Spring Romance in Austen Novels

Spring Romance in Austen Novels

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.

Elizabeth Bennet on a spring day in Rosings Park. Pride and Prejudice (1995 adaptation)

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.

Emma Woodhouse writing about not loving Frank Churchill in her diary. Emma (1996 adaptation)

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.”

Anne Elliot pondering on her appearance. Persuasion (1995 adaptation)

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?




19 Responses to Spring Romance in Austen Novels

  1. So many times in reading JAFF stories I think of the weather as Elizabeth is so often going out to walk and so many movies and photos show the dresses with scooped out necklines and the upper chests bare – I can’t help but feel cold. I must have that part covered in any but summer weather. We lived in Texas while my husband was stationed at Ft. Hood and had roses outside our door at Christmas. It was not Christmas for me as I grew up and live in Pennsylvania and love the change of season. Although for several years it seems we have skipped much of Spring and gone into Summer. My favorite is “sweater-weather”. Give me 50 or 60 degrees outside and I love it. With Spring and so many allergies in our family it is not an enjoyable time but I do love the greening of the trees and the bulbs which push up and bloom, i.e., tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, lily of the valley, etc. If Elizabeth had visited Charlotte in Winter just thinks how the couple could not have met on walks, the Colonel would not have had a chance to tell of Darcy’s service to his friend and visits between Rosings and the parsonage would probably not have been as frequent, due to bad weather…snow, ice, wind, freezing rain, etc. I am sure Lady Catherine would not have been offering her carriage for both to and from Rosings to Collins and his party. Hot weather may also have been a deterrent to wanting to walk out except in the earliest hours or at dusk. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is fascinating and shows an expert writer, such as Austen, can create a story that imbues depth through the use of seasons and cycles. All good observations in comments, as well. Thank you!

  3. amazing article. I had not thought about these before! And a nice reference to the 2005 film’s rain scene (which to me always means a kind of “Brontification” of Austen).

    • Brontefication – now that’s a loaded word! Now that you set me to thinking about it, it does seem to apply to several scenes in the 2005 adaptation. The scene where Lady Catherine comes breaking down the door in the middle of the night, the candlelight giving an eerie illumination to their faces is a candidate for the designation, as is the scene at the end where Darcy is walking through the mist across the meadow (exchanged for the moor) in the pre-dawn hours. Brontefication indeed. Thanks for commenting!

    • I like to wonder how much Austen was influenced by the fact that many upper class engagements in this era did occur in the spring, largely due to the social events and expectations of the London Season and it’s associated “Marriage Mart.” In some of these scenes, I even get the feeling that she is sort of having a bit of fun with this aspect of the culture, considering Lizzy’s smackdown of Darcy and Emma’s falling “out of love” with Frank Churchill (if she was ever in it.) I have always thought of spring as the perfect time for falling in love (cue Seven Brides for Seven Brothers “Spring, Spring, Spring” followed by Guinevere in Camelot singing “The Lusty Month of May.” 🙂

  4. It would be interesting to know if Jane Austen used references to the season consciously or unconsciously. She was such a gifted writer, I think we can guess it was on purpose. In general, her details seem to be deliberate, as she didn’t include many.

    As for me, I’m afraid spring is only my third favorite season, although it’s a very nice season and I do see its charms. Autumn is my favorite. One thing I very much like is the changing of seasons. I lived for several years in northern California. While it’s beautiful there, time of year seemed hardly to matter. I like feeling the pace of life. I prefer to be reminded time is passing so I don’t take it for granted. I grew up in Upstate New York. I like winter and the looming presence of it, encouraging you to appreciate days that aren’t winter and giving an expediency to getting things done. Plus, seasons are the perfect combination of enjoying constant change while knowing that, beneath it all, some things are always the same.

    • If I were to guess the season that is your favorite, it would have to be Summer, since you are practically a walking advertisement for it. 😉 Autumn is my second favorite season, although when I was a kid, Summer took first place because we had no school, went camping and hiking, went swimming frequently, and had picnics at least once a week.

      I do love living in a place that has distinct seasons – for all the reasons you named. Thanks for commenting, Summer.

  5. To me Spring means a lot of work in the garden. It’s nice to see it arrive after the Winter but to be honest we don’t really get seasons in Ireland anymore. The weather is so changeable. Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the colors in the countryside. The leaves on the trees are a gorgeous color and everything looks ‘contented’ if you know what I mean.
    Nice comparisons in your post.

    • Ireland is on my bucket list of places to visit – I may have to amend it to Autumn in Ireland. 🙂 I’ll be searching for pictures of Ireland in the Autumn now, to decide. Thanks for the insider’s tip, and for commenting.

  6. I love spring, Diana. It’s my favorite time of the year. Everything budding forth, spring flowers blooming and warmer weather to welcome are just some of the reasons why. “Darcy Chooses’ is set in the spring rather than the autumn. Winter is my least favorite, but I have learned to like autumn. Knowing Jane Austen, everything in her books is there for a reason including the seasons. I find it interesting that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starts out in the autumn with winter bringing on hard feelings toward Darcy and hurt feelings for Jane. Spring brings Darcy’s comeuppance, but summer brings happiness. Everything came full circle. She was a sly, crafty lady. 🙂

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