Sense and Sensibility Chapter 44
Elinor, horrified at seeing the man who had treated her sister and her family so terribly, first tries to send him away. But Willoughby begs her to stay and listen to him. He came because he heard of Marianne's illness, and could not bear to have her die thinking him so cruel. He is relieved to hear Marianne is out of danger, but he still wants to explain himself. Elinor reluctantly agrees.
Willoughby tells Elinor he only came to Norland with the hope of passing the time pleasantly. He had not the intention, nor the desire to fall in love:
"Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which he had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavored, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affections." Chapter 44, pg. 271
Elinor can barely stand to hear this, but Willoughby presses her to let him continue. He blames this behavior on money--such a necessity to him that he could not even think of marrying Marianne, whose fortune is so small. In his vanity, he encouraged her affection, he flirted, but it was selfish. He did fall in love with her, but he held back from asking her to marry him, embarrassed at his debt. He finally decided, one night, to ask her to marry him the next morning. In the few hours before then, Mrs. Smith heard (probably from the Colonel) about his conduct with Miss Williams, and she told him he must either marry the girl or she would disinherit him. Willoughby tries to defend himself, insisting that Miss Williams was not the innocent, or he the libertine. It is not that simple, but Elinor does not like his indifference toward the girl. Willoughby insists he did not leave her, but that he simply forgot to give her his address, which is a rather unconvincing excuse. Mrs. Smith was not forgiving, and when Willoughby found himself disowned, he knew that he could not marry Marianne. He was more afraid of having no money than of having no love.
Willoughby tells Elinor how painful it was to leave Marianne, and Devonshire, but he felt he had no choice. Elinor, though feeling compassionate, is anxious for him to go. Willoughby asks her if she saw his letter to Marianne. He felt himself unable to answer any of Marianne's letters, whose tender tone reminded him of all the love and promises he had tried to forget. He felt guilty, remembering their love, but his marriage to Miss Grey was already arranged. He did his best to avoid she and Elinor, even waiting for them to leave the house before he visited. The meeting with Marianne at the party was torture. She looked so lovely, and he felt horrible for his behavior. Miss Grey was watching, and when Marianne's final letter arrived at breakfast the next morning, she snatched it and read it. Jealous, she wrote Willoughby's reply, and made him copy it into his own hand before sending it. Willoughby performed the cruel act, afraid of losing Miss Grey's favor, and her money.
Willoughby complains of having no choice, but Elinor insists that his fault is his own. Still in love with Marianne, he begs Elinor to repeat what he has said to her. Since he heard from Sir John about Marianne's illness, he has been unable to think of anything except setting things right with the woman he still loves.
Before leaving, Willoughby asks Elinor if she thinks him a better person than she did before. She answers yes and she forgives him. Willoughby tells her he fears daily the news of Marianne's marriage, for knowing someone else has her (especially if it is the Colonel), will be worst of all. With this said, he leaves.