What is Mother’s Day without fondly remembering the times when our mothers were looking out for our best interests? Mrs. Bennet certainly took great pains to ensure the future happiness of all of her daughters. When Jane asked for the carriage to visit the Bingley sisters, Mrs. Bennet replied, “No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” Always thinking ahead, that Mrs. B. And she wasn’t wrong, was she?
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I have collected some wisdom bestowed on me and my friends by our dear mothers.
On marriage prospects…
• When you get on the plane, you have to be nice if there is a man sitting next to you. He might be single and marry you.
• The entire family is going to fast for one meal every day until you find someone and get married.
• After receiving an email saying I was dating someone, her response was, “I’m so happy! I’ve been praying for this for so long!”
On personal safety…
• No, you can’t go to the New Kids on the Block concert. If you were to go to a concert, you’d probably stand up on a chair to see better. Then you might fall off the chair and break you neck!
• Whatever you do, don’t try on clothes in a Parisian boutique. If you do, you will be abducted and sold into white slavery in Saudi Arabia! I read about it in a magazine.
On the lack of hardiness of subsequent generations…
• Your Great Grandmother Lizzy would wipe her arse with a broken gin bottle.
On becoming a lady of musical accomplishment…
• Don’t bother playing those country songs. Just scream rock ‘n’ roll and kick up your leg and shake your bum!
On the importance of an heir…
• Just get pregnant, you don’t have to get married. I want great grandchildren.
• What? Why would you adopt? You don’t know where that baby came from! If you can’t find a husband, just go out and get pregnant. (Note: This occurred when I was in my 30s.)
On appropriate clothing…
Is it just me, or do you get the tiniest twinge of excitement when you hear something about the upcoming royal wedding? When the subject comes up around anyone around my age or older, we reminisce about getting up in the wee hours to watch Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. Diana wore the puffiest of puffed sleeves, the likes of which would make Anne Shirley swoon with delight! She was so young and lovely, and I wanted to be a princess just like her! Of course, now I think the dress is sort of hideous, and we all know what a disaster the marriage turned out to be.
Even in Jane Austen’s time, the royals weren’t so good at marriage. Apparently, while George IV was just a young prince, he secretly married a woman named Maria Fitzherbert, who was not only a commoner, but also Catholic. Big no-no considering he wouldn’t be able to become king if he were married to a Catholic (fun fact: the Act of Settlement 1701 is still in effect today!), nor could he marry without the king’s consent (which he didn’t have). Eventually, his crazy dad (King George III, see also “Madness of…”) promised to help pay his debts if he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. I don’t know if it’s just that she was German, that she was his cousin, or perhaps that she wasn’t particularly easy on the eyes, but they didn’t get along. Things were so bad that in an act of extreme turdiness, he banned her from his coronation. Through the years, George continued his relationship with Maria Fitzherbert, as well as many other mistresses.
I hope for much better relationship between William and Kate—and, despite the odds being against marital harmony, I can’t help but get excited about their wedding. Clearly, I’m not alone, otherwise we wouldn’t have the wedding artistically recreated with Legos or replica engagement rings coming out the wazoo. I am rooting for them, and I wish them the best as I share their joyous occasion along with millions around the world! I’ll be the one wearing the “I (heart) Prince Harry” t-shirt.
Send us your questions! Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike. “Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick” will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in “What Would Jane Do?” See the contact form on the About page. We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Moore asks: I was just wondering about Sense and Sensibility . . . . Throughout the latter part of the book, does Lucy Steele have any knowledge of Edward’s love for Elinor or vice versa? Because if I’m not mistaken, they mention that Elinor is fond of a man by the name of Ferrars and then Lucy proceeds to tell her of the engagement. Just something I was wondering about.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Oh yes, Miss Moore, Lucy Steele knew about Edward and Elinor all right! At least, she had suspected Edward was falling for someone else, and when “the elusive Mr. F” is brought up, she deduces that that someone is Elinor. She knew they had been staying in the same house. And Marianne makes such a big deal of it that it’s obvious Elinor is fond of Edward too.
So at this point, Lucy knows her fiancé is tired of her and in love with someone else, who loves him back. I can see why you’re confused. Why should Lucy tell Elinor that she is engaged to Edward, unless she’s dumb or flat-out evil? You would think that she would just break up with Edward, or that he, if he had a spine, would break up with her, end of story. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. You have to remember that marriage for these women was a job: it was their source of income and social security. Quoting poor Charlotte Lucas: “[marriage] was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” Lucy doesn’t especially want the future job of being Edward’s wife, but it’s good enough until something better comes along. I’m sure we’ve all had jobs like that.
Lucy knows that Edward won’t break up with her because he is a Man of Honour. In all the English novels I’ve ever read, Men of Honour cannot ask women to be their wives and then dump them. You might call it job security for wives. Oh, men can get up to anything they want to get the woman to break the engagement, but they can’t break it themselves. If they did, the woman could actually sue them in court for Breach of Promise, so you can see how serious it was.
If Lucy was a heroically nice sort of girl, her reaction to learning that Edward loved someone else would have been to offer to release him from the engagement. But she isn’t. She’s “on the make” as they used to say—scrambling up the socioeconomic ladder by any means possible. So she lets Elinor know that Edward is taken. She says, “Back off, b****! He’s mine!” and she tries to convince Elinor that Edward really loves her and not Elinor. In doing that she’s making sure she keeps her job until she gets a better one; that is, until she marries Edward’s brother.
I hope that made sense. It’s kind of like a soap opera, isn’t it?
Evening, Miss Osborne’s apartment. A dinner of pigeon pie, forcemeat balls, and sherry syllabub sits demolished on the dining room table; Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick lounge around the living room, each trying not to be the one to have to make tea for the group.
Miss Ball: . . . so it’s like that time in Book X when Character Z says—
Miss Osborne: Wait, don’t spoil it for me!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What?!
Miss O: I-I haven’t read it yet.
Miss B: How is that possible?
Mrs. F: It’s the best book ever written!
Miss B: I read it in first grade.
Mrs. F: I read it in the womb.
Miss B: That book saved my life.
Mrs. F: You can’t be President unless you’ve read it, you know. It’s in the Constitution.
Miss B: . . . I was in a dark place.
Mrs. F: They say it was the inspiration for “Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.”
Miss B: I heard it’s what makes Superman fly!
Mrs. F: Don’t your parents like you?
Miss B: Or is this some kind of cruel joke?
Miss O: I . . . I don’t think so? I mean, I think they like me.
Mrs. F: Well, it doesn’t matter. They’re cruel.
Readers, it’s true. My parents were cruel, but only because they made me wear my brothers’ hand-me-down Toughskins jeans. They were and are avid readers, and they indulged my reading habits. Still, I managed to miss out on a few classics. To right these terrible wrongs, I’m slowly catching up on the books that apparently failed to shape my young psyche. Last summer, Mrs. F loaned me her tattered and well-loved (and fabulous) Little House books; this summer, I bought myself the entire Anne of Green Gables series. (In my defense, I had seen the movies. I’m up to the fifth book, and squeee! I do love Anne-with-an-E.)
I’ve stayed up late many nights enjoying the world of Anne Shirley, and was also pleased to find that the movie was faithful to the first novel. But I have to admit that I was surprised by the short bio about Lucy Maud Montgomery at the end of the book: apparently, during her college and post-college years, there was a tumultuous time when she was engaged to a cousin she did not love, and was in love with a farmer she thought was not a good match. She ended both relationships and eventually married a minister named Ewan MacDonald. Per the bio, “she did not love MacDonald with any passion, but she respected him, and he was a more suitable match for her than any of her previous suitors.”
I recognize it’s not uncommon to marry without passion, but I was surprised that Montgomery would do so when her heroine also made her way through a series of potential suitors (and ruminated on others’ good and bad relationships)—and then happily entered into a relationship of respect and passion with Gilbert Blythe. My mind keeps going back to Jane Austen, who is often quoted as saying, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Is that why Jane never married? I assume that when she wrote about the marriage prospects of Lizzy Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, and her other heroines, she gave the reader her ideal vision of a good marriage—one of passion, tenderness, and mutual respect—because that’s what she desired for herself. Without any hard facts to back up my assumptions, I have always felt that Austen was true to her words and chose to remain unmarried because she couldn’t find a husband that could provide her ideal marriage. Who knows? Maybe Austen secretly wished she had married for the sake of being married, and maybe Montgomery was perfectly satisfied in a passionless marriage. But I can’t help but believe that both put their innermost desires into the lives of their heroines. In the meantime, I shall keep myself out of the depths of despair over the lack of my ideal mate by entertaining myself with more stories of Anne-with-an-E, outings with kindred spirits, and tantalizing visions of men with muttonchops.
Photo Credit: Photo borrowed with great respect from http://pixar.wikia.com/Roz. Note: Miss Osborne’s parents do not in any way resemble Roz from Monsters Inc. Mrs. Osborne is, in fact, quite pretty, and Mr. Osborne is a handsome gent.
The Huffington Post had an article this week on Ten Tremendous Women Who Never Married. It’s an august list, you guys: Queen Elizabeth I, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, and our own Miss Austen. Oh, and Oprah Winfrey. Samara O’Shea meant it as a “sweet reminder that you don’t need anyone but yourself to live an incredible life and have people remember you long after you’re gone.” True indeed, Samara, though you do need incredible drive and determination. Or, if you’re a cynical loner, these things happen more naturally.
Because Jane didn’t have all that hopeful a picture of marriage, did she? We may love to imagine Lizzie and Darcy, Emma and Mr. Knightley, et al., drifting off into the sunset, but Jane paints a dreadfully real picture of long-term marriage. Loveless marriage, that was her great fear, and what her heroines strive so much to avoid. Lots of heroines strive for love and marriage, but Jane knew so well what could go wrong, and she doesn’t let us forget it.
She lived with her parents all her adult life, and it shows. Just think of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: “[he], captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humor which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all affection for her.” The dangers of loveless marriage are all around you in Pride and Prejudice, and Jane devotes a whole page to describing the ill effects of the senior Bennets’ marriage, not only on their own happiness, but on their children’s fates in life. (It’s at the beginning of Chapter 42, if you want to check it out.) Mr. and Mrs. Collins show us the beginnings of one of these loveless marriages, with Charlotte deriving all her happiness from “her parish and her poultry,” and so do Lydia and Wickham, “brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue.” (What a delicate way to put it!) Today we are all too aware of the fragility of happiness in marriage, and while it was no doubt well-known in that time too, the idea that “respect, esteem, and confidence” was necessary in marriage was not so common. You might call it Jane Austen’s revolutionary thesis.
Most of the marriages in Austen’s books have a kind of nothingness to them, with the same history as the Bennets’. Think of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Mary and Charles Musgrove, or Mr. and Mrs. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility (so hilariously brought to life by Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton). Or Mr. and Mrs. Allen, Catherine’s chaperones in Northanger Abbey. I’m always haunted by the line “Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.” The idea being that they don’t like them for long; what usually passes for love doesn’t last. In a way it’s the lack of tragedy in these marriages that is heartbreaking. These people are just getting on with it, tied to someone they don’t love and don’t hate—just someone who annoys them day in and day out.
The only truly disastrous marriages I can think of are anything involving Lady Susan and that of Maria Bertram and Mr. Rushworth. And since Maria gets married out of spite and a broken heart, not too shocking that it doesn’t go well. She’s as emotional as Marianne, and she doesn’t get off so lightly.
On the happy side, we basically get the dark example of Fanny and John Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, the Gardiners in Pride and Prejudice, and Admiral and Mrs. Croft in Persuasion: “If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him than driven safely by anyone else.” As she got older, was Jane mellowing? Surely Persuasion is a more mellow book in general, with musings on autumn, and the sea. I think she believed happy marriages were possible, but that they required a lot more thought and effort than people generally suppose. And that’s why Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Anne Elliot don’t just feel love (twue wuv!)—they think about it, as rational creatures. They think about love without being dreary and grim, and so they appeal to us today, when thought is more expected, if not universally practiced.
On being asked about her broken engagement, Jane Austen wrote to her niece, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.” Even living with your parents, it seems.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.