Austen’s Best Awkward Family Moments

Austen’s Best Awkward Family Moments

No one does awkward family moments better than Jane Austen. Many of my favorite parts of her books center around that one strange relative. We all know how that goes, right?

Let’s take, for example, Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins, the creepy distant cousin, comes for a visit, during which he chooses to read from a book of sermons. Then, because his patroness recommended that he marry, he proposes to Elizabeth, but only because Jane was already taken. Yuck! Who wants to marry their cousin? (We’ll get to Mansfield Park later.)


That is not the end of awkward family moments for Elizabeth, however. Remember that handsome officer she liked? He ran off with her sister, and not just her younger sister, her youngest sister. Imagine how she must have felt when she saw him again, now that he was married to her little sister. Imagine, further, how she must have felt when he gave her a nice, brotherly kiss. Incidentally, it’s the only time a grown man kisses Elizabeth in the book. Bleck.


Now, let’s switch over to Emma. Can you imagine having a crush on your sister’s husband’s brother? Neither can I, but you’ve got to admit, it’d be awkward, especially if he were older than you, and couldn’t help correcting you when you misbehaved.


How about a little Sense and Sensibility family awkwardness? Your father dies, leaving the estate to your step-brother, who’s really quite nice. The only problem is that it’s his wife who really wears the pants in their household, and she doesn’t like you at all. Under no circumstances should you ever develop feelings for her brother.


Then there’s Persuasion. Most parents claim they don’t play favorites, but sometimes, when one sibling is so much more attractive than the other, it’s really hard not to. Also, how would it be to have your father dating Mrs. Clay? She looks like she could be your sister, only prettier.

Then there’s Northanger Abbey. There’s nothing worse than having people assume your father’s rich, at least not when that’s their only motivation for getting to know you.

Now onto Mansfield Park. How about crushing on your cousin? It’s seriously awkward, people! I know our dear Jane never understood just how awkward this would become in the future. Otherwise, I’m sure Edmund and Fanny would have become at least second cousins. That would be awkward enough.

While we’re on the subject, though, of modern morality and Jane Austen. What do you think of Emma‘s modern adaptation, Clueless, in which Cher ends up dating her step-brother? Is that okay, or just too weird?

Here’s another thing I find awkward. I love the Emma movie with Romola Garai and Michael Gambon, but my husband cannot stand to watch it because Emma is constantly flashing her father with her cleavage. Does that bug anyone else? Let me know in the comments. Also, let me know if you can think of any awkward family moments I’ve left out.





Awkward because of changing moral codes:

Edmund and Fanny



16 Responses to Austen’s Best Awkward Family Moments

  1. Sense and Sensibility– John is their half-brother, not a step brother. Marriage of cousins doesn’t bother me, neither does a 13 year difference in age bother me. It isn’t as though Knightley or Brandon marries the girl when she was 14..
    Real awkward moments are like Emma’s speaking unkindly to Miss Bates, Collins running after Darcy to introduce himself, and Nancy Steele blurting out things best left unsaid. Emma has more than her share of awkward moments such as the proposal from Elton in the carriage. Marianne has a painful aswell as awkward moment when she learns of Willoughby’s deceit. Catherine Moreland when she fantasizes about the death of Mrs. Tilney.
    The search for awkward moments or situations could be a game– and everyone’s list would be different.
    A fun post.

  2. I have always wished our modern days JAFF authors would NOT have the colonel marrying either Anne or Georgiana. I understand that when JA wrote it was legal and no one raised an eyebrow but today authors have a choice. And even if it is legal don’t people care about the chances of genetic defects? I have a friend whose grandchildren suffer from some genetic defect and it is not with first cousins – it is just that each parent carried the gene so when the two came together the chances multiplied. Thanks for sharing. The Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch) suffers from the Maple Syrup Urine Disease due to intermarrying.

  3. In going back to Adam and Eve, until mankind became established, marriages might have been closer than first cousins. Only until the Mosaic Law was there any law against close marriages or incest. That may have come about because of genetic problems developing over time because of intermarriages. As to ‘Clueless,’ a step-brother would not be a blood relative, hence no obvious genetic problems. However, I imagine most would not approve. Sometimes, the heart does what the heart wants to do: fall in love with the wrong person. Interesting, how Jane Austen used awkward family moments. I think of when Mrs. Bennet was blatant with her comments about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley to the embarrassment of Elizabeth and Jane. Thank you for the interesting post, Rebecca.

  4. Marrying cousins kept money and property in the family. Aristocracy and royalty did this a lot. It was also the cause of some inherited medical conditions being prevalent in some noted families. It would not have been taboo back then.

    • Thanks, Denise. That’s a good point. Elizabeth was under a lot of pressure to marry Mr. Collins because of this. The same was true of Sir William Elliot in Persuasion. In Mansfield Park, Fanny was the poor cousin, so there would have been no financial advantage to Edmund marrying her.

  5. Great observations Rebecca. There are many awkward family moments in P&P, my favorite is the family gathering at Rosings. And Collins is a class of his own.
    I’ve never noticed Emma’s cleavage, I’ll pay attention the next time I’ll watch it.

    • Thanks, Kate. The gathering at Rosings is a great example, isn’t it? It includes some family members, including cousins who’re pressured to marry. Plus, you have an employee and his wife. Elizabeth is the only one in the gathering over whom Lady Catherine has no power.

  6. I’ve always considered the presumed engagement between Anne and Darcy to be a fantastically awkward and brilliant plot device. It would be so even if they weren’t related though. Love the items you covered!

  7. It just shows how times change. Austen saw no issue with cousins marrying, and in one of her letters she mentions it with approval (in the context of a future baby being sure of inheriting the beautiful family eyes which presumably both parents had). Of course one of her brothers married their cousin too, so it just wasn’t viewed in the same way then.

      • There was a reason why the Church of England considered the marriage of first cousins to be OK. Step forward, Henry VIII. Up to his deciding to be his own Pope the Catholic Church required cousins of any degree, and anyone who had been married to a cousin of any degree to their future spouse, to get a papal dispensation before they married, which as most European royalty was related in some degree was usually forthcoming. Round about the time Henry was granting himself a divorce from Anne of Cleves he gave consideration as to whether his Church should continue this custom. Now it so happened that Catherine Howard was a first cousin to Anne Boleyn – Anne’s mother and Catherine’s father were brother and sister, though as she was one of the oldest and he one of the youngest of a huge family they wouldn’t have been close and it is doubtful if Anne and Catherine ever met – and Henry wanted no delay in his fifth marriage. So the Church of England’s forbidden degrees did not include cousins.

  8. Thank you for sharing this post. I found it very entertaining and so very true. I didn’t notice in the Emma movie with Romola Garai that Emma was always flashing her father with her cleavage. I definitely will need to give that movie another re-watch so I can pay attention to this.

    • Thank you for commenting! It was so funny writing this post and having to google, “Can you marry your second cousin?” I wasn’t quite sure about that one. I found out there are two or three states here in the US where first cousins are allowed to marry.

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