nerves

Category: Body | Type: Glossary Word | Title: Pride and Prejudice (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter 1

Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park, Mrs. Churchill and above all Mr. Woodhouse in Emma become hypochondriacal as a means of exercising control. Such ailments as "poor nerves" afford women a way to compensate for their lack of legal power and intellectual respect in a patriarchy.

Austen values physical energy in women as well as men (she herself walked a good deal). English weather is notoriously bad; to be daunted by it is to be housebound. She has little patience with inactive, sedentary types such as Mr. Bennet. Jane's own mother, who outlived her by ten years, appears to have become hypochondriac in middle age. Austen approached her death at forty-two, the next to youngest and the first of the seven siblings to die, with no self-pity. 

The only physically weak heroine is Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. But her physical timidity has traumatic psychological origins, and in any case her frailty and hesitation become irrelevant compared with her spiritual force and independence. 

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