Another minor character that Austen crafted to challenge the status quo is Mrs Crofts from Persuasion. Mrs Crofts’ marriage is equal as well as romantic and adventurous. She has “crossed the Atlantic four times” with the admiral and was “shrewd” and “seemed more conversant with business” than her husband the admiral.
Jane Austen is portraying a very competent and happy woman here, able to participate in seafaring, one of the most difficult and dangerous occupations of the time.
When her brother is critical of women on ships, she says:
“But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”
It is as if Austen is making a case for employment for women well ahead of the time. Mrs Crofts is courageous and ready to go to sea with her husband; she talks of the navy as if she belongs in it. Speaking to the contented Mrs Musgrove, Mrs Crofts says,
“And I do assure you ma’am…that nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man -of –war; I speak you know, of the higher rates. When you come to a frigate, of course, you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship.”
Could Austen, albeit subtly, even be suggesting that women could join the navy?