Justice in July- Captain Wentworth, created equal?

awesomeness

Last week, I discussed Jane Bennet finding independence and if she “deserved” better treatment than Bingley gave her. A friend, who is admittedly protective of Bingley, asked if I would ask the same thing of Captain Wentworth. And the truth is, I think he also deserves better than Anne Elliot’s treatment.

In several of my copies of Pride and Prejudice, the word “persuasion” is italicized in the following passage. I think it’s to draw attention to the fact that such a theme is a favorite of Austen. While not dealt with in detail in Pride and Prejudice, I did find some connections and wrote a blog post about them a few years ago.

“To yield readily— easily— to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

If Bingley ends up yielding to Darcy’s persuasion and is undeserving of Jane than Anne Elliot is even worse. She had actually accepted Wentworth’s proposal.

keep calm.jpgNow, I know all the arguments about why Anne should get a pass. Wentworth had little money, he might have died even. It threatened a breach with Anne’s family and then she wouldn’t have even been able to count on them. Lady Russell, who was a stand-in for Anne’s mother, counseled her against it. She was only nineteen. Wentworth probably should have never proposed in the first place since he had so little to give a wife (a la criticism of Frank Churchill and Edward Ferrars).

However, despite this, I still think Anne treated Wentworth wrong. You see, marriage, even if it’s not a love match (and both couples were), involve feelings. Pesky things, aren’t they?

Nearly all of the arguments about Bingley treating Jane wrongly are due to her feelings afterward. So why are Wentworth’s not considered? It is supposed because Wentworth is a man, he will get over the heartache of Anne’s rejection easier. Because he is a man, he can more easily meet other women. That he should totally understand her situation and feelings without Anne considering his. I am sure she told herself it was for his own good. That it was better for him to be unattached and find his fortune than delay their marriage or worry after a wife. But that’s just it. She belittles his feelings for her. Perhaps it’s because she had been used to think little of herself from her family’s treatment–but Lady Russell, for example, never says that of Anne and instead lifts her up. In her ladyship’s opinion, Anne is worth far more than Wentworth.

Likewise, Bingley had allowed himself to be convinced that Jane felt little to nothing for him. That his space in her heart could be replaced. Again, I say this is far more forgivable because they were not engaged.

At the end of Pride and Prejudice, we have hints that Bingley did talk to Jane about matters. There is some allusion to him mentioning seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley. To my imagination, Bingley never wavered in his love for Jane, but only in his intention. After he learned that although she was “free” for nearly a year, Jane still remained unwed, and after having a chance to resume the acquaintance with Elizabeth (i.e., he was not hated for his departure) he returns to Netherfield and along the way gets Darcy’s blessing. While we don’t see any sort of groveling, and it seems there would have been no time for him to do it before proposing, I do think it occurred.

At the end of Persuasion, Anne Elliot seems as adamant as ever that she was right in breaking her engagement to Wentworth and toying with his feelings. She considers her  feelings and not his when she says this:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.”

Next, she places the blame on another:

“Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.”

To be absolutely certain she is held blameless, Anne continues:

“But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”

Well, maybe it’s not all about you Anne! This conversation is then followed by Wentworth reproaching himself for not returning to Anne after he had earned his first prize money several years before because he had believed she would have refused him. How was he supposed to know that??? Why is he taking all the blame for this??

For a man who spent most of the book blind to his continuing love for Anne and the justness of her decision, I think he’s blind once more when he says this:

This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me. I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added, with a smile. “I must endeavour to subdue  my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”

Listen, buddy. You did some wrong, and you are happy it’s all worked out. I will try not to judge the fact that your version of broken and flawed but workable is different than mine, but I don’t feel like this is resolved. I think this is going to be a sticking point in their marriage forever. Not that Anne caved to Lady Russell, but that, allegedly, he’s all wrong. He’s always wrong. Way to emasculate a man. Annie, hun, you need to bring it down a notch.

Between the two of undeserving lovers: Bingley or Anne, I think Anne was more heartless and less resolved than Bingley. In my imagination, it’s one of the things Austen would have worked on had she lived longer. I accept this only as “justice” because Anne did suffer during their separation and then witnessed his flirtation with Louisa. As it is, perhaps JAFF will answer the need for Wentworth to get his justice.

Austen’s Brides- Mr. Right Now

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

austen spoilers

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

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

bb5961d6561e86754bde39b92761ff31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e58fa027c3f69ef75d68d4897b60a7f0

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

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

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

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

c79a634d8dba5fc19673418e3e5b39f9

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

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

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

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

 

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