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<---More Recent 109. Frank Churchill's role in Emma 108. Psyche in Women Earlier Answers-->

Name:Melissa R. Green
Question 110 What is the role of religion in Pride and Prejudice and how does Austen handle the topic?
Reply Dear Melissa,

You will get a lot more out of this if you busy yourself with the nitty-gritty. I shall provide a few pointers. However, although I was a child of a Church of England Rectory and constantly in church, and also influenced by great 18th century christian writers like Samuel Johnson, who is everywhere in my work, religion is a muted presence here, except in the demeaning form of the stupid clergyman Mr Collins and his quest for benefices or church livings  and his boundlessly servile attitude to his patron Lady Catherine, who has church livings to bestow. To this extent I almost seem to be satirising religion, but my point is that religious folk should not be sycophants, or something of the sort. Mr Bennet has a good point, which again parodies religious preoccupations, when in his last letter to Mr Collins he points out that Mr Darcy, as a great landowner, has considerable influence in church matters and more to bestow than Lady Catherine, so although she is enraged by the by the prospect of his marriage to Lizzie, he might consider sticking to Darcy as a possible point of ecclesiastical 'leverage'. This suggests that religiosity has got mixed up with worldly matters.

One overt reference to religion concerns Lydia's elopement, as Elizabeth explains to Mr and Mrs Gardiner, her sensible aunt and uncle, on their agitated return home from Pemberley, that her younger sister has never been taught to think on serious subjects, a phrase indicating an interest in religion. But this is odd as of course they all attend church as a matter of course. However, Lydia is famous for not paying attention, so presumably she thinks of the officers even when in church. Implicitly related to religion is the strong ethical drive which catalogues people according to their motivation and disposition. Jane Bennet is a beautiful person, and Elizabeth points out to her friend Charlotte as she discourses on marriage in a rather calculating way that Jane 'is not acting by design' in being attracted to and letting herself attract Bingley. On the other side are people who are rather crassly self-interested and 'all out for what they can get', as Mrs Bennet puts it. Unfortunately she seems to fall into this category herself.

Unfortunately, religion is not separable from an interest in the moral states of the characters, often conveyed by adjectival pigeon-holing. It's easier to see or to say that in Pride and Prejudice everyone has their moral level, a perhaps ultimately religious idea, even if characters who pursue overtly religious emphases in their daily conversation like Mr Collins or Mary Bennet are also stigmatised as canting twits. A sort of religious theme emerges in the form of regeneration or the capacity of people to change (for the better), which applies to Kitty and Mrs Bennet in a minor way, as well as the male lead Darcy, according to his own confession to Elizabeth. Religion, then, is close to ethics and the way people treat each other in daily life. I did not repudiate religion, but incorporated it in an ambiguous, muted way which hardly precluded satire of the church itself. There does seem to be good and evil, however, although goodness seems to be a spontaneous quality, as in Jane and Elizabeth. Their attitudes to the Gardiners and their children, for example, is delightful, and the way they deal with their silly mother and clever but problematic father provides one model, Darcy's rescue of Lydia from ill-fame another. And the way in which Elizabeth is not swayed by thoughts of Darcy’s wealth and status (rejects him owing to her, as it happens, to a mistaken estimate of his moral qualities). Also Lydia and Wickham seem to be consigned to a sort of ethical hell, but some readers think they are treated in a rather cruel way. Of course some might also think the idea of hell was itself inseparable from cruelty.   

with best wishes.

Jane Austen. 

May 14, 2006 23:26:09 (GMT Time)

Name:J.L.S.B. Sirisena                     Top
Question 109 In "Emma" what palpable role does Frank Churchill play? What is his significance to the text and to Emma? Why is he important?
Reply Frank Churchill is not a bad character, but like Emma he is young and has his faults, which cause problems. He is the son of Mr Weston by a deceased wife who left Mr Weston in poor-ish circumstances, so Frank was given up to her family, the rich Churchills of Enscombe in Yorkshire, with a demanding step-mother. Like Emma, he has constantly to placate a rich parent; has grown up a little spoilt, goes around fashionable places like Weymouth (has never revisited his family home in Surrey, not so far from London, where he does go), and has entered into a secret engagement with Jane Fairfax, the talented and highly musical but penurious niece of Miss Bates, the daughter of the deceased local clergyman. This engagement causes her inconvenience and suffering, and Frank increases this with his secret gift of the piano.

He also gambles a little recklessly on deceiving people as to the secret arrangement by appearing to court Emma Woodhouse, a strategy which depends for its innocuousness on the assumption that Emma cannot possibly take these apparent overtures seriously, although she is a lively young woman. But his faults are the faults of youth. He also enters the plot as the rescuer of Harriet Smith from the gypsies, which causes Emma to make a match between Harriet and Frank based on the mistaken assumption that he has become a favourite of Harriet’s (Harriet refused to name the man, who was in fact the local landowner Mr Knightley, whom Emma finds she herself ‘loves’).    Please acknowledge the site if any of this helps. Thank you.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

May 10, 2006 22:05:06 (GMT Time)

Name:Minja                     Top
Question 108 I need to write a seminar paper on " The study of women psyche in Jane Austen", and I would ask you to give me some basic thesis which I could focus on, for "Pride and Prejudice" is all that I've read. Thank you in advance.
Reply Dear Minja

In Arts subjects at least problems are as interesting as solutions, or so they say. Of course my main aim was to produce novels and not to discourse about theories of various kinds. Still, I was obviously revolving various thoughts as well as plots. The psyche of women might suggest to me ideas about ladies as having mysterious properties and qualities and characteristics deriving from their roles or their bodies, and I was obviously sceptical about this. Like Mary Wollstonecraft I liked to think of women as being potentially rational creatures to be treated as such and distrusted notions, perhaps going back to Rousseau, heaven knows who, indeed, that ladies as 'elegant females' were to be treated in a particular way associated with their charming irrationalities, as Mr Collins does in Pride and Prejudice, and he is stupid (and, as his subsequent correspondence shows when the Bennet family gets in a mess, rather vicious).

Again, as an ironic writer in an Enlightenment tradition in many ways (remember I wrote novels as early as the 1790s), I was resistant to romanticising and idealising, and ladies were not immune to my reflections and satire: Mrs Allen in Northanger Abbey is boring and insipid to an amazing degree, and I specifically pointed out how surprising it was a sensible man should choose her as a life-partner, although her insipidity may be created by her lack of access to the worlds of discourse Mr Allen accesses, and so feminine 'underprivilege'; and Isabella Thorpe in the same novel is all gush, affectation and calculation: she uses the language of 'romanticism', but hardly sincerely. Of course I was interested in forms of womanhood: Elizabeth Bennet forms a sort of ideal--unintimidated, honest, right-thinking, independent, and it's notable that her idealism is heavily invested in the image of her sister, the delicate, trusting, undesigning Jane, unlike her friend Charlotte who has let her down by marrying a stupid man for money and security without even liking him.

My strong ethical interest entailed formally seeing men and women in the same light or frame, but an awareness of 'womanity' is perhaps intensified in the later work. In Emma, Emma and Mrs Weston are seen seeing the world through womanly eyes at one point; the gender division seems more definite; but note how Emma and Mr Knightley come to share a view of things. There is a presiding female consciousness (Emma's), but then that is partly emphasised as getting things wrong, thanks to her secluded existence and a touch of arrogance on her part.  And Mrs Elton in the same novel shows how women can be as it were as bad as men, partly in discourse about basically male claims to power and status they merely reflect (Mr Suckling's Maple Grove plays a large part in her discourse). 

In Persuasion a more womanly consciousness presides over the action (Anne's private world is one the reader alone is privy to, and her consciousness exceeds that of those around her, including men of rank and status); but this is because of her good sense of values and intelligence, not because she is a woman, or not just that; on the other hand the key point of the novel entails Anne's explaining how it is that women love longer and stronger than men (to Captain Harville in Bath).  However, Anne is partly the way she is as identifying with her sensible, intelligent but dead mother, not her weak and silly father, and idealised dead mothers are important in Emma and in Persuasion. It's difficult to isolate a female psyche as signs of femininity are often voluntary and artificial in my work--Fanny Dashwood nee Ferrars' contrived hysterics ('sensibility') in Sense and Sensibility, for example. But in Mansfield Park we see Fanny Price's silent view of things has immense 'authority', and this might be thought of as deriving from an intimate sense of things that even the sympathetic male like Edmund cannot share. However, one reason this is difficult to explore was implied at the outset, in that, as I wrote novels I produced women who were to be considered as being unlike or even antithetical to each other, not just to 'men'.  Sorry not to be able to be more helpful.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

May 2, 2006 22:35:22 (GMT Time)