That his repentance of misconduct, which thus brought about its own punishment, was sincere, need not be doubted. But that he was for ever inconsolable, that he fled from society, or contracted an habitual gloom of temper, or died of a broken heart, must not be depended on—for he did neither.
Jane Austen ~ Sense and Sensibility
There are few elements of a good story as satisfying as a reprieve. Whether it’s deliverance from the guillotine or a marriage, a stay of execution for a condemned person is always a happy occasion—except when it isn’t.
I always thought the reprieve that Jane Austen gave to the scoundrel Willoughby too generous. He should have borne society’s censure, not for trifling with Marianne’s affections, but for seducing, impregnating, and then abandoning a young girl.
But Miss Austen allowed him to live and “frequently enjoy himself. His wife was not always out of humour, nor his home always uncomfortable; and in his breed of horses and dogs, and in sporting of every kind, he found no inconsiderable degree of domestic felicity.”
She was not so kind to Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars. They were scheming, manipulative, and selfish, and although it looks like they get everything they want, Jane Austen makes it clear they pay a price.
“They settled in town, received very liberal assistance from Mrs. Ferrars, were on the best terms imaginable with the Dashwoods; and setting aside the jealousies and ill-will continually subsisting between Fanny and Lucy, in which their husbands of course took a part, as well as the frequent domestic disputes between Robert and Lucy themselves, nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together.”
This little exercise has shown me that there are reprieves, reprieves, reprieves, and “reprieves.” Once in a while, a REPREIVE blows into town like an avenging angel (not that I notice.) No, for me, a simple reprieve is the best, and when it is well-executed, it is deeply satisfying.