Happy New Year! I’m starting a new theme for blog posts both here and on my own blog for 2017. Each month will have a new theme and posts on Thursdays. For January, I will be examining Jane Bennet and Jane Fairfax.
There are a number of contrasts and comparisons to be made between the two ladies, but for this post, I will be focusing on their inconsiderate lovers. Fans of Charles Bingley and Frank Churchill might need to hold on to their hats.
I’ve long held the opinion that Jane Austen essentially wrote variations of her own work. What is Elizabeth Bennet but a slightly more rational Marianne Dashwood? In Jane Bennet, we see Elinor Dashwood not only in reserve, serene demeanor, and temperate minds but in the situation of their absentee suitors. Anne Elliot is a Jane Bennet who must deal with a heartache from a different situation. Likewise, Jane Fairfax is the eldest Miss Bennet put in different circumstances.
Both Janes had a courtship lasting only weeks and were in a situation where it is hard to know one’s true character. As Frank Churchill says at Box Hill:
“They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky!— for as to any real knowledge of a person’s disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give— it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment.”
While Jane Fairfax immediately replies that happiness is a person’s own choosing. Only those with weak characters will be unhappy their whole life. I know right now you’re thinking that Jane Bennet had the benefit of meeting Mr. Bingley in her hometown. They had interactions at her home as well as his. She was even in his home morning, noon, and night for nearly a week! However, those interactions were hardly a picture into Jane’s usual demeanor and life. Don’t forget that her mother was constantly meddling and making the most of the situation.
When Frank had said the above about attachments, he was rethinking his secret engagement to Jane. Reason, at last, caught up with him, that it was imprudent to attach himself to a lady when he had no freedom to marry and may not for many years. Instead of blaming himself, as he ought to have done, he lashes out at everyone else, including Jane!
Likewise, Bingley seems in danger of attaching himself imprudently off a very brief courtship. Darcy steps in and suggests that Jane Bennet may not feel the same. Now, I know Darcy always gets a bad rap because of this, but I would point out two things. The first being if Bingley really knew Jane as well as you should know a spouse before marriage, then he should have had no worries on that account. The second being if he could be talked out of it then he clearly did not know himself enough to marry either. Like Frank, when Bingley returns, at last, to his Jane, another person bears all the blame.
Another similarity in the two Janes is the way they bear their heartache in the face of their suitor’s inconstancy.
When Jane Fairfax agreed to a secret engagement, one can hardly think that it would include frequently being in his company. A long distance and secret love affair might be a hard burden to bear but infinitely worse must be keeping it a secret when the object of your affections is constantly in your company. Even worse, Frank does not just pretend to be unengaged he pretends to be quite attached to Emma Woodhouse. It’s possible his goal was simply to give gossips another direction to think about, but he did incite feelings in Emma and never seemed to have a care for if she would feel heartbroken at the end of it. Likewise, he never seems to concern himself with Jane’s feelings as another lady is the recipient of his public regard. Additionally, Jane was expected to wait and put her life on hold. Could she take a position as governess knowing she would drop everything to marry him as soon as he was free?
Charles Bingley might be excused more for his leaving Hertfordshire without a second glance as he had been convinced by Darcy that Jane Bennet did not love him, but there was still a want of feeling in it. At the very least, Jane’s expectations might have been raised — as most marriages were not built on love matches. He knew, undoubtedly, of the gossip of the match. He left without wondering how the world would treat Jane in her failed “conquest.” It may not seem like much to us, but that is one of Elizabeth’s chief arguments against Bingley and Darcy. Jane, who was so reserved, became a laughing stock and the subject of scorn and pity. Mere weeks into their acquaintance, one of Jane’s oldest friends, Charlotte Lucas, was suggesting Jane did not behave correctly. And it was as much a concern to Jane a year later when Bingley finally returned.
A small disclaimer before I close. While I think both gentlemen were unfeeling at times, I do not mean to say they are without good merits or that their situations were not understandable. Frank, of course, justifies it all as needing to keep the matter unknown. Bingley did not know Jane’s true feelings. While I think the actions of both ladies compounded the gentlemen’s behavior, surely another similarity between the ladies is their forgiving nature.
So, I leave it to you, dear readers. Who do you think was more unfeeling, Frank or Bingley?