While reading "Sense and Sensibility" I came across this sentence:

"And after all, what did it signify to my character in the opinion of M. and her friends, in what language my answer (a letter) was couched? It must have been only to one end."
I think a clarification might be wanted.
SPOILER about "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen. If you haven't read the book and mean to do it, you would really be better off not reading any more.
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Willoughby, who says that, means "by that letter I was proving to be a scoundrel, a rascal, then I was aware the letter must/should be only to one end, as it aimed to prove I was a scoundrel. Whether I did it elegantly or not, I knew it wouldn't change anything".
What puzzled me is why Austen wrote "must have been".

A native speaker told me that "must have been" expresses probability, but my hunch, based on the context, is that it can't mean:

"It is likely/I suppose that the letter was only to one end"

but rather
"the letter (was meant to be/should be) only to one end".

The person who says this is the same who's written the letter (Willoughby), so it seems unlikely that he should say "Well, the letter must have been only to one end but, after all, what do I know?".
If I am right (that native speaker now thinks mine can be a valid interpretation), why did Austen write
"it must have been only to one end"
and not "it must be only to one end" ("I knew it had to/should be only to one end") ?
In more general terms, what the heck does "must have been" mean here?!

Thank you.
Bye, FB
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While reading "Sense and Sensibility" I came across this sentence: "And after all, what did it signify to my character ... to/should be only to one end") ? In more general terms, what the heck does "must have been" mean here?!

I don't think it's the grammar that's the problem here, really "must have been" means here about what you'd expect, like "to had to have been" or "there was only one possible result."
The overall situation is complicated. I looked at Chapter 44 to remind myself of the circumstances, and also Chapter 29 where the letter in question appears. It's a cold, polite letter from Willoughby to Marianne, breaking off their engagement which was a very ungentlemanlike, scoundrelly thing to do in those days. Women could "cry off" engagements, but men were supposed to stand by them.

In Chapter 44 we learn that it was Willoughby's secret girlfriend (or maybe then wife, I forget the order of events) dictated the letter, and Willoughby wrote it out in his own handwriting. Then, getting to your question, he's saying, what difference would it make in the end whose words those were. It would still (it must, it would have to) break off their relationship, hurt Marianne, and in particular make him look bad. Even if it had been written in a kinder, warmer tone, the results would have been the same.
The "it" works out to be, "the language in which the message was couched."

Best Donna Richoux
While reading "Sense and Sensibility" I came across this sentence: "And after all, what did it signify to my character in the opinion of M. and her friends, in what language my answer (a letter) was couched? It must have been only to one end."

(lots snipped)
What puzzled me is why Austen wrote "must have been". A native speaker told me that "must have been" expresses ... one end") ? In more general terms, what the heck does "must have been" mean here?! Thank you. Bye, FB

The speaker is convinced that that was the reason it was written.

Cece
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While reading "Sense and Sensibility" I came across this sentence: ... SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

I don't think it's the grammar that's the problem here, really "must have been" means here about what you'd expect, like "to had to have been" or "there was only one possible result."

If "must have been" means "had to have been", here, I gather "must" is in the past tense in this case. Can't it mean "has to have been"? And, be it as it may, what idea does "must have been" carry? Is Willoughby supposing what the aim of the letter was? Or is he speaking of what the letter should aim at? Or neither?
The overall situation is complicated. I looked at Chapter 44 to remind myself of the circumstances, and also Chapter 29 ... then wife, I forget the order of events) dictated the letter, and Willoughby wrote it out in his own handwriting.

Thank you for spending your time to answer my question.
Then, getting to your question, he's saying, what difference would it make in the end whose words those were. It ... look bad. Even if it had been written in a kinder, warmer tone, the results would have been the same.

I can understand the meaning, but not the verb form.

You write "it would still..." but, above all, "it must break off their relationship", and that's what I'd have written:
"what difference would it make in the end whose words those were. It must break off their relationship".
Why do we use "it must break off their relationship", while Austen wrote "it must have been only to one end"? I'd have written "it must be only to one end" ("it had to achieve a certain aim, to show Marianne I was a scoundrel").
Bye, FB
I don't think it's the grammar that's the problem here, ... to have been" or "there was only one possible result."

If "must have been" means "had to have been", here, I gather "must" is in the past tense in this ... what the aim of the letter was? Or is he speaking of what the letter should aim at? Or neither?

The overall situation is complicated. I looked at Chapter 44 ... off" engagements, but men were supposed to stand by them.

Thinking again, they probably were not engaged, they just had been very close, and Marianne had had very high hopes.

Grammatically, I think the difference has to do with the conditional. There is a hypothetical condition being set up "suppose the letter had been written differently." And the conclusion is, "that still would have made no difference in the result." That's where your "have been" comes in, I believe. One of those "sequence of tenses" things.

You say you're OK on the meaning part, but I find I still need to think it through. Why Austen put "one end" I'm not certain. But it was self-centered Willoughby talking, and I think that even after everything, he was still more concerned about himself, his reputation, how he would look to others, than he was about other possible results, such as inflicting pain or losing Marianne (though he did seem a little sad about both). But, it's still open to interpretation.

In sum, "No matter how this is said, I am going to wind up looking bad."

I'm afraid I don't agree that the purpose of the letter was to show her that he was a scoundrel. It was an inevitable by-product, but not a deliberate aim or goal or desire of his.
I'm always glad to know people are reading Austen. Several students of English in Asian countries have asked about her books I wonder if she has a special appeal there.
There are some special discussion mailserve groups devoted to her writing, or there used to be.

Best Donna Richoux
Thinking again, they probably were not engaged, they just had been very close, and Marianne had had very high hopes.

"Law, my dear! Don't pretend to defend him. No positive engagement indeed! after taking her all over Allenham House, and fixing on the very rooms they were to live in hereafter!".
That's something like an engagement.
Why do we use "it must break off their relationship", ... a certain aim, to show Marianne I was a scoundrel").

Grammatically, I think the difference has to do with the conditional. There is a hypothetical condition being set up "suppose the letter had been written differently."

I think I've found another example of "must have been" used in this way:

"Had you married, you must have been always poor"
I reckon it means "if you had married, you would certainly have been always poor" or maybe "you would probably have been always poor". Which is more likely?
And the conclusion is, "that still would have made no difference in the result." That's where your "have been" comes in, I believe. One of those "sequence of tenses" things.

I see.
You say you're OK on the meaning part, but I find I still need to think it through.

I do as well, now...
Why Austen put "one end" I'm not certain.

Does it mean "one aim" (to discourage Marianne), or "one consequence" (to prove to be a scoundrel)? I think the former, but am not sure.
In sum, "No matter how this is said, I am going to wind up looking bad."

I wonder why Austen didn't write that! (witty face) Clearer, more direct...
I'm afraid I don't agree that the purpose of the letter was to show her that he was a scoundrel. It was an inevitable by-product, but not a deliberate aim or goal or desire of his.

On second thoughts, I agree with you.
I'm always glad to know people are reading Austen.

She was great, she is great.
Several students of English in Asian countries have asked about her books I wonder if she has a special appeal there.

I daresay she sounds very European, very English.
There are some special discussion mailserve groups devoted to her writing, or there used to be.

Thank you again for your contribution.
Bye, FB
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Grammatically, I think the difference has to do with the ... set up "suppose the letter had been written differently."

I think I've found another example of "must have been" used in this way: "Had you married, you must have ... you would certainly have been always poor" or maybe "you would probably have been always poor". Which is more likely?

The "certainly," I think, not the "probably." It's hard to know with these slightly archaic uses, but it feels right.
(Think of how, even today, we tend to use the word "surely" both when we are absolutely certain, and yet also to introduce doubt, to mean "not quite certain." Someone reading our writing in two centuries might be puzzled by that. "Must" has the same problem just how strong was it, and in which circumstances? "He MUST do it mustn't he?")

Your example does match what we were talking about. The "Had you married" sets up the hypothetical that is contrary to fact. I think today we'd say more like,
"If you had gotten married, you would have always been poor."

(I'm American so "gotten" comes naturally to me, the British would say it slightly differently.)

Best Donna Richoux
"Had you married, you must have been always poor" I ... would probably have been always poor". Which is more likely?

The "certainly," I think, not the "probably." It's hard to know with these slightly archaic uses, but it feels right.

O.K.
(Think of how, even today, we tend to use the word "surely" both when we are absolutely certain, and yet also to introduce doubt, to mean "not quite certain."

Really? Could you give an example?
Your example does match what we were talking about. The "Had you married" sets up the hypothetical that is contrary ... would have always been poor." (I'm American so "gotten" comes naturally to me, the British would say it slightly differently.)

"I have never got to do that"
but I was told I'd better say "I never got to do that" (or "I have never had the chance..."), because "I have never got" can (only?) mean "I never have to do that".
In American English I could say "I have never gotten to do that" and nobody, I guess, would misunderstand.
Ciao, FB
(Think of how, even today, we tend to use the ... yet also to introduce doubt, to mean "not quite certain."

Really? Could you give an example?

If I said, "Surely Jack's done that before," I would probably mean something like, "Up until I would have been positive that Jack has done that before, and I think it very likely that you will agree with me that he has and yet suddenly I realize I don't know for certain, and there's a small room for doubt." It's not nearly as strong as "I'm positive he's done that before" or even "I know he's done that before." Just a little bit of me is guessing.
There is still a sort of moral imperative about "surely." "This thing must be true even though I realize I can't prove it. Surely (!) it's something well-known, generally accepted..." When it's spoken, it's stressed "SURE-ly" and the more it's emphasized, the more the speaker is actually realizing that he or she isn't sure and can't back up the assertion.
I'll look for some examples in a.u.e posts that might illustrate these qualities... Some have question marks as sure signs of doubt:

Surely, Jeeves' boss was a cocktail snifter? So long since I've read any of those books.
Surely tuna/chicken salads have lettuce or some other traditional salad ingredient?
Surely that's too old a word to be still useful.
surely in the 21st century there is a convincing-tasting yet kosher-for-Pesach imitation shrimp recipe
It's only a standard formula for combat fliers, surely.

she's the HR person, surely
Actors of that sort pretty much had to do an RP accent, surely.

At first I thought that the "surely"s that I found in the middle of sentences were more apt to sound like assured confidence. And yet... am I not correct to see it as the same signal of slight doubt in these sentences as well?
now that I look closely I see some stuff that would surely be taken out today.
Any US radio listener who enjoys hearing the English language used well will surely want to join me in emailing a protest to

Which he usually is, but it surely depends on what type of woman he's with
But as I said before, it still depends on the circumstances, and sometimes it truly does convey surety, not hesitation. It can also be condescending, it can be a challenge, it can be humorous...

Best Donna Richoux
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