Exogamous and Endogamous Marriages in Austen’s Works

Brittanica.com defines an “endogamous marriage” as the custom enjoining one to marry within one’s own group, while Wikipedia says “endogamy” is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such a basis as being unsuitable for marriage or for other close personal relationships.The penalties for transgressing endogamous restrictions have varied greatly among cultures and have ranged from death to mild disapproval. Endogamous marriages are designed to keep a blood line pure or to create a dynasty by consolidating a family/house/community. British royalty have known this practice from its beginning, and many other examples exist in history.

Anne Elliot and Lady Russell

Anne Elliot and Lady Russell

In Austen’s work, we can think of several such marriages. Lady Catherine De Bourgh wished Darcy to marry her daughter Anne, consolidating the family ties and blood lines. Edmund Bertram marries his cousin Fanny. Charles Musgrove proposes to Anne Elliot, but when Lady Russell dissuades Anne in hopes of a better connection, Musgrove marries Mary Elliot, keeping the connections between the most important families of the community intact.

An exogamous marriage, on the other hand is a union of opposites. This might be political, social, or temperamental foes. The purpose of an exogamous marriage is to inject new blood into one of the Nation’s most revered and ruling families. The New Zealand Slavanic Journal says, exogamy is marriage outside a social group. “In social studies, exogamy is viewed as a combination of two related aspects: biological and cultural. Biological exogamy is marriage of non blood-related beings, regulated by forms of incest law. A form of exogamy is dual exogamy, in which two groups engage in continual wife exchange.” Cultural exogamy is the marrying outside of a specific cultural group. (New Zealand Slavonic Journal, Victoria University of Wellington, 2002, Volumes 35-36, p.81)

Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland

Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland

The most obvious examples of exogamous marriages in Austen is Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, Captain Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion,  and Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey.

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet

Some would say the same of George Knightley and Emma Woodhouse’s joining, but in many ways their marriage is also endogamous: The Woodhouses and the Knightleys are the leaders of Highbury society, and the Knightley/Woodhouse marriage will restore the portion of Donwell Abbey that the Woodhouses have claimed as part of the marriage settlement of Isabella Woodhouse. Also, Knightley and Emma are related by marriage. Knightley’s brother is Emma’s brother-in-law.

The weddings in Austen’s works are always financially and socially advantageous for the heroine. We, generally, assume this phenomenon occurs because Austen recognized the sting of inequalities in marriage during the Regency. Gentlemen chose women based on their abilities to deliver an heir. Not for love. Not for her intelligence. Unless the woman possessed the qualities of an “accomplished” lady

Miss Bingley

Miss Bingley

[[Miss Bingley:] “Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no [woman] can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”], she was not considered good marriage material.

We also learn from these marriages that some of those who marry for economic advantage are considered “weak minded” or “selling out.” For example, Charlotte Lucas’s acceptance of Mr. Collins is looked upon by Austen, the character Elizabeth Bennet, and Austen’s readers as an abomination.

Mrs. Bennet criticizes Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins with these words:

“Ay, there she comes, looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if were at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all; and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you — and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day.”

Later, when Elizabeth learns of Charlotte’s engagement to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth is astonished.

The possibility of Mr. Collins’ fancying herself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as far from possibility as that she could encourage him herself; and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out: “Engaged to Mr. Collins! my dear Charlotte — impossible!”

Charlotte responds with…

“I see what you feeling, you must be surprised very much surprised, so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know — I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’ character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”

It was a long time before she [Elizabeth] became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’ making two offers of marriage in three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own; but she could not have supposed it possible that, when called into action, she [Charlotte] would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte, the wife of Mr. Collins, was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself, and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

Others in Austen’s works have known unequal marriages.

The opening lines of Mansfield Park address the inequality between Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. Like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Sir Thomas marries a woman who was a beauty in her youth. Unfortunately, Lady Bertram becomes neurotic, a hypochondriac, and lazy. She values people’s attractiveness over all else. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet is a foolish, noisy woman whose only goal in life is to see her daughters married. Because of her low breeding and often unbecoming behavior, Mrs. Bennet often repels the very suitors whom she tries to attract for her daughters.

Mr. William Elliot

Mr. William Elliot

Such revelations leads one to wonder whether “being entranced” by the opposite sex leads to disappointment in marriage. Please note how Austen’s heroines must turn from the “charms” of unworthy gentlemen [Wickham, Willoughby, William Elliot, etc.] to discover contentment in marriage. Is Austen giving us her opinions of cads and scoundrels? Let us face the truth, the gentlemen these heroines claim are often something of a prig, a man of unbending principles. Is this Austen’s idea of honor? Do you suppose our dearest Jane ever knew such a man? Did she know the disappointment of unrequited love?

I look forward to your insights. Comment below and let’s have a conversation.

Advertisements

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage, real life tales, Regency era, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Exogamous and Endogamous Marriages in Austen’s Works

  1. JanisB says:

    First of all, let me thank you for not using illustrations from P&P95 to make your points in this thought-provoking piece.

    Having just viewed Becoming Jane for the first time I noticed that there was not this black and white division between boring husband material and bad-boy villain. Of course JA had nothing to do with the movie but it did serve to point up the differences between JA’s imagined characters and her possible experiences with a real live man. Altho’ I am not convinced that this relationship ever took place, given the black-and-white-ness of the men she devised for her stories. Had she known such a man I wonder if her character portraits would have been so clear-cut.

    European royal houses seem to have suffered greatly from endogamous marriage given the propensity they all had for physical and mental illnesses. Now that I live in a geographic area populated in part by hillbillies I have heard stories of “family” marriages and tales of the practice’s effects on them too. I have not yet (fortunately?) seen these effects first-hand. Clearly some populations are more prone to endogamous marriages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s