Mansfield Monday– Frozen Fanny

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I type this up as I am bundled in my thick fleece robe and socks to warm my feet. I consider the investment of fingerless gloves for writing. Are we experiencing a cold snap in Tidewater, Virginia? No. My husband has cranked up the air conditioning. Sigh. Women’s winter, am I right?

 

Would it surprise you to learn that Fanny Price would sit in a room with no fire and only added a shawl to her clothing?

Many readers have this image of Fanny freezing her bum off. I’ve been told more than once that Fanny’s lack of fire in her bedroom is proof of the abuse they believe she suffered. I believe this image is owed to the 1999 film production, which I generally like but all film productions have their problems. Sir Thomas comes into Fanny’s room to tell her about Henry’s proposal and is astonished to find she has no fire.

I suppose, sister, you will put the child in the little white attic, near the old nurseries. It will be much the best place for her, so near Miss Lee, and not far from the girls, and close by the housemaids, who could either of them help to dress her, you know, and take care of her clothes, for I suppose you would not think it fair to expect Ellis to wait on her as well as the others.


The little white attic, which had continued her sleeping-room ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent to suggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to another apartment more spacious and more meet for walking about in and thinking, and of which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. It had been their school-room.

Fanny’s bedchamber was in the attic, near where the female servants stayed. It’s also mentioned as not being too far from “the girls,” meaning Maria and Julia. Later, she is given what is essentially a private sitting room in what was the old school room for the girls. It’s not explicitly stated but it sounds like Maria and Julia have their own sitting areas. However, nothing is mentioned of them spending much time in them, and it was generally only a habit in the morning. We are told Fanny leaves her chamber and goes to this other room in the morning. However, no fire is allowed to be lit. Yet, Fanny sits in it most days.

How dare they?!

Hold your horses. There is much to consider.

The East room, as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white attic: the smallness of the one making the use of the other so evidently reasonable that the Miss Bertrams, with every superiority in their own apartments which their own sense of superiority could demand, were entirely approving it; and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny’s account, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted, though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of the indulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room in the house.

The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny’s; and while there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came.

The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house,

One, when Sir Thomas talks with Fanny, she is content with only a shawl. I’m wearing more and thicker layers at this point than it sounds like Fanny is. Granted, I think this was probably a warm wool shawl. They were actually quite expensive. Perhaps, it was a hand me down from Maria or Julia although nothing else is said of her having to wear their cast offs. If it were so cold, she would need more layers, might wear a spencer, pelisse, or coat as well. I surely have in my house. In the passage below, Sir Thomas acknowledges that a fire in her bedchamber would be impossible.

stopping short as he entered, said, with much surprise, “Why have you no fire to-day?” There was snow on the ground, and she was sitting in a shawl. She hesitated.

“I am not cold, sir: I never sit here long at this time of year.”

“But you have a fire in general?”

“No, sir.”

“How comes this about? Here must be some mistake. I understood that you had the use of this room by way of making you perfectly comfortable. In your bedchamber I know you cannot have a fire. Here is some great misapprehension which must be rectified. It is highly unfit for you to sit, be it only half an hour a day, without a fire. You are not strong. You are chilly. Your aunt cannot be aware of this.”

“I understand,” cried her uncle, recollecting himself, and not wanting to hear more: “I understand. Your aunt Norris has always been an advocate, and very judiciously, for young people’s being brought up without unnecessary indulgences; but there should be moderation in everything. She is also very hardy herself, which of course will influence her in her opinion of the wants of others. And on another account, too, I can perfectly comprehend. I know what her sentiments have always been. The principle was good in itself, but it may have been, and I believe has been, carried too far in your case.

 

Next, Sir Thomas is shocked only because of Fanny’s general health. He even acknowledges that Mrs. Norris had good intentions and that it’s regular for young people to not have fires, but that Fanny needs one. It’s conceivable, then, that even his daughters didn’t have fires all the time. They probably would have if they mentioned they were cold, though, and Fanny is too grateful to ask for more. Maria and Julia, in contrast, are selfish. Additionally, if Sir Thomas is so concerned about her having a fire, why not offer her a new bedchamber? Clearly whatever she deals with at night (no fire) is not so unusual. What’s strange to him is that she sits without one for any time during the day.

Why would Mrs. Norris not want an extra room in the house to be heated? In the book, it’s very plain that she’s miserly. She congratulates herself constantly on “economy.” Simply put, heating was costly and Fanny could sit somewhere else. The very poor could not even afford coal or wood. They used leftover (and probably rotten) vegetables. Chances are Fanny’s family home in Portsmouth was considerably colder than her experience at Mansfield.

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Let us also consider heating in the era. Fires do not last forever. One must tend them. Jane Austen stories are littered with examples of the fire being relit by a maid in the morning. This is a well-known fact of the era. At some point in the night, the fire would die, and in the morning, they would be re-lit. That means for much of the night, people are sleeping in an unheated room.

It is important to note that many bedrooms may not have had a fireplace at all, and those that did were often only lit when someone was ill. —Georgian & Regency Houses Explained by Trevor Yorke

The pay and duties of a housemaid, with its relatively lighter tasks of cleaning the house and maintaining bedroom fires, implicitly contrasted to those of a girl of all works, a lower position with less pay and more onerous duties of cooking, scouring, sweeping, laundry, fires, lamps, heavy lifting and if necessary, child-minding. —The Cambridge Edition of Sense & Sensibility, edited by Edward Copeland

In winter, the housemaid’s first task was to clean the hearths and light the fires, while in summer the stove had to be attended to. Shutters were opened in the sitting rooms, hearth rugs shaken and carpets swept. Chairs and other furniture had to be dusted, looking glasses had to be cleaned and kettles filled for hot water, both for use in the kitchen and for washing purposes. These tasks had to be completed before the master and mistress came down for breakfast. —Flunkeys and Scullions, Life Below Stairs in Georgian England by Pamela Horn

Chambermaids ranked highest among the lower female servants. Their sphere was properly in the bedrooms: dusting, straightening, cleaning, swatting insects in summer, laying fires and warming beds in winter, sweeping, closing windows and turning down bedclothes the last thing at night. —The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk & Teresa Hamlin

Long before the family was awake, the housemaids would be up and about, opening the shutters, dusting, sweeping and polishing, cleaning the grates and laying and lighting fires. —Wives and Daughters by Joanna Martin

Catherine Morland is surprised to find a fire in her chamber at Northanger Abbey and even allows it to die before going to bed. She awakens to a maid having already lit the fire but at eight in the morning and many people arose earlier.

Thus wisely fortifying her mind, as she proceeded upstairs, she was enabled, especially on perceiving that Miss Tilney slept only two doors from her, to enter her room with a tolerably stout heart; and her spirits were immediately assisted by the cheerful blaze of a wood fire.

“How much better is this,” said she, as she walked to the fender—”how much better to find a fire ready lit, than to have to wait shivering in the cold till all the family are in bed, as so many poor girls have been obliged to do, and then to have a faithful old servant frightening one by coming in with a faggot! How glad I am that Northanger is what it is! If it had been like some other places, I do not know that, in such a night as this, I could have answered for my courage: but now, to be sure, there is nothing to alarm one.”

A glance at the old chest, as she turned away from this examination, was not without its use; she scorned the causeless fears of an idle fancy, and began with a most happy indifference to prepare herself for bed. “She should take her time; she should not hurry herself; she did not care if she were the last person up in the house. But she would not make up her fire; that would seem cowardly, as if she wished for the protection of light after she were in bed.” The fire therefore died away, and Catherine, having spent the best part of an hour in her arrangements, was beginning to think of stepping into bed,

The housemaid’s folding back her window-shutters at eight o’clock the next day was the sound which first roused Catherine; and she opened her eyes, wondering that they could ever have been closed, on objects of cheerfulness; her fire was already burning, and a bright morning had succeeded the tempest of the night.

Marianne Dashwood has also awoken before the fire re-lit on occasion:

Before the housemaid had lit their fire the next day, or the sun gained any power over a cold, gloomy morning in January, Marianne, only half dressed, was kneeling against one of the window-seats for the sake of all the little light she could command from it, and writing as fast as a continual flow of tears would permit her.

The drawing rooms of Mansfield would have had fires. Fanny was more than welcome to sit in them. She is far more reserved and introverted than anyone in the family can understand and she’s been that way since the moment of her arrival–long before anyone had a chance to abuse her. They can hardly conceive of why she needs time by herself. It is not that Fanny is forced to sit in a cold room. Nor is she deprived warm clothing. She chooses it.

Fireplaces of the era also left much to be desired. They did not really heat the entire room. It could be unbearably hot near the fire but then very cool away from it. Indeed, people often had to rearrange themselves throughout the day. Honestly, anyone who has spent time near a fire should understand this. There are also countless examples in Jane Austen’s works of seating someone ill near a fire or someone finding the fire too hot and needing to relocate.

Now, I’m going to divulge some personal information. I once lived in a house with no heat. There even came a time in the early spring in which it was cooler in the house than outside. Oh, we had means to heat the place. We had a woodstove–which generally provide excellent heat. However, my husband and I were full-time college students and also worked 32 hours a week. Our cabin was about a half hour drive from the town in which we worked and attended school. Essentially, I left for the day at 7 am and did not get home until almost midnight. We lived in the mountains. How did we deal with that? Well, we did have a very small space heater that we would turn on for a bit in our room. In Jane Austen’s time, they had bed warmers which were long-handled copper skillets filled with warmed stones. They would be placed on the sheet to warm the bed. I’m not going to lie, I would still like this. We also layered our bed with several blankets and I wore good, warm pajamas.

Additionally, consider that many people sleep outside without heat for fun. My husband is an Eagle Scout and told me they would regularly camp in below freezing weather without a fire. They did have good sleeping bags. However, the average winter low for Northamptonshire is above freezing.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the time I lived in Alaska and people worked outside in negative forty all day long. Actually, that was a warm winter for the area. It usually got to negative sixty, and other areas got much colder.

Was Fanny freezing and turning to ice? It doesn’t seem like it. Was she abused? I don’t think so. She was the poor relation and there was a definite difference made between her and her cousins. Let’s remember we’re far more egalitarian these days. However, either way, I don’t think this fire reference can be proof of abuse. If Jane Austen didn’t include those points to illustrate abuse, then what is their purpose? Sir Thomas says it perfectly:

The principle was good in itself, but it may have been, and I believe has been, carried too far in your case. I am aware that there has been sometimes, in some points, a misplaced distinction; but I think too well of you, Fanny, to suppose you will ever harbour resentment on that account. You have an understanding which will prevent you from receiving things only in part, and judging partially by the event. You will take in the whole of the past, you will consider times, persons, and probabilities, and you will feel that they were not least your friends who were educating and preparing you for that mediocrity of condition which seemed to be your lot. Though their caution may prove eventually unnecessary, it was kindly meant;

In a book where so much is about doing what looks right without considering what truly is right, Fanny’s lack of a fire illustrates the dysfunction perfectly. There’s lots of reasons why Fanny shouldn’t have a fire and one obvious reason why she should. That reason has nothing to do with economy or habits but about knowing a person and building an inter-personal relationship with them.

Theme Thursday– Opening lines

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I bet you know a few of Jane Austen’s opening lines. Critics will tell you the first sentence of a novel is crucial, even in a world where readers are browsing in the book stores and picking up books at random less and less. Today’s online buyer will typically select the genre and category before they start browsing. Then the cover and the blurb will entice. Some buy without reading a sample, but many others do. Experts say that the purpose of the first sentence is to convince a reader to read the second and then the third and so on.

I would argue that reading the first sentence is important to begin the emotional journey the reader has with the characters. In the 21st century, characters is what sells a book, not the setting or theme.

How does Jane Austen hold up to that demand?

Sense and Sensibility: The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.


Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.


Mansfield Park: About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.


Emma: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.


Persuasion: Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.


Northanger Abbey: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.


Lady Susan: MY DEAR BROTHER,—I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted of spending some weeks with you at Churchhill, and, therefore, if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with.

Well, if you can see that very few of Austen’s books begin with anything that connects to a character, let alone the protagonist, what is the purpose of her opening lines?

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Sense and Sensibility rapidly opens with the death of the patriarch and the history of wills which leaves the females in such dire straits. We know they will soon have to leave Norland–unless their brother asks them to stay. Elinor then meets and falls in love with Edward and there’s a shred of hope that the distress of losing their father will lead to an unexpected blessing. The real turning point in the story happens when they leave Norland. There’s no going back. Life is going to be nothing like it was before. In this case, the opening sentence sets up the old world and lets us know that it is likely to forever change. Austen suggests the conflict of the story (how do Elinor and Marianne make their way in the world once they are no longer privileged and sheltered at Norland?) from the very beginning.

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Again, in Pride and Prejudice, we get the crux of the conflict immediately. Whoever thinks any wealthy unmarried man must be interested in marriage is full of both pride and prejudice. Suggesting it is a universal truth tells us that our characters will be working in a world where this is the basic assumption. We can only expect that any sensible character we would bother liking would reject such a ludicrous idea. However, what will be the ramifications for rejecting such a societal truth? In the end, the interesting fact is that while Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t exactly husband hunting, did she ever consider that a man might be tired of the game? Did Mr. Darcy ever consider that not every lady was playing it as well? Both of them claim to reject the “truth” presented at the beginning and yet they unintentionally prove it.

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Mansfield Park gets trickier. Is there a conflict introduced in the first line? No. Is a character introduced? Yes, but she ends up being no one of consequence to the story. In fact, she’s arguably the character with the least impact. The thought of that never ceases to delight me. What is Jane Austen attempting to tell the reader with this beginning sentence? One, it was unlikely that this Maria Ward would obtain the status she did. Very few people live as an island. No, they have relations. These lower relations are now thrust into a baronet’s orbit. We must read the second sentence to gain more information.

She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.

Ah. Yes, the relations we previously guessed at are sisters. Sisters that are just as beautiful as the first. Did they marry well? If they did not what was it about Maria Ward that gave her advantage? What became of these sisters? We are told this whole thing happened about thirty years ago so what does all of this mean about the present? It is not exactly a gripping opening but does the job in making the reader ask questions and need to read to find the answers.

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Jane Austen has famously claimed in a letter that no one will like Emma Woodhouse as a heroine except herself. Here we do meet a character. However, we are told she has nothing to vex her. She seems to have every blessing in life. Let us recall that the typical heroine of the era was more like Fanny Price–innocent but at a disadvantage in some way. The Dashwood sisters and Elizabeth Bennet both suffered financially compared to those that would judge and demean them. Now, we have a woman with every reason for joy and contentment. We can expect she will either have all of that taken away or should be a paragon of virtue with an endlessly charitable heart so we won’t hate her. However, that’s not the Emma Woodhouse we get. Instead, we are told in the fifth sentence that Emma has real evils. She gets her own way and thinks well of herself. The reader can see these are unlikable traits and the added description of pretending as though they are great flaws prejudices the reader even more, in my opinion. What will make the reader continue? Curiosity and a desire for the lady to get her just desserts? Kind hopefulness that even a rich lady can learn to have a more charitable view of the world? We are told what to think about Emma…and yet we are not so certain. The uncertainty impels us to continue. This fits all the more as some literary critics consider Emma the precursor to a mystery novel. The central question in that framework is “Who can Emma marry?” whereas the opening sentence makes us wonder “Who is Emma really?” People are always more than the sum of their appearances to others.

vlcsnap-00067.pngIn Persuasion, we meet Sir Walter Elliot and how well he thinks of his family legacy. Personally, reading the sarcasm about the baronetage hooked me as a reader. I love a book that begins by poking fun of someone or something. I dearly love a laugh! As the chapter continues, we learn that Sir Walter’s family lacks a crucial thing: an heir of his body. We also learn the youngest daughter has married but the two elder ones have not. We then learn that the family is in debt and will need to leave this ancestral home and pride of place. While we do not understand what the conflict of the story is yet, we know the cause of it is this misplaced pride. Ah, but the family is going through a change. Surely they will amend their views and whatever it has cost the heroine will be reversed! Do you see where Austen sneaks in the fact that it won’t be as simple as that? Cleverly, by exposing Sir Walter as so ridiculous in caring about his position in the world, Austen tells the reader that merely reversing the family’s position will not fix the problem for any sensible person doesn’t care about that. It won’t be enough for someone to see that the heroine’s family must no longer have their pride–even if they were capable of letting it go–for that was not the root of the problem on the other side. She slyly tells us there is a dual conflict. Once we get to know Captain Wentworth, it’s easy to see how that’s the case.

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I would not be the first to point out that the traditional heroine of a gothic novel looks more like Eleanor Tilney than Catherine Morland. Austen laughingly points this out right away. Well, if Catherine is not the traditional heroine then who is she? Like Emma, we are introduced to the heroine right away and told what to think about her. It is no wonder that Austen’s working title for this story was Susan and then Catherine. Unlike Emma, we are given a sympathetic view of Catherine. We can’t help but want her to do well in life, even if she doesn’t so desperately deserve it as other heroines do. I think in this way, Northanger Abbey fits as the most modern story. Today’s books quickly introduce the protagonist and convinces us why we should care about him or her. As the story continues, we can see how Mr. Tilney has what Catherine lacks in life and how she can lift his spirits and encourage his sense of humor while preventing him from falling into cynicism.

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Lady Susan‘s opening line immediately exposes her selfish and manipulative way. The reader instantly wonders how this family will survive her visit and what this woman will continue to attempt to gain from it.

I have postulated that present-day readers prefer to learn about one of the protagonists . Experts have claimed that the opening line makes the reader continue reading. In some cases, Austen’s lines expose the conflict (S&S, P&P, P). In others, she introduces a character (Emma, NA, P, LS). Another possibility is exposing the setting or theme of the book (S&S, P, LS). Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s least popular book and by examining the opening line, we might see why. Although it compels the reader to continue to make sense of the importance of the first line it does not introduce a character we can have an emotional reaction to. It does not present a conflict or theme. It’s worth noting that many critics think Mansfield Park is Austen’s greatest work but I would argue that it is also her most subtle. The indifferent beginning continues throughout the work and the true meaning of Austen’s themes, the conflict, the very reason why Fanny is the heroine and not one of her cousins or Mary Crawford all remain mostly hidden in the same way someone may miss the importance of the book’s opening line.

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In conclusion, opening lines are pretty crucial for a book. However, a book may be well-written without having a strong opening–if that serves the author’s intent. I like to think that Jane Austen was not surprised when fewer people enjoyed MP than they did her other works. I imagine she knew not many people would see all her deeper meanings and she wanted them to remain hidden as she opened the story in such a way. On the other hand, to become a popular book, you must have a memorable opening. Critics may think Mansfield Park is the superior story but more readers will know Pride and Prejudice‘s opening line.

Mansfield Monday–Friends or family?

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When little Fanny Price arrives at Mansfield Park everything is so different that she can do little but be terrified and shy. We are told no one meant to be mean.

Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort.

Her aunts and uncle tried talking with her. Her cousins attempted to play with her. However, it’s not until a week into her stay that she feels a moment of reprieve from her distress. Edmund, at age sixteen, found Fanny crying and wishing she could write to her brother. He helped get her set up and started on a letter.

During their interaction, Edmund observed:

was convinced of her having an affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right; and he could perceive her to be farther entitled to attention by great sensibility of her situation, and great timidity. He had never knowingly given her pain, but he now felt that she required more positive kindness; and with that view endeavoured, in the first place, to lessen her fears of them all, and gave her especially a great deal of good advice as to playing with Maria and Julia, and being as merry as possible.

The effect was immediate. We are next told:

From this day Fanny grew more comfortable. She felt that she had a friend, and the kindness of her cousin Edmund gave her better spirits with everybody else. The place became less strange, and the people less formidable;

From there, Fanny began to adjust more to life at Mansfield and they all grew up. In those years, she did not see her family at Portsmouth again. No one ever seemed to consider her returning or visiting and no one there ever asked for her. She saw only one brother, the one she had wanted to write to, before he left for the sea.

Chapter Two closes telling us of Fanny’s continued friendship with Edmund:

Edmund’s friendship never failed her: his leaving Eton for Oxford made no change in his kind dispositions, and only afforded more frequent opportunities of proving them. Without any display of doing more than the rest, or any fear of doing too much, he was always true to her interests, and considerate of her feelings, trying to make her good qualities understood, and to conquer the diffidence which prevented their being more apparent; giving her advice, consolation, and encouragement.

Kept back as she was by everybody else, his single support could not bring her forward; but his attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properly directed, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise. In return for such services she loved him better than anybody in the world except William: her heart was divided between the two.

Fanny Price was given two families in life but in one found a true friend. Some think Fanny is the most down trodden Austen heroine, but compare this with Anne Elliot whose only friend, Lady Russell, was the means of separating her from her love. Emma’s best friend was her governess who marries at the beginning of the novel. She then has to find a new one and the question throughout the book is if the one she discovered was suitable. Catherine Morland’s first friend she makes outside of her family circle ends up being cunning and devious. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood have only each other. Elinor has the added injury of a false friendship with her rival, Lucy Steele. Elizabeth Bennet’s friendship with Charlotte Lucas is materially wounded when she marries Mr. Collins and moves fifty miles away.

Let us also consider how the friendships within families may alter after the sisters marry. Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are separated by marriage and distance. Elinor and Marianne manage to settle near one another. Emma loses the closeness of her friendship with Harriet due to the inequity of their marriages. Anne Elliot will at times have no female company at all as she will live aboard her husband’s ships. Nothing is said about where Eleanor Tilney’s husband lives. We can suppose Catherine and Eleanor do not get to meet often.

It seems, whether friendship comes from within family circles or without retaining one is rare indeed. It might have been harder on Fanny at the time, but given how Maria and Julia turn out, it was all for the best that Fanny found a closer friend in Edmund than she did in her female cousins.

Mansfield Monday– The Miss Wards

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Every time I start to read Mansfield Park, I can’t help but wonder what a prequel to the story would be like. We do not meet Fanny for a few chapters, and the beginning of Chapter One reaches back thirty years to the marriage Miss Maria Ward to Sir Thomas Bertram.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

The elder Wards aren’t mentioned, only an uncle who was a lawyer. Was he their guardian? Rather than being proud of his niece’s “accomplishment,” he is amazed that she managed to marry him when she had less than ten thousand pounds. Could this be an early reference to a recurring thing of untrustworthy and overbearing uncles? Mary Crawford has one in the admiral. Fanny has one with Sir Thomas.

Next, we are told of the marriages of Miss Ward, who becomes Mrs. Norris, and Miss Frances Ward who became Mrs. Price. Austen tells us that there are not enough rich men as there are pretty girls in the world. It’s written a bit tongue in cheek but must certainly be the truth.

Mr. Elton in Emma married a woman worth ten thousand pounds. With Miss Ward’s money of seven thousand pounds and the living from Sir Thomas, the Norris family had nearly one thousand pounds a year. We know they never had children and so they had almost Mr. Bennet’s income and yet Mrs. Norris seems to think that’s always insufficient. Additionally, she was already the eldest sister, and it took her another six years to find a husband. Was she too picky? Had she wanted to marry better and relied on Sir Thomas to help her find a better match? Hmm…that seems a bit like Mary Crawford.

Miss Frances married “to disoblige her family.” She seems to have eloped as she was able to hide the intent to marry a poor marine lieutenant until the deed was done. Much like Julia Bertram’s elopement, the elopement itself doesn’t cause much scandal. Compare this with Lydia Bennet’s elopement with Wickham or Maria’s elopement with Henry Crawford. Despite being romantic enough to not care about what her family thought about her marriage, it seems both Miss Frances and Mr. Price had the honest intention actually to marry. I wonder what drove her to such a plan.

Then, the sisters had a falling out. Mrs. Norris wrote a letter telling Mrs. Price all about her faults. Well, it should be no surprise what type of person she is for the rest of the novel. Mrs. Price, in turn, is angry and resentful. The poor Bertrams are stuck in the middle.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that Sir Thomas was willing to try to help Mr. Price.  Apparently, Mrs. Price’s answer to her sister contained things which insulted Sir Thomas’ pride. It does not say that she insulted him directly, but perhaps she did. Now, did Sir Thomas give up in relief or did he try to coax Mrs. Norris into giving way? Did his conscience ever prick him that he should try to do more?

Mrs. Norris is able to tell the Bertrams each time Mrs. Price has a new baby. Pre-Facebook days that is a fascinating ability for “lurking” for a woman who seems to hate her sister. What regrets did Mrs. Norris have about the falling out? She must have felt something since she orchestrated bringing Fanny to Mansfield Park. And yet, the text tells us she had no real affection for her sister. She seems to have gloried merely in the possibility that she would receive credit for the idea. She always seems to arrange things so she comes out on top. I would compare that to Mary Crawford, but it seems more likely to be as foolishly thought out as Maria’s schemes.

What do you make of the Miss Wards? Do you see any parallels between them and the trio of cousins (Maria, Julia, and Fanny) or with Mary Crawford? That might be the topic for the next Mansfield Monday.

 

Thursday Three Hundred- The Change

Rose Letter

How did Edmund Bertram ever realize he was in love with Fanny Price? Austen does not tell us much:

Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford, and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such another woman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman might not do just as well, or a great deal better: whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles and all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been; and whether it might not be a possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love.

I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.

Here is my imagining of the moment Edmund realizes he loves Fanny “as a hero loves a heroine” with some inspiration from Tyler Rich’s “The Difference.”

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The Change

The sun had begun to set, and Edmund watched a group of starlings rise and fall against the pink sky. Something about how they seemed to almost fall to the ground and then climb back up pulled on his heart. He surely knew what it was like to lose your bearings and nearly plummet to your death only to rise—hopefully wiser. Knowing Fanny would understand his feelings, he turned in his seat to tell her only to remember he rode alone this day. Fanny had a headache and had stayed home.

There was a time when he would have worried about Fanny because no one at Mansfield seemed to care about her concerns save him. Now, his parents saw her value, and her sister lived with them. His aunt Norris and sisters were far away. He should have no fears that she would not be attended to, and yet he did.

The events of the past months—since the Crawfords had come into the area—had changed them all. Fanny, who once had been so reticent and relied on him so much, had resisted pressure from everyone about marrying Henry. She proved more righteous than them all when he eloped with Edmund’s already married sister, causing a scandal and bringing about her divorce. Nor could Edmund forget his own folly. He had thought he was in love with Crawford’s sister. She was everything a lady should be, everything he had been raised to desire: accomplished, beautiful, witty, and wealthy. However, nearly too late, he discerned she lacked what he most esteemed: integrity and moral fortitude.

Fanny, though, bore it all. She was quiet, but she was not blind as he was. Before the truth came out about the real nature of the Crawford siblings, Fanny had been sent to Portsmouth. Edmund believed it a harsh measure, and surely his father did not want Fanny to marry against her inclination. That could hardly make for a happy marriage. Still, Sir Thomas expected Fanny to write to them and plead to come back. She did not. She held her own.

She no longer needed him.

The thought kept Edmund awake at night. It made him toss and turn in his bed. There was a time when he would keep her waiting before their joined activities. Seeing Fanny, while something which always brought pleasure, held no urgency. Now, he could not see her enough.

Edmund had asked himself why that was. When he had last craved seeing a lady, it was because he was in love. He knew he loved Fanny. She was his cousin; his oldest and dearest friend. Only, when he thought about how his heart skipped a beat when she smiled at him and how it pounded when he wanted to please her—the way it yearned for her to be at his side even now… Well, that did not feel like the same love for his cousin he had always had.

Turning the thoughts over in his head, Edmund handed his reins to the stable boy and directed his feet to the house. Fanny kept her old room, and he was always welcome there. Soon, he would see her.

As he knocked on the door to her chamber, the realization hit him as though someone beat him over the head with the dinner gong. There was a difference between loving Fanny and being in love with her.

 

Tea Time Tattle–Could Edmund have been happy with Mary Crawford?

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Many readers wonder when Edmund fell in love with Fanny and how he could ever have loved Mary Crawford. Still, others hone in on the fact that Austen says Mary and Edmund had married, Fanny probably would have accepted Henry Crawford. But what sort of life would Mary and Edmund have had? Perhaps it is alluded to in the comparison of Sir Thomas’ relationship with Mrs. Norris.

Early in the book, we see Mrs. Norris directing affairs at Mansfield. Lady Bertram seldom speaks, she rarely has an opinion of her own. She defers to either her husband or sister. On my first reading of Mansfield Park, I even questioned if Mrs. Norris was in love with Sir Thomas with the way she seeks his constant approval and must meddle in his affairs. It seemed beyond the common interest in a sister’s family and for one’s nieces and nephews.

Consider her advice on the topic of taking in Fanny:

“You are thinking of your sons—but do not you know that, of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a sister.”

In the same conversation she adds, to further ingratiate herself in Sir Thomas’ eyes and manipulate him to her opinion:

Whatever I can do, as you well know, I am always ready enough to do for the good of those I love; and, though I could never feel for this little girl the hundredth part of the regard I bear your own dear children, nor consider her, in any respect, so much my own, I should hate myself if I were capable of neglecting her.

Mrs. Norris then suggests a way of collecting Fanny that Sir Thomas found not quite respectable and he makes modifications to the plans. This is an early clue that Mrs. Norris’ way of thinking is not quite right. In the same passage we are told this

As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.

Mary Crawford also had a love of money. Upon first meeting the Bertrams, she believes she will ensnare Tom as heir to Mansfield. After recognizing the grandeur of the estate and its worth, she fully intends to marry him.

It might do very well; she believed she should accept him;

Perhaps if he had never gone to the races, or if she had been able to accompany him, the story might have gone very differently. Instead, she is thrown into Edmunds’ company, and she’s too intelligent to miss how he is the nobler young man.

“I mean to be too rich to lament or to feel anything of the sort. A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

Indeed, Edmund often thinks that she loves money and London Society too much to accept a younger son. This is why their courtship takes so many months although they are nearly always together which is vastly different from most Austen stories. Just as Edmund is ready to come to the point, at last, Tom grows ill. Mary even writes to Fanny about how well-suited to the baronetcy Edmund is, and thus she begins to encourage Edmund in his suit wholeheartedly. Previously, she had gone to London to be away from him and, at the very least, bend him to her will regarding his profession and values in life.

Forgive me if I cannot describe such manipulation in a charitable light.

However, despite finding flaws in Mary, Edmund believes he can redirect them. He sees that she wants to please. She wants to be of use. She values Fanny, and nothing is dearer to his heart than her so how can Mary be bad?

We could say, how can Mrs. Norris be bad when she flatters Sir Thomas’ good sense and values good breeding the same as he does? They seem united in what they agree is the most important matters in life, even if their technique in achieving them are different. They are both devoted to the education of the young people of Mansfield.

When all is said and done, Sir Thomas bitterly regrets giving Mrs. Norris such free rein in his house.

Too late he became aware how unfavourable to the character of any young people must be the totally opposite treatment which Maria and Julia had been always experiencing at home, where the excessive indulgence and flattery of their aunt had been continually contrasted with his own severity. He saw how ill he had judged, in expecting to counteract what was wrong in Mrs. Norris by its reverse in himself; clearly saw that he had but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him, and sending them for all their indulgences to a person who had been able to attach them only by the blindness of her affection, and the excess of her praise.

Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting; that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice.

Mrs. Norris’s removal from Mansfield was the great supplementary comfort of Sir Thomas’s life. His opinion of her had been sinking from the day of his return from Antigua: in every transaction together from that period, in their daily intercourse, in business, or in chat, she had been regularly losing ground in his esteem, and convincing him that either time had done her much disservice, or that he had considerably over-rated her sense, and wonderfully borne with her manners before. He had felt her as an hourly evil, which was so much the worse, as there seemed no chance of its ceasing but with life; she seemed a part of himself that must be borne for ever.

She was regretted by no one at Mansfield. She had never been able to attach even those she loved best;

Mary Crawford, at her current age, does not have the nature of Mrs. Norris. She was not overly indulgent. She did see the goodness in Edmund and Fanny over Henry and Maria—even as she justified their affair. Still, it is through manipulation. She would often say one thing and when realizing someone was displeased with her, would come back and alter it later. She could not stand to give an opinion and hold herself to it. In this way, she conceals what she really is. She manipulates Edmund into thinking the best of her and that he has influence over her—something which is shown early in their acquaintance he desires to have in life as his siblings completely ignore his words about the play.

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However, other similarities between the women exist. Consider how Mary wants to give advice to Sir Thomas about how to handle Maria’s adultery.

“What I advise is, that your father be quiet. Do not let him injure his own cause by interference. Persuade him to let things take their course. If by any officious exertions of his, she is induced to leave Henry’s protection, there will be much less chance of his marrying her than if she remain with him. I know how he is likely to be influenced. Let Sir Thomas trust to his honour and compassion, and it may all end well; but if he get his daughter away, it will be destroying the chief hold.'”

Even at the end of their acquaintance, Edmund has this to say:

“Cruelty, do you call it? We differ there. No, hers is not a cruel nature. I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evil lies yet deeper: in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did. She was speaking only as she had been used to hear others speak, as she imagined everybody else would speak. Hers are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would—Hers are faults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so.”

Mrs. Norris might be intentionally cruel to Fanny, but she would never have deliberately created such defects in the character of her beloved nieces and nephews. In fact, that neglect she gives to Fanny is what has made her so strong and morally resolute.

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Just as Sir Thomas has regretted giving Mrs. Norris so much influence over his children, Edmund regrets being blind to the real Mary:

All this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past.

As Sir Thomas has finally learned to ignore the advice of Mrs. Norris, so too, has Edmund learned to ignore the pull of Mary:

“’Mr. Bertram,’ said she, with a smile; but it was a smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite in order to subdue me; at least it appeared so to me. I resisted; it was the impulse of the moment to resist, and still walked on. I have since, sometimes, for a moment, regretted that I did not go back, but I know I was right…”

Edmund would not have been happy with Mary for long. Soon, she would have become the bane of his existence. He would have been completely “taken in” as Mary calls it. For as often as he defends Mary’s way of thinking and speaking, he could not hope to permanently alter or influence it anymore than Mrs. Norris changed from twenty years of knowing Sir Thomas.

And how did Edmund come to love Fanny? I might examine that closer later, but I think it is easy to see that she is quite the opposite of Mary. Just as Sir Thomas must now value Lady Bertram’s complacency more than he had before, Edmund can see the qualities that Fanny has, and he has needed all along.

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Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford, and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such another woman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman might not do just as well, or a great deal better: whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles and all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been; and whether it might not be a possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love.

 

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.