Many people imagine that Jane Austen had a romantic view of marriage. Her novels and letters don’t support this view. Hilary Mantel writes in an essay on Austen in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein www.pauldrybooks.com:
“Jane Austen’s novels, as everyone has observed, end at the church door: with the wedding, not the marriage. Jane’s private observation did not. She looked about her and saw what marriage meant. ‘Poor animal,’ she wrote of a woman too often pregnant, ‘she will be worn out before she is thirty.’ Love within a marriage might compensate for what marriage demanded of women – the cyclical facing-down of the risk and pain of childbirth – but the ideal matches Jane sets up for her characters are outnumbered in her fiction by those that are botched together in bad circumstances, contracted in haste, and repented at leisure or simply arrange by cold and grand family interests.”
Comment by Jan:
Mantel is right about those bad marriages. The unions that fit her description include those of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Charles Musgrove in Persuasion and Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Then there are John and Fanny Dashwood, the weak husband and manipulative wife of Sense and Sensibility, the subject of a Masterpiece Theater production that concludes tonight on PBS www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/index.html.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.