Those Women !



A lot has been said and written about Mr Darcy and Mr Thornton, as no other character has been able to make vibrate the hearts of so many readers, all I dare say, to such an extent like them.These two men have often been considered quite alike, and not without reasons, in fact, I have to say that more than once, Elizabeth Gaskell seems to wink at Austen’s masterpiece in North and South. However, if we have motives to say that the two male protagonists follow quite the same pattern in the narration, the same cannot be affirmed for their wives-to-be, as they feel and act differently. Once overcome the question of prejudices according to the different settings and situations of the novels, Margaret and Elizabeth will eventually marry their chosen partners, of course, but only when we analyze closely those matches, we do understand how different the nature of the two heroines is.

I have already dealt with Miss Bennet in other posts, but I want to reiterate my interpretation having here the chance to make a comparison between characters.
Let’s start. Why does Elizabeth marry Darcy? For love? Maybe. For money? To be sure. Of course you’ll be turning up your nose at this point howling sacrilege and you would feel like reminding me the touching, explanatory letter that Darcy writes to Lizzy after he had been rejected, as the seed from which the flower of their love will grow and blossom and you would be right, but it is a seed and a very small one if compared to the sight of Pemberley. While visiting the grand house of the man she had so proudly refused, Miss Bennet is all of a sudden haunted by a thought, a fastidious fly that buzzes in her head :”I could have been mistress of all this“. That buzz does not seem to be willing to leave her. In fact, from that moment on, that hateful, disdainful, haughty, proud Mr Darcy will magically appear to her under a different, benign light and Miss Bennet will consent to be more yielding and ready to flirt. Would you call it love? Sort of.Β  But please, don’t get me wrong, I have the highest regard and even envy for those who manage to marry so well, I just wanted to remark that marrying Darcy with his 10.000 a year and half of Derbyshire, Elizabeth improves her station a lot and love must have found its way eventually, I am sure. The path was smooth after all.

When Margaret reunites to Mr Thornton, the latter is no longer a catch, he has lost everything (but his scowl) . Besides, Margaret in the meanwhile has become rich and has inherited Mr Thorton’s mill and house too, thus making him her insolvent tenant. This downfall reminds me of Jane Eyre’s pattern. Thornton like Mr Rochester must face the humiliation of defeat and loss. WhenΒ  Margaret and Jane come to their rescue, they will do it as independent women, as even Charlotte Bronte endows her heroine with a fortune, a family and connections as well. They embody somehow a new prototype of woman, a modern character who is allowed to choose freely rather than hope to be chosen to secure status or reputation.Of course, in times when still the only way a woman could achieve a dignified and safe place in society was through marriage, an inheritance was that stroke of luck that loosed her laces and set her free. Free to marry even a man even in reduced cinrumstances like Mr Thorton that, at the time being, will have nothing to offer her but his deepest love and……..his mother’s resentment.


26 thoughts on “Those Women !

  1. You did convince me before of Lizzie’s mixed motives, so I no longer howl with protest. Anyway, still have good intentions to continue exploring “those women” in 19C literature, so thanks for chipping away at this theme, Stefy!

    • I’m afraid this post was a sort of spoiler if you still mean to read North and South. I could not resist comparing the two ladies’ attitudes. Miss Ann will be the next very soon. πŸ™‹

      • No problem, Stefy — a well written novel quite often draws you along even if you’re aware of the plot outline. And sometimes the cover blurb suggests the likely outcome even while not being explicit!

  2. I know that Elizabeth Bennett does not have to marry a man with Β£10,000 a year and such a palatial home, but Jane Austen is always aware of the potentially perilous future that awaits young women in her day, if they do not attract a suitable match. And Lizzy is one of five! So I suppose that if she is disposed to fall in love with someone, then Darcy is a lucky catch who happens along at the right time. What interests me too, is that Austen speaks up for the desirability of love as part of the equation, at a time when that was by no means always the case… see Charlotte Lucas as an example.

  3. I’ve not read the books but am familiar enough to handily make stupid comments.

    It’s my impression Darcy’s money is not the result of his fruitful work, but rather consists of “old money,” meaning inherited. That makes for another interesting observation . . . inherited wealth β€” not personally earned β€” results in one character (Darcy) getting that which he covets while allowing another character (Margaret) the freedom to choose.

    Another interesting thing is that the love the heroines enjoyed was also unearned (to my harsh eyes). In that respect, they are heroines by virtue of being main characters in the books, and not so much for their personal traits.

    Side note: that a depressing thought on its own; you don’t get to fulfill your desires/dreams through hard work and perseverance, but rather by the luck of one’s birth into an existing fortune. Also, you can be selfish and insensitive to the needs and pain of others, but it all works out for you in the end. It’s no wonder the American narrative (flawed as it is) of reward through hard work is attractive to so many.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when it came to romance novels the goals, the prize, would be just the relationship without the trappings of physical beauty and wealth? It seems a lot of romance narrative is often intertwined with a step up in either social or economic status and indeed disparity in either physical attractiveness or economic status (or both) often is central to the romance theme. Then again, who wants to read “and they lived in poverty and ever after endured financial struggles as a result of their singularly unattractive appearance.”

    • Oh, but there is such book: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. They are both unattractive, he loses most of his belongins in a fire and she actually inherits a fortune , but it is small and she shares it with the other members of her family.

    • ugh! . . . that’s what I said; who’d want to read that?!

      As a writer β€” and wannabe published writer β€” I’m interested in what people “want” from books while, at the same time, I have my own ideas as to what it should be. There’s very little I write that doesn’t incorporate some aspect of romance in the plot, but it’s rarely the focus.

      I wrote one post on “Romance” asking for feedback on a sample of three short stories and got positive feedback on the way I write romance/relationships, but my readership is small (although varied).

      Ultimately, everything is subjective to one’s own experiences and aspirations and fantasies/desires but there too we have the influence of both classic and trashy examples of the genre. I can’t say whether that’s good or bad.

  4. I agree with you about the difference of behavior of the two heroines. Certainly Elizabeth does not marry Mr. Darcy just for love, but I like thinking it is not like that… unfortunately I am an incurable romantic. For what concerns Margaret, I believe she completely embodies the values of modern women… we can say that she is quite emancipated for that time. Surely her marriage with Mr. Thorthon is the consequence of love, in fact she chooses him despite he has lost everything.

  5. I agree with you about the different point of view of marriage between Margaret and Miss Bunnet. I think that it’s an unhappy fact that women had to marry somebody just to ensure their reputation. It’s so strange because now,fortunately, we are independent and marriage is always for love. Margaret represented a modern woman that believes in love and who wants to create a personal asset. I admire her courage to be different.

  6. Perhaps Miss Austen endowed her heroine with more than one reason. A character is entitled, you know. Or maybe we will never know the real reason. Could it be that the reason Jane’s characters live on is that the author created characters that allow us to see ourselves in them.

  7. I love Margaret for the way she’s able to save Mr Thorton’s life. She is a woman who acts, she decides, she’s brave. She’s the protagonist and she changes her life. I think that this is the way we should behave, we shouldn’t let men be the protagonists of our lives.. πŸ™‚

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