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.

Wacky Wednesday– Regency Male Costume

I’ve posted about female Regency era fashion a few times. Today, I want to talk about male fashions–specifically the wacky ones. You probably have something close to this in your head for male clothing of the era.

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I’ve gone through a lot of fashion prints and these are pretty standard examples of the era. Oh, but there’s more. I wonder what Mr. Bennet would say about the lace some of these men wore.

Like this guy…

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There’s also the issue of hats. Here’s what we think of for Mr. Darcy

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Instead, there’s this:

Ben Franklin wouldn’t have needed a kite for his electrical experiment. He could have waited a few decades and just used his ginormous hat! They’ll fly away in a gust of wind!

For ladies, the Regency era was generally light on embellishments. They certainly had them but nothing compared to the finery of decades past or that the Victorians would bring back. Making this set of trousers all the more curious.

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Speaking of trousers, there were high waters in the 19th century. Steve Urkel would be proud!

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Well, there’s a taste of the wacky male costuming I’ve discovered this week. To be honest, though, I would surely prefer any of these to skinny jeans or sagging. Sigh.

However, to solve the recent debate of what Mr. Darcy must have looked like in which “historians” gave a rendition of a sickly looking man with a powdered wig looking more akin to George Washington than any contemporary hearth throb, we luckily have portraits and fashion plates! Thankfully, they prove the adaptions more likely to be correct. Thank heavens!

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Style Saturday- Caroline Bingley’s Gowns

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Be honest. Either you or someone you have known has criticized Caroline Bingley’s gowns in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. They look shocking to our modern sensibilities–even more so when paired with gowns which fit the aesthetic of the period better. But are they really so inaccurate? I’ll be going over the Meryton Assembly and Netherfield ball gowns, both featured below.

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First of all, it’s hard to establish a specific timeline for the 2005 production. I’ve read that the director wanted it placed nearly ten years earlier than the book’s published date of 1813. Critics usually place the events of the book from 1811-1812. However, that is not perfect as there are a few dates which do not match up perfectly in any year. We know Jane Austen began writing the first draft (titled then as First Impressions) in 1796. Personally, the difficulty with dating the work doesn’t bother me. It’s fiction and it must have been nearly impossible to keep track of dates.

The dating only matters for this post in the fact that after 1795, the fashion world adopted a very different silhouette. France had a brutal revolution to change its political regime and this was reflected in clothing as well.

Caroline’s gowns seem shocking compared to what we think of for the era and compared to other ladies her age in the film. Below is the first hit I got when I googled “regency era gown,” as well as Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Jane at the Meryton Assembly.

By comparison, Caroline’s gowns practically look like something a stripper would wear. However, did the production team really leave history so far behind?

First, let’s consider how thin Caroline’s gown is at the Assembly. You can see the outline of her corset (which is not period correct but we can worry about that another time) and her shoulders and arms.

The 1798 portrait attributed to Louis-Leopold Boilly on the right shows how thin a single layer of muslin is. No wonder Mr. Woodhouse worried for Harriet Smith’s health in the portrait Emma painted of her friend. It was common in the era to see the chemise and/or petticoat underneath the gown. It’s worth mentioning that I don’t see anyone slut-shaming Elizabeth Bennet of the 1995 production for her thin fabric.

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Where is her petticoat? That’s the end of her chemise I see and then *gasp* leg!

Nor is Caroline the only one to wear such thin fabric in the production:

Ok, so thin, flimsy fabric was acceptable. What about the fact that the sleeves are barely there? If the portraits I’ve included aren’t convincing enough, here are fashion plates of the era.

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But her shoulders are so visible!

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Fine, but what about the Netherfield ball dress? She’s practically wearing spaghetti straps and those just weren’t invented yet!

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But so much exposed at once? Bosom, arms, and shoulders! No, no, no!

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I see your bosom, arms, and shoulders and raise you backs and legs!

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Have I found evidence of a thin strapped ball gown from the Regency era. No, I haven’t. However, now that I’ve looked at the portraits and fashion plates of the era and I see the wide variety of acceptable sihlouettes and also just how much skin was exposed, I don’t think they took an extreme liberty. It shows very clearly how different Caroline Bingley’s sense of fashion and style–owning to her London life–is from the Bennets of Longbourn. The first gown seems to fit the era perfectly and yet is still just as astonishingly different from her peers. At the Netherfield ball, the Bennet girls seem to fit the Regency “norm” better: white on white, high waist, puffy sleeves. Yet, Caroline has to look even more extremely different. If she had shown up wearing something just like she wore to the Meryton Assembly not only would it have not enunciated the differences in her status, education, and experiences but it could easily be mistaken for the same gown. I’m SURE Caroline Bingley would NEVER do that, especially in a place like Meryton where she must always look and feel superior.

Other productions do this with MORE. More trimmings, more fabric, lavish fabrics, more jewelry, more headpieces etc., etc. That is accurate to the era. However, so is the idea of sensual simplicity. In fact, that was the entire point of the neo-classical revival.

If Caroline Bingley is the foil to Elizabeth Bennet, then consider what values Mr. Darcy must possess to turn her down and fall for Elizabeth instead. Was it all just turning down Caroline’s wealth and accomplishments? Or was it turning down pretend passions wrapped in pretension while Elizabeth’s earthy and natural charm pulled on his heart? By giving Caroline the more alluring and thin fabrics thereby making her the more overtly sexual being, the production exposes that Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth run much deeper than physical desire. If half an inch less on a shoulder strap exposes that, then I am all for it.

What do you think? Are you willing to give Caroline’s gowns a pass now or do you remain unconvinced?

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!