It's raining (Regency) men, from Sanditon and Bridgerton to Barton Cottage and Highbury
They're Byronic, gallant, cash-strapped and capturing hearts
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It’s March, and here at the Austen Connection we’re still rolling through this month with the Jane Austen TV! Thank you for tuning in!
This past Sunday saw the arrival of The Courtship from NBC. Are you watching this? If you think I may have thoughts on this, you would be correct. And you will hear them all in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.
But first, even more newsworthy is the upcoming - March 20th! - new season of Sanditon, arriving with its “whole campful of soldiers!” Season 2 will air on Sundays, March 20-April 24, at 9pm ET, on PBS.
It’s based on the unfinished novel fragment that Austen was working on at the time of her death, and the production is created and co-written by Andrew Davies (with lead writer Justin Young and a team of writers), the titan of Jane Austen adaptations including the 1995 BBC series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
So this week, we’re looking at Sanditon, the men of Sanditon, and deconstructing a few things that are going on with all of Austen’s men. And of course Jane Austen is full of men; she has plenty to say about men; and our screen adaptations handle this in a variety of interesting ways.
All this manhood is somewhat new territory for the Austen Connection, and we’re turning over the platform and handing the mic to author Elizabeth Gilliland, whose PhD in literature with an emphasis on adaptations specially qualifies her to celebrate - and interrogate - all things Sanditon, which by the way is not without its controversies in the Austen Universe, yes? And neither are the men without controversy. You can weigh in, below, but first:
Take us away, Elizabeth!
For Love or Money: ‘Sanditon’ Season 1 and the Controversial Ending
— from Elizabeth Gilliland
The second season of Sanditon is almost here! I know this moment will be a mixed bag of emotions for many Austen lovers. Excitement, that we get to continue in the wonderful world that season 1 created for us. Triumph, for those dedicated fans who rallied to have a second season made.
And, no doubt, disappointment for some that wish we would not be missing so many of the characters we grew to care about from the first season, maybe most especially Mr. Sidney Parker.
Please believe me when I say I, too, feel this disappointment, and wish that we could see Charlotte and Sidney get their second chance in season 2. The two of them had so much promise, so much potential–and at the risk of being hyperbolic, I’m pretty sure on my deathbed I will still be thinking about the outrageous chemistry between these two.
Gif credit: @outlanderfan_nl
Rather than dwelling on what could have been, however, I am choosing to go into season 2 with an open mind. The ending to Sidney and Charlotte’s story may not be what many fans wanted (I would exempt the Mr. Stringer fans from this category, but since he won’t be returning for season 2, we’re all in the same boat); it does, however, give us an insight into an issue Austen writes about in pretty much all of her novels.
Much has been written about how Austen’s writing gives us unique insight into the precarious financial position of women in Austen’s time. With very limited options, women basically had to make a good marriage or rely on the charity of relatives, something that Austen herself would have been all too familiar with.
Gif credit: Hannah Thompson
Not as much has been written about the financial dependence of men in Austen’s novels.
Men in her time had more options, certainly, but still not many; middle-class men from so-called “good” families would have been expected to go into law, medicine, the church, or the military. A rich man may be in want of a wife, but a poor man must be in want of a profession (or an heiress).
From the men in Austen’s novels alone, we can see that many were pressured to marry for money, status, and the family name. Austen’s male characters, for the most part, are not powerful, free agents, but are often beholden to other family members, whether to receive financial support, or to give it. In short, they are often just as much victims of the patriarchal society as Austen’s female characters.
A rich man may be in want of a wife, but a poor man must be in want of a profession (or an heiress).
Sidney’s choice to give up love and marry for money drives home the choice that many of Austen’s other male characters are faced with–and some actually make.
Let’s do a quick overview of some of the other Austen heroes (and some villains) who feel that financial pinch.
(Spoilers, and a warning for unapologetic cheekiness, for all books referenced below!)
Sense and Sensibility
The Dashwood sisters certainly feel the pinch of the purse strings, but the men of the novel are also all at the mercy of relatives for their cash flow.
Edward Ferrars has to walk a fine tightrope to keep his imperious mother, Mrs. Ferrars, happy so she won’t cut him off financially (a difficult thing to do when you have both a secret fiance and a secret side piece, and they’re both poor! Come on, Edward.)
Gif credit: @evilnerf
John Willoughby also has to cater to his aunt to make sure he gets his inheritance, which is probably for the best since he’s riding around the countryside impregnating young girls. When faced with the choice to listen to his aunt and marry his baby mama or find a new woman to leech off, Willoughby goes with door number two–but either way, his financial fate is in someone else’s hands. (Shame, he seemed like such a nice guy.)
When faced with the choice to listen to his aunt and marry his baby mama or find a new woman to leech off, Willoughby goes with door number two – but either way, his financial fate is in someone else’s hands.
Colonel Brandon might seem like the most financially stable bachelor, but keep in mind that before the death of his brother, Colonel Brandon was a second son. Not set to inherit his father’s estate, Brandon wasn’t allowed to marry the girl he loved and had to go into the army to earn a living (and escape a scandal.
We see you, you secret softie.
Gif credit: @charlesdances
Who could forget charming Frank Churchill, who plays a very dangerous game of flirting with everyone but his fiance while he waits for his great-aunt to either come around to Jane Fairfax or die? Frank loves Jane, but seemingly not enough to stand up to the person who holds the purse strings.
Luckily for them both, Mrs. Churchill dies a very convenient death, but who knows what choice Frank might have made otherwise?
Gif credit: emmafilm
And last but not least, we have Captain Wentworth, whose tragic backstory reveals that he loved Anne but didn’t have enough money or family connections to marry her.
Thankfully, we love a good self-made man, and Wentworth quickly proves his net worth by becoming a navy hero. All’s well that ends well, and he and Anne find each other again, but if he hadn’t made his fortune…?
We know Anne regretted her decision, but we also know that practical Anne Elliot understands firsthand the difficulty of trying to live on a budget, so who knows if these two would have found each other again.
Gif credit: most4rdently
Of course we all love a happy ending, and Jane Austen almost always delivers. Usually when a man chooses money over love, we can easily dismiss him as a villain.
Sidney Parker’s position is different, because we can understand why he would choose to help his family, even if we don’t have to like it.
Only time will tell if Charlotte will still get her happy ending, but I for one am excited to see where this new season goes.
R.I.P., Sidney. We’ll never forget you. (And thank goodness, there’s always fanfiction!)
Gif credit: Kdddd
Are there any other Austen heroes/villains who are financially dependent? Let me know who I forgot in the comments!
Elizabeth Gilliland is the author of What Happened on Box Hill, available now! When she isn’t grading papers or playing with her kid, she’s probably reading or watching something to do with Jane Austen. You can follow her on Twitter to get the latest updates on her book–and of course, her thoughts on Sanditon season 2!
Here’s more on the book:
What would happen if you combined all of Austen's characters into one modern-day novel?
Murder, of course.
When Caty Morland's roommate, Isabella, falls to her death on Initiation Night, Austen University is quick to cover up the scandal and call it a tragic accident. But avid true-crime lover Caty remains convinced that Isabella didn't fall; she was murdered. With the help of Pi Kappa Sigma President Emma Woodhouse, Caty organizes a dinner party with the most likely suspects, including familiar faces such as Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Knightley, and Marianne Dashwood. The theme of the night is murder, and Caty has three courses to find out what happened to Isabella—and to try to keep the killer from striking again.
What Happened on Box Hill is Book 1 of the Austen University Mysteries series. Read the prologue and first chapter here!
Thank you, Elizabeth for the Sanditon breakdown! I love hearing Elizabeth’s list of financially-stretched suitors in Austen.
And before we completely leave this stream of Austen men, we have to shout out a farewell to the game-changing portrayal by Regé-Jean Page of Bridgerton’s Duke Simon Basset. Page - like the beloved Theo James’s Sidney Parker in Sanditon - has made his exit after a simmering season 1 and will not return for season 2 of Bridgerton later this month.
And we get it: He is likely royally sick of the objectification (prolific spoon-licking memes abound) that came with that roll - so while the fans will miss him when Bridgerton arrives March 25, friends, I’m going to take this prudish opportunity to wish him well on the many deep roles the man deserves to embody going forward.
Meanwhile, friends, share with us your faves and least-faves of Austen men and walking financial disasters, and your dreams from Austen and the Regency. Let us know what you’re watching, not-watching, reading, and talking about. You can reply to this email, chat with us on Twitter at @AustenConnect, or comment here:
Coming up for this Jane Austen TV month, we’ll continue the chat about the Sanditon drop, March 20; The Courtship dropping every Sunday night on NBC (and the next day on Peacock, which you can sign up for, free), and the mother-of-all-Regency-screen adaptations, that little thing called Bridgerton, dropping March 25.
It’s a lot! And you’re not alone - we’ll be here for you.
Yours very truly,
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