“Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged. Every body seemed injured by me.”–Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility
We saw in a previous post, “A Change of Heart,” that many of Austen’s characters go through a serious change, where they recognize what is wrong in their lives, are sorry for it, and choose to change.
The clearest example of this is in Sense and Sensibility. After Willoughby deserts Marianne, she torments herself until she almost dies. She comes to a realization, though, of how she has failed in her “duties” to those around her, and how badly she has behaved. She compares herself to Elinor, who also suffered but still did what was right. She confesses her failings and determines to do better in the future.
“Repentance” is a faith word that essentially means that we recognize what we have done wrong and we seek to change. Marianne’s confession parallels the prayer of repentance in The Book of Common Prayer. The worship services and prayers in this book were extremely familiar to Jane Austen. It appears that she wanted her readers to see that Marianne was truly repenting and intending to make changes in her life.
Willoughby, when he comes by night and explains his behavior to Elinor, also “repents.” But his repentance is not nearly as thorough as Marianne’s. When Elinor suggests positive steps to him, he is not interested. He mainly wants to be justified in her sight.
I have written about this in detail in Persuasions On-line (Winter 2018), the magazine of the Jane Austen Society of North America. I hope you will visit “Marianne Dashwood’s Repentance, Willoughby’s ‘Repentance,’ and The Book of Common Prayer“ to read more about it.
As you think more about repentance in Marianne’s life, consider what it might look like in your own life. For myself, I am often seeking to justify myself and look good to others rather than truly repent. It needs humility to admit we are wrong and ask God’s help to change.