*Warning: This post contains spoilers in regards to the narrative and characters from the novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or seen any of the adaptations.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Sense and Sensibility to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
We all deal with grief and heartbreak in different ways. Some of us grieve and then move on with our lives. Others go about our business and try to not let the past get in the way of our present. When the reader/audience meets Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, he introduced as the good friend of the cousin who is renting a small cottage on his property to the newly widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters. He is all manners and amiability, holding his metaphorical cards to the chest. Marianne Dashwood, Mrs. Dashwood’s 17-year-old daughter sees nothing but an old man who is boring and has resigned from life.
But Colonel Brandon is a different man from the readers initially meet. The younger son of wealthy landowner, in his youth, he was in love with Eliza, his father’s ward. She was equally in love with him and ready to run away with him, but they were discovered and stopped. Sent away by his father, Colonel Brandon learns that Eliza, who is an heiress was forced to marry his older brother. It was not a love match, to say the least.
A few years later, Colonel Brandon discovers that Eliza is now divorced from his older brother and is dying in a poorhouse. Forced to earn her bread by selling her body, Eliza has a young daughter. Though he cannot save Eliza, Colonel Brandon takes in Eliza’s daughter, raising her as his ward.
Though it is not immediately obvious to the reader (nor to Marianne, who only realizes who her heart belongs to at the end of the book), Colonel Brandon, though appearing to be outwardly boring, is very much the ideal life partner. He is loving, loyal, generous, considerate and the knight in shining armor that Marianne thinks she has in John Willoughby (who will be discussed in two weeks).
To sum it up: In creating Colonel Brandon, Jane Austen created a character who surprised the audience/reader. When a writer can surprise the audience and totally change the way the character or the narrative is looked at, then they have done their job. It is just a question of how to weave the surprise into the existing narrative and character arc.