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?Diana's thoughts:
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?
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: monicafairview.blogspot.com
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?
So what do you think? There may be benefits to leaving a response. Check back here tomorrow to find out!Edmund Bertram for being inexcusably oblivious. He does not deserve Fanny.