Brother and Sister

“You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

— from Emma, by Jane Austen, Volume III, Chapter II.

When Mrs. Norris comes up with the idea to take her niece, young Fanny Price, in, Sir Thomas debates and hesitates. “He thought of his own four children, of his two sons, of cousins in love, etc.;—but no sooner had he deliberately begun to state his objections, than Mrs. Norris interrupted him with a reply to them all” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter I).

“You are thinking of your sons—but do not you know that, of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a sister.” (Ch. I)

Sir Thomas agrees to the plan, stressing, however, that it ought not to be “lightly engaged in”. When Fanny arrives, Mrs. Norris undertakes “to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram” and that “they cannot be equals”. So well does she accomplish this, that very few in the family ever forget that Fanny is the poor relation — including Fanny herself. “There was no positive ill-nature in Maria or Julia; and though Fanny was often mortified by their treatment of her, she thought too lowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.” (Ch. II).

She is obviously considered a dependent. Mrs. Norris says of her publicly, “I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her—very ungrateful, indeed, considering who and what she is.” (Ch. XV). On another occasion, Mrs. Norris tells Fanny, “The nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves, makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins—as if you were dear Mrs. Rushworth or Julia. That will never do, believe me. Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last” (Ch. XXIII). That even strangers see that she is not considered one of the family, is shown by what Mr. Crawford says of her, “Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” (Ch. XXX).

As Fanny is not brought up as a sister to her cousins, all of Mrs. Norris’s assurances come to naught. Fanny’s having been suffered to grow up under mistreatment and neglect within his own family, was enough to make at least one of the “dear, sweet-tempered boys” care for her. In the end, Sir Thomas’s son Edmund falls in love with her.

“With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, and completed by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be more natural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, an object to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his own importance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there now to add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones.” (Ch. XLVIII)

By this time, however, Sir Thomas is “sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity” (Ch. XLVIII). He joyfully consents to the marriage of his son and Fanny.

“With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune and friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be. Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort” (Ch. XLVIII).

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