I just wrote the following response to an interesting comment by Ellen Moody in the Austen L and Janeites groups:
(Ellen): "Ruth Perry claims that we don't hear this [frankness about sex--in the case of Mr. Collins, sexual disgust] from Charlotte Collins in P&P because in Austen's novel she is a character who doesn't think it -- nor Austen. I'd say not so. It's just not allowed for women to write that directly."
I just reread Perry's 2000 Persuasions article to which I am pretty sure you are alluding, Ellen. While Perry has done some wonderful feminist-tinged analysis of Austen's writing, particularly in that article about interrupted friendships in Emma, in my opinion Perry erred in a couple of ways in that article.
First I claim she is offbase when she writes, regarding Scott's Millenium Hall, and Wollstonecraft's Maria, or the Wrongs of Women that "[t]here is no reason to believe that JA knew either of these books, although they certainly were in circulation in her lifetime." What Perry did not anticipate in 2000, was that Jocelyn Harris would take a close look at Millenium Hall and then make a brilliant case in her 2008 A Revolution Beyond Expression that JA DID allude to Millenium Hall. And, as I have commented in the past, when I looked at Millenium Hall myself after reading Harris's book, I found that JA's allusions to Millenium Hall are even more extensive than Harris outlines in her book.
As for Maria, or the Wrongs of Women, I also am certain that JA had it on her radar screen as she wrote her novels, both for my sense of the resonance of that novel to what I see in the shadow stories of Austen's novels, and also because several scholars including Harris have shown that JA alluded extensively to Wollstonecraft's Vindication as well, so it is no great stretch to suggest that JA would have read WSC's novel, too.
That first point colors my comments on the second point. I believe you are correct that Perry is saying that Charlotte can feel comfortable in her marriage to Collins (and that JA can feel comfortable with Charlotte feeling comfortable) because, Perry argues, Charlotte (and, by implication, JA, too) is a throwback to an earlier era when sexual disgust was simply not in the equation for a married woman. And I agree strongly with you that JA DID feel strong revulsion, and righteous anger, at the thought of any woman having sex with a man who disgusted her.
Where you and I part ways, though---but in a friendly way---is that my interpretation of the shadow story of P&P shows that even the character of Charlotte is consistent with JA's strong feelings on the subject of sexual disgust--to wit, I assert that the following bit of dialog spoken by Mr. Bennet to Lizzy and Jane is ambiguous, and deliberately so on JA's part, and that it admits to TWO alternative interpretations:
"....his expectation of a young olive-branch."
The obvious interpretation is that Charlotte is pregnant. But n my alternative or shadow-story reading of that phrase, Charlotte is not pregnant, and has NEVER had to have sex with Mr. Collins, and never will.
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