|GR: Honour and marriage
Written by Linden
(11/14/2003 1:47 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: Honour for men and women, penned by JaneGS
I got the book late and I've only just finished it, so I'm glad of the chance to discuss earlier chapters.
] ...the different meaning of honour for men and women. A gentlewoman's honour lay in the public recognition of her virtue, a gentlemen's in the reliability of his word. p. 54
] I think this idea is central to many of JA's plots, and certainly her heroes and heroines.
Good one! To add to what you've said, this point seems particularly relevant to the business of getting married in JA (as, indeed, did a lot of this chapter).
If a man's honour lay in keeping his word, and a woman's lay in her reputation for virtue, then:
-- It didn't much matter in that society what affairs a man had before he became betrothed, so long as he was `honourable' about it in this sense. Willoughby is not honourable with young Eliza: he deceives her. But there was no big deal about chastity as such for men: a few trips to improper houses would not be important. Perhaps this is why JA leaves the field wide open for speculation about her heroes' sexual experience before marriage: it just didn't matter.
-- Adultery in a man was more of a big deal than pre-marital affairs, because that would involve breaking the promise he made at his wedding. Perhaps that is one reason JA didn't allow Henry Crawford to win Fanny: it's unlikely that he'd be faithful to her, as even his affectionate sister recognises.
-- Once a man is engaged, or even once he seems to have engaged his honour without an explicit commitment, he has to stick to it: he does not have the privilege of crying off (Edward Ferrars, Henry Tilney, Captain Wentworth).
-- On the other hand, a woman has to maintain her reputation by chastity before marriage as well fidelity after it. The difference between the fates of Lydia and Maria Bertram is not so much the difference in sinfulness between pre-marital and extra-marital affairs, as the ease of covering it up.
-- A woman has a right to break the engagment, which several JA women do with no criticism of the actual breakage (Jane Fairfax, Anne Elliot). She is not obliged to keep her word in the way that he is.
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