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|Educating Young Eliza.
Written by Rachel G
(10/1/2009 3:20 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Looking for Eliza, penned by Barbara
I am not surprised that Colonel Brandon tortures himself with guilt over what happened to young Eliza, whether or not he is actually blameworthy in any way. I think it natural that any parent, if something awful happened to their child, would ask themselves over and over 'Could I have prevented it? If only I had done this, or not done that...'
Brandon is the sort of man who takes his responsibilities very seriously. He is also a thoughtful, caring person who feels deeply, and I am certain that he raised Eliza with the utmost loving care.
I think very highly indeed of Colonel Brandon - he is decidedly one of the Good Guys. However, I do wonder whether the way Eliza was raised left her ill equipped to deal with the real world. Consider the following (from Ch.11):-
"... there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions."
and: "... a change, a total change of sentiments -- No, no, do not desire it, -- for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous!"
With attitudes like these, I think it probable that Brandon did everything possible to encourage the romantic refinements of young Eliza's mind, and that he was very reluctant indeed to alert her to the real dangers to which young women were vulnerable.
Also, it is not uncommon for parents to be reluctant to see their children grow up 'too fast', and to underestimate the extent to which their teenage offspring consider themselves as fully mature; (Marianne, who's 'opinions are tolerably fixed' at age seventeen, is a good example). Perhaps Brandon may have somewhat at fault in this respect.
Of course some aspects of parenting young girls are more appropriately dealt with by a woman. In Eliza's case this would have been the "very respectable woman" with whom she lived from the age of thirteen. I wonder whether her respectability was what particularly recommended her to Brandon as Eliza's carer. I also wonder whether her 'respectability' may have meant she was also rather unworldly. Perhaps she was less forthright than she ought to have been when is came to impressing on her young charges the absolute necessity of guarding their virtue before marriage.
The issues here are somewhat similar to those regarding Marianne's behaviour with Willoughby. I indulged in a rant on the topic of Mrs Dashwood's failings in a post last week (28 September "Mrs Dashwood"), so I won't repeat my arguments here, but I think both she and Colonel Brandon were perhaps too trusting and too idealistic, and insufficiently realistic and pragmatic.
There is a fine line between youthful idealism and innocence, which are endearing and should be cherished, and naivety and ignorance, which are unhelpful in the wider world and sometimes just plain dangerous. Navigating a course between the two is a challenge for any parent of teenage girls both today and in the past.
Colonel Brandon has better reason than most to be acutely aware of the very real dangers facing unprotected young women. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, I fear he may have erred too much on the side of idealising and cherishing the romantic refinements of a young mind.
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