September 2013 meeting: Envy and Jealousy in Jane Austen

Prepared by Jenny

ENVY AND JEALOUSY may not seem to be the essence of Jane Austen’s world. On the surface, people are too busy being genteel and proper. However, in reality, these emotions often drive the love plots and are wonderful sources for Austen’s ironic sense of humour.

Howard Jacobson makes the point that jealousy’s tragic potentials, in many cases, seem about to win the day and cause Austen’s heroines to lose their men to more moneyed and vivacious rivals until the author intervenes and causes the heroine’s competitor to experience misfortune.  “In Persuasion she colludes with her heroine to the extent of throwing the other woman off the sea wall – almost as murderous in its vengefulness as Tolstoy.”

It is General Tilney’s envy of what he believes to be Catherine’s fortune-to-be that eventually causes him to treat her in such a dastardly manner when he learns the truth. This in turn motivates, Henry, the hero, to propose.

Poor Miss Bingley would not be half so amusing if she wasn’t consumed with jealousy towards Elizabeth.  Mrs John Dashwood’s all consuming envy towards every tiny piece of her late father-in-law’s possessions – even the breakfast set – makes for the most humourous chapter in all of Austen’s fiction.

Heroes like Mr Knightley and Captain Wentworth are finally induced to propose due to jealousy towards their competition.

Poor Fanny is nearly driven to distraction by jealousy of Mary Crawford and probably envy of her qualities as well. Mrs Norris is made poisonous by her envy of others.

So what is the difference between jealousy and envy? Dictionary definitions vary. Jealousy seems to involve fear of being supplanted involving known or suspected rivalry in sexual love and relationships. Envy – a sin – involves feelings of discontent usually, with ill will, of another’s possessions or a more fortunate person.

Poor Jane Fairfax is made physically ill by her feelings of jealousy and envy towards Emma and Frank. Elinor, on the other hand, is made of sterner stuff. She masters the jealousy she is bound to feel towards Lucy Steele with iron self-control. According to the Freudian view, she also controls her jealousy of her mother’s favouritism of Marianne by sublimation –looking after her sister with tender loving care.

Lesser characters also feel jealousy and envy. Mary Crawford actually feels jealousy towards the Miss Owens when Edmund is staying with his friend’s family. Mrs Frazer, her friend, feels envy for Mrs Rushbrook’s  Wimpole Street residence. Of course, it is jealousy that drives Maria to elope with Henry when he falls for Fanny.

The characters who do not appear to show jealousy and envy seem, perhaps, a little colourless – Jane Bennett, Charles Bingley, Edmund and Colonel Brandon for example.

A quiz on the subject of jealousy and envy compiled by Jessie was wonderfully challenging.

Two members were full of praise for two recent books: Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins which reveals the underbelly of the country at that time and Longbourn by Jo Baker which shows the underbelly of the Bennett family as perceived by their servants.


Members expressed their gratitude to those who had made last month’s meeting at the National Gallery to see Turner from the Tate such a success – to:

  • Cheng for suggesting and organising our visit and for researching connections between the places Turner painted and Jane Austen visited or wrote about;
  • Marilyn for providing wonderful insight into Turner’s technique, particularly regarding its implications for the meaning/impact of his paintings and for his contribution to the development of art; and
  • Anna for adding to our understanding of the period’s interest in representing “the sublime” in man and nature, and sharing some poems by Wordsworth which complemented Turner’s work.


  • Next Meeting on October 19 will be a discussion of Jane Austen’s Catherine or the The Bower – one of the Juvenilia.
  • Anna will host a DVD showing a costume party at Chawton in November.
  • Some members were considering the possibility of attending the JASA Christmas party in Sydney – travelling up together by bus.

One Response to September 2013 meeting: Envy and Jealousy in Jane Austen

  1. marilyn Steven says:

    Thank you Jenny
    Such a thoughtful exposition of our rambling conversation

    Sent from my iPad

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