P&P200: Elizabeth Reflects on Questionable Marital Advice
(In her own words…)
Months ago, Charlotte gave me the advantage of her wedded wisdom – painfully acquired, I fear – in the expectation that it would one day be of material benefit to me. I still remember what she told me then, and I have not withheld her penetrating insights from my dear sister Jane.
Amused, I responded with, “Dear Charlotte, you cannot possibly divine some fresh argument every night!”
“It is true that occasionally my resources fail me. I find, however, that being married to Mr. Collins is usually sufficient cause to put me in a very disagreeable humour by the end of the day.”
This I could well believe. But such a philosophy will never do for me. I passionately long to spend more time, not less, with Mr. Darcy. And I secretly hope to find that the marriage bed is something mutually satisfying, not something to be avoided. Although Jane is too modest to speak of it, I suspect she feels the same. Perhaps, then, we should heed Lydia’s candid opinion on the subject, as expressed in a recent letter addressed to us both:
“Oh, what a surprise you will each have on your wedding night!” she began. “I laugh to think of it. I daresay you will faint dead away, Jane, when your husband first approaches you. But Lizzy, I expect you to have a little more backbone. And you know there really is nothing to fear. Furthermore, I do not see why it should be only men who are allowed to admit taking pleasure in the physical act of love. In truth, it is often the only thing my dear Wickham and I can agree upon. So I find that, along with its other benefits, the conjugal act provides a very useful way of settling arguments.”
“A puzzling case, indeed. One friend says we are to use a quarrel to avoid the marriage bed, and another says the opposite – that we are instead to settle all our differences there.”
“’Tis not sound, this advice!”
“I am quite of your opinion, Jane. If I love my husband, I must believe that his company will always – or at least almost always – be desirable. And temporary distraction is no way to settle disputes. No, we must hope to find more competent counsel elsewhere.”
But where is this sage advice to come from? From our mother? Earlier today she dropped a hint that she wishes to have “a serious-minded discussion” with her two eldest daughters after dinner. She said this with a significant look that conveyed considerable embarrassment, leaving little doubt in my mind as to the intended topic of conversation. And alas, the time is now at hand.
“Lizzy, Jane, come with me,” says Mama.
We rise and dutifully follow her from the dining room, leaving Papa and our two younger sisters behind. Papa gives me a pitying look, but I see that he is really amused.
Once in the sitting room, Mama closes the door. “We will not be disturbed here,” says she with a wink. “Let us get comfortable by the fire, and then we can begin our little… our little chat. The wedding is almost here, girls, and it is my duty as your mother to prepare you in some measure for what comes afterward. You cannot, either one of you, have much idea of what goes on between a husband and wife behind closed doors, I suppose.”
Jane and I look to each other for help, but neither one of us attempts an answer.
“Goodness!” continues Mama in some exasperation. “I never imagined this would be so very difficult. But it must be done, so I will speak as plainly as I can. You must surely know that there is a certain duty every wife owes to her marriage by way of procreation. If you are lucky, your husband may be patient and allow you a day or two to get used to the idea first. Sooner or later, however, he will insist on coming to your bed and having his way. I am afraid there is no avoiding it, my dears! You simply must each make up your mind to be brave about it.”
Mama lets that somber tiding take its effect before continuing. “You have a right to know the truth, but I will give you a word of encouragement as well. Unpleasant as the business may seem in the beginning, it is part of the natural order of things and one tends to get used to it. Some women actually learn to enjoy it in time… or so I am told.” Now it is Mama’s turn to blush.
So what am I to conclude from the testimony of these three witnesses? I find little of their information to credit and even less to emulate. I believe I must take none of their advice too much to heart. Instead I resolve to keep an open mind. I trust Mr. Darcy and I will make our own way. And perhaps my own investigations into this matter will come to a much more gratifying conclusion. I fervently hope that shall be the case.