Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sense and Suitability

D recently related to me details of a non-work-related conversation with a colleague. It seems the young lady was planning her wedding to another colleague, but had run across a hitch in the proceedings.

"We're both atheists," she explained, but I've always liked 1 Corinthians 13 and I thought it would be a nice reading for the ceremony. [The Groom] wouldn't have it. He said he'd rather have Jane Austen--and he doesn't even like Jane Austen. So I'll just pick out something from Jane Austen for a reading."

"Gee," I said to D. "Are you sure a little Ayn Rand wouldn't be more their speed? Y'know Austen was a clergyman's daughter, and devout. Might find something implicitly religious in that reading. Anyway, what's not to love about the Love Chapter? We know it's about God, but He's not mentioned in so many words there. You don't have to be religious to recognize the truths in that passage."

"Maybe not, but it came from That Book." D replied.

Theologically-minded Hon. Daughter #1 suggested that the Groom might have been more amenable if his intended had neglected to mention the origin of the passage: "Look what I wrote up for our wedding vows, honey!" A for creativity, F for bearing false witness. Anyway, unless he was brought up in complete Biblical ignorance, there's a good chance he'd recognize that oft-quoted, cross-stitched, calligraphed, woodburned, decoupaged, and tole-painted passage.

The discussion set me to thinking about possible Austenian passages suitable for a wedding ceremony. I'm a fan of England's Jane myself, but I'm hard pressed to think of any passages from her novels I'd have wanted read at my wedding. This notwithstanding the fact that marriage was one of her favorite topics. I understand she kept a prayer book which might be a better place to start--oh, never mind.

At any rate I did eventually come up with a short list of passages from the Books of Jane that might do, being on critical marital issues and all. Some possibilities:

The Book of Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 1, Verses 1-2:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering the neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Perhaps not. Let us proceed a bit further along to Chapter 18, in which Mr. Collins declares his affections to Lizzy:
My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman... (Oops--maybe we can edit that out) set the example of matrimony...secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly...that it is the particular advice...of the very noble lady whom I have the honor of calling patroness...

On the other hand, Darcy's first proposal (Chapter 34) at least has some passion:
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

Passable, provided you don't read on to the next paragraph in which he proceeds to insult her parentage. Chapter 61 goes on to tie everything up and throws in some moral analysis to boot:
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennett got rid of her two most deserving daughters...As for Wickham and Lydia...His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer, and in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her.

Maybe a little financial wisdom would be a safer way to go. The Book of Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 17:
"Strange if it would!" cried Marianne. "What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"
"Grandeur has but little, said Elinor, "but wealth has much to do with it."
"Elinor, for shame! said Marianne; "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction..."
"Perhaps, said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say...Come, what is your competence?"
"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a-year; not more than that."
Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a-year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end."
"And yet two thousand a-year is a very moderate income," said Marianne...A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less..."

Some advice on compatibility from The Book of Emma, Chapter 7:
A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.

Or this on marital readiness from the Book of Persuasion, Chapter 12, Verses 1ff:
...When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth; and if such parties succeed, how should [insert names of the bridal couple here,] with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and [insert number here] independent fortune[s] between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?.

Well, there are a few ideas to start with. No doubt those crazy kids'll find something in Miss Jane's canon that speaks to their sentiments; we'll be anxious to hear what they eventually choose. Just the same, it might be prudent to thumb through Atlas Shrugged.

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