Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reader Question #1: Jane Austen and Proposals

And in what I hope will be a good long line of Reader Question Posts, here is the first question that I received. This question came to me from Melody from Regency Delight. Melody asked:

Why exactly do you think Jane Austen didn't write proposal scenes in Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Sense and Sensibility?

I can't really comment on Mansfield Park right now since I am very slowing (but surely!) reading through it (though I know a little about what happens at the end), but I can still comment on Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility. This question brings to mind the following quote from Sense and Sensibility:

Proposal Scene from Sense and Sensibility (2008)
How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told. This only need be said;—that when they all sat down to table at four o'clock, about three hours after his arrival, he had secured his lady, engaged her mother's consent, and was not only in the rapturous profession of the lover, but, in the reality of reason and truth, one of the happiest of men. (Chapter 49)

Proposal Scene from Northanger Abbey (2007): not
necessarily the way I pictured the proposal
in Northanger Abbey.
So, to answer the question directly, I think that Jane Austen didn't write a proposal scene for either Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility because it simply wasn't necessary (it needed not to be particularly told). In Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility, we as the reader know that Henry Tilney loves Catherine Morland (though she was kicked out of Northanger Abbey by General Tilney) and we know that Edward Ferrars, despite his engagement and supposed marriage to Lucy Steele, loves Elinor Dashwood. So, I think that by the end, we the reader can assume that if Henry Tilney or Edward Ferrars arrived to speak to Catherine or Elinor, that there could only be one reason why: to propose. There isn't a doubt in the mind of the reader that the hero holds a very, very high regard for the heroine, so there is no need to get into a lengthy proposal scene.

Compare that idea with Emma or Pride and Prejudice or even Persuasion.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
In Pride and Prejudice, we know that Mr. Darcy declared his love for Elizabeth and made a proposal to her that was rejected because Elizabeth greatly disliked him. But then the story goes on and we see that Elizabeth has come to love Mr. Darcy. When Lydia creates scandal by eloping with Wickham, Elizabeth is sure that Mr. Darcy wouldn't renew his love to her and would not propose again. After all, he knows all about Lydia's scandal and went through all that trouble to fix it. Why would he involve himself with the Bennets that had a scandal that people actually heard about? Sure, his sister almost had a scandal herself, but it was hushed up and no one heard of it. So, when Elizabeth went walking with Mr. Darcy, she didn't think that he would renew his proposal to her. But lo and behold! he still loves Elizabeth and proposes marriage to which Elizabeth accepts!

Emma (2009)
In Emma, the last time that Emma saw Mr. Knightley before he proposed, Mr. Knightley was very angry with her for humiliating Miss Bates. Harriet said that she loved Mr. Knightley and that they talked quite a bit. Emma then realizes that she loves Mr. Knightley, but as Emma assumed (and the reader could/might assume too), Mr. Knightley wouldn't think of marrying her and that he would just marry Harriet Smith. In fact, even as the proposal scene starts, we might believe along with Emma that Mr. Knightley is going to tell her about marrying Harriet Smith. But, when the scene takes a turn and it turns out that Mr. Knightley loves Emma, we readers are assured that Mr. Knightley does not love Harriet, but loves Emma.

Persuasion Letter Scenes; image used in Persuasion Comparison guest post that I contributed to
Persuasion is a little more complicated. Captain Wentworth gives off a bunch of mixed signals to Anne to the point that neither she nor the reader knows what he plans to do. One minute, he's concerned about her walking too far and helps her into the Crofts carriage. Another minute, he completely ignores her for Louisa Musgrove. One minute, they're talking about how "a man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman," at the concert, and then he leaves the concert early angrily. So in this case, we get some glimpse of Captain Wentworth's love for Anne, but at the same time, we see signs that he would not propose to her. So, in order to do away with any doubt, Captain Wentworth leaves the love letter for Anne that removes any doubt in her mind and in the mind of the reader.

In each case in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, there is doubt in the mind of the heroine that the hero will not propose to her. And in each of the proposal scenes, the scene does not start out as a proposal scene, but rather a regular scene. In Emma, Mr. Knightley means to console Emma about Frank Churchill. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth thanks Mr. Darcy for fixing Lydia's scandal. And in Persuasion, Anne and Captain Wentworth were visiting the Musgroves. The proposal dialogue is in there not only to remove the doubt of the readers and the heroines, but to ease the scene into a proposal scene. It wouldn't make sense if Jane Austen said, "On a walk, Elizabeth thanked Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy renewed his declaration from a couple of months ago and they got engaged!" The reader would be left confused: "What? How did this happen? Weren't they just walking around? Wasn't Elizabeth just thanking him? How did a proposal come up?" So, by adding proposal dialogue into a scene, a scene can ease into a proposal scene instead of shocking the readers into a proposal that they didn't think was coming.

Now, on another idea, a special case for why Jane Austen didn't write a proposal scene for Sense and Sensibility could stem from the fact that Sense and Sensibility is a satire of the sentimental novel. You know the kind I'm talking about. Where a proposal could last pages and pages and be filled with flowery, overly mushy language to make anyone uncomfortable. So Jane Austen not having a proposal scene with dialogue could be her way of poking fun at the overly dramatic, romantic proposal scenes in other novels. Instead of a flowery proposal, Jane Austen gives a description of the outcome and keeps it short, sweet, and to the point: the actual details of the proposal aren't discussed.

So, that is my opinion on why Jane Austen left out proposal scenes out of some of her novels. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Do you think there was another reason why Jane Austen left out proposal scenes in some of her books? Leave a comment! I'm very interested in what you all think!

Thank you, Melody, for sending in this question! If you have a question you would like to submit for me to do a post on, leave a comment. Just follow these guidelines. It can be about anything related to this blog: period dramas, blogging, reviews, etc.

 God Bless,
God Bless, Miss Elizabeth Bennet


  1. Very interesting post! I agree with your opinion on why Jane Austen left out proposal scenes in some of her novels.

    And, I tagged you! I don't know if you do tags, but here's the link:)

    Have a lovely day!

  2. What a great post! I'd never thought of it that way before, but it makes perfect sense that P&P, Persuasion and Emma needed confirmation of the hero's love for the heroine. Whereas, S&S and NA had already established that. Great insight there! *happy sigh* I love delving in-depth into Jane Austen...

    Okay, now I have a question. Do you believe Willoughby in S&S is a sympathetic character or an out-and-out scoundrel? I've heard both sides, and I'm curious to hear your opinion (and forgive me if you've already addressed this on your blog before)!

    1. Great Question, Miss Dashwood! I'll get to work on that post!

  3. Ugh, I had written a comment to this, but then Blogger messed up on me. :( Here goes again...

    I had never thought of that before, but it seems quite true that proposals were necessary in the other three novels! How clever you are, my dear Miss Eliza. ;-) Although proposals may not be necessary... I do wish they were included. ;) Especially Mansfield. Now, it IS necessary to have a proposal scene for Edmund Bertram at the end, instead of just hurrying it along, to make me like him as much as the other heroes.
    And I think another reason she didn't include one in Northanger is because that was a satire... I never thought of S&S as a satire, though.

  4. "So, when Elizabeth went walking with Mr. Darcy, she didn't think that he would renew his proposal to her."

    I'm not so sure - Mr Darcy arriving at Longbourn with Mr Bingley after their return to Netherfield but before the latter's proposal to Jane was a very powerful declaration of his intentions towards Elizabeth and Bingley's subsequent proposal was confirmation of them. All that remained was for Elizabeth to communicate her feelings back to Mr Darcy and Elizabeth persuaded Lady Catherine to be the messenger.

    As to who directed Lady Catherine to Longbourn, I think it was Charlotte who engineered it. She would have had reports of the above from her relatives and she was clear about helping marriages along. Something she would not do for Jane because she was not close enough, but which she would do for Elizabeth. As for her chosen messenger to Lady Catherine, that is obvious. When Elizabeth leaves the Hunsford Parsonage, Mr Collins expounds that "My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking", and I am inclined to believe it all Charlotte's.

    As for the actual proposal, I have seen comments elsewhere that suggest that some people do miss it - the subsequent discussion with Jane seems to surprise them.


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