The Jane Austen Social Scene Part IX: Marriage and Friendship

pride-and-prejudice-wedding-scene

(Photo source: themerrybride.files.wordpress.com)

Emma Woodhouse and Miss Taylor. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. What do these pairs have in common? They each represent a pair of Jane Austen characters whose friendships were altered when one of them married. It then became Emma Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston. Elizabeth Bennet and Mrs. Collins.

One of the motifs of Austen’s novels is that of marriage. I would argue that a more specific theme would be how marriage alters friendships between female characters. Regardless of whether or not the marriage is to a likable character, such as Mr. Weston, or to a not so well liked character, such as Mr. Collins, the institution of marriage impacts the friendship and usually in a way that weakens it. Look at Lizzy and the former Miss Lucas: sure, Lizzy visits her friend and new hubby at their home, but Charlotte is no longer the friend Lizzy could confide in and gossip to at the beginning of the novel.

Austen’s observations regarding marriage and friendship ring true today. In getting married, the woman takes on the additional identity of someone’s wife, a role society promotes with traditional connotations. In other words, in marrying, the spouse is expected to become the priority while pre-existing relationships take a back seat. It’s no wonder that when Harriet Smith tells Emma about Robert Martin’s initial marriage proposal, Emma’s reaction is to persuade her friend to turn him down; in her eyes, she’s already lost one friend to a marriage, and she’s not about to lose another.

Does putting a ring on it mean putting an end to a friendship? Not necessarily. But it does mean that the friendship will not be the same as before.

 

 

 

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part III

Happy New Year!

In honor of the New Year, I figured I would post about two of my favorite Jane Austen characters (okay, who am I kidding, they are two of my favorite overall literary characters as well): Emma Woodhouse from Emma and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Photo Source: fridayonmymind.hubpages.com

Photo Source: fridayonmymind.hubpages.com

Photo Source: ebookbees.com

Photo Source: ebookbees.com

I like to think that Emma and Elizabeth, or Lizzy as she’s often referred to, would be good friends.  Both are smart, witty, and social.  Both get involved at one point with guys who turn out to be liars.  On the surface, they can appear to have a lot of the same character traits.  Yet…

Emma is a homebody whereas Lizzy is not.  Although Emma is social, she is tied to her home and to her father, so much so that she tells Mr. Knightley that can’t marry him because it would hurt her father too much to have her move away from him.  Meanwhile, Lizzy travels with her aunt and uncle and moves to Pemberley after marrying Mr. Darcy.

Despite Emma being higher up socially than Lizzy and being more wealthy (at least when they are both single), I would say Lizzy actually has more physical mobility since Emma does not travel except on her honeymoon.  This lack of travel on Emma’s part is in large due to her care of her father who is constantly worrying.  I give a lot of kudos to Emma for her patience with her father, but I give more kudos to Lizzy for making her own decisions without worrying about how her parents might react (example: her rejection of Mr. Collins).

Lizzy is also more grounded than Emma, perceiving the world in a way that demonstrates more of an awareness about society than Emma has.  Does Lizzy try to persuade her friend Charlotte Lucas to call off the engagement to Mr. Collins because Lizzy does not particularly care for Mr. Collins?  No, Lizzy does not.  Emma, on the other hand, practically holds up a neon sign to let her friend Harriet Smith know what she thinks of the idea of Harriet marrying Mr. Martin; as a result, Harriet rejects Mr. Martin the first time around, potentially ruining her social prospects.  Both Emma and Lizzy can be naive when it comes to the society around them; however, given Emma’s elevated position this lack of awareness is more pronounced.

There are certainly more differences when it comes to these two.  Lizzy comes from a large family; Emma has a sister, but seems to suffer from only-child syndrome at times.  Lizzy is perhaps the more mature of the two characters whereas Emma has moments of immaturity such as her insulting behavior towards Miss Bates when they are on an outing in the county (again, lack of social awareness – poor Miss Bates really is poor Miss Bates).  What makes me love both of these characters so much though is that they both have great hearts.  Emma feels awful once she realizes the mistakes she’s made and seeks to remedy them immediately.  Lizzy understands how she let her bias cloud her better judgement.  To me, these two are some of the most “real” characters in the world of Jane Austen, characters I identify with within myself and with others (and those others are often my close friends).

 

 

The Jane Austen Social Scene Part II

Photo Source: ramblings-janeite.blogspot.com

Photo Source: ramblings-janeite.blogspot.com

Today I bring you the puzzling case of Frank Churchill from Emma. In the novel, Frank Churchill is extremely flirtatious with Emma Woodhouse to the point where those around them speculate that the pair will soon be engaged. By the end of the novel, it’s revealed that Frank Churchill’s flirtations with Emma and slights of Emma’s rival Jane Fairfax were all part of Frank Churchill’s rouse to keep his engagement to Jane Fairfax under wraps until his wealthy aunt died and he received his inheritance. Once that happens it’s all, “Jane! We’re rich! I love you!” and “Good day, Miss Woodhouse.”

To be fair, Emma realizes she doesn’t actually love Frank Churchill and that her feelings towards Frank Churchill were more along the lines of a crush rather than enamor (and that he’s wrong for her). Kudos to Frank Churchill too for keeping his promise to Jane Fairfax. And yet…he totally uses Emma, fooling both her and everyone else (including his own father). Not to mention his insults towards Jane Fairfax, his secret fiancée.

So what do I make of Frank Churchill, both in the story and in the social scene? The Frank Churchill type is very charming, flirtatious, and someone you think is genuinely interested in you romantically. Yet the Frank Churchill type is in fact attached to another whom they rarely bring up (oh, yeah, my girlfriend…) in conversation; they would instead prefer to turn on the charm with you. If you do bring up the subject of their attachment, the charming façade falters as their expression turns serious and their volume lowers a notch or two as if they don’t want others to know. They might be distanced from their attachment by geographic distance or by other factors. Whatever the details of the case may be, the Frank Churchill type will blend with others, easily earning their high opinion.

Be wise to look past the charm of Frank Churchill as they may try to use you as part of their plans or simply to distract/amuse/entertain themselves. Either way, their views towards you can be best summed up as thinking of you as someone to play with. Once you figure out their game, “Shameful!” will come to mind when you think of them and what they did to you and those around you.