I knew that I enjoyed telling the Jane Austen classics in the Amish setting for a reason that was deeper than loving the Regency period and having a lifelong passion for the Amish religion and culture. Now I know why: the two cultures are very similar, indeed! It’s not that far of a stretch. I realize that even more after attending the JASNA AGM in Louisville, Kentucky. In fact, in many ways, the Amish could be considered a not-too-distant cousin of that era.
Now before you tell me that I’m off-my-sedan, consider the following, if you please.
The Amish culture places a high value on living close to the earth and away from worldliness. Therefore, the farmers who own land are at the top of the socio-hierarchy among the communities. As families grow, often with anywhere from eight to twelve children, the parents want to ensure that their children stay with the Amish church (and, by extension, community as you cannot have one without the other).
Unfortunately, there is only so much land to go around.
Unlike the Regency period, the firstborn male (and even the second born male) do not inherit the farm. Quite often, they learn a trade and leave farming—especially in congested areas like Lancaster, Pennsylvania where farm land is rapidly disappearing. The reason for this backward inheritance is that the parents are most likely still raising young children. If their eldest inherited the farm with his new bride and, undoubtedly, soon-to-be born child, the parents and their remaining children would be displaced.
Daughters are always a concern for the Amish. Ideally, their daughters will marry landowners (i.e. farmers) as it ensures that the next generation will grow up removed from the world of the Englische. Until they are sixteen, Amish girls are kept very isolated from social activities. Once they turn sixteen, they may go out with other youths but only in the company of mixed sexes. To be caught alone with a man would create speculation and damage reputations, not just for her but her family.
After having attending the Regency Ball at the JASNA AGM, I was struck with how similar the balls were to the Amish form of socialization: youth singings. Adults attend them, too, to chaperone. But it is in this safe environment that young men and young women can meet each other and, perhaps, enjoy a cup of lemonade or iced tea. As the young men become interested in a young women, rather than “calling” upon her, he will ask her to ride home in his buggy. Having just purchased my own Amish buggy, I can assure everyone that buggies are small enough so that nothing inappropriate can happen (snicker).
Church leaders are also at the top and, similar to the Regency period where parsons are chosen by landowners, Amish church leaders are chosen by lot—in both cases, there is little say by the individual as to who shall become part of their religious governance.
Finally, while the husband and wife are “equal” in the partnership, it is seen as a business transaction. Love does not have much to do with the agreement to marry—although that may be changing as the younger Amish are more impacted by technology and, therefore, exposure to modern romance via the Internet. Indeed, courtship is a time to find a woman that shares your values while being compatible.
Divorce is unheard of among the Amish with very few documented cases and most of them because one party decided to leave the faith, thus abandoning their spouse to lifetime of becoming a widow despite no one having died.
I’m sure that I will be revisiting this subject, especially now that I am retelling Mansfield Park and the story of Fanny Price, my own dear long-lost cousin, it seems! In the meantime, I invite you to read one of my other books (First Impressions, The Matchmaker, and Second Chances) to let me know what you think of the introduction of Jane Austen’s timeless classics into an Amish setting.
Blessings, Sarah Price