Ah, love! Somehow the rumor has been that all marriages 200 years ago, nay just a scant 50 years ago were the most vile arrangements imaginable. They couldn't possibly work out or result in actual love. Inconceivable! In our modern fiction, we see echos, reflections and exaggerations of ourselves. Jane Austen's quaint works of fiction offered just such a reflection. It wasn't always pretty and certainly there were obstacles to perfect felicity. I have just read her earliest novel, Northanger Abbey and present to you some notes of interest for both men and women.
The heroine--a minister's daughter, Catherine, speaks to her love interest, Henry. She was staying with his family, getting to know all of them. She speaks of her former friend, Isabella Thorpe who was engaged to her brother, James, and dropped him for Henry's brother, Captain Frederick Tilney:
'I see what she has been about. She is a vain coquette and her tricks have not been answered. I do not believe she ever had any regard either for James or for me, and I wish I had never known her.'
'It will soon be as if you never had,' said Henry.
'There is but one thing I cannot understand. I see that she has had designs on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understand what Captain Tilney has been about all this time. Why should he pay her such attentions as to make her quarrel with my brother, and then fly off himself?'
'I have very little to say for Frederick's motives, such as I believe them to have been. He has vanities as well as Miss Thorpe, and the chief difference is, that, having a stronger head, they have not yet injured himself. If the effect of his behavior does not justify him with you, then we better not seek after the cause.'
'Then you will suppose he never cared about her?'
'I am persuaded that he never did.'
'And made only so for mischief's sake?'
Henry bowed his assent.
'Well, then, I must say that I do not like him at all. Though as it turned out so well for us, I do not like him at all. As it happens, there is no great harm done, because I do not think Isabella has any heart to lose, But suppose he had made her fall very much in love with him?'
'But we must first suppose Isabella to have any heart to lose - consequently to have been a very different creature; and, in that case, she would have met with a very different treatment.'
'It is very right that you should stand by your brother.'
'And if you would stand by yours, you would not be much distressed by the disappointment of Miss Thorpe. But your mind is warped by an innate general principal of integrity, and therefore not accessible to cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire for revenge.'
Catherine was complimented out of further bitterness. Frederick could not be unpardonably guilty, while Henry made himself so agreeable. She resolved on not answering Isabella's letter, and tried to think no more of it.
Alphas and Betas
In our modern terms, Catherine stood by her Beta men in her own Beta way. "Alphas" were shown for what they were and exposed as vain pretenders very quickly. I'm sure they were quite entertaining at parties, but those with any sense kept their distance. And even "Alpha" ladies with poor judgment were typically kept in check. However, both characters were shown to be equally vain. Nowadays, it's hard to tell who is who and often all ladies and all men are lumped together by both sexes and treated with ill regard.
Catherine is sent away from the Tilney family without being given a reason. We later discover that reason: Isabella's brother, wanting Catherine for himself and being an unlikeable braggadocio, bragged about how much money Catherine's family had to General Tilney. Then later said how little. Somehow this was attributed to Catherine. But Henry knew Catherine to be of good character, offered her his hand in marriage and convinced his father of the truth. So yes, there were issues of dowry (the money a family presented to a man for the care of their daughter), but there were also issues of character. It turns out that Catherine had a good character and a generous dowry, though not an excellent one. Dowry, what a scary word! But that's how families helped each other out.
Courtship and Marriage.
Huge Courtship? Nay friends, nay. None at all. Walks in the country, a carriage ride perhaps. His sister or father were present the whole time as if it were perfectly natural and normal. Huge wedding? Nay again. In fact, it was hardly mentioned. 'Henry and Catherine were married; the bells rang and everyone smiled.'
The Age for Marriage:
The heroine was 18 and married the hero aged 26; 8 years difference. No one batted an eye over this and accused men of taking too long. Men did what men did and that was considered to be OK.
Men, if you are ever talking to a woman who says she loves Jane Austen's novels, that is code for you to look more closely at that girl. Jane Austen's heroines are of good character or learn it quickly. The rakish men are held responsible for behaving badly and being the exception rather than the rule. Good men are shown to be good and desirable for marriage. And, yes, to be sure, no man would ever dress that way for fear of being labeled "gay", but I assure you they were manly fashions in their day and that real men did go to tea--to meet the ladies, of course! As for me, I always observe what a man says about his family and how he treats his sister. I know that most of the time, he will treat me about that well. And lastly, everyone did attend church on Sunday. Though the Bible was not quoted, in every Jane Austen story the fruit of a character
s spirit showed who they really were--as it is in real life.
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