The outcome of a marriage is intrinsically linked not only with the nature of a couple’s love but also with the expectations that they have of one another regarding their respective roles in the marriage. Love assumes many different forms but is also variable. Therefore, the manner in which it evolves is significant in determining the outcome of a marriage. Both Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Othello explore how the emotions that a couple originally shared can be modified as time passes. This could be due to a number of contributive causes such as: personal differences within a marriage and social pressures as well as interference from others or deterioration in communication. Conversely, in some instances, the nature of a couple’s love at the beginning of a marriage can be indicative of the future success or failure of it.
Austen and Shakespeare, by means of Persuasion and Othello, both investigate the extent to which external interference – be it from family and friends or society – impacts the success or failure of a marriage. Although they are not married, Anne and Captain Wentworth’s relationship, which flourishes on a warm and deep love at the beginning, falls victim to social pressures. They fell “rapidly and deeply in love” and it is reported that: “It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest” which illustrates the profound nature of their love from the very beginning. However, Lady Russell interrupts this “short period of exquisite felicity” as she expresses her disapproval of the match, echoing the general consensus with regards to the social norms. In her opinion, in order for a marriage to be successful its foundations must be characterised by: “alliance”, “affluence” and “fortune”. Lady Russell is opposed to the match due to fact that she believes that he had “nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence” being a “stranger without alliance or fortune”. Therefore, she persuades Anne to abandon her love for Captain Wentworth and refuse to marry him, thereby emphasising that they live at a time when love was most certainly not blind. Anne’s coping mechanism is to convince herself that refusing to marry him will benefit him. This concerns her belief that being “prudent, and self-denying” was “principally for his advantage.” Lady Russell epitomises the social context that surrounds the characters of Persuasion and Jane Austen herself, as she acts as an external obstacle impeding the course of true love.
Throughout Persuasion Austen continually investigates the effects of society and the social norms that dictate what is meant by a “good connection”. This is the case of Anne and Captain Wentworth and another prime example of this is the marriage of Mary Elliot and Charles Musgrove. The nature of their love for one another at the beginning of their relationship is not profound and passionate but rather one that reflects the precepts of marriage implemented by society at the time. This dictates the necessity for fortune, social status and ‘equality of alliance’ to supersede genuine love. Mary’s attraction to Charles was predominantly to his wealth and gentleman status. Although these were considered fundamental criteria for a successful marriage they did not constitute a solid foundation for theirs. Mary’s constant yearning for attention and melodramatic tendencies places a strain on her marriage to Charles, as he does not pander to her self-indulgent nature. There is very little emotional substance to their relationship, which is illustrated by Charles’ lack of interest when Mary declares herself “very unfit to be left alone” due to illness - which he disregards and subsequently goes shooting in order to avoid her complaints. Furthermore, Austen explores the possibility of marriage “improving” a person, meaning a woman’s ability to strengthen and reshape her husband – something that Mary lacks. Lady...
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