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|Proper modesty & reticence.
Written by Rachel G
(10/6/2010 1:08 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, What did Henry say?, penned by Barb JA
If your behaviour towards a man could be remotely construed as encouraging then you were liable to be censured. If your manners were calm and uninviting this was interpreted as very proper maidenly modesty, and you were liable to be corralled into marrying the dolt!
This sort of nonsense cannot have made matters easier for men (unless we are to suppose that a man would really prefer a wife who was totally indifferent to him or perhaps loathed being in the same room as him).
It is hard to imagine the eldest Miss Ward behaving in such a way. Even if her manner was not unbecomingly inviting I'll bet she failed to conceal the fact that she had opinions - another type of female behaviour which was seen as taboo. Could this be why she failed to marry as soon or as advantageously as her sister Maria?
Looking at how Fanny responds when Henry declares his affection, which you quote in your post, it is indeed not surprising that he would interpret her response as encouragement if these sort of rules about proper female behaviour were colouring his perception.
I think your comparison of Henry with Mr Collins is very apt. Elizabeth turned him down flat in plain English four times yet he still didn't think that she meant to refuse him! I don't think Henry is quite as stupid as Mr Collins, but I reckon that his over-inflated male ego would easily make up the difference.
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