Saturday, 22 January 2011

SENSE & SENSIBILITY BICENTENARY CELEBRATION - Men, Marriage, and Money in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility by Jennifer Becton

October 2011 will mark the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. This is why My Jane Austen Book Club wants to  dedicate a special space to the celebration and discussion of Austen's first achievement as a published writer. I have invited some expert Janeites to contribute to the discussion and they have kindly and generously accepted.The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration opens today with Jennifer Becton 's guest blogpost.  Here are her thoughts on  "Men, Marriage, and Money in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility".
There's a giveaway ( open to US readers only this time ) linked to this post. For further information see at the bottom of this post. Read, enjoy, leave your comment + e-mail address and ... good luck!

The course of true love never did run smooth. Or cheap, as readers of Jane Austen’s novels well know.

Before the seventeenth century, marriages were formed solely on the basis of improving the family finances, and the concept of romantic love did not come into play at all. Even in the Regency period, when young ladies and gentlemen began to hope for domestic felicity and a bit of romance, marriage was still viewed as a path to security at the very least and as an opportunity for upward social mobility at its most successful.

Marriage was serious business, and though many of Austen’s characters hoped for romantic love, the financial implications of marriage could not be ignored. In fact, they were discussed quite openly. So frank was this conversation about the finances of eligible ladies and gentlemen that their incomes and inheritances were often the subjects of newspaper articles and even books. In 1742, before the Regency period, an unknown compiler published A Master-Key to the Rich Ladies Treasury, which was tables that listed eligible women, their addresses, and their fortunes. A fortune hunter’s directory!

To modern ears, the frank discussions of each eligible character’s finances may sound crass and impolite, but this was very much the societal norm. Women, whom society forbade to engage in most professions, had little choice but to seek a wise financial match. But as Jane Austen demonstrates in many of her novels, gentlemen were also subject to the pressure to marry for money rather than love. Sense and Sensibility especially reveals that gentlemen were also not always free to marry for their own reasons. Edward Ferrars, John Willoughby, and Col. Brandon’s choices were also influenced—positively or negatively—as a result of financial concerns.

Mrs. Ferrars, the mother of Edward and Robert Ferrars, “with the utmost liberality, will…settle on [Edward] a thousand a year” if he marries the Hon. Miss Morton, who has 30,000 pounds. When Edward refuses this inducement to marriage because he has been secretly engaged to another, his brother Robert is substituted in his mother’s scheme with little compunction. Money and status matter most to Mrs. Ferrars, and though she was unsuccessful in bringing about either match, she had no qualms about doing whatever was necessary to force one of her sons into this advantageous marriage. Both her sons eventually married for love.

Financial considerations also influenced John Willoughby, a charming rake of poor character but good personality, in his marital choice. Though he appears to love Marianne, he marries a Miss Grey who has 50,000 pounds. To the Dashwoods, Willoughby seemed to be a man influenced only by the contents of his heart, but his actions show that he was more concerned by the contents of his pocketbook. And his marriage was no doubt less than pleasant.

Other than Edward Ferrars, Col. Brandon is perhaps the only eligible gentleman in Sense and Sensibility whose choices continued to show a balance between love and money. And the results of his family situation display not only the repercussions of loveless marriages on the gentleman and the more dire ramifications for the young lady, but also on entire families. As a young man, Col. Brandon was greatly attached to Eliza, an orphan of large fortune who was raised in the care of his father. Though Col. Brandon loved her with the same “fervent…attachment” that Marianne had for Willoughby, he bowed to the will of his father, and Eliza was married to his brother, who did not love her at all. Misery ensued for the entire Brandon family. Col. Brandon was forced to watch his brother marry the woman he loved; his brother was displeased with his wife; and Eliza suffered at the hands of an unkind husband. This marriage ended ultimately in a rare divorce, and a destitute Eliza, whose “legal allowance was not…sufficient for her comfortable maintenance,” was left to the mercy of society and dependent on Col. Brandon’s kindness and financial support.

Edward Ferrars eschewed the idea of marriage for money, John Willoughby chose money over love, and Col. Brandon exemplified the long-term complications that could arise when a loveless marriage was arranged. The choices of each gentleman had large impacts upon the women around them and upon their families in general. There is no question that Jane Austen dreamed of a time when a young couple could marry for love alone, but she was also practical enough to realize that such a time had not yet come.
Jennifer Becton
Jennifer Becton is the author of Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (My review HERE) . Her next Austen sequel will be released on July 15, 2011, followed by a contemporary mystery novel later in the year. For more information, please visit


If you comment  and leave your e-mail address on this post or/and on my announcement of the Grand Event for Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary, you'll be entered in the giveaway of The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Shine. This novel,  published by Picador,  is a new modern re-telling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I'm afraid,  this giveaway is for US readers only  but there will be others open worldwide. It ends  31st January .


Maria Grazia said...

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for opening our discussion and celebration of Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary. It's interesting to see how, unfortunately, money matters marked the lives and fates of our beloved characters.
It is sad to see how Jane Austen's own life was utterly influenced by her family's financial problems.
What I most appreciated in her was the light touch she dealt with these serious matters.

Unknown said...

I agree, Maria Grazia. Austen's treatment of her society could have been so much more morose and depressing. However, her happy, thoughtful disposition prevents her from being overcome by the negatives of her society and instead laughing at them and focusing on more positive matters. And even though she did not write with the express purpose of changing society, we are here two hundered years later talking about the social implications of her plots. It just goes to prove that even comedies have lasting literary value.

Thank you again for the opportunity to post on your wonderful Austen site!


Anonymous said...

Such a horrible time for women, to have to be "sold" into marriage for money and then watch her husband have ALL rights over her money.

I only question the statement about Mrs Ferrars: "Both her sons eventually married for love." I don't know that Robert actually "loved" his bride; seems like they were united by their mutual love of money. Had Robert been given the same terms as Edward, I doubt Robert would have loved Lucy enough to give up the money.

C. Allyn Pierson said...

One of the key points of marriage in those days was that the higher you were in society, the more important your marriage was to your family. If you were a poor woman who worked for a milliner you could marry anyone you wanted who was of a somewhat similar class. A young lady of high standing was not able to work to keep herself without dropping to the level of the hatshop girl. So, if she had no money to go with her gentility, she could marry for money or marry for love alone and between starving genteely or losing her entire family and acquaintance by taking a job (this excludes being a governess or companion because you were not allowed to be married in those positions).

The higher you were, the less you would have to say about your marriage partner. Hence, you got women like the Duchess of Devonshire and the Countess of Bessborough (who were sisters) and the Duchess of Melbourne, and all had multiple lovers (and a bunch of other mens' children) as soon as they had produced an heir for their husband.

On the other hand, a young woman of great wealth who was from the lower, obscure gentry could marry anywhere in the gentry and peerage that she liked and all those younger sons of titled men (like Colonel Fitzwilliam) and fortune hunters (like Wickham) would consider her a great prize!

Those of less political and social importance and no wealth, such as the Bennets and the Dashwood ladies, had to cling very hard to their status as gentry and find someone appropriate to marry. As Lizzy Bennet said, they had nothing to recommend them but their were they to meet men in their confined society who were wealthy enough to make them comfortable in life when they could not offer him land, money, or social importance! Mrs. Ferrars might have accepted a wife who was poor for Edward if she was the daughter of an impecunious nobleman, but Elinor Dashwood had nothing that Mrs. Ferrars wanted.

As I tend to be of a practical bent, I suspect that I would try to find someone tolerable and be comfortable (and hope that my true love never came along to make me miserable in my choice)- not the material of a great novel! I do not think I would have the courage of Jane Austen to turn down an offer of marriage from a perfectly nice but quite boring man. I love Lizzy Bennet's comment to Jane Bennet that she should marry for love, but "Just be sure you fall in love with a man of good fortune!"

Thanks for kicking off this blog tour, Jennifer!

Unknown said...

June, I have been rethinking that statement about Robert all week. I think you are right. They were united in of money.


Maria Grazia said...

LOL! How witty, Jennifer! Brilliant.

Unknown said...

C. Allyn, you offer some great insights into this! I agree that it was very courageous of Austen to turn down the offer of marriage she received. I am glad to see that she was able to live by the morals--money is important, but love is moreso--she wrote about in her novels.

Margay Leah Justice said...

I couldn't imagine living in an era where my choice of husband might not be my choice at all and yet, the Regency is still such a romantic era! What is it about the time that draws us in so?


Unknown said...

You know, that's a good question, Margay. For me, I'd say it's partially the clothing. I just love the dresses and men in riding boots. But also, the marriage/money reality of Regency society gives you a built-in problem to overcome with regard to romance. Romantic tension is just waiting to be released!

Meredith said...

I believe I read somewhere that a scholar thought it was wrong and vulgar for Jane Austen to combine money and marriage in her writing. I, for one, am glad she did. Yes, it may not always be romantic, and I suppose it wasn't something a gentlewoman from her time should be discussing, but it gave a true representation of her time period. Which is very important because today, things are very different.

Enjoyed your post Jennifer! I am excited to hear another novel is coming out soon!

El Sitio de Jane said...

A lot of thanks Jennifer & Maria Grazia. It's interesting to see the pressures of marraige for money in gentlemen. I think S&S is the book which tells the money issues more openly. It's hard to understand for our modern sensibilities, although we all know people who still marries for money or social class. Here, we see that choices shows the future, and that marriage for money also implies obligations in gentlemen.
ElizzyB (@salonjaneausten)

Linda said...

I have really enjoyed Ms. Becton's post, and reading through all the comments. Makes me anxious to revisit Sense and Sensability. Looking forward to the coming year's posts.

Claudia said...

Thanks Jennifer, this is a very illuminating essay. It's useful to point out that often we tend to be misled by the romance of an era where relationships seem so noble and high but, below the surface, the Regency era was very different and far more cynical.


Anonymous said...

I love Jane Austen mainly for the romance and exploration of people, but what makes her romances so wonderful is she does not hide the reality of the time nor circumstances of her characters. Thank you for exploring these aspects of her book.
Sarabeth (

Juliet Archer said...

Great article, Jennifer - thank you!

I love the way Jane Austen sets the tone of S&S by introducing money as a key theme right from the start. The different reactions to the death of old Mr Dashwood - especially Fanny Dashwood, who raises meanness to an art form!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Maria for suggesting this for the upcoming year. It looks like a fascinating event. I really enjoyed Jennifer's opening for this and as usual found it quite fascinating. All the comments were interesting as well. I look forward to reading more.
schafsue at gmail dot com

Bex said...

I think the correlation between love and money in Austen's novels are quite interesting and actually gives us a good historical insight into the Regency era. I loved your article Jennifer, especially because you looked at this topic not from the female perspective (which has been overly done I believe) but from the male perspective (which is rather new). Thank you for such a unique angle!

I look forward to next months article. :)

Nancy Kelley said...

Excellent essay, Jennifer. Your conclusion--"There is no question that Jane Austen dreamed of a time when a young couple could marry for love alone, but she was also practical enough to realize that such a time had not yet come."--is exactly what makes the Regency romance work. Find me a Regency that doesn't involve someone disapproving of the match, and I'll eat my hat.

EmileeHope said...

Maria, thanks for having Jennifer Becton do a guest post on your blog. That was fun to read. (Of course, I think pretty much everything that has to do with Austen is a good read!) I already had her book "Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice" on my "to read" list, I may have to move it to the top of the list now!

Please sign me up for the possibility of wining the fun giveaway. The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Shine looks like it could be a fun read!


Mary Simonsen said...

That was an excellent post. My question is: Would Edward Ferrars have ever married Lucy Steele? Four years is a long engagement.

Alexa Adams said...

Due to internet troubles, it has taken me several days to get to this post, but it was well worth the wait! Jennifer reminds me of the bravery demonstrated by so many Austen heroines (and heroes!) by rejecting mercenary considerations in marriage. I am not a huge fan of Edward Ferrars, but his most admirable quality is certainly his willingness to stand up to his mother's ambition (even when he is not in love!) in order to do what is right. I think we often underestimate Elizabeth Bennet's audacity in rejecting not only Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Collins as well (how interesting that she agrees so readily with Mrs. Gardiner's stricture - "Do not involve yourself, or endeavour to involve him in an affection which the want of fortune would make so very imprudent." Obviously, Austen drew a line between marrying only for gain and status versus marrying where there was no fortune at all, per Ms. Pierson's comment, which leads me to a medley of reflections on Persuasion, which I will not indulge here). Readers are so ready to describe Fanny Price as meek and submissive, but her rejection of Mr. Crawford is astoundingly courageously when put into period context (and I agree with Meredith - finances are imperative to these novels and I see nothing vulgar in it at all). And of course, all these musings bring me back to dear Jane, who showed herself to truly believe what she wrote when she rejected the marriage proposal of Harris Bigg-Wither. I imagine her mother was nearly as incensed as Mrs. Ferrars or Mrs. Bennet, when placed in similar situations, although Mrs. Austen probably had the grace to bear her disappointment better. Thanks for all the food for thought! This was an excellent kick off to what will surely be a year of wonderful posts in honor of an exceptional author's first published work!

Jillian Pikora said...

This is very informative, I greatly appreciate that. I alway wonder how all of this would have effect Margaret. Would she not have to worry about marrying well because of Marianne's good fortune?

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