Brotherly Love?

In a recent blog, I wrote about the general but oft ignored belief that cousins should not marry. Cousin marriage was fashionable in Jane Austen’s time among the wealthy, but it also happened more than once in Jane’s immediate family. Her brother Henry (top, by headline) married their cousin Eliza, and the son of brother Frank married the daughter of brother Charles. Cousin marriage also occurs in “Mansfield Park,” when Fanny and Edmund are betrothed.

An even closer—and absolutely prohibited—degree of consanguinity is that of brother and sister. Sibling marriage being an incestuous taboo the world over, one would not expect such a thing ever to enter the environs of Austenia. Yet tradition brought it to Jane’s doorstep, for the law not only forbade marriage between blood siblings but also between brothers and sisters by marriage.

Therefore, the marriage of Jane’s brother Charles to Harriet Palmer after the death of his first wife was “voidable” because Harriet was Fanny’s sister. As explained in Martha Bailey’s article in “The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World” (Persuasions, Winter 2015), this sisterhood created a prohibition by “affinity” (marriage) as strong as one by blood. The logic was: Because Fanny and Harriet were related by blood, and because husband and wife became one flesh upon consummation, then Charles would also be related to Harriet by blood. This thinking applied equally for a woman who married the brother of her dead husband.

“Voidable” in Charles’ case did not necessarily mean “voided.” Someone—most likely a relative seeking to grab an inheritance—would have to sue to have the marriage voided and any children declared illegitimate. Charles never had enough money for anyone to bother trying to disinherit his four children by Harriet.

To resolve the ambiguity about people marrying the sibling of a deceased spouse, the 1835 Marriage Act validated all previous such marriages but voided any going forward. To evade this prohibition in still another Austen situation, Jane’s niece Louisa Knight went to Denmark in 1847 to marry Lord George Hill, who had been married to Louisa’s now deceased sister Cassandra. Such dodges continued until the affinity laws were removed in 1907.

This concept of “affinity” as a barrier to marriage brings us to the most difficult “brother and sister” pair in Austen, Mr. Knightley and Emma. Their “affinity” is not a technical one under the law but one created by proximity and time. In all but blood, Mr. Knightley functions as Emma’s older brother. He’s the good-natured scold who tries to keep a bright but undisciplined young woman on the straight and narrow and who also seeks to protect her in a fraternal way.

Modern courts have struggled with psychological affinities even when no biological issue exists. Adoptive parents have wanted to marry adoptive children, for instance. Did the love grow naturally as happens in any other relationship, or did the parent use a position of authority to groom the child inappropriately? Courts have looked at the amount of the disparity in age or the length of the relationship to try to determine the right course. Mr. Knightley is seventeen years older than Emma—and has known her since birth!

This is not to imply there is anything immoral in the Emma-Knightley relationship. Readers quickly recognize that they are the only two people worthy of the other and are intrigued at how they will surmount the barriers between them—primarily those Emma herself creates with her matchmaking exercises. This almost subliminal conflict is, however, one of many ways that Austen develops deep psychological issues in the courtship genre where other authors never reach beyond the superficial.

Their relationship begins to change as each (incorrectly) foresees the loss of the other—Emma to Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightley to Jane Fairfax. Feelings break through at the Westons’ ball.

The critical scene in the 1998 movie when Jeremy Northam, as Mr. Knightley, recognizes the shift from brother and sister to man and woman in “Emma”

First, Emma notices his physique: “so young as he looked! … His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men.” Then there is his gallant rescue of Harriet after Elton’s snub. “Never had [Emma] been more surprized, seldom more delighted, than at that instant.” Finally, there is their brief but serious tête-à-tête. The well-known and memorable exchange that follows ends up redefining their roles. Note that it is Emma who nudges the two forward.

“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley. She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”

“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.

“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

The sense of this scene turns on how the key phrases are handled. In the 1972 BBC series starring Doran Godwin and John Carson, the brother-sister comments are treated as so much banter. In the 1998 movie, Gwyneth Paltrow also tosses her line out merrily. What follows, however, makes all the difference. Jeremy Northam first responds with a laughing “Brother and sister! … ” Then, as she moves out of earshot, he adds meaningfully, “No, indeed.” He understands the tectonic shift that has occurred.

When the book opens, Emma, in addition to being handsome, clever, and rich, has lived “nearly” twenty-one years. In the months that pass covering the events of the novel, she comes of age. This is not likely to be a casual choice for Austen. Twenty-one is the age of consent. This is Austen’s signal that the heroine is no longer in the junior position but is fully capable of owning this momentous swing from younger sister to adult wife.

 

Austen Sweepstakes Offers Grand Prize of Trips to Bath

Trips to Bath, England, are the grand prizes of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Sweepstakes 2016, to coincide with the city’s annual Jane Austen Festival in September 2016.

The sweepstakes, which honors Jane Austen, her work, and the many readers around the world who have made her a literary icon, comes in the midst of a series of Austen anniversaries—the 200th anniversaries of the publication of her novels from 1811 to 1817, and of course the 240th anniversary of her birth last month. I wanted to mark these important dates, as well as the publication of my own trilogy, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, in a way that recognizes her literary importance and also gives back to her many readers around the world.

My goal in the trilogy is to examine life and love for an intelligent woman in 1805, and to recognize Austen by imagining how an author of her skills would have tackled topics that were forbidden to women writers in her times. Just as I treat her seriously as a person and an artist, this contest provides a serious and meaningful reward for the people who have turned her into one of the most respected and best-loved writers of all time.

Participants may enter The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen travel sweepstakes daily from January 4, 2016, through April 14, 2016, for a chance to win either of two grand prizes, depending on whether they reside in the U.S., Canada or Great Britain:

Grand Prize Trip for two adults from the U.S. or Canada to London and Bath, England. Grand prize includes round-trip air travel (economy class) for two adults to London, a one-night lodging in London, two round-trip train tickets to Bath, three-night lodging with daily breakfast in Bath, and specified local tours and activities.

Grand Prize Trip for two adults from Great Britain to Bath, England. Grand prize for residents of Great Britain includes round-trip train or airline travel (economy class) to Bath, depending on which mode of travel is more cost-efficient from the winner’s residence in Great Britain. Three-night lodging in Bath with daily breakfast, and specified local tours and activities.

No purchase is necessary for sweepstakes entry. People can enter daily, and those who use Twitter to tweet about it can receive extra entries for themselves.

In Bath, each Grand Prize winner and his/her travel companion will enjoy free two-day admittance to the Jane Austen Festival, which begins Friday, September 9; a three-night stay with daily breakfast at Three Abbey Green, a Four Star Gold Award guest house in the heart of central Bath; a tour of Bath and the surrounding countryside including Jane Austen’s house; the famous Bath Abbey, Roman Baths, the iconic Pulteney Bridge and Weir, Royal Crescent and King’s Castle among other sites; an exclusive tea with Hemingway, author of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen; and signed copies of his new novel.

As the one-time home of Austen, the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city of Bath and the surrounding county of Somerset are favorite destinations for Austen devotees from around the world. Bath, in the picturesque valley of the River Avon, is also the setting for several pivotal chapters in The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which critics have praised for the quality of the writing, its compelling love story, its sensitive treatment of the historical Austen, and its meticulous research.

Travel must take place September 7, 2016, to September 12, 2016, in conjunction with the Jane Austen Festival in Bath The U.S. or Canada Resident Grand Prize Winner and his/her travel companion must travel together on the same itinerary and must travel to/from London on the following dates: Wednesday, September 7, 2016, and Monday, September 12, 2016. Air travel will be via round-trip, economy class airfare for two adults to London from a major airport nearest to the U.S. or Canada Resident Grand Prize Winner’s home.

The Grand Prize trips do not include additional travel, meals, or other costs not specifically listed in the Description of Grand Prizes or any miscellaneous expenses, as explained in the Official Rules.

Throughout the sweepstakes, entrants may also win one of four monthly prizes, which will include signed copies of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen and an exclusive conversation via Skype about the novel with the author.

Residents of the U.S., Canada (excluding the province of Quebec) and Great Britain may enter the contest here. If you would like to “Like” the novel’s Facebook page, please do so here.

From High Tech to Jane Austen

Blame it on Dr. Eaves.

He’s the answer to the question, why would a 21st Century man, who has spent most of his career in computers, business, and aviation, explore the “what ifs” in the life of a literary woman from two hundred years earlier?

Dr. Duncan Eaves was my cherubic 18th Century literature instructor, who could joyfully recite long stretches of Pope’s heroic couplets or convince his students, by good humor alone, that it was worth the effort to finish Samuel Richardson’s tedious novel Pamela.

Dr. Eaves was a world expert in 18th Century literature, and Jane Austen was the bookend of his course. He and another wonderful instructor at my school, Dr. Ben Kimpel, wrote the definitive biography of Richardson, usually considered the first English novelist, and Dr. Eaves edited an edition of Pamela.

Dr. Eaves eschewed the usual Jane Austen reads, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, for Emma, which he considered much the superior work.

At this same time, in a class on modern poetry, I read a poem—by Anne Sexton or Maxine Kumin, I believe—that described what life would have been like for Romeo and Juliet had they not “escaped” with a romantic death: squalling babies, money hassles, etc. I had just gotten married and had a child, was struggling financially, and knew, even at 21, that courtship and marriage were radically different things.

The situation led to animated exchanges with Dr. Eaves about Austen. My view was that she was a brilliant but superficial writer—almost by definition—because courtship did not lend itself to investigation of the deepest feelings of the heart or the substance of life. Her books, I told Dr. Eaves, ended where they should have begun: with marriage.

Dr. Eaves told me to come back and read Austen every ten years or so. As I gained experience, he said, I would see more of life woven into the fabric of her work and less of the comedy of manners. Over time, his prediction came true. Austen pushed the bounds of convention, and likely her own sense of propriety, by addressing substantive issues obliquely—premarital sex and the slave trade, to mention two.

Even the delightful Emma, with its breezily misguided protagonist, manages to provide “perfect happiness” for a scandalous situation, which is the fact of Harriet’s illegitimacy. Interestingly enough, her being a “natural” daughter turns out not to be nearly as important as whether her father was a gentleman, as Emma supposes, or a tradesman, as turns out to be the case.

Novels in Austen’s day often addressed the question of a lady’s virtue before marriage but never seriously addressed other matters of consequence, before or after the wedding. Austen’s secondary characters are the ones involved in dubious—thus consequential—activities, and she often leaves open the question of future happiness for them. The main characters, however, skip off gaily into the future.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen is my solution to the questions that began decades ago at university. I wanted to bring the more serious issues of her day out of the background and into the light, as part of the protagonist’s own experiences.

I also wanted to see how a woman of Austen’s intelligence, passion, and independence would respond when she must directly address those issues. The answer was to throw the female lead into the exciting, chaotic maelstrom that was the Georgian-Regency era.