I’ve slowly come to the crippling realization that I am my own worst enemy and it’s all Colonel Brandon’s fault. See, it’s fairly simple. I hate Colonel Brandon. Absolutely loathe him. He’s a sucky character and unworthy of the “hero” role into which Jane Austen so presumptuously thrust him in Sense & Sensibility. Perhaps I’m being unfair because S&S is my least favorite Austen novel. Maybe it’s because I have lofty ideals of an Austen hero challenging the heroine with his witty banter instead of swooping in to be her saving grace. There’s no maybe about that one, actually. I hate that Colonel Brandon saves Marianne. She shouldn’t need saving in the first place. (A lot of my anger might be misplaced, simply because I dislike Marianne). Furthermore, Colonel Brandon is too old for Marianne. It’s kind of skeevy (granted they live in the early 19th century).
But I’ve got my reasons for disliking Colonel Brandon. Here are some of them:
- He’s too old for Marianne. Well, yes, that’s arguably true. But, at the same time, he’s not imposing or thrusting himself in her path. He’s patient and waits for her to come to him. He’s a friend to her in the meantime. And in the scope of Austen heroes, he’s well within an acceptable age-range. Knightley was almost 20 years older than Emma. Darcy’s probably 15 years older than Elizabeth. I’m just saying, he doesn’t really follow the “his age divided by 2 plus 7” rule.
- There’s just no chemistry. Honestly, Col. Brandon has more chemistry with Mrs. Dashwood than he does with Marianne. Which, really, is reason enough to dislike his pursuing Mrs. Dashwood’s teenage daughter.
- He’s so blah. No witty banter. None. He just seems old and tired. Run-down. He probably needs a vacation to Bath to lighten up. Jeesh. He’s practically curmudgeonly.
- He’s old-school (unironically). Flannel waistcoats. Need I say more?
A lot of this I stand by. It’s not simply that he’s too old for her, it’s that he’s already been in love and only falls in love with Marianne because she reminds him of that girl he never had. The relationship between Marianne and Col. Brandon is one that has to be learned and I don’t like that. Marianne, at the end of the book, just kind of seems like, “Oh, very well. It’s not like I’ve got many other prospects, and this guy clearly loves me unconditionally…”
And they don’t really have chemistry. Austen novels teach us, over and over again, that chemistry is very important in a relationship. That witty banter is just a thin veil for their sexual tension. Compared to the sizzling dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon are limp, overcooked noodles. I mean, sure, by the end of the novel Marianne is a different person than she was in the beginning. She knows that the “bad boy” Willoughby isn’t the best bet for a comfortable marriage. So she goes for his polar opposite: Colonel Brandon?
The thing that really kills me about Colonel Brandon, though, is that I can kind of identify with him. I see where he’s coming from. He’s lived, his heart’s been broken by unrequited love, he just wants to settle down. He doesn’t force Marianne into anything or make any presumptions. He doesn’t judge her. He lets her make her own choices, even when they (inevitably) lead to mistakes. I can respect that. Maybe Marianne will have to learn to love Colonel Brandon, but you know he won’t crowd her while that’s happening.
The single most way that I can identify with him, however, is in our infirmities. Neither of us are old. Well, I guess given life expectancies in early 19th century England, he was a little bit old. As a matter of fact, to him Marianne must be a veritable whippersnapper. But, alas, she was of age… Anyhow, infirmities. We both have them. Flannel waistcoat? He wears it. Sounds like something I would wear, too – and not just because of the implied hipster-ism. I’m not above admitting that I bust out the long-underwear every winter to stay nice and toasty. Also, Colonel Brandon just strikes me as the kind of guy who frequently is in need of a hot water bottle. You and me both, mister. But, similarities aside, regardless of my respect for him, I have to say, he’s still my least favorite of Austen’s “heroes” and I’m not comfortable in casting him in such a light.
“But at least, mama, you cannot deny the absurdity of the accusation, though you may not think it intentionally ill-natured. ColonelBrandon is certainly younger than Mrs. Jennings, but he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous! When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?” [Marianne]
“Infirmity!” said Elinor, “do you call ColonelBrandon infirm? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to my mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the use of his limbs?”
“Did not you hear him complain of the rheumatism? and is not that the commonest infirmity of declining life?”
“My dearest child,” said her mother laughing, “at this rate, you must be in continual terror of my decay; and it must seem to you a miracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty.”
“Mama, you are not doing me justice. I know very well that ColonelBrandon is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive of losing him in the course of nature. He may live twenty years longer. But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony.”
“Perhaps,” said Elinor, “thirty-five and seventeen had better not have anything to do with matrimony together. But if there should by any chance happen to be a woman who is single at seven-and-twenty, I should not think Colonel Brandon’s being thirty-five any objection to his marrying her .”
And, yes, after reading scenes such as this, I do often wonder as to why the hell Elinor didn’t end up with Colonel Brandon. And then I remember that stupid Mr. Ferrars. (No, the other stupid Mr. Ferrars.)