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Masculinity and Militarism in Jane Austen’s The Brothers

“You will not think I have made a bad exchange, when we reach Trafalgar House—which, by the bye, I almost wish I had not named Trafalgar—for Waterloo is more the thing now.  However, Waterloo is in reserve—and if we have encouragement enough this year for a little Crescent to be ventured on—(as I trust we shall) then we shall be able to call it Waterloo Crescent—and the name joined to the form of the building, which always takes, will give us the command of lodgers—.  In a good season we should have more applications than we could attend to.”  (Later Manuscripts 156) 

Three days after reading Robert Southey’s paean to the battle that brought to a close the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Jane Austen began work on the novel that she knew as The Brothers and that her family later titled Sanditon.1  The latter is more than appropriate, given that Sanditon is the name of the seaside resort in which the novel’s central character, Mr. Tom Parker, is so heavily invested.  Mr. Parker’s ambitions for Sanditon include building a Waterloo Crescent, a plan that characterizes the Regency world as one in which, as Roger Sales argues, “everyone and everything can be merchandised through advertising” (201).  For Clara Tuite, as for Peter Knox-Shaw, Mr. Parker is recognizably a post-Waterloo figure in that his entrepreneurial activities contribute to the post-Waterloo growth in domestic tourism and leisured consumerism.  In naming the crescent after Waterloo, Tuite suggests, Mr. Parker identifies the battle as “an object of cultural and commercial desire” and cannily anticipates the future value of that which is already past (612).

While Mr. Parker’s Waterloo speculations are a clear indication of his interest in consumers’ desires, his awareness that Waterloo is “‘more the thing’” also suggests a longer standing interest in the Napoleonic Wars—at least from the naval battle of Trafalgar (1805) to the battle of Waterloo (1815)—and, with it, the masculine world of militarism.  Austen’s choice of The Brothers as the title for what is now known, and what I shall refer to, as Sanditon indicates that she conceived of this work, more directly than any of her other novels, drafted or published, as a study of men and masculinity.  The planned title, The Brothers, encourages readers to pay attention to men and masculinity in the text.  In this article, I seek to recover something of Austen’s interest in men and masculinity by attending to its examination of men’s interest in militarism. 

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Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo was the second Waterloo poem to have passed through Austen’s hands.  The first was Walter Scott’s The Field of Waterloo (1815), a poem based on his visit to the place where Napoleon had been defeated.  The battle of Waterloo contributed to the growth of battlefield tourism, and Scott’s poem, which opens somewhere between Brussels and Waterloo, invites the reader to approach with him the site of the battle.  The poem seems not to romanticize the experience:  the travelers find the site scarred by a “line [made] so black” by the passing of soldiers and artillery and see how “spots of excavation tell / The ravage of the bursting shell” (6: 98, 106–07).  The somber tone lingers as the poem segues from surveying the aftermath of the fighting to narrating the battle as a period of “long hours of doubt and dread” for the soldiers (8: 145). 

But despite the many causes for sorrow detailed in Scott’s poem, its overarching purpose is celebratory.  The Duke of Wellington, commander of the allied forces, leads “like a beam of light” (10: 191), and with his guidance they vanquish the “dark torrent” of Napoleon’s forces (11: 210).  The poem laments the loss of so many lives in the heat of battle, whether “high-born chiefs” or those of “lowlier name,” but it offers consolation with the thought that “sacred [is] the heroes’ sleep” (22: 465, 466, 472).  In Scott’s hands, Waterloo is a modern battle, one in which the allies’ cannon unleashed “flash” and “fire,” and also a triumph to be recorded in the annals of heroism (11: 201, 203).  Following his characteristic bent for the historical, Scott concludes by listing past Anglo-French conflicts, from the medieval to the almost modern: 

Yes—Agincourt may be forgot,
And Cressy be an unknown spot,
And Blenheim’s name be new;
But still in story and in song,
For many an age remember’d long,
Shall live the towers of Hougomont,
And fields of Waterloo.  (23: 492–98) 

Here Scott places Waterloo as an equally timeless victory. 

Like Scott, Southey had travelled to see the place where the battle of Waterloo had been fought, and his experiences as a tourist are integral to his poem.  Organized into two sections, “The Journey,” which narrates the poet’s journey through France and Belgium, and “The Vision,” The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo, like The Field of Waterloo, is both a lament for the brutality of war and a hymn to victory.  Scott, however, balances the dark “black line” and the luminosity of the allies’ actions with greater ease, for Southey has to work harder to prevent the “gloomy, thick, impenetrable shade” that leads to the “ground wherein the slaughtered lie” from overshadowing the glory of the victory (Part 1: canto 3; stanza 2, stanza 12). 

Southey begins this work in the prefatory “Argument,” which attempts to affix the poem to the purpose of celebrating the battle: 

The contest in which this country was engaged against that Tyrant, was a struggle between good and evil principles, and never was there a victory so important to the best hopes of human nature as that which was won by British valour at Waterloo. . . . The peace which [England] has won by the battle of Waterloo, leaves her at leisure to pursue the great objects and duties of bettering her own condition, and diffusing the blessings of civilization and Christianity.  (n. p.) 

Here Southey asserts that Waterloo was a victory secured by martial valor for the benefit of mankind, but such is the narrative of the damage done to and within the supposedly glorious theatre of war that it takes the second part of the poem, the allegorical vision, to defend this claim.  In “The Vision” the poet ascends a tower in order to get a better perspective on the battle.  There he meets Wisdom, who questions the value of risking one’s life in battle:  “Live whilst thou livest, for this life is all!” (Pt. 2: canto 1, st. 17).  The poet overcomes this seductive reasoning and is then able to sing the victory as the triumph of Christian bravery:  “O Men of England! nobly have ye paid / The debt which to your ancestors ye owed.”  (Pt. 2: canto 4, st. 15). 

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Austen may not have actually read Scott’s celebration of Waterloo and its heroes.  Austen and Scott shared the same publisher, John Murray, and she wrote to him to pass on her brother Henry’s thanks for his “polite attention in supplying him with a copy of Waterloo” and then again in order to return the poem on Henry’s behalf (3 November 1815; 23 November 1815).  If it is possible to read a lack of interest in Scott’s The Field of Waterloo in these polite exchanges, then it is also permissible to note that, in borrowing rather than purchasing the poem, neither Austen nor her brother made a contribution to the charitable fund for the Waterloo widows and their families for whom the book was sold.  That said, Austen’s entirely functional acknowledgements of Scott’s poem are revealing in that they illuminate the significance of the fact that she discussed reading Southey’s Pilgrimage in a conversational letter to her friend Alethea Biggs:  “We have been reading the ‘Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo,’ & generally with much approbation” (24 January 1817). 

While it might be coincidence that Austen began to write Sanditon so soon after she had been reading Southey’s response to Waterloo, it cannot be accidental that the novel begins with the overturning of Mr. and Mrs. Parker’s carriage, a mishap that occurs when they are trying to locate a doctor who might be persuaded to move to Sanditon and thereby enhance its allure to health tourists.  Both Scott’s poem and Southey’s Pilgrimage are accounts of an enthusiast’s journey to “see” a glorious battle that had already happened, and both poets find that they must reveal the gloomier aspects of warfare only to have to cover them over in order to celebrate the brilliance of the victory.  Phillip Shaw has done much to draw attention to the aesthetic challenges posed by war and by Waterloo in particular; that battle, he writes, “exceeded, even as it generated, the ascription of narrative closure”—so much so that even Scott and Southey had to wrestle to produce a “totalizing vision” of that which could not but be “an impossible object of desire” (x, 113, 6).  The opening to Sanditon borrows from both poems the motif of the journey in search of an object of desire, but rather than end with a hard-won victory Mr. Parker’s journey ends with failure. 

At first glance, the accident reveals only that the eager promoter of Sanditon knows little about the geography of the south coast, for though Mr. Parker confidently believes that they have been overturned at “‘the very place’” they wanted, the rustic cottage in the near-distance turns out not to be the home of the gentleman surgeon who placed an advertisement in the newspaper (138).  It is significant that the accident happens near a village that the Parkers’ rescuer, the sensible Mr. Heywood, maps for the confused travelers by noting that the village they seek is “‘on the other side of Battle’” (140).  Battle is a small town that surrounds the abbey built to commemorate one of the most important Anglo-French battles in English history:  the battle of Hastings (1066).  Unlike the carefully edited selection of battles that Scott mentions in The Field of Waterloo—Agincourt (1415), Cressy (1346), Blenheim (1704)—the battle of Hastings was a major defeat for the English.  While the Parkers’ journey only gently parodies the fashion for travelling to see the impossible, it is notable that Austen’s pilgrims are forced by Mr. Heywood’s hospitable solicitations to reconcile themselves to having met with the most quotidian of disappointments near a place connected with a great military failure.  With this combination Austen seems to be undermining the kind of enthusiasm for victory that Southey’s Pilgrimage works so hard to sustain. 

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Having suggested that the Parkers’ carriage accident can be read as a reply to Scott and Southey’s battlefield tourism, I now want to consider how the novel further engages skeptically with military triumphalism by refusing to reinforce male, or rather masculinist, enthusiasm for war as a manly activity.  After all, Austen’s comment on Southey’s poem makes no mention of the laureate’s solemnizing of the soldiers’ valor: 

We have been reading the “Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo,” & generally with much approbation.  Nothing will please all the world, you know; but parts of it suit me better than much that he has written before.  The opening—the Proem I beleive he calls it—is very beautiful.  Poor Man!  One cannot but grieve for the loss of the Son so fondly described.  Has he at all recovered it?  What do Mr and Mrs Hill know of his present state?  (24 January 1817) 

When Austen writes that the poem met with general approbation, she must be referring to the company at Chawton:  the poem had not met with universal critical approbation, and Austen’s comment that “nothing will please all the world” seems to acknowledge this.  That said, it is significant that Austen seems to have been taken only with “parts,” and specifically with the introductory proem in which Southey describes returning from his travels to his family, including his only son, Herbert, who, as Austen was aware, died less than a month after the poem was completed. 

The opening lines of Southey’s proem address the Lake District with the words “Once more I see thee” (st. 1), words that echo William Wordsworth’s “Lines: Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” a poem in which the poet comes to understand the power of his mind in part by contrasting himself with his “dear, dear” but less “matured” sister (122, 139).  Southey’s return from Belgium leads him to recall his first arrival in the Lakes, and this recollection becomes a far more explicit reflection on masculinity:  “Hither I came in manhood’s active prime, / And here my head hath felt the touch of time” (3: 17–18).  Southey’s concern with his “manhood” is extended as the familiar landscape leads him to reflect on his familial role as a father.  The poet had travelled to Waterloo with his eldest daughter, Edith May, but the proem makes much of his return to his other daughters and, most of all, to his son:  “there stood one whose heart could entertain / And comprehend the fullness of the joy; / The father, teacher, playmate, was again / Come to his only and his studious boy” (15: 85–88). 

In singling out Southey’s proem for praise, Austen might be said to be endorsing enthusiastically the poet’s investment in the kind of patrilineal and patriarchal masculinity shared by brothers, fathers, and sons—that is, masculinity claimed by men by virtue of their not being women.  And yet a proem that describes one man’s return to his children makes for an awkward introduction to a poem that acknowledges but must then deny the significance of the loss of men’s lives and limbs at Waterloo in order to maintain the Horatian rhetoric of dulce et decorum.  Austen’s comment on her experience of reading the poem seems to be responding to this tension, for if the poet’s reflections on his manhood are intended to prefigure the poem’s hymn to martial valor, Austen’s sympathy with Southey’s bereavement undermines the poem’s Waterloo celebration by coming dangerously close to acknowledging what Mary Favret terms the everyday-ness of war, the fact that war begets loss.  Rather than commend the poem’s account of the Waterloo victory as a national achievement secured by the nation’s military men, then, Austen’s partiality to the proem can be read as a refusal to participate in the kind of celebration of military masculinity that Southey gestures to in the “Argument” and, ultimately, manages to find in “The Vision.” 

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Of course, in comparison to Persuasion, the novel written in the immediate aftermath of the end of the war, Sanditon is far less overtly preoccupied with military men, but just as Persuasion avoids contributing to the celebration of Waterloo by sidestepping the climactic engagement and returning to the false peace of 1814–1815, so Sanditon takes the post-Waterloo moment as an opportunity to interrogate the relationship between militarism and masculinity.  Sanditon does not include military men as characters, as Persuasion does; rather, the text explores men’s, notably Mr. Parker’s, longings for the kind of masculinity they associate with militaristic activity.  While Mr. Parker’s plan for a Waterloo Crescent is symptomatic of the text’s interest in economic speculation, his almost-regret at having named Trafalgar House before Waterloo became “the thing” also reveals his interest in the set-piece military successes garnered by the heroic Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.  Mr. Parker’s military enthusiasm is further suggested by his subsequent description of Trafalgar House, which reveals that the house is something like a ship and that he is something of a frustrated naval captain. 

The Parkers’ old family house is situated in a sheltered and shaded nook, but Trafalgar House has been built high up on a coastal cliff, close to the sea.  The position of the house means that it faces the unrestrained force of the wind or, as Mr. Parker sees it, “‘the grandeur of the storm’” as well as the beating sun.  The ship-like house has a sail in the form of a “‘canvas awning’” designed to protect the interior of the building from the heat (157).  Even the daily mechanics of family life in Trafalgar House have something of the hardships of life at sea.  Whereas the old house is well positioned for the production of fruit and vegetables, the new house has no sheltered land for growing food and so must take on fresh produce, principally from the old house’s kitchen garden, on a daily basis. 

It falls to Mrs. Parker to remember the “‘very comfortable’” old house and to make Mr. Parker admit that the gardener frequently brings the wrong items from the old kitchen garden (156, 157).  As quietly unsure as Mrs. Parker obviously is about the benefits of Trafalgar House, however, Mr. Parker embraces the drawbacks in the manner of one who imagines naval life as heroic.  Mr. Parker puts himself in the role of the successful commander when he surmises that the Sanditonians who are yet to leave the village for the hill “‘may be taken totally unawares, by one of those dreadful currents which should do more mischief in a valley, when they do arise, than an open country ever experiences in the heaviest gale’” (157–58).  Mr. Parker inadvertently reveals that this argument is nonsense when he refers to a row of trees that he has planted near the house to form a much-needed defensive windbreak, but he refers to these trees as his “‘plantations’” (157), thereby suggesting that he imagines himself as one who has invaded and conquered in the manner of a military force expanding an imperial or colonial frontier, a position the arrival of Miss Lambe looks set to challenge. 

To see Trafalgar House’s ship-like qualities is to be able to see more sense in Mr. Parker’s “long[ing],” after convalescing with the Heywoods, “to be on the sands, the cliffs, at his own house, and every where out of his house at once” (160).  Although his desire to be in and out of his house “at once” seems paradoxical, a house that is like a ship is always both a house and not a house at once.  That said, the fact that the ship-like house allows Mr. Parker to inhabit the role of the heroic naval captain also reveals the depth of his investment in militarism as a masculine activity.  This investment is further suggested by his belief that his sons will benefit from living in the new house. 

According to Mrs. Parker, the new house is unsuitable for the younger members of the family because it exposes them to the effect of the harsh sunlight.  In response, Mr. Parker urges her to purchase a parasol for their daughter, and she agrees on the basis that such an article will allow Mary to think of herself as “‘quite a little woman’” (157).  In contrast, Mr. Parker hopes that his boys will be toughened up by running about in the sun:  “‘as for the boys, I must say I would rather them run about in the sunshine than not.  I am sure we agree, my dear, in wishing our boys to be as hardy as possible’” (157).  It is clear that Mr. Parker identifies Trafalgar House as a space in which his boys might participate in the kind of militaristic activities that he thinks become them as young men.  Here Austen revisits Persuasion and Sir Walter Elliot’s opinion that naval men are aged by exposure to the elements (21–23).  With this view he attacks those he believes to be beneath him in rank and status by virtue of their profession but knows to be rising in wealth and social importance.  To both Sir Walter and Mr. Parker, tanned and toughened skin is a hallmark of a naval man, but whereas Sir Walter disparages it as middle-class, Mr. Parker values it as masculine. 

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Of course, there are good reasons to follow Brian Southam’s argument that Austen was an enthusiast for the virtue and value of the nation’s military men, one being the warmth of her response to what she notes down in her correspondence as “an Essay on the Military Police & Institutions of the British Empire, by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers”:  “I am as much in love with the Author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan.  . . . The first soldier I ever sighed for; but he does write with extraordinary force & spirit” (24 January 1813).  Tim Fulford suggests that “in admiring [Pasley’s] masculinity . . . Austen suggested that imperial war was the arena in which the gentleman—via service in the regular army rather than the militia—could discover the manly authority that the nobility had surrendered, the authority necessary to govern effectively” (177).  And yet it is possible to over-estimate the affection that seems to take Austen by surprise as a “first.” 

The text Austen mistakenly notes down as an essay on “police” rather than “policy” was reading matter for the book society to which she belonged, and her affection for the author has to be qualified by her comparison of her group’s reading material with that chosen by the Steventon and Manydown Society:  “what are their Biglands & their Barrows, their Macartneys & Mackenzies, to Capt. Pasley’s Essay on the Military Police of the British Empire” (24 January 1813).  It isn’t entirely clear which group Austen thinks has the drier selection—quite possibly there are no winners in this contest—but the dry humor does suggest that Austen’s earlier profession of “love” parodies women’s supposed susceptibility to military men.  Certainly Austen’s capacity to be skeptical about the stereotypical desirability of military men can be traced in her published novels:  Lydia Bennet falls victim to a dashing young man in uniform, but Anne Elliot insists that she was right to heed Lady Russell’s concern about the suitability of a man dependent on a “most uncertain profession” for financial and social security (29). 

The novel that Austen began writing three days after reading Southey’s Pilgrimage and that she conceived of as The Brothers explores just such gendered roles in its representation of men who idealize militarism as an expression of masculinity.  The overturning of the Parkers’ carriage and Mr. Parker’s ankle injury make for comparatively mild rebukes to the man whose notions of masculinity are tempered by a good deal of geniality, not to mention his sister’s indefatigability.  The dangers of this kind of investment in masculinity are only made manifest when Austen introduces Sir Edward, nephew by marriage to the “great lady of Sanditon,” Lady Denham (150).  Sir Edward makes such a favorable first impression on the Parkers’ house guest, Mr. Heywood’s daughter Charlotte, that she is momentarily impressed by his florid oration on the sea: 

He began, in a tone of great taste and feeling, to talk of the sea and the sea shore—and ran with energy through all the usual phrases employed in praise of their sublimity, and descriptive of the undescribable emotions they excite in the mind of sensibility.—The terrific grandeur of the ocean in a storm, its glassy surface in a calm, its gulls and its samphire, and the deep fathoms of its abysses, its quick vicissitudes, its direful deceptions, its mariners tempting it in sunshine and overwhelmed by the sudden tempest, all were eagerly and fluently touched.  (174) 

Like Mr. Parker, Sir Edward is drawn to the sea as a masculine space:  he describes the sea by employing the language of the Burkean sublime, and he imagines mariners locked in manly combat with its elemental force. 

For Sir Edward this kind of masculinity does more than ratify the gender binary:  it legitimizes sexual violence.  Sir Edward follows his oration by trying to recall lines on the sea by Scott, lines he believes to be so affecting that the “‘man who can read them unmoved must have the nerves of an assassin!’”  Rather than condemn this dangerous man, Sir Edward asserts that he should not wish to meet such a one “‘un-armed’” (174).  Sir Edward’s projection of himself in armed combat leads him to imagine a corresponding femininity, which he finds in Scott’s Marmion, a poem ostensibly concerned with the battle between the English and the Scottish at Flodden Field (1513), but which, as J. R. Watson observes, responds to the Napoleonic Wars with its account of the code of chivalry (111–13).  Sir Edward seems to have been less taken with the examination of chivalric values, for he recalls only “‘Oh! Woman in our hours of ease.’”  “‘Delicious! Delicious!’” he concludes (175). 

As the text later makes quite plain, Sir Edward is plotting to assault his aunt’s distant relative and close companion, Miss Clara Brereton.  As a vigorous reader of sentimental novels, Sir Edward has come to see the passionate villain of any story as a hero.  His “great object in life was to be seductive. . . . He felt that he was formed to be a dangerous man—quite in the line of the Lovelaces” (183–84).  To Clara’s credit, she is aware that Sir Edward wants to “undermine her principles,” but though the narrator confirms that “Clara saw through him, and had not the least intention of being seduced,” the flat statement that he intended to “carry her off” makes evident that Sir Edward feels that he has the right to force himself physically and violently upon her (184). 

Clara Tuite has argued that Sanditon foregrounds the importance of female agency in combating patriarchal privilege (Romantic Austen 188–91); certainly, the novel seems to want Charlotte Heywood to intervene in Sir Edward’s plan to abduct Clara.  While Sir Edward warns Charlotte that neither she “‘nor can any woman be a fair judge of what a man may be propelled to say, write or do, by the sovereign impulses of illimitable ardour’” (176), in the final chapter of the unfinished novel Charlotte notices Sir Edward and Clara, the latter precariously “white and womanish,” in the grounds of Sanditon House (207).  Though Charlotte thinks she must have spotted a lovers’ tryst, her first impression of Clara had been of her vulnerability:  “Perhaps it might be partly owing to her having just issued from a circulating library—but she could not separate the idea of a complete heroine from Clara Brereton. . . . She seemed placed with [Lady Denham] on purpose to be ill-used” (169).  As cautious as one must be with an unfinished novel, the final chapter gives Charlotte the opportunity to see the danger that Clara is in and so leaves open the possibility that she will foil Sir Edward’s planned sexual assault. 

That said, the chapter does not place too much of a burden on Charlotte’s shoulders, for while the unfinished manuscript suggests that Charlotte will challenge Sir Edward’s understanding of masculinity, the novel undermines him in other ways.  My discussion of Sanditon began with Mr. Parker’s plan for a Waterloo Crescent as an economic speculation in the post-Waterloo marketplace for domestic tourism.  According to Tony Tanner, Mr. Parker’s treatment of Sanditon’s coastline as “an exploitable resource, a commodity” is symptomatic of what Austen sees as a “sick society” (258, 285), but to Mr. Parker, Sanditon’s sea is integral to two intersecting speculations:  the sea makes the “sick” better and, like other kinds of military activity, “men” masculine.  I suggest that the text questions both by revealing that they are both selfish investments. 

Like Mr. Parker’s, Sir Edward’s desires are fundamentally economic.  Though a fellow speculator—he has invested in turning a strip of waste ground into “‘a tasteful little cottage ornée’” for paying lodgers—Sir Edward is characterized as “a poor man for his rank in society” (153).  His sexual desire for Clara is inextricably linked with his desire to ensure that he, rather than Clara, inherits Lady Denham’s fortune.  In other words, Sir Edward’s plot to seduce Clara is fundamentally a plan to disarm the woman he correctly identifies as his equal because his “rival” in matters financial and to restore her to the more suitably feminine role of sexual victim (184).  By exposing the true nature of Sir Edward’s desires, then, the text challenges the militaristic masculine roles that are celebrated by poems like Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage or Scott’s Marmion and indicates that these poems ultimately contributed to sustaining ideas of masculinity that legitimized men’s desires for masculine victory and victorious masculinity.



1Austen mentions reading The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo in a letter written on 24 January 1817.  Austen wrote “Jan: 27.—1817” at the start of the manuscript of Sanditon.  See also Le Faye (xxix).

Works Cited
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  • Favret, Mary.  War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime.  Princeton: PUP, 2009.
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