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Friday, August 9, 2019

The Friday Five: My Favourite “Hidden” Romantic Moments, from Natalie Jenner

This morning, 2020 debut author Natalie Jenner is joining us to share her ultimate "hidden" romantic moments in Austen — those little, subtle incidents that lay thr groundwork for the characters' budding romances, and get us seasoned Janeites' butterflies a-flappin'. Click through to see if your favorite made the cut, and let us know your own personal list in the comments!
And make sure to stop back by later today for a chance at an advance copy of her book, The Jane Austen Society!




One of the qualities of Jane Austen’s writing I most admire is how she always remains one step ahead of the reader. She is the pre-modern Queen of Reflections and Easter Eggs, and few authors reward the act of rereading in the way that she does.
One of the effective ways she stays ahead of us is to hide clues about the main characters’ true romantic feelings. In this way, she treats us all as equal dupes to the inhabitants of the town of Highbury, continually missing the clues to Frank Churchill’s real object of affection: the haircut, the piano, the sweaty delayed arrival at Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries.
Below, in no particular order, are my personal favourite “hidden” romantic moments in Jane Austen.

The “Rescue” (Persuasion)

Heroine Anne Elliot’s little nephew Walter teasingly persists in climbing onto her back as she kneels on the floor tending to his injured brother. Anne can’t get Walter to stop no matter how hard she pleads.
In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; someone was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.
In the context of Anne and her ex-fiance Captain Wentworth, this gesture is incredibly intimate and physical, more physical than most events in Austen. But aside from the near-touching of the estranged couple, what really pumps up the hidden romance of this scene is how Austen is projecting Anne and Wentworth, two people who can barely even look at each other, onto the very common domestic tableau of a husband and wife trying to discipline an unruly child together.
This is seriously hot stuff.

Most Precious Treasures (Emma)

Mr. Knightley is discussing heroine Emma Woodhouse’s intention to read more, and the many reading lists she has prettily composed over time as a motivator in that area. And then Knightley lets slip this little nugget:
“The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgement so much credit that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma.”
What puts this scene into the stratosphere of hidden romance is the fact that this grown man once held onto a piece of paper because of what it represented to him: the potential for Emma to become the woman he wants and needs her to be. In this way, the reading list is strikingly akin to the parcel of “Most Precious Treasures” that silly Harriet Smith has been toting around for half the book. The idea of Knightley being as in love with Emma as Harriet thinks she is with Mr. Elton—and not even knowing it—makes his character just that much more vulnerable and, yes, hot.

Erratically Rescheduling Travel Plans (Pride and Prejudice)

Heroine Elizabeth Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam, cousin to Mr. Darcy, are walking the grounds of Rosings Park together, making polite conversation. Elizabeth asks the Colonel whether he and Darcy are leaving Kent on Saturday “for certain.” Colonel Fitzwilliam replies,
“Yes—if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases.”
I love this moment for what it is hiding: the fact that Darcy keeps delaying his scheduled departure from Rosings because he is such a hot mess over what to do about his overwhelming physical passion for Elizabeth. Nothing says romance more than the breaking of plans—or a man, so eminently used to being in control, losing any and all sense of it.

Feigning Solicitude for One’s Elders in Order to Have Time Alone Together (Emma)

For this next “hidden” romantic moment, I am in debt to the 2009 television drama serial of Emma, which highlighted the following moment in such a way that I finally saw Austen’s clue here:
Mr. Knightley called, and sat some time with Mr. Woodhouse and Emma, till Mr. Woodhouse, who had previously made up his mind to walk out, was persuaded by his daughter not to defer it, and was induced by the entreaties of both, though against the scruples of his own civility, to leave Mr. Knightley for that purpose.
“Induced by the entreaties of both” is captured wonderfully in the television production by actors Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, who play up the quickness and persistence with which they both implore Mr. Woodhouse to continue on his walk, thus leaving them alone together. I actually had to check the book after watching to see if Austen had really written it this way, the moment was so simple and swoony for those in the audience who already know what is really going on between Emma and Knightley.


The “Sacrifice” (Sense and Sensibility)

There is a scene halfway through Sense and Sensibility when Colonel Brandon visits the Dashwoods in London and Elinor confirms the ongoing mutual affection of Willoughby and Marianne. Brandon knows he should disclose the fact that Willoughby has impregnated Brandon’s sixteen-year-old ward Eliza, yet he says nothing.

How is any of this romantic? Bear with me.

Brandon can’t tell Elinor what he knows, because he is so head over heels in love with Marianne that he can’t stand to cause her a moment’s less happiness in the short-term, even if it means a better outcome for her in the end. It is the opposite of tough love, and it’s part of the interesting dynamic between Brandon and Marianne that makes his solicitude for her, even when misplaced, so attractive. The crushed look on the late great Alan Rickman’s face during this scene in the Ang Lee movie version of Sense and Sensibility doesn’t hurt either.

So there you have it, just some of the hidden romantic moments in my favourite books by Jane Austen.

Natalie Jenner was born in England and emigrated to Canada as a young child. She obtained her B.A. and her LL.B. from the University of Toronto, where she was the 1990 Gold Medalist in English Literature at St. Michael's College, and was Called to the Bar of Ontario in 1995. In addition to a brief career as a corporate lawyer, Natalie has worked as a recruiter, career coach, and consultant to leading law firms in Canada for over two decades. Most recently Natalie founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. A lifelong devotee of all things Jane Austen, "The Jane Austen Society" is her first published novel.


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29 comments:

  1. I also like this little nugget from Mary Crawford, MANSFIELD PARK: “My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself — I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” (Ch. 7)

    She kind of gives fair warning to what one might expect from her as a friend.

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    1. I think something I grudgingly admire about Mary is exactly this: how she owns what she feels, whether it's admirable or not :)

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  2. I can't think of any "hidden" moments that are my favorite but I enjoyed reading your list. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Feigning solicitude for one's elders seems like an excellent idea! Such deviousness!

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    1. That deviousness is definitely also part of Austen's charm!

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  4. Interesting list! That moment in Persuasion is so compelling because it's one of our first clues, as readers, that Wentworth isn't over Anne. He can't be in the same room with her without being aware of her, and for all his resentment, he still respects her.

    Because there aren't many Elinor and Edward fans out there, I'll offer two moments for them:

    --when Elinor agrees to tell Edward that Colonel Brandon has offered him a living, giving him the financial means to marry Lucy. I find it such a deep expression of love, for she is willing to put aside her own happiness to help Edward -- and she wants him to know she does not resent him for his decision to keep his promise to Lucy.

    -- when Edward visits Barton Cottage earlier in the novel. (This visit isn't in the Ang Lee 1995 film, but it's an important moment in the book.) During this visit, he sends all sorts of mixed signals to Elinor: "It was evident that he was unhappy; she wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished her by the same affection which once she had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of his preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner towards her contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one" (Chapter 18). Only later in the novel do we find out why he's so unhappy.

    I've always read this scene as an example of how he just can't stop himself from seeing Elinor, even though he knows he will never be able to marry her. Throughout the visit, he's very proper -- always leaving the room when Marianne tries to leave him alone with Elinor. He doesn't want to give the kind of mixed signals that would give Elinor undue hope. (He's no Willoughby, in other words.) But he's so much in love with Elinor that he allows himself to spend time with her, in the presence of her family; I love to think of him just soaking in her warmth and wit and intelligence, hoping it will be enough to last him a lifetime.

    Thanks for the conversation, and congrats on your new release!

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  5. I love this list, particularly the points about Emma since I'm planning to re-read it for the first time and so it's good to have those hidden bits of romance in mind going into it. I liked Emma well enough the first time I read it, but it wasn't up at the top of my list of Austen's books, so I'm really curiously how I'll feel about it reading it now that I'm older, and also after having enjoyed that miniseries of it that you mentioned, I'm hoping that I'll be a bigger fan of the book this go round.

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    1. EMMA is considered by many critics to be the first true detective novel, it is so packed with clues and red herrings and easter eggs. It's the gift that keeps on giving :)

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    2. I love the idea of Emma as a detective novel.

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  6. Never really thought about the hidden romantic moments but this post really makes me remember them in books I have read.

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    1. I am for subtlety and nuance to the point of barely existent ;)

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  7. Great list of moments! My personal favourite is where Mr Darcy proposes successfully to Elizabeth and

    'The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.'

    ... which apparently is code for he sneaked a kiss :)

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  8. I love that bit from persuasion. Its such a roller coaster of a book with very little intimate contact so every little bit before the finale is so strong.

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  9. I haven't thought about most of these moments before! Interesting analysis of some scenes that otherwise didn't seem particularly significant. One of my favourite moments from Emma (that is highlighted in the film with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam) is when Emma says that they are not so much brother and sister as to make dancing together improper, and Knightley goes, "No, indeed." Maybe not exactly "hidden," but foreshadowing much? :D

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    1. Oh I love that moment too - I seem to recall it missing from the otherwise-excellent 2007 version, and I really missed it!

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  10. I love the romantic moments you described, thanks for sharing.

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  11. You're so perceptive! I don't think I would have noticed many of these. Darcy delaying his plans because of Elizabeth, for example. Good call! Well done, Jane!

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    1. Perceptive...obsessive...it's a toss-up, I'm afraid!

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  13. YES that Persuasion one! all those little moments keep us readers going as poor Anne suffers quietly in doubt of Wentworth's feelings. And I love that it's not the classic romance moment where the two leads have to actually take care of a child together (which truth be told is not my favorite trope), it's so much subtler than that!

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  14. Interesting post. I can't think of anything else to add!

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  15. Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!.. hopeless romantic quiz

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