Removing the Romance from Pride and Prejudice

As the leaders of Christian homeschool movement embrace the (supposedly) virtuous past as a contrast to our (allegedly) hedonistic presence – emphasizing female chastity and male chivalry and even, yes, holding historically themed tea parties – they often seem to zero in on the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a sort of ideal era. And yet, this fascination with the Victorian era, along with the years immediately before and after it, often includes an embrace of literature that seems to run counter to the ideals the leaders of the Christian homeschool movement are trying so hard to promote, especially in the area of romantic relationships. There is, of course, a simple solution: reinterpret the literature and change its meaning.

For background, I highly recommend reading Sharon Lathan’s “A Very Serious Blog on a Frightening, Shocking Revelation.” In this post, Christian romance author Sharon Lathan speaks of a literature and history class she set up for homeschooled teenage girls (on request), a class that fell through when the girls’ mothers determined that the literature she planned to use for the class was not fit for their girls to read. Here’s an excerpt from Lathan’s article, in which she discusses one of the offending passages:

As I read this scene after researching the betrothal/courtship movement it suddenly became very clear. My husband instantly had the same reaction. In this scene we see a father demanding his son marry his choice of wife, and a son who is refusing. We also see a sneer at the concept of a son choosing a wife based on his emotions of love.

So was the “problem” with Miss Darcy Falls in Love that it is “too explicit”? In their twisted minds apparently so. Or was the bigger problem because it is about two people who freely feel emotions that are real and beautiful, fall in love before an arranged agreement by their elders, learn to trust those emotions, and worse yet, defy at least one parent in choosing for themselves? I think it clear my conclusion is the latter.

I can’t be inside the minds of these girls’ parents, so will not say for sure. But I can logically deduce and know what I have read and been told. It frightens me and makes me very, very sad.

With that background, I give you “Don’t Follow Your Heart: Anti-Revolutionary Lessons from Pride and Prejudice,” written by Angelina Stanford and posted on the website of the Circe Institute. In this piece Stanford explains that the much forgotten message of Pride and Prejudice is actually, well, “don’t follow your heart.”

It’s easy to forget when reading a Jane Austen novel that she wrote during a time of great revolutionary upheaval:  the loss of the British colonies in America, the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, Napoleon’s attempt to take over the world, and the deliberate assault on the institutions of the Church, the Government, and the Family.  The world had gone mad. And yet Jane Austen utters not a word in her novels about those unsettling times, at least not directly.

Jean Jacques Rousseau fittingly referred to as both the Father of the French Revolution and the Father of Romanticism, rejected both Christian epistemology and Rationalism when he argued that emotion is the highest form of truth. To feel is to know. Unfettered passion is truth. Want to know what’s right? What does your heart tell you?

From Rousseau’s mouth to the ears and arms of romantics and revolutionaries, passion and emotion as standards of truth unleashed chaos and violence unto the world. While revolutionaries picked up swords, Jane Austen picked up her pen. She stood as a bulwark against the revolutionary chaos of her time. And you thought she wrote love stories.

In the story of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Austen does give readers one of the greatest love stories of all time.  But it’s not just any love story; it’s an anti-romantic love story.  Opposed to Rousseau and revolutionary/romantic thinking, Austen sends the message: Don’t Follow Your Heart.

The first successful engagement in Pride and Prejudice is between Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas. It is a purely practical, almost mercenary, arrangement. Elizabeth Bennett is disappointed and disgusted by the match, as is the reader.  We agree with Elizabeth that affection, compatibility,feelings matter. And Elizabeth’s feelings are leading her to the very agreeable and handsome Mr. Wickham.

One would expect the plot to unfold as follows: Wickham sweeps Elizabeth off her feet. They get married and live happily ever after, contrasted with the miserable Collinses. Unfeeling marriage is condemned and following your heart leads to joy. Maybe if Shelley or Wordsworth or Byron wrote this novel.

Instead Austen warns Elizabeth—and all of us—when Mrs. Gardiner cautions Elizabeth against making an imprudent match with Wickham: “you must not let your fancy run away with you. You have sense, and we all expect you to use it.” There it is, in the middle of one of the greatest love stories ever written: Don’t follow your heart!

Elizabeth learns just how wise is the advice of Mrs. Gardiner, but her sister Lydia does not.  And here we see the true genius of Austen. The entire seduction of Lydia happens offstage. The reader doesn’t get caught up in the passion and the romance. Instead it unfolds through the perspective of Elizabeth.

At the moment when Elizabeth hopes that there may be a future for herself and Darcy, she receives Jane’s letter. All of Lydia’s foolishness and selfishness is evident as we mourn with Elizabeth. Unlike Lydia, caught up in her own feelings, readers immediately recognize how her actions affect everyone around her. She has brought shame and disgrace on not just herself but her entire family and has likely destroyed any chance for a good marriage for her sisters. Lydia has ruined not just herself, but her entire family.

She and Wickham followed their hearts, and predictably that choice leads to their own misery. But the genius of Austen is that their own suffering is somehow secondary; it’s an afterthought. The real tragedy to the reader is the pain afflicted on Elizabeth and her family. When people follow their hearts, they think only of themselves and neglect their duty to love their neighbor.

Duty, loving your neighbor, considering the consequences of your action beyond just your own pleasure… these are the themes that drive Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is a good man because he doesn’t follow his heart. He refuses to feed his vanity by flirting with Elizabeth when he has no intention of marrying her. Wickham, in contrast, enjoys the pleasure of flirting, and even seducing, without any consideration of the consequence.

Mercenary marriage brings no joy but neither does running away with your fancy. Good marriages have affection and compatibility but also require a husband committed to his duty and, as Mr. Bennett tells Elizabeth in his last speech, a wife who respects her husband. Love and affection rooted in duty and respect. How very anti-revolutionary.

Jane Austen’s message is just as timely today as it was two hundred years ago. How do we respond to a world gone mad? Have a good marriage, be a good neighbor, invest in your community, take your responsibilities seriously. Don’t follow your heart. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. On these hangs the only hope to restore sanity to our world.

I was going to go through and explain some of the problems I have with this interpretation, but I’m on a deadline and while I’ve always been a Jane Austen fan, I’ve never taken an English class and know little about Jane Austen’s background or the genre in which she was writing. And so, I’m going to open the floor to you lot. Critique away! Tomorrow or Friday I’ll select the best comments and add them to the end of this post.

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The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
What Courtship Was for Me
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Yamikuronue

    It actually sounds just about spot-on to me, with one caveat: Charlotte’s story tells us that duty and “a good match” cannot be all your husband feels for you either. The moral seems to be to walk the middle road: your first love might not be a good match, and what seems to be a good match can lead to a loveless marriage, so you have to have prudence when making a marriage as well as emotion. Sense and Sensibility echos this moral much more strongly, as the name implies.

    • Elin

      Agreed! That is how I see this book as well.

  • Esteleth

    I always had a somewhat softer take than “mercenary” on Charlotte’s marriage: yes, it is rather cold and unfeeling of her. But – as Charlotte herself makes clear (not that Elizabeth really hears her) – Mr. Collins is the best she could reasonably expect.

    Charlotte Lucas, at the time of her wedding, is the 28-year-old daughter of a country knight. She is neither a great beauty nor a great heiress. At 28, the window for when she could marry is rapidly closing (a woman over 30 – especially a woman who was not a great heiress – marrying in those days would have been seen as laughable). Mr. Collins is not a terribly charming (or intelligent) man, but he offers Charlotte a life outside of raising her younger siblings and (later) her nieces and nephews, social respectability, and a future. Mr. Collins has a powerful and wealthy patron in Lady Catherine – he could go far, and Charlotte as his wife would be tucked right next to him, and their children (remember, it is revealed at the very end that she is pregnant) could go further still.
    Charlotte Lucas’ story is not so much a discussion of mercenary marriages as a condemnation of the crappy choices given to women in those days.
    As for Wickham – he isn’t so much a flirt as a predator. .

    • Elin

      I would say it is both. Yes, Mr Collins is the best she can get but I have always believed that Charlotte does expect a just reward from taking him on. He is an heir after all and she would live in comfort in what was once the home of Elizabeth and Jane and the other sisters and she is going to get that comfort by throwing at least some of Elizabeth’s relatives out of their home. It is a bit mercenary I think, she is expecting happiness from what will lead to suffering of some of Elizabeth’s relatives.

    • Katty

      The lines between what is practical, mercenary or, in the words of Austen’s protagonists, “prudent” are often blurry, and in fact I think this is one of the themes explored in P&P. As quoted in the Article above, Mrs Gardiner cautions Elizabeth against an “imprudent match” with Wickham (while she still believes Elizabeth not to have formed a serious attachment to Mr Wickham, a point conveniently forgotten by Ms Stanford). A little later, Lizzy challenges her aunt by asking her

      “Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end and avarice begin?”

      Also, the Collinses’ marriage is not shown as exactly happy. Elizabeth’s conclusion upon visiting Charlotte in her new home is that

      “When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really an air of great comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.”

    • Jaimie

      In a sense, Charlotte did follow her heart. She just did not have the same choice of romance and love that most women hope for. She wanted a future and did the best she could within a bad situation. Like other posters said, Mr. Collins was in a very good position. Wickham was a predator of young girls and young girls with money. Charming, sure, but everything was based on lies.

    • Emma

      Another thing: if Jane Austen was arguing for mercenary marriages, love be damned, then why is Lizzie presented as right for rejecting Mr. Collins? To me, part of what made the Charlotte/Collins match work better than a Lizzie/Collins match was the fact that Charlotte’s personality made her better able to tolerate him (whereas Lizzie probably would have murdered him after two weeks).

      And sure, in the end Lizzie marries a rich guy, but only *after* falling in love with him. To me the message of the book was a nuanced “love matters (though it isn’t the only important thing).”

      And as for Wickham, I totally second the predator comment. Stanfords’ interpretation seems to completely forget that Wickham had to be BRIBED into marrying Lydia. Not exactly a sign of love, and a HUGE plot point. And I don’t think Lydia really loved Wickham. She was attracted to him, but mostly she was an oblivious teenage idiot who enjoyed believing she was in love, and thought eloping with Wickham was one big practical joke on her family (she talks a lot about looking forward to seeing peoples’ reactions when they find out).

  • Noelle

    So what romantic literature can one discuss with homeschool because of religion students?

    I read P&P as a senior in HS in AP English. Most of us complained that it was slow-moving and boring. For a plot with a variety of different scenarios of love and misunderstandings and marriage and scandal, it does take a long time and slugging through some societal culture from a different time and place, to make it through. I liked the story, but not enough to want to read it again. Unless you count the zombie version by Seth Grahame-Smith, which is a fun read. Zombies really brighten things up.

    • Anonymouse

      Agreed on the zombies! I also read P&P in AP English and found it to be everything you said, but I bought and read (twice now!) the zombie version.

  • Ibis3

    This is a very strange interpretation. The moral isn’t “don’t follow your heart,” it’s “heart & mind together is the way to happiness–if you can manage it”. Don’t be heedless, foolish, or quick to take things at face value, either in evaluating others or the consequences of your actions, but love is the best reason to marry. I’d pull up all kinds of examples, but don’t have time at the moment.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yes. This.

    • sylvia_rachel

      Exactly. Elizabeth and Darcy *do* love each other — they just take most of the book to figure that out. Importantly, Elizabeth comes to love Darcy as a result of becoming better acquainted with him … whereas better acquaintance with Wickham reveals him to be exactly the kind of rat bastard who would elope with your little sister for fun and/or profit.

      It’s not either/or — “follow your heart” OR “marry someone you respect”. It’s both/and. Unfortunately, for Charlotte, it’s neither/nor; but that’s why the Collinses’ marriage, like Lydia’s, is a subplot, one of the foils to the Lizzie/Darcy relationship. Note that the relationship between Jane and Bingley, while obviously more successful than the Collins or Wickham ménages, is portrayed as inferior to Lizzie’s marriage with Darcy, not only in the sense that Bingley doesn’t have the gumption to keep pursuing Jane after Darcy tells him not to, but also in that at the end, they’re plagued by the impecunious and spendthrift Wickhams because neither Jane nor Bingley has the gumption to tell them to sod off (whereas Lizzie and Darcy have, and do).

      P&P is certainly not a romance novel of the same sort as, say, Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. Austen was doing something a lot more complicated in her novels than telling boy-meets-girl-and-lives-happily-ever-after stories. But to say that its message is “Don’t follow your heart” … No.

      If you look at her happy marriages — and there aren’t actually that many — they are all love-matches (although it’s also true that some of the unhappy marriages, of which there are far more, were also love-matches). Outside the actual protagonists, the happiest Austen-book marriage I can call to mind is Admiral Croft and Sophy in Persuasion — and they got married, according to the Admiral, after only knowing each other for a couple of weeks :D He doesn’t say they fell in love at first sight, of course, because he’s not the sort of person who would say something like that in public, but it’s quite obvious that they love each other.

      • Carys Birch

        I think the Westons from Emma might be another example of the happy couple who are not protagonists. Also a love match. :)

  • Sharon Lathan

    Libby Anne, Thank you for sharing the link to my blog article. I do hope my experience will prove enlightening to your readers.

    I too am a bit pressed for time, but I wanted to comment on the quote from Ms. Stanford. I hesitate to be too judgmental toward Ms. Stanford, or to speculate on all of her motives based on a short passage from her book. I am not familiar with her, so can’t speak to that. I will say, however, that while some of her rationale and historical facts are correct, I believe she has missed the point when it comes to Pride & Prejudice, and Jane Austen’s novels. All of the points she made as to what was happening in the world are accurate, but when it comes to interpreting the romantic elements in P&P (and the romance IS there, whether she wants to recognize it or not) one must also look at societal mores. Women at that time had no rights. None, zip, zilch. Marriages were too often business arrangements with the “heart” forced to be absent. It was during the Regency Era (more or less) because of the revolutionary ideas that were happening (those good and bad) that women began to gradually fight for the freedoms we now possess. With few options available to them, one area where they could be their own “boss” and make their own decisions was in the area of their hearts and who they would marry. Jane Austen wrote of heroines who balanced practicality and passion. Too much of either is never good!

    The Collinses were a practical match wisely made under the circumstances of THAT era, but they possessed not a drop of affection and would never be truly happy within their marriage as God intended. And Lizzy’s disgust was not primarily at Charlotte being practical, but in choosing Mr. Collins because he was an imbecile!

    Lydia and Wickham are more complicated, so I’ll just say that “following one’s heart” had nothing to do with an immature, unruly child of 15 being seduced by a scheming manipulator! Affection had nothing to do with that match either.

    As for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, they did indeed follow their hearts! It was because of Mr. Darcy succumbing to the feelings he felt for Lizzy, which were at war with the practical and logical reasons why he should not love her, that caused him to propose the first time in such a hideous manner. If he was truly ignoring his heart and following only the “duties” as Ms. Stanford noted, he would have chosen Miss Bingley! Instead he listened to his heart, felt how it was miraculously awakened by her, and how it was touched by the scathing truths Lizzy responded to his proposal. The result was Mr. Darcy becaming a better man then he already was. How? Because of the love and respect he felt for Elizabeth Bennet.

    In the end they both learned valuable lessons and came together as the perfect match because they loved each other, deeply. They matured as a result of their trials. The passion was there, as it should be within a Godly marriage, but tempered with understanding and respect.

    Perhaps it is mere semantics, but the phrase “don’t follow your heart” when it comes to choosing a life mate makes me want to cry. When I think of all the decent, good, successful, handsome men I could have married if I were merely being practical and looking for simple affection, it makes me shudder. Perish the thought I had ended up with any of them rather than my husband of nearly 30 years who still makes my heart do flips when he walks in the door! I’ll take following my heart any day!

    Thanks again. I hope that wasn’t too rambling, or took up too much space on your blog! It is a great topic for discussion. God bless, Sharon Lathan

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Excellent and spot on analysis!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      He’d have married Miss Bingley OR he would have married his cousin Anne De Bourg and kept the fortune in his family, which we are led to believe had been expected for years. THAT would have been the “dutiful” thing to do. Yes, how does Stanford miss that Darcy was very explicitly going AGAINST duty and logic by pursuing an unconnected with little money and crude, ill-bred relations? (A fact which he dwells upon in his first proposal.)

      Yeah, and I also LOLed at the idea that Lydia and Wickham are a cautionary tale about the consequences of “following one’s heart.” Austen makes pretty clear that Wickham is a predatory opportunist who already tried to take advantage of Georgiana Darcy’s naivete to get at her fortune and ends up taking advantage of Lydia’s shallow need for constant male attention–and not for the sake of his *ahem* heart. And there’s never a point where Lizzie’s heart is leading her to Wickham. She’s never in love with him, she’s attracted to and intrigued by him. When Mrs. Gardiner tells Lizzie to use her sense, she’s not saying “don’t follow your heart,” she’s saying “Don’t be foolish and impulsive and reactionary.” Duh!

      And yes, Mr. Bennett does tell Lizzie, before she marries Darcy, that it is important for her to be able to respect the ones she marries. But, HELLO, he’s obviously telling her that because his own lack of respect for the one HE married has made him unhappy and he wants better for his daughter. This isn’t a “husbands need respect, wives need love” thing. It’s actually the opposite of that sentiment. It’s saying that MUTUAL respect is important for a happy marriage.

      How is all this not obvious?

      • Borealis

        It is obvious to some of us, at least!

        And then there’s Jane and Bingly of course, in which a combination of foolishness (Bingly believing Darcy when he said Jane did not love him) and “prudence” (Darcy’s), almost prevented a marriage that the Jane Austen presents as unequivocally good and right. They should have followed their hearts, and Bingly’s willingness to be swayed from it is presented as his greatest flaw.

        This is entirely aside, but in a beginners parliamentary debate tournament, one side once brought in the resolution that Mr. Bennett should not marry the-charecter-who-would-become-Mrs.-Bennett (without ever citing Austen as a source so my partner and I were initially quite confused). They seemed to think our argument would be something like “follow your heart,” but as I recall what we mostly argued was more along the lines of “you can’t possibly win if you don’t cite your sources” and “you can’t possibly get away with setting up a case in which we are expected to argue that a marriage should take place when the only thing we know about it is that it eventually went terribly wrong,” and “oh yeah, if he thinks he should marry her, then that’s his choice, not ours, if he’s in love with her, then he has to base his decisions on that, not on what we would say.” It’s not especially relevant, but it was so odd, I can’t help sharing.

    • Marta

      “Lydia and Wickham are more complicated, so I’ll just say that “following one’s heart” had nothing to do with an immature, unruly child of 15 being seduced by a scheming manipulator! Affection had nothing to do with that match either.”

      I agree with this 100%! Lydia is a selfish, idiotic fool throughout the book, not only with regards to Wickham. Her actions must be interpreted in that context.

      • Rosie

        And Wickham was a scheming predator, not only with regards to Lydia. I wonder sometimes if he didn’t pick her specifically as a way to get back at Elizabeth for growing cool and believing Darcy’s version of the story. Much like he first preyed on Miss Darcy to get revenge on Darcy.

    • Lana

      LOVE this comment. This reminds me of so much else in my life, but following my heart has proved me true. Thanks bunches.

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    Elizabeth doesn’t marry Darcy out of duty, she marries him out of love. He’s conveniently rich, of course, but Austen gave her protagonists happy endings–which I think in itself was an act of defiance against the reality for many women at the time, which would have been more in accord with Charlotte Lucas’ pragmatic arrangement with Mr. Collins. Furthermore, Elizabeth and Jane and all the other Austen protagonists get to choose their husbands, which is no small thing. They resist being forced into loveless marriages and then marry for love, usually above the objections of family members. (So, not exactly in line with family-guided courtship, or the notion that any man and woman can have a happy marriage!)

    I think the clearest example of duty versus love in the Austen canon is in Persuasion. The protagonist, Anne Elliot, is persuaded out of marrying for love by her family, because they think the young man doesn’t have good enough prospects. They meet again eight years later, and he’s now a successful Naval Captain (so there’s the war!), which hardly matters to Anne, but does make for a more financially secure future. But when Anne is confronted for a second time by a choice between duty and love–she has a marriage offer from the cousin who’s to inherit her family estate, much like Elizabeth and Collins–she chooses love. He writes her a letter at the end that starts: “I am half agony, half hope. You pierce my soul…” Of course she marries for love! She gets a second chance at real happiness, and she takes it, familial duty be damned.

    Austen certainly values good sense, but I don’t think she thought it incompatible with holding out for love.

    • Sharon Lathan

      Absolutely Rachel! Thanks for bringing up Persuasion. Anne and Wentworth prove the truth of following one’s heart better than any of Austen’s couples. It was the love and passion they felt for each other – that wonderful “true love ” we romance novelists adore! – that kept them faithful to each other for 8 years when there was absolutely no reason to anticipate a reunion. Such an amazing example of love!

      And let’s not forget Jane Austen herself. She cancelled the only marriage offer extended to her (that we know of) for reasons that we cannot be 100% sure of, but there is no doubt that from a practical standpoint, marriage to the wealthy gentleman was the “right” thing to do. Jane refused – and Mama Austen was very upset! – and proceeded to follow her heart elsewhere….. a fact we are all quite grateful for or there wouldn’t be a Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth. :-)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Not only that, but she also cautioned her niece against a loveless marriage, telling her that anything is preferable to a marriage without “affection.” Not exactly “dont’ follow your heart.”

    • Katty

      I was going to bring up “Persuasion” as well, but you beat me to it and really, you’ve said it all already. I would only add that it wasn’t just her family who objected to Captain Wentworth when he first proposed, but also Lady Russell, to whom Anne was “a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favourite and friend”. In fact, it is because of Lady Russell’s opposition to the match more than her father’s that Anne calls off the engagement:

      Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Anne could combat. Young and gentle as she was, it might yet have been possible to withstand her father’s ill-will, [...] but Lady Russell, whom she had always loved and relied on, could not [...] be continually advising her in vain.”

      So not only does she go against her family’s wishes in the end, she would probably have opposed them from the beginning had it not been for her motherly friend, Lady Russell.

      • Katty

        Huh, no clue why the blockquote ended up in bold letters. Sorry about that!

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        And I think that the episode with her niece was the inspiration for Persuasion. I think Austen felt that she was in the same position as Lady Russell, who believes that she is acting in her young friend’s best interests, but to an extent abuses her power over Anne. I’ve read that Austen felt very wary about advising her niece, because her niece respected Austen’s opinion a great deal, and the novel is partly a meditation on the power and responsibility of persuading someone to take a certain course. I think we’re left with this: only you can decide what’s best for your own life. As Anne matures she learns to assert herself and value her own wants and needs, and that’s what secures her happiness. If anything, I think it should be a cautionary tale against parent-guided courtship.

    • KarenH

      Oh, good! I was hoping someone would mention “Persuasion” (easily my favorite Austen, much as I do love “Pride and Prejudice”). What P&P may leave as open to argument, Persuasion puts completely to rest. :)

      • sylvia_rachel

        It’s very much my favourite, too! I heart Anne and Wentworth :D

  • Nea

    In Austen’s world, marrying for heart or head alone is a path to disaster.

    P&P — Charlotte marries for head, and has a husband she can’t stand and a rude patroness. She’ll never starve, but she’s going to earn her keep in swallowing her pride. Lydia marries for heart (and Wickham marries for money) and neither one is happy.

    Emma – Emma talks Harriet out of a comfortable marriage of the heart with someone because Emma wants her friend to social climb. That Harriet eventually snaps out of it and makes her choice for love rather than money is one of the main points of the book.

    Northanger Abby, a personal favorite, is all about the heroine starting to learn to use her head – while her headstrong, silly friends the Thorpes are held up as ridiculous as they careen from one impulse to the next, hurting everyone around them.

    The ENTIRE PLOT of Sense and Sensibility is about how bad it is to go in one extreme or the other!

    Worse for the patriarchy, the theme of “don’t follow your family’s advice” runs through all Austen books. The heroine of Persuasion was done out of what would have been a good marriage by familial pressure; the novel is about her undoing that and suffering for her following her father’s dictates. In Emma, the father is against marriages of all kinds. In Mansfield Park, the family considers the heroine to be beneath the son of the house. In Northanger Abby, the hero has to court on the sly when his father goes against the match for no good reason. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy uses the pressure of a friend to break up a good match between Bigham and Jane (and has to undo that) and Lady Catherine uses family pressure against Darcy. Family pressure is what breaks up two matches in Sense and Sensibility (one offscreen). Lady Susan is about a family having to deal with a disgraceful, gold-digging member (the flip side of most of the other plots.)

    In fact, I can’t think of a single Austen story where dealing with family disapproval of the fated match *isn’t* part of the plot!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      What is with the idea that Lydia follows her “heart?” Lydia is a silly, shallow, immature girl who wants attention from any man who will give it to her (especially a man in uniform) and thinks it would be great fun to be the first of her sisters to marry and lord it over them. Her running off with Wickham has NOTHING to do with her heart.

      • Nea

        I’ll argue that Lydia is following her heart to her one true love… who is Lydia. She loves the idea of being the married woman, she loves the idea of being the center of attention, she loves being in a position over her sisters.

  • Amyc

    I always read Austen as actually exposing why those social conventions were harmful to women. I read Pride and Prejudice as being a bit of tragic commentary on the economic considerations of marriage–Collins being the best Lucas could hope for, Lydia and Wickam’s affar causing such an upheaval, and even the rocky relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth (caused by considerations of class and wealth). It’s not that Austen was saying people shouldn’t follow their hearts or feelings in romantic affairs, she was showing why women (and men) of her time were not able to do such a thing. Stanford’s interpretation is odd to me. Most interpretations see Elizabeth and Darcy’s engagement as the most successful and as evidence of Austen being ahead of her time by virtue of the fact that their relationship seems more “equal” than the others in the book and is portrayed as the ‘happiest’ in the end.

    Wish I could say more, but I have an injury that makes it hard to type. Sorry for any typos.

  • Karen

    I wonder if Angelina Stanford has read anything else by Jane Austen, because no other book by that author, with the arguable exception of “Northanger Abbey” can be read in the way Stanford reports. Austen’s books are as much satires, and rather harsh ones at that, against the marriage customs of her time and the behavior of the nobility and landed gentry. To use one example, the novel “Mansfield Park” is entirely about the love between the protagonist, the poor relation niece of the owner of Mansfield Park, and her cousin, the owner’s younger son. I can’t remember the name of the character, but the villain of the piece is the owner’s sister (??) who never married and has been living off of her relatives’ generosity for years. Villain inflicts as much pain as her position allows on Protagonist, and it is clear that Austen means us to understand that Protagonist will become Villain if P. isn’t allowed to marry and have her own family.

    Even Austen’s most anti- romantic novel, “Sense and Sensability,” isn’t opposed to freely-chosen love as much as it is against the unfair punishment meted against the girl and almost forgiven in Willoughby. (An Austen expert should research why Jane repeatedly gave her rake characters surnames beginning with W.)

    There really is no support in Austen’s work for Stafford’s position. All of Austen’s heroines marry someone initially deemed inappropriate, either by her relatives or his. Much of the humor and all of the action in her works stems the obstacles that the people with money place in the way of the heroines and their loves. It takes a special kind of ignorance to read Jane Austen as an enforcer of Regency marriage customs.

    • HelenaTheGrey

      Edmund Bertram
      Mrs. Norris is the sister of Mrs. Bertram (the owner of the mansions wife). She was married to a clergyman and they lived in the rectory on the estate of Mansfield. She moves in with the family once her husband dies. But she is very stingy and does in essence live off of their generosity to support her miserly ways.

      I disagree with you that Austen meant us to understand that Fanny Price would become a villain if she didn’t get to marry Edmund and have a family of her own with him. Fanny Price was one of the most moral characters that Jane Austen ever wrote. She was also the least well received of all her heroines, but Miss Austen loved her. She was a person who was constantly abused, ignored, and trodden on, even by those who loved her, but she always did the right thing. She was a person with strong moral fiber and character. The chances that she would end up bitter and hateful, like Mrs. Norris, is very slim.

      However, there is a perfect example of marriage for love that didn’t work out in that novel. Fanny’s mother married for love. She was outcast by her family (her sisters being Mrs. Bertram and Mrs. Norris) and then we can assume her husband liked sex a lot so that she was basically a baby factory. They had more kids than they could afford and they live in poverty. So clearly Miss Austen is not one of those romance writers who values love above all other factors.

    • Katty

      The “evil aunt” in Mansfield Park you are referring to is Lady Bertram’s sister (i.e. the “owner’s” sister-in-law), the unforgettable, eminently hateable (is that a word?) Mrs Norris. Immortalized once more as the evil caretaker’s evil cat named Mrs Norris in the Harry Potter series, lol. Jane Austen’s characters are her forte, and Mrs Norris is one of the best of her minor characters.

      That said, to me she is a minor character and thus not “the villain” of Mansfield Park. I would say Mansfield Park’s villain is dashing Mr Crawford, who for a while pursues Fanny but then out of pure vanity persuades Fanny’s married (!) cousin Maria to run off with him. Before this happens, Fanny’s uncle Sir Bertram (who, having raised her in his home) is very much in favour of Fanny accepting Mr Crawford and in fact explicitly tells her so. Yet Fanny, gentle and obliging as she generally is, doesn’t budge because her feelings don’t allow it. And she is proven right in the end. So yeah, here’s another example of Jane Austen NOT recommending following your elders’ advice as far as marriage is concerned.

      • Nicola

        Interestingly, Fanny’s uncle chastises her for thinking. When she turns down Mr. Crawford, he confesses himself, “disappointed”, which perhaps seems reasonable, but it’s not because she turned down a good opportunity for herself, but because:

        “I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence. But you have now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse, that you can and will decide for yourself, without any consideration or deference to those [meaning himself, and possibly his wife and sister-in-law, all of whom have abused and/or neglected Fanny] who have surely some right to guide you – without even asking their advice.”

        Sound familiar?

  • Red

    This is another great example of False Dichotomy Syndrome, also known as, taking things to their ridiculous extreme.

    The book seems to be saying (and other commenters agree) that you need good sense and love to marry. On the other hand, Stanford seems to want to pit the two things against each other, ergo her conclusion that if you listen to feelings at all they will lead you away from your good sense.

    Why not both? Really. Why. Not. Both?

    People in these movements have to rely on very extreme beliefs quite often, I’ve noticed.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Why Stanford seems to believe that “following your heart” means impulsively marrying the first guy you think is hot, without understanding his character or considering if there’s true compatibility etc. That’s…not how it works. Somebody needs to tell her that it’s completely possible to prioritize love in a relationship and still, as Mrs. Gardiner advises Lizzie, use your sense.

    • AndersH

      Because then you’ll have all that naughty, naughty sex together and tell other people how much you enjoy your time together and not put as much value in relationship-by-commercial-ritual as exemplified by Valentine’s Day.
      And where’s the godliness in that?

  • Deb C.

    The one sub-plot of P&P that has yet to be discussed is, of course, that of Jane and Mr. Bingley. They were the true “love match” of the book, and their relationship was quite successful! Yet I think that Austen was exploring the value of marital happiness, not just marital “success.” Also, in a time when women were expected to be demure and repressed, Elizabeth was a pretty progressive character – engaging in straightforward conversation with men and refusing to demean herself in the company of people of a higher station (to name just two examples).

  • Madame Hardy

    “Darcy is a good man because he doesn’t follow his heart. He refuses to feed his vanity by flirting with Elizabeth when he has no intention of marrying her. ” This seems to me a complete misreading of Darcy’s character. The crucial turning point of the novel is when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth entirely against his common sense, tells her how very, very far from sensible it is for him to marry her, and reluctantly gives her his heart. Elizabeth rejects him for insulting her. In a book where Darcy retained his common sense to the end, he would then leave the tainted Bennet family alone and find a bride elsewhere. Instead, he rescues Lydia from the consequences of her misbehavior, then makes the wildly imprudent (by worldly standards) match to the impoverished and tarnished Elizabeth. After marriage, he continues to provide financial support for Lydia and Wickham. These are not the acts of a man driven by common sense.

    It is worth mentioning that Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins goes directly against her mother’s (and, she believes, her father’s) will. She is clearly flouting the authority of her parents, which is intolerable to Christians who believe in the patriarchy and in masculine hadship. She only discovers after her refusal that her father disapproves of the marriage as well.

    • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

      Yeah, I don’t think Darcy refuses to flirt for moral reasons–I think he’s uncomfortable flirting because he feels awkward. He pretty much admits that to Elizabeth.

  • Holly

    This idea is impossible to reconcile with what happens near the end of the novel. When pressured by Lady Catherine to promise never to marry Darcy, Elizabeth declares, “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” She says this in response to a long string of “logical” arguments which Lady Catherine has presented against her marriage to Darcy, foremost of which is the heavy disapproval of his family. In fact, Darcy breaks a family arranged and approved engagement to Lady Catherine’s daughter in order to wed Elizabeth and is shunned by them for a time after his marriage. What part of this exactly shows the triumph of duty and loyalty over “following your heart?’ In fact, Mr. Bennett dislikes Mr. Darcy and refuses to approve the marriage until Elizabeth convinces him that she does truly love him. He has reason to be concerned since it’s not as if Darcy goes though the novel unchanged. Elizabeth doesn’t truly fall in love with him until his behavior changes. She has to learn to not judge character so quickly but he also has to learn humility. To pretend that he was perfect from the start and she only had to realize it by being more aware of her duty, ignores every major theme in the novel.

    • Basketcase

      Yes, in my reading of the book excerpt, I did wonder whether perhaps the writer had stopped reading P&P 2/3 of the way through or less.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Did Stanford read the same book that I did? As others have commented above, her assertions are way off.

  • alwr

    Lots of good comments here that are much more detailed and have covered a lot of what I would have said. But to me there are two simple points in the novel that completely negate this thesis:

    1–If Elizabeth had felt bound by duty and compelled to not follow her heart, she would have said yes to Collins’ proposal. It was the dutiful thing to do. It would have secured the future of the family in that Collins was Mr. Bennet’s heir.

    2–If Darcy had felt bound by duty and felt obligated to not follow his heart, he never would have proposed to Elizabeth the first time and most certainly not the second time. His duty was to secure the future of both Pemberley and Rosings through marriage to his cousin Anne de Bourgh.

    This woman needs to reread the book.

    • Nea

      I’ve always wondered why Mrs. Bennet didn’t shove Mary into Collins’ arms. They would have actually suited each other and it would have secured the estate.

      • HelenaTheGrey

        Because Mrs. Bennet did not have any sense. I frequently wished for a Mary/Collins ship myself. But it would have required Mrs. Bennet actually understanding her daughters…something she simply did not do. Also, and this is pertinent, I don’t think Mrs. Bennet actually liked Mr. Collins any better than the rest of them did. He was tiresome and stupid. Mrs. Bennet liked Lizzy least of all her daughters and, not understanding her in the slightest, she figured Mr. Collins was good enough for Lizzy and Lizzy would likely not attract anyone better anyway.

      • Basketcase

        In addition to Helenas comments, there was also the fact that Lizzy was next eldest, and therefore by rights should be the next one to marry – we even see this in the scorn Darcy and Bingleys circles pour over the family for having all the daughters “out” in society when the eldest is not yet married, I think it may have been traditional to keep the others more closeted until the eldest had established relationships?

  • HelenaTheGrey

    I think everyone has made amazing points here.

    When it comes to Miss Austen, I think is is so sad that we really do not have a great number of details on her love life in particular. Having asked her sister Cassandra to destroy all such correspondence after her death. We do know from what information we do have, that it is unlikely that anything by a perfect love…a marriage of heart and mind…would have enticed her into marrying a man. Hardly the stuff of duty and submission. There is also a quote about her from Mr. Austen-Leigh that states, “In her youth she had declined the addresses of a gentleman who had the recommendations of good character and connections, and position of life, of everything in fact except the subtle power of touching her heart.” Again, does she sound like the type of woman who would have married out of duty (or required it of her heroines)? Not to me.

    I would point out that Charlotte, who is supposed to be miserable in marriage, is never really described that way. She considers herself to be quite content and comfortable, despite not being in the throws of passionate marital bliss. I can relate to Charlotte in many ways, though my husband is a good companion in many ways and far from being an imbecile like Collins. For myself, I’ve always thought of Charlotte as being maybe a lesbian or perhaps asexual. We know she has sex with her husband as a duty for having children, but at that time in history, women were pretty much brought up to believe sex was a duty. Legally, a husband could have sex with his wife at any time he wanted to and she was bound to oblige. Perhaps that wouldn’t make it any more pleasant for Charlotte, in fact I am sure it wouldn’t, but she would not have been going into the situation blind.

    Also of note with Charlotte, though she professes to not be a romantic, she certainly has a sharp eye for it. She notices Darcy’s growing attraction for Elizabeth long before Elizabeth has any idea of it. And Charlotte even attempts to encourage the affection on Lizzy’s side. Despite doing something that Elizabeth finds detestable (marrying without love or equality of minds), Charlotte truly wants to see her best friend happy and well settled.

    Where Wickham and Lydia are concerned, there is another moral at play. Miss Austen frequently flies in the face of “societal” rules. But she is not a fool and she certainly teaches morals where her characters are concerned. Her characters are “real” people with real qualities of good and bad. She is capable of forgiving those “bad” qualities such as awkwardness, bad or mediocre looks, indecision, wild sensibility, timidity, reserve, etc. In fact we see many characters with such qualities who end up happy, well married, and with many happy friendships. Even people like the Eltons, from Emma, wind up well matched and seemingly happy, despite their many flaws on either side. Where Wickham and Lydia differ is that they both show poor moral fiber. On Wickham’s side, he is just a man who cares not a snip for other human beings. He does whatever makes him happy at the time with no care for the consequences it will have on others. He is, as they say, a bad egg. He can be charming and lovable, but it is all a sham. Lydia is still a child, but in a similar vein, she heedlessly does what she feels like doing with no regard to how it will affect others. At the end of the novel, she is still blissful, though it is hinted at that it will not last. She is perpetually immature, which is where a difference lies between her and Wickham. I do not think Lydia even thinks about the consequences, whereas George Wickham just doesn’t care about them. It wasn’t a matter of them “following their hearts”, it was a matter of them doing what felt right at the time with no thought as to the prudence of their match. Jane Austen always best rewarded those characters who were both in love and prudently matched. Those whose relations would be delighted in their union, whose finances would be accounted for, whose ability to communicate and laugh would be assured, and who had a genuine affection for one another. The harshest reality was dolled out on those persons who lacked a good moral fiber…Wickham, Lydia, Willoughby & his wife. And even there, she leaves plenty of nasty people to have a happy existence….Mrs. Ferrars, Lucy & Robert, John & Fanny Dashwood just to name a few from one novel.

    And in conclusion, one of my favorite marriages in an Austen novel happens to be between Admiral & Mrs. Croft. If ever there was a marriage based on love, equality, and mutual affection, there is one. She lived onboard a ship at a time when it was not done for a woman. She was heartsick whenever they were apart. Every passage they are in, few though they may be, it just drips with a mutual love and affection. But remember folks…don’t follow your heart.

    • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

      Yes on the Crofts! I think they provide a really strong example for Anne to marry for love–and specifically to marry Wentworth, since he’s Mrs. Croft’s brother.

  • Katty

    My little sister recently observed that Jane Austen was probably more progressive for her day and age than these fundamentalist types are today. I believe she had a point. Ms Austen might not have been a revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but she did argue that women are “rational creatures”*, capable of intelligent thought and sound moral judgments without always having to refer to men for guidance. At least that’s how she portrays her heroines.

    Case in point, Lizzy’s father has this to say after having been asked for his consent for their engagement:

    “I have given his my consent. [...] I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it”

    In other words, he is opposed to the match, but he is letting her make her own choices. And also:

    “My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

    The phrasing “unable to respect” to me implies that her respect would have to be earned by her partner in life. It is not something she automatically owes her husband once they are married. I wonder what Debi Pearl would have to say about this novel concept ()

    * When Mr Collins doesn’t take her refusal of his offer of marriage seriously, imputing it to Elizabeth’s “wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females”, she passionately argues for being taken seriously:

    “Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart”

    This quote also shows that, contrary to what Ms Stanford has to say, Ms Austen does believe that what your heart tells you can be true and right.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Excellent analysis and I completely agree! The phrase “unable to respect” is very important. It implies that respect is not just something that a woman resolves to give, regardless of her husband’s actual qualities, it’s something she can only give if he merits it. And it’s also just not about wives to husbands. As I’ve said elsewhere, I always thought it was obvious that Mr. Bennett is so concerned about this particular issue because he, a man, has not been able to respect his WIFE and he doesn’t want his favorite daughter to have the unhappiness he has had in marriage. He’s giving her advice about being a future wife, based on his own experience as a husband. So much for the “men and women have completely different needs” theory that religious conservatives are so very attached to.

      When I was reading through your analysis of that part, I was totally planning on responding with an analysis of Lizzie’s refusal of Mr. Collins but, by gosh, you went and did it for me and pulled EXACTLY the quote I was planning on–possibly my favorite in the whole book and very proto-feminist. And then, of course, the scene ends with Lizzie simply leaving the room in exasperation, thinking that she’ll just let her father handle it, since Mr. Collins will actually believe his “no” means “no.” Wow. I always felt like that passage offered a peak into Austen’s rage and frustration at never being taken seriously by men because of her sex.

      No, I don’t think Jane Austen would much approve of conservative Christian gender ideology.

    • Katty

      What in the world happened to my comment? Everything I wrote has been switched from male to female and vice versa. It doesn’t make any sense anymore!

      Also, I would like to apologize – I think the missed italics tag was my fault. Libby Anne, so sorry I unwittingly messed up your homepage, if only for a while. I promise I’ll be more careful in future (and stay away from those tags completely, just to be safe…).

      • Libby Anne

        I’m fixing your comment. I was playing around with an app called Jailbreak the Patriarchy yesterday, and I edited your comment to fix the italics while I had it on. The app changes all the pronouns, which is cool if you’re browsing the net but not so cool if you are editing something on the net while you have it on! I was writing a post and had to edit it, twice, because it kept switching all of the genders!

      • Katty

        LOL!! And here I was thinking you were punishing me for messing with your homepage! (No, of course I didn’t seriously think that of you, but the paranoid thought did cross my mind for about a split second or so…) Anyway, this is hilarious, and I’ll have to find that app – it seems to work really well, didn’t miss a single gender specific word in my comment! Thanks for fixing it!

  • Barbara Worden

    The readers are some great Jane Austen scholars. I agree with the ones who say the best marriages in Jane Austen’s world are made by a combination of love and reason. Darcy like the hero of Emma and Captain Wentworth is an example of the hero needing to deeply examine and reevaluate himself in order to be made worthy of the heroine. This is indeed radical in a period when men, or their families picked wives the same way a passerby picked an apple from a tree, according to superficial qualities of taste and appearance, and with as little thought. Elizabeth’s letter to Darcy written in reply to his proposal while she is visiting her friend Mrs. Collins, is referenced at the end of the book when he successfully proposes. He states that her letter made him realize how little he deserved at that time, the serious attention of a woman worthy of being pleased. Jane Austen obviously believes men as well as women need to change and adapt in order to have a truly happy marriage. Mr. Collins and Wickham alike like the humility and integrity to truly assess and evaluate their own personalities, hence the inadequacy of the marriages they make.

    • Christine

      “men, or their families picked wives the same way a passerby picked an apple from a tree, according to superficial qualities of taste and appearance, and with as little thought”

      I believe that this is exactly why the QF/religious homeschooling movement likes Austen. She is seen as being a product of her age, and the fact that she is in open rebellion against the norms of the time is just a detail. I don’t know why she’s seen that way, but there are lot of people from other backgrounds who like Austen because of the romance of the Regency era. Many of these people have even read her books. So if you’re trying to extoll the praises of marrying someone without making the horrible mistake of wanting to get to know them first, or thinking that you should have as much say in the decision as your parents*, then books which describe in great detail the manners of the era sound like an excellent choice. Austen writes well enough that some of her criticisms require thought to see. People who are part of these movements don’t prioritize analytical thought, and consider superficial readings of a text to be a good (best?) idea.

      *while the father is the only parent who matters, if your parents are Godly people then his opinion is the opinion of both of them of course

      Also, Libby, can you go and close the missed italics tag? It’s driving me crazy.

  • Rebecca

    I can’t believe it has never occurred to me before how utterly bizarre it that the canon of Austen is so reviled in the homeschooling/courtshiping world that I grew up in…especially as the reasons I adore her today, for her brilliant wit and satire and feminism, were probably not the ones that hooked me on Austen when I first read Sense & Sensibility at 14. And yet she was my favorite author from that point on, and I have read all of her works multiple times and many biographies on her and all the homeschool girls were obsessed with her and we all had all the various film versions of her books and we all watched the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice at least once a month. So funny.

    And my other literary heroine was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, and again I had all of of the Anne books and and many other of Montgomery’s works memorized. It’s funny when I go back and read my own journals I find I plagiarized exact phrases from Montgomery’s work without even realizing it! And I ordered Montgomery’s published journals via inter-library loan and read those. (I was all about biographies …can you tell I was a future history major?) And again I wasn’t alone in my love of Montgomery – even though no one was a fan quite to the extent I was, but everybody had read the Anne books at least and no one ever mentioned what a little feminist Anne Shirley was – SHE got to go to college more than a hundred years ago. I remember being so wistful when reading about the jolly college days in Anne of the Island, all the time she got to spend in classes and studying – how I wanted that more than anything, but my parents wouldn’t let me go to college and by the time I was 15 my formal studies had all but ended as I nothing more would be useful in running a house of my own and I was put in charge of bringing up my little siblings. My parents were first generation quiverfulls, first generation Christians actually, and of course neither of them ever read L M Montgomery books and probably assumed that they were okay since they were written a hundred years ago and were sold in homeschooling catalogues but now I smile when I think of how fast they would have been ripped out of my hands had they any idea that these books encouraged notions of girls going off to college.

    Sorry, I meandered and was actually more just musing aloud.

  • ERB

    As an English major, this type of discussion is one of the main reasons my mind is boggled by religions that follow a “single” text. I love critiquing and interpreting literature, but, well, this about sums it up:

  • saraquill

    I’m surprised that any of Austen’s works are allowed to be read by these homeschool groups. I’d have thought that Austen being a spinster and all would make her books too tainted to touch.

    • Nea

      How many of the advice books from QF/P women to other QF/P women are written by spinsters? I’m getting the impression it’s rather a lot.

  • Lassou

    I have heard similar interpretations before. But…a lot of things. Charlotte, for one, is rather plain, and getting old, and has a lot of siblings, and few to no romantic opportunities. Perhaps it was “mercenary” to accept Mr. Collins, but it wasn’t a decision she was pressured into, she chose it over trying to find a way to establish her own income, which her parents’ fortune couldn’t hope to comfortably supplement. Also, Lydia is critiqued, yes. But she did end up with a man who cared little for her or others, so the match deserved to be despaired of. Jane and Elizabeth pity her, and console themselves by believing that at least Lydia entered into the relationship out of genuine feelings of love and admiration for Wickham, even though those feelings fade in time. Elizabeth refuses Collins, which would have ensured that her family’s estate would remain available to shelter her many younger siblings after her father’s death, a massive slap in the face to pragmatism. And Mr. Bennett’s comment about marrying someone she can respect is a reflection on his own marriage, where he married a pretty, charming young woman whose mind provided no greater reason to feel affection. He has a special relationship with his daughter because they are both rather smart and share a sense of humor, and he knows she won’t be happy if she marries someone beneath her. He’s encouraging her to be romantic. And Darcy does follow his heart. He does exactly what his upbringing tells him not to do, and his expressions convince Elizabeth that he isn’t worth marrying! He ends up changing his attitudes and behavior in remarkable ways to show her that he has changed and that he is a man worthy of her love. He endures serious embarrassment and emotional pain to remedy past wrongs and to show Elizabeth that he is not too proud or high and mighty or anything which might keep her from wanting to be with him. He admits he’s wrong, and changes, and becomes humble, to earn the respect of a woman. That’s pretty revolutionary. (Sorry I have a lot of feelings about Pride and Prejudice, it’s what I read when I need to feel better…aka I’ve read it a lot.)

    • Rosa

      Lydia’s presented as being spoiled in the most literal sense of the world – “despoiled” by Wickham, because she hasn’t been taught good behavior or discipline by her mother, who in turn is allowed by her husband to act very badly all the time, both in the home in terms of childraising and finances and out in public in terms of polite behavior, not gossiping, etc. There’s a strong implication (or maybe an outright statement, it’s been a few years) that their mother favors Lydia because Lydia is the daughter most like her – her mother certainly encourages her to flirt with the regiment and doesn’t think Wickham is a bad catch in the end at all.

  • Lana

    Funny, if anything I would say Elizabeth marries from her heart. If Elizabeth had married using the reason of the day, she would have married Mr. Collins in order to assure the family estate. Elizabeth ignores reason. Charlotte, on the other hand, was 27 and needs a well off husband. Charlotte follows reason rather than love, and Darcy goes back to find Charlotte leading a very separate, albeit convenient, life from her husband. As the novel progresses, there is a lot of pride and prejudice between Darcy and Elizabeth as Elizabeth comes from a social inferior family. In the end it is love, not reason, that wins over their relationship and takes the barrier away.

    I don’t think Lydia fits into the reason or love category. Lydia is childish; she marries for physical attraction, she marries to be the first to marry, and she marries because getting married is drilled into her head. But I argue that Lydia ultimately marries the wrong man because her life is so unstable, a result of her parents who married for convenience rather than from mutual respect and love. Lydia has no positive examples in her life, nor wisdom from her mother. Honestly, its a wonder Jane and Elizabeth marry for love.

  • fiercebadrabbit

    Austen was, in fact, powerfully revolutionary for her day and place. She was against slavery, in favor of breaking down social stratification, and heavily invested in education and the general betterment of self. She was a product of her time, of course, and dying at 41 she probably didn’t accomplish half what she meant to, but she was an interesting thinker and doer.

    She was also a biting satirist, first and foremost, and she seems to have a bit of an all-consuming disgust with the standard sillinness to be found in early gothic literature and sentimentalism. I’ve seen arguments wherein everything she wrote was satirical, and I don’t quite go that far, but there’s a heavy element of just making fun of the popular forms of her day. In fact, her biggest flaw as an author has always struck me as that strain of “stop having fun, guys!” as regards romanticism and melodrama.

    For Jane Austen’s final conclusions, her last completed novel sort of sums it up. Love is important, but so is having some idea of what you intend to do with your life. Anne turns down her suitor because love is all they have, no real future in sight. She doesn’t regret her choice, even after she and her long lost love reconcile as adults with a solid understanding of who they are and what they’ll do together. She’s not against love. She’s against dismissing the whole universe if it gets in the way of simplistic romanticism. And she poked a lot of fun at Gothic novels, but that seems to have just been her thing.

    • Sgaile-beairt

      oh she was in favor of fun, just read the private stuff she wrote for family & friends only, its pythonesque in its zany parody –its just that her idea of fun was ‘snark on teh stupid” & in the stuff fore general publication she had to tone the more Cracked style way down….

    • Sgaile-beairt

      ….in fact, if she was alive today, shed be doing long blog posts snarking on Twilight, full of appropriate GIF animations!!

    • Rosa

      just wanted to say how much I like your username, fiercebadrabbit. That book was a huge source of entertainment for us when we had a very new baby, not a lot of sleep, and piles of fluffy bunny children’s books.

  • Chrs

    In fairness to Angelina Stanford, she’s part of an established trend of misinterpreting Pride and Prejudice. There are at least two books entitled “Finding Mr. Darcy” and another called “Dating Mr. Darcy: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Sensible Romance,” all of which are premised on the fact that Darcy is an ideal man.

    Frankly, I’m unsure where this image of Darcy comes from. In the final chapter of Pride and Prejudice he remains a work in progress–unable to stand Wickham’s presence even as he assisted the man’s career, and having to be persuaded by Elizabeth to repair his relationship with his aunt Lady Catherine.

    • ako

      I wonder how much of the misinterpretation has to do wtih how the book is structured? Most of his actual growth and progress takes place off-screen, while Elizabeth is learning that she’s misjudged him and in a lot of ways he always has been better than she thought he was, so for someone who misses the nuances of characterization, it’s easy to pick up on her misjudgement and miss the areas where he needed to change.

      • Rebecca

        Personally I always thought Austen’s perfect man was Mr.Knightly, who loved Emma enough to tell her the unpleasant truth in a world where everyone believed her to be perfect.

  • Monika

    “as Mr. Bennett tells Elizabeth in his last speech, a wife who respects her husband”

    No no no no no. I don’t know why this sentence stood out particularly to me. Maybe because it is completely backwards. Mr Bennett is warning about respect because he does not respect his wife. So he might be telling Elizabeth to pick a husband she respects but he is doing that because he has experienced living with a wife he does not respect. The message is very egalitarian = that in marriage the partners should respect each other.

    • sylvia_rachel

      YES. He’s not saying “wives must respect their husbands” (he doesn’t even say “your husband” — he says “your partner in life”. I don’t think that’s accidental). He’s saying “if you marry someone whom you are unable to respect, you will both be unhappy”. And he should know.

    • sylvia_rachel

      YES. He’s not saying “wives must respect their husbands” (he doesn’t even say “your husband” — he says “your partner in life”. I don’t think that’s accidental). He’s saying “if you marry someone whom you are unable to respect, or who doesn’t respect you, you will both be unhappy”. And he should know.

      • Sgaile-beairt


  • AJHall

    Practically the only occupations for men in the novels of Austen are clergyman, Navy and landed gentry. As the daughter and sister of clergymen of the Church of England and someone who was personally devout issues of faith and morality assume a greater importance as the book series progresses and is particularly important in Mansfield Park.

    Mansfield Park is a novel which Austen herself stated was on the subject of “ordination”. That is, a significant percentage of its themes consist of a critique of the vocation of clergyman seen from the point of view of a devout, highly intelligent and far from uncritical observer, who happens to be a young woman. Furthermore, it occurs at a time when the Church of England was going through one of a series of major upheavals. The Methodist movement did not formally split from the Church of England (within which it had begun as a reformist movement) until after John Wesley’s death in 1791, that is, within the lifetime of Austen as well as that of most of the characters in Mansfield Park. This left a Church of England aware that if it wanted to prevent a drain to the Methodists then the concerns they raised had to be answered.

    Now, Methodism puts an emphasis on the individual conscience above that of the directives of authority figures, particularly at this date (Adam Bede by George Eliot, which while written in 1859 is set in 1799, that is, about ten or twelve years before the setting of the bulk of Mansfield Park and actually features a woman lay preacher, such being a feature of early Methodism and other Non-conformist churches).

    Fanny Price and Mary Crawford (the latter being the sister-in-law of a clergyman very much of the old CofE type – selfish, spoilt and – when life doesn’t quite suit him – inclined to take out his temper on his wife) have numerous discussions which, while in some ways are “about” Edmund Bertram (the man with whom they are both in love) are also about their feelings for the new style of religion which he represents and into which he proposes to be ordained. Basically, Mary Crawford is uneasy with a more evangelical style (which she considers “enthusiams”) and inclined to consider it hypocrisy, while she has nothing but contempt for older style clergy of Dr Grant’s type.

    Eventually Fanny’s principles lead her to defy her family including her father-figure Sir Thomas (and, by implication, also her own father – she very carefully doesn’t drop any hint that she’s received an offer of marriage from someone whose patronage in the Navy would benefit several of her brothers) because she feels that the dictates of her conscience demand that she does so.

    In fact, it’s a study in how the New Testament commandments about loving God and loving your neighbour “trump” the ten commandments, including the one about “honour thy father and mother.”

    How anyone can try to co-opt Austen in favour of an argument that people should succumb to parental authority beats me; it runs quite contrary to the kind of religious faith she depicts in characters whom the reader is intended to admire.

  • ako

    She sets up this weird strawman characterization of the other side, broadens it to an unreasonable degree (a hormonal fifteen-year-old running off with a guy who only wants her so he can get money from her is following her heart, but a well-off gentleman defying his family to marry a woman widely considered beneath his station because he loves her isn’t?), and then argues against it. This lets her present her argument as anything from obvious and straightforward (don’t rush into intimacy without thinking about the consequences) to alarmingly extreme (suck it up and marry the Mr. Collinses of the world, and stop worrying about whether you actually like them or not). Meanwhile, large portions of the story are either ignored or twisted beyond recognition.

    Do they teach classes on how to write like this?

    • Nea

      Apparently. I’ve seen the argument made in other ways – the one that sounds so logical unless you’re familiar with the original text and know that half of it has been thrown away and half of what’s being presented has been warped 180 from true.

  • AJHall

    It’s also worth noting that there are only two unequivocally successful marriages shown in the whole of Austen, those being that of the Gardiners (in P&P) and the Crofts (in Persuasion), though the elder Musgroves in Persuasion might just about qualify. Otherwise, the books are a pretty poor advert for the married state. Maria Bertram makes a prudent marriage which ends in adultery, the Bennets are unhappy as a result of Mr Bennet’s “youthful infatuation”, Charles Musgrove was rejected by Anne and settled for her younger sister, and not only him but all the family think he got the wrong sister, the brother and sister-in-law in Sense and Sensibility bring out each other’s worst characteristics – the list goes on and on.

    But the two successful marriages? We learn not much about the Gardiners’ courtship, but we know the Crofts had a whirlwind romance, the only unhappy times Mrs Croft ever had was when she was forced into a “traditional” role (“on my own in lodgings at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft, as he then was) was in the North Seas”) and her judicious hand on the reins at moments of crisis is what saves the couple from being “overset”.

    • sylvia_rachel

      Love the Crofts.

      And I also love that Anne so clearly sees, understands, and values what the Crofts have, when so many other characters in the book totally miss it.

  • Kristen

    The idea that Austen’s main message about love or marriage can be summed up in one phrase is laughable. She’s not an ideological hack. She didn’t write her novels in order to convince people to follow certain specific rules in life. One of the reasons her books have remained classics is because she has such a nuanced, sophisticated view of human nature. Almost everybody has known a stuffed-shirt mansplainer like Mr. Collins, or a well-meaning but strident woman like Lady Russell who can’t quite comprehend differences of opinion. She doesn’t lay out infallible rules of action, she just presents pictures of all the different follies she sees all around her. The wisest people in her novels are the people who are observant, cynical enough not to be taken in by others, but not so cynical that they scoff at all sincerity and goodness, and balance their needs with the needs of the people around them. That’s timeless, but it doesn’t work well for people with an agenda.

    • Christine

      I think it’s great for my agenda of wanting my daughter to think and be moderate and considerate in a sensible manner. And not believe that the world is simple.

  • Mary

    Pride and Prejudice is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, and one of the few favorite novels which has stayed with me from fundamentalism to feminism. =)

    Growing up, I always rebelled against the gendered status quo, and I think that one of the reasons that I love the story of P&P so much is that I see Elizabeth Bennet doing the same. Far from prating about the evils of following one’s heart, I see Jane Austen in this book as fighting back against the patriarchal system in the only way she could as a woman- through her books. Ms. Austen does not belittle female independence or romantic feelings- she exposes the injustices that blocked a woman’s path to rational and emotional happiness. In Charlotte Collins, I see the reality of life then- choices being limited, you play the game, put on your pragmatic big-girl pants, and make some lemonade. That Charlotte managed her husband and her household so well as to 1. keep the odious Mr. Collins in the dark as to her disdain for his foolishness and to 2. Keep herself reasonably content speaks highly of her practical optimism, her self-reliance, and her ability as a female to strategize, plan, and manipulate her situation.

    In Jane I see, of course, the eternal optimist- she

  • Mary

    In Jane, of course, I see the eternal optimist- she believes the best of everyone and in so doing is deceived. I see her as a cautionary tale warning against blindly accepting others for what they claim to be and trusting to others to have your best interest at heart. Once again, I do see Austen glorifying a degree of pragmatism and decrying its absence, but I do not think that equates to opposing romantic feelings as a reason for marriage.

    • Sgaile-beairt

      “The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.”

      ….and charlotte is also the one who says, at the beginning, that basically spouses are interchangeable, and it doesnt matter if you’re friends, or not, because people change so much over the years anyway, just if you can get a material benefit from the arrangement….and at the end, the most observant character (Lizzy) is sad to leave her after a visit, bc she can tell how awful it is for her being stuck with Mr collins & his snobby set…but thats what she wanted, & even her (bad) choice is respected AS her choice, made w knowledge, not in ignorance, tho it isnt respected as A choice, if you see, what i mean….

  • Nicola

    Charlotte Lucas’ marriage is not mercenary, being the best future for her; that said, however, Austen uses the marriage as a criticism of a social system in which women’s best futures are through marriage. She does something similar in Jane Fairfax’s story in “Emma”. Jane is set to be a governess, being a middle-class woman without much money and governessing being the only respectable occupation for her, one that is also compared to slavery (Austen makes a similar comparison in Mansfield Park, which is not coincidentally named after the judge who ruled that slavery was illegal in Britain). Her “happy ending” is marriage to a man she loves, but it is in a sense a bittersweet ending, as it’s the ONLY possible happy ending for her. As Elinor says in “Sense and Sensibility” regarding engagements and marriage, “The lady … has no choice in the affair”. She makes this statement in reference to a man’s comment that one man, when deemed unsuitable for marriage to a particular woman, has been replaced by his brother, without of course consulting the woman. However, I think it fits women like Charlotte Lucas and Jane Fairfax, too; ostensibly they have a choice, but a choice between poverty or virtual slavery and a comfortable existence is not much of a choice at all.

    Mr. Collins also does not “follow his heart”. Mr. Collins wants Lydia for one thing – sex – and it’s only after Darcy tracks him down that he agrees to marry Lydia, thus resuscitating some of the Bennetts’ reputation. Again, Austen critiques a social system that polices women’s purity so heavily that one woman’s indiscretion can destroy the futures of her four sisters. In addition to that, it’s significant that this is the moment at which Elizabeth realises she loves Mr. Darcy; it’s not for his charm or good looks, like Mr. Wickham, but because she’s come to realise that he is a genuinely good man. For this reason, I’d say that “don’t follow your heart” is not an adequate summation of the stoy; rather, Austen cautions against giving into infatuation when it’s not backed up by real love. We should bear in mind that Austen herself refused a proposal from a decent man because she did not love him, and consequently she found herself often short on money after her father’s death.

    • Rosie

      That’s Wickham, not Collins, in the second paragraph, right?

      • Nicola

        Oh, damn. Yes. Thanks for catching that!

  • Becca

    My understanding of Jane Austen’s work is that it is intended more as satire and social commentary than as romance.

    As an example, this link:

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