Just in case you might be ready to throw up after last week’s post, here is another facet to the Austen Six that shows the grittiness of life even it is not central stage. It is true that the Austen Six end with the happy couplings of a series of characters. And of course we expect that these characters will be soul-mates forever. Yet, life was precarious in the 18th century for an innumerable number of reasons (death by childbirth is just one example); and there were many relationships that did not last the distance. The Austen universe is peopled with characters that have second attachments. And there are many instances where characters must learn to move on. They may have found that the love they had put their faith in has found a better offer. But Austen shows the value of moving on. The past is a different set of circumstances but there are similarities to today.
Pining after a lost love can be romantic but Jane often recommends a new attachment. Fed on a diet of Hollywood romances we can place too much emphasis on the soul-mate. No doubt some people meet, marry and are forever happy or at least happy enough as they are working out their ways of living like the rest of us. But for others we may need a number of attachments before we find the right one or not as the case may be. Remember Spontaneous-and-Sentimental Marianne in Sense and Sensibility puts too much store on finding her soul mate. She is young and idealistic and even as she makes her romantic pronouncements, we suspect she will be in for a fall. “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both”, she says at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility. For Marianne there is only the one true love until her theory is found wanting.
Throughout the Austen Six, second attachments are recommended. Virtuous-but-Undervalued-Anne Elliot, in Persuasion has fallen in love with Man-of-Merit-Captain Wentworth. Luckily he returns. But equally good, (except there would have been no story) is the ‘second attachment’. She had been unlucky. “No second attachment, the only thoroughly natural, happy, and sufficient cure of a broken heart had come her way.”
Captain Benwick has fallen irrevocably in love and his love has died. He is inconsolable reading poetry and dwelling on the perfections of his lost love. Until circumstances draw him and Louisa into close proximity and they fall in love over the poetry. It turns out that Benwick was “not inconsolable” after all. A second attachment is a necessary factor in moving on from our first love. James Benwick was “too piano” for the Admiral but can be easily appreciated by a modern audience. He seems the metro sexual. But even “Too Piano”- James Benwick, a man able to share his feelings and loves poetry, finds the ability to be resilient once he has his second attachment. The same can be said for Dependable- Colonel Brandon. He loved and lost and we rejoice in his finding another love. Second attachments are the stuff of life. We all have special rooms in our heart that house treasures from our first love but it can be the second or further attachment where we find happiness.
Jane Austen seems to be recommending that you should try to do the right thing in matters of love. That being said, if things do not quite turn out that way, then find love elsewhere. Consequently’ second attachments‘ are the stuff of life.