Did Jane Austen condone unequal marriage arrangements?


Marriage (Photo credit: Lel4nd)

In the Austen Six, Jane Austen parodies mercilessly some pretty appalling marriages; like the comic characters, there are the comic couplings. In poking fun at those in ridiculous relationships she is also sending up the mores of the time that made being married prestigious and spinsterhood piteous.  As a single woman she must have enjoyed exposing the holes in the trappings of married respectability.One marriage that is an absolute anathema to a modern audience, Important-White-Male-Sir Thomas Bertram and Trophy-Wife-Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Why did they marry? Sir Thomas was spellbound by beauty and the young Maria Ward by prestige and social position. Lady Bertram is incapable of making a decision for herself: she asks her husband, Important-White-Male-Sir Thomas Bertram, “What shall I do, Sir Thomas? – Whist and Speculation; which will amuse me most?” While their marriage might be respectable, their relationship is indeed laughable – not the recipe for a happy life. It is laughable that women were expected to have little intellect and to do nothing but look good on the sofa. Jane Austen is holding the satirist’s pen on such arrangements; she is certainly not condoning or recommending such marriages.


Filed under Feminism

4 responses to “Did Jane Austen condone unequal marriage arrangements?

  1. Greg Beel

    wonder what she would have said about same sex marriage?

  2. Perhaps she would have not said anything directly. But she would have written a story with same sex characters falling in love, facing adversity and as is the way with Austen – all hypocrites would just fall away. She might say, “and then the government of the day, without too much fuss, or too much hyperbole about the sanctity of marriage, passed a bill allowing for an equal marriage for all.” After all, she was never one who supported the gate keepers of society but believed in the sanctity of integrity and caring for others no matter what persuasion. Love may not run smooth in Austen but it does run.

  3. Tracey

    And what about those ‘living in sin’?

    • “Living in sin” – it sounds so delightful! Serial-Seducer-Henry Crawford and Stupid-Spoilt-Princess Maria Bertram, (we could now call her Married-for-Money-and-Position-Mrs Rushworth), in Mansfield Park indulge. They set up house together without the required certificate. She has one but it is to someone else so I guess it doesn’t rate. But Austen seems more concerned with the inequality of the situation than the morality. The authorial voice of Austen comments: “That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a just measure attend his (Austen uses italics) share of the offence, is we know, not one of the barriers, which society gives to virtue. In this world, the penalty is less equal than could be wished.”

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