Marriage in Jane Austin’s World-(part 2)

October 22, 2010 by Beardmaster  
Published in Marriage

The rigid class system of Jane Austen’s world obligated women to marry if they wished to improve their status in life. Yet the experiences of women such as Harriet Smith in Emma, Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and Mrs. Smith in Persuasion, showed that the marriage and the prospect of marriage had its down sides as well. Who or what is really to blame in Mrs. Bennet’s and Mrs. Smith’s marriage?

Mrs. Bennet has a marriage that portrays the exact opposite, and the next few lines will prove that assertion to be true. “You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my nerves,” she complains. He replies, “You mistake me, my dear. I have high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least” (4). Mrs. Bennet’s marriage is a failure because of a difference of temperament and intelligence, lack of love and respect, and a misunderstanding of each other’s character.

               The entailment of the Bennet property was also a contributing factor to the failure of Mrs. Bennet’s marriage.  Entailment was an arrangement in Jane Austin’s time that a family’s property would always go to the next eligible male heir. Since the Bennets only had daughters, Mr. Bennet’s property would go to “a distant relation” (19) upon his death, effectively leaving his own family in a predicament. Mrs. Bennet had the threat of entailment hanging over her head, exacerbating her already anxious nature. She had money, but that “fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his [i.e. her husband’s fortune should he die]” (19). That is why “the business of her life was to get her daughters married” (4). Once married, they would be cared for, even after Mr. Bennet’s death. She could find no peace until her ‘business’ was completed. Entailment was nothing but a worry, and a marriage with such worries as hers could hardly be defined as agreeable. Mrs. Bennet’s marriage had many factors that contributed to its failure, some out of her control such as the entailment and some which she contributed such as her silliness and nervousness.

                Jane Austen uses Mrs. Smith in Persuasion to give her readers a glimpse of other factors that could lead to a failed and miserable marriage.  Evil companions corrupt good morals, declares the ancient Aesop fable. Apparently, evil companions also corrupt good marriages. For Mrs. Smith’s marriage, may not have ended up in such shambles, if her husband had not befriended Mr. Elliot. He “led [Mr. Smith] into expenses much beyond his fortune” (Austin, Persuasion, 138). However, the frightening thing about married individuals is that if you do something to one of them, you inadvertently do it to their spouse. Hurt the man, you hurt the woman. Mr. Elliot sins were therefore even worse than first imagined. That fiendish man “probably despised” (139) the Smiths and “seemed to have no concern at all for [his] friend’s probable finances, but, on the contrary, had been prompting and encouraging expenses, which could end only in ruin” (139). Mrs. Smith tells her entire tale of woe to Anne, in order to keep her away from Mr. Elliot’s evil clutches. Obviously, there is no happy end to her story, both she and her husband “had been ruined” (139).

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