Persuasions #15, 1993 Pages 32-36
Pride and Prejudice and Framley Parsonage:
A Structural Resemblance
Department of English, C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University,
Jane Austen completed six full length novels during her lifetime; Anthony Trollope completed more than forty novels, as well as shorter fiction and non-fiction pieces. He never seemed to have any difficulty finding ideas for novels, and only once did he admit to using someone else’s idea for a plot.1 It seems to me, however, that Pride and Prejudice may well have supplied Trollope with many of the essential ingredients of the plot of Framley Parsonage.
Both novels involve unequal marriages. Very rich young men insist on marrying relatively poor young women despite the objections of close relatives on both sides; particular objections are raised by the young man’s mother or mother-figure. According to the conventional wisdom as recorded in the conduct books, an unequal marriage would eventually cause great unhappiness to the apparently fortunate young woman who, not having been brought up to riches and social prominence, would be unable to carry out the responsibilities they entailed, and would eventually be destroyed by them (West 110-12).
Jane Austen laughed at the notion that great riches could be a hindrance to any right-minded, intelligent woman, as she laughed at so many instances of the conventional wisdom. In Pride and Prejudice, she makes clear that her definition of an unequal marriage is one that involves inequality of intellect such as the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.2 Their daughter, Elizabeth, has inherited the intellectual abilities of her father. Her social status, too, is that of a gentleman’s daughter, but her father has not provided for her financially. She is not strikingly attractive; her sister Jane is the beautiful member of the family. Despite these drawbacks, and that disastrous first impression, Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley with an income of £10,000 a year, falls in love with Elizabeth and proposes. He has been attracted to her he says by her “fine eyes” (27), and has come to admire her for the “liveliness of her mind” (380).
Since Jane Austen dramatizes their encounters, it is clear to the reader that Elizabeth’s intelligence and charm have won Darcy. He does, however, hesitate to propose to her, not because of her comparative poverty and lack of exalted social position, but because her father is eccentric and her mother and sisters are ill-bred. He does not propose to her, in fact, until she is visiting Mr. and Mrs. Collins.
When Darcy is out of the orbit of her family, and within the orbit of his, since he is staying with his aunt, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, who is quite as ill-mannered as Mrs. Bennet, he falls so much in love with Elizabeth that he decides to overlook “her inferiority” and “its being a degradation” (189) and propose. To his amazement she turns him down. The conduct books would have said she should turn him down because of the disparity in their incomes and social position. She, however, refuses him because of what she supposes is his maltreatment of Wickham, who is dependent on him, because he has broken up the love affair between his friend Bingley and her sister Jane, and because he has disparaged her family. Finally, she accuses him of un-gentlemanly conduct.
He is stung and writes her a letter justifying himself. She then learns he was correct in his behavior toward Wickham. She has always known her family did not conduct itself properly but this becomes even more painfully evident when her sister Lydia runs off with Wickham. This occurs shortly after she meets Darcy at Pemberley where she finds that he is not only universally beloved but also that he has a magnificent estate.3 Because of Lydia’s misbehavior, however, she is sure she has lost Darcy.
But when Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, Darcy’s closest older female relative, who is as impolite as Mrs. Bennet, demands that Elizabeth refuse Darcy’s proposal because her social position is lower than his, she refuses. As a gentleman’s daughter, she is his equal, and she will not deny that she would accept another proposal from him. This gives Darcy, who has saved Lydia by financing her marriage to Wickham, the impetus to propose again. Elizabeth accepts and they live happily ever after, partly by managing not to spend much time with those members of their families they dislike.
Did Anthony Trollope remember Elizabeth as he was writing Framley Parsonage? According to his Autobiography, as a young man he had already decided, “Pride and Prejudice was the best novel in the English language” (41). Certainly the similarities between the two novels are too numerous to be coincidental. Trollope’s heroine, Lucy Robards, like Elizabeth Bennet, is a gentleman’s daughter, only poorer and worse situated, an orphan, totally dependent on her brother, and not conventionally attractive. Despite this, Lord Lufton falls in love with her. He is of age, very rich, and totally his own master. But when he proposes to Lucy, she refuses him. Not because he has insulted her family (Lord Lufton is very fond of her brother, his closest friend), but because she has been told his mother does not want him to marry her.
Lady Lufton is not quite as rude as Lady Catherine and the reader is told she is a good and charitable lady, but it is her snobbishness and bad judgment that Trollope dramatizes. The reader sometimes sees her forced to yield but is not shown her often-discussed kindness. She wishes her son to marry Griselda Grantley who is beautiful but heartless and insipid. Appearances easily deceive her. Lady Catherine had wanted Darcy to marry her daughter who is also thoroughly insipid and announces to Elizabeth that she and Darcy’s mother had engaged the two of them to each other when they were babies. While Elizabeth refuses to recognize such an engagement (357), Lucy, despite the fact that she knows that Lord Lufton should not marry Griselda, accedes to Lady Lufton’s request to leave the field to that young woman.
Elizabeth refuses to utter falsehoods to Lady Catherine about her feelings towards Darcy. Lucy, on the other hand, does lie to Lord Lufton about her feelings towards him, causing the two of them great suffering. Trollope mentions in his Autobiography that he wishes to make “young men and women believe that truth in love will make them happy” (225). Lucy has sinned against the truth, but neither the narrator nor any other character, except Lord Lufton, disapproves of her actions. Her slavish adherence to social convention gives her little choice.
The reader is again reminded of Jane Austen when Lucy assesses her own behavior and realizes her underlying motivation has been pride.
Why -oh! why had she told such a falsehood? Could anything justify her in a lie – knowing as she did that she loved him with all her loving heart: But, then, his mother! and the sneers of the world, which would have declared that she had set her trap, and caught the foolish young lord! Her pride would not have submitted to that. Strong as her love was, yet her pride was perhaps stronger … (198-99)
Lucy’s pride is different from Elizabeth’s but both women underestimate the men they love. Even when Elizabeth learns that Darcy is truly an exemplary person, she cannot believe he would consent to have Wickham for a brother-in-law. Lucy cannot believe Lord Lufton will remain constant to her after she has refused him. But when he does remain constant to her and proposes again, she refuses him once more despite the pain they have endured. She will only consent to marry him if his mother asks her to do so!
Meanwhile, just as Lydia Bennet faced social disgrace for her seduction by Wickham, Lucy’s brother, Mark Robards, faces social disgrace for allowing himself to be seduced into bankruptcy by ambition for worldly advancement. He has co-signed notes of financial obligation for Mr. Sowerby. As Darcy blames himself for not warning the Bennets about Wickham’s immorality, Lufton blames himself for not warning Mark strongly enough against Sowerby’s dishonesty. As Darcy rescues Lydia, Lufton rescues Mark.4
Eventually, Lord Lufton does prevail upon his mother to propose to Lucy. Lady Lufton has been impressed by Lucy’s selflessness.5 She also realizes her son’s happiness depends on his marrying Lucy. Lucy’s pride remains an issue, but by the end of the novel her pride has become more reasonable. The reader is told, “her pride was of that sort which is in no way disgraceful to either man or woman” (579).
With Lady Lufton’s approval, they marry and Lucy enters the great world without any harm to herself or the Lufton family. Unlike Elizabeth and Darcy who flee the relations they do not love, however, the newly married Luftons live with Lady Lufton, and apparently allow her to regulate their lives. As the narrator assures us, “it is well known to every one at Framley that old Lady Lufton still reigns paramount …” (581).
The similarities in the situation of Austen’s young lovers and Trollope’s are too many to be accidental. Just as Lucy is staying with her brother, a clergyman, and his wife, Elizabeth is staying with a clergyman who is related to her and a friend who is as close to her as a sister. Mr. Collins is more obviously a foolish man than Mark Robards, but Mr. Robards, although he says fewer foolish things than Mr. Collins does, certainly acts much more foolishly in endorsing Sowerby’s notes.
To summarize: the similarities include the lovers’ unequal social and economic situations, their initial disdain for each other, an overbearing and interfering older female relative, a sibling in need of rescue, the initial proposal and refusal, the heroine’s surprise at the moral worth and constancy of the hero, a second, more favorably received proposal, suspicion that the heroine’s motives are mercenary, and the eventual marriage and settling down happily on the family property.
Structural elements of the plots of the two novels are very similar but the two heroines are quite different. It is not difficult to account for these differences. Jane Austen was 21 when she began First Impressions, the early version of Pride and Prejudice. Although she never scorned propriety and has generally been supposed to identify with the religiously and politically conservative land-owning gentry, recent studies such as those of Claudia Johnson, Mary Poovey and others have shown,6 that she certainly rejected many of the principles of patriarchy, and a careful reading of her novels demonstrates that she always sides with sensible young women against their unprincipled or foolish elders.
Trollope, on the other hand, was a 46-year-old man when he wrote Framley Parsonage. He identified with what he would have considered the norm: a patriarchal society controlled by the land-owning and professional classes. It is hardly surprising that he would create a more submissive heroine.
Incidentally, Trollope’s “borrowing” elements of the plot of Pride and Prejudice to use in Framley Parsonage is not an isolated case. In his The Small House at Allington (1864), a young romantic heroine, living with her widowed mother and less emotional sister, in a small house provided by a relative, falls in love with a cad, who deserts her for what he thinks will be a more socially and financially advantageous match. He suffers for his misdeed, but she is affected much more terribly, sickens and nearly dies. Eventually, however, she recovers her health and good spirits. Clearly, Trollope also read Sense and Sensibility.7
1 His brother suggested the plot of Dr. Thorne (1858). Although the novel was a great success, Trollope regretted using his brother’s idea (Autobiography 115).
2 Mr. Collins’ marriage to Charlotte Lucas also involves an inequality of intellect, but it seems to be more successful, possibly because the woman is the more intelligent spouse.
3 The age considered the beauty of an estate to be an indication of its owner’s moral excellence (Litz 103,190).
4 It should be noted that Trollope particularly mentions Lydia Bennet as a “dishonored woman” in his Autobiography (223).
5 She has not only done everything in her power to discourage Lord Lufton’s attentions, despite the fact that she loves him, she has also risked her life to care for Mrs. Cawley, who is suffering from typhus.
6 Christine Marshall in ‘ “Dull Elves” and Feminists,’ Persuasions 1992, provides an extensive bibliography of current feminist thought regarding Jane Austen (45).
7 Lily Dale does not recover enough to marry Johnny Eames, her true lover, in The Small House at Allington. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, the narrator announces she will never marry (825).
Chapman, R. W., ed. Pride and Prejudice. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, Vol. 2, 3rd. ed., Oxford, 1966.
—. Sense and Sensibility. The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen, Vol. 2, 3rd. ed., Oxford, 1966.
Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1988.
Litz, Walton. Jane Austen: A Study of her Artistic Development. Oxford, 1965.
Marshall, Christine. ‘ “Dull Elves” and Feminists: A Summary of Feminist Criticism of Jane Austen.’ Persuasions 1992, 39-45.
Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1972.
Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. (1883). Oxford, 1950.
—. Framley Parsonage (1861). Oxford, 1980.
—. The Small House at Allington (1864). Oxford, 1980.
—. The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867). Oxford, 1980.
West, Jane. Letters to a Young Lady in which the Duties and Character of Women are Considered. 3 vols., 1806; rpt. New York: Garland, 1974.