Austen’s Brides- Overachievers

Oh they say when you marry in June
You’re a bride all your life,
And the bridegroom who marries in June
Has a sweetheart for a wife,
Winter weddings can be gay
Like a Christmas holiday,
But the June bride hears a song
Of a spring that lasts all summer long,
By the light of the silvery moon,
Home you ride, side by side,
With the echo of Mandelson’s tune
In your hearts as you ride,
For they say when you marry in June
You will always be a bride.

-“June Bride” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Young bride in forest

Wedding season has begun! I have a friend who is a wedding planner, and she’s booked through the summer. I thought it would be a good time to consider Jane Austen’s brides. To the general public, they think of Austen’s books as romances detailing the courtship between a couple; the epitome of will-they-or-won’t-they literature.

More observant readers will notice that while courtships are central to the plot, that is not the primary theme. However, Austen’s heroes and heroines have a myriad of feelings regarding marriage. Obviously, there are married couples who influenced the characters as they grew up- usually parents but not always. There is also the presence of new marriages. The main characters have a chance to examine these marriages of their peers through different eyes than one has as a child.

Through examining the newly-wed in Austen’s six novels, I see two main categories. There are those who married for social or financial advantage. Others settled after years of having no suitors, compromising their aspirations, or had interests in another direction. We’ll consider the happiness these different categories achieve.

kinopoisk.ruIn Sense and Sensibility, we meet many married couples. Henry Dashwood seemed affectionate toward his wife and children. His son, John, is described as being very fond of his wife. In reality, he is entirely ruled by her. Next, we meet Sir John Middleton and his wife. He is very affable and delights in company. Lady Middleton is happiest when playing the host. One can see what they might have in common. However, these three couples have been married for several years.

We are eventually introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. She is Lady Middleton’s sister, and he is a member of parliament and rather a sour-puss. Mrs. Palmer points out how ironic it is that now he must be agreeable to everyone. They have recently married and are expecting their first child. The reader cannot conceive what brought them together other than a desire to wed and seeing that their financial and social statuses were compatible. For all Mrs. Jennings match-making, she never discusses love very much.

Another couple that wed for their social and financial compatibilities is Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma. Much is made of class in this novel. Mr. Elton had previously refused the idea of courting Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith, due to her illegitimacy and the unknown status of her parents. Additionally, Mr. Knightley says that Elton would never marry cheap. He first set his sights on Emma with her twenty thousand pounds and once rejected, married Augusta Hawkins of Bath who had ten thousand pounds. She came from a merchant family and while Elton probably did not have much more than the average clergyman’s pay (about one hundred pounds a year), he had a gentleman’s rank, and her dowry would enable a very comfortable living. Upon meeting the new Mrs. Elton, it’s immediately clear that her personality is very equal to Mr. Elton’s. As they never seem unhappy with each other and are not well-bred enough to hide it if they had been, we must conclude they admire one another.

Finally, let us consider Mary Elliot Musgrove. Anne Elliot’s younger sister, Mary, staunchly believed in marrying only where it was agreeable to her family and taking social and financial status into account. At the heart of Persuasion is the class distance between the daughter of an impoverished baronet and a newly wealthy Naval captain. While Anne was obliged to break off her engagement with Wentworth, she refused to settle for Charles Musgrove when he proposed to her. Instead, Musgrove married Anne’s sister who frequently feigns illness for attention, easily feels slighted and victimized, and at her heart is very, very selfish. Charles, by contrast, is kind-hearted and if he fails in being attentive to Mary, it must only be out of fatigue. They have two young children, and one imagines the household will only grow unhappier as the years progress.

One of Jane Austen’s most well-known quotes is “Happiness in marriage is a matter of chance,” and looking at these statistics, it might be entirely accurate. The Palmers both seem kind enough when separated. Next, to her husband, she appears ditzier. Dealing with her, he is more sarcastic. The Eltons both had unkind qualities underneath polite veneers. Certainly, Musgrove’s patience and kindness could balance out Mary’s moods. And yet, once married it seems that the couple with the greatest possibility of marital happiness are the Eltons. I dare not think that in the world as a whole two unhappy people can make a content marriage, and so I rather believe they are just a fluke. Chance indeed!

As none of Austen’s heroines ever consider marrying without affection and simply for material gain, I think they learned from their peers’ mistakes. Next week, we’ll look into the marriages of Charlotte Lucas and Maria Bertram, as well as the failed engagement of Isabella Thorpe.

 

Austen Writes Romance- Legacy

Valentines Day - Wicker Hearts On Red Shiny Background

Despite my assertions that Jane Austen did not set out to write Romance, she nonetheless has had a profound impact on the genre. If focused on the romantic elements instead of themes of identity, her books can be summarized as follows:

Sense and Sensibility: Heartbroken, can she love again? Can their attraction overcome his dark secret?

Pride and Prejudice: Boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy loves girl. Alpha male, sassy heroine. Imbalance of power. Sexual tension. And if you want to add Jane and Bingley: Can she trust him and can he take what he wants? (See my post about how Jane is an unsung hero because I believe this is a very popular theme in contemporary romances even if it gets little limelight in Pride and Prejudice.)

Mansfield Park: Boy can’t see the good woman right before him and nearly falls for a wanton temptress. Unforeseen events finally unite them. The heroine has overcome a traumatic background. Girl next door.

Emma: They’ve been friends forever, can it be more? Boy next door.

Persuasion: The one that got away/never got over a bad break up and meet again/family responsibility gets in the way of true love/family demands someone rich/has fallen on hard times.

Northanger Abbey- She’s young, innocent and naive. He wasn’t looking for love but ends up as her knight in shining armor. When she rescues herself, can they have a future? Can be insta-love and sugary.

Now, let’s look at current bestsellers in the Romance genre on Amazon. (Note: I have not read these books and am not recommending them, I am only analyzing their blurbs.)

41xibccnbelA luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.

Translation: Sense and Sensibility.

51fxbujpplAlena is a princess, and with that comes responsibility. Like marrying the giant caveman King Roman, who looks more like a warrior than a ruler. Everything about him is intense. Especially the way he looks at her. But she’s been promised to him, and there’s no way out.

Roman took one look and made up his mind. Princess Alena will be his and no one will stop him from taking her. Everything about her belongs to him now, and waiting one week for a wedding isn’t going to happen.

This beast of a man might just claim his princess before she has a chance to say “I do.”

Translation: Jane and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice.

51rxofogxrlLove. Guilt. Heartbreak. The Secret Wife, is about the romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar, who first met in 1914. It’s also about a young woman in 2016 deciding whether to forgive her husband after an infidelity.

Translation: Jane and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice.

51y422xflwlEli Strong got out of the military and all he wanted to do was get better. He never expected that the officer he was living with would have a daughter who tested his honor.

Maggie Drummond has been moved around more times than she can count, and starting at a new high school sucks. But when a wounded Marine comes to live with her and her dad, suddenly Maggie figures out what home is.

She’s forbidden fruit, and he’s trying to not to taste… But desire can only be denied for so long. Circumstances keep pulling them back together, and something truly unforeseen happens. Overnight, Eli becomes a guardian and Maggie his ward.

Will Eli keep his hands off Maggie? Will Maggie like it if he doesn’t? Will the two of them break the law because it feels so good? Only one way to find out!

Translation: Northanger Abbey.

51xgqcwctllFlirting With The Law is a quick and filthy book involving two utterly obsessed alpha heroes, one sassy heroine, and enough insta-love, steam, and sugary-sweetness to make your Kindles melt.

Translation: Pride and Prejudice.

 

512vdlb1j3lMallory Sims is late for her first day of work.

After spilling her tea, she discovers she has no gas in her car. Add that her arm keeps sticking to her dress from syrup left on the console of her car, flustered feels like an understatement.

Then she sees her new boss.

Graham Landry is the epitome of NSFW in his custom-fit suit, black-rimmed glasses, and a look so stern her libido doesn’t stand a chance. Being flustered is just the start of her problems.

Her punctuality is only the start of his. With a pink slip in hand, he’s been waiting on his new secretary to show up only to let her go. Then she rushes in with her doe eyes and rambling excuses, smelling like bacon and lavender. The termination paper falls to the side as she falls in his arms.

This is a disaster in the making. Not because of his pinpoint exactness or her free spirit, but because when they’re together, the sparks that fly threaten to burn the whole place down.

Translation: Pride and Prejudice.

51o1jwgaellMy grandfather left me his business with one insane condition:
I need a wife and two kids. Too bad I’m a divorced single dad.
Cue my ex-wife’s best friend moving in next door.
And then mix in a few bad decisions.
What do you get? A complicated, sexy mess.

SANDRA

The list of reasons I should stay away from my neighbor is about as long as his… wrench. He’s a dirty mechanic, he’s a single dad, and he can’t seem to keep his shirt on for more than five minutes.

Did I mention his ex wife is my best friend? Yeah. Reid Riggins is absolutely, one hundred percent, the last person in the world I should get involved with. Even if he is heart-stoppingly gorgeous with strong, powerful hands that could rip my clothes off with ease.

Not that I’ve imagined that, of course.

The point is I don’t want anything to do with him. He can stay in his stupid garage with his stupidly cute son and hit things with wrenches all day. He can keep on wearing those blue jeans that fit him just right for all I care.

Except I may have told a white lie to my eccentric, rich parents. I may have told them I’m engaged to a wealthy businessman, and now they want to meet my fake fiance. Unfortunately, Reid might be the only guy who’s willing to play along.

Translation: Emma mixed with Pride and Prejudice with a dash of Persuasion or Northanger Abbey for the familial obligations.

41x1qbzpwxlSometimes your life is split by a single decision.

I’ve spent every day of the last seven years regretting mine: he left, and I didn’t follow. A thousand letters went unanswered, my words like petals in the wind, spinning away into nothing, taking me with them.

But now he’s back.

I barely recognize the man he’s become, but I can still see a glimmer of the boy who asked me to be his forever, the boy I walked away from when I was young and afraid.

Maybe if he’d come home under better circumstances, he could speak to me without anger in his voice. Maybe if I’d said yes all those years ago, he’d look at me without the weight of rejection in his eyes. Maybe if things were different, we would have had a chance.

One regretted decision sent him away. One painful journey brought him back to me. I only wish I could keep him.

*A contemporary romance inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion*

Translation: Ok, so she says it’s Persuasion right there, but I was thinking it by the second line.

51ljijaibjlJess O’Brien has overcome a lot—the challenges of attention deficit disorder, the near bankruptcy of her beloved Inn at Eagle Point and her self-perception as a screwup in a family of overachievers. Now she’s ready to share the future with a man. Her friends persuade her to join a dating service—but she gets no takers! Which is fine with her childhood friend, psychologist Will Lincoln, who’s already chosen the perfect man for Jess: himself.

Will has loved Jess practically forever. He knows her faults and her strengths. But for all Will’s sincerity and charm, Jess fears he views her as some psychological case study. With her family and the town of Chesapeake Shores behind him, Will finally makes his case. But is it enough to convince Jess to take the risk of a lifetime.

511cxdwl6el-_sy346_Translation: Emma with a bit of Mansfield Park.

I’d never fallen for a student—but she was different.

Headstrong and unrelenting, she begged to be claimed. She just didn’t know it yet.

I was going to break her, and make her mine.

-REGAN

Translation: Pride and Prejudice, maybe some Northanger Abbey

Out of these top 10 books with prominent Austen influence, Pride and Prejudice is the definite strong suit. Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship of sexual tension, power/money imbalance, love/hate is a classic. However, a variation on Jane and Bingley’s relationship is also popular. A common complaint about Bingley is that he’s not dominant enough, not an “alpha male” and allows himself to be talked out of what he wants by family and friends. In twenty-first century Romances, we want a man who will take what he wants! Although it takes Austen’s Bingley longer, I believe that is appropriate for the era.

I was surprised to see Mansfield Park make the list at all, but in many ways it is very similar to Emma and the boy next door trope is probably the second most common Romance trope. Matching it with a Pride and Prejudice hate to love theme is common as well. Adding a dash of Persuasion or Northanger Abbey with family obligations is innovative. I think I’ll try this one to see how the plot holds together with that many elements or if the wheels come of the bus.

It’s no surprise to see books with Persuasion themes on here. Second Chances is a category of its own in Romance, I think. For first time relationships Romance seems to fall into hate/love, boy/girl next door, insta-love, love triangles, or trust issues. Second Chances can either be with the same partner after a separation that seems insurmountable or with learning to love again, although that one heavily leans on the trust issues sub-category.

On Amazon you may search by Romantic hero, themes, or sub-genre. As classic as Austen is, I think we could find her fingerprints on something as obscure as Second Chances Paranormal Firefighter. Let’s see…

51n1-ctcq-lA curvy pilot wary of flighty men + a firefighter pegasus shifter determined to win her heart + a high speed air race with even higher stakes = one explosive romance!

Curvy pilot Connie West hates taking risks. But when her reckless father stakes her beloved airplane in a bet with a ruthless loan shark, Connie is forced to enter the Rydon Cup, a dangerous high-speed air race. To win the bet, she needs a co-pilot she can trust completely. Someone cautious and sensible. Someone completely unlike the gorgeous, wild Chase…

Pegasus shifter and firefighter Chase Tiernach lives life at top speed, but not even his close friends in his elite, all-shifter fire crew can guess that his ready grin conceals a broken heart. Three years ago, he met his fated mate Connie… and lost her again, thanks to his reputation for recklessness.

When Chase unexpectedly rescues Connie from a fire, he’s determined that this time, he’ll win her trust. All he has to do is fight off a gang of criminal shark shifters, defend Connie from a mysterious assassin, convince her to marry him so his clan will let him tell her he shifts into a flying horse, and win a perilous air race in a vintage warplane! What could possibly go wrong?

With enemies who’ll stop at nothing to prevent her from winning the bet, Connie is in danger of losing her plane, her life — and, most frighteningly of all, her heart. Can Chase persuade her to take a chance on him, or will their love crash and burn… again?

Firefighter Pegasus is a sizzling hot, standalone BBW pegasus shifter romance. No cliffhangers!

Translation: Persuasion

All more proof that Jane is here to stay! I hope you’ve enjoyed this segment. Next month, I’ll be talking about Spring in Austen’s works. Join me at Austen Authors for the first post, Thursday, March 2nd!

 

 

Austen Writes Romance- Broken Hearts

Welcome to the second post in a series on Austen Writes Romance! The first post was on Austen Authors. I will be discussing plot points of Austen’s works, so there will be SPOILERS. For the sake of brevity, I will assume a certain amount of knowledge of each book, so I do not need to summarize.

Red Valentine Hearts Hanging in a RowIn the Georgian era, rumors of attachments and engagements could have a profound impact on a single person of gentry class. It might make a gentleman bound in honor to a woman by none other than her raised hopes. The idea being that if she believed a proposal was coming from one man, she would not encourage other suitors and spurn other offers. Well-bred ladies’ sole security resided on income from others. If they did not inherit money, then they needed to marry it. For a lady, rumors of an attachment or engagement that then never manifested could render her “damaged goods” as her virtue (virginity) was the highly traded upon requirement for marriage. A ruined lady could still marry, of course, but generally not as well. Even if a gentleman might be willing to overlook it, his family and the rest of Society generally was not. There are accounts of peers marrying courtesans, so it was not entirely unknown but certainly uncommon, and in some circles, they were never accepted. The hypocrisy of all this while nothing was thought of men having affairs and natural children and even the princes of Great Britain spurned Parliament and Church recognized marriages and legitimate heirs for their mistresses is for another post. On the other hand, Jane Austen shows Society could damage a broken heart in a very different and far crueler way.

First, let us examine rumored attachments. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne first garners the notice and attachment of Colonel Brandon. However much the Barton Park people would have wanted it, his admiration did not behold either of them to marriage. Later, Marianne fell in love with Willoughby and was presumed engaged, although she never was. Having displayed her emotions openly, everyone knew of her heartbreak when Willoughby married another. Elinor fared quite a bit better as she did not expose her feelings to the world so much. Still later, Mrs. Jennings suspects an attachment forming between Colonel Brandon and Elinor. Additionally, Edward Ferrars was expected by his family to marry a Miss Morton with twenty thousand pounds. None of these situations receive censure from Society in the book (the movies stretch matters more), and Marianne’s suffering is due lacking privacy to get over her heartbreak. This scenario is repeated in each of Austen’s works. It is natural enough for people to show inclination and become attached and yet things do not work out. The degree of pain relies not only on the strength of the attachment but on how openly it was known. Captain Wentworth comes closest to having to face real repercussions due to raising a lady’s hopes. Even then, it was allowable to leave the area and hope to lessen her regard, which certainly worked.

An entirely different matter is a broken engagement. Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth never received censure from Society because their engagement was broken before it became known. In a similar way, Sir Thomas Bertram offers to end his daughter Maria’s engagement even though it had been spread about by Mrs. Norris. Isabella Thorpe and John Morland’s engagement in Northanger Abbey, while approved by their parents, had not been on the point of signing marriage articles because they had to wait several years before they could afford to marry. Lucy Steele and Edward Ferrars have secretly been engaged for four years when the truth comes out. A disinherited, Edward offers Lucy a chance to break the engagement, but she claims she has no desire to end it. Just before their marriage, she “transfers her affections” and marries Edward’s brother, who now will inherit all of their mother’s income. As Lucy broke her engagement with Edward (which had become known) and then immediately married, her reputation seems to have suffered no damage. Of course, the situation gave rise to a happier union of Edward being free to marry Elinor.

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In fact, Austen never shows us a broken engagement that has serious ramifications. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist or that she didn’t have the stomach for it. I think it simply was rare. Instead, she does show us two divorces and many unhappy marriages. In the case of both divorces, the women married against the inclination of their affections and paid quite the price for it. In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram Rushworth is eventually persuaded to leave Henry Crawford who soon showed he had no real affection for her. She then lived with her aunt Norris in relative comfort. She was not readmitted to the Bertram household or fashionable Society. Nothing was hinted at her eventually remarrying or anything of the sort. On the whole, however, living in obscurity is far better than what befell Colonel Brandon’s first love, Eliza. Torn from the younger Brandon on the eve of their elopement, she married the elder brother — as was intended for some time– after she was cut off from all friends. Perhaps she had believed such seclusion was the worse life could hand her but it got much worse. Her husband showed her no affection or kindness. It is hinted that he had no respect for her, likely having public affairs that shamed his wife. Colonel Brandon is very compassionate in relating how she was seduced and makes her nearly blameless. When the incident came to light, Eliza was divorced. Instead of having Maria’s comfortable living arrangements, her income was insufficient for living and having no relatives, she sunk further in life. After several years, Brandon returned to England and found her dying and one step away from debtor’s prison. We may suppose from these situations that Jane Austen would find breaking an engagement a far more prudent choice than marrying when affection lies elsewhere.

This brings us to consider the matter of broken hearts. Austen shows many troubled marriages that at one time held some sort of affection or at least one-sided affection. While the couples do not claim any extraordinary marital bliss, they are saved the disaster of adultery and divorces. In each book, some character suffers from the hopelessness of a broken heart and unrequited love, even if only for a few days. Emma is the character who likely suffers the least but as she is the most spoiled perhaps even the few days of tumult she had was equivalent to the months that Elinor Dashwood had no hope.

In effect, Austen quite likes dualism of opposite reactions from two broken-hearted ladies. Marianne is crushed by Willoughby’s desertion, Elinor manages life without an outward hiccup. Jane Bennet writes contented letters to her sister while Elizabeth tosses and turns, mutters to herself while serving coffee, and says arch things to her brother-in-law. Mansfield Park contains two examples. Julia Bertram manages her disappointment when Henry favors Maria at Mansfield. In London, she then guards herself against him. Maria, however, could not stand to see Henry spend time with Julia. Learning he was attached to Fanny, fuelled her flirtation. Fanny spends most of the book seeing Edmund fall deeper into Mary Crawford’s clutches. When Mary sees Edmund’s disapproval, she lashes out at Fanny. Catherine Morland is overwrought when she thinks Henry can never love her after her mistake about the General but when expelled from the house, she bears it rather well. Anne Elliot lives with the burden of her broken heart for years, first in the absence of her beloved, and then while watching him court another lady and no one in her family has a clue.

Rustic heart.

Are there similarities between the women with more exuberant responses? Surely some people are simply more emotional and display them easier. However, I think there is an additional reason. The women who did not bear their heartache with grace had felt quite assured of being loved in return. It is not that they felt more love than the others did, it is that they were more disappointed. And is it that they are truly disappointed in the gentleman and their hopes for the future? After all, you can love again. Or is it that they were disappointed in themselves? It shows some hidden insecurity or blindness in their character they now find appalling.

Marianne blamed herself from the beginning about Willoughby. So does Jane Bennet. Jane, however, does not seem to find it so difficult to bear with the fact that she must have been mistaken in a man’s affections. Elizabeth had already lived through disappointment in herself regarding Darcy. Still, she believed he loved her at Pemberley and thought his returning to Hertfordshire was further proof. Instead, he withdrew from her, and Elizabeth was disappointed she had clung to hope. She rather desperately tells herself she will put him behind her. Mary Crawford believed Edmund would change his career path for her and modify other values. She spends much of the novel speaking about how marriage and love are about being “taken in.” If she did not feel ashamed of her liberal feelings regarding her brother’s conduct, then she must have felt disappointed in herself for being taken in. As she says of marriage, “it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.” Harriet was assured of Elton’s love by Emma, who she believed superior in all matters. Additionally, she had turned down a man she genuinely cared for at Emma’s prodding. If Emma was wrong about Elton, had she been wrong about Robert Martin? Had Harriet let happiness slip through her fingers? Catherine Morland’s shame in her behavior hardly needs telling. She had seen enough in Henry’s behavior toward her to be hopeful, and then she ruined it with an overactive imagination.

The ladies who deal with heartache the best have more than moderation of feeling and modesty. They are also less fanciful, more grounded, and feel the compliment of their beloved’s regard. For them, it is amazing to consider they might ever attract anyone’s notice or someone so worthy. Jane Bennet was flattered and surprised by Bingley asking her to dance twice at their first meeting. Elizabeth noted that she was never surprised by compliments while Jane always was. Elinor noted Edward’s regard but also knew he had familial duties and never supposed herself capable of driving him wild with so much passion as to ignore them (not that she would have cared for him if he did). Fanny dislikes Edmund’s attachment to Mary Crawford solely because she knows it will make Edmund unhappy in the long run, not because she harbored any hope for herself. Emma thought so highly of Mr. Knightley, even before she recognized her feelings for him, that she promoted him as the ideal gentleman. Realizing she loved him just after she was also condemned by him made her feel all the more the compliment his affection would be. Catherine fits both cases but esteems Henry all the more after he treats her well despite her ridiculous belief that the General had killed his wife. When Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth meet again, she is amazed at his civility even while he must resent her. She understood if she ever regained his feelings she would be the most fortunate lady.

Jane Austen does not write much on actual romance, the sensations of falling in love, and sweet words whispered between lovers. She does, however, write about relationships and examining ladies’ emotions and behavior in how to make it through the trials of life, including failed relationships. I would say she doesn’t provide so much a recipe for good relationships as much as she does for overcoming grief: have no hopes or expectations, think better of your crush than you do yourself, and consider the feelings of others. Sound hard to do? Well, then you probably have had a love story like Marianne, Elizabeth, or Catherine. I have!

Next week I’ll examine true love and second chances in Austen’s books!

 

A January of Janes- Unsung Heroines

janesThe Unsung Heroines

I could write a whole essay about how Austen chose ladies who did not meet the era ideals of a lady as her heroines. If you judge by other novels of the time, a troublesome or flawed female is usually a secondary character. Austen pokes fun of this directly in Northanger Abbey. The Gothic novels that Catherine Morland so loves to read usually features a woman with some damaged past. Eleanor Tilney with the dead mother, moody father, and wayward brother would be the more expected heroine. Instead, Austen turns the notion on its head. Today, I will argue the opposite as well: Jane Bennet and Jane Fairfax are supporting heroines in their own right, not just secondary characters.

One of the things that makes Austen so enduring is her large cast of characters in her novels. Granted, there are times when it can get confusing. Persuasion seems to have an over-abundance of men named Charles that I think would have changed if she had time for more edits. On the other hand, because there are so many people and with a variety of personalities and foibles, her works feel incredibly realistic. Obviously, not every character can be given the same amount of “screen time.” Minor characters help round out any story, but tertiary characters have little impact on the plot. Secondary characters are essential to the plot because of how they interact with the protagonist. Still, they should not eclipse the hero/heroine and have the ability to change the course of the plot.

Now, I don’t mean to say that every secondary female Austen writes has the power to be a secondary heroine. Sense and Sensibility is clearly written with dual heroines. But who compares to Anne Elliot in Persuasion? Who can direct the plot in Northanger Abbey but Catherine? And as the plot of Mansfield Park is Fanny finding her position in the world and the Bertram family no one else can move events, no matter how interesting some find Mary Crawford.

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First, let us look at the definition of a hero. Wikipedia lists this: A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) is a person or main character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through impressive feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing his or her own personal concerns for some greater good. And Dictionary.com says this:

  1. a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character:

He became a local hero when he saved the drowning child.

  1. a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal:

My older sister is my hero. Entrepreneurs are our modern heroes.

  1. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is undoubtedly brave when she refuses proposals from Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy — although I would point out she was still young, pretty, healthy, her father living, and with plenty of relatives. It is not as though it was she was choosing death instead of marriage. But you absolutely cannot say she ever sacrificed her own feelings for the greater good. In fact, some (like her mother) could argue that it would have been better to marry Collins! It is Jane who is already being called a spinster (by a sister and aunt no less) and who bears gossip of her neighborhood and teasing from her father about her broken heart. She bravely faces Bingley’s return with no sign of his continued affection whereas Elizabeth’s months of uncertainty came after being assured of Darcy’s constant love. And if Jane ever considered showing her feelings for Bingley more, she likely checked them given what was already said about the display all of her sisters put on (yes, including Elizabeth). She calmly quashed her own desires to marry Bingley with accepting that all of his friends and family did not like her for him. While she would still be happy to marry him, she constantly considered *his* happiness — such as after hearing Wickham’s story she worried that if Wickham and Darcy had a confrontation at the ball, it would wound Bingley. Elizabeth is drunk on a desire for justice and truth, and Jane only considers the happiness of others.

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Likewise, Emma Woodhouse never makes any sacrifices on what she desires. She is pampered and spoiled. If she does not marry Knightley, she will go on living just fine as mistress of Highbury. She does grow and evolve during the book, and she is brave enough to not only argue with Knightley (and anyone else) but to face her own failings when she could get away with no consequences. However, that is nothing like the bravery Jane Fairfax displays. She was taken in by strangers as a child. She was reared with a position as a governess as her highest possibility. Once she fell in love, it had to be a secret engagement which caused her acute pain not simply from knowing the failing of propriety. She then saw her beloved openly court another woman and joke about her. When it seemed Frank desired to sever the engagement, Jane accepted a position as a governess to strangers arranged by a woman who meddled in her life and of whom she could feel no affection. If it were not for the death of Mrs. Churchill, Jane would have soon left Highbury for Bath and had been friendless, miserable, and just as poor as ever. She could have stood up and demanded her due as Frank’s betrothed. She could have exposed the whole thing. Even if Frank were disinherited marrying him at all would be a better situation than being a governess — Frank’s father was not destitute, and he was still young enough to gain a profession and was well-connected. Like Jane Bennet, I think Jane F considered what was best for Frank over herself.

Finally, let’s examine how each Jane affected the plot of her particular novel.

Jane Bennet was not at the mercy of events. She did not sit in the corner and only come out to give Elizabeth some grand awakening (Mrs. Gardiner’s letter, Charlotte’s conversations) or tell the reader something (Mary) or make Elizabeth equally as guilty as Darcy had been (Lydia). What if Jane had shown more of her feelings for Bingley? Dozens of fan fiction writers have played with the very idea. If Bingley perceives her regard, he usually acts on it, and the greatest sting in Elizabeth’s argument against Darcy is gone. Darcy and Elizabeth typically fall in love faster and avert half of the original story. What if Jane had gone out of her way to see Bingley more in London instead of resigning herself to his happiness of ending the relationship? What if she had asked to go with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to the North? What if she had taken Bingley to task when he returned to the area? These questions affect more than Jane’s storyline. They would change others’ parts as well. You simply can’t argue the same of the other characters who have no growth or revolution.

As previously stated, Jane Fairfax might have blown the whistle on the secret engagement long before the truth came out. She is entirely complicit with Emma not knowing of the engagement and following Frank down a path of indecorum and accidental cruelty to friends. Jane might have taken a position as governess temporarily or written to the Campbells and joined them later. She might have befriended Emma. What if she had encouraged Knightley the way Frank encouraged Emma? Emma likely would have awoken to her feelings for Knightley earlier.

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Anyone can see that Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse are the stars of their novel, but I think with a little bit of scrutiny one can also see how the lady just next to them is a heroine of her own alternate story. As a fan fiction writer and avid Austen reader, I love that! What do you think?

Previous posts in this series: Miss Perfect / Courted by Inconsiderate Suitors

A January of Janes- Miss Perfect

janesI’ve started a new blog series! This month’s topic is A January of Janes. My first post was on Austen Authors. Read it here!

Plain Jane. Jane Doe. It seems Jane is the default name in English speaking culture when you need a filler and non-descript name. Some believe that was even Charlotte Bronte’s purpose in naming her heroine Jane Eyre. According to the All-England Census of 1841, Jane was the sixth most common name for females born between 1760 and 1821. Jane Austen notably gave her principal characters very English names compared to the more exotic sounding Camilla, Belinda, Pamela, and Cecilia’s of the era’s other novels. And when it comes to choosing a name for the seemingly “Miss Perfects” of her novels, what else does Ms. Austen choose but Jane?

At first glance, Jane Bennet and Jane Fairfax both seem “perfect.” For Elizabeth Bennet, Jane is the sweetest soul in the world, injured by the nefarious Mr. Darcy. To Emma Woodhouse, Jane Fairfax is a paragon of all good things and endlessly accomplished. However, if we dig deeper, we’ll see these Janes are just as complex as the lovely authoress herself.

At times, Pride and Prejudice, could be retitled “All About Jane” as the heroine is certainly more concerned about her sister than she is about herself. Throughout the book, we get tidbits of Elizabeth’s perspective of her elder sister. When digesting the Meryton Assembly, this piece passes between the sisters:

“I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment.”

“Did not you? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!” “Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough— one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design— to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad— belongs to you alone.”

Still later, we learn that Elizabeth considers Jane full of “strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard her from the suspicions of the impertinent.” Perhaps growing up in the household that they did, Elizabeth understood the need to conceal her emotions and thoughts, but as we all know, this comes with a cost to Jane later in the book.

As the book goes on, Jane speaks for herself more. She refuses to condemn Darcy based on Elizabeth’s dislike and Wickham’s testimony alone. We see in Jane’s conversations with Elizabeth regarding Bingley’s absence and subsequent letters that Jane is determined to carry on her life, to be cheerful, and find happiness not dependent on a suitor.

janebennet2005Before and after Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth dwells on her understanding of Jane at length. At first, Elizabeth considers Jane a very innocent party whose happiness was destroyed by Darcy. After Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, she amends her view to believing Jane might have been too reserved. Thankfully, Elizabeth knows better than to explain all this to her sister. Instead, when we see her again, Elizabeth unburdens herself about Darcy’s proposal and the truth about Wickham. Jane is the steadfast good friend who consoles Elizabeth and tells her she must be faultless and the whole thing was understandable.

However, the reader knows that’s not the case.

And so, we begin to see more of the flaws in Jane. She is perhaps too sensitive, too forgiving, too trusting, too loving. And she gets taken advantage of by nearly everyone, including her closest sister. Elizabeth shuts out Jane’s advice whenever she wishes but usually has no problem adding burdens to her.

At the close of the book, Jane admits she would probably make the same mistakes all over again. She would have been fooled by Caroline Bingley’s false friendship. She was just as reserved as ever in her feelings for Bingley. And here we have quite the divide in interpreting Jane.

I don’t think she was unintelligent. I think something pervasive in her personality made her a bit subservient — which we must recall was ideal for women of the era. I prefer to think of it as she is perfect in her imperfection.

Darn it, Jane. We mere mortals just can’t live up to you!

poll2I’ll spend less time on Jane Fairfax, but there are many similar elements. We know much less of her character and personality since Emma is not close to her, but she is very accomplished with all the outward marks that the world declared was the perfect woman. Her rearing with the Campbells and expected future as a governess would denote that her behavior must be impeccable as well.

But she has a secret.

She is secretly engaged to a man without independence to marry and therefore might be facing a very long engagement. In a world where Mary Musgrove says a woman has no right to marry a man who is inconvenient to her family (and vice versa), Jane is a very inconvenient engagement. Did you expect me to complain about Frank (again)? Well, there is that, but his family definitely expected him to marry better. At any rate, modes of decorum stated engagements should not be secret for the very fact of what ends up happening when both are presumed single.

When the truth comes out, it’s as astonishing to think Miss Perfect Jane Fairfax broke the rules as it is to consider that Frank is engaged to the lady he often mocked. And yet, the Highbury community forgives her quickly, and Mr. Knightley even feels sorry for her (as do most contemporary readers, it seems). Let us not forget that the Regency Era was a world in which a woman’s reputation was everything. What if rumors escalated things? And what of her reputation? She had projected an image of perfection. When she makes a rather critical mistake, it’s forgivable. Consider what would happen if Lydia Bennet had made the same error. It’s not as awful as eloping without marriage but you can bet Elizabeth would snark, and Mary would sermonize while Lady Lucas preened and Mr. Collins passed on Lady Catherine’s disapproval, but all of Highbury not only shrugs off Jane’s failing but embraces it. It’s a far happier ending for her than they had ever expected and thankfully, they are not the type to hold grudges. (Note to self: If I fall into an Austen world, hope for Highbury rather than Meryton).

In conclusion, are the Janes of Austen’s novels really so perfect and bland? They might lack the sparkling wit of Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, but I think they’re more complex than most give them credit for. And why should they not be? Who else can be the support to such intricate heroines? In fact, I think they’re the unsung heroines, which will be the topic of my next January of Janes post.

So Good an Understanding

Summary: After Jane Fairfax collapses during the Weston’s ball, Frank Churchill’s love and engagement is exposed.

 

Emma could not help but notice that Jane Fairfax looked too flushed as she took her spot in the dance line. Emma’s partner, Frank Churchill, was looking at Jane as well and Emma hoped he was not going to make another joke at Jane’s expense. Thus far all Emma’s hopes for the evening had been answered. Frank did not seem in love with her and Mr. Knightley did not seem in love with Jane, Downwell Abbey was safe for little Henry.

Many people were looking at her and Frank and she had no doubt as to why; they made a handsome couple. However, in her opinion, Mr. Knightley looked just as well as her much younger partner. There he stood so tall and looking so young and firm compared with the elderly and soft. If Emma could have an additional wish for the evening, it would be for Knightley to join in the fun and dance.

Mrs. Elton called the set to order and they began a lively dance but before too many steps they heard the gasps of alarm and surprise around them. Turning, Emma saw Jane collapsed to the floor, barely caught by her partner. Frank dashed to Jane’s side and Emma was proud her friend, son of the evening’s host, sought to do his duty.

Jane’s aunt, Miss Bates, was loudly fretting over Jane’s health and then immediately worried about her nieces reputation, seen in the arms of a gentleman. Emma sidled in close and could clearly see and hear Frank’s actions and words.

Lifting Jane’s dainty hand, he kissed it and clutched it until Jane’s eyes fluttered open. “Darling, what happened? Are you ill?”

Frank was acting every bit the lover! Emma was all astonishment!

Miss Bates must not have seen or heard him for she soon cried out, “Oh, Mr. Elton, you will tell us what to do! Must Mr. Pine marry Jane now?”

Frank’s head snapped up. “That will not be possible!”

Jane attempted to shush him, but Frank persisted. “Miss Fairfax and I have been betrothed since October. She is bound to me.”

Emma could barely fathom an attachment between the two but oh, the romance of his declaration!

She soon felt a tall body near her own. “Did you matchmake this, Emma?” Mr. Knightley teased.

“No! I could not be more surprised! But why would they keep it a secret? Jane was having to look at positions as a governess!”

“Perhaps his aunt was not disposed to favor the match. I can scarce imagine being so unscrupulous as to engage myself to a young lady and demand secrecy out of fear of my aunt. If he is man enough to marry he should accept the consequences of his choice.”

“It is very easy for you to say! You have independent wealth and never mean to marry!”

“I am not so dense about the courtships of others that I did to see their secret looks.”

“Secret looks! What would you know about secret looks?”

When he did not reply immediately, Emma looked at him and noticed his look. Her brow furrowed in confusion.

“Time will heal the wound.”

“Heal the wound?”

“He entered the community and clearly attached himself to you, never acting the part of an engaged gentleman.”

“You thought I was in love with Frank Churchill!”

“You did favour him.”

“Dear Mr. Knightley! How little you know me! I do not think I will ever be in love. You see we are of like minds on that.”

“Emma…”

“Now, we have settled all that, let us return to dancing!” Mr. Weston’s voice interrupted. Jane had been sent home with her aunt in the Eltons’ carriage. Frank was no where to be seen.

“Who will you dance with?”

“Well, I am uncertain if this is still the first set but my partner is absent and so I will dance with you if you will ask me, for we are not brother and sister.”

He smiled the small smile she knew so well. “No, certainly not brother and sister! I would very much like to have the honour of dancing with you.”

Emma smiled as she placed her hand in Knightley’s and they joined the set. He insisted he disliked dancing but he performed very well. She was certain she had seldom enjoyed a dance more, but then Highbury seldom had balls and no other gentleman was so well informed.

Later in the evening he did the most gallant deed and danced with Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith when she was snubbed by Mr. Elton. Emma had never been more proud of her old friend! He was so very honourable, and gracious too, as they were able to at last mend their differences over their argument of Harriet as a potential bride for Mr. Elton. Knightley was correct about the littleness within Mr. Elton’s character while he acknowledged Harriet had first rate qualities. Emma observed to herself that neither were so stubborn or conceited that they could not come to so good an understanding and that in many cases their opinions were much alike.

The next day the most alarming thing happened. While walking with a friend, Harriet had been attacked by a band of gypsies! She managed to run away and was near Hartfield when Frank Churchill came upon her. He escorted her safely to Hartfield.

Before many days later Harriet confessed to a growing admiration for a gentleman who recently rescued her but vowed she had no hopes of marriage.

Emma was very happy Harriet had given up regretting Mr. Elton but could not support her admiration of an engaged man.

“Beware Harriet, for his circumstances make this a most impossible fancy.”

Harriet sniffled a little. “It is as I feared. You believe him too superior to me. It is well, I have not the presumption.”

“Superior? Presumption? You mean you admire a gentleman and what stands in the way of your attachment is his position in society?” Emma had a growing feeling of dread.

“What had you imagined?”

“You spoke of him rescuing you! Of course I thought of Frank Churchill!”

“Frank Churchill! Good heavens! Oh no, this gentleman is far superior, is far more honourable than Mr. Churchill.”

“Harriet…let me be clear, are you speaking of Mr. Knightley?”

“I know, it is quite a presumption, but I had thought there had been many unequal marriages before.”

“Do you have any idea of him returning your regard?”

“I was most surprised by his attention to me at the ball and he did…”

“Yes?”

“He did send a note to Mrs. Goddard wishing me the fullest recovery and offering his services in any way.” Harriet blushed prettily.

“I…I can only say that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world that would raise a lady’s expectations.” Why should the notion bother her so?

“That is what I believe as well. So, you do think I have reason to hope?”

“Perhaps…perhaps you need more time to determine things.”

“You mean to put me on my guard and let his actions guide mine.”

“Yes, but it is growing very late now.”

“Oh! Of course, your father must not see me when I am in such a state.”

The next day Emma walked the path to Donwell Abbey. A night full of reflections had made many things perfectly clear to her..

“Too late. I have been so busy managing everyone else’s hearts that I never considered my own and there Mr. Knightley is, never to be removed. Yet I have realized it too late and it is all my own doing.”

She returned to her home in low spirits but hoped she hid it from her father. News of Frank and Jane’s betrothal soon passed through the area and, most astonishing of all, his aunt was persuaded to look upon it with favor in her ill health. Mrs. Churchill could not but be reminded of Frank’s mother and when the Churchills did not support her marriage to Mr. Weston they only pained themselves by breaking the connection. Frank was resolute in his determination to marry Jane and having no desire to lose the affection and company of her beloved nephew, the aunt gave way.

Another two days after the news fell passed before Mr. Knightley called. He found her sitting in the drawing-room staring at the chair he favored.

“Are you well, Emma?”

His question startled her. Recovering, she replied, “I am always well.”

“Your father says you have been on poor spirits.”

“My father imagines all the world is unwell.”

“Maybe, but you look it.”

Emma let out a resigned sigh. “Is the state of my spirits what drew you to Hartfield when the last five days you have stayed away? What happened to your daily walk?”

He remained silent for a moment and Emma grew alarmed. “Forgive me, I did not ask after you earlier. You have not been ill, have you?”

“No, no. I am in perfect health. I have stayed away. I was more sensible than perhaps you were about the matter of your heart with Frank Churchill and it seems I was correct. The news of their engagement has brought you grief.”

“My vanity was flattered by his attentions. He was so new and refreshing, so amiable, he has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I was never attached to him and I can see now he never meant to be attached to me. I am ashamed of my conduct, of the path I was following him down while he attempted to conceal his attachment to Jane.”

“I have never thought very highly of him, but it may be with such a wife he will turn out quite well.”

“I have no doubt of their mutual attachment.”

“He is a fortunate man! He meets a young woman and at such a time as most choose badly he is able to find one that will do him the greatest credit. She is willing to conceal their betrothal. His aunt is in the way, she experiences a sudden change of heart. He uses everyone but they are all so ready to forgive him.”

“You sound jealous.”

“I am on one point.”

Emma could only sit in silence. They seemed within half a sentence of Harriet and Emma resolved to change the subject immediately but Mr. Knightley began speaking again.

“You will not ask me the point of my curiosity? You are wise but I cannot be.”

“If you think you will regret it, then do not speak it!”

He was clearly displeased by her suggestion but seemed just as determined to obey her and stood to leave.

Standing, she pleaded, “Oh! Please, stay. I will call for some tea.”

“No, you wish me to go.”

“Forgive me, just now. I am your friend and will listen to anything you are willing to say.”

“My friend! Yes, we are friends but tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?”

He stopped speaking but the expression of his eyes overpowered her.

“My dearest Emma, for dearest you will always be, my dearest, most beloved Emma–tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.

Still, she could not speak.

“You are silent! Absolutely silent!”

Emma was incapable of speech but could only think that she might wake from this happiest dream.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. But now I will say the truth of my own manner, I have been an indifferent lover but now I only wish to hear your voice.”

She felt for Harriet, she had led her friend astray, but she could not be so generous as to give Mr. Knightley up. She hardly knew what to say.

Putting her hand in his she replied. “I am your own Emma and no one else’s, if you are giving me your hand.”

Raising her hand to his lips he replied, “I am. If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more.”

Emma smiled broadly and Knightley laughed. “Now that I think on it, Frank Churchill is a rather good sort of fellow, for I owe his slip of the tongue for giving me hope and until he came into the area I did not realize I loved you.”

Emma laughed in return. “You mean you owe Jane Fairfax for that is why Frank came in the area and if she had not fainted in the dance he would not have said a thing!”

“Well, then I certainly wish her well! She is the reason for our good understanding!”