March Mix- Spring brings new life

Please forgive me for not posting last week. I was stranded out of state, and while I had my computer, I did not have much time. I’ll save my thoughts on fortune and luck in Austen for a later date. Today, I wanted to discuss the imagery of new life in spring.

This sort of device is a favorite amongst literature teachers, and I confess I am convinced they often see more to books than the author intended. Likewise, I might run that risk in this post, but I think it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless.

what-the-author-meant2

Elizabeth Bennet arrives in Kent in the early weeks of March. While we’re told Rosings’ park is quite beautiful, and Elizabeth enjoys walking, it still would have been devoid of Spring. Trees would not have budded, grass would not be green, and flowers were not blooming. If we compare that to Elizabeth’s story arc, we can see some similarities.

If we compare that to Elizabeth’s story arc, we can see some similarities. The excitement of the new neighbors and the Militia are over. Elizabeth sees Wickham give attentions to another lady and then she leaves the area for several weeks all without so much as a sigh of longing. Jane, we know, is depressed. She has not forgotten Bingley and the touch of winter his departure brought on their lives lingers. Darcy, likewise, remains prevalent in Elizabeth’s mind. When she hears of his coming to Rosings, she actually looks forward to the entertainment.

Elizabeth had heard soon after her arrival that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintances whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine, who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself. -Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 30.

Upon his arrival, he calls immediately on the Parsonage, shocking Charlotte so much as to believe it due to Elizabeth. As time goes on, Charlotte thinks Darcy in love with her friend. Indeed, in his haphazard and awkward way, he did attempt to court Elizabeth as they walked amongst the grove and he called nearly daily on the Parsonage. However, like a new bloom is susceptible to frost, Darcy’s courtship is destroyed by an untimely conversation between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth.

Darcy, unaware that his position is weakened and he has waited so long in displaying any affection toward Elizabeth she instead has different impressions of him, he offers a wilting bouquet to Elizabeth. Unimpressed, she unequivocally refuses him. And like a child watching leaves fall from a tree, readers have to wonder if any good can come of such a death to something that promised beauty. Indeed, like a tree survives winter by dropping its leaves and drawing in its resources, Darcy writes a heartfelt, bittersweet letter and disappears, presumably forever.

However, Spring restores life. The morning after Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth notes, for the first time, the change of scenery.

After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the park. The five weeks which she had now passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. -Pride and Prejudice,  Chapter 35.

Upon reading Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth first refuses to believe any part of it. In the midst of winter, it often feels as though Spring will never return and that the earth now covered in snow and frozen ground will one day bring forth beauty. Like a determined seed, Elizabeth’s sense of justice permeates her cloud of anger and hurt just enough to allow that there was some merit in Darcy’s perception of Jane’s behavior. From there, a ray of light shines on the seed when she accepts the truth of Wickham. Daily, she watered the seed.

Mr. Darcy’s letter she was in a fair way of soon knowing by heart. She studied every sentence; and her feelings towards its writer were at times widely different. -Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 37.

The seed was not love for Darcy. No, it was herself. Would she grow from this encounter? Could she bloom and treat him with respect if they ever met again? Could she show her humility and swallow her pride? Elizabeth was tested when she saw Darcy again at Pemberley. Having passed that test, next came the disaster with Lydia. Now, Elizabeth must wonder if Darcy was honorable enough to continue to love her or if her old opinions about his pride were real. By this time, however, her roots had grown strong, and while there might be storms and pests, she was not so hasty in her assumptions.

By this period, however, her roots had become strong, and while there might be storms and pests, she was not so hasty in her assumptions. She no longer leaped to conclusions based on Darcy’s actions or inactions. Instead, she did what was probably the hardest for her to do, and that was waiting. At just the right time, she was given the opportunity to speak with him, and then the whole truth came out from his lips, and she no longer had to guess. In short, she bloomed and matured, wowing the world with her beauty.

When discussing poetry, Elizabeth declares bad poetry can drive away love while Darcy says he had thought it the food of love. Elizabeth replies:

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”

Certainly, Darcy and Elizabeth’s love ends up being more than a slight inclination and their trials nourish it. So, too, Elizabeth’s new understanding of herself and the world is not a mere changing over of leaves and many a storm sustains it for it was built upon strong understanding. A stark contrast to this is Lydia. She never changes in the novel. Her situation changes from carefree to wayward and

So, too, Elizabeth’s new understanding of herself and the world is not a mere changing over of leaves and many a storm nourishes it for it was built upon strong understanding. A stark contrast to this is Lydia. She never changes in the novel. Her situation changes from carefree to wayward and disreputible daughter to properly wed and yet her behavior and understanding of the world never alters. And certainly as was common in poetry and prose of the era, the troubled youth might have become the image of morality. Perhaps if she had not been found by Darcy and had been tossed aside by Wickham or paid some punishment for her behavior she would have bloomed differently. Instead, “the sonnet,” saving her from a terrible fate, seems to be what killed her chance of ever becoming more.

weather

In conclusion, as the timeline of Pride and Prejudice spans a year, traits of each season reflect in the plot. The meat of the story which sees the biggest character growth and revolution occurs during Spring. Whether it was by happy accident or intent on Austen’s behalf, we cannot know. For myself, I’m inclined to believe Austen chose the setting on purpose. What do you think?

For the poll, where should Darcy propose?

  1. At the Parsonage
  2. At Rosings
  3. On a walk
  4. Not in Kent

March Mix- Spring in Pride and Prejudice

weather

Jane Austen wrote at the beginning of the Romantic era. That doesn’t mean lovey-dovey romance. Here is the definition from Wikipedia: The Romantic Period was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.

In literature of the era, one often finds nature personified. Poets write about its beauty and truth. They found human nature reflected in mother nature. Novelists used weather almost as a character that could control the direction of a story. It had other uses as plot devices, such as a storm might foreshadow a turbulent event for the protagonist. Characters are free in their emotions with no veil between them and the reader.

95PPElizabethRevellingPart2

However, Jane Austen remains entrenched in logical realism. The hopeless longing many a JAFF writer have attributed to Mr. Darcy never shows up on the pages of Pride and Prejudice. We are told only that Elizabeth spends several hours awake trying to determine her feelings toward Mr. Darcy, we are not treated to a chapter of her conflicted emotions. So too, Austen’s writings about nature are different than the Romantics.

When Anne de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s intended, calls outside of Mr. Collins’ parsonage while Elizabeth Bennet is visiting, it is quite windy, and Elizabeth observes, “She [Miss de Bourgh] is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind. Why does she not come in?”

 

The Romantic author would use this as a device later. A likely scenario would be Darcy and Elizabeth are to wed, but the sickly Anne announces she has a prior claim to Darcy and like a tornado wreaks havoc on our lovers’ destiny. Although Anne’s mother, Lady Catherine, arrives to make such claims they hold no weight and instead of creating an obstacle bring Darcy back to Longbourn and is the means of uniting them.

When first approaching Rosings, the weather is fine and the park pleasant. There is nothing there to intimidate Elizabeth or foreshadow the great lady’s future meddling.

Soon after arriving in Kent, Elizabeth finds a favorite sheltered walk which she imagines puts her beyond the reach of Lady Catherine’s curiosity. However, Darcy soon finds her and approaches her several time while on the walk. Yet, it is not in the secret hangings of trees blooming in early spring where he proposes to her, but instead in Mrs. Collins’ parlor. Their love is not like a frail bud that one early frost may kill. Nor does it signal the end to a long winter and is met with smiles. Instead, Darcy’s first proposal is in a place where public appearance and civility are at its height. Darcy insults Elizabeth during the proposal. However, his words might be accepted as deserved due to Society’s values. Meanwhile, he calls Elizabeth’s rejection uncivil because it was direct and not full of useless flattery. His second proposal is out of doors and accepted, however, we know nothing of the scenery. Indeed, they walk on without knowing what is around them.

lizzy almost kisses darcy

In conclusion, we learn nothing new or revolutionary from Spring in Pride and Prejudice. It is no doubt, one of the reasons Charlotte Bronte said this of the book, “I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers—but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy—no open country—no fresh air—no blue hill—no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.”

It’s interesting then that the two most recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice feature many outdoor scenes. Whether it’s Lizzy running in the open country, walking in manicured hedges around Longbourn or proposals in the rain, nature provides a heavier setting in the films than it does in the book. For better or worse, the more melodramatic Romantic era casts a shade even on how we interpret Jane Austen’s works of classical realism.

Next week I’ll discuss the idea of luck and fortune in Austen’s works in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Help me write a Spring short story! Choose from the following weather issues:

Rainstorm with hail

Flash flood

Late snowstorm

Heavy pollen

*While looking for the quote by Charlotte Bronte, I stumbled across this blog which I think further explains the issue of looking at Austen through Romantic eyes.

Charlotte Bronte v. Jane Austen

Last week’s post at Austen Authors: March Mix- In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

 

Austen Writes Romance- Legacy

Valentines Day - Wicker Hearts On Red Shiny Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation: Sense and Sensibility.

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

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

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

Translation: Jane and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice.

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

Translation: Jane and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice.

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

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

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

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

Translation: Northanger Abbey.

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

Translation: Pride and Prejudice.

 

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

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

Then she sees her new boss.

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

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

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

Translation: Pride and Prejudice.

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

SANDRA

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

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

Not that I’ve imagined that, of course.

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

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

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

41x1qbzpwxlSometimes your life is split by a single decision.

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

But now he’s back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-REGAN

Translation: Pride and Prejudice, maybe some Northanger Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation: Persuasion

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

 

 

Austen Writes Romance- One True Pairings

Roses and gift box with bead on wooden table. Valentines day concept. Copy spaceContinuing with our study of the romances in Austen’s works, it seemed fitting to discuss the idea of true love so close to Valentine’s Day. Among Fan Fiction readers of all genres, there is the idea of a “one true pairing” meaning an unbreakable romantic coupling that may or may not exist in the story proper.

Regarding the Austen fandom, there are some couples which nearly everyone agrees must always unite: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot are at the top of the list. I could add Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, but that’s more because there is a lack of viable alternatives presented in the story than out of overwhelming fan-love. Emma and Mr. Knightley are in a similar position. Fans would not have Emma with Mr. Elton or Frank Churchill. However, many do like Knightley but not Emma and would be content to see them both single forever. On the other hand, there is a philosophy of redeeming characters and giving them a second chance. This seems most notable in rakes like Henry Crawford and Willoughby.

I’ll be honest, it’s always seemed strange to me to disagree with the creator of the work and on a long finished project. However, I do want to examine the nature of these relationships and why so many feel some are inflexible and others in need of correction. I will review them by categories of obstacles, longevity, and relatability.

Without a doubt, the venerated favorite Austen work is Pride and Prejudice. Her main couple, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, have quite a share of obstacles to overcome. The title alone gives some indication of the conflicts afoot but there are also scheming rogues and wayward relatives. Originally published in three volumes, we see a moment of crisis in each volume. The first one ends with the departure of Darcy and Bingley from Netherfield. The reader has seen Darcy’s admiration grow, but Elizabeth remains ignorant of it. Instead, she believes Wickham and Darcy seems unworthy of her love. Whether she ends up with Wickham or not, no one sheds a tear about what might have been with the pompous Darcy. In the second volume, of course, we have Darcy’s disastrous first proposal. The third volume begins with Lydia’s elopement, and things seem darkest when Lady Catherine comes in all her haughty glory to berate Elizabeth for reportedly daring to think about accepting Darcy. Even after a proposal is accepted, there is the matter of convincing Elizabeth’s father and bearing with the displeasure of Darcy’s aunt. In the fan fiction world, we root for them over and over again while they are put in obstacles of every kind even including marriage to other partners and occasionally death! Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot are another couple who have overcome extreme odds. First, their engagement was broken. One can imagine the heartache attached to that was infinitely worse than merely separated by time and distance before their relationship bloomed. Secondly, it lasted many years and allowed feelings to harden. Lastly, both had rumored attachments to others. Comparatively, the only obstacle Marianne and Brandon have are her interest in another man. Willoughby is the one that must overcome greed, vanity, being a rake, and by the end of the book, marriage to another woman. Instead of feeling relieved that Marianne finds happiness with the steadfast Brandon, many readers are left rooting for a last minute change of scenario for Willoughby. Likewise, Fanny had loved Edmund most of her life, and she was his best friend and confidant. Their falling in love is nearly too natural. Whereas a marriage between Fanny and Henry or Edmund and Mary would require much more surmounting of obstacles.

Valentines Day - Wicker Hearts On Red Shiny Background

As Elizabeth Bennet informs her father, her attachment to Darcy is not the work of a moment but had withstood several months’ suspense. Many women have sighed over Darcy’s ardent love for Elizabeth which spans nearly the entire length of the novel. Wentworth’s letter detailing how he loved no one but Anne surely sends most female hearts pitter-pattering. While Elinor and Edward were attached for much of Sense and Sensibility and had a fair share of obstacles to overcome, one wonders at Edward’s steadfastness when he had been engaged to Lucy and seemingly so willing to follow through on it. Certainly, a case of cultural misunderstanding is to blame there as the modern reader cannot fully understand the importance of honor to a Georgian man. Readers lay a similar complaint at Edmund and Marianne’s doors. Put succinctly, we are wary of second attachments but not second chances.

Lastly, there is an issue of relatability. Darcy and Elizabeth’s tale of star-crossed lovers destined to misunderstand one another at every turn is as familiar to readers as Romeo and Juliet. If we haven’t lived it ourselves, we have read it and watched it before as it is a common romance trope. The allure of a second chance with the “one who got away” is obviously also a familiar theme, just ask lovers of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. However, the relationships between Brandon and Marianne, Edward and Elinor, and Fanny and Edmund require us to look too closely at ourselves. In each case, youth and foolishness play a part, as does vanity and insecurity. Marianne sought a man who was her mirror image to validate her own feelings on every subject. Surely, that’s very relatable but not necessarily likable. Edward attached himself off nothing more than idleness. He was in love with the idea of love. Again, something many have found themselves living but not something we enjoy living through vicariously. And how many of us have had a romantic interest in a close friend who just doesn’t see us that way? And how many of us are still holding a grudge even years later and mark it as nearly unforgivable to not see the good woman right in front of you?

Perhaps, then, reader notions of one true pairings have far more to do with their own prejudices and experiences than it does with the text and author intent. For my part, I believe Jane Austen enjoyed stirring the pot and rocking the boat. Why should only one or two types of relationships be the epitome of romantic love? Why not embrace the complexity that each one is unique?

Red Valentine Hearts Hanging in a Row

My relationship with my husband is us frequently watching something we only half pay attention to and texting each other silly memes we find online. I am typically also working while he is watching a brainless podcast of video games. We do enjoy eating out but merely for the food, not for the atmosphere. Valentine’s Day, to me, does not require roses and chocolates. For others, however, they feel most loved when the relationship is surrounded by romantic love or sizzling lust.

Just as each woman is different, so too, is each Austen heroine. Would a woman like Fanny have enjoyed a romantic relationship like Anne Elliot? I think Fanny would have rather been practically invisible to Edmund than a love he did not act on for almost a decade out of stubborn pride. I think she would find the latter harder to forgive. Obviously, that’s not the case for Anne but would she like Marianne’s relationship? She felt it hard to trust her judgment on not only Wentworth but on her cousin, Mr. Elliot. Imagine if she had been burned romantically once! She would likely never try again! On the other hand, while so many of us are willing to give Darcy a second chance to woo Elizabeth, Marianne would not have appreciated Willoughby doing the same. In short, “there are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”

Part 1- Austen Writes Romance?

Part 2- Broken Hearts

 

Austen Writes Romance- Broken Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rustic heart.

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

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

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

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

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

 

A January of Janes- Unsung Heroines

janesThe Unsung Heroines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A January of Janes- Miss Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she has a secret.

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

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

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