Jane Austen has some great marriage advice!
Or at least, some wonderful advice on HOW TO CHOOSE A SPOUSE.
And for the last two podcasts of the season before we take a month off, we decided to record something that we wanted to talk about, something that we talk about for fun behind the scenes all the time–what Jane Austen was trying to say in her novels.
So consider this the podcast for all you Austen fans out there (and even some who just want to know her better). Summer’s a great time to pull out a copy of Sense & Sensibility and jump into the world of Mrs. Jennings for the first time, so let us start you off today with this super fun discussion!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
0:10 Intro + overview of themes in Jane Austen books
6:35 P&P: 1995 or 2005?
8:00 The father figures in all of the books
16:00 The silly characters: Mr Collins
25:50 Mrs Bennett, Mrs Jennings, The Palmers
30:45 The silly heroine: Emma
38:15 The bad characters: Mr Willoughby
43:30 Mr Wickham
50:30 Similarities of the good characters in Austen
55:00 Discussing the excellence of Persuasion
1:06:45 Summary of Jane Austen takeaways
What was Jane Austen’s main message?
When you look at her books, we think Austen was trying to warn women especially about how to recognize dangerous people. Writing at a time when women had absolutely zero recourse to look after themselves, and would have to rely on husbands and family, then WHO you chose to marry became vitally important.
Jane Austen seems to divide the world up into three types of people:
- Silly people
- Bad people
- Good people
While that’s a terrible oversimplification, we can see this in each of her works. Another thing that she does: Every father of a main character does not do his job well, leaving it to the main character to chart her own course in the world. And Austen’s advice? Avoid the bad characters. Don’t be afraid of the silly characters (but don’t ever be one yourself, Emma!), and gravitate to the good ones.
Her main message seemed to be: Life is more dangerous than you realize. You can’t rely on anyone else to secure your future and safety for you, so you simply must be wise, and, as women, you can’t afford mistakes.
We hope you enjoy this conversation about how Charlotte actually made the right choice; Mr. Collins wasn’t so bad in those days (but thank goodness we can stay single today rather than have to settle for a Mr. Collins); why Elinor is amazing; and why Persuasion is the book that everyone needs to read.
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Join our Patreon! For as little as $5 a month, support what we’re doing, AND get access to our awesome Facebook group, to Becca unfiltered, and more!
- Check out our new Great Sex Rescue Toolkit–everything you need to equip you to talk to others about toxic teachings in evangelicalism around sex
- Our books: The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better
Are you an Austen fan? What do you think of Charlotte’s choice? Who is your favourite hero? What do you think of her critique of fathers? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage Podcast. I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from BareMarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage. And I am joined today by two of my coauthors. Well, actually, my two coauthors for—
Rebecca: That’s also one of your coauthors.
Joanna: Yeah. It’s true.
Sheila: – for She Deserves Better. That’s true. For She Deserves Better and The Great Sex Rescue. The amazing Joanna Sawatsky.
Joanna: Hi, everybody.
Sheila: And my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.
Sheila: And we are not going to talk about evidence based advice today actually.
Rebecca: We are not.
Sheila: We are going to talk about literature because it is the summer, and we just wanted to end this season doing some fun stuff on the podcast. So today we are going to look at Jane Austen’s view of marriage looking at her novels. Because hey, that’s just what we talk about all the time behind the scenes, so we thought this would be fun. And then next week for episode 200 of the Bare Marriage podcast, we are having a—are you ready for it? Why don’t you announce it, Rebecca?
Rebecca: We’re having a Brio magazine pajama party.
Sheila: Oh, yeah, baby. We’re going to get on our flannels, and we are going to read excerpts from Brio magazine.
Rebecca: We really are. And I will say we found the two articles that me and Joanna remembered from our childhoods reading Brio. There was one article that Joanna was like, “Man, there was just this one that I want to find.” There was one where I was like it taught me—it made me think that you could STDs from holding hands. And so that—we got both of them. So it’s going to be a party.
Sheila: It’s going to be a party. But today it is also going to be a party. It’s going to be a Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion with minor of Northanger Abbey party. A Jane Austen party which is the best kind of party.
Joanna: It really is.
Sheila: And before we jump in, just—we just want to say thank you again to a big group of people who make what we do possible and that the three of us love to bits which is our patron group on Facebook and the people who choose to support us on a monthly basis. Our patron group is just awesome. We have a lot of fun there. And their money has allowed us to do our research. So we’re very grateful to them. And you can join for as little as $5 a month, but you can also pledge more on a monthly basis. Get free merch. Get discounts on our courses. All kinds of fun stuff. So head on over to patreon.com/baremarriage and join the party there. Okay, ladies, let’s talk Jane Austen because we love Jane Austen. And so I’m going to introduce some stuff that I want to talk about, and then I’ll let you guys all comment. Okay?
Sheila: So super big picture ideas of Jane Austen. So looking from above, I think that a lot of what she is writing is social commentary about the evils of power dynamics.
Sheila: And you see this in all of her books like how women are really disadvantages, how they really can’t do anything. There’s that great line that Elinor gives to Edward Ferrars about when Edward is complaining about how he really doesn’t know what profession he wants, and she’s like, “Well, at least you get to have a profession.” So there’s that. But we also see it—and maybe, Joanna, you can comment on this—specific—Mansfield Park is really an anti slavery book, I think.
Joanna: Yep. Yep. That’s pretty widely—I have a hobby where I read Jane Austen commentary and watch lectures about Jane Austen. And some day I want to go to the Jane Austen Society Conference and just watch talks for a whole weekend about the books.
Sheila: I’ve been in Jane Austen’s house. We were there when we were in England.
Joanna: Oh, so cool. Yeah. So—
Sheila: She was tiny. I saw her dresses. She was tiny. But anyway.
Joanna: They were all tiny back then. I was normal sized back in the day. But yeah. Mansfield as a slavery novel is very, very typically—that’s a thing people recognize.
Sheila: But then the other one I thought was interesting is in Emma you very much see an anti class thing as well.
Joanna: Yep. Persuasion is also very anti class.
Sheila: Yeah. She is so convinced that Harriet is her equal even though everyone is telling her that Harriet isn’t. Right. And she’s like, “No. Harriet is a gentleman’s daughter, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. And so we are the same.”
Joanna: But also in Persuasion, you have Anne doesn’t get on. The people in the upper class are all shown to be incredibly silly, vain, chasing glory, and the people who Anne actually connects with are the military class. And she finds that those are her equals. Those are the people who are like her, and they are good people of—that—who have values, who have—who care for each other, who are actually the people who she wants to spend her life with. And she actually goes from spending all of her time with the upper crust to becoming a captain’s wife and spending all of her time with the sea captains. And she’s the only heroine who Austen—Elizabeth Bennet ends up living in the upper class in the—she’s not a—he’s not in the aristocracy, but he’s as rich as one. But Anne Elliot ends up on a boat. Jane is like, “I’m so done. She’s better off on a man of war. Get her out of these mansions.”
Joanna: She can go off like Napoleon.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. Really interesting. So we definitely see in Austen’s books—she wasn’t comfortable with society as it was. And you see this over and over again in her novels. But that’s not the main point of her novels. I think when I read Austen the main point to me is she was writing to women saying, “Okay. The world sucks for you. You’re in a really difficult position, and nobody else is going to look after you. And so you need to make good choices.” And when I read her novels, I read them as an exercise in helping women identify what are good choices and what are bad ones.
Joanna: Well, and I think she—you and I have both talked about how Austen, in particular, helped us to learn to identify good people. Sense and Sensibility and Emma were my two favorites when I was a little thing. And it was just a constant soundtrack in my life. I had those—the 1995 Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. I have watched that movie, I think, probably more times than anyone else on the face of the earth because it was pretty much daily.
Sheila: Katie might give you—my other daughter, Katie, might give you a run for your money on that. But yeah. And then the five hour—of course, now before we get going, everyone is going to want to know. BBC version? Or Keira Knightley version?
Rebecca: Depends on the character. Jane is better in the Keira Knightley version.
Sheila: And I would argue—and we are going to talk about this—that Mrs. Bennet is better. At least, I learned more about Mrs. Bennet in the Keira Knightley version.
Rebecca: Both Collinses are absolute icons. What excellent boiled potatoes is just a perfect line.
Sheila: Now you know what I was impressed with with the Keira Knightley version? Is that Mr. Collins was—David Bamber is Mr. Collins in the five-hour version of Pride and Prejudice. The BBC version. And they couldn’t do that again, and so they had to do him in a totally different way. And I didn’t know how they were going to do it, and they actually did a good job. Given they couldn’t do it the same way, they did creepy in a different way.
Joanna: Yes. And I would like to say I think that the BBC version has a lot more of Austen in it. It’s a better adaptation. I love the filmography in the Keira Knightley version. I think it’s so beautifully shot. I think it’s just a gorgeous film. And I love the atmosphere that pervades it. And that’s the one that I grew up watching, so I do prefer it. But I recognize that it’s more for personal reasons and also because I think it’s so pretty.
Sheila: Yeah. No. I’m totally BBC. I’m totally BBC. But anyway, but let’s jump in to—okay. If her thesis is that you have to look out for yourself because no one else will, what’s really interesting is when you look at the fathers in all of the books because they all fail their daughters in different ways. So Mr. Dashwood, whose death opens Sense and Sensibility, right? Super loving father. Everyone loved him. But terribly irresponsible.
Rebecca: Yeah. And ended up totally leaving his—not fixing his estate so that his daughters would be guaranteed to be taken care of.
Joanna: It was entailed. It was entailed. He couldn’t fix that.
Rebecca: Oh, that’s true.
Joanna: But he didn’t have any ability to fix that, but he didn’t get his son to agree to terms. He made it into a deathbed confession. Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca: That’s what I mean. That’s what I mean though.
Joanna: He had a deathbed, “Help my daughters,” as opposed to, “Hey, let’s hash this out now so that this isn’t a thing that you can back out of because I see that your wife is kind of the worst.”
Rebecca: Exactly. That’s what I meant. Yeah. He didn’t think about what would happen to his daughters when he died until he was dying. He was like, “It should be all right.” And then they weren’t.
Sheila: Yeah. Okay. Then there’s Mr. Bennet, who is basically disengaged from the family. Lizzie loves him, but he’s disengaged. And he is also irresponsible.
Joanna: Yep. He recognizes by the end of the novel how irresponsible he was and has a whole redemption arc at the end there.
Sheila: Yeah. Because he was irresponsible in how he raised Lydia, who ends up wrecking the family to a large extent. But also he just—they never saved any money because he always figured they’d have a son who would look after the daughters because the estate was entailed to a male. And they never had—they had five daughters. And so they never saved any money.
Joanna: Nope. Super irresponsible.
Rebecca: And the other thing to is even just in how much stress his lack of communication is shown to cause the family because Mrs. Bennet was so wrung out on her poor nerves. That scene where Bennet—Mrs. Bennet has just been pestering him about the ball at Netherfield. “And you must give Mr. Bingley a call,” and all these things. And then he just says, “Well, I already did it awhile ago,” but he didn’t say anything. So the whole family has been in a tizzy for so long carrying all this—your wife is a nervous wreck. Maybe don’t let her just sit in anxiety for a minute longer than necessary. Maybe she would be less of a nervous wreck if you actually communicated when you did the things that would directly impact her and your daughters that she has no power to do. It’s just a complete lack of communication. And he’s someone who—Mr. Bennet, to me, always just seemed like the person who doesn’t fully understand how much easier he has it than the people around him.
Rebecca: And he makes everyone else’s life inconvenient as a result.
Joanna: Well, it’s very important—it actually profoundly affects Jane and Lizzie’s marriage prospects because they have not saved. They do not have a dowry. And so they—given the income that Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet have, their daughters should have far, far, far more options. They should have been going to town and having more connections in London. The parents in that family have put their daughters at a huge disadvantage by their choices.
Sheila: Mm-hmm. And you wonder how much of it is both parents. What I think about it looking back on it is—yes. Mrs. Bennet is a silly character, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But how much of her silliness is because Mr. Bennet hasn’t done what he should have done? And now she’s just plain desperate.
Joanna: I think that’s part of it. I do think that the spending—I don’t—if Mr. Bennet had married a different woman the spending would have been different. He doesn’t put his foot down and make her stick to a budget, but I don’t think that he’s the kind of dude—he probably would spend too much money on books. But otherwise, the over spending is Mrs. Bennet is my impression.
Sheila: Right. Mm-hmm. Okay. Now let’s do Emma’s father. Super silly. Hypochondriac. And is totally unconcerned with anyone other than himself.
Joanna: Today he would be way into weird teas.
Sheila: As we drink our herbal tea that I grew myself last year.
Sheila: In our Prayer and Tent Pegs mugs, which are available in our store.
Joanna: Yeah. He surrounded himself with quack doctors.
Sheila: Mm-hmm. So definitely not focused on his kids’ well being. Then there’s Anne’s father in Persuasion. Mr. Elliot, who is exceedingly vain. Probably the most vain character that Austen ever wrote.
Joanna: Possibly the most vain character ever. It’s hard to top Mr. Elliot. Oy.
Sheila: Yeah. Who spends his life fussing over his hair and reading the peerage books to figure out who is important and who is not and what will be his entry in this—yes. Extremely bad. And then there’s Fanny’s father, who is absent in Mansfield Park. But who kind of—I think Fanny’s father, to me, is just the message without money you really are—
Joanna: Well, and he’s not a good dude. They had too many kids. He’s not working hard. He’s not a good guy. And also Tom Bertram, the elder, is also not a good father. He’s such a heavy handed authoritarian. Which is her uncle who takes her in. He’s really the parental figure there. And he’s very problematic.
Sheila: Yeah. So basically, the message is you cannot rely on your parents to make your life for you, so you have to do it yourself.
Joanna: Yeah. I would like to just add that Northanger Abbey, the Morlands, are great. That’s the one exception to this rule, but that was a juvenilia novel not published in Austen’s lifetime. So she had changed it.
Sheila: And you are the only one that is going to talk about Northanger Abbey because I have never finished it. I started it once, and I just couldn’t get into it.
Joanna: I read it. Yeah. It’s good. It’s good. It’s really a story about—domestic violence. So she’s dealing with all of the big, heavy stuff just in a way that would have been publishable in the early 1800s.
Sheila: Right. Okay. So these are awesome, awesome books. They’re just awesome. So now I’m going to get even more simplistic because it’s the only way to talk about this stuff is talk about themes. And when I read Austen, I think that she divides the world into three types of people. Okay? And a lot of the point of her books is to help people recognize which category people fall in and how you should treat them given that category. And I think—and you can correct me if I’m wrong. But I think the categories would be good, bad, and silly.
Sheila: So there’s people who have good character who are trying to help others. There’s people who have bad character who are allowing others to bear the consequences of their own bad behavior and not taking responsibility for their own actions and not thinking of other people. And then there’s people, who are just silly. They’re just socially awkward. They’re not necessarily fun to be around.
Rebecca: But they’re often acting without thinking. The good and the bad are both acting with thinking. And the silly are just acting. And if they think, that’s great. But they often don’t.
Sheila: Yes. And so a lot of her work—and we’re going to get to this at the end because this is the important stuff—is helping people recognize the bad character, right? Your Willoughbies, your Wickhams, your Mrs. Norrises. People that have bad character. Recognize them. Avoid them. Here’s how to handle them. But let’s talk about the silly because I think they’re actually some of the most fun characters. And the most—definitely the most interesting characters. So who would be a silly character that you want to start with, Becca.
Rebecca: Well, we’re going to start with Mr. Collins. Of course, we’re going to start with Mr. Collins.
Sheila: Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins. Yeah.
Joanna: He’s quintessentially silly.
Sheila: Mm-hmm. So for those who don’t know, we should probably be explaining some of this. So Pride and Prejudice, which is the classic novel—
Rebecca: I can’t believe that we’re how many minutes in and we’re starting to explain one novel.
Sheila: I know. We haven’t explained (cross talk). Okay. But this is important for Mr. Collins is the Bennets have five daughters. All of whom, as the book opens, are unmarried. They range in age from, I believe, 15, almost 16, to 23. I think Jane is 23. So five daughters. And none of them are married. And the estate—so they are—their father is a gentleman, but he doesn’t have a lot of money. So he is on the lower end of the gentleman class, and his estate is set to go to the male relative, which will leave the girls without any support. And so this is a big tragedy, so the whole book is focused on how to get these girls married off. And Mr. Collins happens to be the male relative that this estate is going to be left with, and he is a pastor. And he is exceedingly silly.
Joanna: So he’s so silly it hurts.
Sheila: Yeah. He’s so socially awkward it’s awesome. It’s just awesome.
Rebecca: They do such a lovely job of making him silly. His little preconsidered compliments to give a woman and all the things.
Joanna: Mm-hmm. That are supposed to be specific to the woman, but he’s been just prepping them for anybody. It’s so good.
Sheila: And so cringey. And the best part is how Austen writes this so that Elizabeth is spending this entire dinner meal insulting him without anyone—without him realizing that she is. It’s just a thing of beauty. So, of course, Mr. Collins proposes to Lizzie, and Lizzie says, “Absolutely not,” which devastates her parents. Well, her mother anyway.
Sheila: And one of my favorite lines in Pride and Prejudice—I need to quote this one. So Lizzie says no. Mrs. Bennet freaks out, goes and tells Mr. Bennet how awful this is that Lizzie has said no. And Mr. Bennet calls Lizzie in and says, “Lizzie, this is a terrible day. Because from this day forward, you will be a stranger to one of your parents. For your mother will never speak to you if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never speak to you if you do.”
Rebecca: It’s a great line.
Sheila: That’s the thing. Mr. Bennet is very likeable. He’s just a terrible father. And so in return, Mr. Collins goes and proposes to Charlotte, a friend of the family.
Rebecca: Lizzie’s best friend.
Joanna: No. No. I have to quote this line. This line is so good because Charlotte is scheming. She is like, “Hey, I am about,”—she’s 27. She’s on the edge of spinsterhood. And so she goes, and she meets Mr. Collins accidentally in the lane.
Rebecca: Yes. Yes. Exactly. So she hears that Lizzie has turned down an offer of marriage, and then Charlotte happens to bump into Mr. Collins on the lane.
Joanna: She goes up to the attic, sits at the window, looks out, and then heads on out the door. Oh, it’s such a good scene.
Sheila: Yeah. And she ends up marrying him which Lizzie is upset about because it’s like—
Sheila: – “Charlotte, how could you marry someone who is so silly?” And what I think is interesting is Jane Austen does not portray this choice of Charlotte’s as being a bad one.
Joanna: No. The narrative voice is very positive on Charlotte and Mr. Collins. And they show Charlotte to be—now there is a line about maybe Charlotte will eventually find her chickens and her home not as—she won’t value that as much given her choices. This could dim. But she’s got a good thing going, and it may just keep on trucking.
Sheila: Yeah. Because at that time, she wasn’t from a super wealthy family. She’s 27 years old, and she’s single. And if she doesn’t marry someone who can support her, her life is either a governess or a servant.
Joanna: Mmm. She could have been like Austen. She could have been a governess. She wouldn’t have been a servant. She certainly wouldn’t have gone that far down. But she wouldn’t have been comfortable. I mean Jane Austen wasn’t every comfortable. Jane Austen slept in the same bed as her sister until she died in her forties. It was not a comfortable living to be a single woman.
Rebecca: Well, and also there is a level where there were not—if she was to get married at the age of 27, many of the good men will have already snatched up other eligible young ladies. And so if you are an eligible older woman, you’re not generally going to get the pick of the litter, if that makes sense, right? And so—
Joanna: Especially given a lack of fortune.
Rebecca: Exactly. And so here you have a man who—what’s the line that you like? (cross talk)
Sheila: So Charlotte is complaining to Lizzie about Lizzie being upset about this. And she says—and this one. It gives me shivers every time I hear it. “But, Lizzie, he’s not vicious.”
Rebecca: He’s not a vicious man.
Sheila: He’s not a vicious man. And you realize how much that meant at the time because so many women were married to vicious men, to abusive men.
Joanna: And you couldn’t divorce.
Sheila: You couldn’t divorce. Nobody would come to your rescue.
Rebecca: And if you left him, you and your children would be scorned from society as well.
Joanna: You’d end up in a debtor’s prison.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. I have family that were in debtor’s prisons in London. I’ve done some genealogy. And every now and then they show up in there for a couple of years, and then they get out. And then they go back in. But yeah. It was not—it was a terrible, terrible time. And so Charlotte saying, “But he’s not a vicious man,” and so she actually did pretty well for herself. And there’s that perfect scene when she’s married and Lizzie comes to visit. And Charlotte explains what her day is like. Do you want to do it?
Rebecca: Yeah. She says, “Yes. We have quite a comfortable life here. Mr. Collins spends many a day—or many hours of a day out in his gardens. And, of course, between that and his responsibilities with his clergy and his patronage to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, we often go many a day while we scarcely meet.”
Sheila: And she keeps saying, “And he spends many a day in his garden, and I encourage it.”
Rebecca: Yes. And I encourage it.
Sheila: “And he often takes turns around the lane for exercise. And I encourage it. And many a day will go by and we haven’t even spoken to each other.” But she says it in a nice way. And it’s just brilliant. So she’s obviously made a good life for herself.
Rebecca: But it’s also—it’s an agreeable arrangement. And I think this is what Austen shows in her books is there’s two different kinds of acceptable marriages. Is there is marriage is where you do marry for love. Two people with good character. There’s one where it’s not just acceptable. But then there’s also the acceptable arrangements where Collins needed a wife. He wanted to have children. It’s beneficial for a member of the clergy in their status to be a family man, right? That was a thing that he wanted and would help him, and Charlotte wanted to have a stable environment where she would be taken care of, where she could take care of her younger sister if need be, where she could have—where her children would be supported, where she could have children. There’s a lot of things that they both got out of it, and Austen is not like against that. The book—I don’t know if we want to get into this, but it also does seem like part of Pride and Prejudice and the fact of it being titled Pride and Prejudice is that the Collins marriage does seem to be how Austen shows that Lizzie only got a happy ending by the skin of her teeth. And she is lucky that Collins married someone like Charlotte because now Charlotte—remember? Collins has all the Bennet girls’ futures in his hands the same way that the Dashwoods were—Marianne and Elinor and everyone.
Sheila: In Sense and Sensibility.
Rebecca: In Sense and Sensibility. When Mr. Bennet dies, now their best friend is going to be running their household. They’re going to be having someone who can watch out for Mary and for Kitty and for Lizzie if she had never gotten married and for Lydia. All of these people. And Lizzie had that chance to give her family security, and she didn’t take it. Austen isn’t necessarily saying Lizzie made the wrong choice as much as Lizzie took a big risk.
Joanna: Yeah. Lizzie is also the main character in a novel. Lizzie made a main character in a novel choice. IRL Lizzie probably married Mr. Collins.
Sheila: Yeah. And Austen is portraying that as not necessarily a bad choice. Now today totally different game. We are not saying that you should marry a silly man that you don’t like and that you never want to spend any time with.
Sheila: But in those days, you had no way of supporting yourself.
Joanna: You couldn’t. No. Even Austen, who was a wildly successful author, hardly got any money for her work in her lifetime.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. And so yeah. You had no way of supporting yourself. And so today the advice would not be the same. But making the best of your situation is very much what Austen was saying. Make wise choices because long term—so many people are focused on their happiness right now, but you need to think long term. And I think that’s what Austen was telling people to do, encouraging people to do, is think long term. Let’s do a couple more silly characters. We’ll do these ones more quickly because I want to get to the bad characters and the good characters and what she says about that. But Mrs. Bennet. Okay? Mrs. Bennet is the classic silly character. Everything is getting on her nerves. She is—
Rebecca: “Kitty, go retrieve my smelling salts.”
Joanna: Well, and then she just embarrasses herself in front of Mr. Darcy and the Bingleys. And it’s just oh.
Sheila: She’s so socially awkward. You know what changed my view of Mrs. Bennet? I watched—and this is why I like her better in the Keira Knightley version. Brenda Blethyn, who played Mrs.—is an amazing actress. If any of you have BritBox and you stream BritBox, you need to watch the show Vera. Vera is—she’s a detective. Same actress plays this detective. And it’s like 12 seasons long. It’s amazing. I love it. And it’s set in a place where my grandmother was born, so I love hearing all the names of (inaudible) and everything. But anyway, Brenda—there’s a scene at the end of Pride and Prejudice where Mrs. Bennet played by Brenda Blethyn is looking at the window as Lydia leaves. And she starts to break down, and she says, “Three daughters married. Oh, Mr. Bennet.” And you realize—it was the first time I realized that her desperation and all of her silliness in regards to Bingley and plotting that Jane will get wet, so she’ll have to stay overnight and all the silly things that she does—that that was really borne out of love for her girls and absolute desperation because you have five daughters. And you need to marry them off. You need to.
Joanna: And, again, over spending. These are not perfect people. Mr. Collins is a terrible gossip and hurts his parishioners because he goes and tells all their business to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and then she goes and inserts herself. These are not necessarily S tier.
Sheila: Yes. Yes.
Rebecca: No. Yeah. We do see the silly characters—Austen shows that they are not—again, being silly is not morally neutral. And I think that’s also one of the warnings that Austen is giving, right? Where it’s like just being a bit of an airhead that actually can harm people. You don’t get the choice to just not be awful.
Sheila: Yeah. And Mrs. Dashwood is the perfect example of that because Mrs. Dashwood—so in Sense and Sensibility, she has three unmarried daughters. And when her husband dies and the money goes to the son from the first marriage and the son from the first marriage doesn’t honor his promise to his father to care for the girls and so they have such a reduced income, and Mrs. Dashwood is just incapable of spending less. And so it really parentifies Elinor in Sense and Sensibility who has to do all the hard things of making them stick to a budget. And you see Anne Elliot in Persuasion doing the same thing because her older sister, who is also unmarried, and her father spend—
Joanna: So vain.
Sheila: Yeah. They’re so vain, and they spend like anything. And Anne Elliot is the one who is trying to retrench, trying to spend less. Yeah. So being silly is not morally neutral, and she shows how silly people can really hurt those around them. But then there’s the silly people who are just socially awkward, but they’re not bad. And I think Austen is asking us to take another look at them. So people like Mrs. Jennings, who is in Sense and Sensibility, and she is the mother-in-law of the big house that they live right near who often invites them to dinner. And all she does is match make. She’s just forever getting in everyone’s business.
Rebecca: She’s just a meddler.
Sheila: Yeah. But you know what?
Joanna: She’s bored.
Sheila: She’s bored. She’s post menopausal, and she’s like, “I am just not going to care anymore. And I am going to get in everyone’s business, and I am going to make life better for everybody.” And she actually does.
Joanna: Yeah. She legitimately does. And again, does she make things awkward for Elinor and Marianne? Yes. But does she also come through in the clutch? She takes such good care of Elinor and Marianne. Such good care of them. And she loves them desperately and really looks after them well. And so I think that Austen does such a great job of showing that beneath the silly exterior there can be a real heart of gold. And actually in Sense and Sensibility, I think that the Palmers, both Charlotte and Mr. Palmer, would fall into that same category of where they’re both just profoundly silly. And they married each other in profound silliness, and their marriage has just made them both worse.
Rebecca: And the casting choices in the movie version for the Palmers is astounding.
Sheila: Yeah. Hugh Laurie is Mr.—isn’t Hugh Laurie Mr. Palmer?
Rebecca: Yes. Hugh Laurie is Mr. Palmer.
Joanna: It’s so good.
Sheila: Yeah. Really, really excellent. Okay. Then the main silly one, though, that gets the most air time I would argue is Emma. I think Emma falls in the silly category.
Rebecca: Yes. Emma is a silly heroine.
Sheila: Because most of her heroines are not, right? But Emma is the silly heroine. Anne, Elinor—I mean you could argue Marianne is also silly, and so Marianne gets a lot of air play. But I think—
Joanna: Yeah. But Marianne isn’t the main character. It’s all through Elinor’s point of view.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. But Emma, we actually see a silly girl. And she doesn’t wake up until the end of the novel. And she makes life really bad for the people around her.
Rebecca: And she almost risks their entire life time of security.
Sheila: To set the stage, Emma—and in the movie version—the Gwyneth Paltrow movie is actually quite good, I think.
Rebecca: I liked it.
Joanna: I’ve never seen it. I have the A&E version from the nineties.
Rebecca: No. It’s not good.
Joanna: That’s the one that I watched. I had it on VHS.
Sheila: Yeah. No. The Gwyneth Paltrow is actually quite good if people want to watch it.
Rebecca: Gwyneth Paltrow is quite good. It’s quite good. And the casting for Harriet is lovely.
Sheila: Mm-hmm. Oh yeah. Harriet is amazing.
Rebecca: They do her perfectly. No. They do her perfectly.
Sheila: So Emma is this rich—
Rebecca: I’m sorry. I’m going to be honest. Gwyneth Paltrow, who runs Goop, is the perfect person to play a flighty daughter of a crack medicine kind of—a crock medicine kind of person.
Sheila: Yes. But Emma is the story of this rich woman, the unmarried daughter of this hypochondriac man. She really doesn’t have a lot of interest in getting married herself. And so she’s—
Joanna: No. She’s wealthy. She’s got plenty of money. She can be a spinster and be perfectly happy. She’s the only one whose like that. There’s no stakes for her.
Sheila: Right. And so she is going to spend her life trying to marry everybody else off because she thinks she’s desperately good at this because she arranged the match between her governess and the man that her governess married. And they have a wonderful marriage, and they are actually portrayed as having a wonderful marriage throughout this book. And so she’s like, “I am so good at this I’m just going to do it for everybody.” And there’s this woman made Harriet, who has been raised by a local family, and she is the daughter of a gentleman. But basically what happened is she’s an illegitimate child, never knew who her parents were because someone—some rich guy got a woman pregnant. And then they took the baby and stuck it in this small town. And so this family has raised this girl. And so Emma thinks, “I am going to get—I am going to arrange a good marriage for Harriet.” And that’s what largely the book is based on as she slowly but surely ruins Harriet’s life.
Rebecca: Only for the novel to end with everyone breathing a sigh of relief when Harriet ends up with the man she should have ended up with at the very beginning before Emma—
Sheila: Who she would have ended up with.
Rebecca: Who she would have ended up with anyway. And at least, all of Emma’s meddling didn’t actively destroy anything long term. But the problem is there is Emma was being silly because—and this is what I think Austen is showing. I’m curious to see what Joanna thinks. This is my theory is that Austen was showing that Emma’s resistance to accept the reality of class issues accidentally led her to almost putting Harriet down a path that was worse than the one that she had in front of her. Right? Because Emma was saying—on the good side, Emma was blind to class divides in this area. Right? She was like, “Listen. Harriet is a gentleman’s daughter. I am a gentleman’s daughter.” Right? That’s what she says. “We are the same.” And she doesn’t recognize that in that time it actually was a problem for your reputation to have someone who was not raised in nobility, who did not understand the social customs, who did not walk in those circles. Obviously, the classism was disgusting. We’re not on its side. I’m just saying this is how the reality was was that having someone like Harriet marry into a gentleman’s family that was a bona fide, legitimate gentleman’s family actually would have been damaging to a reputation. And do no. No one was going to do that. But Emma has this delusion of how the world should be and tried to project that onto Harriet and accidentally almost sacrificed her in the process. And then she ends up with this lovely farmer—
Joanna: Who is a good man.
Rebecca: – who is a good, kind, gentle man, who loves her desperately and no. She’s not going to have seven fireplaces, but she is going to have a house that keeps her warm. Right?
Joanna: She’s going to be comfortable.
Rebecca: Yeah. And I think that’s what I see as—
Sheila: He has a wonderful sister, so she’s going to have this big family.
Rebecca: Yeah. And I think that’s the warning about silliness that Austen has is it’s not just about silliness and don’t understand social cues. It’s also don’t ignore the reality that would hurt others even if you are not impacted.
Joanna: Yep. Absolutely.
Sheila: And I think her definition of silliness too is get your eyes off of yourself. I mean the most cringey, the worst thing, the worst scene that Austen ever wrote is in Emma.
Joanna: Oh, I can hardly read it. I watched that movie a million times. I think I saw the Box Hill scene twice, and then I was like fast forward.
Sheila: I know. I can’t watch it either. It’s just awful. So what happens is there are a number of people in this small town that Emma lives who were also gentleman’s daughters, are, sort of, of that class, but they have massively reduced income. And so they’re reliant on a lot of charity, and they’re old maids. And they’re just not very—
Joanna: Very silly and hard to be around.
Sheila: Yes. Very socially awkward and hard to be around. But the other characters in this novel always involve them anyway.
Rebecca: Yes. They’re always included.
Sheila: They’re always included. Emma doesn’t like this because she finds them difficult. But other people are always including these poor relations kind of thing. And there’s a scene where the whole group is out on a picnic. And Emma just openly insults one of the women. It is so painful.
Rebecca: It is the most excruciating things to watch or read.
Sheila: Yes. But, again, Austen is just telling us you need to look at how you affect other people around you. And Emma only had her eyes on herself.
Rebecca: Yeah. And I think that one of the things that Austen does so well in Emma is she shows that having a higher class status, having more money, having more power does not mean that you have better social skills. It does not mean that you are more classy. Right? She actually shows how Emma steps in it over and over and over again because she did things that were inappropriate. And the people who Emma deems as inappropriate were not actually being inappropriate. They were just a little bit weird. Right? And I think that’s a big thing that—when we’re looking at the characters and the marriages in Pride and Prejudice, in Sense and Sensibility, all these things is it keeps coming back to what we were talking about. Is it keeps coming back to pragmatism. And what’s reality? Not what do we want things to be like. But what is the world actually like and how are the people who have power working against, even unwittingly, the people who don’t? And how can we stop that?
Sheila: Mm-hmm. All right. Let’s leave the silly people behind, and let’s turn to the bad people. Who do you want to do first?
Joanna: Let’s start with Willoughby because I think he’s bad, but he’s not—Wickham is so calculated whereas Willoughby is just like, “I’m going to do what’s the easiest thing for me right now.”
Sheila: Mm-hmm. So Willoughby is from Sense and Sensibility. And Sense and Sensibility is really the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. And one is sense and one is sensibility. So Elinor has sense, and sensibility really means overcome by feelings. It’s sort of an odd word we don’t use a lot today. But that’s what it would have meant then. And so Elinor is sense. She does everything—she thinks everything through, and she doesn’t show her feelings very much. And she tries to do what’s right.
Rebecca: Really today we would probably call it head and heart. Something like that.
Sheila: Yeah. And so Marianne, who is the younger of the two, falls head over heels with Willoughby, who is just—he is handsome. And he’s fun. And he’s charming.
Rebecca: He quotes poetry with her.
Sheila: Yes. And he ends up leaving her and marrying someone else who has more money. And so she’s so disappointed.
Joanna: After being totally inappropriate with her. Taking her into the house that he’s going to inherit without introducing her to the woman who currently owns it. Super duper not okay stuff.
Sheila: Yeah. And my favorite thing—when you guys were little, when you and Katie were little, the Shakespeare sonnet that—
Rebecca: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love.” I can still do it.
Joanna: Oh yeah. I can totally do it too.
Sheila: “Which alters when it alteration finds, or bends like the remover to remove.”
Rebecca: “Ok, no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
Sheila: Yeah. And then—
Joanna: “It is the star to every wandering bark.”
Sheila: Yeah. And then it ends with, “Willoughby. Oh, Willoughby.”
Rebecca: There’s a scene where Marianne is just desperate. She’s running in the rain to look at the house where Willoughby is living with his new wife. And at the top of the hill, she stands there and quotes the sonnet that they had done—that they had quoted together. And she—yeah. She ends it with, “Oh, Willoughby. Willoughby.”
Sheila: And then she faints, and then Colonel Brandon comes and rescues her.
Rebecca: But yeah. So every time that we quoted it, we always ended it with, “Oh, Willoughby.”
Sheila: Yeah. Yes. Marianne, of course, played by Kate Winslet, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal because it was really quite awesome.
Joanna: It’s so good. Oh, man. Sorry. And Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon is S tier. Sorry. Yeah. Okay.
Sheila: Yeah. Absolutely perfect. Okay. So tell us about Willoughby, Joanna.
Joanna: So John Willoughby is a rake. In the course of the novel, we found out that he has impregnated another young woman. And in his thoughtlessness, he thinks that this young woman will know how to get his address, but she doesn’t. And so in his thoughtlessness, he has cut her off from any ability to be looked after. He doesn’t know she’s pregnant when he leaves her. He just leaves her thinking, “Okay. Yeah. I’m going to abandon her. I don’t want to be with her anymore. I’m good. I’ve had my fun. Off I go.” And his thoughtlessness about how his action impact others throughout the book leaves just a trail of destruction in his wake. He is not a calculated actor. He’s not scheming how he’s going to hurt people. He’s not thinking about how he’s going to climb the social rungs. He’s just trying to do what makes him feel better. And he’s profoundly selfish. He honestly, if I can be—he reminds me of a lot of the worst of evangelical men.
Joanna: You have your calculated Wickhams. But a lot of dudes with power just do what’s easy. And when you just do what’s easy and what’s convenient for you that can end up with someone going through the world like John Willoughby and leaving the bodies behind the bus thing. Right? He leaves bodies behind the bus.
Sheila: Well, I think what’s so interesting is the contrast between Willoughby and Lydia, for instance, right? Obviously, two different novels. So Lydia is Pride and Prejudice. Willoughby is Sense and Sensibility. But Lydia is in a lot of ways acting the same way as Willoughby, but the consequences for them both are very different because men don’t pay the price. But women really do. And I think that’s also something that Austen is pointing out is you can’t be—as a woman, you cannot be—
Rebecca: A silly woman.
Sheila: – a silly woman because there is no room for error. There is no margin for error.
Joanna: No. There were debtor’s prisons, and you will die of consumption. (cross talk)
Rebecca: You only get to be a silly woman after you are well married.
Joanna: Yeah. Or if you have an independent fortune like Emma. Emma can afford to be silly. Literally can afford whereas like your Fanny Price, who has absolutely nothing—she cannot afford to be anything but perfect. And she knows it. And then she acts that way. That’s why she’s seen as boring, but it’s out of necessity. And she’s actually incredibly morally strong and aware of what’s going on. She rocks.
Sheila: Yeah. I actually really like Mansfield Park.
Joanna: It’s so good.
Sheila: Still think Persuasion is my favorite.
Joanna: Yes. Persuasion is so tight. Persuasion is like a little jewel, and you can turn it all sorts of different ways. I’m convinced that Persuasion contains its own fan fiction. It’s great. I have many theories.
Sheila: So we have Mr. Willoughby. And then, of course, we have Mr. Wickham.
Rebecca: And Mr. Wickham is just the worst.
Sheila: Okay. So tell us about Mr.—so Mr. Wickham is also from Pride and Prejudice. So will you explain Mr. Wickham?
Joanna: So Mr. Wickham is your conniving abuser, right? So he is trying to upgrade his social status. He’s doing that by any means necessary. So he’s super into gambling, right? Because that’s an easy way to make it up. But he keeps leaving debts in his wake. But he’s figured out because he only leaves debts of honor, he actually doesn’t have to pay up. He should. He is obligated to, but he doesn’t have to. He’s not going to debtor’s prison. So what he’ll do is then he’ll just skip town and then go off to seek his fortune another way. He’s trying to connive to get—he tries to connive to get Mr. Darcy’s sister to marry him and to kind of use all sorts of underhanded means to manage that. And then he decides to go off to escape his debts of honor from his gambling problem and take Lydia with him with no desire to actually marry Lydia because he believes he can do better than Lydia Bennet. And so he doesn’t—the consequences to her do not matter to him at all. The consequences to her sister do not matter to him at all. And actually, there’s a really great, if you are interested, people listening—if you go on YouTube, there’s a woman named Octavia Cox, who has a PhD in English literature and teaches in Briton. She’s either at Oxford or Cambridge. I don’t remember. But she does videos about Austen’s novels, and they’re great. Really good close readings. But she does one specifically about how Wickham manipulates Lizzie early on in the novel and does a close reading of that chapter where he’s getting information out of her, planting seeds of false information. It’s so interesting to look at really closely. And then Dr. Cox also goes through how Austen calls your attention back to Wickham’s manipulation of Elizabeth later in the novel when she realizes that she’s been duped, and she thinks back to what she had said. How the conversation actually flowed and remembers it very vividly, and it’s kind of asking the reader to go back and look. She’s really catechizing the reader into how do you spot someone who is trying to manipulate you, and she’s giving the master class.
Sheila: Yeah. Because Wickham looked good.
Joanna: Looked great.
Sheila: This is the whole point. And so Lizzie Bennet, who is our hero in Pride and Prejudice, actually really liked him for a while. And he portrayed himself as someone very different from what he actually was. And then, of course, he ends up running away with the youngest sister, Lydia, which ruins their prospects until Darcy saves them. I think the other thing that’s interesting about Wickham is that he grew up with Darcy. So Darcy is the hero of Pride and Prejudice, comes from a very wealthy family, is very wealthy. I think Wickham was the gardener’s son on the estate.
Joanna: The steward.
Sheila: Steward. Yes. But the two boys played together. And Wickham was actually a favorite of Darcy’s father, and so Darcy’s father paid for Wickham to go to university so that he could become basically a Mr. Collins.
Rebecca: Yeah. He wouldn’t become a Darcy. He wouldn’t get the same amount as them, but he could do better than the previous generation.
Joanna: Oh, he was going to become a very comfortable cleric. He was going to be a priest. A very, very respectable—that is the same profession that Edward Ferrars ends up in, and his mother has bags of money. And it’s not—it’s odd that he has a profession, but it is not out of the ordinary. It’s a normal thing for a younger son to do, and Wickham is going to be in that same class. That’s a pretty awesome place to be landing.
Sheila: Yeah. So they set him up. And what does he do? He drinks. He gambles. He leaves university. And then he goes and tries to seduce Darcy’s sister instead.
Rebecca: Because it just seems like he’s not satisfied unless he can have everything. He won’t take the best that his situation will (cross talk).
Joanna: Well, and there’s also some—if you’re reading closely, there is a theory—and I think that the book bears this out. That Wickham also chooses Lydia in part because Lizzie kind of puts Wickham in his place the last time that they speak. And she makes it clear that she is aware of Darcy’s real character, and Wickham picks up on that and then goes, “Hey, if I get with Lydia, I will be connected to Darcy. And I will be able to manipulate him for more money,” which he then does.
Sheila: Which he does. Yeah.
Joanna: Yeah. So it’s all super calculated. And what I think is so interesting about Austen’s villains is Wickham and Lydia end up having to be married to each other which is not great. Willoughby ends up having to be married to a woman who he doesn’t like, but he doesn’t end up dying of some horrible broken heart for Marianne. Lucy Steele, who is the other villain in Sense and Sensibility, does totally fine. She’s a don’t hate the player, hate the game character.
Sheila: Yeah. I feel sorry for Lucy Steele.
Joanna: Yeah. I totally agree. We could do a whole other podcast on the differences between Willoughby and Lucy Steele, and we could fill an hour. But Austen doesn’t give her villains even typically the horrible punishments and heavy handedness of novels that would have been written 25 years before she was writing.
Sheila: But, again, isn’t that part of her point is that men can get away with this stuff and women can’t. Because you think about the difference in—okay. Wickham is in an unhappy marriage, and he’s not going to have a ton of money. But, hey, at least, he’s connected to Darcy. But what about Lydia? Lydia is now married to a guy, who is going to cheat on her her entire marriage, probably going to give her a STD even though they didn’t really understand how that worked back then.
Rebecca: Gamble away their money.
Sheila: And she’s just going to be in this terrible position. The consequences for women were so much greater.
Sheila: Okay. Any other bad characters you want to cover?
Rebecca: I think those are the good ones.
Joanna: Mm-hmm. That’s great. I mean Mrs. Norris is the worst character, but she—that’s not really relevant for what we’re talking about.
Sheila: Yeah. In Mansfield Park.
Joanna: She’s just odious and fun to read.
Sheila: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I really didn’t like her at all. Yes. Yes. She’s quite awful.
Joanna: She’s horrific. But she is also fun to read in how horrific and self serving she is. Anyway. That’s a plug for Mansfield Park.
Sheila: Now let’s talk about the good characters. And one of the commonalities that I find in her heroes is that they tend to go out of their way to care for people that they don’t necessarily need to care for. Like they take responsibility. They do what they can because they recognize how privileged they are. And the perfect example is Colonel Brandon looking after the woman that Willoughby impregnated.
Joanna: She is the daughter—the illegitimate daughter of the woman who he loved desperately and who he was not allowed to marry and who he looked after in her final days. And then he looks after the daughter.
Sheila: Yeah. He had kept looking after people that he was not—that were not part of his family. That he was not connected to, but he felt like he had a connection and an obligation. And he wanted to make this right. And you think about the difference between him caring so desperately for these people and John Dashwood, who leaves his sisters out on the—in basic poverty, right?
Joanna: Yeah. On account of his son, who was already every well looked after. So they say, “Oh, well, it’s all for our boy, and he has to have,”—but it’s like he’s loaded already. You’re asking about the difference between what sports car is he going to get versus are we going to be able to have enough to make ends meet.
Rebecca: Yeah. The good characters that Austen shows are always people who go above and beyond to help those who have less power by using the power that they do have, right? And for a lot of them, that’s money because that was power back then. People did not have very much money. And so when you’re looking at the marriages too, I think that’s really what you can see is Emma—sorry. Austen shows that the good marriages are those between people with good character or the good marriages are those where people are able to make sure that others are taken care of. That’s why we think Charlotte and Collins is portrayed as a good marriage because Collins has some flaws that are problematic. But Austen doesn’t show him as a malicious man, as a bad man, even as an incompetent man. He’s just a bit of a clueless one. But he’s one who will do his duty. He’s one who is very focused on doing the right thing because he doesn’t want to disappoint his patron. There’s so much going on there.
Sheila: Well, you can just picture when they do have little children Mr. Collins will take them out gardening, right?
Joanna: Oh, he’ll be a good dad. Legitimately, a good dad. Yeah.
Rebecca: Yeah. Exactly.
Joanna: In a way that Mr. Bennet, not a good dad. Not a good dad. Mr. Collins will actually be a far superior father.
Rebecca: Yeah. And you know what? If Mary Bennet never ends up married, Mr. Collins is the kind of person who would make sure that they are—especially married to Charlotte. They will make sure that she is taken care of. I mean now, obviously, after the fact they have Darcy and Bingley’s money as well, so Lizzie and Jane will. But at the point that Charlotte marries Mr. Collins no one is married. No one. They didn’t know what was going to happen. And I think that’s why that—when you look at Austen’s idea of what is a good marriage, a lot of it comes down to are you leaving people to fend for themselves or are you giving them a safety net. Are you doing the things that you need to do to make sure that people are not just left destitute? Or are you being selfish and vain and keeping everything for yourself? Are you taking the easy way out? Or are you actually looking out for those around you who don’t have the option of taking the easy way out? And that’s why we like Austen so much because that just applies so much to today.
Sheila: It’s not just money too that people are generous with. You think about Knightley, and he’s really generous with inclusion like how he dances with Harriet. He makes sure that these really awkward women are included in the novel.
Rebecca: He notices people’s loneliness. That’s what it is.
Sheila: Yeah. And Mr. Darcy is so nice to his servants and cares. You see this over and over again that the good characters are the ones who do notice what is happening to those around them and who do what they can with the power that they have to make life better for those people. And they’re also good with money so that they can continue to do good. And Emma, as silly as she is, is portrayed as doing a lot of good for the poor. Anne Elliot—
Joanna: Oh, she’s the patroness of the village. Yeah.
Rebecca: She’s not bitter about that. She actually is quite generous. She is a quite good person. It’s just that there are certain blind spots that lead her to accidentally harm.
Sheila: Yeah. Okay. Let’s end with the couple that I actually like best that we have talked about much.
Sheila: Which is Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
Rebecca: Okay. I’m tapping out for this one because I have not read Persuasion.
Sheila: And you need to read Persuasion.
Joanna: Oh, it’s so good. It’s like 140 pages. It’s so short, but it is just so tight.
Sheila: No. It’s not. It’s a long novel.
Joanna: No. It’s really short. Mansfield Park is long. But no. Persuasion is really short.
Sheila: I don’t remember. Maybe it’s just that I read it with such small—I don’t know. Anyway, but—
Rebecca: Because you always read it in your larger book with the multiple books maybe.
Sheila: Maybe. I don’t know. But no. I love Persuasion. And a lot of people say that Persuasion is—there’s parts of it which are autobiographical. This is the closest thing to Jane’s actual life, and so people have speculated that maybe something like this happened to her. But basically, when Anne Elliot is 19 years old, there’s this young sailor in the village, Frederick Wentworth, that asks her to marry him. And she is—and Anne is persuaded by a rich friend of the family—a female friend of the family—to say no because this isn’t a good match for her. And so she says no. And he goes off, and he makes his fortune. And she never marries. And then 10 years later, he comes back. By this time, she’s in her very late 20s. He is now a captain. He’s made a name for himself in the Napoleonic wars. And he’s a very eligible bachelor. And he comes and stays at her sister’s house. Her sister who is married. Where he is sort of courting these two young, young women. Louisa Hargrove.
Joanna: Louisa and the Musgroves. So Louisa and Henrietta, who are just—they’re sweet but real silly.
Sheila: Yeah. But they’re just very young, right?
Joanna: Yeah. They read like 15 year olds, and it’s awesome. You do love them. They’re great. They’re just flighty and (cross talk).
Sheila: And this would be the normal people that someone like Captain Wentworth would marry. So he returns—
Joanna: Yeah. And someone who is just going to sit on his arm and absolutely fawn over him constantly because—and legitimately, he is the real deal. He’s a good dude. He deserves to be fawned over. If Louisa Musgrove ends up on his arm as arm candy, fawning him and telling him how great he is, that would not be an unreasonable thing to have happen.
Sheila: Right. Right. And so he is getting closer to these young women. Anne Elliot is very depressed by this. At the same time—her younger sister is married with children, and that is the house where she resides. Or where she is staying.
Joanna: For most of the novel. Yeah.
Sheila: Yeah. And this younger sister is a terrible mother. And this is portrayed over and over again.
Joanna: Oh awful.
Sheila: Just an awful mother.
Joanna: And has a terrible marriage where they just bicker. It’s so—I occasionally will bicker with my husband, and I’m like, “Joanna, you will stop because you will not be Mary from Persuasion.”
Sheila: You will not be Mary Elliot. And so—or whatever her last name is. And so Anne is—
Sheila: Yeah. That’s Musgrove. Yeah. Yeah. So Anne ends up basically raising these small children and does a great job with it, but she’s kind of always overlooked.
Joanna: Hey, can I tell you my theory? Here’s my theory.
Sheila: Yeah. I really like your theory.
Joanna: So as I read the book, I was thinking about it. It’s so tight. And you can think about it for a long time and really just—it’s very complex. And you can piece it apart in a really interesting way. So Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth are both very capable people. They both end up in positions of leadership and authority. So as Captain Wentworth works his way up in the navy, he—and this is at the time—again, this is post the Napoleonic wars. The British navy is seen as the best. This is a very patriotic novel. Today we would obviously complicate this whole situation in a big way. But at the time, the naval men are seen as heroes. And as Captain Wentworth gets better at being a captain, he raises in his—the perceived value is he has to other people. He gains power. Anne Elliot shows up at Mary Musgrove’s house and is going to stay there. This is a chapter where everybody comes to her for her advice. Could you please fix this thing? Oh my goodness, this servant is driving me nuts. Okay. No, actually, you have to help me with this. So-and-so needs to be aware of this thing. And so she is also seen as the captain. She comes in, and she begins to captain this ship of this family life. But as she has also grown in her capacity, as she has become better at captaining, her power has diminished, so that she is now of almost no value. She is seen as pretty much worthless to everyone even though they all treat her—they see her as worthless even while deep down they see her as being incredibly capable and important. And what happens at the climax of the novel, Louisa Musgrove is being silly with Captain Wentworth. And she is going to jump off something and fall into his arms, but she’s going to do it. And he’s not ready. And she ends up having a big fall and has a head injury. Has a TBI. And Captain Wentworth is incapable of dealing with the situation. It’s a woman. He is used to man of war and a bunch of dudes and swashbuckling with the French. That’s his dealio. And now there’s this woman who is on the ground hurt, and he does not know what to do. And Anne Elliot is bang. There. On it. In the moment. Tells everybody where to go. Send So-and-so to go and do this. This person is going to go do that. Okay. Now you—and in that moment, Captain Wentworth sees—first of all, she’s better at this than he is. And he is not offended by that. He is not like, “Oh, this is making me feel awkward and insecure.” He is like, “I want to get with her. Why am I not with her? She’s awesome.” And that is actually the moment where he is like, “Oh, dang. I’ve been an idiot. Shoot.” And he realizes that has led Louisa on, and now he’s not engaged to Louisa. But people think that they are together. Very much so. And now she’s unconscious, and he can’t do anything about it. And so he’s in this super awkward situation. And so the rest of the novel is everything kind of shaking out so that Anne and Captain Wentworth can end up together. It’s great.
Sheila: And I want to say. The movie—the latest movie version of Persuasion that was done in—I think it was the early 2000s or something. It’s a great movie until the very end. And then they spin this really odd scene. It’s like two minutes long where they’re going to kiss, but it takes forever for them to actually kiss.
Rebecca: I have seen that. I timed it.
Sheila: Okay. The scene where Emma insults the woman is the most painful. But this is the second most painful is that kissing scene. There was no need for it. They wrecked the entire movie because Katie always told me how this movie was awful. And I’m watching this movie, and I’m like, “This is a really good movie. Why did you not like this movie, Katie?” And then this kissing thing happens right at the most—what’s supposed to be the most romantic moment. And it’s like, “Oh yeah.”
Rebecca: It’s like yeah. The entire movie through and now—
Sheila: Yeah. That was really bad.
Joanna: Yeah. But no. It’s great. It’s super good. Yeah. I have lots of other—as I said, I personally believe that Persuasion contains its own fan fiction within itself. It is great. What happens later, you don’t have to think about what would happen later in the novel because the novel actually includes characters who tell you what ends up happening to Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. They just become the Admiral and his wife. And they’re just bopping around living their lives and loving each other and making other people’s lives great. They’re just the Crofts. It’s great. But yeah. I think that the thing that is so interesting to me about Persuasion—and I know I mentioned at the top—is that Wentworth and Anne Elliot end up on a boat. Anne Elliot’s family is brutal. They are so vain. They are so silly. They are so self absorbed. No one values Anne. Mary Musgrove is far better than Elizabeth Elliot and Mr. Elliot. But still—oh man. Anne is just in such a terrible situation when she’s with them. And so Austen is just like, “No. None of this will do for our girl. Put her on a boat in the British navy. She can be the only female there surrounded by a bunch of sailors.”
Sheila: And I do want to say too about Persuasion the fact that people think that it’s autobiographical is people are wondering if Jane was also persuaded not to marry someone when she was young. And then, of course, she never married. So it’s like this is the question of—
Joanna: But the thing that I think is so interesting about Persuasion is that—so there’s three things that could happen with Captain Wentworth after their marriage presuming he’s a good dude which we know that he is. He could end up dying young and leaving her with nothing. That is genuinely a risk that Anne is running by marrying, if she had married him. He could end up—
Sheila: You mean at 19? If she had married him at 19?
Joanna: Yeah. At 19. If she had married him at 19. He could have ended up being a captain and then being injured and no longer being able to work. And then he would have received a far diminished income. Or he could have ended up in the stratosphere, awesome, super dude going to be a captain currently going to become an admiral. Right? Those are the three potential outcomes. Austen actually shows us all three of those outcomes in the book. Mrs. Smith is the worst potential outcome. And then you see—I think it’s Hargrove. Captain Hargrave? Hargrove? Something like that. I forgot to look up the title in my prep.
Sheila: Right. Who got injured. Yeah.
Joanna: Yeah. Who gets injured and is retired with his family. And then, of course, you see the Crofts, who are super, duper successful. And they actually end up renting the hall that Mr. Elliot can no longer afford. In all of those situations, the woman ends up fine. Even Mrs. Smith, who is destitute, is able to afford a nurse. Her health is terrible. She’s hardly able to stand. She is still in great spirits. She is happy. She is okay. She has a great nurse. Nurse Rooke is awesome. They just gossip together all day long talking about all this stuff. And Mrs. Smith is clued in to what’s happening in the neighborhood she informs Anne of what’s going on despite being bedridden. It’s awesome. And then, eventually, she ends up—she was swindled out of some money, and Anne and Frederick Wentworth are able to make sure that she’s comfortable. But she’s okay because of who she is. Captain Hargrave some things. Wife is fine. They stick to a budget. They have a bunch of kids. It’s a little bit chaotic, but they are so hospitable. They are doing awesome. They make other people’s lives better. They take in those who are hurting around them, and they help them. They’re shown as being really positive people in their community in their small way. And then, of course, the Crofts are fabulous. They are rock stars helping other people, looking out for their own, just doing a great job. And it shows that no matter what had happened to Anne—no matter what happened to Anne if she had married Wentworth, she would have been okay. And the novel tells us it’s about appreciating—
Sheila: So you’re saying that Austen is writing this book saying that she made a mistake because that’s very big—that’s a very big debate.
Joanna: Yeah. I think that she’s saying—because of who Anne Elliot is, because of her sense, because of her ability to make a bad situation turn out all right, and because she does have a certain amount of money, as well, that she is going to inherit, she’s more comfortable than a lot of the other women. That she’s going to turn out all right no matter what had happened.
Sheila: Yeah. Interesting. But, again, the main thing that Austen is saying over and over and over again is that it’s character that matters. And without good character, you’re really in a bad place.
Joanna: Yeah. And enough money to be comfortable.
Sheila: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Joanna: That is a definitely a thing that is there because, of course, they didn’t have the same ability—women couldn’t take on professions then.
Sheila: Right. And in Fanny Price’s situation in Mansfield Park, we see what happens when you don’t have money at all.
Joanna: Yeah. You have no power.
Sheila: And how, essentially, vulnerable she is. And I think she’s also saying remember that—yeah. Who you marry matters not just for you but also for your children.
Rebecca: And for your community too.
Sheila: And for your community. Yeah.
Rebecca: For your family who doesn’t get married who relies on you for their wellbeing, for the people around you who might need help. Are you going to be able to help them? Right?
Sheila: And Jane Austen was very involved in her church. When we were in England a couple years ago, we went to the church where she attended. She wrote a lot of prayers. Hand wrote a lot of prayers that her family—that she would pray with her family at the end of each day. And they’re beautiful prayers. I mean she really was focused on character and on making the world—if you have resources, you need to use those resources to make the world a better place for those around you. And I think Jane Austen did. I think her books are beautiful. And the fact—
Joanna: Yeah. I really feel that I read those books, and they taught me what I was supposed to look for. We talk about the downsides of the evangelical resources. For me, Jane Austen was so helpful in learning what is—what do you want to find in a mate?
Sheila: Yeah. And how it’s not the flashy stuff. It really is the character. And that life is too important. You need to be focused on the future. Life is too important just to have fun right now.
Rebecca: Or even just to do what people necessarily expect you to do as well because if they’re expecting you to do something that’s not helpful, then that’s also not good. The idea is that you marry someone. You end with someone who is a good choice long term, not just because it seems good right now.
Sheila: Yeah. So don’t marry the Willoughby. Marry the Brandon.
Joanna: Flannel waist coat and all.
Sheila: Yes. Yes. Exactly. We love our Alan Rickman. All right. Great discussion. So everybody, this summer go read some Jane Austen. People have been reading her for 200 years. Over 200 years now. Wonderful books.
Joanna: And if you’re interested in Austen criticism, Octavia Cox on YouTube. Also I recently listened to What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan, and it is a fabulous book of really easy to read. Just fun like what does age matter in Austen. How does the weather impact the novel? Again, going over how tight and well thought out and constructed these books are, it’s super fun.
Rebecca: So thank you for letting us do a podcast that’s nothing at all like what we normally do.
Sheila: Yeah. This is the stuff we talk about when we’re FaceTiming. And we love us some Mr. Collins.
Rebecca: Yeah. And as we’re ending this podcast, I guess the question that we’ll just leave people with is how are you using the influence you have because I think that’s what Austen wants us to ask.
Sheila: Yeah. Thank you for joining us this week and join us next week for the last episode in the season. We’ll be back again in a month. You can listen to reruns until—after that. But next week is the last episode for our Brio pajama party. So hopefully, you can join us. We’re going to have a lot of fun.
Rebecca: It’s going to be a lot.
Sheila: It’s going to be cringe. But it’s going to be awesome. Take care, everybody. Bye-bye.