theme is clearly evident in Austen’s
heroine, Catherine Morland, whosefanciful nature and rather unhealthy dependence on romantic literature makes her the perfects
tudent for suitor Henry Tilney; as Sulloway writes: “Catherine Morland satisfied readerswho thought that ignorance is charming in a woman”.
Nonetheless, though, according to
critic Patricia Beer, Tilney is the most gentle of Austen’s heroes (74), this practise of male
suitors educating their lovers is not always a pleasant one:
Tilney’s rejection of Catherine’s
flight of fancy, in which she convinces herself of General Tilne
y’s part in the death of his
wife, is scathing, albeit with good reason, and leaves Catherine in ashamed tears (182). FannyPrice of
, on the other hand, refuses to be restricted by this particular elementof decorum:
rather than bow to Edmund’s arguments merely because of his supposedly
superior gender, she instead holds firm in her determination not to partake in the productionof
. Indeed, she is deeply disappointed by what she views a
s Edmund’s“unsteadiness” (162),
and, as the performance of the play violates several other decorum,which I will investigate later in the course of the essay, it is most definitely the woman, inthis instance, who triumphs, if not quite intellectually, then certainly morally, over the man.
Yet this is not unsurprising: Sulloway theorises that Fanny and Catherine are “ironic versionsof the marriageable feminine model” (26); they cannot be expected to adhere to every ideal
put forth in the somewhat restrictive conduct-book literature. On another, albeit moresuperficial level, both heroines must change in order to be noticed, to be deemed ideal in theeyes of this literature. It is beauty, not the desirable ignorance, which first attracts possiblesuitors, and both characters
“have to become swans before anyone will look at them” (Beer
46-47). However, it is not only women who fail to meet the conditions of courtship decorumat the time.
’s Mr. Knightley, in his almost proud proclamation that “Emma knows Inever flatter her” (9), violates the strict rules of decorum which demand that a suitor paycompliments to his lover. Indeed, Austen explains that “Mr Knightley [...] was one of the few