View Full Version : A new circumstance in romance. Is Jane Austen romantic?

Jackson Richardson
07-07-2016, 03:06 AM
I repeatedly hear it said Jane Austen is romantic. I suspect that is from people who’ve seen the films but not read the novels.

OK, romanticism means different things, but how do you see her relationship to romanticism?

For starters, here is a description of the hero falling in love in Northanger Abbey:

I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.

07-07-2016, 10:02 AM
Austen's novels may be considered "romantic" in that they revolve around love and marriage, but she wasn't part of the Romanticist Movement. In "Northanger Abbey" she mocks gothic novels (I suspect, although I'm no expert, that Mrs. Radcliffe's novels shared some of the sentiments of the Romanticist movement). In Sense and Sensibility she pokes fun at an excess of romantic "sensibility". She's clearly a rationalist -- the Romanticist movement was characterized by the glorification of emotion and the senses over reason. Edward Ferrars confesses (to Marianne Dashwood's dismay) that "I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower -- and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.".

Still -- there's that hint of love for Romanticism that I mentioned in the other thread. Anne Elliot warns Captain Benwick that those who love poetry must be careful not to overindulge.

As for the Romanticist love of nature, Austen is as sparing of physical descriptions of landscapes or people as any author could be. When Anne Elliot visits Lyme, we readers can't really "see" the scenery. What we see instead is the effect of the sea air upon Anne.

They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animations of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, "That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again."

It seems to me that the correlation of Anne's "bloom" and the romance of the sea are in keeping with Romanticism. Earlier in her visit to Lyme, Anne had lectured Captain Benwick (I quoted in the other thread) about the dangers of poetry. Afterwards she muses about it:

When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.

I wonder if Austen's preaching about the dangers of Romanticism and the virtues of Rationality also represent eloquence on a point in which her own conduct (or future writings) would ill bear examination?

Marianne's romantic notion that "first attachments" must be eternal is dashed by Willoughby's perfidy, and she waltzes to the altar with Colonel Brandon:

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another! -- and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, -- whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married, -- and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!

But so it was. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting, -- instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on, -- she found herself, at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.

Clearly, that ending is neither romantic nor Romanticist. Compare it to the ending of Persuasion: Anne's conversation with Captain Harville comparing the devotion and constancy of men and women, which Wentworth overhears while writing, "You pierce my soul."

Soul piercing is, I believe, romantic, if not Romanticist.

07-07-2016, 11:44 AM

I didn't read all Austen's novels; maybe my appreciation can't to be entirely correct, but I consider that she also writes about romance; I'm not saying that I compared her novels with the sugary stories between girls and boy flying over sugary clouds. I mean she uses the issues like the love and marriage for to touch other topics like prejudices, habits and thought her epoca.

At the present, her novels are base of the mayority of romantic novels; but few them are so original. By the way, my intencition it wasn't disparage (or the literary taste of the people) to the writer, unlike I consider she did a great job criticising the society of her time using the sarcasm.

Jackson Richardson
07-07-2016, 01:43 PM
Hi, milagros.

As Ecurb said, romance and romantic have a number of different meanings. One meaning of a romantic novel is a realistic story where a girl falls in love with a nice young man and eventually after some difficulties marries him.

Jane Austen may be the earliest writer of such stories that is generally known nowadays. But there were lots of novels with a similar formula around at the time - Fanny Burney is the one I can think of at the moment and the only other one probably remembered. And a number of Shakespeare's comedies follow the same sort of plot, although not in a realistic setting.

But as you say, within that formula Jane Austen does far more than write about falling in love.

07-07-2016, 04:44 PM
Indeed, all is result of a confusion of terms, the next time, I'll have more care at the use the words.