Jane Austen wrote at the beginning of the Romantic era. That doesn’t mean lovey-dovey romance. Here is the definition from Wikipedia: The Romantic Period was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.
In literature of the era, one often finds nature personified. Poets write about its beauty and truth. They found human nature reflected in mother nature. Novelists used weather almost as a character that could control the direction of a story. It had other uses as plot devices, such as a storm might foreshadow a turbulent event for the protagonist. Characters are free in their emotions with no veil between them and the reader.
However, Jane Austen remains entrenched in logical realism. The hopeless longing many a JAFF writer have attributed to Mr. Darcy never shows up on the pages of Pride and Prejudice. We are told only that Elizabeth spends several hours awake trying to determine her feelings toward Mr. Darcy, we are not treated to a chapter of her conflicted emotions. So too, Austen’s writings about nature are different than the Romantics.
When Anne de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s intended, calls outside of Mr. Collins’ parsonage while Elizabeth Bennet is visiting, it is quite windy, and Elizabeth observes, “She [Miss de Bourgh] is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind. Why does she not come in?”
The Romantic author would use this as a device later. A likely scenario would be Darcy and Elizabeth are to wed, but the sickly Anne announces she has a prior claim to Darcy and like a tornado wreaks havoc on our lovers’ destiny. Although Anne’s mother, Lady Catherine, arrives to make such claims they hold no weight and instead of creating an obstacle bring Darcy back to Longbourn and is the means of uniting them.
When first approaching Rosings, the weather is fine and the park pleasant. There is nothing there to intimidate Elizabeth or foreshadow the great lady’s future meddling.
Soon after arriving in Kent, Elizabeth finds a favorite sheltered walk which she imagines puts her beyond the reach of Lady Catherine’s curiosity. However, Darcy soon finds her and approaches her several time while on the walk. Yet, it is not in the secret hangings of trees blooming in early spring where he proposes to her, but instead in Mrs. Collins’ parlor. Their love is not like a frail bud that one early frost may kill. Nor does it signal the end to a long winter and is met with smiles. Instead, Darcy’s first proposal is in a place where public appearance and civility are at its height. Darcy insults Elizabeth during the proposal. However, his words might be accepted as deserved due to Society’s values. Meanwhile, he calls Elizabeth’s rejection uncivil because it was direct and not full of useless flattery. His second proposal is out of doors and accepted, however, we know nothing of the scenery. Indeed, they walk on without knowing what is around them.
In conclusion, we learn nothing new or revolutionary from Spring in Pride and Prejudice. It is no doubt, one of the reasons Charlotte Bronte said this of the book, “I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers—but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy—no open country—no fresh air—no blue hill—no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.”
It’s interesting then that the two most recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice feature many outdoor scenes. Whether it’s Lizzy running in the open country, walking in manicured hedges around Longbourn or proposals in the rain, nature provides a heavier setting in the films than it does in the book. For better or worse, the more melodramatic Romantic era casts a shade even on how we interpret Jane Austen’s works of classical realism.
Next week I’ll discuss the idea of luck and fortune in Austen’s works in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Help me write a Spring short story! Choose from the following weather issues:
Rainstorm with hail
*While looking for the quote by Charlotte Bronte, I stumbled across this blog which I think further explains the issue of looking at Austen through Romantic eyes.
Last week’s post at Austen Authors: March Mix- In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb