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"Exactly What a Brother should be"? the Failures of Brotherly Love (AGM: 2009: Philadelphia) (Critical Essay)

Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal 2009, Annual, 31

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'WHAT STRANGE CREATURES brothers are!' Mary Crawford cries before she mocks the failures of fraternal correspondents (MP 69-70). With that exception, she claims to be fully pleased with Henry's brotherly behavior. "'[G]ood-nature itself,'" her brother will fetch her harp in his barouche (69); he is, she claims, "'in every other respect exactly what a brother should be, . . . loves me, consults me, confides in me, and will talk to me by the hour together'" (70). Of course, Henry's "utmost kindness" is limited to mobility: Mary has "tried in vain to persuade her brother to settle with her at his own country-house" (47); unsurprisingly, "he could not accommodate his sister in an article of such importance, but he escorted her ... into Northamptonshire, and as readily engaged to fetch her away again at half an hour's notice, whenever she were weary of the place" (47). Possibly London has provided Mary with as few models for what a brother could be as it has for a clergyman's influence. The conduct literature of the day affords little more in the way of help. Exactly what should a brother be? Some writers assert that the role played by sisters or daughters is more significant to the family than that of brothers. In his Sermons to Young Women (1766), James Fordyce explains that "the honour and peace of a family are ... much more dependant on the conduct of daughters than of sons" (1: 17). Writing forty years later, Jane West in her Letters to a Young Lady (1806) agrees: "A girl is, unquestionably, a more tender care than a boy; every error is more glaring, and comes more feelingly to our hearts and bosoms. A false step is here irretrievable" (224). While Tom Bertram's "extravagance" is "so great" (26) that the "'urgency of [-his] debts'" (27) affects the family's financial and moral government, Maria's error provokes a more substantive reconfiguration of the family. Of course, these sisters and daughters targeted by the conduct books are also future mothers. In fact, in her two conduct books, Mrs. West spends more time instructing young women how to raise sons to be good brothers than she does reminding the young men themselves what is required.

"Exactly What a Brother should be"? the Failures of Brotherly Love (AGM: 2009: Philadelphia) (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: History
  • Published: Jan 01, 2009
  • Publisher: Jane Austen Society of North America
  • Seller: The Gale Group, Inc.
  • Print Length: 22 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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