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Anne De Bourgh and Anne Elliot: Depression In Jane Austen’s Fiction

Anne De Bourgh and Anne Elliot: Depression In Jane Austen’s Fiction

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any reader who opens the pages of Jane Austen’s novels will find characters with traits that we, as modern readers are still able to relate to after 200 years. This not only applies to the main protagonists of the novels, but also to their parents.

Any reader familiar with Austen’s writing will note that the parental figures with her novels are often flawed. Perhaps it is because the majority of her heroines are between the ages of 17 and 21, when we are figuring out who we are as individuals, separate from the identities cultivated within our families.

The genesis of my theory comes from two separate breakout sessions from the 2013 JASNA Minneapolis AGM. The first session,  concentrated on how Jane Austen’s relationship with her father influenced the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet  and her father, Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The second session inquired as to what was the cause of the ill health of Anne De Bourgh, also from Pride and Prejudice.

The best of these parents are Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Mrs. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. Despite their own personal failings, both have tried to raise their daughters as best they could.  The worst of these parent are Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion and Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice. Austen seems to have cut both characters from the same cloth.

The focus of my thesis is of the mistreatment of Anne Elliott and Anne DeBourgh by their respective parents and how that mistreatment leads to depression.

The symptoms of depression include: *Low or irritable mood most of the time, a loss of pleasure in usual activities, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, a big change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss, Tiredness and lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt, difficulty concentrating, slow or fast movements, lack of activity and avoiding usual activities, feeling hopeless or helpless and repeated thoughts of death or suicide.

Both Sir Walter Elliot and Lady Catherine DeBourgh are of aristocratic backgrounds, single parents, overconfident and outspoken, almost to the point of bullying everyone around them. While their daughters were provided with the material comforts of life, they were not provided with self esteem and self respect. Self esteem and self respect, I believe are as important, if not more important than material comforts.

In Volume 1, Chapter 1, Austen describes Sir Walter as the following:

*“His good looks and his rank had one fair claim on his attachment; since to them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to any thing deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence afterwards.–She had humoured, or softened, or concealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability for seventeen years; and though not the very happiest being in the world herself, had found enough in her duties, her friends, and her children, to attach her to life, and make it no matter of indifference to her when she was called on to quit them.–Three girls, the two eldest sixteen and fourteen, was an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath; an awful charge rather, to confide to the authority and guidance of a conceited, silly father.”

Within the first chapter of the novel, Austen uses only two words to describe Sir Walter’s opinion of his middle daughter “only Anne”.  These words set the stage for the person who Anne is when we meet at the beginning of the novel. Her mother is dead and her father clearly prefers his eldest daughter.

Sir Walter places little value in his younger daughters, Anne and Mary. Anne’s only support comes from her mother’s close friend, Lady Russell, who despite her good intentions sees the world from the same point of view as Sir Walter.

In her book, The Glass Slipper: Women And Love Stories, Susan Ostrov Weisser tells us the following about Lady Russell “In Persuasion, the heroine, Anne Elliott, must choose between her desire for her lover and a tradition order of moral rules that govern a woman’s life, including respect for and obedience to authority, represented by Lady Russell”. In short, Anne is a good girl and follows the rules that have been taught since childhood. By following these rules, she is going against her own desires and needs. She is clearly suffering from low self esteem and guilt, having learned that is easier to submit to other needs and desires than to speak up for herself.

Anne seems to be very much her mother’s child, based on the little bit of information we have of the late Lady Elliott. Loosing a parent at any age is difficult. But to loose a parent at a tender age and left with a father who chooses not to emotionally engage himself in his daughter’s lives sets the stage for an unhappy adolescence and an unhappy adulthood.

Lady Russell may have been the one who convinced Anne to break her engagement with Captain Wenworth, but I believe it Sir Walter who Anne is trying to please by breaking her engagement. Depressed and not yet confident in her own decision making, Anne gives up the man that she loves to please a father who will never be pleased.

In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her daughter, Anne is often spoken by Mr. Collins, but we do not meet them until Volume II, Chapter 6.

Lady Catherine is described as

*“A tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone as marked her self-importance, and brought Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth’s mind; and from the observation of the day altogether, she believed Lady Catherine to be exactly what he had represented.”

Anne De Bourgh is described as:

*“She could almost have joined in Maria’s astonishment at her being so thin, and so small. There was neither in figure nor face any likeness between the ladies. Miss De Bourgh was pale and sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little, except in a low voice to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there was nothing remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening to what she said, and placing a screen in the proper direction before her eyes.”

We know that Lady Catherine is the daughter of an Earl; her sister was the late mother of the novel’s leading man, Fitzwilliam Darcy. She is a widow, her husband, Sir Lewis De Bourgh, has been dead for an unknown number of years. Austen does not provide her readers with any details about Sir Lewis or his relationship with his wife and daughter.

Based upon what little information we have about Sir Lewis, I believe there are one of two theories about Sir Lewis and his relationship with his daughter. The first is that he learned early in his marriage to acquiesce to his wife’s demands. His daughter also learned at an early age that it was simply easier to let her mother get her way, rather than speak up for her own needs.

The second theory is that Sir Lewis was his daughter’s companion and protector. When he died, his daughter lost the emotional support she did not receive from her mother. In her novel Mr. Darcy’s Diary, Amanda Grange illustrates this possibility

Poor Caesar. I had forgotten about Anne’s exploits. She was much more lively as a child, when her health was good” I remarked.

“And when she has Sir Lewis to defend her”.

Sir Lewis had always been fond of Anne, and she in turn had been fond of her father. It had been a sad blow to her when she died.”

Anne De Bourgh, like Anne Eliott suffers from depression. Her symptoms include loss of pleasure in usual activities and a big change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss. Her appearance, in addition to her silence in the novel, to me, are indicative of a woman that learned long ago that it was better to be silent rather than arouse her mother’s temper.

Jane Austen was a writer ahead of her time. She was also an observer of her fellow human beings, noting both their strengths and their weaknesses. Of the two Anne’s, only Anne Eliott is able to break from her depression, build up her confidence and trust herself to make her own decisions. Anne De Bourgh, we are told at the end of Pride and Prejudice remains as she is when we meet her at Rosings half way through the book.

Could it be coincidence that she named two of her characters, Anne, both who suffer from depression and live with parents who are unable to provide their daughters with the necessary emotional support? Or has Austen discovered that the secret to raising children who will become successful adults is to teach their children self respect and self esteem?

*-Medline Plus-http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003213.htm

*-Italics notes text from the novel and supporting information. All text from the original novels are from www.austen.com

* Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Amanda Grange

*-The Glass Slipper: Women And Love Stories, by Susan Ostrov Weisser.

 

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In Defense Of Fanny Price and Edward Ferrars

It is a truth universally acknowledged certain characters with the universe that is the fiction of Jane Austen are more popular than others. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy will always be the alpha female and alpha male of the Jane Austen Universe. That means with every world that contains the alpha male and alpha female, there inevitably be those characters who are least liked and always a subject for vigorous debate.

Two of these characters are Fanny Price, of Mansfield Park and Edward Ferrars, Of Sense And Sensibility.  Both, I believe are under appreciated. If I may, I would like to explain why each of these characters deserve more respect than they get.

Fanny Price

The first paragraph of Mansfield Park introduces the reader to the Miss Wards. The eldest, Miss Maria Ward, married Sir Thomas Betram and upon marriage, became a baronet’s wife. The second Miss Ward, married Rev. Mr. Morris, a friend of her brother-in-law. The youngest Miss Ward, Miss Frances broke from her family and married a Lieutenant from the Marines.  This man was everything her brother in law was not; he was without education, wealth or connections. From this union, our heroine, Fanny Price is born. At the age of ten, she is taken from her family to Mansfield Park, where her wealthy Aunt and Uncle live.

Fanny grows up with her Bertram cousins. She is not a servant, but she is also not a daughter of the house.  The treatment she receives, especially from her Aunt Norris is more akin to an unpaid servant than a member of the family. The novels begins to take off when Mr. Norris dies and the living associated with the parish within the park goes to Dr. Grant, until Edmund came come of age and take orders.  Arriving with Dr. Grant is his wife and her younger siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford.

The complaints about Fanny are that she is weak, physically and emotionally, in addition to always being right.  Some might say she is priggish.

But I argue that despite these drawbacks, she has qualities that I believe are overlooked: a backbone and a sense of self that guides her even when she is told that she is wrong.

“You are mistaken, Sir,”—cried Fanny, forced by the anxiety of the moment even to tell her uncle that he was wrong—”You are quite mistaken. How could Mr. Crawford say such a thing? I gave him no encouragement yesterday—On the contrary, I told him—I cannot recollect my exact words—but I am sure I told him that I would not listen to him, that it was very unpleasant to me in every respect, and that I begged him never to talk to me in that manner again.—I am sure I said as much as that and more; and I should have said still more,—if I had been quite certain of his meaning any thing seriously, but I did not like to be—I could not bear to be—imputing more than might be intended. I thought it might all pass for nothing with him.”

She could say no more; her breath was almost gone.

“Am I to understand,” said Sir Thomas, after a few moments silence, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Refuse him?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?”

“I—I cannot like him, Sir, well enough to marry him.”

“This is very strange!” said Sir Thomas, in a voice of calm displeasure. “There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with every thing to recommend him; not merely situation in life, fortune, and character, but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversation pleasing to every body. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day, you have now known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend, and he has been doing that for your brother, which I should suppose would have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there been no other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got William on. He has done it already.”

“Yes,” said Fanny, in a faint voice, and looking down with fresh shame; and she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford.

“You must have been aware,” continued Sir Thomas, presently, “you must have been some time aware of a particularity in Mr. Crawford’s manners to you. This cannot have taken you by surprise. You must have observed his attentions; and though you always received them very properly, (I have no accusation to make on that head,) I never perceived them to be unpleasant to you. I am half inclined to think, Fanny, that you do not quite know your own feelings.”

“Oh! yes, Sir, indeed I do. His attentions were always—what I did not like.”

Fanny is aware that Henry Crawford flirted with Mariah and Julia, knowing full that Mariah is engaged. She is also aware that becoming Mrs. Crawford would elevate herself and her family out of poverty.

The intuition is finally respected when Mariah, now married, runs off with Mr. Crawford, threatening to ruin the entire family.

Fanny is not perfect, but she respects and follows her own intuition.

I’m going to end my argument with the following:

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we attend to it, than any other person can be“.

On a similar note, Mansfield Park is the subject of this year’s JASNA AGM in Montreal, Canada. I suspect there will be many heated discussions that weekend.

Edward Ferrars

Sense and Sensibility begins with the death of Henry Dashwood. The law of the land was primogeniture, meaning the eldest son inherited everything, except for what was specifically left for the younger children. Henry Dashwood married twice, producing four children. His son and heir, John was born to his late first wife and his daughter’s, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret were born to his second wife. John and his wife take over Norland Park and force his step mother and step sisters to vacate their home.

But not before the younger Mrs. Dashwood invites her brother, Edward Ferrars to visit. Edward and Elinor have an immediate connection, but it is broken when Elinor, with her mother and sisters leave Norland Park for their new home in Barton Park.  Edward wears a ring with lock of hair, which he says belongs to his sister. A third of a way into to the novel, we are introduced to the Steele sisters. Miss Lucy Steele, tells Elinor in confidence that she knows of her in laws because she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, her uncle’s former student for several years. At the end of novel (spoiler alert for those who have not read it), Edward losses his fortune to his brother when his mother finds out about the secret engagement. Lucy does become Mrs. Ferrars, but she becomes Mrs. Robert Ferrars.

Edward Ferrars is not Fitzwilliam Darcy, Captain Wentworth or even his future brother in law, Colonel Brandon.  But he is loyal. He is loyal to Lucy Steele, who is basically a gold digger.  Unlike some of the other Austen leading men, he doesn’t need much a live on. His professional goal is to join the clergy. He doesn’t need a large estate or a house in town. He want’s a parish to run and a home. My favorite thing about Edward is that even though he is engaged to Lucy through most of the story, he is faithful to Elinor.

In short, Edward and Fanny may not be perfect, but they deserve our respect.

*Italics notes original text

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Filed under Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility