Let’s face it…There is something to be said for “arranged” marriages, especially in high society. Parents can ensure that their daughters (or sons, for that matter) are marrying someone who is acceptable by their social and financial standards. After all, young women in love are not always the brightest lightbulbs in the pack when it comes to moving beyond the pitter-pat of a beating heart and thinking about the future. And I speak from experience. If I had defied my parents for my first “true” love, I’d be married to a circus performer and working a dog act while living in a small trailer and traveling from town to town to town… Hmm…given my love of animals and travel, maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad!
Who am I kidding? I’d be miserable and certainly not writing this blog post!
While I cannot attest to my selection of suitors at such an early age (or even in my 20s…I was fortunate enough to upgrade to a better model after divorcing my failed first selection), I know for a fact that I would NEVER have survived if my parents selected my spouse. I imagine a Poindexter type of fellow who spends his free time golfing, bores people at social events by name dropping all the important people he knows, and resents the fact that I not only have a brain and an opinion, but I’m not afraid to use the former and share the latter! EGADS! I can’t even imagine who would have been tortured more: my “spouse” for being a stick in the mud or my parents for having selected him for me. It certainly would not have ended well, trust me on that one.
In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne denied her true love, Frederick because her father found the young man of inferior social standing and certainly not a son-in-law that would bring any sort of benefit to the family. Lady Russell echoed this sentiment. No one seemed to think of Anne feelings toward this man. What do feelings matter if the marriage is not something to gossip about on the ton?[That was sarcasm, just in case you are unaware…]
While no one likes a Monday morning quarterback, I find this social prejudice quite disturbing, especially given Walter’s financial situation at the beginning of the novel. There is also irony in the fact that his commitment to vanity, spending money to buy things that impress others, is the very characteristic that was his undoing!
Oh, how everyone’s life might have changed if Anne had married Frederick!
Perhaps Mary would not have felt so inferior by being Charles Musgrove’s second choice in a bride. Perhaps with more marital confidence, Mary might have been a little less self-absorbed and lot more maternal.
Elizabeth might have found a proper suitor and married, too. After all, without an audience, why would she feel that constant need to prove that, just because she was older, she was superior to Anne? Instead, she would have grown bored to tears of listening to her father prattle on about this, that, and the other thing—all focusing on him and how prestigious he was compared to other people!
And finally, with all three daughters married, Walter Elliot would have had more disposable income to waste and three homes—those of his married daughters—to encroach upon, living a lovely life at no expense to him! Why, he could have told and retold the same stories of his personal grandeur and social status to three captive audiences (and by captive, I do mean captive!) as well as anyone he met while staying with them.
Instead, Walter condemned Frederick’s interest in his daughter, Anne, before he even got to know the young man. To Walter, it was better that Anne remain a spinster (and a financial burden to him!) than to marry a man who was, in his words, an unconnected common nobody. Or, perhaps it was that Walter “found so little to admire in her” that he felt letting her marry anyone was to merely pass along the burden—although I doubt such a vain man would have a thought as deep as this.
When both Walter and Lady Russell shared their feelings with Anne, their lack of support for such a union, young Anne had little recourse:
Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Anne could combat. Young and gentle as she was, it might yet have been possible to withstand her father’s ill-will, though unsoftened by one kind word or look on the part of her sister; but Lady Russell, whom she had always loved and relied on, could not, with such steadiness of opinion, and such tenderness of manner, be continually advising her in vain.*
The two people who Anne counted on for advise and guidance applied enough pressure to persuade her that Frederick Wentworth was not the man for her and, despite Anne’s feeling for him, she denied his application for marriage.
The result is years of unhappiness for both parties.
Fortunately in Anne’s case, she is given a second chance. Thankfully, for once, Walter’s lack of attention to her future had not resulted in an arranged marriage with someone of a more suitable social status. Ironically, by the time Frederick reemerges, Sir Walter has basically become financially strained and living a much more common life, the very reasons he denied Frederick in the first place. It’s a good thing that Frederick is so forgiving (or, merely, so in love with Anne) that he shelves his own prejudices and reunites with his beloved Anne.
There is something to be said for parental influence on the people who enter (and sometimes leave) the lives of their children. In the long run, however, it is up to the individual to make up his or her own mind. No marriage is perfect: not one that is arranged nor one that is based on emotions. In our society, I strongly believe that it is up to the individual to make up their own mind regarding who is a proper suitor. While mistakes are bound to be made, at least they are our own mistakes and leave little room for resentment of the interference and persuasive power of other’s opinions.
*Austen, Jane (2012-05-16). Persuasion (p. 18). Kindle Edition.