Class, Caste, Culture & Marriage
Romantic attraction is not merely a matter of physical and emotional preferences. Human beings are social creatures. More often than not, what other people think of our partner is as important as our own personal opinion. One young woman wrote to IRES stating that she had decided to give up a boyfriend whom she liked very much because he was a very poor dresser and would not be acceptable to her friends. That may sound extreme to some, but most of us take the views of family or friends into consideration in one way or another. Differences in wealth, social status, culture, class and religion may seem dated and irrelevant in today's cosmopolitan, egalitarian world. But in most cases the outer distinctions which society makes correspond to real psychological differences between people that may seem irrelevant during the early stages of infatuation. But when relationships founded on romantic attraction eventually settle down to more mundane daily life, these differences can resurface with vehement force and override all other considerations. The secret formula for successful relationship involves a delicate balance between similarity and difference. The contrasts are the source of the energy and intensity that characterize true romance. The similarities are the source of the underlying harmony which supports stable and lasting relationship.
Frank & Megan (A Summer Story)
On first impression the lure of personal appeal may be so strong that it overrides social considerations, only to reappear later on and play havoc with a relationship. While on a hike in rural England in 1902, Frank Ashton, a handsome, good-natured young lawyer from London, chances to meet a beautiful, innocent country girl, Megan David, and they fall in love. He postpones his return to the city in order to spend a few days at the farm owned by Megan's aunt and her cousin Joe. Joe had long ago laid claim to Megan as his future wife, but never succeeded in getting her consent to tie the knot. Megan is fully charmed by Frank's elegant behavior, poetic inspiration and genuine attraction for her. Frank is infatuated by Megan's natural beauty and sincere behavior, unadorned by fancy dress or fine manners. After confessing their mutual affection, they have a brief love affair, before Megan's aunt senses coming trouble and asks Frank to leave.
Frank tells Megan he will go to the nearest town, Torquay, to draw some money from the bank and then return to take her back with him to London and eventually make her his wife. She questions whether he could ever be content with a country girl like her. Under the aura of her presence, Frank assures her that he would and asks her to meet him the following night at a rendezvous, so they can go away together. On reaching Torquay, Frank goes to the bank and is told it will take at least five hours to get the necessary telegraphic confirmation from his bank in London, which means he will miss the train back to Megan and be late for their rendezvous. Meanwhile he runs into an old college friend and his friend's beautiful, flirtatious sister Stella. They compel him to spend the intervening time in their company, during which Stella develops an attraction for Frank. Frank returns to the bank that afternoon to find that the telegram has not yet arrived, so he is forced to remain the night in Torquay and hope to catch the last train of the week the following morning. He and Stella spend the evening together and begin to develop feelings for one another.
Frank knew that he was honor bound to return for Megan after promising to do so, but the longer he was away from her and the more time he spent with Stella, the more he became conscious of the great social distance separating him from the beautiful country lass and the less eager he was to live up to his promise. His inability to draw the money and return on schedule were reflections of his own subconscious reluctance to do so. The next morning Frank rushed to the bank and was finally able to get his money after a protracted negotiation, but by then he was too late to catch the train back to Megan. By now he had begun to feel that Providence was preventing his return. He was also unaware that Megan arrived in Torquay the same morning and has been walking the streets searching for him. Walking on the beach with Stella, Frank suddenly spies Megan in the distance. He follows her with the intention of catching up, but decides at the last moment not to pursue her. She leaves and they never meet again. Twenty years later, he returns to the farm accompanied by Stella, whom he has married. He learns that when Megan returned to the farm from Torquay, she discovered she was pregnant and died giving birth to Frank's child.
Frank certainly feels love for Megan and wants her, but he lacks the strength to follow his heart in opposition to the prevailing social values of his day. We may rightly fault Frank for his weakness and insincerity, but we should not underestimate the very real challenges that arise in relationships between people from very different social and cultural backgrounds. Megan would have felt as out of place and embarrassed in London society as Frank did sheering sheep on her aunt's farm. She would have been an affectionate partner and mother to his children, but hardly a suitable companion for his public life as an aspiring lawyer. Frank may have been genuinely attracted by her natural beauty and fresh innocence, but he lacked the strength of emotional commitment and idealism to make that a sufficient basis for lasting relationship. Megan was strongly attracted to the gentleness and refinement that education and urban breeding can impart. She felt herself in the presence of a superior human being, mistaking external refinement for real strength of character. Foregoing Joe's intense, but rustic affection, she decided to remain true to Frank and died of a broken-heart.
When Frank returns 20 years later to find out what happened to Megan, we learn that he did marry Stella. The tone of authority with which she gives him instructions says much about the nature of their marriage. Frank has chosen social acceptability over true affection and now he has to live with it. It does not appear that he possessed the strength of character and depth of affection for any other choice.
Anna & Frederick (Lady Anna)
The attraction of high society and culture is wonderfully brought out in this Anthony Trollope novel of a beautiful woman named Josephine who marries a wealthy but depraved earl and gives birth to a baby girl, Anna, before both mother and daughter are disowned and cast out penniless. Wrongfully deprived of wealth and aristocratic title, they are forced to depend on the hospitality and generosity of a tailor and his son, Daniel, for sustenance and protection. In the course of the years they spend together growing up in the same house, Daniel and Anna quite naturally fall in love and secretly pledge to marry when Anna comes of age. She is high born, beautiful, and good-hearted but impoverished. He is low born, intelligent, ambitious and strong. After years of legal wrangling, it appears that the Josephine and Anna may finally regain their titles and vast wealth. The earl's nephew Frederick, who has inherited his title, now stands to lose the entire family property to Anna. In the interest of the family, the lawyers and relatives bring Anna and Frederick together in the hope that they may like each other and agree to marry, reuniting the title and the estate by their alliance.
In spite of initial misgivings, the task proves pleasant enough for Frederick. He finds Anna beautiful, pure, charming and good in every way. With the prospect of fabulous wealth as a bonus, he is readily willing to pledge his heart to the young heiress. For Anna things are more difficult. Fiercely loyal to Daniel out of gratitude for all he and his father have done, she has grave reservations about even meeting Frederick and is firmly set on refusing him. But in consenting to the visit, she failed to take into account the power which culture and refinement add to that of youthful elegance and charming demeanor. Anna finds herself nearly overpowered by the fragrance of his nobility and the softness of his voice and manner. She is unable to deny the striking difference between this beautiful young man and the rough-hewn tailor's son she is pledged to. Only her fierce emotional loyalty and unbending mental determination prevent her from succumbing to the attraction. Asserting against the unrelenting pressure of her mother, she insists on marrying Daniel, but satisfies her relatives by evenly sharing the earl's wealth with Frederick.
Pride & Prejudice
Attracted by physical beauty or youthful exuberance, many underestimate the importance of social and cultural elements in relationship. Elizabeth's father, Mr. Bennet made that error when he married the lovely and lively daughter of a small town, middle class lawyer. As an educated, intelligent landed aristocrat, he might have known that crossing class boundaries can lead to difficulties later on. Once married, he found himself bound in relationship to a brainless, energetic woman who expressed every random thought that came into her head, complained constantly of nervous agitation and took countless initiatives that embarrassed or annoyed her husband, who finally sought permanent sanctuary in the privacy of his own library. He would have been fortunate had his difficulties ended there, but they did not. Together they gave life to five daughters who inherited a confusing mixture of traits from their parents. The first, Jane, acquired her mother's beauty and lack of intelligence combined with her father's high values and sense of refinement. The second, Elizabeth, inherited her mother's liveliness and boldness combined with her father's intelligence, perception, wit and an indomitable cheerfulness all her own. The third daughter was caught between two stools, acquiring neither beauty nor good sense. The two youngest hopelessly resembled their mother, only on the lower rather than the higher side of her personality, running madly after every handsome man they encountered without a modicum of judgment or self-restraint.
Tortured for years by the vast cultural differences between them, Mr. Bennet was shocked to find the same issues playing out in the life of his favorite daughter. Darcy struggled for long before deciding to propose to Elizabeth, because he had seen her mother and sisters display their ill-breeding too often and knew that the inferior status of her family would be frowned on by the high society in which he moves. Elizabeth's friend Charlotte urged her not to spurn Darcy's interest in her just because he is proud, arrogant and somewhat offensive, because in Charlotte's view his fabulous wealth and high social status more than offset any personal blemishes in his behavior and character. After rejecting Darcy's initial proposal, she becomes fully conscious for the first time of just how shameful her mother and sisters really are and is distraught when she perceives that she shares many of the same traits herself, though in a less obvious form. A central theme of the story is the personal struggle Elizabeth undergoes to overcome the weaknesses she inherits from her parents, so she truly qualifies herself to marry a man who lives up to her own highest expectations.
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