Crimes and Punishments in Austen’s Novels

Crimes and Punishments in Austen’s Novels

One of the elements I find very interesting in Jane Austen’s novels is her punishment and reward system.  We all know that she is a fan of sweet and happy endings and that the heroes and heroines in her stories are rewarded in the end with love and happiness. What is less certain, however, is her fairness in dealing with her villains.

Take Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park for instance. After their affair becomes known, Maria is the true sufferer. Her husband divorces her and she is banished from her family and sent away to live with an aunt. Mr. Crawford, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer much of a punishment.

Similarly, in Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe pays the price for her unsteady character when Captain Tilney plays with her affections and leaves her behind to face the disappointment, humiliation and gossip.

In Emma, Frank Churchill, despite his dishonesty and manipulations, is forgiven quite easily and rewarded with wealth and happiness in marriage with Jane Fairfax. John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility is another character who doesn’t suffer much for his deeds. It is true that he loses Marianne and has to live a loveless marriage, but I still do not think he gets what he truly deserves.

 

Finally, in Pride and Prejudice, after all of Wickham’s villainy, Darcy pays his debts and secures a new job for him. Some may argue that being married to Lydia is enough punishment. But I personally do not like the fact that none of the male villains get a proper punishment.

It seems to me that Austen is more severe on her female characters than the male ones. Or perhaps, in her subtle way, she criticizes how her society is more severe on females than males. What do you think?

Below is a short excerpt from my novel, To Love and Cherish, where Mr. Wickham is about to be punished for his deeds. I hope you will enjoy it.

 

 

 

Lord Paisley addressed his friend as soon as the Bingleys left the cottage. “Mr. Wickham here has been entertaining us with all sorts of explanations as to how he happens to be here with Miss Bingley.”

“I am sure he has,” Mr. Darcy said. “There seems to be no end to Mr. Wickham’s explanations and his mischief.”

“Darcy, I had nothing to do with Miss Bingley being here,” Mr. Wickham said hurriedly. “I swear to you—”

“Do not dare swear to me, Wickham,” Mr. Darcy roared as he walked toward the terrified man. “Your word is worthless.”

“Darcy!” Mr. Wickham stepped back until his back hit the wall. “I can explain. Come now. You must allow me a chance…for old times’ sake. For the sake of your father’s memory.”

Mr. Wickham regretted his words, for as soon as he uttered them, he was struck by the gentleman’s fist and found himself on the floor.

“You are to never,” Mr. Darcy bellowed as he stood over his body, “never, speak of my father again.”

Mr. Wickham could taste his own blood and had no doubt that he had loosened a tooth or two. But he did not dare open his eyes, and nothing could prevail upon him to get up as he was certain Mr. Darcy would deal him another blow. He stayed thus on the floor motionless for long enough for Mr. Audley to become concerned.

“I believe you killed him,” Mr. Audley said as he ran over to inspect Mr. Wickham, but upon seeing signs of life, breathed with relief.

Lord Paisley approved. “I am very impressed, Darcy. But perhaps you ought to wait with the horses while we bring this ordeal to an end. I fear you will kill the man with your bare hands.”

“He deserves nothing better,” Mr. Darcy said angrily.

“True. But you do not want the man’s blood on your hands now, do you? There are far better ways of punishing him.”

Mr. Darcy glared at Mr. Wickham, still lying motionless on the floor. Coward!

“Mr. Wickham owes me a considerable amount of money,” Mr. Darcy said to Mr. Audley. “I want him sent to debtors’ prison.”

“Matthew,” Lord Paisley said, “perhaps you and Darcy can discuss Mr. Wickham’s debts outside. I will keep an eye on him until you return.”

“Of course.” Mr. Audley nodded and walked toward the door.

“Be careful,” Mr. Darcy whispered to Lord Paisley as he followed Mr. Audley outside.

When the gentlemen left, Lord Paisley brought out his snuffbox from his pocket.

“You can get up now, Mr. Wickham,” he said with an amused smile. “Darcy is gone.”

Mr. Wickham struggled to sit up slowly, wiping the blood from his nose and mouth.

“He broke my nose,” he said angrily. “And my tooth.”

“You must consider yourself lucky,” Lord Paisley said calmly as he partook of some snuff. “He meant to break your neck.”

“He is out of control!” Mr. Wickham shook his head as he finally managed to stand.

“You can hardly blame the man,” Lord Paisley said as he leisurely replaced his snuffbox in his pocket. “After all, you were planning to kidnap his sister.”

Mr. Wickham had been dealt a great deal of surprise that day, but nothing compared to the shock of hearing those words from Lord Paisley’s lips. He gaped at the marquess, who returned his bewildered stare with utter amusement.

“Oh, come now, Mr. Wickham.” Lord Paisley chuckled. “Let us be honest, shall we? Allow me to tell you that you are in no position to lie to me.”

“And what is it that you think you can to do to me?” Mr. Wickham challenged resentfully, looking at His Lordship’s fine clothes. “You are nothing but a coxcomb. Do you mean to punish me by criticizing my clothes?”

“I would,” His Lordship replied, holding up his quizzing glass and scrutinizing the older man through it. “Alas! Your tastes in clothes are as poor as your character. Quite beyond repair. Not at all worth my attention.”

“So, what do mean to do with me?”

“Oh, I can be creative.” Lord Paisley sneered as he came to stand directly in front of him.  “I can make you disappear. I can have your body disposed of so no one can ever find you. I can have all traces of you wiped away. Your stay at the inn, the people you contacted, the places you were seen. I can pay everyone to deny ever having seen you in Dartfort. And I can do all of that without causing a single crease in my fine jacket.”

Mr. Wickham gulped at the cold expression in Lord Paisley’s eyes.

 

 

 

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16 Responses to Crimes and Punishments in Austen’s Novels

  1. I adore Lord Paisley; he is my favorite OC in all the Austen variations/continuations I have read (which is close to a thousand now). My second favorite is Matthew Stanton from Sophie Turner’s trilogy, and both of these favorite OCs married Georgiana Darcy. Matthew’s upright and steadfast character is wonderful and ever so admirable, but he lacks Lord Paisley’s sense of style and panache, combined with steadfastness. Paisley hides behind a dandy-like character, much like The Scarlet Pimpernel, but seems oddly directionless until he meets Georgiana Darcy. Then we see how the love of a good woman reveals the man beneath the perfectly-tailored clothing and seeming disdain for most people on the planet, definitely including Wickham!

    Thanks, Paisley, for this excerpt. Can’t get enough Lord Paisley!! I love your trilogy!! 😀

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

  2. I feel the same way as you. I feel in her subtle way, Ms Austen is showing how scandal/bad conducts seem to have more repercussions on females than males.

    There is only a few stories I have read when Mr FD responded violently to Mr GW.. a much-deserved punch. Thank you for the excerpt

  3. I think Jane Austen wrote what she knew, and in society during that time she wrote what would probably happen to her male characters in real life while her female characters were always happy. I think Jane Austen was ahead of her time and wrote the truth ??

  4. Love Lord Paisley and can’t wait to see what he does to George. I think Jane Austen was more severe on the female characters and not the male ones to reflect on society at that time.

  5. Love this excerpt. Lord Paisley could be a terror when he wanted to be. Unfortunately, most women probably did suffer for any infraction of society’s rules while the men were spared many times: if the women walked alone in town, if they laughed too loud, or were too intelligent, or (gasp) became pregnant out of wedlock, they would find themselves in deep doo-doo. In short, many women were not given the same respect as men. I would imagine it chafed Ms. Austen, but if she had railed against it, it could have caused problems for her family as well as herself. So, I think she did it quietly through her books. There are subtle little barbs lurking unsuspectingly in some of her writings. Perhaps in the dialogue of some of her characters. 🙂

    • I agree with you Gianna. I think even today women suffer harsher punishments (or at least more unfair judgment than men do). Society is always quick to judge and blame women and frown upon their behaviour, but men are easily forgiven.

  6. Oh yes! I’m loving this. I do enjoy it when Wickham gets his comeuppance? Loved Darcy punching him and especially loved Lord Paisley’s speech, I do hope he carries it out.
    It says he was with Caroline Bingley so another punishment would be to make him marry her! That way they would both suffer 🙂

  7. Great excerpt! Punishment in Jane’s books sometimes is different. I never thought but I guess sometimes the women do get harsher punishment than men. I think Mr. Wickham got his just desserts and that Mr Darcy enjoyed that punch!

  8. I do so love your character of Lord Paisley!!!! Thank you for bringing him to “life” and sharing him with us!!!

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