How Austen Changes Up the “Courtship Novel”

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion – Captain Wentworth's Glove ...

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion – Captain Wentworth’s Glove …

Earlier, we examine Austen’s art in the “courtship novel,” specifically in Pride and Prejudice.”Here we see that Jane Austen’s portrayal of courtship differs from that of many courtship novels written throughout the eighteenth century: in Austen’s novels, instead of submitting to authority and convention, a young woman takes charge of her own marriage.” (H. Giles: Eighteenth-Century Courtship Novels)

In “Courtship, Love and Marriage in Jane Austen’s Novels,” tells us, “It is right that the three words at the head of this article come in the order that they do, because in Jane Austen’s novels the manoeuvring by which a man presents himself to a woman (and her parents) as a possible husband often comes before any signs of love. Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice offers the most tough-minded and unsentimental analysis, counselling that Jane Bennet should secure her rich husband first and think about love only after they are married. ‘Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance’ (ch. 6). She is not the only articulate cynic. Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, possessed of a good fortune and on the lookout for a husband, calls marriage ‘a manoeuvring business’ (ch. 5). Conduct books of the period tend to represent marriage as a solemn religious duty but in Austen’s novels the harsh economic reality of a young woman’s value in the marriage market is what preoccupies most of the characters. – See more at: (Romantics and Victorians)

“Yet we are also invited to think that Charlotte Lucas’s and Mary Crawford’s views are dismal. Austen’s novels, while alive to the pressures of family expectations, unreservedly endorse the aim of marrying for love. Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey declares, ‘to marry for money I think the wickedest thing in existence’ (ch. 15). She is an unworldly 17-year-old, but her heart is right. And women’s choices, while constrained, are their own. In the earlier novels of the 18th century, fathers often try to command their sons and daughters whom to marry. In Austen’s world, as she says in the last chapter of Persuasion, ‘When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point’ (ch. 24). “- See more at: (Romantics and Victorians)

In the traditional courtship novel, the heroine leaves her childhood home behind eventually to find herself in the hero’s home. Austen’s novels vary this basic plot line. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth ascent into the Mr. Darcy’s social circle parallels her moving from southern England to the northern county of Derbyshire. Did you ever consider how only in Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion do the heroine’s “move” into an exogamous marriage? How they travel away from what they once knew, abandoning their childhood homes? Emma stays put in the Highbury neighborhood. Once she comes to Mansfield Park, Fanny Price remains very much upon the estate. The Dashwood sisters spend their lives in Kent. Catherine Morland visits Bath with the Allens, but it is her time in Fullerton which define her. 

Persuasion is Pride and Prejudice in reverse in more than one manner. Anne Elliot is the symbol of the “aristocracy” as the daughter of a baronet, while Captain Wentworth is the one who will ascend into her sphere. The Elliots were an old Royalist family who served “the office of High Sheriff, representing a borough in three successive parliaments, exertions to loyalty, and dignity of baronet, in the first year of Charles II” (ch 1). 

It's All About Books: January 2012

It’s All About Books: January 2012

Austen makes a political statement in her portrayal of Sir Walter Elliot, who squandered away his family fortune and his “exertions to loyalty.” Sir Walter’s disparagements of Admiral Croft, a Trafalgar hero, speaks of Sir Walter’s Whig descent. (Patrick Parrinder, Nation & Novel, Oxford University Press)

Anne Elliot abandons the ways of her foolish father and snobbish sister to become the equal of an intelligent and masterful man. “Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth’s affection. His profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that tenderness less, the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.” (ch 24)

Parrinder asserts (pages 194-195), “Yet this brings us up against the self-imposed limitations of Austen’s fiction, since she can merely hint at the national importance of the fighting services. There is a strong awareness of social change, of a movement from ‘the old English style’ to ‘the new’ (33) in Persuasion; but while the naval officers symbolize the change, they cannot determine its direction. The fragment of Sandition, which Austen did not live to finish, suggest that she may have been about to turn her attention to the commercial classes. In neither novel are the stately houses and their owners as formidable as they once were. It would be fascinating to know whether Sandition or Perusasion, would have been a portrait of the hero as bounder rather than the hero as (like Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley) gentlemanly prig. The last sentence of Persuasion observes that the drawback of being a sailor’s wife is Anne Elliot’s ‘dread of a future war’, and the novelist could not have foreseen that the long peace after Napoleon’s defeat was likely to condemn Frederick Wentworth to a humdrum and largely inactive future. Perhaps, like those other would-be dominant males Willoughby and Wickham, he would have to settle for country sports.” 



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to How Austen Changes Up the “Courtship Novel”

  1. Beatrice says:

    wouldn’t worry about Wentworth. If he lives long enough, he will be made admiral. Plus they can live frugally on board ship and his fortune should last quite a long time if there are no major expenditures. War or no war, there’s always a warship or two protecting the empire.

    • I thought Mr. Parrinder’s quote would stir up a response, Beatrice. Even retired from the Navy, I could never picture Wentworth as being indolent.

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