Jane Austen 's Northanger Abbey Essay

Jane Austen 's Northanger Abbey Essay

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“Man has the power of choice, woman only the advantage of refusal,” (NA 74) says Henry Tilney, the hero of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817). From the reader’s perspective, Tilney seems to have no characteristics to recommend him as Catherine Morland’s suitor: the narrator describes him as “impertinent” (NA 107), “rude” (NA 115), and as “indulging himself a little too much with the foibles of others” (NA 21). Yet, he chooses to propose to Catherine, and she elects to accept him. Why? Why are certain characters accepted as ideal partners in marriage, while others are rejected? A close examination of rejected suitors in Austen’s novels reveals that the heroine’s—and the author’s—choice of suitor is dependent on factors that far outweigh superficial aspects, such as the heroine’s momentary uncertainty or society’s expectations for women of marriageable age. Further, entering the marriage conversation through its onset—the proposal—is sure to answer an important question for Austen scholars: What matters in a proposal? It is difficult, if not completely impossible, to formulate Austen’s ideal proposal plot because different things matter to different heroines, but it is possible to explore the implications of the rejected proposal plot. This essay thus proceeds to an examination of what matters to two heroines who elect to reject proposals of marriage: Pride and Prejudice’s (1813) Elizabeth Bennet, and Mansfield Park’s (1814) Fanny Price. Elizabeth is the first of Austen’s heroines to come to mind in terms of rejected marriage proposals, given that she rejects not just one, but two, proposals. Framing an examination of Fanny Price’s rejection of Henry Crawford through Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy, then...


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... Lucas, for instance, he does so merely because he needs someone to be his wife. In his enumeration of the reasons why he has elected to take on a wife, Mr. Collins never once alludes to why he has chosen Elizabeth in particular. Moreover, though he warns Elizabeth that he may be “run away with by his feelings” (PP 98), his proposal is monotonous, rehearsed, and, worst of all, attentive to no one’s happiness but his own. Collins’s use of “first,” “secondly” and “thirdly” (PP 99) reveals that both the suitor and his proposal lack the substance and attentiveness Elizabeth desires; therefore, although some argue that Elizabeth’s pertinent observations and quick wit “verge not merely on impertinence but on impropriety” (Johnson 75), Austen assures Elizabeth’s right to dislike Mr. Collins when he quantifies his marriage proposal in terms of his—and only his—own happiness.

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