“God Gave Us Our Relations”: The Watson Family



“God gave us our relations,” goes the saying; “but we can choose our friends.” If Jane Austen didn’t invent that proverb, she could have, for the sentiment echoes through her writings. In her work, the relations — the family — are God-given and determined; either a boon or a curse, but in any case part of the essential “given” at the outset of a heroine’s story. The family forms the envelope of circumstances, a ready-made set of contingencies for which she can’t be held responsible, but which must be a major factor in the choice of the “friends” to whom she turns. God gave Elizabeth the Bennets, but she can and does choose Darcy rather than Collins, and she is richly responsible in that choice.


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  1. 3.
    Susan Morgan has explored this process at large in In the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen’s Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The phrase is Q.D. Leavis’s, from her 1941 article “A Critical Theory of Jane Austen’s Writings (I).” See A Selection from ‘Scrutiny,’ compiled by F.R. Leavis, 2 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), II, 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 10.
    George Tucker, who takes a more charitable view of Jane’s mother than I do, discusses Mrs. Austen’s hypochondria in A Goodly Heritage: A History of Jane Austen’s Family (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1983), pp. 72–3.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    John Wiltshire, in his impressive book on Jane Austen and the Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), might well have explored this fragment as thoroughly as he explores Sanditon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 12.
    Marvin Mudrick finds that “Mr. Watson is the only figure … who aspires, in outline at least, toward the tragic.” Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1952), p. 147.Google Scholar

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© Juliet McMaster 1996

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