Balance and Modern Sensibilities
Posted by Ann on December 06, 1997 at 02:56:19:
In response to Brutus is an honourable man..., written by Helen on December 05, 1997 at 10:37:25
After reading this thread, I take issue with a couple of points that seem to have gained general acceptance:
The first point is that Elizabeth, and more importantly, Jane Austen, did not, in any way, look down on Colonel Fitzwilliam for wishing to marry a wealthy woman. Elizabeth and Jane Austen believed that it was imprudent to marry without attention to money. Jane Austen makes this point at least three times in P&P. The first time is when Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth not to attach herself to Mr. Wickham:
[Mrs. Gardiner:]“You are too sensible a girl, Lizzy, to fall in love merely because you are warned against it; and, therefore, I am not afraid of speaking openly. Seriously, I would have you be on your guard. Do not involve yourself, or endeavor to involve him in an affection which the want of fortune would make so very imprudent...if he had the fortune he ought to have, I should think you could not do better. But as it is--you must not let your fancy run away with you.”
The second time is when Wickham deserts Lizzy for Mary King. Until Lizzy realised that his motives were strictly mercenary, she approved of his actions.
The sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the most remarkable charm of the young lady, to whom he was now rendering himself agreeable; but Elizabeth, less clear-sighted perhaps in his case than in Charlotte’s, did not quarrel with him for his wish of independence. Nothing, on the contrary, could be more natural; and while able to suppose that it cost him a few struggles to relinquish her, she was ready to allow it was a wise and desirable measure for both, and could very sincerely wish him happy.
The third time Jane Austen uses the marriage-with-regard-to-money theme is with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lizzy.
The counter argument to this is Charlotte, who does marry solely for money and to secure her own comfort. But Austen, in P&P, S&S and Mansfield Park, makes a strong argument for balance in relationships. Marianne’s relationship with Willoughby was wrong in Austen’s eyes because it was too much about passion and too little about prudence. I think Austen was more in tune with Elinor and Edward, although there she criticized the lack of passion in the relationship. The central theme in S&S is balance between the heart and the head. In Mansfield Park, Maria Rushworth marries only for money, and it leads to disaster, and Edmund and Henry nearly marry Mary and Fanny only for love/lust--and again Austen disapproves. In P&P we have Charlotte marrying strictly for money, and Mr. Bennet and his daughter Lydia marrying strictly for passion (lust). All of these unions are faulty in Austen’s eyes because they lack balance.
The happiest of the marriages in Jane Austen’s world: the Gardiners, the Westons, the Crofts, the Darcys, and the Wentworths, are well-balanced relationships which combine love and money, respect and affection. That is Austen’s ideal. (And probably why she broke off her own 12 hour engagement--it would have been an unbalanced marriage, without affection.)
Now, if Colonel Stud Muffin--sorry--Fitzwilliam were to marry solely for money, then he would be faulted by Austen, but as his conversation with Lizzy in the park at Rosings puts it, he will likely fall in love with a rich woman. Thus love will balance with money:
[Lizzy:] “...What have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring any thing you had a fancy for?”
[Fitzwilliam:] “These are home questions--and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”
“Unless they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.”
“Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”
My second quibble with this thread is with the idea that Elizabeth would only marry for love. I agree with Mark that this was Andrew Davies’ invention and not Jane Austen’s. While I believe that it is partially true, I think it goes beyond what Austen would ever have written. While I believe that Elizabeth wanted to marry a man she loved, I think it was more important to her to marry a man she respected. But here again, balance is the key. Respect and affection, passion and prudence must be balanced before Jane Austen will allow a couple to be happily married.
I think that there is a difference between our modern sensibilities and those of Jane Austen. I think we are more willing to believe in the ideal of love than she was, and this colors our reading of Austen. Our modern, Western world prizes love above almost everything, and tends to believe that with love, every obstacle will disappear. A belief, perhaps, belied by our divorce rate.
Austen lived in a time when divorce was almost unheard of, and could only be accomplished if the wife committed adultery and cuckolded her husband (a shameful fact he would be unlikely to want publicized with a divorce.) Once a person married, it was “until death us do part”. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary to have a marriage which was not based on potentially transitory feelings--such as Mr. Bennet’s--but on a deeper respect, and I think this is what Austen believed.
This is why the Darcy marriage will be successful in the end--it is not based only on love. If Darcy, in the heat of passion, had been accepted at his first proposal, the marriage would have been a disaster, because he did not yet respect Elizabeth. His words at Hunsford were filled with disdain for her, and she reacted strongly to that disdain. He, and she, had to be transformed before they could be happy. He had to learn to respect her, and she had to learn both to respect and to love him.
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