewhere in Jane Austen (except the family of origin of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, which is even more horrifying, I suppose). But thinking of the marriages at the end, there’s been a lot been written about Marianne’s marriage to a much older man, an anti-romantic marriage. But Elinor’s marriage is also not very attractive. Edward, unlike any of the male protagonists of the other books, appears to be a seriously depressed man. He’s a mama’s boy, he has never accomplished anything in his life and there is no sense of his having a vocation as a minister – that just seems to be what he ends up doing. One can’t anticipate a very cheery life for Elinor and Edward. As for Colonel Brandon, he is, to my mind at least, a very attractive figure. But he is certainly not the figure that Marianne would dream of and it seems as though she has willed herself to accept him, rather than accepted him out of real feeling. It’s true that Austen says that Marianne learned to love him. But, still, it isn’t a very cheery marriage. In all of the novels except Pride and Prejudice, at the end Austen gives you some suggestion of difficulties coming in the marriage. Usually that’s fairly light-hearted. But it’s not light-hearted in Sense and Sensibility. It seems to be a dark novel masquerading as a light novel, and I find that very interesting.”
So, it is with this sense of impending darkness and uncertainty about the fates of Marianne and Elinor’s marriages that I started reading Jane Odiwe’s book, Willoughby’s Return, which opens up three years after both sisters are married and settled in Devonshire. Elinor and Edward Ferrars are happily married with children, while Marianne and Colonel Brandon have also been blessed with a young heir named James. Included within this story with her own substantial storyline, is the outspoken, yet likable Miss Margaret Dashwood; as strong-willed and independent as ever, Margaret has yet to find a man to turn her head and her heart towards the idea of romantic love. So when Mrs. Brandon discovers that her nephew, Henry Lawrence, who has been away the past several years, is returning to Devonshire, she immediately sets a plan into action for Margaret and Henry to become acquainted with one another in an attempt to pair them up as a romantic pair. Does this remind you a bit of another matchmaking Austen heroine?
In the midst of this, Mr. John Willoughby himself returns to Devonshire, and Marianne soon finds herself reexamining her old feelings and ideas concerning this gentleman. When Willoughby appears to be less than happily married and more interested in rekindling his friendship with her, Marianne’s feelings about him become as jumbled and tumultuous as ever. How dare he reappear as a friend to Henry Lawrence and cause her to experience this unanticipated disturbance!
Ms. Odiwe offers us a glimpse into the Brandon marriage as well, and what we find here isn’t a rosy picture when one examines the marriage from Marianne’s. In love with her husband and relishing her role as a young mother, while also exhibiting confidence and pleasure in her role as the mistress of Delaford Park, Marianne still doesn’t have the one thing she desires; her husband’s undivided attention. Colonel Brandon, feeling torn between his duty to his new family and his ward Eliza, and her own young child, who receives neither attention or support from her father, John Willoughby. Colonel Brandon easily slips into the role of surrogate father to Willoughby’s daughter, and heads off to Lyme at a moment’s notice, leaving Marianne feeling lonely, insecure and resentful during his absences. In the spaces of these absences, Marianne eventually finds herself alone in London with Margaret and begins to place her full attention on her matchmaking efforts.
However, even after Henry Lawrence shows a preference for the delightful Miss Dashwood, all bets are off that their relationship is a sure thing due to the desires of his mother, Colonel Brandon’s sister, along with the arrival of a former childhood friend. What was hoped to be a time filled with balls, and soirées and romance, takes a turn in another direction for both sisters. Can their hearts be restored to fulfill their desires, or must they both find new paths to happiness now that everything appears to be topsy-turvy in their lives?
Ms. Odiwe’s story made me happily realize how much I could love reading more variations based on Sense and Sensibility. I may even come to love them almost much as I’ve loved numerous variations based on Pride and Prejudice; the characters are just that dear to my heart! I missed seeing more of Elinor and Edward in this story, but I did enjoy the way Ms. Odiwe included several supporting characters into her story, such as Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, and Lucy Ferrars, especially in London where a lot of the drama unfolds in the story. For this, I dearly thank you Jane Odiwe!
As a card-carrying member of Team Willoughby, which you may decide to despise me for, I also relished seeing Marianne spend time in this “reformed” rogue’s company; could she really be doubting her decision to marry Colonel Brandon? Well, I always wondered what would happen within this love triangle if they ever encountered each other again, and Willoughby’s Return certainly allows us to imagine this situation through Ms. Odiwe’s well-written, imaginative and amusing book. Her story brings alive Marianne’s exuberance and romantic personality, while allowing readers to empathize with her new conundrum. How can she truly determine the fate that will bring her a restored sense of self-worth and the companionship she longs for in marriage?
The only part of the story that lacked the development I wanted to read more about was the relationship between Colonel Brandon and Marianne, including more about how Marianne learned to love Colonel Brandon. After all, as even Patricia Meyer Spacks asserts, that’s one of the parting thoughts that Austen left us with, and since Colonel Brandon is absent from large parts of this story, I didn’t feel that I gained enough of a real sense of how love came to grow between be them in their relationship. A Team Willoughby girl like me just needed a bit more reassurance of this!
Any JAFF reader who has doubted if he/she could love a variation based on Sense and Sensibility should certainly give Willoughby’s Return a try!
I would like to offer all of my Just jane 1813 readers with a U.S.or Canadian mailing address, a chance to win a paperback copy of Willoughby’s Return. To enter this giveaway, share any of your thoughts related to this review or to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. I’d love to read your thoughts about these stories! Please leave a comment by June 30th. The winner will be announced on this blog on July 1, 2016.
You can also check out a lovely interview with Jane Odiwe, where she shares how Jane Austen has shaped her life. She’s such an inspiration to the JAFF community!
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