“Consequences of Lust”

PrideLydiaWickham

 

“CONSEQUENCES OF LUST”

All of Jane Austen’s completed novels were first published during the Regency decade between 1810 and 1819, leaving present-day fans to celebrate the 200th anniversaries of each novel during this decade (2010-2019). Among those novels are “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, which celebrated its bicentennial anniversary last year and “MANSFIELD PARK”, which is now celebrating its bicentennial. 

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” told the story of five daughters of an English landowner named Mr. Bennet, whose wife is desperate to find husbands for them all. The novel was written from the viewpoint of Mr. Bennet’s second daughter, Elizabeth; and she becomes engaged in a stormy relationship with a very wealthy landowner named Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth and her sisters face a major social setback when the youngest sibling, Lydia Bennet, foolishly runs off with a militia officer named George Wickham during a visit to Brighton. Wickham turns out to be the son of the Darcy family’s late estate steward.

Published in a year after “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”“MANSFIELD PARK” told the story of a young English girl named Fanny Price, who is sent to live with her wealthy relations at an estate called Mansfield Park. During her first ten years with the Bertram family, Fanny falls in love with her kind cousin, Edmund. Not long after her eighteenth birthday, the Bertram family become acquainted with a brother-and-sister pair named Henry and Mary Crawford. Edmund ends up falling in love with Mary, while Henry flirts with Edmund’s two sisters – Maria and Julia. Eventually, Henry falls for Fanny. But due to her love for Edmund, she rejects his offers of marriage. And Henry responds by running off with one of Fanny’s cousins – namely the newly married Maria Bertram Rushworth – with devastating consequences.

The Lydia Bennet/George Wickham relationship and the Maria Bertram Rushworth/Henry Crawford relationship shared many similiarities. Both featured feelings of lust between the romantic pairs. However in Maria’s case, I suspect she may have felt some love for Henry. The so-called “elopements” in both novels threatened to drag the families concerned into scandal. And the men in both relationships possessed reputations for skillful seduction and a penchant for mindless flirtations. But there are differences.

Lydia Bennet was an unmarried girl of sixteen years old. Maria Bertram Rushworth was a married young woman in her early twenties during her disasterous affair with Henry Crawford. Two, George Wickham possessed an inability for genuine love and a mercenary’s heart for money. Henry Crawford, despite his flaws, displayed a capability for genuine love; and possessed enough money to not even care about marrying an heiress. Thanks to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s own feelings for Elizabeth Bennet; he searched for the missing Lydia and Wickham, paid off the latter’s debts and arranged for the pair’s wedding and Wickham’s commission into another regiment. The Bennet family expressed relief over Lydia’s marriage and Elizabeth expressed gratitude toward Mr. Darcy for solving their family problem.

Matters turned out differently over the Maria Rushworth/Henry Crawford affair. Determined to save the reputations of her family and the Bertrams, Mary Crawford suggested a similar vein of action to the Bertram family. She suggested that her brother Henry marry Maria, following the latter’s divorce from Mr. Rushworth. Mary’s plans never had a chance, due to Henry’s refusal to marry Maria. Even worse, Edmund Bertram expressed outrage over Mary’s plans and broke their engagement before marrying Fanny. And Sir Thomas punished Maria by forcing her to live in seclusion with her Aunt Norris.

I must admit that I found Austen’s different methods in dealing with the fates of Lydia and Maria rather mind boggling. Did she ever realize that she had contradicted herself when she gave Maria Rushworth a harsher fate than Lydia Wickham? Mind you, Lydia’s fate did not strike me as a bed of roses. She found herself married to a man who was a wastrel that did not love her. But as Austen hinted in the conclusion of “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, Lydia and Wickham always had Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to help them out of a financial jam. For some reason, Austen decided that Maria would face an uglier fate – banishment from Mansfield Park and her family and forced to live in seclusion with Aunt Norris. Austen also decided to punish Mary for suggestion the same thing that Mr. Darcy carried out in “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”.

Why? Why did Austen give a harsher fate for not only Maria Rushworth, but also Mary Crawford? Did she feel regret for not being harsh enough with Lydia? And what about Mr. Darcy? Why did he receive the gratitude for something that Mary Crawford was punished for suggesting? Because he was the protagonist’s love interest? Did Austen expect her readers to change their views of Mr. Darcy’s intervention, when she allowed Mary to not only fail in “MANSFIELD PARK” and be punished in the process? Or did Austen have another message in mind? Is it possible that Maria and Mary’s cruel fates were some kind of an indictment against the Bertram family’s claim of moral righteousness? Personally, I have no idea.

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