Humans, in general, are wired to notice patterns. We search for them and try to make sense of them. Some of us are more prone to this behavior than others and this tendency takes many forms. It is the root of mathematics, music, art and language. We find them in nature and define them in science. Today I’m going to explore how the season of Spring was used by Austen in her novels.
This topic was inspired by reflections on Elizabeth Bennet’s visit to Kent in Pride and Prejudice. She went to visit Charlotte in March and enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding countryside as it came to life. Indeed, the plot point of her encountering Colonel Fitzwilliam while walking in Rosings Park was a bit of unpleasantness on an otherwise beautiful April day. This would be followed by Darcy’s disastrous proposal at Hunsford. I have often pondered the timing of this event. Did Austen use the juxtaposition of the traditional symbolism of Spring and Easter as a time of birth with the death of Darcy’s hopes? Perhaps she was thinking of the frequency of Spring rainstorms, as presented in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when Darcy’s design on Elizabeth would be washed away under the gloom of pouring rain.
Similarly, it was in the spring when Fanny Price, having been sent to join her family in Portsmouth was visited by Henry Crawford, there to renew his suit in spite of the rejection of his earlier proposal. Austen gives us a mental image of the day he paid his second call on Fanny in this passage:
“The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky…”
In contrast to the beauty of the day, Fanny suffers from the knowledge that Edmund is still pursuing Mary Crawford, stirring a degree of hopelessness in her heart where Edmund is concerned. She begins to warm just a bit to Henry. In this context, there is something akin to a “spring thaw” of Fanny’s opinion of Henry. Fortunately for her, his true colors are shown before she makes the mistake of accepting him.
Springtime for Emma Woodhouse found her pondering on expectations related to a perceived suitor, one Frank Churchill. Frank had been summoned away before he had formally declared himself and the space of two months of reflection taught her that she wasn’t really interested in him. Thoughts of his return made her uneasy.
She wished she might be able to keep him from an absolute declaration. That would be so very painful a conclusion of their present acquaintance! and yet, she could not help rather anticipating something decisive. She felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot, having refused Frederick Wentworth’s proposal had, in the course of eight years, faded in her looks. This fact was driven home by her sister, Mary, who said:
“Captain Wentworth is not very gallant by you, Anne, though he was so attentive to me. Henrietta asked him what he thought of you, when they went away, and he said, “You were so altered he should not have known you again.”
Mary had no feelings to make her respect her sister’s in a common way, but she was perfectly unsuspicious of being inflicting any peculiar wound.
“Altered beyond his knowledge!” Anne fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification. Doubtless it was so, and she could take no revenge, for he was not altered, or not for the worse. She had already acknowledged it to herself, and she could not think differently, let him think of her as he would. No: the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth.
So Austen gives her heroine the gift of a metaphorical spring.
“…happily, either Anne was improved in plumpness and looks, or Lady Russell fancied her so; and Anne, in receiving her compliments on the occasion, had the amusement of connecting them with the silent admiration of her cousin, and of hoping that she was to be blessed with a second spring of youth and beauty.”
It is late February when Captain Wentworth proposes to Anne again, so spring, that time of hope and renewal, lies ahead for the happy couple.
What do you take away from these examples of springtime romance in Austen novels? What of your own feelings toward spring?