Monday, September 17, 2012

Austenesque Extravaganza: Ruminations on Rogues

What a pleasure participate in the 2nd Austenesque Extravaganza! Last year I revealed some of my more crazy imaginings (read it here), and regular followers will know I have been unable to relinquish the whimsy, reviving it in the Mixed Up Mashup madness in which I have lately indulged. This year I have had the honor of collaborating with two Austenesque writers that I have long admired: Diana Birchall (read my review of Mrs. Elton in America) and Monica Fairview (read my review of The Darcy Cousins). To work with such accomplished ladies is a special treat, and I am sure to be riding the wave of my excitement for several weeks to come.

As a topic for this "Traveling Tuesday" we easily agreed on the rewards and punishments dolled out to Austen's rogues.  Diana led the conversation, and it is her thoughts that I will provide you with today. I carried the torch next, and poor Monica has my typically long-winded and rambling reply posted on her blog. She wraps up the discussion on Diana's blog. Concluding each post you will find four questions, to which we have each responded (the answers belong to the person whose blog you are visiting, not the guest). Please share with us your answers. It will be particularly interesting to see if your replies change as you consider each author's thoughts. You will find my responses immediately following Diana's musings. 

In the name of context, I will begin by providing the initial questions which sparked our conversation: 
How does Jane Austen define a villain? For example, is Lydia a villain? Can people like Mr. Collins and even Mrs. Bennet be seen as villains? Where do we draw the line?

Does Jane Austen pass moral judgements on her characters? What is the worse "sin" a character can commit? Stupidity? Snobbery? Defying social norms?

Is Jane Austen sexist in the sense that she tends to punish her female villains more than her male villains?
Diana's thoughts:
Ooo, good questions.

How does Jane Austen define a villain?  Hmm...Well, I think the main quality her villains have in common is that they are, in no particular order, self serving, self centered, and selfish, regardless of the impact on other people's lives.

Most people will agree that some of the worst villains in Austen include General Tilney, Wickham, Willoughby, Mrs. Norris, Lucy Steele, and Lady Catherine, all of whom epitomize the view that the world revolves exclusively around their own interests, and whose actions harm others.

Others may have odious personalities (Mr.Collins, Mrs. Elton), have unintentionally adverse effects on the lives of others (both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet), or such poor judgment that they cause harm to others and themselves, sometimes through the follies of youth (Lydia, Marianne, Tom Bertram).  Such people can be a menace, but they are not examples of what Jane Austen herself describes when writing about Lucy:

"The whole of Lucy's behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience."

If Jane Austen tends to punish her female misbehavers more severely than the male ones, I don't think it is sexist of her, but simply a realistic reflection of the imbalances of her day.  She even addresses the question in Mansfield Park, when she says:

"That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a just measure attend his share of the offence is, we know, not one of the barriers which society gives to virtue. In this world the penalty is less equal than could be wished; but without presuming to look forward to a juster appointment hereafter, we may fairly consider a man of sense, like Henry Crawford, to be providing for himself no small portion of vexation and regret..."

That is surely a full-throated feminist statement if ever there was one!

So, who do you think are the worst villains, and why?
The conversation continues at Monica's Blog:

Follow up question:
1. Who do you think was punished most severely?
Sir Thomas Bertram. Misguided he might have been, but he is the father in Austen who tried the hardest to do right by his children, and few of her characters ever feel their own failings so acutely.
2. Who do you think gets let off most easily?
Hands down, Lucy Steele. I refer you to the quotation Diana cited above.
3. Do you think the women get a worse punishment than the men?
Yes, but as I argue on Monica's blog, the discrimination lies entirely with society, which Austen realistically depicts.
4. If you got to rewrite the ending of any of the novels, who would you choose to punish and why?
Edmund Bertram for being inexcusably oblivious. He does not deserve Fanny.
So what do you think? There may be benefits to leaving a response. Check back here tomorrow to find out!


  1. Great discussion and topic so far! I completely agree with the categorical list of types of villains in Jane Austen. And I loved Alexa's answers for the follow up questions! Sir Thomas Bertram does get dealt a very bad lot with his children and his punishment is something that will last a long while. LOL! Edmund does need a little suffering for all he put poor Fanny through!

    1. Thanks Meredith! As you can see, I have Mansfield on y mind. This was a lot of fun!

  2. I would have to say Caroline Bingley. Her hurt pride and embarrassment would be worse for her than any punishment that could be handed out.

    1. You agree with Monica! Thanks for joining the conversation.

  3. Oooh, great topics! I really liked the answers. I totally agree about punishing Edmund for being oblivious!

    1. He infuriates me. Ever wish you could shake a fictional character?

  4. When I think of the worst villains, whether male or female, I always picture the characters who can do the most far reaching and worst damage to those around them. I'm a little 'on the fence' with how I feel about the whole 'focused selfishness' that only meant to get what they wanted, but didn't necessarily set out to cause harm.

    Wickham or Mr. Elliot are the ones who come to mind with no hesitation as villains where I struggle with categorizing characters like Mrs. Elton or Mrs. Norris on this side.

    I don't have any objections to Diana's thoughts or Alexa's answers. I'll be hopping to the next segment to see if it changes my opinions. ;D

    Thanks ladies!

    1. This exercise broadened the group I would normally have included amongst the rogues. Characters like Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are fools, and I therefore grant them a good deal of leeway. I tried to struggle through the distinctions between true villainy, bad parenting, and shear stupidity in my segment of this conversation, but as is apparent from the extremely hodgepodge nature of the post, I came to no satisfactory conclusions. Monica did an excellent job of making some sense out of the jumble in her segment. I wish we could have continued the conversation, as it is a topic worthy of deep consideration.

  5. I would say that the worst Austen villains would be Caroline Bingley, Mr. Wickham, Mary Crawford & Maria Bertram. They are all so manipulative and determined to get their way even if it means ruining the reputations of others for them to get their own happiness.

    1. I'm a bit surprised by your choices - not by Wickham or Maria, but is Mary Crawford so bad? I can think of no incidence when she acts in the calculated manner you describe. She's a bit cold-hearted and jaded, certainly, but I think she is far nicer than most of the characters in Mansfield Park.

    2. Most of the time Mary Crawford isn't too bad but the time I was thinking about when she was being more manipulative was when Thomas was sick and she came back in case he died and Edmund inherited.

    3. I think you're remembering the 1999 film rather than the book. She does express the sentiments which inspird that scene in a letter to Fanny ("...I never bribed a physician in my life. Poor young man! If he is to die, there will be two less poor young men in this world, and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to anyone, that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them.") Such thoughts are precisely the product of Mary's flippant humor and most inappropriate, but she does not travel to Mansfield in premature mourning to see if she can snag the new heir. Everyone in that film is portrayed as so much worse than they really are.

    4. I might be remembering from a film instead of the book, I only read the book once & have seen the movies more often so remember them better but I don't think its the 1999 version because that's the version I have seen the least. It is more likely to be the 2007 version or maybe 1983 version. Thank you for correcting me though if I was mistaken about it being in the book.

    5. Your probably right about my remembering it from a movie because I have only read the book once but seen 3 different movie versions. I don't think I was originally thinking of the 1999 version though because that is the movie I have seen the least. I think it was the 2007 version although it might have been the 1983. Whatever version it was that was the quote I was thinking of. Thank you for correcting me if I was mistaken about it being in the actual book.

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  7. Villains, in my opinion, are more the people who intentionally do what they know to be wrong instead of those who are just oblivious. For instance, General Tilney went expressly against what was decent toward a young unmarried woman under his care in sending her packing without a chaperone or any sort of notice to her family for them to expect her coming. On a more low key, but nonetheless inconsiderate, note Mr. Elton slights Harriet in refusing to dance with her after being willing to dance with almost everyone else. Yes, Edmund is an idiot, but he comes to see the error of his ways. Yes, Caroline and Lucy are devious and do what they can to work things to their advantage, but really aren't they doing what half of womankind at the time were doing? Just looking for the best match possible, and doing what they can to get it. Granted, they're annoying and you want to slap them, but it does make for a more interesting story.