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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Men who won't take no for an answer

Jane Austen anticipates current events in Hollywood: Northanger Abbey, ch. 15: “ ‘Did you ever hear the old song ‘Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?’ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope. . . . And then you know’ — twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh — ‘I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song. . . . But I have a notion, Miss Morland, you and I think pretty much alike upon most matters.’ ” Emma, ch. 15: “. . . scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up -- her hand seized -- her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping -- fearing -- adoring -- ready to die if she refused him; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, very much resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. . . . “ ‘Charming Miss Woodhouse! allow me to interpret this interesting silence. It confesses that you have long understood me.’ ” Pride and Prejudice, ch. 19: "I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long. . . . "When I do myself the honor of speaking to you next on this subject, I shall hope to receive a more favorable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character. . . "You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. . . . in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small, that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."


Oct 16 2017 04:37PM by Maggie Sullivan

Not to mention Henry Crawford harassing Fanny Price! Which in some ways is the most egregious example in Austen of men who refuse to take "no" for an answer. Or maybe just the creepiest! I compared John Thorpe to Harvey Weinstein, jokingly, a long time ago, when Miramax was going to produce a film of NA. Thorpe's comments about his sister's "thick ancles" seems very Weinsteinish, as well.

Oct 16 2017 05:10PM by Deborah Yaffe

Oh, yes -- I should have gotten Henry in there, too! And given Bob Weinstein's recent interview, I think you're spot on with your Thorpe comparison. . .

Oct 16 2017 05:05PM by Sarah Rose Kearns

Precisely -- and this is one of many reasons why "He's just from another era" is a terrible excuse. Men who use their social privilege to bully women are villains (or clowns), period.

Oct 16 2017 05:10PM by Deborah Yaffe

So true, Sarah! Alas, that era never seems to go out of style. . .

Oct 16 2017 05:31PM by Sarah Rose Kearns

Yes, the moment where Henry makes Fanny shake hands with him, and poor Fanny's post-facto acquiescence! "When it came to the moment of parting, he would take her hand, he would not be denied it . . . and when he had left the room, she was better pleased that such a token of friendship had passed." Such a brilliant, insightful, and deeply painful novel.

Oct 16 2017 05:58PM by Deborah Yaffe

That it is! In some ways, Sir Thomas' emotional pressure on Fanny is even worse than Henry's, since she feels she owes him so much. . .

Oct 16 2017 07:16PM by Sarah Rose Kearns

Absolutely, though I hadn't thought of it that way.


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