If I could but know his heart: Willoughby’s story and Marianne’s closure

‘If I could but know his heart, everything would become easy,’ says Marianne Dashwood to her sister a few months after Willoughby’s betrayal. He has already opened it to Elinor, hoping she may eventually convey his passionate apology to her:

You tell me that she has forgiven me already. Let me be able to fancy that a better knowledge of my heart, and of my present feelings, will draw from her a more spontaneous, more natural, more gentle, less dignified, forgiveness. Tell her of my misery and my penitence–tell her that my heart was never inconstant to her, and if you will, that at this moment she is dearer to me than ever.

Miss Dashwood won’t go quite that far: ‘I will tell her all that is necessary to what may comparatively be called your justification’ – his ‘protestations of present regard’ will be out of the question. But Marianne needs closure, and Elinor lets her have it at last:

‘I am now perfectly satisfied, I wish for no change. I never could have been happy with him, after knowing, as sooner or later I must have known, all this.–I should have had no confidence, no esteem. Nothing could have done it away to my feelings.’

‘I know it–I know it,’ cried her mother. ‘Happy with a man of libertine practices! … No–my Marianne has not a heart to be made happy with such a man!–Her conscience, her sensitive conscience, would have felt all that the conscience of her husband ought to have felt.’

Mrs Dashwood’s referring to his seduction of Eliza Williams. Willoughby’s account doesn’t, however, add anything to what they already know in that respect, except that he thought he’d given the girl his address. Elinor has purposefully focused on the ‘chief points’ of his explanation, and therefore must have spared her sister the unpleasant details, as well as the ungentlemanly victim-bashing.

‘Marianne sighed, and repeated, “I wish for no change.”’ She had been wondering what his real intentions towards her had been:

If I could be satisfied on one point, if I could be allowed to think that he was not always acting a part, not always deceiving me;–but above all, if I could be assured that he never was so very wicked as my fears have sometimes fancied him, since the story of that unfortunate girl–

Elinor has set her mind at rest: everything had been ‘strictly honourable’ and ‘blameless’ – his affection had been genuine and, but for the unfortunate discovery of his previous affair, he would have proposed. Nor had he been as ‘fickle’ as Marianne had previously suggested – just afraid of poverty. That would have been a huge relief. Miserable as she still is, she must  be savouring it. Her own self-esteem has been at stake:

My peace of mind is doubly involved in it;–for not only is it horrible to suspect a person, who has been what he has been to me, of such designs,–but what must it make me appear to myself?–What in a situation like mine, but a most shamefully unguarded affection could expose me to–

In other words, she might have been encouraging the advances of a man whose sole aim was sexual intercourse – a thought so dreadful she can’t even finish the sentence.

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The Misses Mary and Hannah Murray by John Trumbull

Her suspicions may have been allayed, but she can’t excuse his sexual misconduct, his callous disregard for his partner’s feelings and reputation, or his irresponsible behaviour towards his own child. He couldn’t possibly have been trusted as a husband or a father.

Financial issues would also have prevented a happy union. As Elinor points out,

Had you married, you must have been always poor … His demands and your inexperience together, on a small, very small income, must have brought on distresses … Your sense of honour and honesty would have led you … to attempt all the economy that would appear to you possible: and, perhaps, as long as your frugality retrenched only on your own comfort, you might have been suffered to practice it, but beyond that–and how little could the utmost of your single management do to stop the ruin which had begun before your marriage?–Beyond that, had you endeavoured, however reasonably, to abridge his enjoyments, is it not to be feared, that instead of prevailing on feelings so selfish to consent to it, you would have lessened your own influence on his heart, and made him regret the connection which had involved him in such difficulties?

The yield of his estate is reckoned at between six and seven hundred pounds a year. Marianne would have brought in fifty more. The Dashwoods live on five hundred, so they wouldn’t have been destitute. Elinor believes a thousand a year would be enough: she calls it ‘wealth,’ but her sister, already influenced by Willoughby, disagrees:

Two thousand a-year is a very moderate income … A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.

Elinor goes on:

His circumstances are now unembarrassed–he suffers from no evil of that kind; and he thinks only that he has married a woman of a less amiable temper than yourself… Had he married you, … the inconveniences would have been different. He would then have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because they are removed, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a wife of whose temper he could make no complaint, but he would have been always necessitous–always poor; and probably would soon have learned to rank the innumerable comforts of a clear estate and good income as of far more importance, even to domestic happiness, than the mere temper of a wife.

Furthermore, as Emma Woodhouse would have put it, ‘a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper.’ Of course she’s talking of ‘those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society,’ but, given Willoughby’s expensive lifestyle, we can anticipate a similar outcome. She would have spoken her mind eagerly, and not always with perfect composure. And, if the way in which he refers to Eliza Williams and Miss Grey is anything to go by, he would have ended up blaming her.

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Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

In the last chapter we learn that Mrs Smith finally forgives him, ‘stating his marriage with a woman of character, as the source of her clemency,’ which leads him to believe ‘that had he behaved with honour towards Marianne, he might at once have been happy and rich.’ Eventually, that is, since the death of his ‘old cousin’ would have been ‘uncertain, and possibly far distant.’ Though in Jane Austen’s novels we never know. Doesn’t Mrs Churchill pass away at exactly the right time? To say nothing of Dr Grant, who conveniently departs from this world just as Edmund and Fanny ‘begin to want an increase of income.’

Elinor’s mention of Willoughby’s selfishness draws a deep emotional response:

Marianne’s lips quivered, and she repeated the word ‘Selfish?’ in a tone that implied–’do you really think him selfish?’

‘The whole of his behaviour,’ replied Elinor, ‘from the beginning to the end of the affair, has been grounded on selfishness. It was selfishness which first made him sport with your affections; which afterwards, when his own were engaged, made him delay the confession of it, and which finally carried him from Barton. His own enjoyment, or his own ease, was, in every particular, his ruling principle.’

Elinor’s tough love has gone too far – this is overkill. Marianne has suffered enough already. She’s just said: ‘I wish to assure you both … that I see every thing–as you can desire me to do.’ Does Miss Dashwood need to keep on piling up charges, taking away every possible comfort? Surely no one is ruled by selfishness ‘in every particular.’ She sounds like Fanny Price, who accuses Miss Crawford of cruelty just because she has a sense of humour. But, unlike Edmund Bertram, Marianne seems to acknowledge the truth of the indictment: ‘My happiness never was his object.’ She believes she’s being honest, but guilt over the pain she’s caused her family has made her doubt her own judgement and submit to her sister’s. Gone is the earnest, critical, ironic creature that once remarked to Elinor: ‘I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of neighbours. This has always been your doctrine, I am sure.’

Her sister, in turn, might be trying hard to convince herself. She has been powerfully moved by Willoughby’s narrative and knows he still loves Marianne, though she’s decided not to tell her:

Willoughby, in spite of all his faults, excited a degree of commiseration for the sufferings produced by them, which made her think of him as now separated for ever from her family, with a tenderness, a regret, rather in proportion, as she soon acknowledged within herself–to his wishes than to his merits. She felt that his influence over her mind was heightened by circumstances which ought not in reason to have weight; by that person of uncommon attraction, that open, affectionate, and lively manner which it was no merit to possess; and by that still ardent love for Marianne, which it was not even innocent to indulge.

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Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

Having stood near the brink of the abyss, sensible Miss Dashwood fears her sister might be sucked back into it:

Willoughby, ‘poor Willoughby,’ as she now allowed herself to call him, was constantly in her thoughts; she would not but have heard his vindication for the world, and now blamed, now acquitted herself for having judged him so harshly before. But her promise of relating it to her sister was invariably painful. She dreaded the performance of it, dreaded what its effect on Marianne might be; doubted whether after such an explanation she could ever be happy with another; and for a moment wished Willoughby a widower.

Oh dear! Who would have thought? She resolutely checks her emotions and focuses on making sure that her sister gets married to someone who truly deserves her:

Then, remembering Colonel Brandon, reproved herself, felt that to his sufferings and his constancy far more than to his rival’s, the reward of her sister was due, and wished any thing rather than Mrs Willoughby’s death.

We’ve just seen how strong Elinor’s feelings can be – she must have been shocked by their intensity. Somehow she manages to ‘govern’ or repress them, and see to it that Marianne does too. The past is dangerous and should be laid to rest by drawing the appropriate moral from the story: ‘All Willoughby’s difficulties have arisen from the first offence against virtue, in his behaviour to Eliza Williams. That crime has been the origin of every lesser one, and of all his present discontents.’

There you are! Original sin in all its anticlimactic triteness. Fanny Price couldn’t have put it better. Yet we must bear in mind that, whatever ‘the violence of her passions,’ Willoughby’s lover was a young girl of about sixteen. He would have been twenty-four at the time, and much more experienced. The ‘weakness of her understanding,’ far from excusing his behaviour, would have been an ‘aggravating circumstance,’ as the phrase would suggest an imperfect awareness of the devastating social consequences of her actions. Her character could never be restored, no one would want to marry her, and she would have to live in virtual seclusion. By taking away her virginity, he’s actually destroyed her whole life. The scandal also ruined Marianne’s, as well as his own chances of happiness with her, leading to a loveless, mercenary match with wealthy Miss Grey. Elinor does have a point, and, ‘unpleasant … as the discussion of such a subject’ is to her, bravely confronts him with his guilt.

But Marianne will never know Willoughby’s true heart. Always ready to tell ‘lies when politeness required,’ Miss Dashwood proves equally capable of concealing the truth.

Jane Austen’s novels quoted from www.mollands.net

Nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins: Colonel Brandon and Warren Hastings

Colonel Brandon is hardly the kind of man a teenager would fall for. He’s ‘on the wrong side of five and thirty’ and talks of flannel waistcoats, which ‘is invariably connected with aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble.’ His gravity and reserve, the result of ‘some oppression of spirits,’ wouldn’t help. On the other hand, ‘he has seen a great deal of the world; has been abroad, has read, and has a thinking mind,’ being capable of providing ‘much information on various subjects.’ Still, ‘prejudiced against him for being neither lively nor young,’ Marianne Dashwood and Mr Willoughby are ‘resolved to undervalue his merits.’

While Elinor commends the readiness with which he always answers her enquiries, her sister finds him unbearably dull:

‘That is to say,’ cried Marianne contemptuously, ‘he has told you, that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome’ …

‘Perhaps,’ said Willoughby, ‘his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.’

As Lady Susan puts it, ‘where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting.’ Willoughby may simply mean that Brandon is a boring old man who has nothing original or interesting to communicate. But he might also be hinting that the colonel’s past behaviour may have left something to be desired. People tended to be suspicious of Indian wealth, and Willoughby might have heard rumours. Elinor believes malicious gossip should be nipped in the bud:

‘I may venture to say that his observations have stretched much further than your candour. But why should you dislike him?’

‘I do not dislike him. I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has every body’s good word, and nobody’s notice; who, has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year.’

A mohr was a gold coin worth fifteen rupees, and the term nabob was applied either to governors in the Mogul Empire or to Englishmen who returned from India with a fortune. Among the latter was Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of Bengal and godfather to Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza Hancock. In 1786 he was impeached by the House of Commons on charges ranging from mismanagement and poor military judgement to corruption, extortion, and judicial murder. They were partly based on the allegations of Sir Philip Francis, a member of the Supreme Council of Bengal, with whom he had fought a duel. The process had been introduced by Edmund Burke, who then acted as parliamentary prosecutor, along with Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, all of them Whigs. The trial in the House of Lords drew large audiences, lasting from 1788 to 1795, the year in which Jane Austen wrote Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility. He was eventually cleared but the expenses of his defence left him significantly worse off. Eliza herself went to Westminster Hall to witness the proceedings, sitting there from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. Lord Macaulay describes the excitement aroused by Burke’s opening speech:

The ladies in the galleries, unaccustomed to such displays of eloquence, excited by the solemnity of the occasion, and perhaps not unwilling to display their taste and sensibility, were in a state of uncontrollable emotion. Handkerchiefs were pulled out; smelling bottles were handed round; hysterical sobs and screams were heard: and Mrs Sheridan was carried out in a fit.

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The Trial of Warren Hastings

In a previous post I’ve argued that Willoughby’s sympathies may have lain with the Whigs. Marianne, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to govern her feelings, and in Vol. II, chapter 6, has to be revived with lavender water and hartshorn. Perhaps the author thought they were just the kind of  people who would  mistrust a sensible man like Col. Brandon.

The Austens supported Hastings throughout his ordeal, and in 1794 Jane’s father wrote to him, thinking he might still have enough influence to advance Frank’s naval career. Henry, who was planning to marry his goddaughter, congratulated him on his acquittal, mentioning ‘many instances’ of  his kindness to him. The letter is revoltingly sycophantic.

His younger sister seems to have genuinely admired him:

And Mr Hastings – I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about it. – Henry sent him the Books after his return from Daylesford … I long to have you hear Mr H’s opinion of P&P. His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me.

Col. Brandon’s ‘fortune’ is ‘about two thousand a year,’ i.e. twice the amount Elinor considers necessary for comfort and happiness, but half Mr Bingley’s income and one-fifth of Mr Darcy’s. Mrs Jennings wonders what might have prompted his sudden departure for London on the very day of the Whitwell excursion:

The estate at Delaford was never reckoned more than two thousand a year, and his brother left everything sadly involved. I do think he must have been sent for about money matters, for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. I would give anything to know the truth of it. Perhaps it is about Miss Williams and, by the bye, I dare say it is, because he looked so conscious when I mentioned her.

His Indian wealth is never assessed – no one is interested in pursuing the subject. For all we know, it might have been used to pay off estate debts, just as Hastings’s was partly spent on lawyers’ fees. On the other hand, judging by the length of his tour of duty, it might not have been very large. While his financial situation is barely touched on, the second possibility seems more promising:

‘What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must have heard of her before. She is a relation of the Colonel’s, my dear; a very near relation. We will not say how near, for fear of shocking the young ladies.’ Then, lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor, ‘She is his natural daughter.’

The colonel later explains that she had been entrusted to him by her dying mother, who was also his cousin and former sister-in-law:

She left to my care her only child, a little girl, the offspring of her first guilty connection, who was then about three years old. She loved the child, and had always kept it with her ….after the death of my brother …  she visited me at Delaford. I called her a distant relation; but I am well aware that I have in general been suspected of a much nearer connection with her.

Col. Brandon and his cousin had been sweethearts, but his father, who was also her guardian, wished, ‘against her inclination,’  to marry her to his elder son, so that her money could be used to save the family estate. As the lovers’ plans to elope to Gretna Green were discovered, the younger brother was banished from home, and she was grounded till she submitted to her uncle’s will. ‘I meant,’ the colonel continues, ‘to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange.’ He sailed off to the East, but the union proved extremely unhappy:

My brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her … she experienced great unkindness … My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were not what they ought to have been, and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced as Mrs Brandon’s, was but too natural. She resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation … But can we wonder that, with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies) she should fall?

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Edmund Burke, by Joshua Reynolds

Similarly, Austen blames the Prince of Wales for his wife’s indiscretions: ‘I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.’

The colonel goes on: ‘The shock which her marriage had given me … was nothing to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce.’ Being still in England at the time, he must have learned about the wedding soon after it took place. The divorce would have been granted at least six months before the information reached him in India – news, good or bad, didn’t travel fast in those days. The husband would have had to sue his wife’s lover for criminal conversation and then obtain a legal separation from an ecclesiastical court. A Private Act of Parliament would have been required for him to be allowed to remarry. He must have found out about the adultery pretty early on, or else the procedure couldn’t have been completed so quickly. Could she have been pregnant with his younger brother’s child? Was he her ‘first guilty connection’?

‘It was nearly three years after this unhappy period before I returned to England … after I had been six months in England, I did find her,’ says the colonel. He came back almost five years after the wedding, then, and six months later he was introduced to little Eliza, who was about three – or so her mother must have declared. We must take Col. Brandon’s word for it, since there are no other witnesses. But for all we know, he might be lying to spare Elinor’s blushes, or trying to conceal an unsavoury past. On the other hand, how could he be sure his cousin was telling the truth? The girl may have looked smaller than her real age, and her development may have been delayed, especially as the mother didn’t have the means to support her. Could she have been conceived before he left for India? If they were intimate at the time, the thought must have crossed his mind – but how could he be certain? We must bear in mind that it was baptisms, not births, that were recorded in parish registers.

The parentage of another Eliza, Jane Austen’s cousin and sister-in-law, had been the object of speculation in India. After eight years of marriage, the childless Hancocks had moved to Bengal, where they became close friends with Warren Hastings, then a widower, who had been appointed the company’s representative at the court of the Nawab. Philadelphia got pregnant, and a daughter was born in 1761, to whom Hastings stood godfather. Though Lord Clive forbade his wife to keep company with the mother, alleging an extramarital affair with Hastings, Tysoe Hancock behaved like an affectionate father. Did he trust his wife? Was he in denial? Was he too proud to acknowledge the facts? Did he cover up for his business partner and patron?

Later on Hastings became involved with another married lady, Mrs Imhoff, whom he wedded after her divorce, having apparently paid the husband off. So perhaps he wasn’t that into Mrs Hancock after all, or didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings. Maybe he had his own doubts, or knew the child couldn’t be his. By 1775 he had settled ten thousand pounds on Eliza, but then again she was his goddaughter and he was a rich man. The evidence is inconclusive.

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Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

Whether or not Eliza Williams was Col. Brandon’s daughter, he felt he must confront her seducer:

‘Have you,’ she continued, after a short silence, ‘ever seen Mr Willoughby since you left him at Barton?’

‘Yes,’ he replied gravely, ‘once I have. One meeting was unavoidable.’

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying,

‘What? have you met him to–’

‘I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.’

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure.

Of all the foolish, reckless things men used to do this is perhaps the most difficult to explain. Jane Austen must have heard about the 1780 duel between Sir Philip Francis and Warren Hastings. Alleging the former had gone back on his promise not to oppose certain measures, the latter wrote: ‘I judge of his public conduct by my experience of his private, which I have found to be void of truth and honour.’ Sir Philip felt compelled to challenge him, was wounded, and returned to England. He flatly denied having reached a political agreement with Hastings, though things might not have been so clear-cut. Was the provocation a desperate but deliberate attempt to get him out of the way? The governor-general certainly benefited from the outcome. He sounds regretful though, yet unwilling to take responsibility: ‘I hope Mr Francis does not think of assuming any merit from this silly affair. I have been ashamed that I have been made an actor in it.’

Warren Hastings was not the first man to engage in a duel, or to be suspected of having fathered offspring out of wedlock, or accused of corruption. I’m therefore far from suggesting that Jane Austen based a fictional character on him. But the tales we are told have a way of weaving themselves into the fabric of our own narrative, and the stories we read sometimes resonate with the echo of other voices …

References

Jane Austen’s novels quoted from www.mollands.net

Adkins, Roy and Lesley. (2014). Jane Austen’s England. Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods. New York: Penguin Books.

Gleig, G.R. (1841). Memoirs of the Life of the Right Hon. Warren Hastings, First Governor-General of Bengal, vol. II. London: Richard Bentley.

Dodwell, H.H. ed. (1929). The Cambridge History of the British Empire. Vol. IV: British India 1497-1858. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Koster, Kristen. (2011). A Primer on Regency Divorce and Annulments. Retrieved from http://www.kristenkoster.com/a-regency-divorce-primer/

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. (2011). Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. (1841). Warren Hastings, an essay. Retrieved from

http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/hastings/txt_complete.html

Marshall, P.J. Warren Hastings. In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Warren-Hastings

Roy, Anindyo. (2005). Civility and Empire. Literature and culture in British India 1822-1922. Abingdon: Routledge.

Tomalin, Claire. (1999). Jane Austen. A Life. New York: Vintage Books.

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You have made me hate myself for ever! Elinor Dashwood as a role model

Sense and Sensibility is a novel of grief, heartbreak, resilience, and second chances. It’s also a dialogue about how to deal with bereavement and betrayal. Austen’s heroines cope with them in different ways, from fainting and running mad to putting themselves together for the sake of those they love. While in Love and Freindship taking leave of our senses seems to be the only option, the interaction between Elinor and Marianne shows us the path to rational behaviour and self-control as well as the difficulties it’s strewn with.

One of the things I like best about Austen’s first published book is that it is virtually impossible for readers to remain neutral. Sooner or later we must choose between the sisters, though we might change sides over time. Each has a point and there is something of both in most of us.

After their father passed away,

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future.

Their distress doesn’t on the whole appear as artificial as the author makes it sound here, especially if we consider that, a few months on, ‘the sight of every well known spot ceased to raise the violent emotion which it produced for a while.’ Mrs Dashwood’s ‘spirits began to revive, and her mind became capable of some other exertion than that of heightening its affliction by melancholy remembrances.’ Wouldn’t that be normal after all? We all mourn differently, and not all of us are immediately able to get on with our lives. Austen’s account of her own father’s death might surprise us with its restraint, but even she acknowledges that ‘the loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes.’

Yet someone must take charge of things:

Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention.

The trouble with her is that she thinks everybody must deal with suffering in the same way. Thus, she strives ‘to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.’

We should bear in mind that the Dashwood ladies will eventually be thrown out of their home, and  have to make do with an income of £500 pounds a year, when the Norland estate alone has been yielding 4000. Not the main source of their sorrow, but enough to add to their worries, just like the lack of a place of their own did to the Austen women’s.

This is, indeed, Laura’s only anxiety in  Love and Freindship:

You may perhaps have been somewhat surprised .., that in the Distress I then endured, destitute of any support, and unprovided with any Habitation, I should never once have remembered my Father & Mother or my paternal Cottage in the Vale of Uske. To account for this seeming forgetfullness I must inform you of a trifling Circumstance concerning them which I have as yet never mentioned. The death of my Parents a few weeks after my Departure, is the circumstance I allude to. By their decease I became the lawfull Inheritress of their House & Fortune. But alas! the House had never been their own and their Fortune had only been an Annuity on their own Lives.

Her subsequent expressions of regret, therefore, do not ring true:

I took up my Residence in a Romantic Village in the Highlands of Scotland where I have ever since continued, and where I can uninterrupted by unmeaning Visits, indulge in a melancholy solitude, my unceasing Lamentations for the Death of my Father, my Mother my Husband & my Freind.

As a satire on the novel of sensibility, the story is full of exaggerated outbursts that prevent characters from taking adequate action but not from caring about the materialistic aspects of life. Extreme sensitivity coexists with calculating callousness.

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Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

Sense and Sensibility might also have started as a critique of this tradition, but we soon see there’s nothing fake about the sisters’ feelings. The only difference between them is that Elinor ‘knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.’

‘Taught by whom?’ we might ask. Does Elinor’s knowledge of how to keep her own emotions in check qualify her to educate others? What works for her might not, after all, work for them. And her methods might not be the best. Her sister is not swayed by her arguments:

‘Exert yourself, dear Marianne,’ she cried, ‘if you would not kill yourself and all who love you. Think of your mother; think of her misery while you suffer: for her sake you must exert yourself.’

‘I cannot, I cannot,’ cried Marianne; ‘leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me! but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those, who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer’ …

‘Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions supports your spirits. It is a reasonable and laudable pride which resists such malevolence.’

‘No, no,’ cried Marianne, ‘misery such as mine has no pride. I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world. Elinor, Elinor, they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like–may resist insult, or return mortification–but I cannot. I must feel–I must be wretched–and they are welcome to enjoy the consciousness of it that can.’

‘But for my mother’s sake and mine–’

‘I would do more than for my own. But to appear happy when I am so miserable–Oh! who can require it?’

In a similar situation, Emma, clueless as she often is, convinces Harriet Smith to make a serious effort to forget Mr Elton:

‘My being saved from pain is a very secondary consideration. I want you to save yourself from greater pain. Perhaps I may sometimes have felt that Harriet would not forget what was due–or rather what would be kind by me.’

This appeal to her affections did more than all the rest. The idea of wanting gratitude and consideration for Miss Woodhouse, whom she really loved extremely, made her wretched for a while, and when the violence of grief was comforted away, still remained powerful enough to prompt to what was right and support her in it very tolerably.

Emma then famously reflects that ‘there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.’ Does this mean Marianne is cold and unloving?  Not really. Harriet is a simpler creature, and she does not care for the vicar as passionately or as deeply as Marianne does for Willoughby. At any rate, Miss Woodhouse succeeds in persuading her friend, whereas Miss Dashwood does not.

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Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

Her example is not enough, as we see when she finally reveals Edward’s secret engagement and her own struggle:

‘And yet you loved him!’–

‘Yes. But I did not love only him;–and while the comfort of others was dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt. Now, I can think and speak of it with little emotion. I would not have you suffer on my account; for I assure you I no longer suffer materially myself. I have many things to support me. I am not conscious of having provoked the disappointment by any imprudence of my own, I have borne it as much as possible without spreading it farther. I acquit Edward of essential misconduct. I wish him very happy; and I am so sure of his always doing his duty, that though now he may harbour some regret, in the end he must become so. Lucy does not want sense, and that is the foundation on which every thing good may be built.–And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant–it is not fit–it is not possible that it should be so.–Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him to forget that he ever thought another superior to her.’–

‘If such is your way of thinking,’ said Marianne, ‘if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, your resolution, your self-command, are, perhaps, a little less to be wondered at.–They are brought more within my comprehension.’

‘I understand you.–You do not suppose that I have ever felt much.’

Now it’s Marianne that’s being intolerant, though Elinor comes dangerously close to a ‘picture of perfection.’ Just as the elder sister assumes we must all bear our pain in the same way, the younger believes we must all feel alike. Soon realising her mistake, however, ‘“Oh! Elinor,’” she cried, “you have made me hate myself for ever.–How barbarous have I been to you! … Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been trying to do it away.”’

Tender caresses ensue, but Miss Dashwood neither denies her own excellence nor attempts to counteract her sister’s self-loathing. She seems to believe that invidious comparison will lead to positive behaviour. Wrong:

She felt it with all the pain of continual self-reproach, regretted most bitterly that she had never exerted herself before; but it brought only the torture of penitence, without the hope of amendment. Her mind was so much weakened that she still fancied present exertion impossible, and therefore it only dispirited her more.

Oh dear! Isn’t is obvious? Marianne is depressed. She can’t even bring herself to try. Far from relieving her misery, guilt only increases it. To be fair to Elinor, she is young and inexperienced. She has a lot on her plate right now, too, what with her own disappointment, watching over her family, keeping up appearances, observing the rules of propriety, being polite to their acquaintance, and excusing her sister’s occasional lack of manners. Must be exhausting. So much so she fails to notice Marianne has not changed her wet shoes and stockings …

Perhaps it’s just as well, as she might not see sense otherwise. As she recovers from her illness, she puts things into perspective, fully realising the error of her ways, and once more acknowledging her sister’s superiority. Strangely enough, considering her fragile state, she manages to summon the energy to devise a scheme of ‘rational employment and virtuous self-control.’ Elinor’s response is nuanced: ‘impatient to soothe, though too honest to flatter,’ she gives her ‘only that praise and support which her frankness and her contrition so well deserved.’

From which I gather she believes she’s been right all along and worth following as a role model, whereas her sister is to blame, among other things, for inconsiderately endangering her own life. Self-abhorrence would therefore seem a proper way to show repentance. It doesn’t cross her mind that she might have taken a different approach or tried to understand what was going on in Marianne’s.

Sometimes people forced by circumstances to become towers of strength find it useful to stick to a few black-and-white notions. They might feel entitled to sit in judgement and passive aggressively exact a little commendation every now and then. All too often self-denial comes at a price.

Marianne is eager, immoderate, and imprudent – she’s also a teenager. She may be selfish and rude at times, but she’s so very honest that even her wretchedness commands respect. I’m glad Col. Brandon is capable of appreciating that ‘there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.’ This time round I too side with her.

References

Jane Austen’s novels quoted from www.mollands.net

Love and Freindship quoted from

http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/manuscripts/blvolsecond/1.html

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. (2011). Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.

Nemade, R., Staats Reiss, N., and Dombeck, M. (2007). Historical Understandings of Depression. Retrieved from

https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/historical-understandings-of-depression/

Perfectly qualified by his seat in the House: politicians and electioneering in Jane Austen’s writings

I’ve been meaning to write about politicians for some time, but kept putting it off, fearing the post might turn out to be as unpopular as its subject every now and then becomes. But whether blindly followed or blamed for all the evils of the world, they are nowadays subject to democratic election. Whether it is wise or naive to assume that outsiders turned insiders will do a better job, or that those who have hitherto cared about nothing but their own interests will start looking after our own, we do have a choice. In Jane Austen’s England, only one out of eight men could vote. Women, of course, couldn’t. Whereas in the so-called rotten boroughs MPs were elected by just a handful of voters, big industrial towns like Manchester had no separate representation.

In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Ferrars wishes to get her elder son ‘into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day.’ But Edward, having ‘no more talents than inclination for a public life,’ prefers the church. So does Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. Mary Crawford disagrees: ‘You ought to be in parliament,’ she tells him, ‘or you should have gone into the army ten years ago.’ To her ‘a clergyman is nothing.’

In the former novel, Mrs Palmer says her husband

is always going about the country canvassing against the election; and so many people came to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! it is very fatiguing to him! for he is forced to make every body like him.

Yet, according to his wife, he wouldn’t visit Mr Willoughby, as the latter ‘is in the opposition,’ from which we might infer that Mr Palmer is loyal to the party in government. Mr Spencer Perceval, a Tory, was the Prime Minister at the time, being in office from 1809 to 1812, when he was assassinated by a disgruntled merchant. Their neighbour would therefore be a Whig. But Mrs Palmer’s information is often inaccurate: she thinks Combe Magna is much nearer Cleveland than it actually is, and, though believing it to be usually praised as a ‘sweet place,’ is easily convinced of the contrary.

She also states that her husband will never frank for her, on which he refuses to comment. Except for the pre-paid post system operating in London, where a flat rate of twopence was charged, as we can see in chapter 26, postage was then paid by the recipient. But letters franked by MPs were delivered for free. They could be wrapped in a separate sheet of paper, as long as it contained their signature. Though originally intended for official business, the privilege was widely abused, so that family, friends, and even distant acquaintances benefited from it.

In October 1813, Jane Austen writes from Godmersham:

Now I will prepare for Mr Lushington, & as it will be wisest also to prepare for his not coming or my not getting a frank I shall write very close from the first & even leave room for the seal in the proper place.

She did leave a space on the third page, just in case, and also on the fifth. In the event Mr Lushington, who served as MP for Canterbury from 1812 to 1830, did come and sign his name on the ‘envelope’. Just as Mr Chute, MP for Hampshire, signed his on James Austen’s and his wife’s correspondence. As the Austens did not frown on the practice, it would seem Mr Palmer just wishes to cross his wife.

800px-Microcosm_of_London_Plate_021_-_House_of_Commons
House of Commons, by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin

In Mansfield Park, Edmund assures Fanny that her missive ‘shall go with the other letters; and, as your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing.’ And we’re told that his mother

rather shone in the epistolary line, having early in her marriage, from the want of other employment, and the circumstance of Sir Thomas’s being in Parliament, got into the way of making and keeping correspondents.

But about the time her niece joined the family,

Lady Bertram, in consequence of a little ill-health, and a great deal of indolence, gave up the house in town, which she had been used to occupy every spring, and remained wholly in the country, leaving Sir Thomas to attend his duty in Parliament, with whatever increase or diminution of comfort might arise from her absence.

It has been argued that, as the owner of an Antigua plantation, he must have been a Whig. Tories traditionally resented paying taxes to fund the naval protection of Britain’s West Indian colonies and trade.

Talking of his would-be son-in-law Mr Rushworth, Mary Crawford says: ‘A man might represent the county with such an estate; a man might escape a profession and represent the county.’ Her sister agrees: ‘I dare say he will be in parliament soon. When Sir Thomas comes, I dare say he will be in for some borough, but there has been nobody to put him in the way of doing anything yet.’

A rotten borough, that is, or a constituency whose population had declined over time, to the extent that very few men had the right to vote. Their MP was, therefore, handpicked by peers and major landowners, who could easily intimidate or bribe the electorate, especially as there was no secret ballot.

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William Pitt the Younger

On 20 November 1808, Jane Austen writes:

We called on the Miss Lyells one day, & heard a good account of Mr Heathcote’s canvass, the success of which of course exceeds his expectation. — Alethea in her Letter hopes for my interest, which I conclude means Edward’s-& I take this opportunity therefore of requesting that he will bring in Mr Heathcote. Mr Lance told us yesterday that Mr H. had behaved very handsomely & waited on Mr Thistlethwaite to say that if he (Mr T.) would stand, he (Mr H.) would not oppose him; but Mr T. declined it, acknowledging himself still smarting under the payment of late Electioneering Costs.-

Here Austen’s referring to the 1808 Hampshire by-election, which was prompted by Sir Henry Paulet St John-Mildmay’s death, and won by Thomas Freeman Heathcote. The latter held his seat till 1820, becoming the 4th Baronet of Hursley Park in 1819. One of his brothers was married to Elizabeth Bigg of Manydown, and another was to wed one of the Miss Lyells. Elizabeth’s sister Alethea wished her friend Jane to tell Cassandra to ask their brother Edward, with whom she was staying, to exert his influence as a Chawton and Steventon landowner on Mr Heathcote’s behalf.

The Whig candidates, Mr Thomas Thistlethwayte and the Hon. William Herbert, had triumphed in the 1806 general election and served as MPs till they were defeated by the Tories at the next, which took place the following year. Sir Henry’s fellow MP was James Austen’s friend Mr Chute. Mr Thistlethwayte did not run again when the former passed away, as he could not afford the expense, but Mr Herbert did. A token poll was carried out, following an agreement between the contending parties, and Mr Heathcote was returned. Mr Herbert had challenged the validity of his candidacy, but did not pursue his petition. Perhaps Alethea Bigg had all this wheeling and dealing in mind when she suggested Edward Austen Knight’s intervention. From the Austen family tradition and his own social position we may gather that his sympathies lay with the Tories. In this case, however, Heathcote was supported by the ministerial party of the time, which included the Whig followers of the Duke of Portland as well as former Pittites.

Though the procedure was hardly democratic by today’s standards, Hampshire was not a rotten or a pocket borough, i.e. a constituency controlled by a single person or family. Was Lord Osborne one of those individuals? As he enters the assembly rooms in The Watsons, we are warned about his real motives:

Lord Osborne was a very fine young man; but there was an air of coldness, of carelessness, even of awkwardness about him, which seemed to speak him out of his element in a ball-room. He came, in fact, only because it was judged expedient for him to please the borough.

As a peer, he could not sit in the House of Commons, but he could pick his own candidates.

In 1792, the year in which Jane Austen wrote Catharine, or The Bower, a scandal broke out when it was alleged that this corrupt system had enabled 154 people to choose 307 MPs. Early on in the unfinished novel, we are informed that

Mr & Mrs Stanley were people of Large Fortune & high Fashion. He was a Member of the house of Commons, and they were therefore most agreeably necessitated to reside half the year in Town; where Miss Stanley had been attended by the most capital Masters from the time of her being six years old to the last Spring, which comprehending a period of twelve Years had been dedicated to the acquirement of Accomplishments which were now to be displayed and in a few Years entirely neglected.

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A new way to pay the National-Debt, by James Gillray

According to Mrs Percival, who believed ‘everything was going to rack and ruin, …the house of Commons … did not break up sometimes till five in the Morning.’

Mr Stanley is the only Austen politician who states his political views:

Mr Stanley & her aunt, … began their usual conversation on Politics. This was a subject on which they could never agree, for Mr Stanley who considered himself as perfectly qualified by his Seat in the House, to decide on it without hesitation, resolutely maintained that the Kingdom had not for ages been in so flourishing & prosperous a state, and Mrs Percival with equal warmth, tho’ perhaps less argument, as vehemently asserted that the whole Nation would speedily be ruined, and everything as she expressed herself be at sixes and sevens … Kitty …found it very entertaining to observe the eagerness with which they both defended their opinions.

And his daughter complains that ‘he never cares about anything but Politics. If I were Mr Pitt or the Lord Chancellor, he would take care I should not be insulted, but he never thinks about me.’

Her father is portrayed as a reactionary Tory, in denial about pressing problems, such as the budget deficit resulting from war expenditure, the size of the national debt, unemployment, and poverty. Unlike Mr Pitt, he wouldn’t see the need for reform. The then Prime Minister had started as an ‘independent Whig,’ but voted consistently with the Tories, and was regarded as a Tory by his opponents at the time of his death. His supporters and appointees belonged to both parties.

I like the way in which the author hints that Mr Spencer might not be as competent as he ought to. Young Jane seems to be laughing: ‘So you think you know all about politics just because you’re in Parliament?’ The joke might also be on his opponent, as Mrs Percival  feels entitled to state her own views regardless of her interlocutor and without providing any evidence to back them up.

Jane Austen’s politicians belong to a world where the term ‘democrat’ was used to stigmatise those who sought to improve social conditions and called for a political reform that was not enacted until 1832. Yet the problems they confronted or ignored are not so different from those we face today. Though we’ve come a long way in many respects, and candidates are no longer picked by landowners, it might be argued that special interests still play a role in their selection.

References

Jane Austen’s novels quoted from http://www.mollands.net

Jane Austen’s Catharine, or The Bower, quoted from http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/manuscripts/blvolthird/iii.html

Adkins, Roy and Lesley. (2014). Jane Austen’s England. Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods. New York: Penguin Books.

Austen, Jane. (1999). The Annotated Sense and Sensibility. Annot. and ed. by David Shapard. New York: Anchor Books.

Burns, Arthur. (2015). William Pitt, the Younger. Retrieved from https://history.blog.gov.uk/2015/09/16/william-pitt-the-younger-whigtory-1783-1801-1804-1806/

Craig, Sheryl. (2015). Jane Austen and the State of the Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Doody, Margaret. (2015). Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. (2011). Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.

Thorne, R., ed. (1986) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820. Retrieved from http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/constituencies/hampshire

Tomalin, Claire. (1999). Jane Austen. A Life. New York: Vintage Books.

Grumpy husbands, silly wives, and schemes of happiness: real marriages in Jane Austen’s novels

At 25 or 26, Mr Palmer is already a grumpy man. He is rude, insolent, and contemptuous; he scolds and abuses his wife, and, in short, is ‘always out of humour’ – a description that makes you wonder what he will be like at 50 or 60. Mr Bennet ridicules his lady in front of their children, shuts himself up in the library, and neglects his parental duties.

What is wrong with them? It seems that early in their marriages both found out that, like many others, ‘through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty,’ they had wedded very silly women. According to Elinor Dashwood, though it might sour the male temper a little bit, the mistake is ‘too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it,’ from which she concludes that Mr Palmer just wishes to assert his superiority by displaying his ill-breeding.

Mr Bennet, however, was paralysed by this overwhelming realisation. Whether he had thought himself too clever to fall for a pretty face and a pleasing figure or underestimated the power of hormones, he must have felt humiliated. The sex went on for many years, anyway, and not just because they needed a son to cut off the entail: in chapter 1 he tells her she is ‘as handsome as any’ of their daughters. Do we detect a little sarcasm here? Perhaps, but even now he cannot deny she is still physically attractive.

‘Men of sense,’ Mr Knightley states, ‘do not want silly wives.’ Yet the way courtship was conducted in Austen’s time posed a risk:  ‘How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance,’ exclaims Frank Churchill, ‘and rued it all the rest of his life!’ Mr Bennet was ‘captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give.’ His beloved’s ‘weak understanding and illiberal mind,’ though, must have been there for the moderately intelligent and learned to notice. It must be mortifying to know you have been such a fool, to have no one but yourself to blame. Of course he could always take it out on her, ‘put an end to all real affection for her.’ At some point he must have admitted to himself that ‘respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever.’

Mrs Grant, ‘with a temper to love and be loved,’ is neither pretty nor dumb – so what is Dr Grant’s excuse? Too lazy to ‘take the trouble of being agreeable,’ he ‘has nothing to do but read the newspaper, watch the weather, and quarrel with his wife,’ with whom he is ‘out of humour’ whenever cook makes a blunder. She has to grin and bear it, but somehow does not think it so bad.

‘There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry,’ says her sister. She further elaborates:

I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?

‘My dear child, [replies Mrs Grant] there must be a little imagination here. I beg your pardon, but I cannot quite believe you. Depend upon it, you see but half. You see the evil, but you do not see the consolation. There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere–and those evil-minded observers, dearest Mary, who make much of a little, are more taken in and deceived than the parties themselves.’

Mr Palmer
Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

There is only one divorce in Jane Austen’s novels, which Mr Rushworth has ‘no difficulty in procuring’ after his wife elopes with Mr Crawford. A papal annulment solves a similar problem in Lesley Castle. Only the wealthy could afford a divorce in those days, and public disgrace would inevitably follow. It would have been virtually impossible for a woman to obtain one even if she had the means, unless her husband agreed or his ill-treatment posed a threat to her life. It would therefore have been out of the question for the couples whose situations we are considering. Based on what we know, there would have been no real grounds for it, anyway, except, perhaps, in the Bennets’ case.

‘Do anything rather than marry without affection,’ Jane tells Lizzy. At the very least she hopes their friend Charlotte Lucas ‘may feel something like regard and esteem,’ for Mr Collins. Insisting on the subject, Austen writes to her niece Fanny Knight:

I shall … entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection; and if his deficiencies of Manner &. &c strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once.

Mr Bennet, alas, acknowledged these shortcomings only too late. Fortunately, he

was not of a disposition to seek comfort, for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments.

In other words, he does not have a mistress or engage in sexual relations with the servants or prostitutes. Mrs Bennet should almost be thankful for that, for the author loathes such practices:

I am proud to say that I have a very good eye at an Adultress, for tho’ repeatedly assured that another in the same party was the She, I fixed upon the right one from the first … She is not so pretty as I expected; her face has the same defect of baldness as her sisters, & her features not so handsome;- she was highly rouged, & looked rather quietly & contentedly silly than anything else.

A few years later she rhetorically asks: ‘What can be expected from a Paget, born & brought up in the centre of conjugal Infidelity & Divorces? … I abhor all the race of Pagets.’

Mr Bennet finds other outlets for his bitter resentment:

To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.

Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavoured to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible.

But she had never … been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents which rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife.

Mr Bennet
Illustration from http://www.mollands.net

In the first chapter we are told that after 23 years she is still unable to ‘understand his character,’ and she does not seem aware of the depth of his dislike. But I think she must perceive, somehow, that things are not all right between them. What is her alternative ‘scheme of happiness’? ‘The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news’ – sounds like a good plan for a woman of ‘mean understanding’ and ‘little information.’ And, in spite of all her flaws, more useful to the girls: had it all been left to their father, they might not even have met Mr Bingley …

Mrs Palmer is blissfully ignorant of her husband’s disappointment: she considers him ‘droll’ and does not mind his bad manners. At any rate, they are stuck with each other:

Charlotte laughed heartily to think that her husband could not get rid of her; and exultingly said, she did not care how cross he was to her, as they must live together. It was impossible for any one to be more thoroughly good-natured, or more determined to be happy than Mrs. Palmer.

As Emma puts it, ‘there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,’ and even Mr Palmer must reluctantly appreciate that. Deep down there is ‘real humanity and good nature’ in him too. But since he is not very agreeable himself, a smiling pretty wife might be an asset in his political career:

We are so gay now, for Mr. Palmer is always going about the country canvassing against the election; and so many people came to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! it is very fatiguing to him! for he is forced to make every body like him.

Mrs Grant, in turn,

having by this time run through the usual resources of ladies residing in the country without a family of children–having more than filled her favourite sitting-room with pretty furniture, and made a choice collection of plants and poultry–was very much in want of some variety at home. The arrival, therefore, of a sister whom she had always loved, and now hoped to retain with her as long as she remained single, was highly agreeable.

Their brother comes too, and the friendly intercourse with the inhabitants of Mansfield Park is a source of pleasure to them all. She even agrees to take part in private theatricals.

We know next to nothing about what happens after the wedding bells ring for our heroes and heroines. The happily ever after of romantic comedy prevents us from enquiring too much into detail. Only secondary characters are allowed ‘real’ unions. Here Austen’s view is rather nuanced: she draws our attention to their virtues as well as to their flaws, and lets us witness their everyday life. At times we are even forced to see what we might wish to overlook. We may celebrate Mr Bennet’s witty remarks and sense of humour, but a closer look makes us regret such a waste of talent. I cannot help feeling that his wife would have been a bit less vulgar ‘if he had behaved only tolerably by her.’

References

Jane Austen’s novels quoted from http://www.mollands.net

Adkins, Roy and Lesley. 2014. Jane Austen’s England. Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods. New York: Penguin Books.

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. 2011. Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.