Ellen Moody on Jane Austen's Heroes, and Austen's Sir William Mountague

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Below is an almagamation of three messages from the AUSTEN-L discussion list, lightly edited for the addition of HTML mark-up; this is followed by Sir William Mountague, a piece from Jane Austen's juvenilia which perfectly illustrates Moody's heroes of "type 2".


From: Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 14 Jan 1996

I would like to give it a try -- to defend Edmund Bertram [of Mansfield Park]. The problem is that, while I think he is much more thoroughly and consistently developed than Edward Ferrars [of Sense and Sensibility], the defense would have to be based on scattered passages, for the evolving consciousnesses of the books are those of the women. We've talked [on AUSTEN-L] of how we don't see sufficiently into Darcy's change of heart, into Captain Wentworth's revolution in feeling. We are to admire Edmund and Edward for what they are from the time we meet them; though again, Edmund is an improvement on Edward, for he does evolve in front of us as his courtship of Mary Crawford proceeds, is stymied, and is finally brought to a dead close. What I like about Edmund is how, except in the case of Mary (Cupid is blind!), he doesn't miss anything, and his kindness is based on the subtlest of things, which is how it is in life. The little things count so.

It would also have to be on moral grounds: he is good, kind, decent, absolutely loyal, unwilling to wound, sensible. This too is, I think, true of all Austen's heroes once we get to know them. There are also several long scenes between Fanny Price and Edmund which we lack in Sense and Sensibility; they go into the shrubbery too, like Emma & Knightley, and he makes the best case for Henry Crawford that anyone in the novel does, because he makes it based on Fanny's nature: his "cheerfulness" will "counteract" Fanny's tendency, let's say, not to be cheerful; "He sees difficulties no where; and his pleasantness and gaiety will be a constant support to you" (Chapter 35). He sees they are unalike, but Crawford has strengths Fanny lacks, which will help her and cheer her. He also finally looks at her to see (because she is under a real strain emotionally, to have to listen to this) "weariness and distress in her face, and immediately resolved to forbear". Little phrases like this ring home. There is just so much more about Fanny, funny ones too, as when she goes on about "the name Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown -- of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections" (Chapter 22). Boy, has she got it bad! Henry hadn't a hope; Austen does say outright that Fanny's was an absolutely "pre-engaged heart."

Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 11:33:44 -0500
From: Penny Klein
Subject: Edmund is a Hypocrite!

Edmund is nice to Fanny, but he is shallow -- I can't believe he defended his father's wish for Fanny to live with Aunt Norris. He is the one person I expected to stick up for Fanny, but he does not stand up for her when she refuses Henry. He should have her values, her insight, and strength to stand up for what he believes, if he is going to be the kind of clergy he was lecturing Mary Crawford about. Does he think gentlemen always treat their women as well as his father has? I know he has had a sheltered life, but it should have occurred to him that Henry might not be suitable for Fanny.

Date: Sat, 29 Jun 1996 22:36:29 -0400
From: Ellen Moody
Subject: Edmund Bertram not a bad guy

I'd like to suggest Penny is too hard on Edmund Bertram; he is self-centered; he sees the world in terms of his own desires and values, and nothing in his life has taught him to think himself insignificant, but he is no Mr. Collins. He is not witty, and doesn't know how to flirt and play lightly, but he is not a hypocrite, not a fawner, not a fool. I believe he is genuinely religious, and genuinely takes a religious view of sexual behavior; he is horrified at Maria and Henry's behavior. (Actually I get a stronger sense of horror from his words than Fanny's; Fanny seems sorrowful, and more concerned for her aunt and uncle and Edmund than radically appalled by the "sin" -- not that she does not regard it gravely; she does).

Edmund is not a central character in Mansfield Park. Like Fanny he has his faults, but they are not the major ones of heartless selfishness and false values that many others in the book either deliberately or unthinkingly act out.

Date: February 17, 1996
Subject: Criteria for Rating Heroes

I'll take up the question of why we like some Austen heroes better than others. I don't think it's just a matter of having nothing to forgive them for, because some things are easier to forgive than others, and when we decide what we find easier to forgive, we are telling more about our own morality vis-à-vis Austen's than Austen's own. Still, I'll bite.

  1. The heroes who are often not liked, not favorites, are those who are deeply moral; let us call them the Ashley Wilkes [of Gone with the Wind] types: sensitive, kind, loyal, impeccably behaved from the standpoint of true tact, gentility, and altruism, and very conventional in their sense of what a gentleman is; Austen of course plays tricks on us, and adds to this weak soup characteristics like reserve, manly hauteur in order to protect the self (how I see some of George Knightley's behavior to Emma), and being more than a little gauche, very bad at gay repartée -- for which many of Austen's readers cannot forgive Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, and George Knightley. As Rhett Butler says, they're gentlemen caught in a world which worships handsomeness, suavity, the man who can master others. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are weak in that battle of domination between people that is perhaps the essence of life, as in "life is a war of nerves", "a battle".

    These types are "dolts", "dull", "prigs", "starchy", common epithets thrown at Austen heroes of a certain type, no? But Austen thinks these are men who, when also intelligent and loving and constant -- and with that competent income -- make women happy, especially when the natures and tastes of the two are alike -- witness Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. I'd say Knightley does not really fall in here, because he's not weak in that battle of mastery; he just shares some of the qualities of Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram, and Colonel Brandon, for which some readers have had a hard time forgiving him. Well, I am fond of Edward Ferrars and Edmund Bertram, though I wouldn't want to marry them; they'd bore me to tears; and to be truthful, I don't really believe in Colonel Brandon. He's an escapee from a Gothic fiction, great, theatrical, effective, but not persuasive ultimately; even the flannel waistcoat does not disguise the origin.

  2. Now the heroes who are also villains, we may call the Rhett Butler type; though to be less anachronistic, and get closer to the fundamental archetype, we have our softened Lovelaces: Willoughby, Wickham, Henry Crawford, Frank Churchill, perhaps William Walter Elliot (though he's not rounded out, as Persuasion is truncated and unfinished -- I hold to my theory, argued this past summer, that the novel was meant to have a third volume). These are alluring males, alluring precisely because they are dangerous, fun to be with, amusing, handsome (though Mr. Elliot is, to be sure, as Sir Walter says, a bit "underhung," but then everyone's ravaged by time in Persuasion). What do we have to forgive here? Disloyalty, having sex with another woman, insouciance, a certain callous indifference in order to make a joke, selfishness, the ability to be endlessly idle, and, more important, the inability to look into themselves and see they're wrong and ought to change, because they cannot feel the kind of joy intense love, and all that comes with it, can bring. Love here includes love of people other than the individual with whom one is sexually involved.

    That Austen seems to suggest that as a group these men are very shallow in their emotions is interesting, because the Lovelaces and Rhett Butlers of novels are given an intensity of emotion that is overpowering. Austen won't allow that; that's the delicious poison we drink down to our own destruction. I'd say a lot of people don't have all that much trouble forgiving the above faults, but Austen thinks such men are, you should excuse the expression, bad husband material; and I suggest that the one quality she can't forgive is the unfeelingness and inconstancy of these men. But what fun such people are, never a dull moment with Willoughby -- though if read carefully, I think he may be seen to be ultimately shallow and selfish. He's the boy who's not sorry he's had a good time, but terribly sorry he's not to have his candy after all. And Henry Crawford is given possibilities; we are led to feel that maybe he could have become the third type, though I doubt it -- he'd have been bored to tears with poor Fanny (and indeed, it would have been poor Fanny had she married him).

  3. So that leaves my third type, into which I'd suggest Henry Tilney somewhat falls -- what shall we call them? In a way, Austen is one of the novelists who invented this type; I can't think of such a male character before her works, though I've got lots to cite afterwards, especially from the Victorian novelists influenced by her, as Trollope and George Eliot. (Though Charlotte Brontë would not like it, I'd say her Rochester falls into this group.) I shall call them the Frederick Wentworth type (giving the game away).

    What we have to forgive them for is what we might have to forgive any human being who's fundamentally decent and loving and intelligent and also capable of interesting conversation -- time and circumstances have not been altogether on their side. That is so for Darcy, although he has been called a millionaire playboy. If he's that, he's not having much fun sitting next to Miss Bingley. Darcy has been the object of continual sycophancy, overindulgence, and the utterly cold heartless materialistic proud values of the Lady Catherine de Bourghs of the world. He must look into his heart and change. He does. We must forgive him snubbing someone, arrogance, saturnine dour dark pessimism about human nature, a veneer of coldness (this hauteur we find also in Type 1, as outlined above, and is a part of Knightley who is very careful, very wary, very cautious about whatever he does). I have the hardest time forgiving Darcy's first two faults; but he gives them up. This group includes Wentworth, maybe my ultimate favorite of all the heroes; yes his letter "you pierce my soul" sends a thrill into mine, even if overwritten. When he lifts Anne into the carriage, pulls the boy off her back, drops his pen, I am a goner. (Though I grant you, in his give-and-take conversations with Elizabeth, it's more than hinted that Darcy may be more fun you-know-where).

    Some later Type 3 heroes who seem to hark back to Frederick Wentworth in some ways: Tertius Lydgate in Middlemarch; Phineas Finn in Trollope's two books of that name; the hero of New Grub Street; and many of the attractive and strong but vulnerable males of the 19th century novel. This type moves into the early 20th century in the novels of E.M. Forster and others.

    Henry Tilney also has not had all things on his side -- as witness his tyrannical father; but his mother was apparently very good (as was Anne Elliot's mother), and the boy has the happiness of that independent income which frees (as Oscar Wilde said, "It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating"). In truth, though, there's nothing to forgive; however, we don't have a hard time forgiving him this deplorable lack of faults, perhaps because he is so young and gay and so human -- and so I place him in Type 3, the new type Austen invented, the gentleman who has it all, all the things that charm woman and is good husband material into the bargain.

    Let me end on George Knightley, because Knightley suffers from the flaw I perceive in Tilney -- there's nothing to forgive -- but in his case, alas poor man, we can't forgive him his perfection, for unlike the others of Type 1 he's not weak, not a dolt, not gauche (though, as he says, he can't talk love-talk very well). But, let us recall, we are seeing him through Emma's eyes, and this may be why he seems so self-righteous (after all who does he think he is anyway to be preaching to Emma, whom we all identify with in this novel, will we nill we). But I love Knightley; I do; I love his tact, his courtesy, his chivalry, his right-thinking, I don't mind his strong moral uprightness one little bit. I've an idea it might not be boring. There is just that element of play and strength in his dialogues with Emma which entrances.

Subject: Austen's heroes and Sir Charles Grandison

We can set up continuums between Austen's types of heroes and those of others, sometimes before her but mostly after. Both Lovelace from Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison from his novel of the same name, play an important role as background and influences on Austen's fiction. It seems to me beyond doubt that Richardson's exemplary hero Sir Charles Grandison played a role in Austen's formulation of her heroes; someone has pointed out the close resemblances in various ways between Austen's George Knightley and Richardson's Sir Charles; the difference between them is sometimes not simply a matter of insight into what is really humane, but plain old tact. Richardson is tactless because his main aim is didactic, and what he pushes as good is sometimes just authoritarian, "let's obey the establishment, whatever it tells us to do, because it's always right". Austen says, well, it's prudent anyway. Richardson's presentation of Sir Charles also plays a role in the characterization of Darcy; Darcy resembles Sir Charles more than is often noticed. The austerity, the dark pessmism (Sir Charles is not an optimist), the curious hardness and insistence on strength as an important quality in a man, the lack of sentimentality that we find in Austen's Darcy, has a similar kind of formulation in Richardson's making of his Sir Charles.

This is not, however to say that either my Type 1 or Type 3 are Sir Charles. Edward Ferrars and Edmund Bertram are just too soft, too awkward, too what the 19th century novelist might have called "unmanly". I can't imagine either of them going off for a duel. Sir Charles is, when sufficiently bothered, willing to duel out of his passion; that he does not is just another way in which he is so very exemplary, but he's violent when need be. And Frederick Wentworth is just too vulnerable; Sir Charles is never vulnerable, never the victim of circumstance or luck. In fact, Sir Charles is never a victim; Richardson couldn't see his way to finding out that such a character is truly admirable; they are always slighly scorned in his fictions (as in the case of Charles Hickman from Clarissa, or Charlotte Grandison's long-suffering husband). In a way, I'll say Austen's Type 1 is as original her with as what I called Type 3.

She is daring for presenting men who are not violent, not masterly, not having all those alluring Rhett Butler or Lovelace qualities, and still insisting we should find in them true heroes.

*See also a comparison between Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice
*or classifications of the marriages in Jane Austen's writings


an unfinished performance
is humbly dedicated to Charles John
Austen Esqre.
, by his most obedient humble


SIR WILLIAM MOUNTAGUE was the son of Sir Henry Mountague, who was the son of Sir John Mountague, a descendant of Sir Christopher Mountague, who was the nephew of Sir Edward Mountague, whose ancestor was Sir James Mountague, a near relation of Sir Robert Mountague, who inherited the Title & Estate from Sir Frederic Mountague.

Sir William was about 17 when his Father died, & left him a handsome fortune, an ancient House, & a Park well stocked with Deer. Sir William had not been long in the possession of his Estate before he fell in Love with the 3 Miss Cliftons of Kilhoobery Park. These young Ladies were all equally young, equally handsome, equally rich & equally amiable -- Sir William was equally in Love with them all, & knowing not which to prefer, he left the Country & took Lodgings in a small Village near Dover.

In this retreat, to which he had retired in the hope of finding a shelter from the Pangs of Love, he became enamoured of a young Widow of Quality, who came for change of air to the same Village, after the death of a Husband, whom she had always tenderly loved & now sincerely lamented.

Lady Percival was young, accomplished & lovely. Sir William adored her & she consented to become his Wife. Vehemently pressed by Sir William to name the Day in which he might conduct her to the Altar, she at length fixed on the following Monday, which was the first of September. Sir William was a Shot & could not support the idea of losing such a Day, even for such a Cause. He begged her to delay the Wedding a short time. Lady Percival was enraged & returned to London the next Morning.

Sir William was sorry to lose her, but as he knew that he should have been much more greived by the Loss of the 1st of September, his Sorrow was not without a mixture of Happiness, & his Affliction was considerably lessened by his Joy.

After staying at the Village a few weeks longer, he left it & went to a freind's House in Surry. Mr. Brudenell was a sensible Man, & had a beautifull Neice with whom Sir William soon fell in love. But Miss Arundel was cruel; she preferred a Mr. Stanhope: Sir William shot Mr. Stanhope; the lady had then no reason to refuse him; she accepted him, & they were to be married on the 27th of October. But on the 25th Sir William received a visit from Emma Stanhope, the sister of the unfortunate Victim of his rage. She begged some recompence, some atonement for the cruel Murder of her Brother. Sir William bade her name her price. She fixed on 14 shillings. Sir William offered her himself & Fortune. They went to London the next day & were there privately married. For a fortnight Sir William was compleatly happy, but chancing one day to see a charming young Woman entering a Chariot in Brook Street, he became again most violently in love. On enquiring the name of this fair Unknown, he found that she was the Sister of his old freind Lady Percival, at which he was much rejoiced, as he hoped to have, by his acquaintance with her Ladyship, free access to Miss Wentworth........


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