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The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

June 27, 2021 12:00AM
The story of the Six Swans with the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians, embodied by the works of Jane Austen.



Charity Is Kind (History of England)

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The King had seven children whom he loved better than anything in the world. As he feared the new Queen might not treat them well, he took them to a lonely castle in the midst of a forest.

"THE duke of Gloucester, who had been made protector of the realm, upon a pretence of guarding the persons of the late king's children from danger, conveyed them both to the Tower. Having thus secured them, his next step was to spread a report of their illegitimacy; and by pretended obstacles, to put off the day appointed for young Edward's coronation...."

Well, that would have to be altered: so staid a description of what must have afforded far more excitement during the principal characters' lives. And far too long! However were the dear children to actually read it all, and after so tormented, remember what had come before?

No, the history she provided her dear nieces and nephews would certainly be more entertaining, and probably convey as much as that spilled with far more ink:

"This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had him to draw his picture."



Charity Doth Not Behave Itself Unseemly (Love and Friendship)

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The princes thought their dear father was coming and full of joy, ran to meet him. The Queen threw a charmed shirt over each and they were changed into swans, and flew away.

Having only met her brother's wife once, it was unsurprising Augusta should not recognize her at first. The clothes and air were faded, a far cry from the bold girl who stole Edward's heart if not his sense (which his sister was forced to admit lost to vanity years earlier).

Upon speaking, though, recognition was inescapable. The tale she spun! It appeared she was the locus of much misfortune: at least five dead, with another destroyed by ill council.

And she appeared to have learned nothing by any of it, not even restraint in describing Edward's death to his own relations. "He thought we were being reunited, he was exultant while gasping for breath: his last words were of me!"

Perhaps he never meant to reconcile, up to the final moment. But Augusta wished she might ask a less partial witness; this raven siren appeared capable of turning anything to bad report.



Charity Is Not Puffed Up (Northanger Abbey)

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The princess thought, “I can no longer remain here. I will go and seek my brothers.” And when night came, she ran away, and went straight into the forest.

It was girlish to think of her home as a castle, and herself trapped within; Eleanor Tilney had long ago outgrown nursery tales. But the feeling returned when she was forced to part with the friend she had dared in her heart to call sister.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit," quoth the vicar that morning, while she suffered next to the beatitude's living opposite. The next day's confrontation between father and son confirmed that General Tilney only valued those he could profit by on earth rather than heaven; Henry was sent away in disgrace for refusing to abandon Catherine.

Eleanor fled to her mother's favourite grove, and sought its peace over and over in the weeks to come. In a story the woods might offer an enchanted means of finding the family she missed so much.

In reality, as was so often Eleanor's lot, she was forced to seek solace in memory.



Charity Envieth Not (The Watsons)

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Just before sunset she saw six swans and wept to recognize her brothers. “Alas, you must sew six shirts of nettles for us. If one single word falls from your lips, all will be lost.”

"... There is nothing she would not do to get married."

"He began to slight her for Margaret...."

"... is rather prim and reserved."

Elizabeth's gossip on the carriage ride into the village was uttered without any consciousness of the resentments revealed. Emma eventually gave off chiding and merely listened with tight lips, a strategy which served her again on enduring casual insults for her aunt and brother at the Edwards' table.

By the time they entered the ballroom this simmering contempt had caught like a burr on her contentment and tears threatened to escape. She was a stranger in her own home, one who could utter none of the crowded feelings plaguing her.

Perhaps that was why she could not help but rescue the little boy: she recognized at once a fellow abandoned soul, and leapt to soothe her own distress by relieving his.



Charity Suffereth Long (Lesley Castle)

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Next morning she gathered nettles and began to sew. She could not speak to any one, and she had no wish to laugh. She sat there and looked at nothing but her work.

"Well Eloisa, I trust you have finished weeping, and mean to be useful," was the cheerful greeting Charlotte offered the day after her sister's world ended. Both she and their mother meant well as they prodded Eloisa to eat a ridiculous amount of breakfast.

But she could not smile while they disposed of her wedding feast in as swift a manner as the late groom.

When it became clear she would not be cozened out of mourning, her family decided to indulge their own wish for travel by deciding it to be her's, thus denying her the solace playing her instrument might have provided.

The greatest balm she found was a day when her mother and sister left her alone at the inn, and she occupied herself with needlework next to a similarity employed lady in the parlour. How dear were the seconds stitched in friendly quietude together.



Charity Vaunteth Not Itself (Sense and Sensibility)

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The King asked, “Who are you? What are you doing on the tree?” But she did not answer. As she was so beautiful, the King’s heart was touched, and he carried her to his castle.

"Ho, Brandon, we shall have three ladies here tomorrow!" Sir John Middleton announced gaily.

Mrs. Jennings laughed. "Two sir; I dare say Miss Margaret will have her day, but thirteen is full young for the colonel's notice."

Lady Middleton changed the subject, leaving Sir John to compliment the Dashwoods in person rather than inflate their virtues earlier.

"So lovely, and talented too!" were his after dinner remarks while Miss Marianne played. "Who knew I had such cousins? Like sprites out of the woodwork."

Colonel Brandon nodded but evidently desired more communion with the music than his host, and Sir John marvelled at his and the ladies' restraint when the evening drew to a close. As Mrs. Jennings opined, "The meek may someday inherit the earth, but meantime we poor sinners must make our own way. Let us get those girls here more often: I am sure we can find them someone to marry."



Charity Thinketh no Evil (Lady Susan)

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This King had a wicked mother who was dissatisfied and spoke ill of the young Queen. “Who knows, from whence comes the creature, who can’t speak? She is not worthy of a King!”

Mrs. Alicia Johnson never stirred, provided the weather was ill, her husband abed, or her dressmaker engaged. So when the new gown Mr. Johnson did not realize was paid out of the household accounts was ready, she left at once.

Upon her return she found everything in disarray.

First that shrew Mrs. Mainwaring had wormed her way in to speak to her guardian. Worse, Mr. De Courcy was also present, absorbing enough villainous truths to sink even a woman of Susan's beauty.

The young man possessed enough good breeding to listen when Alicia spoke. "You can not trust a single thing she says, always jealous of any attention paid her husband. Everyone knew it was a bad match; even Mr. Johnson, who never allowed her in this house after."

Susan's letters had not done De Courcy justice: his pained expression might have been crafted by a master. "Until now, when her need—and mine—was critical."



Charity Seeketh Not Her Own (Pride and Prejudice)

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When the Queen bore children, the old woman took them away and accused the Queen of being a man-eater. The King would not believe it; she, however, sat sewing and cared for nothing else.

Once after her aborted elopement, Georgiana Darcy dreamed she was married to Mr. Wickham. It was a variation on a theme, for she had often done so before. In her nightmare, though, all was wretchedly altered: her husband slammed the door as children cried and a wolf turned his hungry gaze on them.

She had been unable to scream even awake. Fitzwilliam's stoic resolve was more comforting than ever.

His scruples prevented their discussing Lydia Bennet until much later. Miss Bingley, possessing no similar delicacy, relished the newspaper announcement of Lieutenant Wickham's marriage. "It is Miss Eliza's sister. And yet I thought she had her cap set for him too."

Georgiana flushed but not for her own feelings: how dare Miss Bingley speak of a friend so! She considered her dear brother, and excused herself with as much fortitude as she could summon. Better to work alone than in such company.



Charity Is Not Easily Provoked (Mansfield Park)

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But when a third time the mother stole their child and accused the Queen, who uttered no word of defense, the King had to deliver her over to justice; and she was sentenced to be burned.

"We can be grateful she has made such a public spectacle of herself," Mrs. Rushworth consoled her son. "There can be no question of a divorce now."

"Of course mother."

The wonder of it was that he felt so much more betrayed by Crawford than his own wife. The former (and soon to be again) Miss Bertram had behaved outrageously prior to marrying. Crawford had too, of course, but he was a flirt and a fellow, and once he began speaking seriously about Miss Price, Rushworth thought all previously conquests might have been surrendered, if not forgotten.

He ought to burn with fury.

Instead, it was as if the whole thing were happening on the stage, and he watching. Rather like that quiet Miss Price, actually. He wondered, for half a minute, what she made of the whole sorry affair. Lovers' Vows indeed.



Charity Hopeth All Things (Sanditon)[/b]

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The shirts were ready, only the left sleeve of the sixth was wanting. When the fire was to be lighted, swans came flying to her and sank down so that she could throw the shirts over them.

"You must mind better," Charlotte Heywood chided her fidgeting sisters as she dressed them for bed before the fireplace. "I will not be here to help you next week."

"Where are you going?" the baby, not quite four, asked, drawing sighs of exasperation from children advanced to the ripe old ages of six and seven. All were nevertheless still gangly as sparrows, causing their much older sister to smile fondly.

"A place called Sanditon, near the shore. Our guests the Parkers are taking me to visit. And since I anticipate bringing you each something back, do not expect me too soon. Who knows what I may find?"

They had none of them ever been away from home before; still, Charlotte tucked her nervous anticipation away. She would be sensible while also open to whatever this journey brought. And always, the love of her family would be waiting upon her return.



Charity Rejoiceth in the Truth (Emma)

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Her brothers stood in their own form; the youngest lacked only his left arm, and had in its place a swan’s wing. “Dearest Husband, now I may declare that I am innocent, and falsely accused.”

When Robert Martin proposed to Miss Smith a second time, dogged by pigeons and the Knightly brood (coats and skirts all askew) in a London park, it was with more candour than ardour.

"I beg you express any doubts. And if you have higher expectations, I would not hold you to any vow made in ignorance...." For all his courage, he could not quite finish, and was saved by her exclaiming:

"Oh no, of course I will say yes!" Blushing but steady, she added, "Miss Woodhouse fancied I came from a great family, but the truth is I can not know. It may be you should have reservations." Proving that even simple girls may mature after several months' experience.

"There is nothing I could learn that would distress me," he said feelingly.

"Nor I. And no matter who I was, I am very glad to finally know who I am to be."



Charity Never Faileth (Persuasion)

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To the great joy of the King, the children were brought back. He and the Queen, with their six brothers, lived many years in happiness and peace.

The wedding was a far cry from what Lady Russell had once pictured. The Musgroves looked a trifle unrefined, and yet bore more obvious good will than anyone else of the Elliot party. The naval contingent were a novelty in their dress uniforms, while the groom's own epaulettes had no rival but his bright eyes.

Then there was Anne, radiant as a bride should be, if far older than expected. So like her mother. Lady Russell clutched her handkerchief without using it: she would not distress Anne by weeping.

"Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder." It was providential that a match broken so long ago would be made anew. A new future beckoned: Anne happy and content, in her own home, with a family brought together by the vows exchanged today.

"Amen," Lady Russell repeated at the prayer's close.

And finis.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

MichelleRWJune 27, 2021 12:00AM

Re: The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

EvelynJeanJune 29, 2021 01:48AM

Re: The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

MichelleRWJuly 03, 2021 05:03PM

Re: The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

Shannon KJune 28, 2021 03:58AM

Re: The Greatest of These: a Jane Austen Parable

MichelleRWJuly 03, 2021 05:02PM



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