When we first meet Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility he is quickly established as Marianne Dashwood's admirer much to her dismay. At seventeen she considers the thirty five year old colonel to be past his prime: '...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?"
When dashing Mr Willoughby appears on the scene Marianne retreats from the colonel's company altogether and takes as much opportunity to ridicule him alongside her lover. Her sister Elinor values Brandon's friendship and sensible conversation, she can see how much he is attracted to Marianne and knows that with the livelier Willoughby for a rival he does not stand a chance. She warms to him even further when she discovers a little about his past.
Elinor's compassion for him (Colonel Brandon) increased, as she had reason to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already been known by him. This suspicion was given by some words which accidentally dropt from him one evening at the Park, when they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed on Marianne, and, after a silence of some minutes, he said with a faint smile, "Your sister, I understand, does not approve of second attachments."
"No," replied Elinor, "her opinions are all romantic."
"Or rather, as I believe, she considers them impossible to exist."
"I believe she does. But how she contrives it without reflecting on the character of her own father, who had himself two wives, I know not. A few years, however, will settle her opinions on the reasonable basis of common sense and observation; and then they may be more easy to define and to justify than they now are, by anybody but herself."
"This will probably be the case," he replied; "and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions."
"I cannot agree with you there," said Elinor. "There are inconveniences attending such feelings as Marianne's, which all the charms of enthusiasm and ignorance of the world cannot atone for. Her systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as her greatest possible advantage."
After a short pause he resumed the conversation by saying -
"Does your sister make no distinction in her objections against a second attachment? or is it equally criminal in everybody? Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances, to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?"
"Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the minutiæ of her principles. I only know that I never yet heard her admit any instance of a second attachment's being pardonable."
"This," said he, "cannot hold; but a change, a total change of sentiments - No, no, do not desire it, - for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change - from a series of unfortunate circumstances" - Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures which might not otherwise have entered Elinor's head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.
We later learn that the young lady in question is Colonel Brandon's first love who was forced to marry his brother against her will. Divorced and abandoned whilst the colonel is in India, on his return he is to discover that she has fallen into low company and living a life of sin. As she lies dying Colonel Brandon promises he will look after her three year old daughter, another Eliza, and he becomes her guardian.
When Willoughby later abandons Marianne for the wealthier Miss Grey we learn of another reason for his swift transfer of affection. Willoughby has met and seduced the Colonel's ward who has given birth to a daughter. He, in turn, has been disinherited by his benefactor as a result, and must now marry for money if he is to continue to enjoy the lifestyle he prefers.
Colonel Brandon is first attracted to Marianne because of the likeness she has to his first love. "Your sister, I hope, cannot be offended," said he, "by the resemblance I have fancied between her and my poor disgraced relation. Their fates, their fortunes cannot be the same; and had the natural sweet disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind, or an happier marriage, she might have been all that you will live to see the other be.
I cannot help thinking that this coupled with the fact that he maintains a close relationship with his ward and Willoughby's child would create certain tensions within their marriage. How would Marianne feel about the fact that she looks so similar to Eliza? Wouldn't a part of her always be questioning whether she is loved for herself alone, and be wondering if she is being compared to the grand passion of his youth? We know 'Marianne could never love by halves' and in my new book, Willoughby's Return, I explore this aspect of their relationship. Mrs Brandon is a passionate woman - she might even be jealous of her husband's first love, especially as she lives on in her daughter and granddaughter. The fact that both the colonel and Marianne have both been in love before provided me with lots of inspiration!
Willoughby's Return is published by Sourcebooks on November 1st 2009