Thanks for welcoming back to My Jane Austen Book Club to talk about An Affectionate Heart!
Spinster. Ape leader. Old maid. These are Georgian-era words that could have been applied to women like Miss Bates, Elizabeth Elliot, Charlotte Lucas, and the Parker sisters. The insulting idea of an older, unmarried woman surrounded by cats isn’t a new one. Although she’s only 21, Elizabeth Bennet in An Affectionate Heart is another poor, unmarried woman with little agency over her own life.
As Emma Woodhouse tells us, if you’re an heiress it’s not so bad to be single, but if you’re poor like Miss Bates you practically deserve to be ridiculed. There was intense social prejudice against unmarried women and few respectable means of employment for the women of this class. Aside from all the typical reasons to marry, many women felt a duty to their families to marry to relieve them of the burden of providing for them.
Elizabeth in An Affectionate Heart is aware of how little freedom and choice she has. She and Lydia are the only unmarried Bennet sisters, Mr. Bennet is dead, and Elizabeth is shuffled between the households of her married sisters. She’s useful but not always wanted, and she’s constantly reminded of her subordinate position. In this scene, Elizabeth has returned to Longbourn after visiting Jane–who married Mr. Cuthbert at fifteen and never met Mr. Bingley–and Mrs Bennet and Mary Collins are gossiping with the neighbors.
“At least with a fortune Mary King will not end up an old maid. I forgot to ask, Lady Lucas, when does Charlotte come home?” Mrs Bennet refilled her neighbour's cup as she spoke, and Mary sucked in a breath.
“My son’s wife is still recovering from the influenza; Charlotte will be home next month.”
“It is so good of Charlotte to go where she was needed; she has always been a useful, practical girl. Such a shame she was unsought. Fortunately, there have been few spinsters amongst your connexions.”
While Lady Lucas pursed her lips, Mrs Long said to Mrs Bennet, “Mrs Cuthbert, Mrs Collins, and Mrs Redmond married young. I suspect your Lydia will be married within a year. She is a handsome, lively girl.”
“Beauty and liveliness are no guarantee that a gentleman will make an offer.” Lady Lucas’s voice dropped. “Look at Eliza. At least my Charlotte has three brothers of her own.”
To be unmarried did not wound Elizabeth, but to be a single woman on so narrow an income as whatever her uncle Gardiner or her brothers-in-law chose to grant her was maddening. She was always at another’s mercy. To be poor and dependent was more of a galling bitterness than to be unloved by a man.
“Being married is the only honourable provision for a well-educated young woman of small fortune.” Mary’s voice dripped with pride. “It is her pleasantest preservation from want, but not all women are able to achieve that state. Lizzy may end up a hopeless old spinster, but it is our duty to care for unmarried sisters.”
To remain single would not be as bad as being married to a stupid man like Mr Collins.
Mrs Bennet lifted the teapot, but Mary cleared her throat; Mrs Bennet blushed and put it down to allow her daughter to do the honours of the table. Mary gave a superior smile to her assembled party. “Lizzy will not wonder how to employ herself as she grows old, without husband or children at her side, as she can show her worth to her family by being of use in her married sisters’ households.”
Two years ago, Elizabeth might have been diverted by their folly. Or she might have excused herself from the visiting ladies and hidden in the library with her father. But now the books, along with everything else in the house, belonged to Mr Collins. He was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education and society. Having now inherited Longbourn and a sufficient income, his self-conceit and weak head were firmly settled.
Between his pompous nothings, and Mary’s pride in being mistress of Longbourn that likewise give her a conceited manner, they deserve one another.
“Lizzy, come and tell the ladies how you found Jane’s boys,” said her mother. “Do you think the new baby much like Mary’s young William?”
“I suspect any letter from Jane will do the boys all the justice a doting mother can give. Excuse me; I was about to go to the instrument.”
“No, you will not,” Mary spoke sharply, and Elizabeth stopped. “The child might be sleeping, and I will not have you disturb him. I have decided you may play my instrument only in the morning before breakfast, if you first ask me for permission.”
A single woman in regency England was dependent on her family and generally lived with a married sibling. They were expected to earn their keep in their siblings households, whether it was being a hostess to their bachelor brother like Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, or Anne Elliot being shuttled from her father’s home to her sister’s to help care for her nephews.
A woman’s independence, such as it was, came from being married, even though %25 of gentlemen’s daughters in Jane Austen’s era never married. Marriage was a social and financial necessity for most women, but that doesn’t mean that all of them had an opportunity, let alone a good opportunity.
Some women who never married were marginalized, and it was worse when they were poor, or viewed as an inconvenience by their families. In An Affectionate Heart, Elizabeth wants agency over own life, and is tired of owing service to people who don’t respect her. She is fed up being pitied and resented. The question is, what is Elizabeth going to do about it?
ABOUT THE BOOK
An Affectionate Heart
ARE LOVE AND AFFECTION ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THE PAIN OF GRIEF AND ANGER?
In the spring of 1812, Elizabeth and Lydia are the only Bennet daughters still unmarried after the death of their father. Elizabeth’s health and spirits worsen as she moves among relations as an unwanted, dependent sister. She returns to Mary and Mr Collins at Longbourn to learn that the neighbourhood gossip centres on the reclusive Mr Darcy.
Darcy and his sister live an isolated life in a small rented lodge near Netherfield after the events at Ramsgate. As Georgiana’s health is failing, Darcy has his own regrets to bear. He tries to keep them secluded, but a young woman arrives who is determined to befriend his lonely, ill sister. When Elizabeth receives disastrous news, she makes a daring plan to find happiness for herself while she still can.
Misunderstandings and secrets abound for them both but in the end, Darcy and Elizabeth will find greater strength together than they ever had apart.
This variation blends Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with elements of Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. Content note: secondary character death, discussion of secondary character’s miscarriage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heather Moll is an avid reader of mysteries and biographies with a masters in information science. She found Jane Austen later than she should have and made up for lost time by devouring her letters and unpublished works, joining JASNA, and spending too much time researching the Regency era. She is the author of An Affectionate Heart, Nine Ladies, Two More Days at Netherfield, and His Choice of a Wife. She lives with her husband and son and struggles to balance all of the important things, like whether or not to buy groceries or stay home and write.
Social Links website: heathermollauthor.com
Link Tree: https://linktr.ee/heathermollauthor
The giveaway is open from 12:01 am Eastern time 4/1/2022 until 11:59pm Eastern time on 4/8/2022.
US entrants only. The winner will be announced on Heather's social media and blog on 4/11/2022.