Monday, January 31, 2022

Random Reflections on the Bigg-Wither's Affair

I must not allow this blog to fall back into neglect. It will not do. I cannot have struggled in vein to bring it back to some semblance of life. The thought is intolerable.

How often I imagine how very different Austen's life (and, subsequently, my own) would have been if she had maintained her very short engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither. Could she have found a way to maintain a household and family and still write her masterpieces? It seems very doubtful, especially when I can't seem to find the time to write with only two children and all the modern appliances, to say nothing of the godsend that is takeout/delivery to the modern parent in a pinch. Running a household in the early 19th century was so enormously more complicated (though at least the Regency homemaker was relieved the burden of calculating their carbon footprint). I don't see how Jane could have done it, even in a comfortable and well-staffed house such as Manydown Park must have been.

I am immensely grateful that she chose not to marry, though it must have been an awful decision to make. I am also relieved to know that my neglected writing is not so detrimental to literary culture. Such genius is a burden I'm rather happy not to bear.

Manydown Park, 1833
Was it her writing that influenced Austen's rejection of Mr. Bigg-Wither? Or was it romantic notions? Or something else? We will never know, but the thing I feel fairly confident asserting is that when Jane and Cassandra landed unexpectedly at the Stevenson rectory and poured the entire adventure into James Austen's ears is that they were very likely told off. Think Sir Thomas when Fanny rejects Mr. Crawford:

And I should have been very much surprised had either of my daughters, on receiving a proposal of marriage at any time which might carry with it only half the eligibility of this, immediately and peremptorily, and without paying my opinion or my regard the compliment of any consultation, put a decided negative on it. I should have been much surprised and much hurt by such a proceeding. I should have thought it a gross violation of duty and respect. You are not to be judged by the same rule. You do not owe me the duty of a child. - Sir Thomas Bertram, Mansfield Park
Such a decision would, according to the morality of the day, be seen as incredibly selfish, hindering the entire family's prospects. More parents of the era would relate to Mrs. Bennet's opinion of Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Collins, ridiculous as she is, than that of Mr. Bennet. The brother of her friends and heir to his estate, located in Austen's native neighbourhood, amongst her closest friends and relations: James, who always struck me as the family curmudgeon, must have given her an earful.
She is a very headstrong foolish girl, and does not know her own interest; but I will make her know it. - Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

These are the thoughts that occupy me as I continue to try and get life back into something like a routine rhythm. There is always solace and useful distraction to be found in Jane. What would we do without her?

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