A January of Janes- Courted by Inconsiderate Lovers

A January of Janes- Courted by Inconsiderate Lovers

Happy New Year! I’m starting a new theme for blog posts both here and on my own blog for 2017. Each month will have a new theme and posts on Thursdays. For January, I will be examining Jane Bennet and Jane Fairfax.

There are a number of contrasts and comparisons to be made between the two ladies, but for this post, I will be focusing on their inconsiderate lovers. Fans of Charles Bingley and Frank Churchill might need to hold on to their hats.

I’ve long held the opinion that Jane Austen essentially wrote variations of her own work. What is Elizabeth Bennet but a slightly more rational Marianne Dashwood? In Jane Bennet, we see Elinor Dashwood not only in reserve, serene demeanor, and temperate minds but in the situation of their absentee suitors. Anne Elliot is a Jane Bennet who must deal with a heartache from a different situation. Likewise, Jane Fairfax is the eldest Miss Bennet put in different circumstances.

Both Janes had a courtship lasting only weeks and were in a situation where it is hard to know one’s true character. As Frank Churchill says at Box Hill:

“They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky!— for as to any real knowledge of a person’s disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give— it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment.”

While Jane Fairfax immediately replies that happiness is a person’s own choosing. Only those with weak characters will be unhappy their whole life. I know right now you’re thinking that Jane Bennet had the benefit of meeting Mr. Bingley in her hometown. They had interactions at her home as well as his. She was even in his home morning, noon, and night for nearly a week! However, those interactions were hardly a picture into Jane’s usual demeanor and life. Don’t forget that her mother was constantly meddling and making the most of the situation.

When Frank had said the above about attachments, he was rethinking his secret engagement to Jane. Reason, at last, caught up with him, that it was imprudent to attach himself to a lady when he had no freedom to marry and may not for many years. Instead of blaming himself, as he ought to have done, he lashes out at everyone else, including Jane!

Likewise, Bingley seems in danger of attaching himself imprudently off a very brief courtship. Darcy steps in and suggests that Jane Bennet may not feel the same. Now, I know Darcy always gets a bad rap because of this, but I would point out two things. The first being if Bingley really knew Jane as well as you should know a spouse before marriage, then he should have had no worries on that account. The second being if he could be talked out of it then he clearly did not know himself enough to marry either. Like Frank, when Bingley returns, at last, to his Jane, another person bears all the blame.

Another similarity in the two Janes is the way they bear their heartache in the face of their suitor’s inconstancy.

When Jane Fairfax agreed to a secret engagement, one can hardly think that it would include frequently being in his company. A long distance and secret love affair might be a hard burden to bear but infinitely worse must be keeping it a secret when the object of your affections is constantly in your company. Even worse, Frank does not just pretend to be unengaged he pretends to be quite attached to Emma Woodhouse. It’s possible his goal was simply to give gossips another direction to think about, but he did incite feelings in Emma and never seemed to have a care for if she would feel heartbroken at the end of it. Likewise, he never seems to concern himself with Jane’s feelings as another lady is the recipient of his public regard. Additionally, Jane was expected to wait and put her life on hold. Could she take a position as governess knowing she would drop everything to marry him as soon as he was free?

Charles Bingley might be excused more for his leaving Hertfordshire without a second glance as he had been convinced by Darcy that Jane Bennet did not love him, but there was still a want of feeling in it. At the very least, Jane’s expectations might have been raised — as most marriages were not built on love matches. He knew, undoubtedly, of the gossip of the match. He left without wondering how the world would treat Jane in her failed “conquest.” It may not seem like much to us, but that is one of Elizabeth’s chief arguments against Bingley and Darcy. Jane, who was so reserved, became a laughing stock and the subject of scorn and pity. Mere weeks into their acquaintance, one of Jane’s oldest friends, Charlotte Lucas, was suggesting Jane did not behave correctly. And it was as much a concern to Jane a year later when Bingley finally returned.





A small disclaimer before I close. While I think both gentlemen were unfeeling at times, I do not mean to say they are without good merits or that their situations were not understandable. Frank, of course, justifies it all as needing to keep the matter unknown. Bingley did not know Jane’s true feelings. While I think the actions of both ladies compounded the gentlemen’s behavior, surely another similarity between the ladies is their forgiving nature.

So, I leave it to you, dear readers. Who do you think was more unfeeling, Frank or Bingley?


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22 Responses to A January of Janes- Courted by Inconsiderate Lovers

  1. Mr. Knightlry may have been jealous of Frank but he still took his measure. He saw that while he claimed to be tied to Mrs. Churchill’s whims , he appeared free to go to the sea, to town, or wherever he wanted, He could have come to see his father when the father married. He also could have told Jane their engagement had to be secret because he wanted a way out of it if a better prospect came into view. We don’t know that the Churchills would have disowned him and tossed him back to his father if he had told them that he wanted to marry Jane. I think it likely that he was pretending to be courting another lady they knew at the time.
    Bingley was a merchant’s son moving in gentry and upper circles- and probably looked to Darcy to see the proper way to behave in some situations. – how did Bingley and Darcy become such friends? Was it that he was willing to be Darcy’s disciple?—

    I agree Jane sort of ran the changes on her characters. She takes admirable qualities and shows how they can also be negative qualities. .Elizabeth with her wit turns in to Mary Crawford with her less acceptable wit.

  2. Like everyone else, Frank Churchill definitely comes off worse for me too. Bingley may have been unthinking and easily lead by those close to him but I don’t think for one minute that he’d be capable of, or even consider, the sort of actions that Churchill did. Bingley was far too open and guileless in his actions towards others and would probably have been incapable of carrying on a secret engaement, still less disguising the fact. Churchill was totally opposite and didn’t even seem to care that he was playing with Emma’s affections whilst trying to hide his own for Jane Fairfax. Then there’s his actually making fun of Jane on more than one occasion. As both Joana and Mr. Knightley have said “Badly done indeed!”.

  3. I always saw Frank Churchill as being the jock in HS–the star quarterback–and Jane Fairfax as being the shy nerd that he fell in love with. But instead of actually acting like he was in love, when he was around his douchenozzle, equally jock-ish friends………he would make fun of her/lash out. Especially since he didn’t have full control of his life–any control in his life i.e. dependent on his aunt, who kept calling him away the moment he did anything that he wanted to do vs. what she wanted to do.

    The difference between Bingley and Churchill, I think is their personalities. Both are examples of what is supposed to be a young gentleman i.e. amiable, handsome, charming, etc………..but Bingley doesn’t have to be the life of the party (and would prefer not to be), whereas Churchill wants that.

    And I do think that a point of his behavior–Frank Churchill’s–in flirting with Emma, etc, is that this is behavior that is expected of him, is natural to him. Except this time, he did it in front of the woman he wanted to marry. Doesn’t make him any less of a douchenozzle…………but I see an element of him acting as someone his age, personality, and status was supposed to act–especially to Emma, someone who dismissed Mr. Martin as being too coarse, etc simply because he was a farmer and not a gentleman (especially in the part where she read his proposal letter to Harriet and was “surprised” at how well it was written)……

    In essence, I think he was playing directly into Emma–who prides herself on dissecting people’s characters and desires. He quickly found who was “in charge” i.e. everyone BUT Mr. Knightley orbited around Emma and “bowed” to her superior knowledge………… I think it’s a very interesting character study.

  4. Great post. I never gave it much thought about the similarities before and think you make a lot of valid points. For me, Frank is definitely more unfeeling. I never liked how he flirted so much with Emma and right in front of Jane which despite her knowing his reasons still must have hurt deeply.

    • Thanks! I find a lot of similarities between Austen’s characters. I think it’s one of the reasons writing variations comes so naturally to me. And it’s very interesting when observing people. Imagine what they are like with one shade different in their character. Does a Lady Catherine become a Mrs. Bennet or a Lady Russell?

      Poor Jane Fairfax. I wonder what she felt during all that. Did she tell herself it was just one more trial to bear before happiness? And of the two Janes, I think she was the one built for that. Jane Bennet seems to have no previous experience with trials and heartache. When I think about it that way, I want to rant about Bingley as Elizabeth did.

  5. I consider Frank to be actively cruel, both to Jane and to Emma. He doesn’t think he is. I know he justifies his behavior, claiming, if I remember correctly, that he believed Emma guessed what that he wasn’t serious and that he was protecting his secret so Jane should be happy with him. But there was really no need to flirt so blatantly with Emma.

    • I think I agree. We all justify our actions as much as we can, don’t we? I also think Frank’s deceit became more widely known than Bingley’s flaws. Perhaps by such an open airing of them there is more room to redeem himself and earn the forgiveness which was so eagerly bestowed upon him. And I think that also takes a good bit of courage. Do you think Bingley has the same amount of that virtue?

  6. Frank is a SOB. He’s too cruel. Bingley is immature and easily persuaded by his sisters and Darcy. When he leaves Jane at Longbourn, he’s no more than a boy (I don’t mean this kindly). He’s too easily lead by others instead of thinking and listening to his own mind and heart. If these two characters were to appear in this day in time, who in their right mind would choose either?

    • I think Frank childishness is a redeeming factor. I don’t think he was a grand schemer and architect of a plan to hurt Jane and Emma. He soon became over his head. But he’s very impulsive and childlike with his wanting to go here and there and leaving on a whim just to be called back. He becomes petulant and sullen. Certainly it’s unattractive but I’m less certain he’s more “adult” than Bingley. I agree that both leave much to be desired. And perhaps that is the side plot with the two Janes, then? Their men were “reformed” by their strength of character. That’s typically the female role in novels during Austen’s age and yet, she makes the heroines females that are very complex and deeply flawed. It’s fascinating.

  7. Frank, without a shadow of a doubt. I thought him shallow in the extreme and actually pity poor Jane Fairfax for loving him.

    • You quite agree with Mr. Kinghtley then! I think I’d like a Frank and Jane variation story where we see their inner minds and why they do the things they do. Agreeing to a secret engagement seems so opposite everything else we know about Jane’s character.

  8. I believe we are all, so far, in agreement. Bingley doesn’t use his own brain (and heart?) and instead allows himself to be “persuaded”. Frank, on the other hand, not only flirts with Emma and appears to court her in front of Jane, but actually derides her and expects her to take it like a champ.

    • One thing that I feel I must hold Bingley more accountable on is that Austen describes him as intelligent and much is said of his independence. He was of age and financially secure. He could have chosen Jane if he wanted. In the end, perhaps we should invite Darcy and Elizabeth to debate with us. Is leaning on the persuasion of a friend better than steadfastness? In some ways, I think it depends on the answerer’s own character. Perhaps we could not be happy with a man who so single-mindedly pursued his cause, but to others it might be a perfect match.

  9. I fully share the disapproval of Frank Churchill. Bingley may be quite undecided and easily swayed, but Frank is selfish, self-centered and unfeeling to the ones who like or love him, including his father. Let’s bring more rotten tomatoes!!!

    • Yes! Frank was rather awful to his father too! Have you seen the 2009 BBC mini-series? I think it shed some light there I had never really understood before. Frank and Jane were sent away and had to learn from an early age to depend on themselves, even while they were in caring families. We know from Mansfield Park often times being the adopted child is not the same as an equal child in the era. Jane was just as guilty as not considering how her family would feel about a secret engagement. It seems neither one of them felt much was owed to their relations in Highbury, but I suppose they believed it was justified.

  10. I totally agree with Joana. I think it was really cruel of Frank Churchill to not only pretend to court Emma but also to laugh with her about Jane and tease Jane as with the word puzzle. Bingley was just easily led and thoughtless. Great post Rose.

    • Ah, good on bringing up the word puzzle. I think Frank had Jane’s permission for a great deal of his involvement with Emma but 1) Emma didn’t know and 2) the word puzzle was obviously too far. He had gone from pretending with Emma to actively smearing Jane right in front of her. It reminds me of the film Mean Girls.

  11. Loved your analysis, Rose, beautifully done and so in-depth!

    I’m afraid IMO Frank Churchill’s far worse than Bingley. OK so Bingley’s immature, lacking in confidence and far from perceptive, but any man who’d expect his fiancee to sit by and watch him pretending to court another is asking for the stocks and the rotten tomatoes. Badly done, Mr Churchill, badly done indeed!

    • Joana said it all. Bingley was immature and easily lead, but Frank’s behavior was cruel at times.

    • I agree that Frank is worse in my opinion, and yet in his novel the only person who seemed to think badly of him was Mr. Knightley. Perhaps he was so pervasively charming? I am rather sure he managed to communicate to Jane the plan of pretending with Emma. We know they exchanged secret letters even while she was at Highbury. And it didn’t seem to bother her until she was simultaneously being pressured by Mrs. Elton to find a position. I think also of the two ladies, Jane Fairfax is far guiltier of making her own unhappy bed.

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