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Jane Austen’s Proposals

Michele Larrow, Regional Co-Coordinator

In Letter 6 of Love and Freindship, a teenage Jane Austen writes a short proposal scene between Edward and Laura, who have just met:

. . . ‘and now, my Adorable Laura (continued he, taking my Hand) when may I hope to receive that reward of all the painfull sufferings I have undergone during the course of my Attachment to you, to which I have ever aspired? Oh! when will you reward me with Yourself?’

‘This instant, Dear and Amiable Edward.’ (replied I.). We were immediately united by my Father, who tho’ he had never taken orders had been bred to the Church.”

Love and Freindship, 1790 p. 109

This might be the only example Jane Austen wrote of a proposal scene with the dialogue of both the hero and the heroine portrayed.  Jane Austen’s novels have many marriage proposals, but when it comes to the proposal between the hero and the heroine at the end of story, the reader is not privy to the complete dialogue.

Sarah Franz (2002) argues that rather than demonstrating the love of the couple, the real business of the proposal scene is to show that the hero is “worthy of the heroine’s love because he is aware of and acting upon his capacity to change for the better” (169).  In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s short second proposal to Elizabeth and the couple’s later discussion about pride and impact of the first proposal prove that he has changed and now fully appreciates Elizabeth (169-173).  In Persuasion, Wentworth’s letter is an “indirect, because written, but serious declaration of love” and he and Anne have discussions where he admits to his mistakes about how he treated Louisa and his awareness that his feelings prevented an earlier reconciliation (174).  Although Franz sees Mr. Knightley as generally morally correct, “his love for Emma is exactly the moral realization that he has to make during the course of the novel” and then be able to correct his unfair evaluation of Frank Churchill’s character, which she sees as Mr. Knightley’s main moral flaw (180-2). I think that Mr. Knightley’s moral change involves recognizing that he has sought to direct Emma’s behavior, that she is her own moral agent, and that he needs to treat her with sympathetic understanding and kindness (Larrow).  Mr. Knightley is shown pouring forth his love for Emma in the proposal scene to demonstrate how much he has changed.

If we use Franz’s focus on the hero’s moral growth rather than love in the proposal, it might be easier to understand why we don’t have much representation of the final proposal scene in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.  In both Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility, the hero’s moral growth is shown in his ability to stand-up to his tyrannical parent to marry a woman each man feels honor-bound to.  In Mansfield Park, Edmund has always been kind and appreciative of Fanny and his moral growth centers around realizing his misperceptions of the Crawfords.  Although we don’t see the proposal in these novels, we do see the hero and heroine discuss the change the hero made to act morally.

Our region will be discussing the proposals in the novels at two events:  1. Spokane In-Person Discussion Saturday, February 4, 2023 2. Virtual Meeting Sunday, February 19, 2023.  Full details and registration forms are on our events page https://jasnaewanid.org/events/.  We have some discussion questions below to get you ready for the meetings.

WORKS CITED

Austen, Jane. Juvenilia. Ed. Peter Sabor. Cambridge: CUP, 2006.

Frantz, Sarah S. G. “‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more’: Direct Dialogue and Education in the Proposal Scenes.” The Talk in Jane Austen. Eds. Bruce Stovel and Lynn Weinlos Gregg. Edmonton: U. of Alberta Press, 2002. 167-182.

Larrow, Michele. ““Could He Even Have Seen into Her Heart”: Mr. Knightley’s Development of Sympathy.” Persuasions On-Line 37.1 (2016). https://jasna.org/publications-2/persuasions-online/vol37no1/larrow/

Discussion Questions

In Pride and Prejudice, do you see any parallels between Mr. Collins’s proposal to Elizabeth and Darcy’s first proposal?  Does Elizabeth make similar claims for herself in each proposal?  Do you think after the second proposal Darcy is shown as changed to the degree he needed to change? 

In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford’s proposal to Fanny is fragmentary, reflecting her confusion about what is going on.  Could Henry ever have won Fanny?  How would he have to change?  Although we don’t get Edmund’s proposal to Fanny, has he changed enough for them to be happy?

In Emma, Mr. Knightley’s proposal to Emma shows both his language and some non-verbal aspects and behaviors that show his emotion.  How does that contrast with Emma’s prior interpretation of Mr. Elton’s proposal?  We know Emma has realized her love for Mr. Knightley, so do we need to hear her say it to him?

Are you a fan of Captain Wentworth’s letter in Persuasion?  Do you think there is anything missing from the letter?  There are hints from Austen that Captain Wentworth and Anne know each other better and are better people when they get engaged the second time.  What are your thoughts?

In Sense and Sensibility, the narrator tells us of Elinor’s strong emotion on hearing that Edward is not married to Lucy and then doesn’t show the proposal scene.  Does that choice make sense?  Do you feel disappointed that Colonel Brandon and Marianne wait two years to marry and there is no proposal scene? 

In Northanger Abbey, what are your thoughts about John Thorpe’s awkward semi-proposal and Catherine’s response to it?  Are you disappointed that we don’t hear Henry Tilney say he loves Catherine?

Do you have a favorite proposal scene from one of the movie/tv adaptations of the novels?

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