Collapsing a Triangle

I’ll be honest. I took way too long to settle on a topic for this issue, “Love Triangles.”

I sat and stared at my blank computer screen, racking my brains for something—anything!—yet coming up empty. Finally, I complained to a dear friend (and fellow Femnista writer). “Where have all the good love triangles gone? Why, oh why, can’t I think of one?”

Her response was immediate: “Sense and Sensibility! Your favorite Austen story!”

And lo, out of darkness, there appeared a great light… in my brain, that is. “Oh.”

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Sense and Sensibility features one of the great love triangles of classic literature, between Colonel Brandon, John Willoughby, and Miss Marianne Dashwood. It has all the drama, passion, deceit, betrayal, unrequited pining, and near-death experiences any romance fan could wish. Why didn’t it spring to mind when I was asked to write about a love triangle? Why the endless brain-racking?

That’s easy. I forgot Sense and Sensibility’s triangle because only one ‘point’ of that triangle matters to me. Colonel Brandon has captured my heart so thoroughly, John Willoughby all but fades out of existence. Willoughby means nothing. His rival means everything.

How can Marianne spend three-quarters of the book obsessed with this Willoughby fellow? I don’t understand it! What’s his attraction? He reads poetry? Please… I don’t even like poetry all that much. He dances all night without getting tired? Dancing is for the birds, friends. He’s good looking? Excuse me, have you taken a glance at Alan Rickman or David Morrissey lately?

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Colonel Brandon, unlike Willoughby, is the real thing, and no girl in her right mind would turn him down. This means you, Mademoiselle Marianne! He has a house, and land, and a settled future. He has an Army career and plenty of life experience under his belt. He’s not about to be summarily disinherited for predatory sexual behavior. He doesn’t sleep around because he can’t make up his mind. When he chooses to love, to care, he sees the job through to the end, regardless of return or reward.

Let’s not forget, he boasts a delicious middle-distance smolder. (Thanks, Alan Rickman.)

For the sake of the drama, the conflict, and the intrigue, I suppose I’m glad Marianne has such a hard time choosing the right man. Sense and Sensibility wouldn’t be the classic it is today without Willoughby. But were I in her shoes, I’d run to Colonel Brandon’s arms before you could say “Regency Period,” and the triangle would collapse in the twinkling of an eye.

The book’s over. Everybody go home. Especially Willoughby. We don’t need him ‘round here no more.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott is a former homeschool student and current graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in American history with a focus on immigration studies. In her (sadly limited) free time, she can usually be found listening to “Hamilton” or Celine Dion or Twenty One Pilots and dreaming up new ideas for historical fiction novels. Which, she hopes, will someday make her famous. Someday. She also blogs.

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8 thoughts on “Collapsing a Triangle

  1. Lady Nefertankh

    Ah, finally someone says the magic words “GOOD Love Triangles!” it’s not that love triangles are inherently bad as a plot device (the classic film Casablanca comes to mind as well), it’s just that so many of them seem lackluster. Either it’s obvious from the start who the heroine will choose, or both choices seem so stupid you stop caring–if we haven’t gotten irked with the heroine yet for being an idiot!

    But a case where we can really see why the heroine (or hero!) would be conflicted, where the story gradually establishes a growing attraction, or a reason why they might feel both have a claim on their heart–that’s another story!

    My thoughts are that perhaps that book!Willoughby is meant to be a bit more handsome than his onscreen counterparts, perhaps in a more “obvious” way to Marianne’s eyes than Col Brandon. (Though I doubt the literary Brandon is meant to be hideous either!) Superficially, he possessed traits that might make him seem like a better match–unless you know about his much uglier side. It’s all part of the reason why Sense and Sensibility is such a great story, and one that your article has made me want to revisit! 😀

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    1. iamcharlesbakerharris

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

      I totally agree! Sense and Sensibility is a great story precisely because the love triangle is so well-done. It doesn’t feel contrived in any way. Even though I, personally, have a hard time seeing how Marianne could possibly be attracted to Willoughby–Austen still does an excellent job of building Marianne’s attraction into this very real & palpable feeling, so regardless of your opinions on the two guys, you do feel genuine tension/conflict there. You feel bad for Marianne, too, when she finds out Willoughby’s not all that he seems.

      Enjoy your re-read!! 🙂

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  2. Charity Post author

    I have a sneaking suspicion you would have highly approved of a group sleepover I held, in which the main attraction was the Emma Thompson “Sense & Sensibility.” Every single girl in the room was an unabashed Brandon fan, so we spent the entire film mocking and ridiculing Willoughby (“Pfft, cheapskate can’t even bring nice flowers — he just yanked those from a hedgerow!”) and ad-libbing half the dialogue. (We also dropped in a few disparaging remarks about how deeply uncomfortable Hugh Grant looked in a high collar, but nobody’s perfect.) All in all, it was one of the more memorable evenings of my life.

    I still prefer the Rickman / Winslet adaptation in terms of this pairing, but I do regret we never got the chance to see Brandon challenge him to a duel, which I believe the book mentions. That was one good addition in the later miniseries, even if I wasn’t as keen on their Brandon.

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    1. iamcharlesbakerharris

      A Willoughby-bashing party? Sounds like my kind of party 😀 😀

      Oooooooooooooh, my. *takes a moment to savor the thought of Alan Rickman wielding a sword* Yes, I definitely agree the duel should’ve been part of that movie–after all, it’s in the book (offscreen, but still), and it has such potential for Drama.

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      1. Charity Post author

        Emma Thompson is a glorious individual, but in that respect, she may have dropped the ball, forever disappointing all the Rickman/Brandon fangirls. 😉

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