Love and Friendship… Or Not

Jane Austen’s “Love and Friendship”

“Love and Friendship” begins with a request from one friend to another that, to all appearances, is a genuine entreaty for the enlightenment of a daughter. Isabel writes to Laura,

How often, in answer to my repeated intreaties that you would give my Daughter a regular detail of the Misfortunes and Adventures of your Life, have you said “No, my freind, never will I comply with your request till I may be no longer in Danger of again experiencing such dreadful ones.”

Surely that time is now at hand. You are this day 55. If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreeable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers, surely it must be at such a time of Life.

In the ensuing letters to Isabel’s daughter, Marianne, we learn that Laura spent a good part of her young life in foolishness and trouble-making, and that she believes with all her heart that Isabel, who she describes as,

“Tho’ pleasing both in her Person and Manners, (between ourselves) she never        possessed the hundredth part of my Beauty or Accomplishments.”

sympathizes fully with her ‘plight’ and is a kindred spirit in the fight against parental tyranny and insensitive and ‘ungracious’ people, such as (*Spoiler Warning*) the host who caught her friend stealing and whose ‘unfounded accusations’ caused them to leave his house. This only after they had persuaded his (already engaged) daughter to elope with a soldier.

The true picture of Isabel’s character, and Laura’s as well, is revealed in the 14th letter to Marianne, when Laura finally rejoins Isabel and tells of her adventures:

Pity and surprise were strongly depictured in your Mother’s Countenance, during the whole of my narration, but I am sorry to say, that to the eternal reproach of her Sensibility, the latter infinitely predominated. Nay, faultless as my Conduct had certainly been during the whole course of my late Misfortunes and Adventures, she pretended to find fault with my Behaviour in many of the situations in which I had been placed. As I was sensible myself that I had always behaved in a manner which reflected Honour on my Feelings and Refinement, I paid little attention to what she said, and desired her to satisfy my Curiosity by informing me how she came there, instead of wounding my spotless reputation with unjustifiable Reproaches.

With this in mind, we now return to letter 1, where Isabel requests the story told. At this point, Laura is living alone and unloved on an annuity from her pseudo-father-in-law. Quite obviously, the true satirist in this story is not Austen, the writer, it is Isabel herself. Her shrewdness in asking for Laura’s “Misfortunes and Adventures” is an example of the differences between them. She makes Laura feel appreciated and understood, while using her foolishness to teach her daughter. This is yet another of Austen’s novels where the heroine is not the main character, she is just a friend with a ‘kindred spirit’. My question to you is, are Laura and Mrs. Bennet the same person? Or just related in some way?

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