Jane on Marriage - An Exclusive Extract from "Be More Jane" by Sophie Andrews

Are you more Marianne than Elinor, Lydia rather than Lizzy? Be More Jane will teach you to address life with more sense and less prejudice, taking useful lessons from the novels and letters of Jane Austen. Times may change, but many of our problems remain the same. Sophie Andrews, a young Janeite, knows from personal experience that in times of trouble, or just on matters of friendship, family and love, answers are to be found in the pages of Miss Austen’s novels! In this brilliant extract from "Be More Jane", Sophie channels her inner Lydia Bennet while examining marriage in Jane Austen's time! If you're like to read more, you can pick up a copy signed by Sophie Andrews by clicking here!
 

Jane on Marriage

“A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked.” Emma

Wise words from the financially independent Miss Woodhouse, but unfortunately, this was often the most sensible course of action in Jane Austen’s time. Love in marriage, though desirable, was a luxury. For many women, denied the opportunity to work or to inherit property, marriage was essential to gain financial security or better their social status. Upper class women might have to accept a proposal from a man they barely knew and had never had a private conversation with, other than perhaps during a dance or two! Arranged marriages and marriages of convenience are still commonplace in some cultures today, but many of us are lucky enough to have the freedom to choose whom we marry, and to expect that love will come first. When considering Jane Austen’s six main novels, all but one of her heroines face the need to find a husband as soon as they can, in order to secure their own future and sometimes that of their relations too. Poor Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is mocked for excessive eagerness and lack of subtlety in her matchmaking, but the urgency to marry off her five daughters is more forgivable when you consider her constant fear of losing the family home to their cousin Mr Collins, Mr Bennet’s entailed heir. Austen also shows the unfortunate results of rushing into marriage. Mr and Mrs Bennet are two very different personalities and we are told that Mr Bennet, “captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had, very early in their marriage, put an end to all real affection for her.” Lydia’s eventual marriage to Wickham, under duress, seems doomed to follow the same path. In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram tumbles into a regrettable marriage with Mr Rushworth which ends in misery and scandal (and proves to be not “worth the rush” after all). Louisa Hurst, Mr Bingley’s sister, also appears to be in a loveless marriage, relying heavily on the companionship of her sister, Caroline. Charlotte Lucas may seem shockingly pragmatic to readers today, as she does to Lizzy, when she says, “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” but within the social restraints of the time she was right. Gaining financial security and not becoming an old maid, and thereby a burden on your parents or brothers, had to be the top priority. If you then grew to love your partner, that was a bonus. Holding out for love was a risk, as Jane Austen herself discovered. She turned down a marriage proposal and remained unmarried until she died. Perhaps that is to our benefit, as it is likely that she would not have been able to write her wonderful novels if she were a wife and mother and running a home!  

LEARN FROM JANE’S CHARACTERS

  • Be grateful if you are free to choose whether to marry or not.
  • Marry in haste, repent at leisure.
  • If you have made an unfortunate match, try to be in a different room to your spouse as much of the time as possible!
 

THE PERFECT WAY TO CATCH A HUSBAND! — ACCORDING TO MISS LYDIA BENNET

Now that I am Mrs George Wickham, I am the happy wife of a handsome redcoat, no less! Moreover, as I am the first of five sisters to marry, even though I am the youngest, I clearly know the best ways of securing a husband. I am sure you will want to know how I did it. So I will share my ideas with you, then perhaps you too will have some of my good fortune!
  • First, you must make sure you are noticed at every social occasion. Be noisy and lively and extrovert, and by all means, flirt most daringly at every opportunity! For if you are not coquettish, to indicate your obvious interest to young men, then how will you make one propose to you? While any handsome young gentleman of means would be acceptable, I suppose, I do believe (as does my dear mother) that to attract a smart officer in uniform is infinitely preferable. I have discovered that soldiers are all in need of pretty companions and are receptive to flirtatious behavior. I find they are so much more amusing than other gentlemen too, and always up for larks and frivolity and dancing. (Oh la! How I do laugh when I recall the time when we dressed up one of the officers to pass as a woman—what a good joke it was!) Oh yes, and I can reveal another good trick of mine to draw an officer’s attention: steal something of theirs—even their sword!—and make them chase after you to get it back!
  • Dance every dance! When you attend a ball, be sure to fill your card. It is boring to sit out for even a single dance. You must catch as many different partners as you can. (I have tried to explain this to my sister Mary, but she is such a dull creature and prefers her books and piano-playing to dancing and flirting. I do not think she shall ever marry!) If you are attending a private soirée or other such gathering, even if dancing is not supposed to happen, be sure to initiate a few sets. You must never pass up any opportunity! There is likely to be someone present who can play a jig on the pianoforte—it is so much more entertaining and enjoyable than listening to some boring old concerto or other.
  • If, as I did, you have the prodigious good fortune to have a militia stationed in your locality, you must visit town just as often as you can find an excuse! If your papa does not approve, you must invent some good reason, like needing new ribbons for a ball or trimmings for a bonnet. The more you meet the officers, the more they will take a fancy to you. And here’s yet another splendid plan of mine: visit their camp early in the day, and perhaps you will come upon them before they are dressed! What a shock they would get and how you would all laugh!
  • Elope if necessary.
  • Brighton is the best place to get a husband. I was invited to summer with the officers in Brighton. (Just imagine my delight: a summer spent with a whole campful of soldiers! Not to mention the sea-bathing! La!) It was there that I procured my charming husband, Mr Wickham, so it must be the best place to go for husbands and all the better if you can catch a redcoat!
  • Elope if necessary. If this is the opportunity that is presented to you, then take it! I find it safer to do exactly as your man wishes, for if you run away together, it means he intends to wed you, even if it does not take place immediately. Wickham and I had a stay in London before we married—it was so exciting! Some people may think elopement a scandal, but I never experienced any such thing, so I do not know what they mean.
Just think what a pleasant surprise it will be to all your family, if you are unattached when you leave them and then write to them as a married lady! How they will laugh with joy, and how jealous your sisters will be! I hope my own success and my advice above will encourage you to go and catch yourself a husband just as soon as may be, and hopefully even a redcoat, like mine. Though you will not find one as fine as my dear Mr Wickham, for there is none as perfect and as handsome as my darling husband!  
Extract from Be More Jane by Sophie Andrews, published by CICO Books (£7.99) Illustrations by Jane Odiwe Purchase a copy of the book, signed by Sophie Andrews, by clicking here.

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