I am a huge and avid fan of Jane Austen and her works. I am a Janeite, and I wear that badge proudly because as an anthropologist I believe the academic mindset that named those who appreciate Jane Austen the “wrong” (read: non-academic “popular culture”) way is full of “high-culture” baloney. You do not have to be an academic or an intellectual elitist to love and respect the stories Jane Austen told, and the writer who told them. Fie on those who say otherwise.
One of the biggest academic and non-academic kerfuffles about Austen’s work is the divide between those who love Sense and Sensibility’s Colonel Brandon and are happy as clams that Marianne Dashwood married him instead of Willoughby and those who think Colonel Brandon was not sufficiently developed to be a proper hero for a character as three-dimensional the middle Dashwood sister.
As award-winning author Margaret Drabble explains regarding those who dislike the Brandon/Marianne pairing:
The conclusion of Marianne’s story is not quite so satisfactory … The author returns to her object in the last seven paragraphs of the book … and proceeds to describe the complete reversal of her world picture and her marriage, at nineteen,m to the flannel-waistcoated thirty-seven-year-old Colonel Brandon … Most readers and some critics have with reason found this resolution somewhat unsatisfactory. It is usually objected that Colonel Brandon is too sketchy a character to be accepted as a fitting husband for the complex and demanding Marianne … Also, the disparities in age alarm us almost as much as they alarmed the sixteen-year-old Marianne herself, and we must question the happy ending that portrays her as one who … “became, in turn, as much devoted” to her husband as she had been to Willoughby … Austen does her best to render plausible Brandon’s somewhat unlikely passion for Marianne, but there is little to suggest that anything other than a certain failure of hope and spirit would have persuaded her to settle for him.
I have always disagreed with this dismissal of Brandon. From my first reading of the book, when I was – like Marianne Dashwood – a romantic and sensibility-leaning teenager, I have loved Colonel Brandon.
At the time I adored Han Solo with a purple passion and if Harrison Ford had asked me to marry him, the knowledge that he is 30 years older than myself would not have seemed to have bee an insurmountable obstacle. Teens aren’t great about thinking of what marriage to a 73 year old man would be like because when he is that old the teen will be also be “old” … the ripe grown-up age of 42. Old is old, right? When Marianne was an old 40 something, Brandon would be an old 60 something. No worries.
Additionally, I found Brandon to be wonderfully complex in that Goth-like withdrawn wounded heart way. Only true feelings could have truly suffered as much as Brandon. Only real depth of feeling would have still loved the lost Eliza and loved the child for her sake. It was clear to me that Brandon was emotional enough even for Marianne Dashwood.
I was already a fan of Alan Rickman (who is almost exactly 26 years older than me; 29 years older than Kate Winslet) and the idea of someone my age agreeing to marry him was utterly believable. He was born to play Brandon. He is not ‘classically’ handsome enough to make you immediately be attracted to him, but the second he started talking with his voice like honeyed cream pouring over chocolate lava cake and looking at you with his magnificently expressive face, your underwear would start struggling to come off. Rickman was such a compelling Brandon that I wondered WHY Marianne was paying attention to Willoughby when there was Colonel Brandon dying of love for her?
To me, the scene of Marianne becoming Mrs. Brandon is cinematic proof of the natural and justifiable love between Austen’s characters.
So not only was I a Rickman fan and an Austen fan … Rickman made my favorite Austen character come to perfect life in the perfect way.
Thus, I was devastated when I read about Rickman’s death from pancreatic cancer. I felt like the world had lost a wonderful actor and human being, but I also felt like I had heard of Colonel Brandon’s passing as well.
My sincere condolences to Rickman’s partner for than 50 years, Rima Horton. The knowledge that Rickman was as devoted to his love in reality as Brandon was on the page and screen just makes his death all the more heartbreaking.