Pride and Prejudice
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“Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me.”
~ Mr. Darcy (Jane Austen), Pride and Prejudice

Origin of the Study

Avid Jane Austen fans will realize the author lived during a time when Christianity still had a strong presence among the general people. Based on what the priests and preachers gave sermons on from the pulpit, men and women, both rich and poor, lived according to what their faith and what everyday society demanded. Admired for her ability to read people, Austen wrote her observations into her literature. Thus why modern-day fans have an insight into her thoughts on how the sexes should behave toward each other.

While Austen had much to say about her observations, I have only included how several characters in her novels behave toward each other in regard to criticisms and reprimands. Some may roll their eyes and think this article will merely appeal to the feminists. Au contraire, my friend. This article will explore the roles that criticism and respect play in relationships between men and women, and how Christian women need to respect their men, as well as love.

Refrain from Criticizing Men

Lovelorn Poets

Elizabeth Bennet, otherwise known as Lizzy, proved bold and daring in criticizing Mr. Darcy. First, she disparaged him in front of her beloved sister. Jane, sweet and mild-mannered, struggled to accept her sister’s harsh painting of his character. She questioned Lizzy, attempting to see the good in the man. After some time, the gentleman in question had the audacity to insult Lizzy’s situation and proceed to ask for her hand in marriage. She let him have it.

Later on in the favored story, Lizzy was embarrassed at having treating him thusly. She knew, wholly and completely, the disrespect in her words. Based on the instruction she received from her aunt and the messages given to her church body, she knew men desired respect more than anything else. Therefore, Lizzy respected Mr. Darcy when her love for him bloomed and grew.

When Men Criticize Their Women

Starbucks Love
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The whole situation changes when the criticism comes from the men. As researcher and author Shaunti Feldhahn pointed out, women would rather receive love and disrespect than respect and loneliness. Consequently, when their beloved points out their flaws, they will respond with meekness, assuming they love their men more than their egos. It is men who need their women to trust their ability to accomplish and succeed. It is men who need respect.

Jane Austen clearly portrayed this in at least two other novels, Emma and Northanger Abbey. Near the end of Emma, Mr. Knightley claimed to have changed from the man who would patronize Emma Woodhouse. The young lady claimed that he, her beloved, made her better. Both were right. Mr. Knightley changed how he viewed his long-term friend, but he had done right in his reprimands. Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney behaved somewhat differently in Northanger Abbey, for Henry joked with sincere and devoted Catherine. Only later would he learn of her respect for him and change his instructional tone.

How to Refrain from Torturing Men

Women Gossiping
Credit: E. Krall

In her book, Feldhahn recorded men actually using the word ‘torture’ when their women disparaged them in public. To men, women who speak about how their husbands failed to fix their home make men feel inadequate and disrespected. Desiring a healthy relationship that grows in love takes effort. If women feel the need to critic men, I hope they plan to end the relationship.

People rarely change, and if women feel obligated to instruct and remind their men constantly, then they would be better off with different men. Jane Austen likely believed this as well. Her female characters only insulted the men when the men acted like cads, according to the social standards during those times. When the men and women were drawn to each other, the women showed proper respect, and the men helped and loved the intelligent, sassy heroines.