If My Parents Told Me Who To Marry…

If My Parents Told Me Who To Marry…

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!

Sarah Price

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.

13 Responses to If My Parents Told Me Who To Marry…

  1. Have you seen Bride and Prejudice? The remarks about the divorce rate in marriages “for love” vs. the arranged marriages in Indian Culture make one pause. I am not for arranged marriages at all but I wonder if anyone has done a study of one vs the other? Why is there less divorce rate? Is it forbidden in that culture? Even in modern times? My father didn’t come to my wedding as I married outside of his religion. My uncle gave me away. 47 years this next month – not a perfect union but we muddle through.

  2. Loved this post. It made me smile! I think, as nmayer says, that Lady Russel was concerned that Anne could have been widowed with small children and no money (a considerable possibility for back then and Wentworth’s situation). My parents didn’t want me to marry my DH. They, I believe, would bot have approved of anyone, As a matter of fact, neither came to my wedding, so my father did not give me away. But their parents and all the rest came to my wedding with my aunt acting as my honorary mother and uncle gave me away. So, I did not give in, My father even tried to get his mother to convince me my DH had girls on the side….she passed that info on only because dad requested so (I wasn’t speaking to him). She never brought it up again and she paid for my wedding. My mother tried to convince me he would abuse me (never happened). This year will be our 28th wedding anniversary. I ended up back in my parents’ good graces when I had my son…the son they never had.

  3. I’m not a believer in arranged marriages — What modern person could be? — but have to say that watching my “adult” 22 year old son make a very bad choice in partner with no regard to his parents’ wisdom, gives me pause to consider the idea! Would I really want to find and secure his mate? No. However, having the ability to persuade him NOT to pick this one sure would be nice. *sigh

    As for Anne, I imagine her father did not see having her around forever a burden but rather a benefit because she managed just about everything while being too timid to cause him grief. She was the perfect submissive caretaker. Then again, as you said, Sir Walter probably didn’t think even that deeply. LOL!

  4. Very interesting post. My parents would never have approved of anyone for I think they wanted me to stay home and care for them. At least I know my mother did as she got quite angry when I moved out of the house for her long-time hairdresser was gone. Sigh. So glad I didn’t have an arranged marriage to worry about. 🙂

  5. Your post reminds me of a song that the parents sing in the old Broadway Musical The Fantasticks – “They did it ’cause we said no.” The philosophy was if you want your child to do something say the opposite because they never follow your advice. Of course in Austen’s time, women generally had little choice. Just think of Charlotte. Not everyone can fall in love with a Cpt. W or a Darcy. Interesting post. Jen red

  6. Great post! I wonder if Wentworth and Anne weren’t ready to marry at the time and needed that seasoning. What is strange is that the seasoning on Anne’s part was to disappear into the woodwork until the captain’s return.

  7. facepalm My parents arranging my marriage would have been a disaster. My father was a Pentecostal minister and I was (and remain) the wild and crazy black sheep daughter. Keeping in mind I’m not truly wild and crazy, just not as they wanted me to be. I cannot even imagine. It would have been short lived, that I know for sure LOL I never expected my family to like my husband because he refers to his Sunday religion as football and beer. Thankfully, by the time we got married, all parties were on board and they now call to talk to him and not me. O:-)

    As for Anne and Frederick…Anne always drives me nuts. Rather fond of Wentworth, but Anne’s “Persuasion” drives me crazy. I know that it went with the times and I know Lady Russell was trying to protect her (Sir Walter didn’t give a fig he was just thinking about whether Frederick would bring any notice to HIM), but love is more important than a lot of things and can get you through rough patches and wars so much more than money and position can. I guess it’s the obstinate, headstrong girl in me that always wants to shake Anne a little bit. Just a little bit.

    • Oh Stephanie!!!! Did you really write “facepalm”? I think you are my long lost sister!!!!! <3 I wanted to shake Anne at the beginning, but I wanted to shake Wentworth a bit toward the end. It seemed a bit vindictive when he was “courting” the Musgrove sisters…a little “in your face, Anne” move. The thing that I must remind myself is that this bewildering predicament was a product of the times. Today, it is hard for us to understand. We want to yell “Speak up for yourself, Anne! Stop taking fuss from Mary! Do something!” but that was not how women behaved in those days. Their options were…limited, to say the least.

    • It would certainly be interesting to see, though. My mother gave me an earful today after reading this…she NEVER would have selected such a bore for me (or so she says). Ironically, my husband supplies white horses for Indian weddings where they are, quite often, arranged marriages. Believe it or not, very low divorce rate. We debate this topic frequently…Maybe there IS some benefit to it…But I echo your sentiment, Caryl Kane!

  8. I think it was more that Frederick had no money when he wanted to marry Anne. There was the possibility of Anne being left a widow with small children and little income. Both of Jane Austen’s brothers married without much income . Their families lived on board ship. Sir Walter was a snob but I think Lady Russell wanted more financial security for Anne . While my husband was acceptable to my parents, I wasn’t acceptable to his mother and her sisters.
    One reason Almacks gained such popularity and authority was that it was a place where one could count on all the parties being acceptable partis. Men and women generally found their spouses in family and neighborhood gatherings, friends of brothers and sisters, and such ordinary ways.. One met others at balls and such in Town. By the regency , parents usually were trying to make sure that boys didn’t run off with actresses and the girls didn’t fall for a footman or the music master.

    • Can you imagine such a thing? Running off with the music master??? The gossip! Your post made me laugh because it is so true. Does any parent ever think someone is good enough for their precious offspring? Of course, there are those rare occasions where a parent might actually take pity on the person dating their own child… 😉

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