Jane Austen’s take on male entitlement


For a few months I was completely immersed in Jane Austen for professional reasons, and it got me thinking yet again how relatable her novels still are to us, hundreds of years later.  Jane was far from being a radical feminist, all her heroines took on the role of wives and mothers with an appropriate man, (and not that there’s anything inherently anti-feminist about being a wife and mother, so don’t @ me), but she scathingly criticized a lot of issues we think we’re first bringing attention to today (incidentally, the fact that Jane Austen’s heroines always met with prosperous love is what makes the adaptation of Sandition so problematic, but that’s another post).     

We still meet men in contemporary society that feel entitled to a woman’s admiration and refuse to take “no” for an answer.  It strikes me in how many of Jane Austen’s stories deal with people’s flat out refusal to accept a woman’s rejection of a man as reasonable and genuine.  Here are some examples:

-Elizabeth Bennett rejects Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is of the opinion that she cannot possibly be sincere in her rejection, why would a woman in Elizabeth’s position in society reject a man of Mr. Collins’s prospects, especially when it meant being able to retain her family home?

-Elizabeth also rejects Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, which completely stuns Mr. Darcy, as despite his speaking of his doubt and anxiety during his proposal,  he can’t fathom the idea that he would be rejected by any woman that he deigned to show favor to, and had believed that Elizabeth had been desiring and expecting his proposal.

-Emma rejects Mr. Elton, Mr. Elton is completely flabbergasted at the notion that a woman would reject him. He was convinced that Emma was encouraging his advances.  Mr. Elton is especially ridiculous perhaps, because Emma is an independently wealthy woman and Mr. Elton’s “love” for her, was really because he wanted to enrich himself through her.   In the same novel, Harriet Smith rejects Robert Martin’s first proposal.  While her rejection is largely due to Emma’s ill-judged meddling and Harriet being easily swayed by Emma’s opinion (Harriet being a person of relatively low social standing and Emma higher than both Harriet and Mr. Martin),  Mr. Knightly is confounded and furious when he hears Harriet has rejected his friend and tenant. What can Harriet, an illegitimate child with no fortune and no particular talents be thinking? How dare she reject a respectable man?

-Anne Elliot, under pressure from an aristocratic family friend who has been a mother to her following her actual mother’s death, breaks off an engagement to a man she truly does love, the soon to be Captain Wentworth, because their future is so uncertain.  The anger and resentment she is met with from him is more justified here,  but Jane still critiques the degree and length of resentment Captain Wentworth retains, and Anne’s position is treated very sympathetically.  When Wentworth’s fortunes improve so that marriage for them would have been possible, he could have written Anne to propose again, and Anne would have accepted wholeheartedly, but he stays away out of angry pride. 

-Though it never comes to a proposal and rejection,  there is a great deal of well-meaning pressure from well-meaning friends to fix up Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon, despite Marianne’s complete lack of interest in him.  Ultimately these two do end up together and happy, even with a small amount of familial pressure on Marianne, but the overbearing, well-meaning attempts of Mrs. Jennings initially do much more harm than good.   

-Fanny Price is proposed to by Henry Crawford, and absolutely no one in the family can conceive it possible for her to really refuse to marry him.  Henry proposes completely confident in being accepted.  Fanny initially believes he is proposing in jest, having seen his behavior towards her cousins earlier in the year.   When she is told by her uncle (whom Henry asked for consent, because you know, a girl is her family’s property and they need to give permission), that Henry really wants to marry her, she still refuses.  She is met with disbelief and anger by her uncle, who calls her perverse, selfish and ungrateful.   Fanny is a poor relation dependent on her wealthy uncle and aunt’s goodwill, she has no fortune or accomplishments, it is her duty to accept when a wealthy man of good character (so her uncle thinks) asks for her hand in marriage.  Her entire immediate family, her brothers and sisters, could benefit from her marriage to such a man (Henry Crawford has a sizable estate in the north of England and connections in British Navy that have already proved very helpful to one of her brothers).  Because she doesn’t want to incriminate her cousins, Fanny doesn’t say why she disapproves of Henry Crawford, but insists she cannot marry him because she cannot love him.  Her friends, family, Mr. Crawford, even her cousin and best friend, Edmund, are convinced that in time,  Fanny will come around and accept Mr. Crawford because “how could she not?!”.

Jane Austen herself once felt obligated to accept a wealthy family friend, but broke off the engagement the next day, because as much as her novels don’t advocate young lovers eloping and riding off into the sunset together with no thought to their families or future financial stability, Jane Austen believed that marriage must be founded on love.  Her novels also all defend the idea that women deserve to be trusted to make their own decisions about their lives and what is likely to make them most happy.

Reposted from https://lies.tumblr.com/post/190867933383.

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