A compendium of Austen characters, relatives, friends and neighbors highlight Hazel Jones’ look into the subject of Jane Austen & Marriage. As the book proceeds through the steps of acquaintance, engagement, marriage, and even separation, Jones fleshes out the interaction between man and woman in nineteenth-century Britain. Illustrative excerpts from the novels and primary research sources provide a well-rounded, informative basis for her walk up the garden path and down the aisle.
Examining, chapter by chapter, components of relationships, the book begins with “Choice.” We learn that both sexes could, in fact, choose to opt out of the game. Concerns over continual childbearing and the risk of death, some women made the choice to remain single. Due in part to the shortage of men on the homefront (thanks to the Napoleonic Wars), others found the choice made for them. Men in a position to marry, on the other hand, sometimes thought about their incomes and the demands a growing family would make upon it before contemplating marriage. Therefore, the idea of choice concerns much more than the selection of a life-partner.
Jones’ next chapter brings up the point of how “the question” might actually be popped: in person, via letter, via an intermediary. Sadly, she finds little — in conduct literature or letters — to indicate the “traditional” down on bended knee type of proposal. Few readers will have delved into letters and diaries from this period; the timid suitors who chose the letter/intermediary route might therefore come as a pleasant surprise.
Discussions of conduct books point up the idea that such items existed because no one conducted themselves as they “ought” to have done. By looking at the paramount examples valued by these conduct books and juxtaposing them with the reality of relationships recorded in letters, diaries, and biographies, readers realize just how much Austen’s novels were signs of their times.
Two minor points that the writer and/or editor should have attended to are the spellings of Longbourne and Lizzie in place of the standard Longbourn and Lizzy. The fault may lie with Jones’ use of the Penguin edition of Austen novels.
Jane Austen & Marriage may supply few totally new revelations, but as a compendium of love, courtship, and marriage in Austen’s era (as well as family), Jones has provided a particularly useful book. Readers will welcome the author’s friendly style of writing as well as her insight into women like Lydia Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Marianne Dashwood. Highly recommended.
Four full inkwells.
(for more on this book, see Two Teens in the Time of Austen, my research blog)