Pride and Prejudice and the Problem of Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bennet
Several relationships in Pride and Prejudice deserve primary attention. Elizabeth and Charlotte concern themselves with marriage and whether a romantic view of marriage (esteem, love, and so on) is relevant in a pragmatic world where women marry predominantly to “secure” a husband, as Charlotte often reminds Elizabeth and does so herself when she marries Collins. Elizabeth and Jane each view and treat people differently; Jane tends to look for the good in others, often to the point of naiveté, whereas Elizabeth’s criticism is usually sarcastic and cynical. Then there is Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennet. She tends to defend her father’s doings and shares his sarcasm and cynicism. In what follows below, we will look more closely at Elizabeth’s tendency to be like her father; Jane will be assessed to provide an opposite view. A problem for the novel, then, is whether Elizabeth and her father’s sarcastic, cynical approach to life is better than Jane’s benevolence.
Mr. Bennet, in conversation with his wife in chapter one, unreservedly favors Elizabeth over his other four daughters. He says
[my daughters] are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but [Elizabeth] has something more of quickness than her sisters.
Mr. Bennet’s mean, cynical attitude towards his daughters is evident as he holds human intellect highly. “Silly” and “ignorant” both describe what Mr. Bennet believes is the weak, ignorant condition of the average female mind (“like other girls”). His excluding Elizabeth from the female populace—particularly his other daughters, due to her mind’s “quickness”—is a first step to understand why he prefers Elizabeth and how human intellect unites them.
Last year I turned thirty. I was unmarried and worse had no prospect of marriage looming in the near future. I was not picky nor did I ever think that I was better than any of the men I had met. I just wanted a special man, my own Mr. Right.
From the moment I had read, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I knew what that Mr. Right would be like. Also with that moment, I had set myself up for a decade of disappointments. The boys I met at school, did not have ‘that quiet elegance’, the teenagers I met at University, treated me as an ‘equal and not as an object to worship. And the men that I came across in my working career, simply never turned up say “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
And so I led the life of a single woman, happy with my romance books, busy with my job and enjoying my time with my family and friends. That was until, one by one, they each got married and made it their prime occupation to find me a husband.
They each, knew of a man who was just right for me. And everyone made the same comparison, “He is just like your Mr Darcy” They were never anything like ‘my’ Mr Darcy.
For over five years I gave in to their pleas and met the men they introduced me to, but ultimately, I had enough. Enough of the eagerness in their voices, of the anticipation in their looks and of the sheer disappointment in their words, as they said “Oh well, back to the drawing board.”
The only person, who never got flustered, was my brother. And it was he that came up with the brilliant plan to dupe the matchmakers in my life. He booked me onto a tour aptly called ‘Twenty days in Jane Austen’s footsteps’. And on my return I was to create this fictitious long-distance relationship that was to stretch over the next five years and give me the much needed breathing space.
My trip to England was amazing. I got to see the little table Jane Austen sat at as she created her wonderful stories. I touched the doorway she had once walked through and I looked at the sky from exactly the place she would have stood at. I read the letters she had written and I looked at the volumes of her books that now graced the bookshelf.
And for the first time I saw the reality behind each of those wonderfully woven stories. The power of a woman to be able to create a perfect man in her imagination, and of her inability to find such a man in her own life! Yes she knew love, but marriage and motherhood remained at bay.
During the last days of the trip, I pondered on my own life. Would I have been happy with any of the men I had been introduced to in the past? Was I foolish to believe that somewhere, there was someone just for me or was I stupidly embracing a life of loneliness and pain?
I got my answer when we attended a series of plays in London. As I sat and watched an actor perform the role of Mr Darcy, another of Captain Wentworth and a third of Mr Knightley, the truth finally hit me. Jane Austen’s men were embodiments of decency and chivalry. They were honest, caring and just. They were protective and strong, yet each came with the usual human failings of jealousy, anger, pride and arrogance. But what set them truly apart was that they loved their heroines beyond anything and everything.
I realised then that I did not want Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth. I wanted someone to come into my life and make me the reason for his existence. And I was determined not to settle for less. And until that man waltzed into my life, my brother’s little game sounded ideal.
At the end of the tour, I stayed with his girlfriend’s family in London. Her younger sister was to be my partner in crime. We became good friends almost form the time we were introduced but it was the quite man in the background that gave me a sense of the Deja vu.
The original plan did not involve the existence of a real love interest. I was to write the letters and she was to email them back to me but somewhere along the translation of this plan, things changed. She suggested that we use her cousin as the model for the photographs and to make things realistic, he would send the letter. It was also agreed that he would call me once a week, because that was what fiancés do.
And so we spent the next week making our fantasy real. We toured the city and took photographs. We researched the best love letters and copied lines from there and we spoke honestly about our personal dilemmas. I learnt from him that men too face the same social pressures.
Did we fall madly in love? Absolutely not but he and I did became very good friends. As I bid him goodbye I even felt that maybe I was leaving behind someone who given the chance could have meant more.
Back at home, I established my fictitious romance. I told everyone of this wonderful man that I had met and showed everyone the photographs. To make it even more authentic, I wore a diamond ring on my engagement finger. All asked the one question, “When is the wedding?” I gave them the same reply “We will decide the date after his visit at the end of this year.”
I had bought myself a year of peace or so I had thought. In the months that followed, a new game began. He would ring and I would take the call outside pretending to need privacy. I would carelessly leave his email open ensuring that everyone was aware of it. I constantly dropped photos from my handbag. I even brought bridal magazines and went through this whole charade of trying to pick the perfect wedding outfit. It actually was quite a lot of fun and I looked forward to his emails noting that as time went our carefully drafted letters were being replaced with his personally written ones. I could not complain, because his letters were far better than the ones we had drafted together.
Everything was running to perfection, until one day, I stopped receiving his phone calls. His emails ceased as well and mine did not get a reply.
It took me a month of silence before I realised that I was missing more than a friend. I asked my brother if he had any idea of what had happened. His only reply was “Don’t worry sis, we will find someone else to write the letters.”
“Well you better, Valentine’s Day is next week. I need my ‘fiancé’ to send me roses otherwise no one will believe he exists anymore” I replied in anger but in my heart I knew what was really wrong.
The day before Valentine’s Day, and with no replacement found, I went and ordered a dozen long stem red roses and a huge box of chocolates and addressed it to myself.
When the doorbell rang on the morning of the 14th of February, I knew my order had arrived. Calmly I opened the door but instead of my twelve long stems, the man held a massive bouquet of a hundred beautiful blooms and instead of the local florist, there stood my fiancé.
And how could I say no to what he asked next, when he began with the words “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire …………”
First published in Indian Link. See the original HERE
How excited I was when I opened this package, coming all the way from Bath into my Governors Bay mailbox, down-under. I had applied to review this book, and was so grateful to have been picked even though I live in New-Zealand.
Second source of joy: the cover. This bright pink is vibrant and the raised lettering and silhouette make holding the book a lovely and surprisingly tactile experience.
I read the first pages while on an inflatable device my very own Darcy bought for me so I can read in the lake swimming pool. (Believe it or not but my Darcy actually fell in the lake pool with a white shirt when he set it up for me so I can start my reading. I saw it as a sign.)
So, I started reading, and didn’t stop, for three hours in a row. It was like diving back into the worlds of my favourite writers of when I was a teenager: Jane Austen of course, but also Charlotte Brontë and Dame Daphne du Maurier.
I really appreciated reading what Doctor Gabrielle Malcolm had to say, she who had not only seemingly read these authors with great pleasure too, but also has a very impressive academic knowledge that she is sharing as she would with a friend – from one fan to another.
Never pompous, always so well documented and accurate (as far as I can tell), the author loves what you love, but you are also learning so much from her! And she does it in a fun and engaging way, always.
I was so interested for instance to learn how the Brontë sisters responded to Jane’s work, or just about Jane’s childhood, and where the influences to build Darcy’s character can be found. Finding out secret links between people and characters that you love is quite exhilarating!
Keeping on reading, I then discovered many books and authors I had never heard of. I’m French, and Pimpernel, for instance, is not a well known hero in France, as you can imagine.
I really appreciated the study of Darcy’s dressing habits, and all I’ve learnt about English fashion, customs, literature and history.
The chapter on the film adaptations is very pleasurable to read, and full of details and insight that made me want to watch them again, which we did, with even greater pleasure.
I was absolutely astonished about all the fan fiction Dr. Gabrielle Malcolm is mentioning. I confess I had no idea that there were prequels, sequels and adaptations that had been created by fans all around the world of pretty much all the Jane Austen novels. The author also shares with us the response of the community of “Janeites” to these attempts.
The one thing that I found a bit surprising, it is that the author gives away a lot of plot twists and endings and many pages are dedicated to summarising stories of books. And I’m not sure why because: either the reader has already read this book, and doesn’t need a summary, or he hasn’t read it yet, and then he wouldn’t want the twists to be spoiled.
So I confess I skipped bits and pieces here and there when I didn’t want to know the end of a story that I might enjoy reading some time. It is not a big problem though as the book is well structured and it is easy to know where to resume reading.
Overall I definitely recommend the reading of this book to anyone who loves Jane Austen’s world. Doctor Gabrielle Malcolm manages to reconcile being knowledgeable, reliable, engaging and fun. And that makes for a very special and enjoyable read.
Every year hundreds of thousands of fans come together to The Jane Austen Centre in Bath to celebrate the talent and artistry of Jane Austen, but for those who work at the Centre there can sometimes be occasion to stop and marvel at the incredible works of devotion created by our visitors. An exceptional instance of this came to us this summer in the story of Julie Mountford.
Julie’s husband Keith wrote to us in a heartwarming email this year to describe the predicament of his late wife’s own Austen-inspired ‘amateur’ masterpiece: a Georgian dolls house. As part of her passion and love of all things Georgian, Regency and Jane Austen, Julie crafted this 1.6m tall house over a period of five years. It contains eighteen rooms (five of which are large hallways typical of the Georgian era) and each room has been lovingly filled with tiny furniture of the same period. Keith described how ‘everyone who has ever seen the house has been gobsmacked by its beauty and by Julie’s attention to detail’ and we found ourselves similarly enchanted.
Sadly Julie passed away in March 2015 after having lived with cancer for five years. Keith described how Julie had been a mental health social worker by profession and was also an extremely talented and creative person, writing period novels in her spare time as well as sewing beautiful historical-attired cloth dolls as gifts; one of these has even found a home in our Exhibition at the Jane Austen Centre, a place that Julie loved and visited many times in her visits to Bath.
Keith generously offered for this magnificent work to be displayed at the Centre so that it might ‘inform, educate and entertain’ as is our mission statement and was also Julie’s passion. Unfortunately, we were unable to give a home to her beautiful Jane Austen Dolls house but we hope that in sharing this story we can echo Keith’s wish that it serves as an example of ‘what an ordinary person with a passion can design and create as part of their love of all things Austen’.
Ladies and gentlemen, admirers of Jane and lovers of literature, I give you the true hero of Pride and Prejudice – and of possibly the entire Austen canon – Mr Bennet!
For who else can compare with the Sage Seer of Longbourn, that Witty King of Herts, that most rueful of husbands, fathers and philosophers?
No character from the pen of Miss Austen is a mere cypher or convenient foil. Even the haughty stuff shirts and dissembling charmers have beguiling depths. But for rueful complexities, admirable strengths and regretful weaknesses, Mr Bennet is surely as alone as he likes to be in his library.
I have long been his admirer, mostly for the delicious wit, but it wasn’t until I decided to star him in a short story that I fully appreciated as rounded a character as you will encounter in fiction, portrayed by Jane with an affection that triumphantly survives her beady acknowledgement of his failings.
When the great crisis of Lydia and Wickham erupts it is the Austen wizardry to make his feebleness not only a surprise, but also to make us feel sorry for him. And how much more predictable it would have been to transform him into the hero of the hour! Not for the first time you wonder how close the Reverend George Austen is to Mr Bennet. And how being a father of a certain type yourself fosters your affection.
Whatever, I decided that he could certainly do with a bit more fun, and that there was no finer place to give it to him than Bath, where he has arrived – reluctantly, obviously – for a stay with his wife and daughters.
But first there is my account of his first visit, as a young man, which had at least one highly significant consequence. Among the characters he encounters are Dr Johnson, James Boswell and that notorious Bath highwayman, Sixteen String Jack Rann.
From there we move to his present day, and an escape from the back window of the house – unsurprisingly in Gay Street – and back down to the famous Pelican inn, which stood where now the Hilton Hotel stands in all its not universally praised modernity.
Obviously I cannot give too much away, but he does have a narrow escape from a fate even worse than having to make small talk with Fitzwilliam Darcy, take tea a deux with Lady Catherine de Bourg, or witness Mr Collins meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I must also confess to another impudence: I have given Mr Bennet a first name! Gordon and Alan had their merits, but in the end I settled on Anthony, for the euphony.
So, apologies all round to all; but I also like to imagine the perceptible uplift of Mrs Bennet’s husband’s eyebrows at these liberties. And Miss Austen’s, together with, I hope, the trace of a smile.
Charles Nevin is an award-winning journalist, national newspaper columnist, author and humorist.
As the anniversary of the publication of Jane’s debut novel approaches on October 30th, we bring you ten facts that you might not know about Sense and Sensibility!
1) Jane’s first full length novel was originally known as Elinor and Marianne and told its story through a series of correspondances. Cassandra recalls Jane reading this novel to her family some 15 years prior to the publishing of Sense and Sensibility, although it’s unclear how much the novel changed in the intervening period.
2) Jane is said to have strongly believed that one should only marry where there is genuine affection. It is suggested that Jane is writing autobiographically when Elinor Dashwood ruminates on “the worst and most irremediable of all evils, a connection for life” with an unsuitable man.
3)Sense and Sensibility was published by Thomas Egerton on a commission basis. That is to say that the financial risk would have laid with Jane if the book had been unsuccessful .
4) To maximise his commission profit on the book, Egerton printed it onto expensive paper and sold the three volume tome for 15 shillings.
5) The first edition of Sense and Sensibility is estimated to have comprised of between 700 and 1000 copies.
6) Austen made the princely sum of £140 from sales of the first edition of Sense and Sensibility.
7) Very few people knew the author’s identity. Copies of Sense and Sensibility listed its author as A Lady and her subsequent books were attributed to The Author of Sense and Sensibility. It wasn’t until after her death that Jane’s name appeared on any of her books.
8) Dame Emma Thompson took five years to develop the screenplay for 1995’s big screen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Her work paid off though, as it earned her an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, along with a nomination for Best Actress. Emma remains the only person to win an Oscar for both screenwriting and acting.
9) The first French translation of Sense and Sensibility was written by Madame Isabelle de Montoliue, who had only a basic grasp of the English language. As such, this translation followed Jane’s original story only very loosely with key lines and even whole scenes changed.
10) The Prince Regent was one of the first purchasers of Sense and Sensibility, having bought a copy two days before it was first advertised. Jane despised the Prince, but agreed to dedicate her fourth novel, Emma, to him.
Women’s Circles Broken: The Disruption of Sisterhood in Three Nineteenth-Century Works
The author of the following work, Meagan Hanley, wrote this multi-part post as her graduate thesis. Her focus was works of literature by female authors, one of whom was Jane Austen. We thought that the entire essay was wonderful, and so, with her permission, we wanted to share it with you.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen).
If rich men must go wife-hunting, then the women presumably are lucky to get them, spending their time scrambling and fighting to beat out the competition and become the chosen wife. However, Jane Austen and other nineteen-century women authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti saw the truth played out in the society around them. Of course, on the surface, the frantic search for wealthy husbands was reality; women were trained to become wives. Since women had such limited opportunities available to them, marriage was the most viable option for survival. An interesting connection found, though, among the literature written by women at the time is the way in which women thrive together in communities with each other—up until the men enter the scene. Many women are extremely unhappy after marriage and mourn the loss of community they had shared with their sisters. Once the men, or more commonly, one man who is also the future husband, disrupt these women-centered communities, the close bond among women is severed.
Three works of literature sharing this similarity are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, early in the nineteenth century, when many people had yet to question the societal relegation of the “woman’s place” to the home. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, when Rossetti published “Goblin Market” in 1862 and Alcott published Little Women in 1868, there was already an early push for women’s suffrage in both the United States and England. These three authors realized that women should have more options than marriage—although even they could not quite visualize what these options could be.
What they longed for was a way for women to retain sisterhood after marriage instead of leaving it behind completely and to be allowed a place in the public sphere. They could see this better option, a supportive sisterhood—safe, loving, and uninterrupted. How and why did women thrive together in these three fictional nineteenth-century communities? How did they communicate? In what spaces did these communities exist? In what ways did men disrupt these communities, and was it possible for women to regain a similar level of closeness with each other after the disruption of men (i.e. marriage)? Some answers to these questions will become clear as this thesis looks at the various viewpoints and treatments each author brought to women’s communities, their importance, formation, and men’s intrusions upon them.
In each of the works discussed, one female character is affected most particularly by the male disruption. For Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, one of the most obvious instances of male intrusion occurs when Mr. Collins takes her dear friend Charlotte away from her. The loss of their friendship and intimacy deeply affects Elizabeth. Jo March in Little Women quite nearly despises the man who marries her older sister Meg and removes her from the cherished community of sisters, and after Laura eats the fruit offered to her in the poem “Goblin Market,” she drifts away from her sister Lizzie and moves swiftly toward death. Consequently, Lizzie is also deeply affected when she must discover a way to save her sister’s life. All of these characters navigate a world that shifts drastically with the entrance of men—and in the case of both novels, the changes brought by marriage.
The two novels use realism to illustrate aspects of female utopian spaces, relationships, and struggles, while by the end of the poem, Lizzie and Laura exist in a true female utopia—a world devoid of men and devoted to sisterhood. Coming hand-in- hand with the nearly inevitable event of marriage in women’s lives was the fact that they would be forced to leave these female utopias for the worlds mostly inhabited and controlled by men. In these writings by nineteenth-century women, women consistently pursue a space free from the overwhelming presence and power of men. Because of the transplants caused by marriage, these women constantly seek communities of women, new utopias and places of refuge with their own ways of communicating with each other that are often vastly different from dominant male forms of communication.
These women’s communities have been viewed as utopian alternatives to the patriarchal societies around them. The word “utopia” was created in 1516 when Sir Thomas More wrote the novel of the same name. He took it from the Greek word ou- topos for “nowhere” or “no place,” but the extremely similar eu-topos also means a good place. It is within this in-between area where women exist in these works of literature— the space between nowhere and a good place. The word “utopia” commonly connotes perfection and unity, but these women’s utopias do not quite fit this definition. The utopias they create are not recognized by the patriarchal society, and because of this, the women’s utopias are much closer to More’s original definition of “nowhere.” Where men often gather in large, boisterous groups, women gather in small, private spaces. From the parlor to written letters, the places and ways in which women communicate differ drastically from those of men.
In a search for a space away from men’s authority, women create their own. Many of these spaces are unique from their male-dominated counterparts. For example, the women in these works claim letter-writing as a space distinctively theirs. While not usually viewed as a literal “space,” letters create a location wherein women share their true, hidden thoughts and feelings with each other, free from the prying eyes of their husbands. Letters act as a private space for sharing intimate details about life, love, frustration, and loneliness—but also a space for sharing joyful news and encouragement. Writing and story-telling feature heavily in relationships among women—not only through their letters but through journals and stories repeated around the fireplace, in the drawing room, the kitchen, and other places women make their own.
In Space, Place, and Gender, Doreen Massey discusses the important roles that literal and metaphorical spaces and places play in women’s lives—specifically in the nineteenth century. Massey argues that critics should think “of social space in terms of the articulation of social relations which necessarily have a spatial form in their interactions with one another” (Massey). A few lines later, she elaborates:
Thinking of places in this way implies that they are not so much bounded areas as open and porous networks of social relations . . . It reinforces the idea, moreover, that those identities will be multiple (since the various social groups in a place will be differently located in relation to the overall complexity of social relations and since their reading of those relations and what they make of them will also be distinct). And this in turn implies that which is to be the dominant image of any place will be a matter of contestation and will change over time.
Women construct their identities within literal and metaphorical spaces in these three works—most commonly the home or “private sphere.” However, as Massey explains, the women themselves also have varying definitions of identity as it compares to specific places. Women do not define their identities based solely on the spaces they inhabit; rather, the ways in which they choose to use certain spaces confer identity on the spaces themselves. In this mutual transferal of identity, almost any space available to women can be transformed into a female utopia, giving women a type of power all their own.
Massey also writes that “it is necessary to understand … gender relations as significant in the structuring of space and place, spaces and places” (Massey). By focusing on how women affect the spaces they inhabit, it becomes clear that they construct them differently from male spaces and specifically for themselves. For Massey, “It means that spatiality cannot be analysed through the medium of a male body and heterosexual male experience, but without recognizing these as important and highly specific characteristics, and then generalized to people at large” (Massey). Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and “Goblin Market” were all born out of strict patriarchal societies, but the characters within them seek and discover ways of defining spaces and meaning without men. Further discussion of specific characters’ definitions of space and identity will be found in each chapter.
When reading and writing about relationships among women, it can be easy to come to the incomplete assumption that all women seek to be united together on common ground; and while that is true in one sense, there are multiple dimensions to women’s connections. Women in the nineteenth century were most often drawn together in their struggle for a place to call their own where their voices could be heard, but their methods of creating spaces were as diverse as their personalities.
One critic, Helena Michie, coined her own term for describing one aspect of communication among women. In her book, Sororophobia Differences Among Women in Literature and Culture, she makes continual use of the title word “sororophobia,” which “attempts to describe the negotiation of sameness and difference, identity and separation, between women of the same generation, and is meant to encompass both the desire for and the recoil from identification with other women” (Michie). It is this simultaneous longing and withdrawal from sameness that gives rise to many elements of women’s communication. In the three works discussed here, it becomes clear that women are different even within the same families, and it is often these dialogues among sisters and friends that drive the plots nearly as much as the impending marriages and disruptions by men.
Patricia Meyer Spacks writes in The Female Imagination that “Pride and Prejudice centers on marriage. In the society it depicts, marriage measures a woman’s success; mothers value themselves for marrying off their daughters; girls value themselves and are valued for their ability to attract and hold eligible men” (Spacks). In “Goblin Market,” there is a definite underlying theme of the girls preparing themselves for marriage. With so much emphasis placed on becoming “marriageable,” it is no wonder that it factors into the women’s communities. However, as we will see, marriage was not the sole focus of women’s lives. Even in the phase of “waiting” for men to arrive, the women—and especially sisters—in these works of literature create alternate, often utopian spaces for themselves. Each work discussed here displays varying differences in women’s communication, their level of closeness before and after marriage, the places they could call their own, and the ways in which they viewed impending marriages and probable separation from each other.
It has been argued that the communities of women in both novels are brought more closely together through difficulties that arise from the “lack” of men in their lives. Nina Auerbach writes in Communities of Women that “throughout Austen’s completed novels, women lead a purgatorial existence together … their lives are presented through an avoidance of detailed presentation as unshaped, unreal, a limbo” until men enter the scene (Auerbach). This statement simplifies the complexities that women’s communities can achieve. While it is true to some extent that the women in these stories exist in a culture of waiting and training until marriage becomes a possibility—until marriage ends the communities they have built together, their communities are not “purgatorial” as Auerbach claims. Rather, these communities are fragile and always at risk of disruption or dissolution caused by marriage. The clearest example of this can be found in the Bennet sisters, who exist in a close family unit until the marriageable men arrive in town.
Pride and Prejudice specifically has been labeled a marriage novel. At first glance, the entire plot is moved forward by impending marriages. The first sentence itself seems to focus readers on the fact that all rich single men are searching for wives, but there is much more going on under the surface. Austen’s language here can also be read with sarcasm; rich men do not actually need wives because they are rich men, but their culture demands marriage. However, even though the plot does lead to marriages, the bulk of the novel is centered on women’s communities. Readers see the social aspects of balls and dinners and whispered conversations among women, but we also see Elizabeth Bennett strategically avoiding a marriage with Mr. Collins. For her, marriage is more than simply security, and she refuses to settle for a life with a man who would make her miserable.
Austen, Alcott, and Rossetti each had significant relationships with their sisters in one way or another. Most famously, Alcott’s novel is based on her childhood with her sisters, and Austen’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra has also been widely speculated upon and discussed. Rossetti’s tumultuous relationship with her sister is not as well known but influential all the same. For better or for worse, these sisterly relationships had a lasting impact on what and how these three authors wrote. Another significant similarity shared among the three authors is that they all chose to remain single. In a time when nearly all women married out of necessity, the fact that these three were unmarried is meaningful. It has become increasingly common to avoid authorial biography when writing about literature, but the strong parallels in this case create a space for inclusion and justification of biographical details. While biographical analysis will not feature heavily in this paper, each author had strong bonds with at least one sister and remained unmarried—common life experiences that are too important to omit.
All three authors knew one thing in particular that appears often in their writing: women create communities when they are together. They can transform unlikely spaces into female communities to strengthen and support each other. In these works of literature, the heroines struggle with the disruption and subsequent loss of these support systems most often through men and marriage. The characters we will discuss and befriend in these pages do not hate men, but they love their sisters more. The communities they create are not in opposition to male communities, but they are essential for women to function and thrive. for It is their resilient spirits that draw readers back to Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March centuries later. Lizzie’s devotion to Laura in her defeat of the goblin men is magnetic—it pulls us into the poem and challenges us to see beyond the words on the page. Nineteenth-century women’s communities are ephemeral, but even their weaknesses produce strength among women, binding them tightly together until the disruption of marriage and oftentimes continuing after marriage. These communities are spaces where women define and claim identities, challenge, and support each other. When women are forbidden to enter the public sphere, they create better spaces for themselves which are not defined by men—spaces that allow perseverance and rebuild community. For a first look at this type of strength found in women’s communities, we turn to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
(Part Two, Pride and Prejudice: The Men Enter The Scene, will be published next week)
About the author
Meagan Hanley lives in Illinois, U.S.A., just east of St. Louis, Missouri, with her new husband and an ever-growing book collection. She has loved all things Jane Austen since she first came across Pride and Prejudice at 14 years old, and her friends and family have learned to live with her obsession. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Greenville University and an M.A. in Literature from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Meagan works as an office manager, and when she’s not reading, she can be found enjoying the outdoors with friends and cycling with her husband. She also blogs about life and literature at https://meagangunn.wordpress.com.
A brief exploration of Jane Austen’s level of popularity with different members of the Royal family.
Jane came to Winchester from her Hampshire cottage at Chawton, accompanied by her beloved sister Cassandra, to seek medical help because of her failing health. Jane had already begun to become ill in 1816, yet still she continued to write, beginning her new novel The Brothers later published as Sanditon, in January 1817 which – poignantly – was to remain unfinished.
On her death, Jane was buried at Winchester Cathedral, although her original tombstone makes no express reference to the fact that she wrote.
Whilst this might initially surprise, it is important to remember that the works published by Jane in her lifetime appeared anonymously, something which the tombstone inscription continues to support. However, it is notable that a third memorial in Winchester Cathedral – a stained glass window erected in her memory in 1900 – was paid for by public subscription, something which alone speaks for how her literary recognition had grown since her death.
That Jane’s works were enjoyed in her lifetime however, meant that her readers admired the unidentified writing of “the author of Sense and Sensibility” – as she appeared listed in the three volumes of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” listing the work as simply being written “By a Lady.”
Jane had not been without her royal readers, either. With the publication of Emma, the Prince Regent, later King George IV – who admired Jane Austen’s work – received his own copy, sent to him by the publisher John Murray. The Prince Regent’s only (legitimate) daughter, Princess Charlotte, died as the result of childbirth at Claremont in 1817, the same year of Jane’s death.
The Prince Regent’s librarian James Stanier Clarke, invited Jane to view the Library at the Prince’s lavish mansion residence of Carlton House, which she did on 13 November 1815. It seems to have been hinted as part of this visit that the Prince Regent wished her new book, Emma to be personally dedicated to him, something which – despite being personally unsympathetic to the Prince Regent – Jane could hardly ignore and which was more or less, after all, a royal command by way of a request, she being “at liberty to dedicate any future work to the Prince.”
The Prince Regent duly received his three-volume copy, and the one that was sent to him is today surviving in the Royal Library at Windsor. Jane tactfully dedicated the work to the Prince Regent by his permission and respectfully signed it as “THE AUTHOR.” Clarke’s suggestions on Jane’s authorial prerogative found later expression in her manuscript, Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters, which remained unpublished during her lifetime. Clearly, Jane’s unquestionable gifts were recognised and highly valued by the Prince Regent, who had engaged Clarke not only as his librarian but also his domestic chaplain.
The first royal purchase of a Jane Austen novel in the Royal Collection was discovered by chance during the programme of research for the Georgian Papers project in 2018. As part of this project, the researcher Nicholas Foretek of the University of Pennsylvania found recorded in the Royal Archives, the first documented purchase of a novel by Jane Austen, something unknown to academic Austen studies until 2018 and therefore, a remarkably significant discovery. I have drawn on Foretek’s report of his findings.
The documentary evidence suggests that Sense and Sensibility was bought by the Prince Regent, some two days before Jane’s maiden novel was first publicly announced in The Star. The Prince bought this copy for 15 shillings on 28 October 1811, the year of the Regency Bill. The purchase of Sense and Sensibility occurs first in this page of the ledger for the Prince’s booksellers Becket & Porter of Pall Mall, headed and underlined: ‘Books’.
The Georgian Papers show that the Prince Regent bought two copies of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, after which time his bookseller had changed to Budd & Calkins on the demise of Becket of Pall Mall. He additionally purchased a further copy of Sense and Sensibility, buying Mansfield Park in 1814 and Northanger Abbey in 1819, which he ordered to be bound. Pride and Predjudice was also bound for him in calfskin for the price of 13s. 6d “with gilt edges”, whilst the pages of Sense and Sensibility were gilded for 3s. 6d. Perhaps, there is something touching in this detail for the Prince Regent and King whose taste craved the gorgeous, as well as a sure proof of how he prized what he owned. In this case, it is fitting that Jane was invited to Carlton House, the opulent mansion of the Prince Regent who would have her own works gilded.
According to suggestions made in the Memoirs of Jane Austen (1869) by James Edward Austen-Leigh, the Prince Regent’s high regard for Jane’s work resulted in him keeping copies of her published works in each of his own residences.
The Prince Regent – later George IV – died in 1830. His niece, Princess and later Queen Victoria, was born two years after Jane Austen’s death in 1819. As Queen, Victoria particularly enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. Prince Albert read aloud to her from Pride and Prejudice. We know this because she recorded it in her journal in 1853, when the Royal Family was at Osborne. Again at Osborne, he read Northanger Abbey aloud to her in the summer of 1857. Curiously, Queen Victoria refers to ‘Miss Austin’ [sic] in her journal, although these admittedly are entries in the Queen’s edited journals, copied by her daughter, Princess Beatrice.
Various editions of Jane’s works are today kept in The Royal Collection, including a set of her novels and an edited collection of her letters to her sister Cassandra. There is also among these books, a four-volume set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
George V and Queen Mary visited Winchester Cathedral on St Swithun’s Day in 1912, for a thanksgiving service; Jane Austen wrote her a poem from her sickbed for St Swithun’s Day in 1817, just three days before she died. George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Winchester in 1939 and were presented with the keys to the city at the Guildhall. They returned in 1945.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Winchester in 1955 for the 800th anniversary of the city’s charter. The Queen was welcomed in Winchester College’s quadrangle by the boys of the college and escorted by the School Master. There followed a traditional greeting in Latin, after which The Queen presented medals to outstanding pupils of the school. The Queen said during her visit: “We must be careful that the new does not obscure the old. That in times of change, traditions which have been tested by long experience, should not be discarded.”
Winchester College stands adjacent to the house on College Street where Jane Austen died in 1817. A celebration was held in Winchester’s Guildhall to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen – entitled “This Royal Throne; A Celebration to mark H.M The Queen’s 90th Birthday” – it was centred around words to describe the history of the Crown, through the words of English (and British) monarchs themselves but also, through the words of English writers to the present age – from William Shakespeare to William Makepeace Thackeray and from Horace Walpole to – Jane Austen.
Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, as well as a historical consultant and independent scholar. She writes for academic journals, magazines and newsletters as well as the web. She contributed to Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine (2013-2017).