A PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH
Bernard J. Paris
Michigan State University
Wayne State University Press
Copyright 10 1978 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48101.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without formal
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Paris, Bernard J
Character and conflict in Jane Austen's novels.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Austen, Jane, 1775-1817-
Characters. 1. Characters and characteristics in literature. 3. Psychology in literature.
PR4038.C47P3 823'.7 78-13281
The central thesis of this study is that Jane Austen's mature novels are not the models of organic unity which most critics hold them to be, but that they are beset by tensions between form, theme, and mimesis. As the first chapter will show, these tensions have several sources, the most important of which is the fact that Austen's protagonists are at once aesthetic, illustrative, and mimetic characters. They are "creations inside a creation" and, as such, are "often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book." Since they have "numerous parallels with people like ourselves," they must be understood not only in formal and thematic, but also in motivational terms, in the same way that we understand real human beings.
After my opening discussion of the sources of tension in Jane
Austen's fiction, I shall offer formal, thematic, and psychological
analyses of her four greatest novels. I shall use the theories of Northrop
Frye to analyze the comic structures of Jane Austen's novels and those
of Karen Horney and other Third Force psychologists to analyze her
characters and her authorial personality. Frye makes only a few
references to Jane Austen, but his discussion of the mythos of Spring
fits her novels extremely well. The use of psychological theory will
enable me to do justice to Jane Austen's mimetic achievement.
The reader will notice that I do not discuss the novels in the order of their composition. Although Elizabeth Bennet is Austen's first great mimetic character, she is one of the most difficult to understand from a psychological perspective. I have chosen to begin with Fanny Price, whose problems are more obvious. I discuss
In the final chapter, I shall reconstruct the personality which can be inferred from all of Jane Austen's writings. I shall consider her works chronologically and attempt to explain the psychodynamic process which leads her from novel to novel. There are three competing versions of Jane Austen which have emerged from the criticism. Some critics emphasize the aggressive, satirical component of her art; some stress her gentleness and conservatism; and some focus upon the detached, ironic quality of her vision. I believe that each group of critics is overemphasizing something which is there. When I analyze Jane Austen's authorial personality, I shall try to show how these diverse components of her nature are related to each other in a structure of inner conflicts.
Those who know Jane Austen criticism will be familiar with the proponents of each of the positions described above. I have chosen, for the most part, to summarize critical controversies rather than to document my agreements and disagreements with individual critics. This book has most in common with the psychological studies of Marvin Mudrick (
Readers who are familiar with my previous work will recognize that this book is a further application of the methodology which I developed in
The bringing together of literature and psychology can be as valuable to the student of psychology as it is to the student of literature. While discussing an aspect of vindictiveness in
I wish to thank Michigan State University for a sabbatical leave and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for a Fellowship which greatly facilitated the completion of this book. Typing, photocopying, and other clerical assistance have been paid for by All-University Research Grants from Michigan State University. My analysis of
I am grateful to Howard Anderson for his encouraging response to this book as it was being written and to the graduate students who have studied Jane Austen with me for their resistance, stimulation, and consensual validation. I have been particularly stimulated by the work of George Graeber and Maggie Haselswerdt.
I am grateful to my wife, as always, for her emotional support, her astute observations, and her participation in my mental universe.
Jane Austen is a great comic artist, a serious interpreter of life, and a creator of brilliant mimetic characterizations. Some critics feel that she achieves, better perhaps than any other novelist, a balance between these various components of her art. But I believe that there are powerful unrecognized tensions between form, theme, and mimesis in most of Austen's novels.
These tensions are not the result of a particular weakness
on her part, for they exist in almost all realistic novels and are a
characteristic of the genre. As Northrop Frye observes, there
are "two poles of literature," the mimetic, with its "tendency to
verisimilitude and accuracy of description," and the mythic,
with its "tendency to tell a story . . . about characters who can
The devices which a realistic writer uses to make his plots seem plausible and morally acceptable Frye calls "displacement." It is displacement also which accounts for the movement from mode to mode. This concept is taken from Freud, and Frye's reliance on it indicates that his system is not derived purely from an inductive survey of literature, as he claims. The conflict between the mythic and the mimetic impulses corresponds to the struggle between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, and the evolution of Western literature represents a series of stages in the development of the sense of reality. The pleasure principle is never abandoned, however, but seeks to realize itself in ways which are acceptable to the ego, which demands adaptation to reality, and to the superego, which demands conformity to a moral code. This process is especially vivid in Jane Austen, who is trying to combine comic actions with realistic characterization and serious moral concerns.
Structurally, her novels are a series of variations upon the basic "comic movement from threatening complications to a happy ending" (
As is usual in comedy, there is a certain amount of manipulation, both in the creation and removal of blocking forces and in the final resolution of the action. "Happy endings do not impress us as true," says Frye, "but as desirable, and they are brought about by manipulation . . . . The manipulation of plot does not always involve metamorphosis of character, but there is no violation of comic decorum when it does. Unlikely conversions, miraculous transformations, and providential assistance are inseparable from comedy" (
The fact that she is writing comedy does not interfere with
Jane Austen's thematic concerns. She harmonizes form and
theme by moralizing the comic action. Her satire is directed at
those traits of personality, at those failures of education and
judgment, and at those distortions of social customs and institutions
which make daily life painful and ultimate fulfillment
uncertain for good and sensitive people. The existing society at
its best provides her moral norms; no happiness is possible
outside of its institutions and no deviation from its values is
ultimately successful. She places (in some novels, at least) a
high value on individual fulfillment; but before he can be happy,
Austen's moral conservatism tends to diminish some of her comic effects. As a rule, comedy is liberal. It is on the side of desire. It celebrates the triumph of wish over reality, over all those obstacles in people, in circumstances, and in society which stand in the way of happiness. A new society crystallizes at the end; it moves, in most cases, "from a society controlled by habit, ritual bondage, arbitrary law and the older characters to a society controlled by youth and pragmatic freedom" (
The wish fulfillment aspect of comedy seems to work best when the protagonist's "character has the neutrality which enables him to represent" desire (
Mimetic characterization is one of Jane Austen's most brilliant but least recognised achievements. Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, and Anne Elliot are realistically portrayed women, each of whom is fascinating in her own right and comprehensible in terms of her own motivational system. Readers have always responded to the greatness of these characters; Austen's fiction owes much of its appeal, I am sure, to their lifelikeness and complexity. But no one seems to have understood these characters in much detail. Criticism has been focused upon their formal and thematic functions rather than upon their character structures and motivations. In order to appreciate Austen's true genius in characterization, we must approach her major figures as creations inside a creation and try to understand them as though they were real people. I have justified this practice at length in
There are, at present, two main schools of thought concerning
characterization. Marvin Mudrick calls them the "purists"
and the "realists." Characters in literature, the purists
argue, are different from real people. They do not belong to the
real world in which people can be understood as the products of
their social and psychological histories; they belong to a fictional
world in which everything they are and do is part of the
author's design, part of a teleological ,fracture whose logic is
determined by formal and thematic consideration rations. From this
point of view, as Mudrick observes, "any effort to extract them
from their context and to discuss them as if they were real
human beings is a sentimental misunderstanding of the nature
of literature." The realists insist, however, "that characters acquire
in the course of an action, a kind of independence from
The purist and realist positions are not irreconcilable. In
The Nature of Narrative, Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg
distinguish between aesthetic, illustrative, and mimetic characterization.
Highly developed characters often serve aesthetic, illustrative,
As W. J. Harvey has observed in
When we have understood Jane Austen's characters psychologically,
we shall see that the combination of mimetic
characterization, comic action, and moral theme poses artistic
problems which may be insoluble. Comic structure and realistic
characterization involve canons of decorum, universes of discourse,
which seem to be incompatible. Comic structure is
highly conventional; it follows the logic of desire, and its pattern
is derived, ultimately, from the mythos of Spring. Realistic
characterization aims at verisimilitude; it follows the logic of
motivation, of probability, of cause and effect. The reader who
responds sensitively to both comic form and realistic characterization
has aroused within him conflicting sets of expectations:
one for the emotional satisfactions which accompany the overcoming
of obstacles and the triumph of desire, the other for the
pleasures of recognition which derive from verisimilitude. Realistic
characters create an appetite for a consistently realistic
world. We want their behavior to make sense and their fates to
be commensurate with the laws of probability. Austen does not
sacrifice mimetic characterization to the demands of her comic
plots; her most fully realized characters remain true to their
own natures up to the end. Their world, however, is often
manipulated form the sake of the comic action; and when this
Realistic characterization fights against thence as well as
against form. In almost all novels which attempt to combine a
concrete portrayal of experience with an abstract moral perspective,
a disparity arises between representation and interpretation.
When we have understood a realistic character psychologically, we often find that our judgment, as well as our understanding is at variance with that of the author. Novelists tend to glorify characters whose defensive strategies are similar to their own and to satirize those who have different solutions. The rhetoric of the novel and sometimes even the action are deigned to gain our sympathy for the life styles and values of the approved characters. Changes from a condemned defensive strategy to an approved one are celebrated as growth and education. Insofar as the characters are mimetically portrayed, however. we are given an opportunity to understand them in our own terms and to arrive at our own judgment of their development and their solutions.
I am, of course, implying that Jane Austen celebrates
unhealthy solutions. To those who go to fiction for values, this
will seem a severe criticism. To me it is not. My own feeling is
that though novelists do, indeed, see more than the rest of us,
There are a number of brilliant
essays which explain "what Jane Austen meant by the creation
of such a heroine" as Fanny Price.
The novel as a whole is designed to vindicate Fanny Price
and the values for which she stands. Its highest tribute is placed
in the mouth of Henry Crawford: " 'You have qualities which I
had not before supposed to exist in such a degree in any human
creature. You have some touches of the angel in you . . . not
In the analysis which follows, I shall look at Fanny as an aesthetic, as an illustrative, and as a mimetic character. In exploring her aesthetic and illustrative functions, I shall be guided by the novel's rhetoric and design; I shall show what our moral, emotional, and intellectual responses are supposed to be. In understanding Fanny as a person, I shall look at Jane Austen's concrete representation of her behavior, attitudes, and experiences. The result will be a rather different Fanny from the one the author thinks she has portrayed, as well as a better appreciation of why it is difficult to respond to Fanny as Jane Austen intended.
Fanny is, of course, the protagonist in the comic plot. She
falls in love with Edmund quite early in the novel, and much of
the action centers around the creation and removal of obstacles
to her desire. The chief blocking force is Edmund's love for
Mary Crawford. It is removed when Mary's unprincipled response
to her brother's affair with Maria reveals her true nature.
Mary is charming but corrupted; Fanny is dull but good. Edmund
has always appreciated Fanny's virtues, but love has
blinded him to Mary's vices. The removal of his illusions saves
him from a disastrous marriage and opens the way for the
transfer of his affections to Fanny. He does not strike us as an
exciting lover; but for Fanny he is a romantic figure, a being far
Fanny moves from having only one friend and many detractors
to gaining the highest respect from a wide circle of
admirers. Her primary enemy is Aunt Norris, who tries always
to make sure that she is "lowest and last" (II, v). Her most
consistent champion is Edmund, and we are invited from the
outset to share his more accurate perception of her nature and
his more just estimation of her worth. Fanny's shyness makes
her difficult to know, but Edmund's kindness penetrates her
reserve. At a time when his father thinks Fanny "far from
clever" and his sisters think her "prodigiously stupid," Edmund
knows her "to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense"
(I, ii). He sees that she has "an affectionate heart, and a strong
desire of doing right." While unsympathetic observers may
scorn her as creepmouse, Edmund perceives "her to be farther
entitled to attention, by great sensibility of her situation, and
Edmund is an important ally. He watches out for Fanny's health, provides for her amusement, and stands up for her rights. He gives her moral support, advice, and encouragement. His triumph over Mrs. Norris in arranging for Fanny to go to Sotherton marks the first step in Fanny's advancement toward social recognition. But as long as Mrs. Norris is such a powerful force in domestic affairs and as long as Sir Thomas is unsympathetic to Fanny, Edmund is powerless to change her overall situation. That can be done only by Sir Thomas, who is the source of all authority at Mansfield Park. In her first six years of residence Fanny makes little progress in gaining his esteem. If William comes to Mansfield, Sir Thomas tells Fanny upon his departure of Antigua, " 'I fear he must find his sister at sixteen in some respects too much like his sister at ten' "(I, iii). Fanny "cried bitterly over this reflection." If she is to escape the persecution of Mrs. Norris and to gain the recognition which she deserves, Fanny must win the favor of her uncle.
It is the play which gives Fanny the opportunity to prove her worth. In the absence of Sir Thomas, everyone, even Edmund, goes astray. Only Fanny is beyond reproach. Edmund is quick to point this out to his father: " 'Fanny is the only one who has judged rightly throughout . . . . She never ceased to think of what was due to you. You will find Fanny everything you could wish' " (II, ii). Softened by his absence from home, attracted by Fanny's improved looks, and impressed by her virtue, Sir Thomas now takes a strong interest in Fanny; and her fortunes improve rapidly. As Fanny's star rises, Mrs. Norris's falls. Sir Thomas finds her increasingly offensive, and he effectively thwarts her efforts to exclude Fanny and to demean her. With the departure of her girl cousins, Fanny's "consequence increase[s]" further (II, iv); and, for the first time, she is invited to dinner and given a ball. She is beginning to be treated like a full-fledged member of her social world.
Fanny is no longer a despised, unappreciated, marginal
figure. As the beloved of Henry Crawford she becomes, indeed,
the center of attention and begins to outshine her noble cousins.
The conquest of Crawford is a testimony, above all, to
Fanny's merit. Despite his own corruption, Henry appreciates
(and wishes to appropriate) her virtues, even when he does not
know them by their proper name:
Fanny's fortunes take a downward turn with her refusal of
Henry Crawford's proposal. Sir Thomas is seriously displeased:
"Self-willed, obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful. He thought her
Fanny's happiness seems in greatest jeopardy during her visit to Portsmouth. Sir Thomas is awaiting her change of heart, her parents do not give her the love she had hoped for, and she expects every day to hear of Edmund's marriage to Mary. She is in danger, it seems, of being left with no one to love and care for her. The noise, confusion, and confinement of her parents' home affect her health; and the author suggests that she may die if she has to endure these trials much longer (III, xi). While these aspects of her situation are arousing our anxiety for Fanny, others are working to increase her glory. Henry Crawford continues to court her, despite her low connections, and shows signs of moral growth under her influence: "'Your judgement is my rule of right.'" The only sensible member of her family, sister Susan, regards her as an "oracle" (III, xii) and matures rapidly under her tutelage.
All of Fanny's problems are solved when Henry runs off with Maria and Julia marries Mr. Yates. With the disgrace of the Bertram girls and the downfall of Mrs. Norris, Fanny becomes the family's hope of comfort and the center of its affections. For Edmund she is " 'My Fanny—my only sister— my only comfort now' " (III, xv). Aunt Bertram is miserable until she arrives: " 'Dear Fanny! now I shall be comfortable' " (III, xvi). The behavior of Henry Crawford shows her to have been right all along, and his regret at losing her is yet another tribute to "the sweetness of her temper, the purity of her mind, and the excellence of her principles" (III, xvii). She was right about Mary as well; and when Edmund learns the truth, it is not long before he falls in love with her, thus fulfilling her fondest wish. Sir Thomas, who had feared such a marriage when he brought Fanny to Mansfield, is now overjoyed: "Fanny was indeed the daughter he wanted." Fanny's triumph is complete.
Most of the characters in the novel can be placed upon a scale ranging from those who have nothing to learn at one end to those who are uneducable at the other. In the middle are the characters who are educated. At the higher end are Fanny and William Price, who are well-nigh perfect. Among the characters who learn from their experiences the range is wide. Edmund has only to be undeceived about Mary; his principles are sound. Susan is a good-natured, well-intentioned girl who excels once she learns from her sister "the obligation and expedience of submission and forebearance" (III, ix). Sir Thomas profits from his mistakes and becomes a perfect figure of authority, while Lady Bertram feels as she ought when roused by misfortune and instructed by Sir Thomas. Tom and Julia are chastened by the suffering they bring upon themselves and others and become dutiful children. Toward the lower end of the scale we find Henry and Mary Crawford. They are capable of responding to the virtues of Fanny and Edmund, but the effects of faulty training and bad companions are too strong to overcome, and they lose their chance for redemption. The uneducable characters include Mr. and Mrs. Price, who will never change, despite William's hope that Fanny will bring order and propriety into their home. Maria and Mrs. Norris are also utterly incorrigible.
There is nothing in
The contrast, quite simple, is between spoiled and unspoiled children. Children turn out well or ill according to the degree that they have been privileged and indulged. Spoiled children are selfish, proud, and rebellious; unspoiled children are unselfish, humble, and submissive to authority. Spoiled children are idle; unspoiled children work. Spoiled children lack morals and propriety; unspoiled children are principled and correct. Spoiled children love the light and lively; unspoiled children are sober and steady. Spoiled children are restless and unsatisfied; unspoiled children are tranquil and content. If a child has not been too severely spoiled and does not lack sense, he can be cured by suffering and good example. Suffering is efficacious in some older people too. Lady Bertram is roused to true feeling by Tom's illness and to moral awareness by Maria's behavior. The changes in Sir Thomas are brought about largely by his sufferings, first in Antigua and then over his failures and disappointments as a father.
Reflecting on Fanny, William, and Susan Price, Sir Thomas
sees "repeated reason to . . . acknowledge the advantage of
early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being
born to struggle and endure" ( III, xvii). His own daughters, he
Though Jane Austen does not stress the point, Edmund's goodness has something to do with his being a younger son. This in itself is a "hardship and discipline"; he must struggle to make a place for himself in the world and endure his subordination to a less worthy brother. Tom has "no want of sense" and good examples at home, but his privileged position and the companions and pursuits to which it leads him induce "habits" of "thoughtlessness and selfishness" which bring evils to his family and serious illness to himself. As a result of his illness, Tom suffers and learns to think. The "self- reproach" arising from Maria's downfall, "to which he felt himself accessary by all the dangerous intimacy of his unjustifiable theatre" makes a permanent impression upon his mind: "He became what he ought to be, useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself" (III, xvii).
Henry Crawford is also well endowed (otherwise neither
Edmund nor Sir Thomas would be so deceived); but, like Tom,
he becomes "thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad
example" (I, xii). The bad example in his case is a figure of
authority, the Admiral, who sets the tone for Henry's dealings
with women. Henry is "ruined by early independence" (III,
xvii). Before his majority the Admiral lets him have his way far
more than a father would (II, xii); and when he comes into his
estate he has the wealth and power to do what he wishes,
without ever having learned responsibility. Given these conditions,
it is no wonder that he is vain, unsteady, and self-indulgent.
His admiration for Fanny shows that he still has a moral
William is a favorite child, but the partiality of his mother is counterbalanced, evidently, by the hardship of his lot, the necessity to struggle and endure. On her return to Portsmouth, Fanny cannot help but see that her mother is "a partial, ill- judging parent . . . who neither taught nor restrained her children" (III, viii). As a consequence, her children are uncivilized; and her home is "the abode of noise, disorder, and impropriety." It is the opposite of Mansfield Park, which, under the rational authority of the enlightened Sir Thomas, has become the symbol of a justly ordered society in which everyone is in his right place and everything is done as it ought to be. In her uncle's house, thinks Fanny, "there would have been a consideration of times and seasons, a regulation of subject, a propriety, an attention towards every body which there was not here" (III, vii). Attention is unevenly divided in the Price household. Toward her sons and her daughter Betsey Mrs. Price is "most injudiciously indulgent" (III, viii). Susan, who has taken over Fanny's place in the family, has never known "the blind fondness which was for ever producing evil around her" (III, ix). As we might expect, it is Susan who is the good child. She tries to create a better order in her home, but finds that it is fruitless to contend with an irrational authority. She profits from Fanny's lessons on submission and forebearance and flourishes when transplanted to the well-ordered world of Mansfield Park.
It is Fanny, of course, who best supports the theory of
education which is being advanced in this novel. She has suffered
the most from "early hardship and discipline, and the
consciousness of being born to struggle and endure"; and she
I have been examining certain aspects of the aesthetic and thematic structures of
Part of the problem is that the author herself has invited
our indignation at the way in which Fanny has been treated.
Her "motives [have] often been misunderstood, her feelings
disregarded, and her comprehension under-valued; . . . she [has]
known the pains of tyranny, of ridicule, and neglect" (I, xvi). It
is difficult, suddenly, to regard this " 'abominable . . . unkindness' "
( II, xii) as advantageous. An even greater obstacle to our
acceptance of the author's final view of Fanny's education is
that she shows us, in her concrete portrayal of Fanny, how destructive
this awful treatment has been. For reasons of her own,
Jane Austen needed to glorify suffering and to believe that
struggle and privation make one a better person. This did not
prevent her from portraying quite accurately, however, the
crippling effects of Fanny's childhood upon her personality.
When we see Fanny as a .person, it is hard to believe that the
bad treatment she received was goad for her and that she turned
We do not sympathize with Fanny as much or find her as interesting as we might because Austen asks us to admire her. But when we look at Fanny as a person, rather than as a heroine, our compassionate feelings are liberated and we find her to be a complex and fascinating psychological portrait. In order to appreciate fully the intricacies of her character and the greatness of Austen's mimetic achievement, we need to look at Fanny from the perspective of an appropriate psychological theory. Those who are familiar with my use of Third Force psychology in the study of literary characters may already have seen that Fanny is a remarkable example of Karen Horney's self-effacing personality. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Third Force psychology, I shall present here a brief account of its theories. Some of the material applies directly to
Third Force psychologists see healthy human development
as a process of self-actualization and unhealthy development as
a process of self-alienation. They contend, in essence, that man
is not simply a tension-reducing or a conditioned animal, but
that there is present in him a third force, an "evolutionary
constructive" force, which urges "him to realize his given potentialities."
One of the most interesting Third Force contributions to
our understanding of man's essential nature is Abraham Maslow's
theory of the hierarchy of basic needs. According to this
theory, all men have needs for physiological satisfaction, for
safety, for love and belonging, for self-esteem, and for self-
Each individual presses by nature for the fulfillment of all these needs, but at any given time his motivational life will be centered around the fulfillment of one of the needs. Since a higher need emerges strongly only when the needs below it have been sufficiently met, the individual tends to be occupied with the basic needs in the order of their prepotency. The person living in an environment which is favorable to growth will move steadily up the hierarchy until he is free to devote most of his energies to self-actualization; this is the full and satisfying use of his capacities in a calling which suits his nature.
The hierarchy of basic needs, then, establishes the pattern of psychological evolution. If the individual is not adequately fulfilled in his lower needs, he may become fixated at an early state of development; or, if he passes beyond, he may be subject to frequent regressions. Frustration of a basic need intensifies it and insures its persistence, whereas gratification diminishes its strength as a motivating force. Gratification of the basic needs produces health; it permits the individual to continue on his way toward self-actualization. Frustration of the basic needs produces pathology; it arrests the individual's development, alienates him from his real self, and leads him to develop neurotic strategies for making up his deficiencies.
The concept of the real self is the foundation of both Maslow's and Homey's systems. Under favorable conditions, says Homey, the individual "will develop . . . the unique alive forces of his real self: the clarity and depth of his own feelings, thoughts, wishes, interests; the ability to tap his own resources, the strength of his will power; the special capacities or gifts he may have; the faculty to express himself, and to relate himself to others with his spontaneous feelings. All this will in time enable him to find his set of values and his aims in life" (
The person who is able to develop in accordance with his real self possesses a number of characteristics which distinguish him from the self-alienated person. The child who is not permitted to be himself and who does not live in a safe, relatively transparent world develops a defensiveness which cuts him off both from himself and from external reality. The opposite of defensiveness is "openness to experience," and the self- actualizing person is characterized above all by his openness to his own inner being and to the world around him.
The self-actualizing person's openness to himself is manifested
in his greater congruence, his greater transparence, and
his greater spontaneity. A person is congruent, says Carl Rogers,
when whatever feeling or attitude he is experiencing is
matched by his awareness of that attitude.
The self-actualizing person is distinguished not only by his
courage to be himself, but also by his courage to be in the
world. Ernest Schachtel sees human development as, in part, a
conflict between our tendencies toward embeddedness and our
tendencies toward openness and growth. There is in every man's
psychic evolution "a conflict between the wish to remain embedded
in the womb or in the mother's care, eventually in the
accustomed, the fear of separation from such embeddedness,
and the wish to encounter the world and to develop and realize,
Frustration of the basic needs produces a number of defensive strategies, all of which cut us off from ourselves and from the world and intensify our tendencies toward embeddedness. A brilliant analysis of these strategies can be found in Karen Horney's work, particularly in her last book,
Fanny is the product of a pathogenic environment which forces her to develop in a self-alienated way. She does not feel safe, she does not feel loved and accepted, and she has little self- esteem. She is severely deprived of the external support which she needs in order to grow. She receives reinforcement from William and Edmund; but it is not enough to counterbalance the absence of parental love, a secure home, respect for her needs, and fair treatment. "Apprehensiveness, fear, dread and anxiety, tension, nervousness, and jitteriness are all consequences of safety-need frustration" (
Self-actualization is never an issue, either for Fanny or for the author. Constitutionally feeble to begin with, Fanny has no chance to be her own person in the chaotic, competitive, unsympathetic milieu of the Price household. She subordinates herself entirely to others in the hope of gaining some scrap of love, praise, consequence, and protection. What is at issue is not whether Fanny will be able to grow, but whether her self- sacrifice will be appreciated. Since Jane Austen is highly sympathetic to Fanny's solution, she makes it work. By the end Fanny receives in abundant supply the love, security, and recognition of which she had been so severely deprived. This calms her nerves, and she becomes less anxious than she had been. But her ways are set; her development has been arrested. Her circumstances are much better, but there is no evidence that this produces inner liberation. Fanny's lack of spontaneity does not bother Jane Austen because she approves the rigidities which deprivation has produced in her heroine.
In Rogers' terms, Fanny completely lacks congruence,
transparence, and spontaneity. As we shall see, her defense
system is such that she cannot permit herself to feel resentment,
envy, or triumph. As a result, she represses these feelings or
feels them on behalf of someone else. On other occasions, she
consciously experiences feelings which she is supposed to have
but which are at odds with her deepest attitudes, as when she
reproaches herself for her "want of attention" to poor, lonely
Aunt Norris, whom she hates (II, xi). Her friendly or concerned
feelings toward her girl cousins seem to be a reaction formation,
an unconscious defense against inadmissible hostility. Fanny is
so afraid of disapproval that she either hides herself from others
or makes her behavior conform to their expectations. She is so
eager to accept the Grants' dinner invitation that she is afraid
"she might not be able to appear properly submissive and
indifferent" (II, v). It is a great relief when Sir Thomas says,
Schachtel distinguishes two forms of the fixation in embeddedness, both of which we find in Fanny. One form "is the attempt to remain in or return to familial embeddedness, mainly embeddedness in the protection and parental love and care of a mothering person or of a mother or father substitute" (
The embedded person is afraid of life. He cannot cope.
Because of his early traumatic or frustrating experiences, stimuli
are threatening to him; he wants to escape into a womblike
refuge. Fanny likes the solemnity of a peaceful night, the gravity
of Mansfield after Sir Thomas returns, the serenity of her
long empty hours with Aunt Bertram: "her perfect security in
such a tete-a-tete from any sound of unkindness, was unspeakably
welcome to a mind which had seldom known a pause in its
alarms or embarrassments" (I, iv). Any change is hard on
The severely embedded person relates to life in an infantile manner. He depends on the strength and benevolence of others with power, authority, or more strongly developed egos. He does not do, he suffers; and by his suffering he gets others to take responsibility for his well-being. As many critics have noted, Fanny is an almost totally passive heroine. She matures physically, but she remains psychologically a very young child.
According to Karen Horney, neurosis begins as a defense against basic anxiety, which is a "profound insecurity and vague apprehensiveness" (
Basic anxiety involves a fear not only of the environment,
but also of the self. A threatening environment is bound to
produce in the child both an intense hostility and a profound
dependency which makes him terrified of expressing his hostility
and compels him to repress it. Because he "registers within
himself the existence of a highly explosive affect," he is fearful
of himself, afraid that he will let out his rage and thus bring the
world crashing down on his head.
Basic anxiety affects the individual's attitudes toward both himself and others. He feels himself to be impotent, unlovable, of little value to the world. Because of his sense of weakness he wants to rely on others, to be protected and cared for; but he cannot risk himself with others because of his hostility and deep distrust. The invariable consequence of his basic anxiety "is that he has to put the greatest part of his energies into securing reassurance" (
There are three main ways in which the child, and later the
adult, can move in his effort to overcome his feelings of helplessness
and isolation and to establish himself safely in a threatening
world. He can adopt the self-effacing or compliant solution
and move toward people; he can develop the aggressive or
expansive solution and move against people; or he can become
detached or resigned and move away from people. In each of
the defensive moves one of the elements involved in basic
anxiety is overemphasized: helplessness in the compliant solution,
hostility in the aggressive solution, and isolation in the
The person in whom compliant trends are dominant tries to overcome his basic anxiety by gaining affection and approval and by controlling others through his need of them. He needs "to be liked, wanted, desired, loved; to feel accepted, welcomed, approved of, appreciated; to be needed, to be of importance to others, especially to one particular person; to be helped, protected, taken care of, guided" (
In order to gain the love, approval, acceptance, and support which he needs, the basically compliant person develops certain qualities, inhibitions, and ways of relating. He seeks to attach others to him by being good, loving, self-effacing, and weak. He tries to live up to the expectations of others, "often to the extent of losing sight of his own feelings" (
The compliant defense brings with it not only certain ways of feeling and behaving, but also a special set of values. "They lie in the direction of goodness, sympathy, love, generosity, unselfishness, humility; while egotism, ambition, callousness, unscrupulousness, wielding of power are abhorred—though these attributes may at the same time be secretly admired because they represent 'strength' " (
In the compliant person, says Horney, there are "a variety of aggressive tendencies strongly repressed" (
The person in whom aggressive tendencies are predominant has goals, traits, and values which are quite the opposite of those of the compliant person. Since he seeks safety through conquest, "he needs to excel, to achieve success, prestige, or recognition" (
There are three aggressive types: the narcissistic, the perfectionistic, and the arrogant-vindictive. They all "aim at mastering life. This is their way of conquering fears and anxieties: this gives meaning to their lives and gives them a certain zest for living" (
The basically detached person worships freedom and strives to be independent of both outer and inner demands. He pursues neither love nor mastery; he wants, rather, to be left alone, to have nothing expected of him and to be subject to no restrictions. He handles a threatening world by removing himself from its power and by shutting others out of his inner life. He disdains the pursuit of worldly success and has a profound aversion to effort. He makes himself invulnerable by being self- sufficient. This involves not only living in imagination, but also restricting his desires. In order to avoid being dependent on the environment, he tries to subdue his inner cravings and to be content with little. His resignation from active living makes him an onlooker toward both himself and others and often permits him to be an excellent observer of his own inner processes.
While the individual's interpersonal difficulties are creating
movements toward, against, and away from people and the
conflicts between them, his concomitant intrapsychic problems
The creation of the idealized image produces not only the
search for glory but a whole structure of defensive strategies
which Horney calls "the pride system." Self-idealization leads
the individual to make both exaggerated
The individual's pride in his idealized self also leads him to impose stringent demands and taboos upon himself which Horney describes as "the tyranny of the should." The function of the shoulds is " to make oneself over into one's idealized self (
When Fanny arrives at Mansfield Park at the age of ten, she has been already crushed by her experiences at home. She feels herself to be weak, worthless, inconsequential, and inadequate; and she is in the grip of a basic anxiety. Her defense system is already formed, and she displays many of the self- effacing traits which characterize her throughout the novel. She is "exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice" (I, ii). She is "ashamed of herself." She finds "something to fear in every person and place," creeps "about in constant terror of something or other," and often "retreat[s] toward her own chamber to cry." She is completely abject until she gains the friendship of Edmund. Fortified by his support, she begins to make a place for herself in the family by being useful and compliant: "if there were some amongst them whom she could not cease to fear, she began at least to know their ways, and to catch the best manner of conforming to them." She is "of an obliging, yielding temper," shows "a tractable disposition," and is pronounced, even by the supercilious Miss Bertrams, to be "good-natured enough." Edmund sees that she has "an affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right."
Fanny's insecurities are exacerbated by the treatment she
receives at Mansfield Park. Almost everything conspires to
make her feel like a nothing. She is criticized frequently, is
constantly put in her place, and is made to feel like a person
with no rights, no gifts, and no claims to consideration. She
feels totally dependent and strives desperately to do whatever
will gain her acceptance and enhance her security. She has little
confidence in her capacities, perceptions, and judgments and in
her ability to gain approval or to cope with new situations. She
has no power to resist the negative image of herself which she
receives from Mrs. Norris's continual deprecations, from the
disdain of her girl cousins, and from the disapproval of Sir
Thomas. She does not feel like a real person with a real place in
the world. This is made evident when, late in the novel, she
Fanny's chief persecutor, as we have seen, is her Aunt Norris. She is terrified of Mrs. Norris, who is at first an important figure of authority; and in order to avoid her reproaches and the danger of her displeasure, she tries to think, feel, and behave exactly as her aunt prescribes. This is not difficult, for Mrs. Norris's injunctions correspond to the shoulds and taboos of Fanny's defense system. Mrs. Norris talks "to her the whole way from Northampton of her wonderful good fortune, and the extra-ordinary degree of gratitude and good behavior which it ought to produce" (I, ii); and Fanny does her utmost to be grateful and well behaved. Since this seems to be the condition of her acceptance at Mansfield Park, she is in dread of being thought ungrateful or naughty; and she experiences great anxiety at the least hint of disapproval. She constantly hears that she will be "a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her" (I, xv); and whenever she can do so without violating principles, she slavishly complies with their demands. Aunt Norris says that she should always be "lowest and last," and Fanny anxiously shuns any form of notice or distinction. She accepts the various deprivations imposed by her aunt as "perfectly reasonable. She rated her own claims to comfort as low as even Mrs. Norris could" (II, v).
Fanny is not secure enough even to resent the way in which
she is abused. She is "often mortified" by her cousins' treatment
of her, but she thinks "too lowly of her own claims to feel
injured by it" (I, ii). She thinks so lowly of her own claims
partly because of her damaged self-esteem and her taboos
against presumption and partly because she is afraid to feel
injured. To be angry with others for their treatment of her is to
risk their anger in return and possibly their rejection. This she
cannot do. She must handle abuse by belittling herself, by
feeling that the way she is treated is perfectly reasonable, considering
her inconsequence. Any recognition, any triumph,
threatens to upset this solution; and Fanny responds by anxiously
reaffirming her unworthiness. Her taboos against pride
are so powerful that she does not even take satisfaction in her
Fanny's defenses are, broadly speaking, of two kinds: those designed to prevent dangerous situations from arising and those designed to secure reassurance and protection. The preventive defenses include self-minimization; self-accusation; avoidance of attention, competition, and triumph; and taboos against pride, envy, and resentment. Fanny does not want to do anything which will arouse antagonism, expose her to judgment, or jeopardize her acceptance. She feels safest when others cannot possibly regard her as a threat. The less attention she attracts and the less recognition she receives, the less likely she is to be an object of criticism or envy. As Mary Crawford observes, Fanny is "almost as fearful of notice and praise as other women [are] of neglect" (II, iii). Fanny is acutely self-conscious. Being the focus of attention when she enters a room, speaks, or dances is an ordeal for her.
Most of Fanny's preventive defenses are generated by her
self-effacing trends; but this set of defenses includes also her
strong tendencies toward withdrawal, resignation, and detachment.
She frequently hides away in the East room, which is her
"nest of comforts" (I, xvi), her retreat, her refuge from the
buffets and alarms of daily life. She is "not often invited to join
in the conversation of others, nor [does] she desire it. Her own
thoughts and reflections [are] habitually her best companions"
(I, viii). She turns for her pleasures to such solitary occupations
as reading or to the contemplation of nature; she does not
expect to get much from other human beings. To avoid being
judged, she keeps her thoughts and feelings to herself. She is
"always so gentle and retiring" that Sir Thomas finds "her
emotions" to be "beyond his discrimination" (III, v). Since
having wishes seems dangerous, Fanny tries hard to accept
what is given and to want nothing for herself. She is easily
satisfied and does not complain, even to herself, about her
deprivations. She does what she is told, but she never initiates
activity. If she is passive and subservient, there is less danger
that she will step out of her place or do something wrong. Her
most common roles are those of servant and spectator. Her
onlooker attitude, combined with her defensive alertness,
Fanny seeks reassurance and protection in three major ways: by being useful, by being good, and by attaching herself to a stronger and more favored member of the family, someone who can watch out for her needs and intercede on her behalf with the powerful parental figure.
Fanny needs to be useful, needs to be needed, in order to compensate for her feelings of worthlessness and inconsequentiality. " 'I can never,' " she tells Edmund, " 'be important to any one' " ( I, iii). She arrives at Mansfield Park with this feeling. At home she had served as "play-fellow, instructress, and nurse" to her younger brothers and sisters (I, ii); but she was neglected by both her mother and father and was felt, as a "delicate and puny" child ( I, i) in a large family, to be something of a nuisance, at best superfluous. When she leaves, no one, with the exception of William, misses her. She is delighted, therefore, to be of use to her aunts, to her cousins, to the actors in the play, to anyone who will make her feel that her existence is of some importance. She would be reconciled even to living with Aunt Norris if her aunt really wanted her: " 'it would be delightful to feel myself of consequence to any body!' " (I, iii). Since she has no inner feeling of worth, Fanny depends upon others to give value to her life and becomes depressed and anxious when she cannot be of service. She becomes so deeply attached to her Aunt Bertram partly because her aunt is so dependent upon her for comfort. Her aunt's repeated assertions that she cannot do without Fanny are sweet music to her ears. When she returns to Portsmouth, she dreams "of being of consequence" to her mother (III, viii) as she had never been before. With the disappointment of these hopes, she begins to long for Mansfield and to think of it as her true home: "Could she have been at home, she might have been of service to every creature in the house. She felt that she must have been of use to all. To all, she must have saved some trouble of head or hand" (III, xiv). When disasters fall upon the Bertrams and everyone turns to her for comfort, Fanny is happy.
Fanny is profoundly insecure not only about her worth,
her consequence, but also about her status. She is acutely aware
It is difficult to feel as positively about Fanny's goodness as Jane Austen wishes us to. Hers is the goodness of a terrified child who dreads total rejection if she does not conform in every way to the will of those in power. It is rigid, desperate, compulsive. Fanny is not actively loving or benevolent; she is obedient, submissive, driven by her fears and her shoulds. Her goodness provides, moreover, the only outlet for her repressed aggressive impulses. She stands up to others, occasionally, in the name of her principles. She is highly critical of many of the people around her, either inwardly or with Edmund; but she gets around her taboos against aggression and presumption by attacking on the side of authority and in the name of virtue. She is, in truth, a prig.
Given her timidity, her dependency, her inability to assert herself in the face of neglect, abuse, and injustice, Fanny would be lost without a protector. Despite their differences in personality, William and Edmund play this role for her in remarkably similar ways. William is "her constant companion and friend; her advocate with her mother (of whom he was the darling) in every distress" (I, ii). At Mansfield Park, she is in a state of panic until Edmund befriends her, helps her write to her brother, and recognizes her goodness: "From this day Fanny grew more comfortable." As his behavior at cards makes clear (II, vii), William has an aggressive personality. Fanny subordinates herself to him; and he, in turn, looks out for her interests and intercedes with their mother on her behalf. Edmund is compliant. He makes up for his inferior position as second son by being good; and, as a result, he becomes the favorite of his father. He identifies with Fanny as a kindred spirit and takes an immense moral pleasure in being good to her. Like William, he is sensitive to Fanny's weakness and hovers about her with a kind of parental solicitude, forcing others to be considerate. He is not himself a dominating personality (like William); but his influence in the household, especially with his father, makes him a source of security; and Fanny sees him as her hero, her champion. She becomes quite worried when Sir Thomas looks reproachfully at Edmund on learning of his participation in the play (II, i). Eventually, of course, Sir Thomas himself becomes Fanny's protector, and then she is completely safe.
Now that Fanny's character structure and defensive strategies have been analyzed, it is possible to understand her relationships with other characters and her behavior in various episodes. Jane Austen's characterization is so rich that it is almost inexhaustible. I shall concentrate upon some major aspects of Fanny's behavior in the play episode, her relationship with Henry Crawford, her visit to Portsmouth, and her triumphant return home.
No detailed reasons are given for Fanny's opposition to the play. Until Edmund decides to act, her sentiments, presumably, are the same as his. The central issue for Fanny is respect for the authority of Sir Thomas: " 'he would never,' " says Edmund, " 'wish his grown up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict' " (I, xiii). When
Fanny's refusal to act is only partially motivated by her
fear of Sir Thomas. Her initial reaction is prompted chiefly by
her dread of exposing herself:
"You must be Cottager's wife." "Me!" cried Fanny, sitting down again with a most frightened
look. "Indeed you must excuse me. I could not act any thing if you were
to give me the world. No, indeed, I cannot act." ". . . It is not that I am afraid of learning by heart," said Fanny,
shocked to find herself at that moment the only speaker in the room,
and to feel that almost every eye was upon her; "but I really cannot
act." ( I, xv)
"You must be Cottager's wife."
"Me!" cried Fanny, sitting down again with a most frightened look. "Indeed you must excuse me. I could not act any thing if you were to give me the world. No, indeed, I cannot act."
". . . It is not that I am afraid of learning by heart," said Fanny, shocked to find herself at that moment the only speaker in the room, and to feel that almost every eye was upon her; "but I really cannot act." ( I, xv)
Despite her evident panic, Fanny's refusal is not accepted. Tom persists in his request, and is urgently backed by Maria, Mr. Crawford, and Mr. Yates. Fanny is quite overpowered; and before she can catch her breath, Mrs. Norris joins in with the charge that she will be " 'a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her.' " Edmund and Mary Crawford give Fanny what moral support they can, but she is badly shaken by this experience.
We must see Fanny as a person if we are to feel the
dramatic intensity of this situation and to understand the extent
of her confusion and distress. She fears a repetition of the
assault, with "Edmund perhaps away" (I, xvi). Can she stand up
to "all the authoritative urgency that Tom and Maria [are]
capable of?" She is not sure, moreover, what she
When Fanny is asked again, Edmund answers for her, and
she is saved. But she has not resolved her conflict. When she is
Fanny does, in fact, become quite involved in the production of the play, but in ways which do not arouse her various anxieties. Once she has been saved from having to act, she finds herself quite left out; and this arouses her old feelings of inconsequence. Everyone else is "gay and busy, prosperous and important." "She alone was sad and insignificant; she had no share in any thing; she might go or stay . . . without being seen or missed. She could almost think any thing would have been preferable to this" (I, xvii). She compensates for her feeling of insignificance in the usual way, by serving: "The gloom of her first anticipations was proved to have been unfounded. She was occasionally useful to all; she was perhaps as much at peace as any. There was a great deal of needlework to be done, moreover, in which her help was wanted." (I, xviii). Fanny's behavior in the play episode is consistent throughout with our understanding of her character; but from a thematic point of view, it is difficult to understand the difference between acting and sewing.
It is during a discussion of the play while they are dining at
the Grants' that Henry Crawford first becomes attracted to
Fanny. When Henry expresses a wish that Sir Thomas's return
had been delayed, Fanny replies:
"As far as I am concerned, sir, I would not have delayed his return
for a day. My uncle disapproved it ail so entirely when he did arrive,
that in my opinion, everything had gone quite far enough." She had never spoken so much at once to him in her life before,
and never so angrily to any one; and when her speech was over, she
trembled and blushed at her own daring. He was surprised; but after a
few moments silent consideration of her, replied in a calmer, graver
tone, and as if the candid result of conviction, "I believe you are right. It
"As far as I am concerned, sir, I would not have delayed his return for a day. My uncle disapproved it ail so entirely when he did arrive, that in my opinion, everything had gone quite far enough."
She had never spoken so much at once to him in her life before,
and never so angrily to any one; and when her speech was over, she
trembled and blushed at her own daring. He was surprised; but after a
few moments silent consideration of her, replied in a calmer, graver
tone, and as if the candid result of conviction, "I believe you are right. It
Henry's initial plan is to remain heart-whole himself, but to
make Fanny feel, when he goes away, " 'that she shall never be
happy again.' " In this way he will restore his pride and will get
revenge on her for having made him doubt his powers. As he
comes to know Fanny, however, he is genuinely attracted; and
he determines to win her hand in marriage. He decides to marry
her in part, I suspect, because he is having no success in flirting;
an offer of marriage, he feels, will be irresistible. But he also
wishes to possess for himself certain qualities which he sees
Fanny display toward others and which he feels will be his once
he wins her heart. He imagines her being as affectionate as she
is toward William, as cheerfully subservient as she is toward her
aunts, and as grateful as she is toward anyone who does her the
smallest kindness. Her "dependent, helpless . . . neglected" (II,
xii) state feeds his sense of power; he will transform her life.
What a reward will he not deserve from her! Marrying such a
Henry's glorification of Fanny is a bit overstrained, making
one suspect authorial manipulation; but, on the whole, his
behavior toward her is in keeping with his character. Given
Fanny has a serious objection, of course, to Henry's moral character. She has observed his flirtations with Maria and Julia, and she has " 'received an impression which will never be got over' "(III, iv). When, at the Grants, Henry remarks that he was "never happier" than during the period of the play, Fanny is full of "silent indignation": " 'never happier than when behaving so dishonourably and unfeelingly!—Oh! what a corrupted mind!' " (II, v). When Henry begins his attentions, Fanny surmises, quite correctly, that "he wanted . . . to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated" her cousins of theirs (II, viii). He eventually overcomes her distrust of his affection, but he never convinces her of his virtue. He makes some progress in this direction at Portsmouth, but Fanny is not much disillusioned when he runs off with Maria. Given her need to be good, to be allied with someone who .shares her values, and to be protected by someone whom she trusts completely, Fanny could never bring herself to marry a man as tainted in her mind as Henry Crawford.
Henry tries to assure Fanny of his virtue by praising hers:
" 'You are infinitely my superior in merit; all
Fanny is quite right when she tells Edmund that " 'there
were never two people more dissimilar,' " that it is " 'quite
impossible' " that she and Henry Crawford could " 'ever be
tolerably happy together, even if [she]
As long as Edmund is in the picture, Fanny must love him. Understanding why Henry Crawford is so unsuitable helps us to see the appeal of Edmund. Fanny feels him to be her mentor, her moral superior, her friend, champion, and protector. She trusts his good will completely. He is the only person, other than her brother William, to whom she can speak with any degree of openness. They are entirely compatible in tastes, inclinations, and life styles; they are "equally formed for domes- tic life, and attached to country pleasures" (III, xvii). They will share a life of serenity, repose, and mutual approbation. Their happiness may not be sublime, but it will be "secure." With Edmund there will be no challenges which Fanny cannot meet.
When Fanny sees that Henry Crawford seriously wants to marry her, that he seeks her for "her gentleness, and her goodness" (III, ii), and that he has secured William's promotion for her sake, she has "a sensation of being honored" and a feeling of "gratitude"; but for the most part she is oppressed by the situation into which his attentions have placed her. Henry threatens her security by bringing down upon her Sir Thomas's wrath. Sir Thomas is angry mainly because he does not understand the grounds of Fanny's refusal. She does not tell him of her objections to Crawford because this would implicate her cousins; and she has a strong taboo against being critical of others, especially of those toward whom she must repress her envy and resentment. Nor can she tell him that she loves another because this would arouse his suspicions about Edmund. She must keep her love a secret in order to avoid family resentment and the charge of presumption. When Edmund falls in love with Mary, Fanny struggles to feel as she ought: "To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment, would be a presumption; for which she had not words enough to satisfy her own humility" (II, ix). She is in a painful position with Edmund also. He is constantly promoting her marriage with Crawford and confiding his love for her detested rival. It is no wonder that when, in Portsmouth, Fanny begins to think better of Crawford, her highest hope is that "he would not much longer persevere in a suit so distressing to her" (III, xi). This is the only way, it seems, in which she can be freed of Edmund's urgings and restored to Sir Thomas's favor.
The Portsmouth episode has attracted critical attention
because of the obvious disparity between Jane Austen's approving
view of Fanny, which is reflected in the chorus of praise that
increasingly surrounds her, and Fanny's snobbish attitudes and
unattractive behavior toward her family. She seems excessively
cold and critical, embarrassed and ashamed. Instead of having
sympathy for her overburdened mother, she is preoccupied with
self-pity and her nostalgia for "the genteel and well-appointed"
(III, xii). We shall find that here, as elsewhere, Fanny's behavior
The prospect of returning home awakens Fanny's hunger for love and belonging. Both in her early years in Portsmouth and in her stay at Mansfield Park, she has been starved for parental affection, for love, warmth, and tender concern. Her father never showed her "anything approaching to tenderness" (III, viii). And her mother, "occupied by the incessant demands of a house full of little children" (III, vi), partial to the boys, and "alienated . . . by the helplessness and fretfulness of a fearful temper," was either hostile or indifferent to Fanny. At Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas is remote and stern, Mrs. Norris is an enemy, and Lady Bertram is a passive figure who does not give but requires indulgent care. Fanny has handled this deprivation by blaming herself, by resigning her claims, and by making do with parent substitutes, like William and Edmund. Feeling that she had probably "been unreasonable in wanting a larger share than any one among so many could deserve," and that she has therefore been sent away, she learns at Mansfield "how to be useful and how to forbear," so as to avoid a second rejection. Her need for love has not disappeared, however; and the thought of returning home awakens fantasies of gratification. She dreams of being "in the centre" of the family "circle," of being "loved by so many, and more loved by all than she had ever been before," of feeling "affection without fear or restraint," of feeling "herself the equal of those who surrounded her." She will "now find a warm and affectionate friend" in her mother; they will "soon be what mother and daughter ought to be to each other."
She is, of course, severely disappointed by the treatment
she receives. Her father seems "inclined to forget her" (III, vii)
shortly after her arrival; her mother still has "neither leisure nor
affection to bestow on Fanny" (III, viii); and the other children,
with the exception of William and Susan, are favored rivals to
whom she is of little or no importance. She handles her resentment,
at first, in a variety of defensive ways. She is being
"unreasonable" (III, vii). She has no "right . . . to be of importance
to her family." "William's concerns must be dearest";
perhaps in a few days, when the
Before the week is over it is "all disappointment"; her home
is "the very reverse of what she could have wished" (III, viii). In
the bitterness of her disillusionment, with nothing left to hope
for, Fanny allows her resentment to show:
Fanny does not express or act out her rage, of course; she
is much too insecure for that. She reverts to her usual defenses
of modesty, usefulness, and withdrawal. She devotes herself to
the appreciative Susan. She continues, however, to be inwardly
critical of her parents and their home. This is partly an expression
of her anger and partly a defense against self-hate. She has
violated her taboo against feeling resentment; and she must
assure herself of her righteousness by tearing down her family,
by convincing herself that they deserve her condemnation. She
validates her judgments by identifying her criteria of propriety
with those of Mansfield Park, which she now glorifies and
invests with absolute moral authority. There, whatever is, is
right. She is so embarrassed by her family because she is so
Fanny's feelings on return to Mansfield Park are as immature, and as understandable, as are her responses to Portsmouth; and, again, an analysis of them helps to explain why reader response and authorial rhetoric often part ways. Jane Austen has set herself a difficult artistic problem. Fanny's happiness comes at the expense of others, not only of her enemies, but of her friends as well. Through much of the denouement, Edmund, Sir Thomas, and Lady Bertram are quite miserable; but Fanny is happy, and we are supposed to rejoice. Austen speaks frequently of Fanny's sympathetic sufferings, which are no doubt genuine, and explains why she "must have been happy in spite of every thing" (III, xvii); but there is a euphoria about Fanny, and at times a kind of glee, which seem inappropriate to the gravity of the situation. When she first hears the news about Crawford and Maria, she thinks it "scarcely possible" for Sir Thomas and Edmund "to support life and reason under such a disgrace; and it appeared to her, that as far as this world was concerned, the greatest blessing to every one of kindred with Mrs. Rushworth would be instant annihilation" ( I II, xv). But as soon as she is summoned home, she is "exquisitely happy." She fights against such feelings, recognizing their selfishness and insensitivity; but she cannot suppress them. In the company of the dejected Edmund, "her heart swell[s] with joy and gratitude" as she leaves Portsmouth; and "her perceptions and her pleasures [are] of the keenest sort" as she enters the grounds of Mansfield Park.
Here, as in Portsmouth, Fanny is so immersed in her own
sensations that she cannot be sensitive to the problems of
others. Before she receives news of the Crawford-Maria affair,
she is "very low" (III, xi). Portsmouth is hateful, her health is
declining, and she feels "deserted by everybody" who is of
importance to her. She cannot think of Henry's "returning to
It is no wonder that with the sudden change of events Fanny becomes euphorically happy. She has stepped out of a nightmare into a dream come true. One after another, the obstacles to her wishes are removed: "She was returned to Mansfield Park, she was useful, she was beloved; she was safe from Mr. Crawford, and when Sir Thomas came back she had every proof . . . of his perfect approbation and increased regard; . . . Edmund was no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford" (III, xvii). At this point, what is a nightmare for others brings about the realization of her most cherished fantasies. She cannot help having a sense of triumph, of exultation. When Edmund begins to love her, the hopes and dreams which she had felt it presumptuous to acknowledge even to herself are coming true. We may not wish Fanny's kind of happiness for ourselves, but for her it is perfect. No situation could be better adapted to her needs than to be the wife of Edmund, the beloved daughter of Sir Thomas, and the mistress of Mansfield parsonage.
Fanny Price is one of the great mimetic characters in English
fiction. Jane Austen's intuitive grasp and concrete portrayal
of her psychology are amazing. To some, her misinterpretation
Novelists are more gifted than the rest of us in many ways, but they are no less subject to psychological limitations. They, too, have blind spots when it comes to their own defensive strategies and their own destructive solutions, however perceptive they might be in analyzing and judging other and opposite types. They, too, need to justify their values and to believe that their solutions are well-adapted to the world.
There is a certain amount of manipulation in the removal of blocking forces. Edmund's love for Fanny is neither depicted nor explained; it is simply a part of the fairy-tale atmosphere which dominates at the end. The manner in which the Crawfords are removed has caused considerable uneasiness among Austen's readers. Part of the explanation, I believe, is that the Crawfords are too fully rendered to be merely villains in the comic action but not rendered fully enough, particularly at the end, to be entirely believable as people. When antagonists are rendered as persons, as Henry and, to a lesser degree, Mary are, we tend to find them more interesting and sympathetic than we should, given their comic roles and their moral characters.
Jane Austen does not manipulate her main character in the
least. She is a creation inside a creation and is mimetically
rendered throughout. This, as I have suggested, creates an
appetite for a thoroughgoing realism. The ending, however,
strikes us not as true to experience, but as an indulgence of the
heroine. It shows the triumph of the self-effacing protagonist
over her aggressive enemies. The author presides, dispensing
justice and making Fanny's dreams come true. Jane Austen is
as harsh upon the aggressive characters as she is indulgent to
the "good" ones. She has no blind spots here. She sees their
faults, understands the damage which has been done by their
upbringing, and calls attention to the self-destructiveness, and
ultimate failure, of their solutions. One reason why we may
In order for
This controversy becomes intelligible, I believe, when we
see that Emma is, like Fanny Price, a creation inside a creation.
She is the heroine of the comic action and the character whose
As a comic structure,
"The humor in comedy," says Frye, "is usually someone with a good deal of social prestige and power, who is able to force much of the play's society into line with his obsession" (
The new society which crystallizes at the end is not only more clear-sighted; it is also better ordered and morally more secure. The mystery of Harriet's birth is removed, and she enters her proper social sphere. The capricious Mrs. Churchill is dead, and the relationship between Frank and Jane can become open and honorable. Most important of all, Emma accepts subordination to a proper authority. She has had too much power and independence. Her marriage to Knightley brings back to Hartfield the moral order which had disappeared with the death of her mother.
The tone of
The new society is achieved in
Even in terms of its comic structure, however, the ending of
Different as it is in tone,
The opening pages of the novel present Emma to us immediately as a spoiled child, long before Knightley identifies her as such. She has "lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Her mother has been long dead; her father is feeble and indulgent; and, "in consequence of her sister's marriage," she has "been mistress of his house from a very early period." Miss Taylor has been her governess for sixteen years, but "the mildness of her temper [has] hardly allowed her to impose any restraint," and "the shadow of authority" has long since "passed away." Emma does "just what she like[s]" and is "directed chiefly by her own" judgment. Her "power of having . . . too much her own way" and "disposition to think a little too well of herself" are identified as the "real evils of her situation," "disadvantages" which threaten "alloy to her many enjoyments."
We are reminded of the Crawfords, with whom Emma has
much in common. Like them, she has "sense and energy and
spirits" (I, ii). She is well-endowed by nature, but deficient in
nurture. There are crucial differences in her upbringing, however,
which make her corrigible, whereas they are not. Miss
Emma's deficiencies are, in Jane Austen's view, the fault of her nurture. Her existence has been too privileged; she has been made to feel too important; she has received too much deference and praise. She has not had to earn respect, to submit to judgment, or to acknowledge a higher authority. As a result, she lacks discipline, is indisposed to work, and fails to develop her potentialities. She is arrogant, self-important, and controlling. She overrates her capacities and is too confident of her knowledge, judgment, and perception. Because she is so accustomed to having reality arranged for her convenience, she is given to fantasizing and to assuming that things are probably as she wishes or imagines them to be. She has a weakness for flattering illusions and for people who feed her pride. She tends to avoid competition, to cut down rivals, and to evade unpleasant realizations. Her description of Mrs. Elton fits Emma herself very well: she is "a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance . . . [who means] to shine and be very superior" (II, xiv).
There is a precise structure by which Jane Austen identifies
Emma's faults and traces the progress of her education. Almost
every time that Emma errs—in judgment, perception, or behavior
—she is corrected by Knightley. He warns her of the impropriety
of matchmaking, disapproves of her intimacy with Harriet
Smith, is outraged by her objections to Robert Martin and
her interference with Martin's proposal to Harriet, disagrees
with her view of Harriet's matrimonial prospects, warns her
against her designs on Mr. Elton, conveys his suspicions of
Frank Churchill's secret relation with Jane, and rebukes her for
insulting Miss Bates. On every occasion but the last Emma
pridefully rejects Knightley's position. Each episode of rejection
The most important change in Emma, from Jane Austen's point of view, is in her attitude toward herself. The process is slow, but her overinflated ego is eventually reduced to a proper size. The movement is from pride to humility, from self-aggrandizement to self-castigation, from self-delusion to self- knowledge: "With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of everybody's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken" (III, xi). Her more realistic estimate of herself is manifested not only by her repeated self-accusations, but also by her recognition of Knightley's merit and her submission to his authority: "She had often been negligent or perverse, slighting his advice, or even wilfully opposing him, insensible of half his merits, and quarreling with him because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimate of her own" (III, xii). Emma is driven to many of her recognitions by threatening complications; but when all difficulties are resolved and happiness is in sight, she does not revert to her former attitudes: "What had she to wish for? Nothing but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgment had been ever so superior to her own. Nothing but that the lessons of her past folly might teach her humility and circumspection in future" (III, xviii).
Emma's education is an example of moral growth through
suffering. She is instructed not only by Knightley, but also by
reality, which crushes her pride and forces her to abandon her
delusional system. She does not accept Knightley's lessons until
"Marriage to an intelligent, amiable, good, and attractive man is the best thing that can happen to this heroine," says Booth, "and the readers who do not experience it as such are, I am convinced, far from knowing what Jane Austen is about" (
It is quite possible, it seems to me, both to experience
What these critics see, without articulating it precisely, is
that Emma is more than an aesthetic and an illustrative character.
She is an imagined human being whose problems have
deep psychological sources. The experience she undergoes does
not seem sufficient to cure her, and the conditions of her
marriage do not seem to promise the degree of happiness which
the ending predicts. Booth is right about Jane Austen's intentions.
Those who object to the ending have a correct intuition
about the persistence of Emma's problems and the incomplete
From a psychological point of view,
The narcissistic person "is often gifted beyond average, early and easily won distinctions, and sometimes was the favored and admired child" (
Emma's childhood situation is, like Fanny Price's, unhealthy, but to a lesser degree and in a different way. Unlike Fanny, Emma is well-gratified in many of her basic needs. She is socially secure. She feels loved, has a sense of belonging, and is treated with consideration and respect. She seems to have an abundance of self-esteem. In truth, however, her self-esteem is shaky; and a close examination of her behavior shows that she is busily engaged in warding off threats and in seeking reassurance.
Emma is insecure in her self-esteem because almost everything
in her situation has contributed to the formation of an
unrealistic self-image. She is the favored child, the cleverest
member of the family, the mistress of Hartfield, the first lady of
Highbury. Her father praises her constantly, almost everyone
treats her deferentially, and her governess devotes "all her
powers to attach and amuse" her, adapting herself to Emma's
"every pleasure, every scheme" (I, i). All of this inflates Emma's
sense of her own power, ability, and importance, while making
it unnecessary for her to earn her rewards through effort and
achievement. As a result, she makes great claims for herself; but
Emma's insecurity is revealed in part by the frequent defensiveness
of her behavior. She is competitive toward women
like Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton, who threaten her position as
favored child or first lady of Highbury. Jane is her chief rival
for the attention and acclaim of the neighborhood; and her
accomplishments make Emma uncomfortably aware of the disparity
between her own promise and her performance, between
other people's praise of her playing and its true worth. Emma's
attitudes toward Jane have many of the characteristics of sibling
rivalry. She hates to hear Jane praised, and she is hostile
toward Miss Bates partly because the old woman is always
talking of her niece. Emma dislikes Jane's presence in the
neighborhood, is unfriendly to her when she is there, and cuts
Jane down by imagining things to her disadvantage and making
sport of her with Frank Churchill. She defends her pride, in
other words, by either avoiding Jane or belittling her. Since her
moral standards tell her that she
The fact that we are meant to share Emma's estimate of
Mrs. Elton may obscure our perception that Emma is threatened
by this woman who is, in many respects, a vulgar version
of herself. Both women seek praise, wish to control others, and
need to be recognized as first in importance. When Mrs. Elton's
status as a newly married woman gives her precedence over
Emma, Emma is genuinely disturbed and thinks that it might be
worthwhile, after all, to consider marriage. The competition
with Mrs. Elton is not enough, of course, to propel her into
Emma is outraged and indignant when Mrs. Elton offers to sponsor her in Bath by providing an introduction to a friend of hers there: "The dignity of Miss Woodhouse, of Hartfield, was sunk indeed!" (II, xiv). She has a similar reaction, though far more intense, when Mr. Elton proposes marriage: ". . . that he . . . should suppose himself her equal in connection or mind! . . . and be so blind . . . as to fancy himself showing no presumption in addressing her!—It was most provoking" (I, xvi). Emma is "insulted by his hopes" because, by showing that he does not regard her as inestimably above him, they threaten to bring her down from the heights of her illusory grandeur. In order to restore her pride, she carefully rehearses in her own mind all the grounds of her superiority: "Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses . . . [were] the younger branch of a very ancient family—and that the Eltons were nobody." Emma is so jealous of her dignity, so angry when it is challenged, and so eager to reaffirm it, because she lives largely for the gratification of her pride, which is highly vulnerable. Mr. Elton's proposal, like Mrs. Elton's patronage, is completely incompatible with her idealized image of herself.
Emma's rivalry with Knightley is different from those
which we have so far examined. Each of her competitors tends
to threaten a different aspect of her idealized image, a different
set of claims. She acknowledges Donwell to be the equal of
Hartfield in consequence and takes pride in her sister's connection
with the Knightleys. She is the first lady of Highbury, and
George Knightley is the first gentleman. Her rivalry with
Knightley is in the areas of perception and judgment. Since he is
a man, older, much respected, and authoritative in manner, she
Emma's insecurity is revealed not only by her competitiveness, but also by her pursuit of reassurance. Not only does she avoid people who threaten her, but she also seeks out the company of those who feed her pride. Harriet, Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Woodhouse constitute her claque; in their presence she can be assured of admiration and applause. The mental deficiencies of Harriet and her father disturb Emma at times, but usually she welcomes them as a confirmation of her own superiority. Mrs. Weston is intelligent, but deferential. This combination makes her an excellent source of reinforcement, and it is easy to understand why Emma is so often at Randalls. Critical of almost everyone and contemptuous of many, Emma tends to ignore the faults and to overrate the virtues of this trio. To deprecate them would diminish the value of their exaltation of herself.
Emma's scheming should be seen as, in part at least, an expression of her need for reassurance. It is an effort to repeat the triumphs of her childhood; it is an aspect of her search for glory. The search for glory is usually compensatory in nature. The individual has been made to feel weak, worthless, and, in various ways, inferior. He compensates for all this by creating, with the help of his imagination, an idealized image which raises him above others; and he embarks upon the project of actualizing his idealized image, of attaining in reality the glory which he feels he deserves and which he has already experienced in imagination. Emma's case is different. In this, as in all her defensive strivings, she seeks not to make up for childhood deprivations, but to hold onto the exalted status which she has already been accorded. She is, at the beginning of the novel, already in possession of her glory. Her project is not so much to actualize her idealized image as to find ways of maintaining it.
This presents a considerable difficulty. What is Emma to do? What adult role is she to play? She cannot rely upon her "accomplishments" to provide confirmation, for she has never attained excellence. One reason for this, as we have seen, is that she has never had to prove herself; she has always been surrounded by praise. Another reason, I suspect, is that she protects her pride by leaving her projects unfinished and doing less than she can. She cannot risk being judged on her best effort. It is safer to remain a promising but undisciplined child who could do great things if she tried. In the presence of so challenging a competitor as Jane Fairfax, her lack of effort provides an excuse for not being first in accomplishments.
Emma could seek to reaffirm her glory through a grand marriage. But marriage, she feels, has little to offer: " 'Fortune I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house, as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my father's' " (I, x). Marriage presents itself to Emma less as an opportunity for fulfillment than as a threat. She would have to give up her domestic power and her status as the favored child. There are additional reasons, as we shall see, for her rejection of marriage. The question remains then: what is Emma to do? How is she to preserve the domestic situation which is so necessary to her pride and at the same time discover an activity, suitable to her years, which will maintain the sense of mastery and mental superiority that has been fostered by her experience as a spoiled child?
Emma's solution is to live through other people, to imagine
their destinies, and to manage their lives. She will be a matchmaker.
As the novel opens, she has just had a great success:
Miss Taylor has married, and Emma " 'made the match' "
herself (I, i). When Mr. Woodhouse asks her not to make any
more matches, Emma promises to make none for herself, " 'but
I must, indeed, for other people. It is the greatest amusement in
the world. And after such success you know!' "This project has
given her an occupation and a sense of direction for four years,
and the happy result confirms her sense of power and perspicacity.
But the completion of her project and the departure of
Emma's plans for Harriet and her plans for Mr. Elton quickly coalesce. She has far too much pride invested in the success of her project and far too much confidence in her powers of judgment and control to perceive that she is encouraging Mr. Elton and that it is she, and not Harriet, who is his object. As she herself comes to see, she takes "up the idea . . . and [makes] everything bend to it" (I, xvi). When she brings Harriet and Elton together in the Vicarage, she feels, "for half a minute, . . . the glory of having schemed successfully"; but Elton, of course, does not "come to the point" (I, x). His proposal to her instead is such a blow, not only because it insults her dignity, but also because it deprives her of glory, challenges her sense of mastery, and calls into question the superiority of her "Understanding." His scorn of Harriet, in whom she has now invested her pride, is an offense to herself. The bitterness of this experience makes her wish to avoid a repetition, and she resolves "to do such things no more" (I, xvi).
Emma is far too resilient, of course, to be permanently discouraged by a single setback. In addition, her unconscious compulsions continue to operate. Driven by her needs to protect her pride and to reaffirm her idealized image, she fastens upon one ill-conceived idea after another and makes everything bend to it. Repeated disillusionments and failures eventually puncture her narcissism and produce a change in her behavior, the exact meaning of which I shall discuss later.
Emma needs not only to be great, but also to be perfectly
good. Her expansiveness takes the form not only of narcissism,
but of perfectionism as well. The perfectionistic person "identifies
himself with his standards" and makes "strenuous efforts to
It is Emma's perfectionistic tendencies which gain her a large measure of approval from Jane Austen even before her pride is broken near the end, for the author has strong perfectionistic elements in her own personality. Emma is no callous manipulator. Her resolution, after the Elton affair, "to do such things no more" is motivated in part by feelings of guilt and concern for the harm she has done to Harriet. She has a strong sense of duty toward her father, her guests, her friends and dependents, and the poor of the neighborhood. We often see her working very hard to perform her various roles in an exemplary fashion. When she lives up to her standards, she experiences a self-approbation which often manifests itself in high spirits and gracious behavior. When she is conscious of failure, she is always distressed, sometimes exceedingly; and she usually attempts to remedy the situation as far as she is able.
Emma's perfectionism demands not only that she be good, but also that she be the ideal lady, the model of elegance, good taste, and fine manners. She tends to measure everyone on a scale of refinement and to be contemptuous of those who fall below her own standards. Her criticism of others is a reaffirmation of her own superiority.
Emma's perfectionism, like her narcissism, is induced not by
deprivation, but by an excess of approbation. Having always
Emma's perfectionism manifests itself in its most striking and compulsive form in her relationship with her father. It derives, indeed, chiefly from their pathological interaction. Emma may seem to be in control of the situation at Hartfield; but she manages her father—and, indeed, her own life—only in small matters It is Mr. Woodhouse who dictates the life style of Hartfield and who determines the possibilities of Emma's existence. He presents himself as a man on the verge of extinction who can be kept alive and in tolerable comfort only by the rigid observance of his wishes. He manipulates Emma through a combination of dependency and praise. She receives from him two complementary messages. The first is that if she does not cater to his weakness and respect his obsessions, he will become nervous and depressed and may, indeed, die. The second is that she is wonderful for being so good to him. The result, for Emma, is that she cannot do anything that will disturb her father. If she did, she would have to take the risk of destroying him and of losing her status as the perfect daughter. The resulting guilt and shame would be unbearable.
Jane Austen depicts Emma's relation with her father in
brilliant mimetic detail, but she seems quite blind to its destructiveness
and to the compulsive nature of Emma's "goodness."
She is indulgent toward Mr. Woodhouse, softens his role as a
blocking force, and approves of Emma's hypersensitivity to his
needs and wishes. She does not see that Emma is severely
constrained by his embeddedness and that she is forced by the
combination of his praise and demands into a self-alienated
development. Emma is not free to feel her own feelings and to
I do not mean to suggest that Emma's acting is for her father only. She is motivated in almost all of her relationships by her need to maintain the various components of her idealized image. As a result, she is almost always, to some extent, insincere. The burdensomeness of this becomes clear when she begins to look forward to a relatively frank relationship with Knightley. His having seen through her pretenses is in some ways a relief. She can abandon her pride and, with it, the necessity of playing a role. Mr. Woodhouse remains, however; and it is not pleasant to imagine the constant hard labor of pretending which living with him will entail.
As we have seen, Emma's narcissism is partly responsible
for her attitude toward marriage, which seems to her a state
which will threaten rather than enhance her power and preeminence.
The chief reason for her lack of interest in marriage,
however, is that it is incompatible with her relation to her
father. " 'I must see somebody very superior to any one I have
seen yet,' " she tells Harriet, " 'to be tempted . . . and I do
Even when she realizes that Knightley must marry no one else, she still does not want him to marry her: "Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him. Nothing should separate her from her father. She would not marry, even if she were asked by Mr. Knightley" (III, xii). After Knightley proposes, "a very short parley with her own heart produced the most solemn resolution of never quitting her father.—She even wept over the idea of it, as a sin of thought. While he lived, it must be only an engagement . . . " (III, xiv).
The conflict in which she finds herself because of her relationship with her father produces a strong tendency toward detachment in Emma. The most important feelings and activities for a woman of her age and culture are simply inadmissible to her. In order to avoid guilt and conflict she represses her sexual nature and renounces her aspirations for an adult, autonomous, fruitful existence. " 'Were I to fall in love,' " she tells Harriet, " 'indeed, it would be a different thing! But I have never been in love: it is not my way or nature; and I do not think I ever shall' " ( I, x). As " 'objects for the affections,' " she will have her sister's children. She will be Aunt Emma! There will be enough children " 'for every hope and every fear; and though my attachment to none can equal that of a parent, it suits my ideas of comfort better than what is warmer and blinder.' " There is a reserve, even a frigidity about Emma which is entirely explicable in the light of her bond with her father. Since all warm and intimate relationships threaten that bond, Emma cannot allow herself to experience even the desire for them, which would be a sin of thought, but must settle for what is cooler and more comfortable. She renounces not only her sexual and maternal feelings, but also the active living of her own life. She becomes an onlooker. She lives vicariously, through protegees and other people's marriages.
Emma is attracted to the idea of being courted by Frank
Churchill, but she never wishes their relationship to become
serious. What transpires between them is mostly in her imagination
(though Frank, for his own purposes, is attentive); and she
arranges everything, his feelings and her own, to suit her various
psychological needs. Her "imagination" gives him "the
distinguished honour . . . if not of being really in love with her,
of being at least very near it, and saved only by her own
indifference" (II, vii). It is important for her to feel that she has
him in her power, that he would be hers if she wished it; but
"her resolution . . . of never marrying" requires that she be
indifferent and that his passion not be so strong as to produce
painful scenes and a disappointment which would expose her to
reproach. Eventually she comes to feel that she, too, is in love,
Everything is working out for Emma in the best possible way. She imagines Frank to be in love with her, which satisfies her pride. She feels that she is in love with him, which attests to her normality, but not so much that she will be tempted to sins, either of thought or of deed, against her father. Having been in love, moreover, gives her a feeling of security for the future: " 'I shall do very well again after a little while—and then, it will be a good thing over; for they say everybody is in love once in their lives, and I shall have been let off easily' "(II, xiii). Apparently, Emma has been afraid of love as overwhelming passion which would throw her into painful inner conflict. Having had a mild case of the disease, to which everyone, it seems, is subject, she feels safe against its more virulent forms. Frank's absence cools her completely; and when she hears of his return, she is determined not "to have her own affections entangled again" (III, i). She is afraid that his feelings might produce "a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state" and is relieved to find him decidedly less attentive than before. There is little reason to believe, I might add, that Emma has been in love with Frank at all. Her feelings have been governed by conventional expectations and by her various defensive needs.
The change in Emma is precipitated largely by two events: the Box Hill episode and the discovery that Harriet hopes to marry Knightley. To appreciate the significance of the Box Hill episode, it is important to understand three things: (1) why Emma insults Miss Bates, (2) why, after Knightley's rebuke, she is so depressed, and (3) what effect this experience has upon her feelings toward Knightley.
Emma's insult has been foreshadowed earlier in the novel. She displays an aversion toward Miss Bates throughout and mocks or disparages her many times behind her back. Her attitude toward Miss Bates has a number of sources. She resents her constant praise of Jane; she has a "horror . . . of falling in with the second rate and third rate of Highbury, who were calling on [her] for ever" (II, i); and she finds Miss Bates " "too good natured and too silly' " to suit her (I, x). Miss Bates is a poor spinster with a mother to care for who secures the charity and affection of her neighbors by a strict course of self- effacing behavior. She has "universal good-will" and a "contented temper" (I, iii). She approves of everything without discrimination, constantly expresses her gratitude, and has nothing but praise for everyone. As Emma observes, " 'nobody is afraid of her; that is a great charm' "(I, x). As is typical of an expansive person, Emma has a good deal of disdain for such self-effacing qualities. When she encounters them in people like Mr. Woodhouse, Isabella, Mr. and Mrs. Weston, and Harriet Smith, she has strong motives for repressing her contempt. It is more easily felt toward Miss Bates. Even here, however, she is not free of discomfort. She believes, like Knightley, in noblesse oblige; and she has a continual nagging guilt about her sins of omission toward Miss Bates. She has, moreover, a self-effacing component in her own personality which leads her to honor "warmth and tenderness of heart," qualities in which she knows herself to be deficient, especially toward Miss Bates. Insofar as she makes Emma feel cold-hearted or undutiful, Miss Bates is a threatening figure. As such, she arouses in Emma guilt and hostility which are not felt by Miss Bates's more genial neighbors.
Emma's insult to Miss Bates results from the slipping out, under the cover of wit, of a contempt which she had felt frequently but which she had hitherto expressed only privately or indirectly. I have discussed so far some of the reasons for a buildup of hostility toward Miss Bates, but there is yet another source which I believe to be the chief motivation behind the insult. What Emma is saying, as her victim well understands, is that Miss Bates is exceedingly "dull" and that her "society" is "irksome" (III, vii). As Emma explains to Knightley, " 'I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her.' " What Emma feels most of all toward Miss Bates is an irritability in her presence, an impatience of her silliness, a resentment at being obliged to humor this "tiresome" woman (II, i). She rebels by staying away, by thwarting Miss Bates when she can, by mocking her behind her back, and, finally, by insulting her to her face. Her reactions are fully intelligible, I believe, only when we see that Emma is discharging onto Miss Bates feelings which she has, but cannot admit, toward her father.
To a dispassionate observer, Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse
seem much alike. Like Miss Bates, Mr. Woodhouse is
"everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his
amiable temper" (I, i); and, like her, he is an unfortunate blend
of the good and the ridiculous. Comic as they may be when they
are encountered in a book, it would be impossible to enjoy their
society or to find them less than oppressive as people to live
with. Emma's heart goes out to Jane Fairfax at Donwell when
she thinks that her distress is because of her aunt:
Her parting words, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes
alone!"-seemed to burst from an overcharged heart, and to
describe somewhat of the continual endurance to be practiced by her,
even toward some of those who loved her best. "Such a home, indeed! such an aunt! . . . I do pity you. And the
more sensibility you betray of their just horrors, the more I shall like
you." (III, vi)
Her parting words, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone!"-seemed to burst from an overcharged heart, and to describe somewhat of the continual endurance to be practiced by her, even toward some of those who loved her best.
"Such a home, indeed! such an aunt! . . . I do pity you. And the more sensibility you betray of their just horrors, the more I shall like you." (III, vi)
Because of her need to be a perfect daughter, Emma must repress any irritation with her father; but the motives for repression are not strong enough to prevent such feelings from being displaced onto Miss Bates and released, from time to time, in relatively safe ways. She can feel on Jane's behalf emotions which would be completely inadmissible if she were to experience them on her own account. Emma behaves toward her father with an unfailing grace and carefully avoids sins even of thought. Her exasperation with Miss Bates, culminating in the insult at Box Hill, betrays her unconscious feelings of oppression and hostility.
As Jane Austen makes clear through Knightley's rebuke,
the insult to Miss Bates is inexcusable. Even so, Emma's reaction
seems out of proportion to her offense: "Never had she felt
so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life
. . . . She had never been so depressed" (III, vii). She cries almost
all the way home, in Harriet's presence, and that evening,
looking back upon the day, feels it "more to be abhorred in
recollection, than any she had ever passed." Emma is so distressed
because she has seriously violated her perfectionistic
shoulds and can find no way to protect her pride. Knightley has
reproached her before, sometimes severely; but she has always
been able to maintain the correctness of her own position. Now,
however, his values and her own coincide; and after a few
attempts at self-defense, she cannot deny "the truth of his
representation." Her depression is produced, to some extent,
by the collapse of her idealized image. Her self-esteem is sinking.
She feels that the "degree" of her father's "fond affection and
confiding esteem" is "unmerited." She feels ashamed before
Knightley, guilty toward Miss Bates, and angry with herself.
How could she have behaved in this way? Her sense of the
heinousness of her crime may be related to the fact that Miss
Bates is partly a surrogate for her father, toward whom she has
Emma begins to work almost immediately at restoring her pride. While recognizing that she is not as perfect as her father thinks her to be, she takes comfort in attending to him and in reflecting upon her general conduct toward him: "As a daughter, she hoped, she was not without a heart. She hoped no one could have said to her, 'How could you have been so unfeeling to your father?' " (III, viii). She assuages her guilt toward Miss Bates by self-condemnation and a determination to reform: "She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious." As she pays her penitential visit, she hopes to encounter Knightley, but he does not appear. When he learns of her visit, however, he understands at once "all that had passed of good in her feelings" (III, ix). They part "thorough friends," as his manner assures her that she has "fully recovered his good opinion."
Emma is comfortable once more, but things are not as they
were before. An important change has taken place in her pride
system and in her relation to Knightley. The self-hate and
humiliation which she has experienced as a result of her own
error have made her afraid of her pride and uncertain of her
ability to live up to her shoulds. As a means of self-protection,
she submits to Knightley's judgment and authority. If she acts
and feels as he would wish, she will be certain of maintaining
both his esteem and her own. She makes him an omniscient
observer of her moral life, adding in this way the fear of his
judgments to her own shoulds as a motive for the repression of
all unacceptable impulses. She begins not only to act, but also
to feel properly toward Jane and Miss Bates. When Jane rejects
her kind attentions, she is "mortified" at being "given so little
credit for proper feeling, or esteemed so little worthy as a
friend." But she has "the consolation of knowing that her
intentions were good, and of being able to say to herself, that
could Mr. Knightley have been privy to all her attempts of
assisting Jane Fairfax, could he even have seen into her heart,
he would not, on this occasion, have found any thing to reprove"
(III, ix). Emma is still proud of her goodness, but she
The Box Hill episode marks the beginning, I believe, of
Emma's tender feelings for Knightley. As Horney observes, an
expansive person often cannot love until his pride is broken.
Emma's humiliation at Knightley's hands arouses feelings of
weakness, anxiety, and self-hate. She becomes dependent upon
his approval to relieve these feelings and upon his reinforcement
to prevent their recurrence. When Knightley hears of her
visit to Miss Bates, he looks at her "with a glow of regard":
Emma's pride receives a devastating blow when she learns
of Harriet's hopes of winning Knightley. The two things most
important to her, her self-esteem and her preeminence, are
severely threatened by this discovery. When Harriet indicates
that Frank Churchill is not her object, Emma waits speechless
and "in great terror" to learn the truth (III, xi). When all is
revealed, including the fact that Harriet has some reasonable
hope of a return, it darts through Emma, "with the speed of an
arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!" This
intuition is in part a recognition of her own love and her need
for his affection. It is mainly, however, a response to threat. If
Knightley marries Harriet—or anyone else, for that matter—
Emma will lose her position of preeminence, both as first lady
of Highbury and, insofar as Knightley is in some respects a
father substitute, as favored child. Now that she is "threatened
with its loss," Emma discovers how much of her happiness
The discovery of her latest mistake about Harriet is the culminating blow to Emma's pride in the superiority of her values and perceptions. Immediately following her realization that Knightley must marry no one but herself comes a recognition of her own faults. She finds every "part of her mind," other than "her affection for Mr. Knightley," to be "disgusting." Her mistakes strike her now with such "dreadful force" because they have brought upon her a real possibility of disaster. They can no longer be juggled away by an internal process of rationalization or denial, and there seems to be nothing she can do to restore her position. Her realization that Knightley has been right all along and that she could have avoided her present troubles by following his advice makes him assume all the more the aspect of an infallible authority, and she is full of remorse at her earlier impiety. She hates herself and reveres Knightley.
Knightley's proposal enables Emma to rebuild her pride. Her social position is now secure, and she has won a man who is clearly superior to the husband of her chief rival, Jane. She maintains a low estimate of herself, but at the same time she derives reassurance from the fact that so upright and discriminating a man has found her worthy of his love. Since Knightley approves of it, her self-abasement becomes a virtue in which she can take satisfaction. Her many errors of heart and head have made her profoundly distrustful of herself, but she hopes to maintain her perfection in the future by reminding herself of Knightley's superiority and her own past folly (III, xviii).
At the beginning of the novel, Emma identifies with her
idealized image. Reality seems to be honoring her narcissistic
The crushing of Emma's pride and the substitution of compliant for expansive trends seem like growth to Jane Austen because of her own glorification of the self-effacing solution. But when Emma is understood psychologically, there is no reason to believe that she is moving significantly toward self- actualization. This is not to deny that Emma learns from her experiences and makes a better adaptation to her society. She discovers the independence of external reality and gains a knowledge of her inability to control it. She is forced to give up her narcissistic claims and to recognize the immorality of many of her expansive attitudes. Insofar as it made her averse to marriage, her striving for power had cut her off from any meaningful role in her society. The emergence of self-effacing trends leads her to desire marriage and qualifies her for the role of wife. At the beginning of the novel, Emma is an unusual figure in her world; by the end she has the feminine personality which was most commonly induced and most strongly approved by the society of her time.
Given Emma's psychological needs at the end, we must
agree with Wayne Booth that marriage to Knightley is "the best
Knightley will keep her wayward impulses under control,
but he will not help her to grow. He is himself a perfectionist
who, unlike Emma, succeeds in living up to his own standards.
He is attracted to Emma by both her perfectionism and her
narcissistic pride and immaturity. He approves of her dutifulness,
especially toward her father, but he also enjoys being
superior to her in wisdom and maturity. Her pride arouses his
competitiveness, and her faults, which give him the victory, are
part of her charm. He takes pleasure in being proved right and
is most impressed by Emma when she submits to his lecturing.
He has found her physically attractive for a long time. The
fancied competition with Frank Churchill makes him realize,
perhaps unconsciously, how much he enjoys his role of mentor
and how important it is to him to be
In one respect Emma does not change at all. She remains
completely bound to her father. After Knightley's proposal, the
conflict which she has always feared between love and duty
confronts her, but it is quickly resolved: she determines never to
quit her father, weeps over the idea as a sin of thought, and
decides that "while he live[s], it must be only an engagement"
(III, xiv). Her conflict is easily disposed of because she does not
really have to choose between the two men: Knightley is hers,
Knightley's solution, involving, as it does, an insistence on
marriage, makes Emma's conflict more severe. Not only has she
no rational ground for opposing the union, but she also has a
strong emotional need to comply with Knightley's wishes. But
she knows that even with Knightley's sacrifice Mr. Woodhouse
will be unhappy about her marrying. In her relations with her
father, Emma has no power of self-assertion. Her need to be the
perfect daughter is so compulsive that she cannot do anything,
however justified, that will disturb him. She is a slave to his
irrational claims. Even though Knightley is eager and Mr.
Woodhouse is beginning to be resigned, Emma is paralyzed:
The manipulated ending is in complete accord with the laws and spirit of comedy. It saves Emma from having to make a painful choice, and it reconciles Mr. Woodhouse to the marriage. It serves Jane Austen's thematic purposes by maintaining the illusion of Emma's maturation. By arranging the world to fit Emma's defensive needs, she obscures the psychological realities which she has portrayed so vividly. She does not want us to see, nor can she afford to see consciously herself, the severity of Emma's father problem and the fact that it is unresolved.
Through Emma and through Frank Churchill, Austen dramatizes brilliantly the damaging effects of manipulation by sick, life-denying parental figures. The novel seems, at one point, to promise a thematic exploration of this problem (I, xviii); but Austen has, understandably, no wisdom to offer. All that she can propose is to follow the self-effacing (or the perfectionistic) route of doing one's duty. Frank should have stood up to Mrs. Churchill in the name of his obligation to his father. But he can only get what he wants for himself (and has a right to have) if Mrs. Churchill dies. The dilemma he faces, and the frustrations he has had to endure, account for his dishonorable behavior, which is treated (perhaps because Austen sympathizes) with a surprising mildness.
As the Knightleys' assurances indicate, Emma is not forced by her situation to suspend the marriage. It would have been perfectly moral for her to proceed, expressing all the while her love and concern for her father. His unhappiness would have passed. Jane Austen's amused tone suggests that she has some awareness of the irrationality of Emma's decision, but she seems, nevertheless, to be basically sympathetic toward her heroine's self-sacrificial behavior. She could not have had Emma behave differently, of course. Emma behaves as she must. But it was within the power of her rhetoric, if she had had a clear enough vision, to suggest the destructiveness of Emma's solution and the preferability of the Knightleys' alternative. As we have seen, Emma is in this instance saved from the consequences of her psychological problems by authorial manipulation of the plot. Form and theme work well together here. The comic action accords with the picture of the world which accompanies the self-effacing solution. Reality is antagonistic to Emma's wishes as long as she is proud. When she becomes humble and unselfish, fortune turns in her favor. Virtue is rewarded.
It is difficult to say whether Emma and Knightley have
(theoretically) any acceptable alternative to living at Hartfield.
As Jane Austen presents the situation, it is unthinkable either
for Emma to leave her father or for Mr. Woodhouse to move to
Donwell. Either course, we are made to feel, would result in his
death. The only solution which the author can sanction is to
Emma Woodhouse and Fanny Price are, for the most part, opposite psychological types. It is impressive that Jane Austen could enter into the inner lives of such different characters equally well. Given her own character structure, it is not surprising that Austen could judge Emma's narcissism much better than she could see the destructiveness of Fanny's self-effacing solution. She had more distance from Emma's solution, and she could identify its sources and its inadequacies with considerable precision, as she did with the spoiled children in
Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen's first great mimetic character. Her psychological traits are less extreme, and hence less obvious, than are those of Fanny and Emma; but with the understanding gained from my study of these two heroines, it will not be difficult to see Elizabeth as an imagined human being: The analysis of Emma, in particular, will help us to understand Elizabeth. Both women are expansive, both make mistakes as a consequence, and both have their pride chastened through the discovery of their errors. The process is muted, however, in
The disparity between representation and interpretation is less marked in
Our chief concern in
The obstacles to Elizabeth's marriage with Darcy are partly
external and partly within each of the protagonists. As soon
as Darcy finds himself attracted to Elisabeth, he begins to
experience inner conflict. He admires, Elizabeth for her personal
qualities, but he feels that it would be demeaning to connect
himself with her family. When love conquers his scruples, he
proposes, but in such a way as to, offend Elizabeth's dignity; and
she rebukes him for his ungentlemanlike behavior. This rebuke
from someone whom he respects chastens his pride and leads
him to see the :selfishness and snobbery of his behavior. The
obstacles within Darcy have now been removed, but an external
blocking force remains: the difficulty of communicating his
change to Elizabeth and of discovering her sentiments. Lydia's
The major obstacle to the marriage is; of course, Elizabeth's dislike of Darcy. The central action of the novel is the evolution of that, dislike, its gradual softening after Darcy's first proposal, and the emergence of Elizabeth's desire for the marriage during her visit to Pemberley. "The action of comedy," says Frye, "is not unlike the action of a lawsuit, in which the plaintiff and defendant construct different versions of the same situation, one finally being judged as real and the other as illusory" (
The dispelling of illusion involves more than Elizabeth's learning the true story of Darcy and Wickham. She must recognize that Jane had given no clear sign of her love for Bingley, and she must acknowledge the justice of Darcy's reservations about an alliance, for either himself or Bingley, with the Bennet family. She must discover the extent of her own blindness and become more humble about her insight and objectivity. She must learn more about Darcy's character than she could ever discover from the superficial contact of social intercourse. And she must take, finally, a less romantic view of marriage and come to see gratitude and esteem as sound bases of a happy union.
The ending of
The new society which crystallizes crystallizes around Elizabeth and
Darcy at Pemberley embodies a number of important values,
both from Elizabeth's and from the author's point of view. At
Longbourn, Elizabeth is a sensible person living. in a world
composed largely of fools. There are few people whom she can
love, and even fewer whom she can respect. She. is subject to the
irrationality of her another (who likes her least of all the children)
and to the embarrassments of belonging to an ill-regulated
family. She finds her situation at first laughable, and then
extremely frustrating. Her marriage to Darcy rescues her from
this world and places her in a proper setting. It signals a
geographical redistribution of characters which is much to Elizabeth's
advantage. She is freed from her mother's presence, but
she retains the society of her father, who visits often. Jane and
Bingley settle nearby, but Lydia and Wickham are excluded
from Pemberley. They are cared for by Jane and Bingley,
however, which maintains the mood of comic inclusion; and
The shift from Longbourn to Pemberley represents a considerable improvement not only from a social but also from a moral point of view. There is a lack of proper authority and of rational guidance at Longbourn, where the tone is set by Mrs. Bennet and her youngest daughter. The life of Pemberley is regulated by Fitzwilliam Darcy. Mr. Bennet has power when he chooses to use it, but in general he. has abandoned his paternal responsibility. His daughters are allowed to be idle and frivolous if they wish. Little effort is made either to form their characters or to correct their manners. Instruction is available to those who desire it, but there is no governess, no supervision, no plan of education. The nearly disastrous affair of Lydia and Wickham is a direct consequence of Mr. Bennet's abdication. Significantly, there is a parallel situation involving Darcy. He preserves his sister from Wickham, however, and when he feels that he is at fault for not having exposed Wickham's character, he intervenes on behalf of the Bennets, playing the moral and economic roles which properly belong to Lydia's father. Thus, when he becomes leader of the new society, we feel that a state of anarchy has passed and that proper authority has at last been established. The improvement of Kitty and the respectfulness of Georgiana enhance this impression. Darcy's sobriety has its limitations, but it is far better than the levity of Longbourn.
One important quality of the ending which I have not yet
discussed is the strong sense of triumph it communicates to the
reader. Elizabeth makes a grand-marriage, one which vindicates
her worth and carries with it all of the glories so vulgarly
celebrated by her mother: " 'And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest
Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin money,
what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane's is nothing to
Elizabeth is not indifferent to these things. After the first proposal she is flattered at having received an offer from the great Mr. Darcy; and the sight of Pemberley really does, I believe, arouse her desire for a renewal of his attentions. We share the Gardiner's sense of excitement when Darcy behaves so gallantly to Elizabeth; and as soon as Elizabeth begins to want the marriage, we support her strongly. When obstacles arise, the novel becomes, for the first time, fraught with suspense. We want so much for Elizabeth to get her man that the issue of their personal compatibility subsides in importance. What matters is that he should still desire her, and we read hurriedly to discover favorable evidence. He had had to struggle with himself before his first proposal. Will not the disgrace of Lydia, the connection now with Wickham, and the opposition of Lady Catherine combine with his injured pride to prevent a second? His obliviousness to these difficulties is a great tribute to Elizabeth. She has the triumph not only of making a grand marriage and of being delivered from Longbourn, but also of being most highly valued.
This is, indeed, a happy ending. Nothing is left to be desired. There is even evidence on the last page that, with his wife at least, Darcy unbends. Georgiana often listens with "astonishment" to Elizabeth's "lively, sportive manner of talking to her brother" and sees him now "the object of open pleasantry." Elizabeth's manner with her husband suggests a more equal relationship than Emma has with Knightley. It would be unthinkable, of course, in Mansfield Parsonage.
Marriage is an ideal vehicle for Jane Austen's thematic
concerns. It is at once a personal relationship and a social
institution, and both of its aspects are important. Austen feels
that one should marry for love, for personal satisfaction, and
out of a regard for the human qualities of one's partner. At the
same time, one cannot ignore the socioeconomic position of the
other person. Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth against becoming
involved with Wickham, and Elizabeth accepts her advice.
Attractive as Wickham seems to be at this time, he is not an
eligible mate for a woman like Elizabeth, who has almost no
personal fortune and whose family lives under the threat of an
entail. In a similar way, Colonel Fitzwilliam finds Elizabeth
attractive; but he lets her know that he must marry a woman
with money. Neither Elizabeth nor Colonel Fitzwilliam would
People cannot always fall in love where they choose, but
their choice of a marriage partner should not be governed
primarily by concerns for money or status. There are many
examples of possible or endangered connections which illustrate
the potential evil of sacrificing personal preference to
social or economic considerations. Elizabeth cannot forget
about the entail, but she should not marry Collins because of it.
It is true, as many critics have observed, that
There is one actual marriage which is motivated solely by socioeconomic considerations—that of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. When Charlotte accepts Collins, Elizabeth feels that she has "sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage" (I, xxii). We are eventually made to feel, however, not that Charlotte's attitude toward marriage is correct or that she has made a happy choice, but that she has been realistic for herself and has chosen the lesser evil. Jane Austen does not blame her, and even Elizabeth becomes somewhat reconciled to her choice. Charlotte's marriage remains, nonetheless, the darkest note in the novel. This sensitive and intelligent woman has been forced by the accidents of her lot to be cynical about marriage and to prostitute herself for status and security.
Elizabeth and Darcy tend to crisscross in their attitudes
toward marriage in the course of the novel. Neither begins with
an extreme position: Elizabeth is somewhat to the left and
Darcy somewhat to the right of center. Darcy is attracted to
Elizabeth quite early, but he sees the connection as unsuitable
to the dignity of his family, and he tries to regulate his feelings
After being at first the chief obstacle to love, Darcy becomes the most romantic figure in the book; and he does this without losing his character as the defender of traditional values. He uses his great power in the service of both order and desire. He combats the anarchistic tendencies of Lydia and Wickham on the one hand and the tyranny of Lady Catherine on the other. He saves the Bennet family and rescues the heroine from all the sources of her distress. He marries her for love and transports her to the comfort and elegance of Pemberley.
Elizabeth has a regard for the social aspects of marriage, but she seems to represent at the outset a predominantly individualistic point of view. Her change of heart toward Darcy is profoundly influenced, however, by social considerations. She is impressed at Pemberley not only by the grandeur of the estate, but also by the importance of such a man as Darcy, who has so many dependents, and by his obligation to choose wisely in the matter of a wife. Mrs. Reynolds' description of his exemplary behavior in his many social roles impresses Elizabeth quite as much as the information that he has a good temper. Elizabeth's experiences with her father have prepared her to appreciate such evidence of responsibility. When we consider that she finds herself drawn to the idea of being Darcy's wife before her renewed contact with the man himself, we must conclude that Darcy's social attractiveness plays a large part in the awakening of her desire.
There is little doubt that Jane Austen sees the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth as a union which will "teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really" is (III, x). The novel aims, through this marriage, at a resolution of the dialectic I have been examining between the social and the personal aspects of marriage. By having each of the protagonists come to appreciate and to be motivated by the other's point of view, while maintaining a concern for his own, Austen seeks to do fullest justice to both sets of values.
Lydia and Collins represent the extremes of lopsided development. Lydia is uncivilized. She is guided by her impulses, which are primitive, and her manners are atrocious. She feels and behaves improperly in every situation and continually gives pain to those around her. The characters who most closely resemble her are her mother and her aunt Philips, both of whom encourage her wildness. Darcy, Lady Catherine, and Mr. Bennet also display self-indulgence in their social behavior. Collins represents the opposite evil. He seems to be nothing but his social mask or persona. His civilities are excessive partly because they have no feeling, no personal sensitivity, behind them. He overdoes what is proper in every situation and is successful only with people who are themselves preoccupied with rituals. His closest counterpart is Sir William Lucas, whose civilities are less excessive but not much more meaningful than his. Bingley, Jane, Elizabeth, and the Gardiners represent a happy combination of feeling and form: they are at once well-bred and genuinely concerned for others. Manners such as theirs, however, can be deceptive. Wickham only appears to be what they are.
Darcy's manners are in need of adjustment. They are at once too formal and too self-indulgent. Darcy's sense of dignity is so great that he has difficulty relating to people, even his intimates, with feeling and spontaneity. Darcy's self-indulgence lies in his indifference to the feelings of those who are not his equals or intimates. His "manners . . . [are] well-bred," but he will not trouble himself to be friendly, and he continually gives offence (I, vi). His faulty manners result from a flaw in his character. He changes for the better in both feeling and behavior as a consequence of Elizabeth's refusal, which forces him into self-examination: " 'I was spoiled by my parents, who . . . allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and over- bearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world' " (III, xvi).
It is Elizabeth who achieves the most delicate balance between the requirements of self and of society. Her manners are easy and playful, but she takes serious things seriously and is careful of the feelings of others. She does not always say what she thinks, but she knows her own mind, and she tries not to mislead or to be forced into a false position by the demands of the occasion. Upon her departure from Hunsford, while Collins engages in a ceremonious leave-taking, Elizabeth tries "to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences" (II, xv). A certain amount of hypocrisy is built into the system, of course. The well-bred person cannot be expected to like or to respect everyone he meets, but he is expected to behave in a gracious way. Elizabeth plays a role, as does everyone else; but she can be extremely direct when others trespass upon her dignity, as Lady Catherine and Darcy learn to their pain. She can also be guided by a benevolent impulse, whatever others may think, as when she walks three miles through mud to visit Jane. Elizabeth is at once a highly individual and a deeply social being, and her manners reflect this synthesis.
Jane Austen clearly appreciates the values of civilization;
but she is aware, too, of the pitfalls and limitations of the
established order. The code of civility regulates our impulses,
provides patterns of interaction, and permits us to come together
without continually hurting each other's feelings. At the same
time, however, it inhibits self-expression isolates us from each
Skilled as they are in communicating their own feelings and interpreting those of others, the members of this society still make numerous mistakes. The masking effect of social forms combines with personal factors in both the actor and the observer to produce a wide range of misunderstandings. At the time of his first proposal, Darcy believes Elizabeth " 'to be wishing, expecting [his] addresses' " (III, xvi). Darcy's arrogance is partly responsible for this gross error, but he has also been misled by Elizabeth, who expresses her dislike under the guise of raillery. " 'My manners,' " says Elizabeth, " 'must have been at fault, but not intentionally I assure you.' " The reader, who is much better informed than he could be in real life, enjoys the irony not only of Darcy's, but also of Elizabeth's mistakes. In almost every exchange between them in the first half of the novel Darcy and Elizabeth misinterpret each other. He fails to understand her hostile and she his attentive behavior. An equally important failure of communication occurs, of course, between Jane and Bingley. Her manners are so generally agreeable and he is so diffident that Bingley fails to perceive how much he is loved. Their difficulties illustrate a recurring problem in Jane Austen: given the restrictive patterns of courtship and the modest behavior prescribed for women, how are young people to come to an understanding?
Since so much social behavior is a form of acting, it is
difficult not only to express and interpret feelings, but also to
read character. Miss Bingley is well understood by an astute
observer like Elizabeth, but for a long time she deceives Jane.
Even Elizabeth, however, is seriously mistaken about Wickham
and Darcy. Wickham is a marvelous actor who charms everyone
on first acquaintance. Darcy refuses to pretend (" 'disguise
of every sort is my abhorrence' "—II, xi); and, as a result, he is
highly unpopular. Wickham's "countenance, voice, and manner
[establish] him at once in the possession of every virtue" (II,
xiii); there is "truth in his looks." Darcy's manner disposes
Elizabeth's mistakes are cleared up and communication with Darcy is established by the breakdown of civility which occurs when Darcy proposes. By dwelling upon his sense of Elizabeth's "inferiority—of its being a degradation," Darcy provokes her into a direct revelation of her feelings. Her charges concerning his mistreatment of Wickham and his interference with Jane and Bingley set in motion the chain of events, beginning with Darcy's letter, which eventually removes most of the obstacles to the happy ending. The most serious charge which Elizabeth makes, from Darcy's point of view, is that he behaves in an ungentleman-like manner. This criticism stings him to the core; he has always prided himself on being well-bred.
By the time of Darcy's second proposal, both parties are
ashamed of their past conduct. Elizabeth accuses herself of
having " 'abused [him] so abominably to [his] face.' "
"What did you say to me [replied Darcy], that I did not deserve
. . . . my behavior to you at the time, had merited the severest reproof.
It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence." "We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that
evening," said Elizabeth. "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined,
will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved
in civility." (III, xvi) .
"What did you say to me [replied Darcy], that I did not deserve . . . . my behavior to you at the time, had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence."
"We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening," said Elizabeth. "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility." (III, xvi) .
The final resolution is facilitated by two further violations of
decorum. When they meet at Pemberley, Darcy tries to show
through his manners that he has changed and that he is still
interested in Elizabeth; and Elizabeth tries to be responsive
without seeming forward. They separate, however, under adverse
conditions (Lydia has run off with Wickham); and each is
Jane's most remarkable trait, of course, one which makes
her a kind of humors character, is her tendency to think well of
"Oh! you are a great deal too apt you know [observes Elizabeth],
to like people in general. You never see a fault in any body .... I never
heard you speak ill of a human being in my life." "I would wish not to be hasty in censuring any one; but I always
speak what I think." "I know you do; and it is
"Oh! you are a great deal too apt you know [observes Elizabeth], to like people in general. You never see a fault in any body .... I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life."
"I would wish not to be hasty in censuring any one; but I always speak what I think."
"I know you do; and it is
Jane has a strong taboo not only against being critical, but also against being proud, especially of her own "goodness." Her gallant response to Bingley's desertion, which she interprets as "an error of fancy" on her side, evokes a paean of praise from Elizabeth: " 'My dear Jane . . . you are too good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really quite angelic; I do not know what to say to you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, or loved you as you deserve' " (II, i). This praise makes Jane anxious, and she restores her humility by "eagerly disclaim[ing] all extraordinary merit, and [throwing] back the praise on her sister's warm affection." In her version of things, it is not she who is good, but Elizabeth, whose affectionate nature leads her to say so. One of the reasons for Jane's admiration of Bingley is "his diffidence, and the little value he put[s] on his own goodness" (III, xiv).
Jane and Bingley are much alike, and it is natural for them
to admire each other. Bingley's chief trait is his readiness to be
led by others. When he says that if he should resolve to quit
Bingley's behavior is dictated by his diffidence, his lack of confidence in either his judgment or his worth. He gives up Jane because Darcy persuades him of her indifference: " 'He had before believed her to return his affection with sincere, if not with equal regard-But Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgment than on his own.—To convince him, therefore, that he had deceived himself, was no very difficult point' " (II, xii). His insecurity makes it easy for him to believe that Jane does not love him (he had never believed her to have an "equal regard"), and his distrust of his own judgment makes him dependent on Darcy. In the end, Darcy leads him back to Jane as easily as he had steered him away: " 'His diffidence had prevented his depending on his own judgment in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine, made every thing easy' " (III, xvi). Elizabeth "longed to observe that Mr. Bingley had been a most delightful friend; so easily guided that his worth was invaluable." Bingley and Darcy have a symbiotic relationship.. Darcy enjoys exercising his power, while Bingley escapes the anxiety of having to make his own decisions and of taking responsibility for his life. It gives him a feeling of security to have his actions directed by Darcy.
Mr. Bennet, in his astute way, sums up the characters of
Jane and Bingley and gives us a glimpse of some of the problems
to which their weaknesses will expose them: " 'I have not a
doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no
means unlike. You are each so complying that nothing will ever
be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so
generous, that you will always exceed your income' " (III, xiii).
Our last distinct picture of Jane and Bingley is of their being
imposed upon by Lydia and Wickham: "With the Bingleys they
. . . frequently staid so long, that even Bingley's good humour
was overcome, and he proceeded so far as to
When Elizabeth learns of Charlotte's decision to marry Mr. Collins, she finds it " 'unaccountable in every view' "(II, i). Jane, typically, takes a more generous position: " 'You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper . . . . Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune, it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for every body's sake, that she may feel something like regard and esteem for our cousin.' " " 'My dear Jane,' " Elizabeth replies, " 'Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; . . . and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him cannot have a proper way of thinking.' "Jane, of course, is partly right; Charlotte's temper and situation are quite different from Elizabeth's. But Elizabeth is correct, too: there is something wrong with a sensitive and intelligent woman who is ready to marry Mr. Collins.
What Elizabeth cannot understand is Charlotte's resignation
-the degree to which she has given up the hope of personal
fulfillment through marriage. Charlotte wants to marry for the
sake of security and status; but in view of her plainness, her lack
of fortune, and her age, she does not expect to have much
choice in the selection of a mate. She is determined to accept the
first socially eligible offer, and she builds a variety of defenses
to justify herself in advance and to reconcile herself to the
prospect of personal frustration. She keeps her expectations
very low; she does not think "highly either of men or of matrimony"
(I, xxii). Marriage is "uncertain of giving happiness,"
The resigned attitude which leads Charlotte to marry Collins also makes it possible for her to live with him with far less pain than Elizabeth would experience in a like situation. She takes the same cold-blooded and practical attitude toward keeping Collins at a distance that she had taken earlier in encouraging his advances. During her visit to Hunsford, Elizabeth is compelled to appreciate Charlotte's "address in guiding, and composure in bearing with her husband, and to acknowledge that it was done very well" (II, v). We are left with the feeling, however, that Charlotte has committed herself to a barren existence by which she is bound, eventually, to feel oppressed. As the daughter of Sir William Lucas, Charlotte has had some experience in living with a hollow man; but we cannot help wondering if she will be forced, in time, to adopt the defensive irony of a Mr. Bennet.
Mr. Bennet is the most fully developed detached character
that we have encountered so far in Jane Austen. Like Charlotte,
he maintains his independence of an adverse fate by cultivating
a philosophic resignation. He tries to confine his wants to what
he can have and to develop a "don't care" attitude toward the
sources of frustration. He retires into his library, as Charlotte
does into her carefully positioned sitting room, and tries as
Mr. Bennet displays the desire for freedom which is typical of the detached person. This takes the form of a craving for serenity or peace, which "means for him simply the absence of all troubles, irritations, and upsets" (
Mr. Bennet is deeply affected by his daughter's disgrace and is stirred, "in the first transports of [his] rage," into activity. But he soon returns "'to all his former indolence" (III, viii). He remains a "most negligent and dilatory correspondent," though "at such a time" his family "had hoped for exertion" (III, vi). When Mr. Gardiner arrives in London, he readily turns the affair over to him and returns to Longbourn with "all the appearance of his usual philosophic composure." He feels much to blame, but he assures Elizabeth, with considerable self- knowledge, that the "impression . . . will pass away soon enough," as it does. He has to be pushed into replying promptly to the news of Lydia's impending marriage; and he finds it "a very welcome surprise" that the difficulties have been resolved "with such trifling exertion on his side": "for his chief wish at present, was to have as little trouble in the business as possible" (III, viii). He is even more pleased when he learns that it is Darcy, now Elizabeth's fiancé, who has supplied the money: " "So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy' " (III, xvii).
Mr. Bennet's withdrawal is, in part at least, a reaction to his
Mr. Bennet's amusement is not only a philosophic consolation, a "benefit" which can be derived from an otherwise bad situation; it is also a release of aggression and a defense against painful feelings. At some level, Mr. Bennet is deeply embittered by the ignorance and folly of his wife. His treatment of her is sadistic, demeaning, and contemptuous. Under the guise of wit, he engages in a "continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum" which exposes "his wife to the contempt of her own children" (II, xix). He uses his superior intelligence to torment his wife in ways which avoid the direct expression of feeling and preserve his tranquillity.
Mr. Bennet is disappointed not only in his wife, but in his
human relations generally. His daughters are, most of them,
He would not be amused, however, if Elizabeth were actually
to be hurt; for she is the one person he really cares about.
He admires her intelligence and finds her to be a kindred spirit.
She shares his satirical perspective and appreciates his wit. He
listens to Collins "with the keenest enjoyment, . . . and except
for an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in
his pleasure" (I, xiv). Elizabeth's presence adds considerably to
his enjoyment. Many of his sallies and satirical games are
performances for which she is the audience. She provides him
with something precious, another person who recognizes his
talents and shares his attitude of amused contempt toward his
fellows. She is the most important person in his life. He dislikes
her leaving to visit Charlotte and says "more than once" upon
her return, " 'I am glad you are come back, Lizzy' "(II, xvi). For
Mr. Bennet, this is an extraordinary display of feeling. When he
thinks that she wants to marry Darcy for purely social reasons,
If asked to name the most attractive heroine in nineteenth century fiction, and the sanest, a great many readers would probably nominate Elizabeth Bennet. I would do so myself. For a long time I felt that Elizabeth was not a suitable subject for psychological analysis. It is customary to see her primarily as an aesthetic and an illustrative character; and her problems are considerably less severe (and hence less evident) than are those of Fanny and Emma. Her wit, charm, vitality, and intelligence also tend to obscure her defensive strategies. By calling attention to these strategies I shall obscure, I fear, the many positive aspects of her personality. This is not my intention, but it is one of the unavoidable dangers of psychological analysis. , It does not do justice to a whole range of human qualities which make people with similar defenses very different from each other and quite variable in their attractiveness and humanity. Let me caution the reader, then, not to mistake Elizabeth's defenses for the whole of her being. My object, moreover, is not to prove that she has psychological problems but to gain a fuller understanding of why she acts and feels as she does. When we understand Elizabeth as a person, a creation inside a creation, we shall have reason once again to marvel at Jane Austen's psychological intuition and to admire her genius in characterization.
Elizabeth suffers, as do all of the Bennet girls, from the
unhappy marriage of her parents, from their personal defects,
and from their failure to provide a well-ordered and respectable
family life. Mrs. Bennet supplies little in the way of mothering
and offers no model of mature womanliness. Elizabeth grows
Elizabeth is, in many respects, her father's daughter. She appreciates his abilities, adopts his defenses, and is grateful for his approval. Like him, she is a " 'studier of character' " (I, ix) who prides herself on her self-knowledge and her ability to see through others. She "love[s] absurdities" (II, xix): " 'Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can' " (I, xi). She is able to remain detached even in rather difficult situations. When Mr. Collins proposes, she tries "to conceal by incessant employment the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion" (I, xix).
She is considerably less detached, however, than her father.
Being younger and less frustrated than he, she is more hopeful,
more idealistic, and more concerned about life generally. Being
essentially undefeated (as opposed to her father, who has given
up), Elizabeth takes herself, her values, and a chosen few of her
relationships quite seriously. This makes her vulnerable in ways
in which her father is not. She is deeply disturbed by Bingley's
abandonment of Jane and by Charlotte's acceptance of Collins.
There quickly emerges the dark view of the world against which
her detachment has been a defense:
Her reaction to Charlotte's behavior is especially intense.
Apart from her father, Charlotte is the person in her world who
is closest to her in temperament and intelligence. Isolated as she
is, Elizabeth values the relationship greatly. She imagines Charlotte
Elizabeth's pain in this situation is the result partly of hurt pride, partly of a sense of loss, and partly of her feeling of identification with Charlotte. She is threatened by Charlotte's fate, which violates her sense of personal dignity and shows a person like herself betraying herself and being trapped by life. Elizabeth needs to criticize her friend severely in order to reaffirm her own values and expectations.
When we compare Elizabeth with her father and her friend,
we can see that, while she shares many of their characteristics,
she is not basically detached. They have no hopes of mastering
life and have resigned themselves to a reduced lot. Elizabeth,
however, is expansive. She thinks well of herself, has high
expectations, and will not settle for a position which is beneath
her sense of her own deserts. Her expansiveness, like her detachment,
derives in large measure from her father. He looks
down upon almost everyone else, but Elizabeth is clearly his
favorite and the object of his admiration. This recognition from
the most important person in her world, a man whose abilities
even Mr. Darcy must respect, feeds her pride and helps to
compensate for her shame at her family and lack of approval
from her mother. Her elevated conception of herself is reinforced
by her superior abilities and the absence of any real
competition in her family or social circles. Like her father, she
finds that one of the compensations of living among fools is the
pleasure of despising them. When she decides not to reveal what
Elizabeth's aggressiveness is most clearly visible when her pride is being threatened. She has a fear of being looked down upon and a need to show others that she cannot be laughed at, manipulated, or treated with condescension. In the defense of her pride, she becomes saucy, combative, and, sometimes, brutally frank. Some of this behavior seems like healthy self- assertion, as when she defies Lady Catherine near the end; but much of it is clearly defensive. When she first visits Lady Catherine at Rosings, she seems determined not to be overawed. As they ascend "the steps to the hall, Maria's alarm [is] every moment increasing, and even Sir William [does] not look perfectly calm," but "Elizabeth's courage [does] not fail her" (II, vi). The suggestion is that she is afraid that it would. Once inside, Sir William is "so completely awed, by the grandeur surrounding him, that he [has] but just courage enough to make a very low bow"; and Maria is "frightened almost out of her senses"; but Elizabeth finds "herself quite equal to the scene, and [can] observe the three ladies before her composedly." One senses that Elizabeth has steeled herself to this situation so as to maintain her sense of equality with Lady Catherine and superiority to Sir William Lucas. Her composure is a form of triumph. When she discovers that Lady Catherine is a fool, she becomes completely at her ease and even toys with her adversary by refusing immediately to disclose her age. Lady Catherine is not only a great lady, of course, but also a very manipulative one; and Elizabeth's satisfaction in trifling with her is evident.
We are now in a position to understand Elizabeth's reactions
to Darcy. When Bingley urges Darcy to seek an introduction
to Elizabeth, Darcy looks at her for a moment and then
coldly replies, " 'She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to
tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence
to young ladies who are slighted by other men' " (I, iii).
Elizabeth overhears this remark and is deeply offended. Being
an expansive person herself, she can forgive Darcy's pride,
which, as Charlotte observes, has some justification:
"One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family,
fortune, every thing in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I
may so express it, he has a "That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive
his pride, if he had not mortified
"One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family,
fortune, every thing in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I
may so express it, he has a
"That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive
his pride, if he had not mortified
For someone like Elizabeth, this is a severe blow; and she works hard from this point on to soften the pain, to restore her pride, and to protect herself against further injury. Her immediate reaction is to make a joke of what has happened: "She told the story . . . with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous" (I, iii). The implied author's analysis is rather misleading here. Elizabeth's telling the story is not the manifestation of a lively disposition. It is a defensive technique which serves several purposes. It distances her from her hurt feelings, it denies the significance of the event by turning it into an object of laughter, and it gains an immediate revenge on Darcy by making him ridiculous in the eyes of others. Jane Austen at once creates and is taken in by Elizabeth's facade.
In almost every encounter that she has with Darcy between
the initial insult and the receipt of his letter Elizabeth is highly
defensive; and, as a result, she misperceives him constantly. As
he becomes more and more attracted to her, she continues to
assume his ill will; and she interprets his various displays of
interest as forms of aggression. In order to know more of her,
he listens to her conversation with Colonel Forster. Elizabeth is
afraid that he is observing her in order to find grounds for
ridicule: " 'He has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by
being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him"' (I,
vi). She is projecting her own attitudes onto Darcy; and she
While she is at Netherfield, caring for Jane, Elizabeth
cannot help noticing how frequently Darcy's eyes are fixed
When Miss Bingley plays a lively Scotch air and Darcy
asks her to dance, Elizabeth's response is highly defensive.
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with
some surprise at her silence. "Oh!" said she, "I heard you before, but I could not immediately
determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say 'Yes,'
that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always
delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of
their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell
you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all—and now despise me if
you dare." "Indeed I do not dare." (1, x)
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.
"Oh!" said she, "I heard you before, but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say 'Yes,' that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all—and now despise me if you dare."
"Indeed I do not dare." (1, x)
Elizabeth's manner in the Netherfield episode is a mixture of "sweetness and archness" (I, x). She has enough control of her feelings to conceal her sense of being threatened (any revelation of which would be a defeat) and to express her defensiveness in the form of raillery. Knowing her own feelings and having a distorted picture of Darcy, she expects Darcy to be affronted. But the disguise of wit, combined with Darcy's enjoyment of her aggressiveness, produces the opposite effect, and he is charmed.
Elizabeth misperceives Darcy again at Rosings when he
stations himself near the piano "so as to command a full view of
the fair performer's countenance" (II, viii):
Elizabeth's receptiveness to Wickham's slanders is yet
another manifestation of her defensiveness. Darcy is one of the
few people in her experience to whom she has not been able to
feel easily superior. This is why his insulting behavior rankles
Her receptiveness has something to do also with her feelings
toward Wickham. Had her critical faculties been awake,
she would have noted the impropriety of his disclosures; and
she might have been less credulous. But she is blinded, as she
herself comes to ' see, by the gratification of her pride which his
attentions afford. Wickham is an attractive man, a general
favorite, and therefore a prize. Unlike Darcy, he singles Elizabeth
out immediately for special attention and makes her his
confidant. He is not a suitable match, and Elizabeth is no more
in love with him than Emma is in love with Frank Churchill;
but, like Emma, she wishes to make a conquest. She dresses for
the Netherfield ball with "more than usual care, and prepare[s]
in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained
unsubdued of his heart" (I, xviii). She receives Mrs. Gardiner's
cautions rationally, however, because she does not really want
to make a disadvantageous marriage; and she is content when
Wickham shifts his attentions to Miss King: "Her heart had
been but slightly touched, and her vanity was satisfied with
believing that she would have been his only choice, had fortune
permitted it" (II, iii). Wickham gives Elizabeth the recognition,
the affirmation of special worth, for which she hungers and
which Darcy had denied. Her strong prepossession against the
one and in favor of the other, from the very beginning of their
Elizabeth's anger toward Darcy is fed by her discovery of his role in separating Jane and Bingley, and it is released by his insulting behavior during his proposal. Darcy once again injures her pride. He admires her personally, but he is deeply troubled by her family connections; and he speaks, rather compulsively, "of his sense of her inferiority . . . of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination" (II, xi). Elizabeth is especially vulnerable on this point. She has been herself deeply ashamed of her family, and she has defended herself by detachment and a sense of superiority. What Darcy is saying is that her family's inferiority is also her own. and that because of her .connections, she is beneath him. By letting him know that she has " 'never desired [his] good opinion,' " she nullifies his objections and restores her pride. It is he, not she, who is undesirable.
When Darcy wishes to know " 'why, with so little
Painful as it is, the proposal scene is, on the whole, a great
triumph for Elizabeth. Her pride is gratified in a variety of
ways. She retaliates for all past and present injuries and has, at
the same time, the immense satisfaction of having received an
offer of marriage from the great Mr. Darcy. In the contest of
personalities, it is decidedly she who is the winner. Darcy can
say nothing for which she has not an overwhelming reply. He
insults her by speaking of her family's inferiority; but she mortifies
him by denouncing his character, attacking his manners
and morals, and declaring that he is " 'the last man in the world
whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry.' " Once he
leaves, she is free to appreciate the significance of his proposal:
In order to restore his pride, which has been deeply hurt,
Darcy writes a letter in his own defense. Its contents are so
threatening that Elizabeth reacts initially with anger and denial.
Then her resistance collapses, and she is flooded with self-hate
and depression. The significance of the letter from a psychological
point of view is that it penetrates her defenses and makes it
more difficult for her thereafter Lo maintain her feelings of
superiority and detachment. The self-knowledge which she gains
does not, of course, rid her of her faults, as the implied author
would have us believe; but it does contribute to the changes in
her defense system which prepare her for marriage to Darcy.
Elizabeth's self-hate arises largely from the discovery of her
errors, which are particularly humiliating to someone who
Elizabeth is so depressed because her detachment from her family has been broken down, and she is being forced to feel the painfulness of her situation. What has happened to Jane may well happen to her; and, in any event, she seems fated to share in the discredit which her family brings upon itself. She begins to dwell, as never before, upon the seriousness of her plight and upon the deficiencies of her father. She has "never been blind" to her father's failings, "but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself. she [has] endeavored to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts [his continual] breach of conjugal obligation and decorum." Elizabeth has repressed her criticism partly because she has tried to detach herself generally from the family's problems, and partly because her father's support has been so important to her. She could not afford to be in conflict with him or to have his status. and therefore the value of his praise, diminished in her own eyes. Her critical attitudes emerge now because she feels personally threatened by his irresponsibility. Her criticism of him constitutes. however, an additional blow to her pride.
Elizabeth's depression has another important source which
we have not yet examined. It is the response of an expansive
person who wishes to control his own fate to feelings of helplessness.
She has always felt that her value was independent of
her connections and has insisted upon being treated in accordance
with her own high self-estimate. She sees now, however,
Elizabeth is deeply depressed for only a short time. Her defenses are shaken, but they are by no means shattered. She has at her command, moreover, various pride-restoring devices. She is humbled by her discoveries about herself, but proud of her self-knowledge. The thought of Darcy's offer is a great consolation, and she amuses herself the next morning by wondering what Lady Catherine's reactions would have been had she accepted. She tells Jane that her behavior toward Darcy has been " 'very weak and vain and nonsensical' " (II, xvii); but a few moments later she is her arrogant self once more, as she looks forward to laughing at everyone's stupidity when the truth about Wickham is known. She can no longer be detached about her family. She tries to be "diverted" by the Brighton affair, "but all sense of pleasure [is] lost in shame" (II, xviii). She handles her discomfort by trying to do something about it, despite her feeling that nothing will ever change. She points out to her father " 'the very great disadvantages to us all, which must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner,' " and urges him to exercise his authority. But Mr. Bennet refuses; and Elizabeth, though she is "disappointed and sorry," suffers no return of her own earlier despair. She consoles herself with a sense of her own rectitude and derives some satisfaction, no doubt, from being more perceptive than her father.
By the time she leaves on her trip with the Gardiners,
Elizabeth is outwardly as buoyant as ever. But inwardly, she
has been somewhat subdued. As a result of her errors and of her
stronger identification with her family., she no longer thinks
quite so highly of herself or of her claims upon the world. Her
need for recognition and preeminence is unabated, however.
Darcy's letter clears away many of Elizabeth's objections to his character. It does not arouse, however, a desire for his attentions or regret for her decision. Within an hour of her first sight of Pemberley, however, Elizabeth does experience "something like regret" (III, i). When Jane asks her later how long she has loved Darcy, Elizabeth replies, " 'I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley' "(III, xvii). Jane dismisses this as a joke (with the seeming concurrence of the implied author), and most critics have done likewise. But things said in jest often reveal the deepest truths; and our understanding of Elizabeth's character gives us good reason to take her answer seriously.
The magnificence of Pemberley not only wins Elizabeth's
admiration, it also feeds her pride: "She had never seen a place
for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had
been so little counteracted by an awkward taste . . . . and at that
moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be
something!" (III, i). It may or may not be the case that the
grounds of Pemberley are intended as a reflection of Darcy the
man—he has only been in possession, after all, for five years;
but it is most certainly true that their beauty and the grandeur
of the house bring home to Elizabeth the magnitude of Darcy's
proposal and the elevation which it might have bestowed upon
her. She has never seen a more beautiful place, and the admiration
of the Gardiners feeds her sense of triumph. Her reactions
to the furnishings bring out more clearly the competitive element
in her response. She not only admires Darcy's taste, but
she also compares Pemberley with Rosings and triumphs thereby
over Lady Catherine. She is caught up for a moment or two
in a fantasy of possession:
If, before, Elizabeth was disposed to think ill of Darcy because he had hurt her pride, she is now disposed to think well of him because he has fed it. The more admirable he is, the more gratifying is his proposal and the greater is its tribute to herself. She defends herself against regret by remembering Darcy's haughtiness, but she is extraordinarily receptive to Mrs. Reynolds' praise of him and is as ready now to credit an account in his favor as she had been before to believe Wickham's slanders. When Mrs. Reynolds speaks of Darcy's good temper, "her keenest attention" is awakened and she longs "to hear more." When she praises his affability to the poor, Elizabeth "listen[s], wonder[s], doubt[s], and [is] impatient for more." " 'He is the best landlord, and the best master,' " declares Mrs. Reynolds, " 'that ever lived.' "
As Elizabeth contemplates his portrait, her changed feelings
toward Darcy begin to crystallize:
Since Darcy's exaltation is now her own, Elizabeth has a vested interest in believing the best of him and in suppressing awareness of his faults. Mrs. Reynolds' testimony is valid as far as Darcy's relation to his dependents is concerned, but this does not change the fact that he is stiff and haughty with members of his own social class who are strangers or whom he believes to be beneath him in wealth or status. As Colonel Fitzwilliam observed, he is a man who likes to have his own way and who is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers " 'because he will not give himself the trouble' " (II, viii). According to Darcy's own account, he was " 'spoilt' " by his parents, who " 'allowed, encouraged, almost taught [him] to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond [his] own family circle, to think meanly of the rest of the world' " (III, xvi). This seems to be an accurate self-characterization. Elizabeth was highly conscious of Darcy's " 'arrogance, . . . conceit, and . . . selfish disdain of the feelings of others' " (II, xi) when his pride was in conflict with her own. As she transfers her pride to him, she becomes increasingly blind to his faults, until she announces to her father, after the second proposal, that " 'he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable' " (III, xvii). She sees him in this way partly because he has been so courteous to her and to the Gardiners and partly because she cannot see as improper a pride which is identical with her own.
It is evident that as she stands before Darcy's portrait,
Elizabeth is already disposed to want him in marriage. Within a
few minutes of his appearance, she is actively hoping that he
still loves her. The marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is supposed
to illustrate the balancing of social and personal values, but
Elizabeth's change of feeling is produced almost entirely by
Darcy's wealth and grandeur. It is facilitated by the clearing
away of objections to his character; but it has little to do with
such positive values as temperamental compatibility, mutuality
of interests and attitudes, strong personal liking, or respect
based upon intimate knowledge. Both the novelist and her
Elizabeth is attracted to Darcy, also, of course, because she is immensely flattered by his continuing affection for her. When she first encounters him at Pemberley, she reacts in a typically defensive way: "She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was the most unfortunate, the most ill judged thing in the world! How strange it must appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again!" (III, ii). Elizabeth feels threatened once again by Darcy's pride. She is afraid of seeming to want him (which she does) while he no longer wants her. His gentleness and civility quiet her fears; and his attentions to the Gardiners, in whose refinement she glories, "gratify] her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself." She guesses immediately that he has changed because of her, but she is afraid to believe this lest her hopes rise too high and expose her to a humiliating disappointment. His invitation to meet his sister and his continued courtesy to the Gardiners are unmistakable signs of his interest, however; and Elizabeth becomes fairly confident of her "power" to bring on "the renewal of his addresses." Her desire to do so, which is growing steadily stronger, is motivated in large part by gratitude. "Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude-for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed" (III, ii).
There is no indication that Elizabeth's feelings for Darcy
ever approach a state of "ardent love." She regards him on his
later visit to Longbourn "with an interest, if not quite so tender,
at least as reasonable and just, as what Jane felt for Bingley"
Elizabeth's hopes are dealt a severe blow by the arrival of Jane's letters announcing Lydia's elopement with Wickham: "Her power was sinking; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace" (III, iv). Darcy is not deterred, as we learn later; but this turn of events has an important impact upon Elizabeth's feelings, both toward herself and toward Darcy. It damages her pride further, making her need Darcy the more. It gives Darcy an opportunity to behave gallantly, thus enhancing her esteem for him. And it decreases her social prestige still farther, making Darcy's continued interest all the more evidence of his ardent love and her surpassing value.
The disgrace of her sister is a serious threat to Elizabeth's
self-esteem. She reproaches herself severely for not having
warned everyone of Wickham's character, she feels humiliated
at the thought of the neighbors' triumph, and she is convinced
that the family's taint must extend to herself and destroy her
chances of marrying Darcy. Her self-effacing trends, which
were most evident before in her admiration for Jane, emerge
now rather powerfully. They result in self-abasement, irrational
feelings of guilt, and the transfer of her pride to Darcy:
The pattern of Elizabeth's development is familiar, of course, from our study of
The thematic pattern of
When we understand Elizabeth and Darcy as people, the implied author's interpretation is rather difficult to accept. They both achieve some genuine insight into themselves, but the experiences which they undergo are hardly enough to produce major changes in their personalities. If Darcy's description of himself is correct, being chastened by Elizabeth could not have purged him of all that "pride and conceit," though it is understandable that he should think so. Though he is less fully developed as a character, Darcy is, like Elizabeth, a creation inside a creation. His development is psychologically comprehensible, but it does not illustrate what it is supposed to. What happens between Darcy and Elizabeth is that they first hurt and then restore each other's pride. We have examined this pattern in Elizabeth. Darcy's development is not exactly parallel, but it is in many respects similar.
Darcy is an arrogant man who feels contempt for most of
his fellows, as his opening remarks reveal. He enjoys manipulating
compliant people like Bingley, but he despises them in his
heart. He must wonder, like Mrs. Reynolds, when he will ever
marry. Who is good enough for him? It would not feed his pride
to connect himself with a sycophant like Miss Bingley. He
needs a woman whom he can respect and whose appreciation of
him will mean something. He is attracted to Elizabeth by her
intelligence and her aggressiveness. Elizabeth's analysis is, as far
as it goes, quite accurate. He admired her for her "impertinence":
" 'The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference,
of officious attention. You were disgusted with women who
were always speaking and looking, and thinking for
He reacts to Elizabeth's denunciations in several ways. His
letter clears him of the charges concerning Jane and Wickham.
What hurts him the most is her attack on his ungentlemanlike
behavior' and his "selfish disdain for the feelings of others" (II, xi).
He is vulnerable to these criticisms for two reasons: (1) he
cannot discredit their source, since he has allowed himself to
feel respect for Elizabeth, and (2) he has prided himself on
behaving in an exemplary manner, on being a true gentleman.
He was given high standards by his parents, and he has identified
himself with them. Until Elizabeth tells him otherwise, he
has always felt himself to be living up to his shoulds. The
collapse of this illusion damages his pride, and he is flooded
with self-hate. The recollection of his behavior, he tells Elizabeth
We may summarize Darcy's development in the following way. His parents provided him with both high standards and unqualified approval. As a result, he identifies himself with his idealized image in a narcissistic manner and feels very proud of himself. His pride is shaky, however, since it is not solidly founded on performance; and he develops a need to reinforce it by scorning others. This behavior is in conflict with his standards; but his defensive needs, combined with a continuous supply of praise and deference, keep him from being aware of the disparity between his principles and his practice. He places his pride at risk by allowing himself to admire Elizabeth so much that he would make a social sacrifice in order to gain her. This makes her opinion quite important to him. He assumes that she will both want and admire him, as everyone else always has. His narcissism and his perfectionism receive severe blows from Elizabeth's assault. He experiences intense self-hate, and as a defense he blames his parents and replaces them with Elizabeth as his primary moral guide.
As a result of Elizabeth's rejection, Darcy develops, for the
first time in his life, a profound and agonizing dependency.
What Elizabeth has told him, in effect, is that he is not his
idealized, but rather his despised self: "'You thought me then
devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did' " (III, xvi).
Elizabeth becomes the central figure in his psychic life. His
overwhelming need is to repair his pride, and this can be done
only through her. He must change his image in her eyes; he
must win her approbation. His behavior at Pemberley and in
the Lydia-Wickham affair is a direct reply to her charges. Only
if she accepts him in marriage can he be completely vindicated
and his self-esteem repaired. With Elizabeth's acceptance,
Darcy's pride is restored, though he is less narcissistic than he
was before. The major change in him is that he tries harder to
The marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is offered as a model of "connubial felicity" (III, ix). As marriages in Jane Austen go, it is relatively attractive; but it is not as well founded as the implied author believes it to be. Elizabeth and Darcy are bound together by the complex interdependency of their pride systems. The marriage itself fulfills some important needs; it provides recognition and status for Elizabeth, vindication and approval for Darcy. But each remains wary of the other's susceptibilities and dependent on the other for the confirmation of his idealized image. Darcy's fear and dependency are greater than Elizabeth's, making him more overtly acquiescent; but Elizabeth is careful not to push him too far. His need to win her approval is matched by her need to think well of him, to share in his grandeur, and to repress her reservations. 'they are happy at the end because they have a vested interest in exalting each other. This makes for a rewarding, though, I should think, a somewhat tense relationship. They will get along well as long as each continues to feed the other's pride.
All of this is changed, rapidly, indeed, almost miraculously, during the episode in Lyme. Jane Austen's love stories are always facilitated by a certain amount of authorial manipulation. In
This combination of realism and romance accounts, I think, for much of
A recurring feature of comedy, as Frye observes, is the "point of ritual death" (
Anne is in no way responsible for her own plight. She is a
victim of unfortunate circumstances and of the humors of
others. Her troubles begin when the death of her mother, by
whom she was loved, leaves her at the mercy of Sir Walter and
Elizabeth, who do not appreciate her at all. Her father treats
her like a stepchild, her older sister ignores her for Mrs. Clay,
Anne had an opportunity for marriage when she was nineteen; but Wentworth lacked money, her father would not help her, and Lady Russell persuaded her to break off the engagement. Wentworth blames Anne for being weak; but from the author's point of view it is the humors of Sir Walter, of Lady Russell, and of Captain Wentworth himself which are responsible for her plight. Wentworth is the chief blocking force both to Anne's happiness and to his own. He could have married her as soon as his fortune was made; but he was prevented from repeating his offer by his pride, which was hurt, and by his mistaken conception of her character. His return to the neighborhood heightens her misery by reawakening her love while at the same time making it clear that they are to be perpetual strangers. Eventually, however, it is the means by which he is cured of his illusions; for it gives him the opportunity to see Anne's true worth and to understand the dangerous consequences of a headstrong temper.
The turning point of the comic action comes in the Lyme episode, which is unlike anything in Jane Austen's earlier novels. Her fiction belongs typically to Frye's third phase of comedy, which is closer to irony and satire than to romance, and in which the humorous society is replaced by a clearsighted one at the end. Persuasion belongs more to the fourth phase in which "we begin to move out of the world of experience into the ideal world of innocence and romance" (
Lyme is clearly the green world. At the beginning of the episode, Anne is living in an emotional wasteland. Her bloom has faded, her younger rival is winning Wentworth, and she has almost completely resigned herself to a life without love. Both she and the season are in an autumnal state, and winter is fast approaching. Her glimpse of the good society which is constituted by the naval characters only deepens her gloom because she seems so irrevocably cut off from it and confined to the sterile world of the Elliots. Then, with startling suddenness, Anne is rejuvenated: "She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing upon her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it also produced" (I, xii). She receives a look of "earnest admiration" from William Elliot; and Captain Wentworth, who observes the scene, once again finds her attractive. Captain Benwick is also interested in Anne, and suddenly her life is full of romantic possibilities. Her bloom remains with her when she returns to the normal world. In receiving Lady Russell's compliments upon her arrival at Uppercross, Anne connects "them with the silent admiration of her cousin" and hopes that she is "to be blessed with a second spring of youth and beauty" (II, i). Her beauty is remarked upon frequently in Bath and is even noticed by her father.
The restoration of Anne's beauty removes one major obstacle
to the renewal of Wentworth's love, and Louisa's fall on
the Cobb removes the others. He had preferred Louisa's temperament
to Anne's; but he is now forced to realize "that a
persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of
happiness, as a very resolute character" (I, xii). Anne's competence
The second half of
Anne's happiness at the end seems almost complete. Although her relationship with Wentworth has illustrative importance, it is primarily a love story. Wentworth is the most virile of Jane Austen's heroes, and Anne is her most romantic heroine. There is more passion between these lovers than is customary in Austen's fiction. Their relationship is, moreover, relatively undefined, permitting us to project upon it our own romantic fantasies. They fall in love before the action begins, and the novel ends with their joyous reunion. It is difficult to detect any reason within the relationship why these lovers should not be happy. The chief threat to their happiness is the fear of a future war, but this is purely external.
At the end Anne wins not only Wentworth, but also the
general admiration of her fellows and a place in the good
society. At the beginning she has Lady Russell, but no one else
The thematic structure of
The most striking contrast in the novel is, of course, between Anne and the other members of her family. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mary are vain, self-indulgent, superficial people who are devoid of inner resources and-who do not deserve the privileged position which they enjoy. The irresponsibility of Sir Walter and Elizabeth leads to the crisis in their affairs which forces them to relinquish Kellynch. In contrast to these members of her family, Anne values honesty above importance and substance over appearance. She is more concerned with the duties of an aristocratic position than with the privileges which it affords. After the departure of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, Anne lives for a time with Mary; and we are given a vivid picture of the differences between these sisters. Mary is selfish, ineffectual, and dependent, whereas Anne is helpful, competent, and self-sufficient. "Inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance," Mary is "very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used" (I, v). Anne is neglected and ill used, but she bears her fate stoically and is equable and uncomplaining.
If Anne were the only foil to her father and sisters,
Lady Russell is also an exemplar of aristocratic virtues. She possesses "strict integrity" and "a delicate sense of honour" (I, ii). She is "a benevolent, charitable . . . woman . . . ; most correct in her conduct, strict in her notions of decorum, and with manners that were held a standard of good breeding." Anne admires and shares all of these qualities, but she rejects Lady Russell's "prejudices on the side of ancestry" and her excessive respect for "rank and consequence." Lady Russell's aristocratic prejudices, when combined with her lack of "a natural penetration" in "the discernment of character" (II, xii), lead to mistaken judgments of both Captain Wentworth and Mr. Elliot and make her an unreliable guide to Anne in her relationships with these men. Anne differs from Lady Russell not only in her greater perceptiveness and her slighter regard for rank and consequence, but also in her ability to appreciate the qualities of people who are beneath them in the social order. Admiral Croft's manners, for example, "were not quite of the tone to suit Lady Russell, but they delighted Anne. His goodness of heart and simplicity of manner were irresistible" (II, i).
Anne is the bridge between the aristocratic world of her
father and Lady Russell and the society of less elegant but
worthy people like the Musgroves, the Harvilles, and the Crofts.
Anne is jarred at times by the Musgroves' excessive informality
and lack of refinement; but she envies the warmth and ease of
their family circle; and she applauds the parents' attitude
toward their childrens' marriages, which is free "from all those
ambitious feelings which have led to so much misconduct and
misery, both in young and old" (II, x). She is amused by the
Crofts' style of driving, which is a good "representation" of the
somewhat haphazard "guidance of their affairs" (I, x); but on
the whole she has a strong admiration of these people. She
relishes their gusto and spontaneity, and she recognizes their
superiority to her own family in their human relations and their
discharge of the duties which belong to the masters of Kellynch.
Admiral Croft is a bit too simple to be her ideal of a man, but
she takes Mrs. Croft as her model of a navy wife. She is
Captain Wentworth is for Anne, of course, the most attractive member of the naval society. Her termination of their engagement in response to Lady Russell's advice generates both the novel's plot and its thematic complications. This event raises three major questions: Was the advice good or bad? Was Anne right or wrong to have followed it? And, was Wentworth's response to Anne's behavior justified or not? Upon the correct answers to these questions depend the reconciliation of the lovers at the end, the vindication of Anne's character, and a proper understanding of the attitude toward life which Jane Austen is proposing in this novel.
If judged in terms of its consequences, Lady Russell's advice is clearly mistaken. Anne's life seems to have been ruined by her friend's counsel. Lady Russell remains "as satisfied as ever with her own discretion" and "never wish[s] the past undone"; but Anne thinks "very differently" at seven and twenty "from what she had been made to think at nineteen": "She did not blame Lady Russell, and she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good" (I, iv). Her thoughts are now "eloquent . . . on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence!" Having been "forced into prudence in her youth," she has "learned romance" as she has grown older—"the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning."
These passages early in the novel create a distinct impression
that Lady Russell's advice was wrong and that both Anne
and the author have repudiated prudence in favor of romance.
In the novel as a whole, however, Lady Russell's advice receives
Lady Russell's objections to the engagement derive in part, of course, from her aristocratic prejudices; and insofar as they do, they carry no weight with Anne and are meant to be rejected by the reader. Love is more important than a prestigious connection. The chief reasons for her opposition, however, make perfectly good sense. Wentworth has "no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession" (I, iv). He has made money in the past, "but spending freely, what had come freely," he has "realized nothing." He is "full of life and ardour" and is confident that his luck will continue. This is enough for Anne; but Lady Russell is distrustful of both his prospects and his "headstrong character"; and she fears that such an uncertain engagement will reduce Anne to "a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependance." It is, ironically, the termination of the engagement which kills Anne's youth; but Lady Russell's reasoning represents the conventional wisdom of her society and is in harmony with the value system of Jane Austen's earlier novels.
Lady Russell's position receives powerful support later in
the novel, during the discussion of long engagements which
takes place at the White Hart Inn:
"Oh! dear Mrs. Croft," cried Mrs. Musgrove, . . . "there is nothing
I so abominate for young people as a long engagement .... It is all very
well . . . for young people to be engaged, if there is a certainty of their
being able to marry in six months, or even in twelve, but a long
engagement!" "Yes, dear ma'am," said Mrs. Croft, "or an uncertain engagement;
an engagement which may be long. To begin without knowing that at
such a time there will be the means of marrying, I hold to be very unsafe
and unwise, and what, I think, all parents should prevent as far as they
can." (II, xi)
"Oh! dear Mrs. Croft," cried Mrs. Musgrove, . . . "there is nothing I so abominate for young people as a long engagement .... It is all very well . . . for young people to be engaged, if there is a certainty of their being able to marry in six months, or even in twelve, but a long engagement!"
"Yes, dear ma'am," said Mrs. Croft, "or an uncertain engagement; an engagement which may be long. To begin without knowing that at such a time there will be the means of marrying, I hold to be very unsafe and unwise, and what, I think, all parents should prevent as far as they can." (II, xi)
Anne and Wentworth are present during this discussion. Anne feels its "application to herself . . . in a nervous thrill all over"; and Wentworth gives her a "quick, conscious look." It is evident that Anne feels vindicated by the favorable light in which Lady Russell's advice has been placed, and that Wentworth's understanding of Anne's behavior has been further clarified by his overhearing this conversation. Nevertheless, when she justifies herself to Wentworth a little while later, Anne does not say that Lady Russell " 'did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstances of tolerable similarity, give such advice.' " Anne would not give such advice because, just as she was once persuaded that her engagement was "indiscreet," she is now "persuaded that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home, and every anxiety attending his profession, all their probable fears, delays and disappointments, she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it" (I, iv). She fully believes that this would have been so "had . . . even more than a usual share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs, without reference to the actual results of their case." Notice that Anne is presented as moving not from error to truth, but from one persuasion to another.
What Jane Austen is showing us is not the dangers of overanxious caution or even the need to find a happy medium between prudence and romance, but the inadequacy of "admitted truths" as a guide for every situation in life and the difficulty of knowing when to follow the established wisdom and when to listen to the promptings of the heart. One reason why life seems larger and more mysterious in
Anne's justification of her own behavior in following Lady Russell's advice has aroused uneasiness in some readers; but from a thematic point of view, there are no real difficulties, especially when we see that the advice was, though wrong in the circumstances, well meant and usually sound. Anne's motives were prudence and duty. She came to feel that the engagement was indiscreet, not only for herself, but also for Wentworth: "The belief of being prudent, and self-denying principally for his advantage, was her chief consolation" (I, iv). Even though she was wrong in her judgment of what would be most advantageous, she was " 'perfectly right in being guided' " by Lady Russell, who was to her " 'in the place of a parent' "(II, xi). To have done otherwise would have been a violation of duty: " 'I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.' "
We are here back in Austen's familiar world of fixed values. If prudence is sometimes more dangerous than romance, duty takes precedence over love; and its dictates are always certain. Anne is rewarded for her dutifulness by an authorial dispensation of justice which permits her both to have romantic fulfillment at the end and to maintain her self-approbation. Prudence is subjected to the realities of experience; but duty is still an absolute value, obedience to which brings happiness.
Persuasion, like all of Jane Austen's novels, depicts a process
of education. In this case, the education is that of Captain
Wentworth's education is made possible by his renewed contact with Anne, which reminds him of her excellence, and by his involvement with Louisa Musgrove, which brings home to him the consequences of rashness and obstinacy. At first he is attracted by Louisa's " 'decision and firmness,' " which he contrasts to Anne's " 'too yielding and indecisive . . . character' " (I, x); but the accident on the Cobb places Louisa's resoluteness in a different light; and he learns "to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will, between the darings of heedlessness and the resolution of a collected mind" (II, xi). Wentworth has been heedless himself in his 'attentions to the Musgrove girls. He first threatens Henrietta's relationship with Charles Hayter; and, then, by his "excessive intimacy," he binds himself to Louisa. At the very time when he becomes aware of his renewed love for Anne, he becomes conscious also of the fact that he is " 'no longer at [his] own disposal' ": " 'I had been grossly wrong, and must abide the consequences.' " Wentworth blames himself also for Louisa's fall on the Cobb, which is "the consequence of much thoughtlessness and much imprudence" (II, i); " 'Oh God! that I had not given way to her at, the fatal moment! Had I done as I ought!' " (I, xii).
Wentworth's self-assurance is treated with extraordinary
sympathy early in the novel. He offers himself to Anne on a
most insubstantial basis: "He had always been lucky; he knew
he should be so still" (I, iv). His wit and ardor convert Anne,
and Lady Russell is mocked for her "horror" of "anything
approaching to imprudence." When his "sanguine expectations"
are justified by success, Anne rejects overanxious caution in
favor of "a cheerful confidence in futurity." Wentworth's education
is typical, however, for an Austen protagonist. His aggressiveness
serves him well in war, but it leads to serious errors in
Anne's movement in the direction of a greater openness to experience qualifies her to become a sailor's wife and to live with the risk and uncertainty which that entails. Wentworth's education in prudence and humility enables him to appreciate Anne and to be reconciled with Lady Russell. The union of Anne and Wentworth at the end combines the ardor of their earlier relationship with a substantiality which it lacked. They are "more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting" (II, xi).
Anne's childhood situation is similar to that of Elizabeth Bennet in that her family is divided into two camps. Anne is the favorite of the sensible parent, her mother; but she is unappreciated by her vain and foolish father. Whereas Elizabeth has her supportive parent as a constant ally, Anne loses her mother when she is fourteen. She still has her mother's friend, Lady Russell; but neither her father nor her older sister have any love for her; and she is subject, as a result, to mistreatment and neglect.
Anne expresses little resentment at the way in which she is
treated, but the narrator and Lady Russell are frequently indignant
on her behalf, and through them we are given a vivid sense
of the deprivations and indignities which she endures. Anne was
"nobody," the narrator tells us, "with either father or sister: her
word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way;—
Lady Russell is full of vexation at the slights which Anne receives and is completely frustrated by her inability to influence Elizabeth and Sir Walter. She has been "repeatedly very earnest in trying to get Anne included in the visit to London" and is "sensibly open to all the injustice and all the discredit of the selfish arrangement which shut her out." She is quite disturbed by Elizabeth's coldness toward Anne, and especially by her "turning from the society of so deserving a sister" to that of Mrs. Clay. Elizabeth is eager to have Mrs. Clay accompany her when she moves, but she tells Anne that " 'nobody will want her in Bath' " (I, v). This affront is repeated in Bath, when Elizabeth assures Mrs. Clay. within Anne's hearing, that "'she is nothing to me. compared with you' "(II, iv). The sight "of Mrs. Clay in such favour, and of Anne so overlooked, [is] a perpetual provocation to" Lady Russell. She is eager to see Anne married so that she will be "removed from the partialities and injustice of her father's house" (I, iv).
What is Anne's reaction to all those slights? How does she
handle such abuse? One thing which should be noted is that
Anne's reactions differ from those of Lady Russell. She seems
to experience neither the pain nor the anger which her friend
feels on her behalf, and she does not assert her rights or try to
improve her situation. Lady Russell finds Elizabeth's preference
of Mrs. Clay to be "a very sore aggravation"; but Anne, we are
told. "was become hardened to such affronts" and is concerned
only about "the imprudence of the arrangement" (I, v). As can
be seen from this, Anne defends herself partly by detachment.
She maintains an emotional distance from her family and tries
not to care about their behavior toward her. The "patience and
There is a good deal of submission mixed in with Anne's resignation. She stresses to Benwick not only the benefit, but also the duty of accepting suffering. Given the influence of her mother and the fact that she grows up in the shadow of her older sister, it is not surprising that Anne develops a number of self-effacing characteristics. She is modest, grateful, and uncomplaining. She rejects ambition, represses envy, and is always sympathetic with the feelings of others. Having received the message that she is "nobody," she tries to gain a sense of importance by utilizing every opportunity to be of service. When Mary insists that she remain at Uppercross while the others go to Bath, Anne is quite willing to comply: "To be claimed as a good, though in an improper style, is at least better than being rejected as no good at all; and Anne, glad to be thought of some use, glad to have any thing marked out as a duty . . . readily agreed to stay" (I, v). Her most cherished experience at Uppercross is "her usefulness to little Charles" when he dislocates his collarbone (I, xi). She performs other services as well, of course, such as mediating family squabbles, providing music at the Musgroves, and humoring Mary out of her fits of hypochondria and injured pride. She dislikes the tension of being asked to take sides, but she enjoys the feeling that at Uppercross she is at least of some importance.
Anne's self-effacing behavior is well illustrated in the episode
of the walk to Winthrop. The Musgrove girls initiate the
plan. They do not want Mary, who tires quickly; but she
becomes jealous and insists upon joining them. Anne at first
tries to dissuade Mary; but when this fails, she feels it best to
accept the girls' invitation to herself, "as she might be useful in
turning back with her sister, and lessening the interference in
any plan of their own" (I, x). Here, as elsewhere, Anne is
Anne's lack of anger and of self-assertion is not only the result of her detachment. Her self-effacing trends generate powerful taboos against all forms of aggressiveness, which are felt to be selfish. She can be assertive in the name of principle or of family respectability, but almost never in her own behalf. The reader is supposed to admire this as noble, but it is in reality compulsive. Her family's acceptance of her is so marginal that she cannot risk losing it by fighting for her rights. Anne's defensive strategies have a certain value, given her situation; but in many ways they are self-defeating. One reason why she fares so badly is that her compliance and resignation tend to invite continued exploitation and neglect. Her father and sisters are expansive people who have an exaggerated sense of the importance of their own wishes. Anne has been bullied by them into giving up too much.
Beneath Anne's gentle manner there is an accumulation of
repressed resentment which is partly responsible for her chronic
depression. This resentment is incompatible both with her
idealized image of herself and with Austen's image of her. It is
expressed in the novel not by Anne, but by Lady Russell and
Though Anne is resigned to being unhappy and accepting
abuse, she is by no means demoralized or crushed. She has
Anne's satisfaction with herself is derived in part from her natural abilities, which are superior to those of almost everyone else; but its primary source is the approval which she received during her formative years from her mother and Lady Russell. These women were the chief objects of her respect and her only source of emotional support, and they held her to a very high standard. While she lived, her mother provided Anne with an inspiring example of dutifulness and responsibility; and when she was dying, she relied on Lady Russell for the "maintenance of the good principles and instructions which she had been anxiously giving her daughters" (1, i). Lady Russell, as we know, was "most correct in her conduct" and "strict in her notions of decorum" (I, ii) Anne was the favorite of both of these women in part, no doubt, because she followed their example. When we meet her as an adult, she is as dutiful as her mother and as "consciously right" in her "manners" as Lady Russell (II, v). Lady Russell is devoted to culture, and so is Anne. If Anne deviates from her models, it is only to avoid their deficiencies and mistakes.
By the time Anne has grown up, her standards are completely
internalized. She is a perfectionist whose self-approval
matters more to her than anything else. She may be unappreciated
by almost everyone around her; but as long as she lives
up to her lofty standards, she has a "comfortable feeling of
superiority." She has more pride than the other members of her
family; for she cannot enjoy Lady Dalrymple's welcome, which
depends " "so entirely upon place' " (II, iv). Anne's place has
never entitled her to much consideration, which may be one
reason why she does not give a high value to rank. Her claims
are based upon personal merit, and the only recognition which
However hungry she is for affection or oppressed by the
injustices of her father's house, Anne will not betray her principles
or her sense of worth by marrying indiscriminately. After
her engagement to Wentworth is broken off, "no second attachment"
is "possible to the nice tone of her mind, the fastidiousness
of her taste, in the small limits of the society around
them" (I, iv). Charles Musgrove proposes, but he is too ordinary
a person for a woman like Anne. The most striking example
of her fastidiousness is, of course, her decision that she could
never marry Mr. Elliot even before she knows that Wentworth
is free and before she hears Mrs. Smith's story. Her objections
to this enormously attractive match are purely moral:
Anne copes with her situation, then, through a combination
of defenses. She moves away from Sir Walter and Elizabeth,
and from her own feelings of frustration and resentment.
This reduces her pain, but it also saps her vitality. She moves
toward those who value her or allow her to be of service. She is
of so little importance at home and her life is so empty that she
has an almost pathetic need to be needed. Her primary defense,
however, is neither resignation nor compliance. It is the perfectionism
which she derives from Lady Elliot and Lady Russell,
and which gives her a strong sense of rectitude and superiority.
Because it is combined with powerful self-effacing trends,
It is now possible to understand Anne's attraction to Captain Wentworth, her termination of their engagement, her subsequent loss of bloom, her reactions to Wentworth's return, and the process of rebirth which begins with her experiences in Lyme. At the time of their first encounter, Wentworth is "a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy" (I, iv). His intelligence marks him as a superior person, and his spirit and brilliance are immensely appealing to a girl whose own spirits have been low since the death of her mother. Anne feels like an outcast, a stepchild of fortune. Wentworth has already been lucky, and he is confident of his ability to master fate. Through her identification with him Anne can escape from the feeling of impotence by which she has been oppressed. He offers her the rescue from without which is her only hope. He gives her the love and admiration for which she is yearning. He sees in her the "highest perfection." She has had "hardly any body to love," but now she will be able to lavish upon him all of her devotion. It is no wonder that she is in a state of "exquisite felicity" and that "young and gentle" as she is, she is prepared "to withstand her father's ill-will" to maintain the engagement.
The opposition of Lady Russell is, of course, quite another
matter. Since the death of her mother, Lady Russell has been
her only "truly sympathizing friend" (I, vi); and it is frightening
to Anne to be in conflict with her. To defy Lady Russell in this
matter is tantamount, moreover, to defying her mother; for she
has been bequeathed, as it were, to Lady Russell, who has
"almost a mother's love, and mother's rights" (1, iv). Both her
self-effacing and her perfectionistic shoulds demand submission
to maternal authority. Anne can think of withstanding her
father's ill-will because he does not actually prohibit the match,
because there is no affection here to be lost, and because there
are no reasons for his opposition which she can respect. Some
of Lady Russell's reasons, however, are difficult for her to
For a brief time, during her engagement, Anne abandons her resignation and permits herself to experience hope and joy. The dissolution of the engagement is a crushing blow which leaves her more depressed than she has ever been before. She follows Wentworth's fortunes and hopes that his early success will bring a renewal of his attentions. When it does not, she is hurt; but she is not angry, despite the fact that she feels that he is being unfair to her. Even when he returns and treats her as a stranger, she is not resentful at his coldness; nor is she highly critical of his careless behavior toward the Musgrove girls. Her only concern is for his honor and the happiness of the other parties. Lady Russell's heart revels "in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt, that the man who at twenty-three had seemed to understand somewhat of the value of an Anne Elliot, should, eight years afterwards, be charmed by a Louisa Musgrove" (II, i). This is another instance of Lady Russell's experiencing feelings which are missing in Anne Anne's repression of all negative feelings toward Wentworth indicates, among other things, the intensity of her identification with him. She is still experiencing his triumphs vicariously and is protecting her pride in his original choice of her. She has adopted the heroic role of the long-suffering woman whose life has been ruined by the mistakes of others, but who blames no one, and who continues to love when hope is gone.
Anne represses her negative feelings toward Lady Russell
also. She knows that Lady Russell meant well and gave the
Although Anne does not blame Lady Russell, she does allow herself to repudiate her friend's advice. The strength of her feelings on this subject indicates that it is a focus for her frustration and resentment. Prudence is a value which looks to the future. It is the voice of the reality principle which tells us to delay gratification in order to avoid undesirable consequences and to secure a safer, though more distant, happiness. In Anne's case, there was nothing to wait for, nothing to protect. The evils attending the engagement would have been far more acceptable than the consequences of its dissolution. Anne's is the perspective of a woman who feels that her life is over and who is oriented toward the missed opportunities of the past. Her romantic attitude reflects her longing for love and the courage of despair. Like her author, who was dying while she wrote this book, Anne has a greater openness toward life now that all seems lost. Her readiness to take risks should not be confused, however, with a weakening of her principles. Her sense of duty remains as strict as ever; and insofar as prudence involves moral considerations, and not simply those of personal interest, her commitment to it is unchanged.
Before Captain Wentworth's return, Anne is in a state of
"desolate tranquillity" (I, v). She has no prospects for happiness,
and her feelings are blocked in almost every direction. The
initial effect of Wentworth's reappearance is to revive the conflict
between hope and resignation. The news that the Crofts
have rented Kellynch creates an intense "agitation," which she
tries to dispel by telling herself that it is "folly" (I, iv). She is so
We see here Anne's habitual method of combating anxiety and maintaining her peace of mind. Longings for fulfillment are dangerous to her, since they can only bring frustration and despair. When such feelings arise, she tells herself that they are absurd or foolish and she hates herself for having them. Her self-hate is generated by the violation of her detached shoulds, which seek to make her invulnerable by prohibiting hope and desire. When Wentworth rescues her from the pesterings of little Walter, Anne is "ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by a trifle" (I, ix). This is the shame of failing to live up to one's idealized image. Her defensiveness persists even later, when her hopes are by no means unreasonable. Upon learning that Wentworth is "unshackled and free," she has "some feelings which she [is] ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!" (II, vi). And when, shortly thereafter, she "starts" at the sight of Wentworth on the street, she feels that she is "the greatest simpleton in the world, the most unaccountable and absurd!" (II, vii).
The major change which Anne undergoes in the course of
the novel is the lifting of her resignation, and, with it, the inner
deadness which has been the price of her tranquillity. This
process begins in Lyme, where she emerges from obscurity at
last and gains recognition. Captain Benwick seeks her out for
companionship and advice, and Captain Harville is most grateful
These are highly significant experiences for a woman like Anne, who has for so long been deprived of admiration, esteem, and a sense of importance. With her confidence somewhat restored, she begins to dream about the possibilities of happiness. When Lady Russell compliments her on her looks, she has "the amusement . . . of hoping that she [is] to be blessed with a second spring of youth and beauty" (II, i). Her amusement indicates that she is still maintaining a protective detachment, but her hope is real. She looks forward to a possible visit from Captain Benwick, whose compliments have been repeated by Charles Musgrove; and she feels that she would like to know more about Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth seems bound to Louisa, but she feels confident now of his esteem. When she goes to Bath, she feels "that she would rather see Mr. Elliot again than not, which was more than she could say for many other persons in Bath" (II, ii). Now that she has people who are interested in her, she can afford to feel some of her resentment toward her family, and she becomes more critical of them than she has been before.
Anne's spirits steadily rise as good things continue to happen.
Mrs. Croft treats her as a favorite (II, i), her family is
unexpectedly cordial (II, iii), and Mr. Elliot courts her assiduously,
Anne's improved fortunes lead her to abandon her resignation, but her other strategies remain much the same. Her euphoria results in part from the fact that her self-effacing and perfectionistic claims are being honored and her dreams of glory are coming true. Anne is still modest, unambitious, and ready to serve. When the Musgroves arrive, she "naturally [falls] into all her wonted ways of attention and assistance" (II, x). At her father's evening party, she is "more generally admired than she thought about or cared for" (II, xi). Her "high-wrought felicity" creates an anxiety against which she defends herself by feelings of gratitude: she becomes "steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment." Her felicity lies in "the warmth of her heart" (II, xii) and in the merging of her own identity with that of the expansive Wentworth. "She glorie[s] in being a sailor's wife."
Anne's perfectionism is most clearly in evidence in her
conversations with Wentworth. She corresponds to his (and the
author's) ideal of a woman: she combines "a strong mind, with
sweetness of manner" (I, vii). When she ends their engagement,
however, he feels that she has given him up "to oblige
others"; and this indicates "a feebleness of character . . . which
his own decided, confident temperament [can] not endure. He is
Despite this contrast between the heroines,
We know many of the facts of Jane Austen's life; but there is little evidence, outside of her writings, of her attitudes, values, and beliefs, and of the dynamics of her personality. Her letters, after Cassandra's excisions, are not highly revealing, and she did not move among literary people who could have left us penetrating accounts of her character. I believe that we can learn a good deal about Jane Austen by analyzing the personality which can be inferred from all of her fiction. I shall call this her authorial personality to distinguish it from the implied authors of her individual novels and from the historical person, who had a life independent of her artistic creations.
I shall analyze Austen's authorial personality with the aid
of Horneyan psychology, which, as I have shown, is congruent
with a great many aspects of her fiction.
We must be careful, of course, when making inferences
about an author from his fictions. We must allow for artistic
motivations, for the requirements of the genre and of the
Horneyan psychology can help to illuminate the author
through his works because in the course of artistic creation the
author's defensive strategies tend to express themselves in a
variety of ways. His works are, among other things, efforts to
reinforce his predominant solution and to resolve his inner
conflicts by showing himself, as well as others, the good and evil
consequences of the various trends which are warring within
him. He will tend to glorify characters whose strategies are
similar to his own and to satirize those who embody his repressed
solutions. His rhetoric will affirm the values, attitudes, and
traits of character which are demanded by his dominant
shoulds, while rejecting those which are forbidden by his major
solution. His plots will often be fantasies in which his claims are
honored in a magical way, while his repressed strategies are
shown to bring misery and retribution. Because he cannot help
expressing his subordinate trends, however, his works will frequently
All of this may seem readily applicable to a tormented artist like Dostoevsky, but of dubious relevance to so poised a novelist as Jane Austen. A look at the criticism reveals, however, that there are fierce disagreements about Austen's true character. As I have observed, some critics emphasize the aggressive, satirical component of her art; some stress her gentleness and conservatism; and some focus upon the detached, ironic quality of her vision. A psychological analysis of Austen's authorial personality will show how these diverse components of her nature are related to each other within a structure of inner conflicts.
The major unvarying element in Jane Austen's fiction is a
code of values and conduct that serves as the norm by which all
deviations are satirized and judged. The code is not always what
the fiction is primarily about, and different aspects of it are
explored in different works; but it is almost always present in
one form or another, and no character gains Austen's sympathy
or approval who does not either subscribe to it from the beginning
or come to feel its force at some point in his development.
Austen associates the code at various times with such influences
as religion, education, and example; but it is often embraced in
the absence of good training, desirable models, or the support
of the surrounding community. It has the independent authority
of self-evident truth. Those who are faithful to it seem to be
innately superior to their fellows in intelligence, disposition, or
rationality. Experience is important, however; for some well-
The code embraces six major areas of life: family relations, courtship and marriage, friendship, everyday social intercourse, duties to oneself, and duties to the community. Different aspects of the code are operative for different individuals, depending upon their age, sex, economic status, and social and familial roles; but its general principles are always the same. The values which it endorses include prudence, judgment, good sense, self- knowledge, sensitivity, perceptiveness, propriety, civility, self- control, sincerity, integrity, respect for authority, dutifulness, responsibility, unselfishness, consideration of others, self-denial, humility, gratitude, moderation, patience, fortitude, tenderness, generosity, warm feeling, domestic affection, and the sanctification of marriage by love and mutual esteem. Deviations from the code result from selfishness, stupidity, ill-nature, self-indulgence, pride, ambition, materialism, vanity, or commitment to a competing code which glorifies opposite values.
One competing code is that which is associated with the cult of sensibility. Austen ridicules it in the
Marianne Dashwood's faults are far less extreme, of course.
She is a good-hearted and intelligent girl who has been led
astray by the ethic of sensibility, which is reinforced, for her, by
the example of her mother. It is a matter of pride to her to
disdain prudence, to set propriety at nought, to refuse the duties
of civility, and to indulge in her emotions of joy and grief
without restraint. She comes close to sharing Sophia's fate; and
her brush with death, combined with the example of Elinor,
leads her to see the error of her ways:
Jane Austen was fascinated with the cult of sensibility because, as a powerful literary and social phenomenon, it posed an important challenge to what she regarded as right values and the proper conduct of life. With the completion of
Anne Elliot, like Elinor Dashwood, suffers and feels intensely
but never loses her self-control or her sensitivity to
The most serious violations of Austen's code result not
from the excesses of sensibility, but from worldliness. This
involves, in essence, the callous pursuit of money, power, and
prestige. The code of worldliness sanctions such values as pride,
ambition, snobbery, acquisitiveness, manipulativeness, the pursuit
of competitive triumph, cunning, hypocrisy, exploitation of
the opposite sex, and marriage for wealth and status rather than
for love. The softer feelings are ignored or scorned as a sign of
weakness, and self-interest is worshipped as the highest good.
There are varying degrees of worldliness, of course; and not all
worldly characters display the whole range of vices. Some basically
good characters are tainted by worldly attitudes (Sir
Thomas Bertram, for example); and only a few characters (such
as Jane Bennet and Fanny Price) are presented as being entirely
It is possible to analyze the competing codes in Jane Austen from a psychological point of view. The cult of sensibility glorifies infantile self-indulgence and adolescent rebellion. The heroes and heroines of sensibility pursue immediate gratification, reject all restraint, and display an adolescent defiance of convention and authority. They refuse to look out for themselves or to accept responsibility for others. They demand that the world be indulgent, mothering, and magically responsive to their needs. In their human relations, they rely upon feeling rather than upon judgment. They respond enthusiastically to people who seem like kindred spirits and react coldly to those who represent caution and morality. They are poor at all forms of reality testing. They tend to be helpless, gullible, and dependent, the victims of their own unregulated impulses and of other, more worldly people. They are selfish and sometimes dishonest, but in a childish rather than in a calculating way. They have a naive belief in their right to have what they want, and they blame others for their frustrations or the unpleasant consequences of their indiscretions. Whatever their own excesses, they have a sense of militant innocence.
From Austen's point of view, as well as from my own, the
cult of sensibility represents a form of immaturity, of fixation at
an early stage of development. It occupied her attention most
fully when she was young, when the central issue of her life
Worldliness, on the other hand, is a subject which she found to be of more enduring interest. It appears in her work as early as "
It is rewarding to analyze certain aspects of Austen's work
in primarily Freudian terms. Her heroes and heroines of sensibility
are people under the domination of the pleasure principle
who refuse to adapt themselves to natural and social laws. The
code of worldliness can be seen as a rationalization of primitive
impulses of lust and aggression. The true code, on the other
hand, stresses the values of the ego and the superego. In her
most appealing work, Jane Austen seems to be looking for a
way to grant as much libidinal satisfaction as is compatible with
the demands of reality and the moral imperatives. With the
exception of Fanny Price, the code heroes and heroines tend to
have strong egos; they cope better than most people and combine
good sense and high morality with strong feelings and a
desire for personal fulfillment. The moral of Austen's stories
seems to be that there is more happiness to be gained by being
prudent and principled than by succumbing to the temptations
of worldliness or desire. The pleasure principle must not dominate,
Much more could be said along Freudian lines, but I shall leave that task to others. It is from a Horneyan perspective that I wish to approach the majority of Austen's characters and the psychological structure of her authorial personality as a whole. Many of her worldly characters can be readily understood as Homey's aggressive or expansive types, and her code heroes and heroines have either perfectionistic or self-effacing personalities. She herself displays leanings in all three of the Horneyan directions, and she has rather mixed attitudes toward all but the perfectionistic solution.
The code of worldliness is remarkably parallel to Horney's
description of certain aspects of the aggressive personality. For
the aggressive person, says Horney, "a callous pursuit of self-
interest is the paramount law."
As we contemplate this composite picture of aggressive
people, a number of Jane Austen's worldlings come to mind, each
of whom conspicuously displays one or more of the distinguishing
Jane Austen's most remarkable portrait of a ruthlessly aggressive person occurs not in the novels, but in an early work, "Lady Susan," whose heroine is a forerunner of Becky Sharp. The work is epistolary in form; and there are some extremely revealing letters from Lady Susan to Mrs. Johnson, a confidante who shares her code and with whom Lady Susan is perfectly frank.
Lady Susan is a recently widowed beauty of about thirty-
five who has a reputation as "the most accomplished Coquette
The visit to Churchill is a rather desperate measure, for it is
situated in "that insupportable spot, a Country Village"
(pp. 245-46); and the Vernons have good reason to be hostile,
since Lady Susan had been opposed to their marriage. Mrs.
Vernon has a sharp eye for hypocrisy and is difficult to deceive;
but Charles is a compliant type who is easily taken in: "Disposed
. . . as he always is to think the best of everyone, her display
of Greif, & professions of regret, & general resolutions of
prudence were sufficient to soften his heart, & make him really
confide in her sincerity" (p. 247). Lady Susan "really [has] a
regard for him, he is so easily imposed on!" (p. 250). She plans
to win her "Sister-in-law's heart through her Children; I know
all their names already, & am going to attach myself with the
greatest sensibility to one in particular, a young Frederic, whom
I take on my lap & sigh over for his dear Uncle's sake" (p. 250).
Mrs. Vernon, however, sees through her facade:
The main action of the story is Lady Susan's triumph over
Reginald De Courcy, Mrs. Vernon's brother, who knows Lady
Susan's past and visits Churchill with the expectation of amusing
himself at her expense: "by all that I can gather, Lady Susan
possesses a degree of captivating Deceit which must be pleasing
to witness & detect. I shall be with you very soon" (pp. 248-49).
Lady Susan meets his insolent familiarity with a "calm dignity
of . . . deportment" which soon convinces him that she has been
badly maligned: "I never behaved less like a Coquette in the
Lady Susan's plans are seriously threatened when Frederica,
upset by her mother's insistence upon her marriage to Sir
James, attempts to run away from school and must be brought
to Churchill for closer supervision: "I had not a notion of her
being such a little Devil before; she seemed to have all the
Vernon Milkiness" (p. 268). Frederica
"I am again myself," she writes to Mrs. Johnson, "gay and
triumphant" (p. 291). She has taken some blows, however, and
is full of schemes for vindictive triumphs:
Lady Susan fares in the end about as well, or as ill, as Jane Austen's other worldly characters. She loses Reginald when he accidentally encounters Mrs. Manwaring and learns the truth of the persisting rumors. She marries Sir James, a man whom she had earlier rejected for herself as too "contemptibly weak" (p. 245), and has such happiness as this sort of union can afford. She allows Frederica to live at Churchill, where, in due time, she and Reginald De Courcy are united.
Lady Susan displays an extreme form of worldliness, just as Laura and her friends represent the extremes of sensibility. But Laura is a caricature, whereas Lady Susan is a well-drawn mimetic character; and she has much more in common with the worldlings of the novels, such as Wickham and Mr. Elliot, than Laura has with Marianne Dashwood. Austen's antagonists are usually stock characters who are portrayed almost entirely from the outside, as befits the requirements of the works in which they appear. "Lady Susan" shows that Jane Austen could do such characters from the inside as well and gives us a better idea of the range of her psychological intuitions.
Jane Austen has, as I have indicated, a mixed attitude toward the expansive solution. As a rule, unreformed expansive characters fare badly in her novels; and it is against aggressive traits, values, and modes of behavior that she directs her most serious satire. There are ambivalences, however, and exceptions. The Crawfords have great vitality and charm; and Austen seems afraid, at times, of being seduced by their dangerous glamor. This is why she must treat them so harshly at the end and insist upon their inferiority to characters who are dull but good, like Fanny and Edmund. She portrays Emma's narcissism with unfailing insight and irony, showing both its destructiveness to others and its inadequacy as a means of dealing with life. But her mockery is gentle and sympathetic; and Emma is zestful, charming, and, indeed, even lovable, in her faults.
Captain Wentworth is the most successful of Austen's
heroes, partly because he is the least fully developed and therefore
The eligible young men in Austen's novels seem to fall into three main categories: those who are aggressive but not good, those who are good but unglamorous, and those who are aggressive and good enough. The last group includes Darcy and Wentworth, who are good enough to qualify them for the approval of the discriminating heroines, but whose appeal lies more in their expansive than in their moral qualities. With all of her insistence on goodness and her criticism of expansive values, there seems to be a longing in Jane Austen for aggressive triumph, primarily through a talented, masterful, and socially desirable man.
This longing comes out most vividly in
Austen's characters can be divided, as a number of critics have observed, into the simple and the complex. The simple characters tend to be either good or bad, self-effacing or aggressive. They are humors characters who do not change. The complex characters can be either wholly or predominantly bad, a mixture of good and bad, or wholly good. Those in the first group are incorrigible, those in the second are frequently capable of becoming wholly good through education, and those in the third group provide the norm by which everyone else is measured. The incorrigible characters are the self-consciously aggressive types who present a facade of goodness. The mixed characters often combine with their good qualities undesirable elements of aggressiveness or detachment. They may be extremely perceptive but deficient in feeling, or they may be seduced by feelings of a proud or an erotic nature into misperceptions and deviations from the code.
Just as Jane Austen has the most scorn for the complex bad characters, so she has the greatest admiration for the complex good ones. There are four complex characters who display an undeviating allegiance to the true code: Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, George Knightley, and Anne Elliot. Elinor and Knightley embrace the code in a predominantly perfectionistic manner; Fanny adopts it as part of her self-effacing solution; and Anne becomes a code heroine out of both self-effacing and perfectionistic motivations. To the degree that mixed complex characters embrace the code, they tend to do it for perfectionistic or self-effacing motives, or some combination of both.
Perfectionism is the only solution which Austen seems to
identify with consistently. It is never an object of satire; and it is
never the solution of the simple good characters who are sources
of humor and who are treated both sympathetically and with an
amused condescension. It is, of course, one of the expansive
solutions; and it has in common with the others a need for
superiority, recognition, and the mastery of life. It is different,
however, in that it embraces noble standards rather than the
The perfectionistic person has a legalistic conception of the
world order. Through the height of his standards, he compels
fate. His claims are based
Jane Austen's authorial personality often strikes me as
being perfectionistic. She identifies completely with her perfectionistic
characters, empathizes with their plight, and shares
many of their traits. Her novels are an affirmation of her own
Elinor takes great pride in the accuracy of her perceptions, the justness of her emotions, and the propriety of her behavior. She is almost constantly engaged in a subtle kind of self- congratulation and in an inward criticism of others. Her low opinion of mankind is indicated by her feeling as she departs from London that she is leaving "no creature behind from whom it would give her a moment's regret to be divided for ever" (Ch. 42), and even more by her remark that in marrying Lucy Steele, Edward will wed " 'a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex' " (Ch. 37). Despite her frustrations, Elinor cannot be made really miserable as long as her pride in herself is intact. When she learns of Edward's engagement to Lucy, she feels resentment at first; but this quickly turns to pity for Edward and pride in her own rectitude and self-control: "Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness . . . she thought she could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow, command herself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from her mother and sister" (Ch. 23). She urges the stricken Marianne to adopt a similar defense: " 'It is a reasonable and laudable pride' " to deprive others of their triumph by showing " 'how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions support your spirits' " (Ch. 29). Colonel Brandon, who is in many ways Elinor's male counterpart, hopes that Marianne will be consoled by comparing her situation to that of his charge Eliza, who has been seduced by Willoughby: " 'She will feel her own sufferings to be nothing. They proceed from no misconduct and can bring on no disgrace' " (Ch. 31).
Elinor's defense renders her invulnerable to profound psychological
suffering and offers a powerful compensation for
external frustrations by giving her an inward sense of glory. It
turns painful situations into occasions for triumph. When she
learns of the engagement, she is "firmly resolved to act by
[Lucy] as every principle of honour and honesty [direct], to
combat her own affection for Edward and to see him as little as
possible" (Ch. 23). Every subsequent encounter with Lucy is at
once a painful exacerbation of her feelings and a source of
profound moral satisfaction. She not only demonstrates her
nobility, but she also thwarts Lucy's desire for triumph by
showing that she cannot suffer because her heart is pure. Her
heroism reaches its height when Edward calls upon her in
London at the same time that she is receiving a visit from Lucy.
She takes great pains to say all the proper things despite the
awkwardness of the situation and "the consciousness of some
injustice toward herself."
One of the mysteries of
As we have seen, the code can be embraced in two ways; and
I have given in the preceding chapters of this book a good deal of emphasis to the importance of the self-effacing solution for Jane Austen, to her support of its values, indulgence of its claims, and approval of the character traits associated with it. The education pattern in her novels is almost invariably one in which some form of excessive pride, self-indulgence, or worldliness is purged by suffering and example and replaced by self- effacing attitudes. Two of her paragons, Fanny and Anne, display self- effacing traits, in Fanny's case of an extreme kind. There are, in addition, a number of minor characters who are clearly self- effacing and whom Austen treats with considerable sympathy and admiration. Except in
Self-effacing types first appear in the
The compliant type often appears in eighteenth century fiction as a variant of the hero of sensibility, namely, the benevolent gentleman. Jane Austen reduces this type to absurdity in "'Evelyn" (
"And now my good Sir, said Mr. Webb, when Mr. Gower's repast was concluded. what else can we do to contribute to your happiness and express the Affection we bear you. Tell us what you wish more to receive, and depend upon our gratitude for the communication of your wishes." "Give me then your house & Grounds; I ask for nothing else." "It is yours. exclaimed both at once; from this moment it is yours." The Agreement concluded on and the present accepted by Mr. Gower, Mr. Webb rang to have the Carriage ordered, telling William at the same time to call the Young Ladies.
"Best of Men. said Mrs. Webb. we will not long intrude upon your Time."
"Make no apologies dear Madam, replied Mr. Gower, You are welcome to stay this half hour if you like it."
They both burst forth into raptures of Admiration at his polite- ness, which they agreed served only to make their Conduct appear more inexcusable in trespassing on his time." (Pp. 182-183)
In Jane Austen's realistic fiction, there are many simple characters of the self-effacing type. Charles Vernon, in "Lady Susan," is the epitome of his family's "Milkiness" (p. 268). He has a "generous temper" (p. 252), thinks the best of everybody, is easily deceived, and "live[s] only to do whatever he [is] desired" (p. 311). His closest counterpart in the novels is Bingley in
Jane Austen has a complicated attitude toward these simple
self-effacing types. Their ingenuousness allures her as the
opposite of worldly cynicism and selfish calculation. She
admires their tender-heartedness, amiability, and freedom from
conceit. They are good-natured, well-meaning, and ready to
serve. They are easily pleased, grateful, and uncomplaining.
Her complex mixed characters often feel inferior or guilty
before them. Elizabeth feels that Jane's " 'sweetness and disinterestedness
are really angelic' "and that she has never done her
justice or loved her as she deserves (II, i). Emma is convinced
The chief deficiency of these people is that they are, after all, unconscious. They do not really understand themselves or others, and they lack discrimination. They approve too much, are too easily pleased, and tend to distort reality in order to maintain their rosy picture of the world. In dealing with worldly people, they are easily taken in. They are more fitted for suffering or obedience than for self-assertion or the exercise of authority. Though they are firm in the defense of their principles, they are in other respects too yielding, too complying, too weak.
Austen always treats these characters kindly, but many of them are humors at whom she is also laughing and for whom she cannot help feeling a touch of contempt. Like many of her complex characters; she has a great deal of pride invested in her understanding, her discernment, her elegant and cultivated mind. She delights in her powers and finds her genius and intelligence to be a rich source of satisfaction. She tends to see her simple compliant people from a perfectionistic point of view. She reverences their goodness; but she has a higher regard for people like herself who are not only good, but consciously so, and mentally superior as well. She knows, however, that the good simple kind have some qualities in which she is deficient, such as generosity, tender-heartedness, and humility; and she feels them to be her betters in these respects.
Marvin Mudrick sees Jane Austen as primarily detached.
"Distance," he contends, was her "first condition for writing. She
could not commit herself . . . . she allowed herself no public
response except the socially conventional or the ironic; for
As my preceding analysis indicates, I believe that Austen
was firmly committed to her code. I agree with those critics who
argue that she "affirms society, ideally considered as a structure
of values . . . at the same time as she distinguishes it from its
frequently corrupted form;"
Though it is not Austen's predominant trait, detachment is important as a motif in her fiction and as a component of her authorial personality. Several detached values are included in the code, and the novels contain a number of characters who have marked tendencies in the direction of aloofness, withdrawal, or resignation. They include Henry Tilney, Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, Fanny Price, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Emma, and Anne Elliot. Austen has mixed feelings toward the various aspects of detachment, as she has toward all of the solutions except perfectionism
We can see how detached values form part of the code
most clearly in Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot. Both of
these women have great personal reserve and take pride in their
self-command. They have strong feelings of sorrow and of joy
which they keep under control and do not like to show others.
Elinor has moral reasons, of course, for not wanting to distress
her family while she is inwardly grieving over the loss of
Edward; but she is equally restrained when Marianne is declared
to be out of danger and when she learns that it is Robert
rather than Edward who has married Lucy Steele. Marianne's
recovery "was an idea to fill her heart with sensations of exquisite
comfort, and expand it in fervent gratitude; but it led to no
outward demonstrations of joy, no words, no smiles. All within
Elinor's breast was satisfaction, silent and strong" (Ch. 43).
When she hears of Edward's freedom, she bursts "into tears of
joy," but only after she has "almost [run] out of the room" in
order to be alone (Ch. 48). She does not actually run out of the
room, of course, for that would itself be excessively demonstrative;
she only walks rapidly. It is evidently a matter of pride, of
honor, of decorum to be strong and silent. Jane Austen seems
to have a contempt for those who expose their emotions to the
world. It should be noted, however, that candor and openness
are also positive values, especially when they are displayed by
the good simple types. There seems to be a conflict within the
The detached solution values not only self-control and the preservation of privacy, but also resignation, patience, and fortitude. We reduce our dependence on others by not needing them, by feeling "stronger alone" (
Jane Austen explores a different aspect of resignation in
her portrait of Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte is to be admired for
making the best of her unpromising marriage, but it is her
resignation which has led her to choose this marriage in the first
place. Like Mr. Bennet's, Charlotte's resignation grows out of
despair; and it leads to a cynical view of human nature, human
values, and the human condition. Austen does not ignore the
difficulties of Charlotte's position. Charlotte's response, however,
though understandable, is far from admirable. Anne Elliot
Another detached value which forms part of the code is perceptiveness. The detached person takes pride in his superior insight into both himself and others. He loves to analyze motives and to see through pretensions. He looks down upon others from the height of his understanding and has an ironical attitude toward people who lack self-awareness. These are recognizable traits both of a number of Austen's characters and of the author herself. There is a side of Jane Austen that enjoys the onlooker role and that revels in displays of wit and perception. Her irony serves not only her expansive needs for power, but also her detached needs for mental superiority. Her distrust of feeling is partly a manifestation of detachment. Because the detached person takes so much pride in his insight, he hates to be wrong; and nothing is more prejudicial to accurate perception than compulsive feelings. Austen's characters often discover their mistakes, much to their own chagrin. The author is aware of them all along, and through various techniques of irony she allows the reader to participate in her superiority. But Jane Austen is as blind as the rest of us when she is presenting a character whom she loves or with whom she profoundly identifies. These lapses of irony and insight provide the strongest possible evidence that she is not always, or even nearly always, detached.
Austen's celebration of perceptiveness is quite compatible with her perfectionistic trends, which also demand superior understanding; but it is in conflict with some of her self-effacing values. Detached perception can easily lead to amoral unconcern or even to cruelty. Mr. Bennet becomes callous toward his family, and his wit is a means of aggression. Elizabeth shows an awareness of the danger when she hopes that she " 'never ridicule[s] what is wise and good' " (I, xi). She feels guilty later on for having so " 'often disdained the generous candour of [Jane, and having] gratified [her] vanity, in useless or blameable distrust' " (II, xiii). There is a conflict in the code between generosity, one aspect of which is thinking well of others, and perceptiveness, which, more often than not, leads to disapproval or mockery.
What Jane Austen wants is to combine detached perception with strong principles and tenderness of heart. This is her intention, I believe, in
Henry is not only a wit; he is also a good and sensible man. This is revealed by Catherine's attachment to him and even more by his appreciation of her, which is based upon a recognition of her virtues. His ironic description of Isabella Thorpe contains his actual appraisal of Catherine: " 'Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise' " (II, x). He does not scorn her for her naive display of interest and admiration; he is charmed and reciprocates her affection. He takes an ironic view of Catherine's humors—her love of the old and her overheated imagination—but he is never ironic about her virtues; and he does speak plainly. He tells her that she is " 'superior in good- nature . . . to all the rest of the world' " (II, i) and that in her generous assessment of others she feels " 'what is most to the credit of human nature' " (II, x). His principles, like hers, are "steady" (II, xvi). He will not give Catherine up because his father wishes it, but neither will he marry without parental consent. Henry's irony is, like Catherine's overimaginativeness, a humor. Each character puts the excesses of the other in their place and brings out his fundamental goodness, which is alike in simple and complex.
The difficulty with this combination of perception with tenderness is that it is very Schematic. Austen has given Henry an uncomplicated respect for simple goodness that is difficult to reconcile with his general sophistication. Elizabeth and Emma admire and sometimes even reverence the tenderheartedness and generosity of Jane and Harriet; but they never lose sight of their own mental superiority; and they would not think of marrying someone who was not their equal. Henry Tilney seems sacrificed to Jane Austen's thematic intentions. It is hard to believe that he will not soon be bored.
A final aspect of the detached solution toward which Austen has mixed feelings is withdrawal. Whereas the expansive person moves against and the self-effacing person moves toward people, the detached person handles a frustrating or threatening world by moving away from other people, both physically and emotionally. Fanny Price takes refuge in the solitude of the East room, in the vacuity of her hours with Lady Bertram, and in the quiet pleasures of reading and reflection. Sir Thomas invites few guests and makes of Mansfield "a sombre family-party" (II, iii). Anne Elliot defends herself against the indifference of her family and the shabby treatment she receives by becoming inwardly aloof from them. Mr. Bennet retires into his wit and his library, and Elizabeth turns to detached humor as a defense against situations which would be too painful if she were to take them seriously.
Austen is sympathetic toward the need of sensitive and
intelligent people to move away from those who oppress them,
and she herself seems to resort to humor to make life tolerable
in a world composed largely of fools. Some forms of withdrawal
are innocent enough, but others lead to irresponsibility
and a betrayal of the code. Sir Thomas is too aloof from his
family. He does not pay enough attention to his children's
education, and he allows Fanny to be persecuted and his daughters
As I have shown, Jane Austen's personality manifests all of the Horneyan trends. Her code contains a mixture of perfectionistic, detached, and self-effacing values; and she identifies herself at one point or another with components, at least, of all the solutions. Her own inner conflicts contribute, no doubt, to her remarkable understanding of a wide range of psychological types. Each of the solutions has its concomitant daydreams; and if we look at the dominating fantasies of each of her novels, we will see that they, too, display variety and conflict rather than singleness of vision.
When Jane Austen's novels are considered in the order of
their composition, there are some striking shifts of direction
which make it difficult to understand her development and to
Despite the difficulties, I shall attempt some generalizations. Jane Austen is, it seems to me, a predominantly perfectionistic person who takes great pride in her standards, her genius, and her rectitude. She also has strong self-effacing trends which manifest themselves in all of her novels and which sometimes become dominant. She admires purely self-effacing people for their generosity, tenderheartedness, and humility, and is somewhat defensive about her own deficiency in these qualities. Both her perfectionistic and her self-effacing trends lead her to recoil from the narcissistic and the arrogant-vindictive forms of the expansive solution. When these surface in her characters or in herself, she turns to the crushing of pride and other forms of suffering for an antidote. There are submerged aggressive drives within her, however, which manifest themselves in her satire, in her sympathy with the need for recognition, and in the real value which she gives to wealth and position. Detachment is the third strongest element in her personality. She takes great pride in her discernment, enjoys looking down upon others from the height of her understanding, and is sympathetic toward impulses of withdrawal and resignation. She is critical of detachment, however, when it leads to a violation of perfectionistic or self-effacing values. This personality structure is dynamic in nature. Jane Austen is constantly trying to achieve an equilibrium between opposing forces. She has a need to criticize each solution from the point of view of the others, and a strong movement in any one direction tends to activate the opposing trends.
If this analysis of Austen's authorial personality is combined