Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby in the 2008 BBC television serial, Sense and Sensibility This scene occurs at a ballroom in London after he abruptly encounters Marianne
|Income||£700 pounds per annum|
|Primary residence||Combe Magna in Sormersetshire, and occasionally Allenham in Devonshire|
|Spouse||Miss Sophia Grey|
|Romantic interest(s)||Eliza Williams, Marianne Dashwood, Miss Grey|
|Children||One through Eliza, a bastard|
John Willoughby is a fictional character in Jane Austen's 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility. He is described as a handsome young single man with a small estate, but has expectations of inheriting his aunt's large estate.
First appearance 
John Willoughby first appears in Sense and Sensibility when he rescues Marianne Dashwood after she falls down a hill and twists her ankle during a rainstorm. Because of this action, he is known as "Marianne's Preserver" by her younger sister, Margaret. After this action, Marianne Dashwood falls in love with him.
Willoughby's sudden journey to London 
Willoughby and Marianne obviously have strong sentiments of warmth and affection towards one another and everybody believes them to be clandestinely engaged. However, neither Marianne nor Willoughby hints at an engagement to anybody. One day, Willoughby wishes to speak to Marianne in private. By the time he has finished, Marianne is in tears, and it seems that he is gravely disappointed. The reason given by Willoughby to explain this is that his aunt has sent him on a business trip to London, and he must obey instantly, and he might not return to Devonshire for at least a year. Marianne's mother interprets this abrupt journey as it being the intention of his aunt to dissolve any attachment between her nephew and Marianne, for Marianne has no dowry.
Willoughby and Marianne in London 
Mrs. Jennings invites both Elinor and Marianne to London with her during the winter, and Marianne, in hopes of reuniting with her beloved Willoughby, happily accepts; Elinor is only reluctantly persuaded after much entreaty and persuasion from her mother and Marianne. In London, Marianne improperly writes several letters to Willoughby, telling him that she had arrived in London and requesting him to come and visit her at the residence of Mrs. Jennings. Willoughby does not respond, throwing Mariannne into despair. Elinor and Marianne then encounter him by chance at a cotillion and Marianne confronts him for not replying to her letters. Willoughby treats her very coldly and is obviously paying attention to another lady. This greatly upsets Marianne who has to be taken home early. The next day, Marianne receives a letter from Willoughby in which he informs her in very cold and distant terms that his affections have long been engaged elsewhere and he is sorry if she ever mistakenly thought otherwise. He also returns all her letters and the lock of hair that she had "so obligingly bestowed upon him." Marianne is thrown into utter despair. Elinor thinks that Willoughby has broken an engagement with Marianne, but she explains that they were never engaged. Elinor attempts in vain to afford Marianne some consolation, and she tells her beloved sister to think of her family and to exert herself through this difficult interval of sorrow. At the ball it is revealed that Mr. Willoughby is now engaged to a fashionable young woman named Miss Grey who has a fortune of £50,000.
Willoughby's scandal 
Colonel Brandon, a friend of Elinor and Marianne, explains the reason for Willoughby's abrupt change of heart. It turns out that Willoughby had seduced the Colonel's 15 year old ward, Eliza, then abandoned her though she was pregnant. Brandon finds her and rescues her, but in doing so Willoughby's actions are revealed to the world. When his aunt is informed of this scandal, she suggests that he marries the girl. When he refuses, she expels him from her estate, Allenham and also threatens to disinherit him, which would leave him without monetary support and with many debts. It is at this point that he returns to London to renew his attentions to a wealthy woman whose affections he was secure of prior to becoming acquainted with Marianne. Elinor tells Marianne about this in order that she see what a selfish person Willoughby is.
Marianne catches cold 
Marianne is so distressed by Willoughby's rejection that she becomes sick. She catches cold, which becomes putrid fever. She is not expected to survive, but does pull through. Willoughby coincidentally visits the house and speaks to Elinor when he confesses that he had been genuinely in love and intended to ask Marianne to marry him, before the scandal broke. Willoughby's punishment for his treatment of Marianne is to spend the rest of his life married to a woman he does not even like, and to know that his bad behaviour lost him the woman he did love. His aunt, however, eventually forgives him, allowing him to return to Allenham. Nonetheless, he will forever be haunted by the loss of Marianne.
After her life-threatening illness, Marianne learns the errors of her previous belief that it is romantic to die of grief. She learns to overcome her love for Willoughby and starts to appreciate the constant devotion of the honourable Colonel Brandon. Eventually they marry, despite the age difference (she is 17 and he is 35).
Literary significance 
Jane Austen created Willoughby as a protagonist driven by the need for his own pleasure, whether that be through amusing himself with whatever woman crossed his path, or via marrying in order to obtain wealth to fuel his profligate ways. He does not value emotional connection and is willing to give up his true love for more worldly objects. This characterization is similar to that of George Wickham in Jane Austen's subsequent novel, Pride and Prejudice. They both have the charm to ingratiate themselves with people and to deceive them, as John Willoughby did to Marianne when apprising her of his journey to London, and George Wickham to Elizabeth by creating a story to demonstrate how much anguish he had experienced in his life. And they both show themselves willing to seduce and ruin women—Eliza in Willoughby's case and Lydia Bennet and Georgiana Darcy in Wickham's case. However, it appears that John Willoughby is not completely without a conscience, unlike George Wickham, because Willoughby did express remorse and guilt concerning his actions toward Marianne, and is capable of falling in love, while George Wickham was very calculating in his behavior and never demonstrated any regret regarding his treatment of Georgiana or Lydia, or embarrassment about his lies to Elizabeth.
Notable portrayals 
- Clive Francis in the 1971 BBC television serial scripted by Denis Constanduros and directed by David Giles.
- Greg Wise in the 1995 popular film, with a Golden Globe Award winning screenplay written by Emma Thompson, and directed by Ang Lee.
See also