Austen’s villains, such as Willoughby, could be considered villains even by our modern-day standards. Willoughby was a man who abandoned girl after girl for want of a richer bride. But what was it that made Willoughby a scoundrel by the standards of Regency society, and resulted in a scandal?
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In Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester writes that it was acceptable for a Regency gentleman to have several affairs before and after marriage, as long as he played the part of a responsible husband and father. “Only a scoundrel…would stoop to seducing a respectable girl of good family and subsequently deserting her and their bastard child. …society perceived his sin not in having fathered an illegitimate infant or having multiple affairs but in his not providing for the child.” (p.48)
So, according to the rules of Regency society, it was just about acceptable for a man to be a libertine, but not to ignore his moral duty, which is what ultimately labelled Willoughby as a scoundrel.