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Monday, June 17, 2013
Jane Austen on Mr. Right
Though Elizabeth is the heroine that most Austen readers love to identify with, most will not be int her situation. The overwhelming majority of women will not get to marry the equivalent of Mr. Darcy, nor should they. Jane Austen is fully aware that not all marriages will made of matches that appear quite that light an bright and sparkling. As a realist, she offers different models for marriages. While some are from ideal, as featured in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows that a match need not be spectacularly impressive to be right.
There are other marriages that work out quite well for people who know how to recognize that Mr. Martin is not just "good enough" but really the right man to marry and don't delude themselves into thinking they will get Mr. Knightley. What makes the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth work is not that he has the most money to offer, but that she learns to appreciate his integrity and realizes that she can trust him.
The theme is also present in Persuasion. Anne learns that she was wrong not to trust in the man she refused under the influence of others, years earlier and gets a second chance to marry her equivalent of a Mr. Martin. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne realizes the Willoughby could not be trusted, while old, dependable Colonel Brandon can. Trust is also at the center of Mansfield Park. Fanny (irritating though she may be to many readers) is unerring about who is the right man for her; she has a sense of whom she can trust.
An alternative title to this is "Why marry Mr. Martin?" The inspiration is an article I read a long time ago in graduate school entitled, "Why marry Mr Collins?" Mr. Martin is the farmer whose proposal Harriet rejects under the influence of Emma, who is convinced that Harriet can do better by marrying a man of greater status. The woman who marries Mr. Collins, on the other hand, has no delusions about her prospects because she not only lacks money, but even the youth and good looks that Harriet can boast of. At 27 , Charlotte will seize any matrimonial opportunity to have a respectable establishment of her own.
While Emma herself succeeds in marrying the most prosperous gentleman in the novel, Harriet does get to marry the right man in the end for her, as well, and is quite happy. Unlike Mr.Collins, he is a man she can feel respect and affection for. Certainly, there is no suggestion that she would contrive to keep him out of her sight and hearing for most of the day as Charlotte does for her husband. It is not a spectacular match, but a good, solid one. Perhaps I should call it a sensible one, for it has something in common with the match that Marianne Dashwood learns to accept in Sense and Sensibility.