Tea Time Tattle–Edward’s love for Elinor

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I have previously defended why Elinor is best suited to marry Edward, and not Colonel Brandon. In this post, I want to explore the nature of Edward’s feelings for Elinor as they began while he was engaged to another woman.

At the end of the book, we are finally given an accounting for how he accidentally strung Elinor along and made all of their acquaintance believe he was in love with her and if not capable of marrying her, at least in danger of it.

Elinor scolded him, harshly as ladies always scold the imprudence which compliments themselves, for having spent so much time with them at Norland, when he must have felt his own inconstancy.

“Your behaviour was certainly very wrong,” said she, “because, to say nothing of my own conviction, our relations were all led away by it to fancy and expect what, as you were then situated, could never be.”

He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistaken confidence in the force of his engagement.

“I was simple enough to think, that because my faith was plighted to another, there could be no danger in my being with you; and that the consciousness of my engagement was to keep my heart as safe and sacred as my honour. I felt that I admired you, but I told myself it was only friendship; and till I began to make comparisons between yourself and Lucy, I did not know how far I was got. After that, I suppose, I was wrong in remaining so much in Sussex; and the arguments with which I reconciled myself to the expediency of it were no better than these:—The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody but myself.”

How could Edward possibly think spending time with a young lady would not engage her heart? Well, in his defense, Elinor is hardly the young, romantic thing that Marianne is. Additionally, Willoughby represents a foil to Edward. For Willoughby did intend to make Marianne attached with no intention of returning the feelings.

I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection.”

We see from Edward’s quote that he did not set out to manipulate Elinor’s feelings and provide amusement for himself—although he had long been miserable with his engagement to Lucy.

He did attach Elinor but had no idea of his really doing so. How could that be? Alas, Miss Austen’s Edward Ferrars is not the hunky hero we see in Dan Stevens or Hugh Grant.

Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished—as—they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other.

Here, we see further reasoning for his thinking little of himself. He knows his deficiencies and his family prefers his younger brother. He knows it about himself as well:

“Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy.”

Indeed, he is hardly what young men were expected to be in the era:

Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly. But yet—he is not the kind of young man—there is a something wanting—his figure is not striking; it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. And besides all this, I am afraid, mamma, he has no real taste.

When Marianne further abuses Edward to Elinor, she defends him thusly:

He distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much, that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture;

Elinor has spent enough time to know that Edward’s reticence is due to his humility and even knowledge of his awkwardness. The subtext of this is that he must prefer other things but find people disagree with him and mock his preferences. If Edward were to tell Marianne he preferred a sermon to a sonnet, she would never forgive him. However, if he could rationalize it as a way that did justice to her own views, she might tolerate it. If he could say that he prefers to be out of doors to witness all of its grandeurs rather than read about it, she would likely praise him. However, Edward is simply too awkward to get that far.

Elinor continues to praise him, however.

“Of his sense and his goodness,” continued Elinor, “no one can, I think, be in doubt, who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent. You know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities, as you call them, you have, from peculiar circumstances, been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have been at times thrown a good deal together, while you have been wholly engrossed on the most affectionate principle by my mother. I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. His abilities in every respect improve as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and his person can hardly be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived. At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome; or, at least, almost so.

We see little of Elinor and Edward’s interactions at Norland. Instead, the chapters are full of complications from both Mrs. Dashwoods seeing an interest between the two. It’s written so vaguely that half way through the book, Elinor is able to question if Edward had ever really loved her. The reader is left in the dark just as much as she is for we never saw it either. The above quote, however, proves Elinor has “love goggles” on. Not only is he more attractive to her now but she has turned all his flaws into strengths.

Elinor is not so blind as to admire what is not there. Everyone can see the potential in Edward. Praise from Elinor means something. It is not the blind flattery of Lucy Steele. Perhaps this is one of the things on which Edward compared the two.

Elinor continues to be the more sensible between the two ladies. She does not see enough from Edward to be entirely certain of his loving her and is cognizant of the fact that even if he does, it may come to nothing.

I am by no means assured of his regard for me. There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful; and till his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality, by believing or calling it more than it is. In my heart I feel little—scarcely any doubt of his preference. But there are other points to be considered besides his inclination. He is very far from being independent. What his mother really is we cannot know; but, from Fanny’s occasional mention of her conduct and opinions, we have never been disposed to think her amiable; and I am very much mistaken if Edward is not himself aware that there would be many difficulties in his way, if he were to wish to marry a woman who had not either a great fortune or high rank.”

While Elinor reproaches Edward for his behavior at Norland, she had always felt there was something missing in his treatment of her:

There was, at times, a want of spirits about him which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke a something almost as unpromising. A doubt of her regard, supposing him to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude. It would not be likely to produce that dejection of mind which frequently attended him. A more reasonable cause might be found in the dependent situation which forbad the indulgence of his affection. She knew that his mother neither behaved to him so as to make his home comfortable at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views for his aggrandisement. With such a knowledge as this, it was impossible for Elinor to feel easy on the subject. She was far from depending on that result of his preference of her, which her mother and sister still considered as certain. Nay, the longer they were together the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard; and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more than friendship.

When he visits the Dashwoods at Barton, there is also no sign of him intending to attach Elinor.

He was not in spirits, however; he praised their house, admired its prospect, was attentive and kind; but still he was not in spirits. The whole family perceived it;

Edward made no answer. His gravity and thoughtfulness returned on him in their fullest extent—and he sat for some time silent and dull.

Elinor saw, with great uneasiness, the low spirits of her friend. His visit afforded her but a very partial satisfaction, while his own enjoyment in it appeared so imperfect. It was evident that he was unhappy; she wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished her by the same affection which once she had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of his preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner towards her contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one.

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After Marianne comments on his ring, which we later learn is made of Lucy’s hair, he is describe as this:

Edward’s embarrassment lasted some time, and it ended in an absence of mind still more settled. He was particularly grave the whole morning.

Indeed, he even successfully relies on his honor when at Barton:

Edward remained a week at the cottage; he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Dashwood to stay longer; but, as if he were bent only on self-mortification, he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height. His spirits, during the last two or three days, though still very unequal, were greatly improved—he grew more and more partial to the house and environs—never spoke of going away without a sigh—declared his time to be wholly disengaged—even doubted to what place he should go when he left them—but still, go he must.

Were Elinor’s expectations raised from this visit? She could see how something afflicted him and he did not treat her as he had at Norland.

Disappointed, however, and vexed as she was, and sometimes displeased with his uncertain behaviour to herself, she was very well disposed on the whole to regard his actions with all the candid allowances and generous qualifications, which had been rather more painfully extorted from her, for Willoughby’s service, by her mother. His want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Ferrars’s disposition and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporising with his mother. The old, well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all.

But from such vain wishes she was forced to turn for comfort to the renewal of her confidence in Edward’s affection, to the remembrance of every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him while at Barton, and above all, to that flattering proof of it which he constantly wore round his finger.

Ah, so Elinor’s reasons to believe Edward continued to love her were mostly based on looks and rare words and the blasted ring. Of course, once we meet Lucy and the truth comes out, things are clearer. Or are they?

“To be sure,” continued Lucy, after a few minutes’ silence on both sides, “his mother must provide for him sometime or other; but poor Edward is so cast down about it! Did you not think him dreadful low-spirited when he was at Barton? He was so miserable when he left us at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think him quite ill.”

“Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?” repeated Lucy.

“We did, indeed, particularly so when he first arrived.”

Elinor had thought Edward unusually out of spirits but blamed his mother, and possibly continued affection toward Elinor. Lucy takes the blame for herself. We learn from Edward, finally, it was because he had realized how much he loved Elinor and could never have her.

When Elinor learns about the engagement from Lucy, what are her feelings?

Her resentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas, other considerations soon arose. Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blameable, highly blameable, in remaining at Norland after he first felt her influence over him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he had injured her, how much more had he injured himself; if her case were pitiable, his was hopeless. His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She might in time regain tranquillity; but he, what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her—illiterate, artful, and selfish?

As these considerations occurred to her in painful succession, she wept for him more than for herself. Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem, she thought she could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow, command herself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from her mother and sisters.

It is not that Elinor does not feel the pain of knowing she now has no hope of ever marrying Edward, even if it seemed nearly hopeless before, it is that she does not let herself wallow. She is greater command of her emotions and has enough sense to see that she has not been an intentional victim.

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What amazes me the most about Elinor’s philosophy, and it is reinforced with her feelings about Marianne and Willoughby’s attachment, is that she fully understands that the heart can’t be controlled. It wants what it wants. For Edward, it wanted Elinor even though he was bound to Lucy. He always tried to act honorably but sank deeper and deeper into true melancholy. Can you imagine the way such feelings would weigh on him? Without any sort of employment or any friends, he must have felt entirely consumed with his problems. Instead of a quick burn from the fire of passion, he was slowly being choked as a ring of fire circled around him.

Regarding his reasons for not breaking the engagement, he was misled about Lucy’s real nature.

he had always believed her to be a well-disposed, good-hearted girl, and thoroughly attached to himself. Nothing but such a persuasion could have prevented his putting an end to an engagement, which, long before the discovery of it laid him open to his mother’s anger, had been a continual source of disquiet and regret to him.

“I thought it my duty,” said he, “independent of my feelings, to give her the option of continuing the engagement or not, when I was renounced by my mother, and stood to all appearance without a friend in the world to assist me.”

When at last he is free of Lucy, he goes straight to Barton. He can barely contain his desire to ask for Elinor’s hand, even as he wondered if she would accept him. He was so eager to end the misery he had been living in for months. Like a man who takes a deep breath of air after being rescued from a fire, Edward needed to lay is heart at Elinor’s feet.

In the end, Austen rewards Edward’s loyal heart and unbroken honor. Why should we not allow his happiness?

 

His situation indeed was more than commonly joyful. He had more than the ordinary triumph of accepted love to swell his heart, and raise his spirits. He was released, without any reproach to himself, from an entanglement which had long formed his misery, from a woman whom he had long ceased to love, and elevated at once to that security with another, which he must have thought of almost with despair, as soon as he had learned to consider it with desire. He was brought, not from doubt or suspense, but from misery to happiness; and the change was openly spoken in such a genuine, flowing, grateful cheerfulness, as his friends had never witnessed in him before.

“I am grown neither humble nor penitent by what has passed. I am grown very happy…”

 

 

Austen’s Brides- Mr. Right Now

Jane Austen’s books center around a heroine who searches for identity and love. Spoiler alert: everyone gets married.

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For this month’s theme, I don’t want to focus on those couples. Instead, I want to look at the others who make marriages in the novel while the heroine is still searching for Mr. Right. I believe these newlyweds serve as a foil to Austen’s heroines. They make mistakes the heroine, no matter how flawed she is, would never do. And for that reason we love her.

Earlier in the month, I examined couples in Jane Austen’s books that I termed “overachievers.” They were men and women who married for financial or social gain. Today, I’ll look at the newlyweds who chose to settle. Instead of waiting for Mr. Right, they snatched up Mr. Right Now. Last time, I concluded that when marrying for financial and social gain, happiness in marriage might be a matter of chance. Does the same hold true when you marry against your inclination?

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Northanger Abbey is the clearest example of an Austen heroine who goes out into the world and discovers it’s not what she imagined. Along the way, Catherine finds out who she really is, who she can trust, and what matters most in life. One of the people she learns she cannot trust is her former best friend, Isabella Thorpe. They met by “chance” and became instant friends in a city where Catherine knew no one and was away from her family for the first time. Upon learning Catherine enjoys fiction reading, Isabella directs her new friend to increasingly fantastical gothic novels. Despite Catherine’s interest in Mr. Tilney and his sister, the friendship with Isabella seems cemented when she becomes engaged to Catherine’s brother. However, she is under the mistaken belief that the Morland children will become heirs of the wealthy Mr. Allen who is Catherine’s host in Bath.

When James Morland returns from asking his parents’ blessing at his betrothal with the news that they must wait two years for him to come of age and take over one of his father’s livings, Isabella’s hopes for wealth vanish. At this point, she might be able to break the engagement without doing her reputation much harm. James never should have proposed if he had no independent means to support a wife. At the same time, she has already met and become enamored with Captain Tilney, who is far more handsome, more charming, and heir to a very wealthy man. Despite this, Isabella decides to play it safe and not call off the engagement with James Morland. However, she can’t hide her attraction to Captain Tilney and soon enrages her betrothed.

The most recent film adaptation has her having sex with the Captain only to learn afterward he had no honorable intentions. That is not even hinted at in the book, but it is perhaps believable that Isabella would have been like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Beautiful, surrounded by men, and vain, she would exchange favors for financial gain for her family. Certainly something James Morland was wise to avoid. In the end, Isabella loses her betrothal to James and her friendship with Catherine. We do not know what becomes of her. I wonder if she learned from settling her ambitions or not. At the very least, Catherine is her complete contrast. She had little hope of gaining Henry Tilney’s notice or love and at the end receives both.

aa2ca3a6f27887f1ba06cd9507fb7620.jpgAnother Austen female to have settled for a match that seemed prudent while she loved a heartless rake is Maria Bertram from Mansfield Park. We are told that after turning twenty-one, Maria felt it a duty to marry. Mrs. Norris is soon keen on Maria marrying a wealthy neighbor who is described as a very stupid fellow indeed, and we’re told no one would like him at all if not for his money. They are soon provisionally engaged, as her father is away, but it’s a poorly kept secret. As it is, twelve thousand pounds a year and a house in town convinced everyone but Edmund Bertram of his suitableness with Maria. That is until she met Henry Crawford.

Maria and her younger sister, Julia, are immediately smitten with Henry. Maria flirts with him with indemnity as she is engaged while Julia must be more reserved and does not gain his attention. Matters almost peak while the young people of the Park put on a play and Maria and Henry are allowed to spend considerable time together rehearsing lines. Even Rushworth notices Maria’s attraction to Henry. However, before such behavior can come to a climax, Sir Thomas returns from Antigua. The play is stopped, and solemnity is restored. Sir Thomas soon realizes that Maria is not happy with Mr. Rushworth and offers to end the engagement, bearing all things for her happiness. Yet Maria answers immediately that she is satisfied with Rushworth.

The couple marries and leaves for London. After some time apart while Henry attempts to woo Fanny Price, Maria and Henry are thrown together again. While Julia is prudent and withdraws to a friend’s house, lest she fall for Henry all over again–confident as she is that he could never love her back after flirting with her sister then declaring himself in love with her cousin–Maria falls into her old ways. Soon after we know of his meeting Maria again, we are told of a brewing scandal regarding them which reaches its breaking point when they elope.

For Maria, this ends in tragedy. She is divorced by Rushworth and not married by Henry. He remained with her for a few months until he could no longer satisfy himself. She was not Fanny, and that is who he had wanted, despite the momentary pleasure Maria could offer. Additionally, she grows unhappy with her situation and takes it out on Henry. Realizing they could never be happy together, he leaves, and she ends up living with Mrs. Norris, who has left Mansfield. Despite Mary Crawford’s suggestion on how Maria might be received into Society again, it seems this never happens, and Maria has lost her respectability forever.

Fanny, of course, had rejected Henry. Even when it seemed she could not have Edmund, she would not settle for Henry. While Edmund was single, she could never entertain thoughts of marrying another. Austen does hint that had Henry proved constant, and Edmund married, Fanny would have accepted Henry. However, I would point out that such is not in his character and Fanny was far more concerned with that than Maria had ever been. Maria’s vanity was satisfied, all the more as he turned to her after being rejected by Fanny.

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The final example of an Austen female who had great weight on a heroine and settled in marriage is Charlotte Lucas of Pride and Prejudice. Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins has a significant effect on Elizabeth Bennet. She had always known their views on marriage were not exactly alike but to see her best friend marry a man so ridiculous as Mr. Collins almost drives Elizabeth to break the friendship entirely. What Jane tries to put in a sympathetic light only enrages Elizabeth more.

You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness.

Charlotte had accepted Collins’ proposal because at twenty-seven, she was nearing spinsterhood. Her family was large, and while her father was a knight, there was little extra wealth to go around. She wished for her own home and to not burden her parents or brothers.

After several months, Elizabeth’s offense cools, and she visits Charlotte. While Elizabeth sees much that would cause her misery, Charlotte appears to bear it well. She directs her husband in ways that mean they spend little time together. She forbears Lady Catherine’s condescension. She relishes in controlling her own household affairs–or at least as much as Lady Catherine will allow. When Elizabeth leaves Hunsford, she observes that Charlotte’s new situation has not yet lost its charm.

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On the other hand, we know Elizabeth would never choose such a life. She had turned down Collins, and she also rejected Darcy who could offer her much in the way of worldly goods but at the time could not have offered her the sort of character she desired in an equal and companionable marriage.

Categorically, the ladies in Austen who settle for Mr. Right Now find no happiness in marriage. Maria married while in love with another man and it ends in disaster. Isabella’s engagement is broken because she is attracted to another. Charlotte is the best example of contentedness and respectability. While she tells Elizabeth she was never romantic, she might have tried to find a good match with a man that had more sense.

Young bride in forestSome have criticized Miss Austen in that her heroines do not always claim they will only marry for love. Even I have said that her primary motive is not romance. There is much to say that Austen has couples fall out of love showcasing that happiness in marriage might indeed be a matter of chance. However, happiness is not the only facet of marriage, especially in Austen’s era. Marriage was primarily a career option for women. And while you may not always find a job that is a passion, there are some jobs that you know can’t end well such as prostitution or illegal activity. Likewise, there are times when you can be content in a job by choosing one that suits your personality and skills. An introvert should avoid customer service positions, as an example. Similarly, if you do have a passion for dancing, then you may never thrive or do well in an accounting job.

While happiness in marriage may be a matter of chance, I believe Austen proves that respectability and comfortableness are not. From her, we learn to follow our heart wherever it might lead.

 

Positivity Monday- Worthy of love

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This may be one of my favorite quotes ever. Believing that I am worthy of love no matter my flaws has been my most freeing state of mind. And it is a state of mind. I’ve got to remind myself of it, sometimes daily, but it is crucial to my mental health. This includes allowing me to love myself.

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!