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|Proposals and refusals
Written by Julie W
(Sunday, 11 January 2009, at 8:34 a.m.)
On 25th November Jane and Cassandra went for an expected three week stay with their old friends Catherine and Althea Bigg at Manydown in Hampshire.
Here are some pictrues of the house, which is now sadly demolished:
However, disaster struck .
Jane received an offer of marriage from the brother of Catherine and Althea, Harris Bigg-wither which she very soon rescinded
As Jane's niece Caroline later recorded :
Mr Wither was very plain in person - awkward, & even uncouth in manner , nothing but his size to recommend him - he was a fine big man - but one need not look about for secret reason to account for a young lady's not loving him – a great many would have taken him without love - & I beleive the wife he did get was very fond of him, & that they were a happy couple - He had sense in plenty & went through life very respectably, as a country gentleman - I conjecture that the advantages he could offer, & her gratitude for his love, & her long friendship with his family, induced my Aunt to decide that she would marry him when he should ask her - but that having accepted him she found she was miserable & that the place & fortune which would certainly be his, could not alter the man - She was staying in his Father's house - old Mr Wither was then alive - To be sure she should not have said yes - over night - but I have always respected her for the courage in cancelling that yes - the next morning - All worldly advantages would have been to her - & she was of an age to know this quite well - My Aunts had very small fortunes & on their Father's death they & their Mother would be, they were aware, but poorly off- I beleive (sic) most young women so circumstanced would have taken Mr W. & trusted to love after marriage!
Jane appears to have written to Cassandra about this distressing incident later on when they were apart. These letters were most probably destroyed by Cassandra , as probably being considered too personal for the rest of the family to ever see, but Frank Austen's fourth daughter, Catherine Hubback, seems to have read them, and they explain Jane's actions .
As she later recalled:
I gathered from the letters that it was in a momentary fit of self-delusion that Aunt Jane accepted Mr Wither's proposal, and that when it was all settled eventually, and the negative decisively given she was much relieved. I think the affair vexed her a good deal, but I am sure she had no attachment to him. page 138,as above
Harris Bigg-Wither , two years later, married a Miss Anne Howe Frith from the Isle of Wight, and went to live with her at Wymering, near Cosham, Hants, not returning to Manydown until he inherited the estate after his father's death in 1813.
It is not known whether Jane ever saw him again, but her friendship with his sisters continued unaltered until her death.
I think we can all sympathise with JAs predicament: she was offered a good, luxurious lifestyle in comparison with her own financial predicament-she had no income of her own-, which would have helped secure the financial future for her and possibly that of Cassandra and Mrs Austen too. But she did not have any real affection for poor Mr Biggs Wither. I agree with Caroline that her decision was to be respected. But I can also comprehend the tremendous pressure and conflicting emotions she must have felt at this time, can't you? Obviously for JA, to be Mistress of Manydown was not enough.....
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