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|About Henry and Isabella (longish, sorry!)
Written by Line
(3/28/2009 10:38 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Thanks, Tom, ..., penned by gianni
I can see why you don't want to think less well of Henry, so let me try to explain myself better. Regarding Henry's attitude towards Isabella and Frederick, I have two unpleasant alternatives - I must either think less well of Henry, or less well of our dear JA! One of the things I appreciate about JA is that IMO she was what I call an instinctive feminist. The old attitude that the main burden of moral behaviour in potentially sexual relationships is on the woman, not the man, is deeply *un*feminist, and one that particularly bugs me in general. The argument seems to be "Well, we all agree that Isabella is a bad woman for being willing to take up with Frederick while actually engaged to James, so this otherwise good man is perfectly within his rights to behave badly towards this obviously bad woman in this situation (and it shouldn't really reflect on *his* moral standing)."
When Henry says "But we must first suppose Isabella to have had a heart to lose — consequently to have been a very different creature; and, in that case, *she would have met with very different treatment*", my interpretation is that Henry feels that Isabella should get most of the blame for what happened, because Frederick, being a helpless man, could not be expected to withstand her charms by saying "No, thanks" and pulling back. Therefore, I have to interpret it as a certain weakness on Henry's side. IMO, his loyalty to his brother and his tendency to smooth things over blind him a little to Frederick's responsibility for what happened. BTW, I think Henry's "sweeping-under-the-rug" tendencies may have been quite subtle, not obvious at all. To me, he's like Mr. Darcy - at heart a deeply moral man who can't even let himself see that he may be a little too partial here.
A second reason I like the "less-than-perfect Henry" argument is because like JA herself, pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked! Seeing that perfect Henry is a little less than perfect humanizes him to me, and I like him better, not less! (Plus, I know that his maturity level is going to take an upward leap when he stands up to his father.)
Regarding Isabella, IMO there's no question that as the person who was actually engaged, *she* bore most of the responsibility for the pain she caused. However, anyone who takes up with someone they know from the start is already attached is not blameLESS. Also, letting the other person assume that you are just as much after a long-term relationship as they are, when you really just want something short-term, is not right either.
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