Posts Tagged ‘husbands in Austen's novels’

“From [a husband] that loves any thing besides me, [except that which] is very just and honourable—deliver me!”

I came across this prayer in The New Lady’s Magazine, October, 1791. I can just imagine some of Jane Austen’s heroines praying it. Here’s the prayer, entitled “A Young Lady’s Prayer for a Husband”:

“From a prophane (profane) libertine, from one affectedly pious, from a profuse almoner, from an uncharitable wretch, from a wavering religioso and injudicious zealot—deliver me.

“From one of starched gravity, or ridiculous levity, from an ambitious statesman, from a restless projector, from one that loves any thing besides me, but what is very just and honourable—deliver me!

“From an extasy’d poet, a modern wit, a base coward, and a rash fool—deliver me!

“From a Venus darling, from a Bacchus proselyte, . . . from all other masculine affectations, not yet recounted—deliver me!

“—But give me one, whose love has more of judgment than passion, who is master of himself, or at least an indefatigable scholar in such a study, who has an equal flame, a parallel inclination, a temper and soul so like mine, that, as two tallies, we may appear more perfect by union.

“—Give me one of as genteel an education as a little expence of time will permit, with an indifferent fortune, independent of the servile levees of the great, and yet one whose retirement is not so much from the public, as into himself; one (if possible) above flattery and affronts, and yet as careful in preventing an injury, as able to repair it; one, the beauty of whose mind exceeds that of his face, yet that not deformed, so as to be distinguishable from others by it’s ugliness.

“—Give me one that has learned to live much in a little time; one that is no great familiar in converse with the world, nor no little one with himself; one (if two such happinesses may be granted at one time to our sex) who with these endowments may have an easy honest disposition; who by his practice, as well as principles, has made himself so, let him be truly virtuous and pious, and me be truly happy in my choice.” –Inamorato.

Where do you see Austen’s characters in this prayer? How about:

Deliver me from Mr. Collins (one of starched gravity), from Mr. Parker (a restless projector, starting overly-ambitious projects), and from Mr. Willoughby, Wickham, or Crawford (profane libertines). Also deliver me from Sir Walter Elliot (who is “servile to the great”).

I’m guessing a “Venus darling” is a fop, for which I need to go to Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax and say, deliver me from Claud Darracott. A “Bacchus proselyte” is obviously a drunk, so we might say deliver me from Mr. Hurst (?) or any of the party in “Jack and Alice” of Austen’s Juvenilia, all of whom were carried home “dead drunk.” 

Deliver me from Mr. Collins, a man of “starched gravity.” Mr. Collins proposes, Pride and Prejudice, C.E. Brock

What kind of man does this young lady pray for instead?

A man who:

  • Loves her based more on judgment than on passion.
  • Has mastered or is learning to master himself.

That is, he does NOT love her as Mr. Darcy first professes to love Elizabeth. She tells him: “you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character” (ch. 34). Instead, Darcy learns to love her AND “what is very just and honorable,” which he shows by rescuing Lydia, blaming his own reticence for her predicament.

Darcy’s first proposal, based on passion, not judgment and self-mastery. Pride and Prejudice, C.E. Brock, 1895

The “young lady” also prays for a man who:

  • Is reasonably well-educated
  • Does not flatter or take offense easily, but avoids injuring others and can help repair injuries unwittingly inflicted.

I think Henry Tilney is a good example of this. When he finds out what Catherine has been imagining about his father, he does rebuke her, but he obviously doesn’t hold a grudge. He does all he can to make her comfortable later. Henry is also obviously well-educated.

Henry Tilney confronts Catherine, but immediately afterwards he is kind to her and helps heal her “injuries.” Northanger Abbey, C.E. Brock

The young lady also prays for someone who:

  • Has an easy, honest disposition
  • Is more handsome in mind than in face (but not obviously ugly).

Elinor sees this beauty of mind and honesty in Edward Ferrars, who “was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement.”

Edward Ferrars, “the beauty of whose mind exceeds that of his face,” proposes to Elinor. Sense and Sensibility, C.E. Brock

And finally, and presumably most importantly, the young lady prays for a man who:

  • Is truly virtuous (treating others as he wants to be treated) and pious (honoring God) in beliefs and practices. And, he
  • Makes her happy.

Sometimes in Austen’s novels there is a test of virtue. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy acts virtuously when he humbles himself and gets Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia. Wickham shows his lack of virtue by eloping with Lydia with no intention of marriage.

In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon shows his virtue in continuing to serve Marianne and her family any way he can, without really believing Marianne will love him. He also shows loyalty to his first love, Eliza, even after her disgrace. Willoughby, of course, shows his lack of virtue by seducing and abandoning Eliza’s daughter, then abandoning Marianne for a rich woman. 

And, we can see that each hero is the very one to make the heroine happy! Prayers answered, courtesy of Jane Austen.

Colonel Brandon passes the test of virtue; Willoughby does not. Sense and Sensibility, C.E. Brock

Do you see other Austen characters in “A Young Lady’s Prayer for a Husband”? (Or Georgette Heyer characters, if you wish!) Tell us in the comments!

The “Young Lady’s Prayer” can be found on google books

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