Jane Austen's Most Memorable Abnormal Personality

Part of the Jane Austen For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jane Austen created a number of characters who displayed abnormal personality disorders — two centuries before they were identified as such.

For example, Aunt Norris of Mansfield Park and Lady Catherine of Pride and Prejudice are controllers. Lucy Steele of Sense and Sensibility is passive aggressive toward Elinor Dashwood. And in the same novel with Lady Catherine, the attention-seeking Lydia is narcissistic. But with all of these characters vying for the most abnormal, it's sociopath John Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility who takes the prize.

Sociopaths are superficially charming and amiable. They tend to engage in casual sex and feel no guilt for any wrong they've done. Rather, they feel themselves to be victims.

Now here's a look at Willoughby:

  • He's attractive and appealing; the Dashwood women think he's marvelous.

  • He seduced and impregnated Eliza Williams and promptly forgot her.

  • He admits to first paying attention to Marianne simply for the fun of it.

  • He feels that Mrs. Smith (his wealthy relative) disinherited him simply because she's acting like a prude after she learned how he mistreated Eliza.

  • He blames his wealthy wife, the former Miss Grey, for making him write the callous break-up letter to Marianne.

With Willoughby's unprincipled and dishonorable behavior, he could be called a cad (those who behave irresponsibly with women). But, Willoughby crossed too many lines with the Eliza pregnancy and abandonment. "Cad" would be too generous.

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