Friday, August 1
Mrs. Elton Sez: Did Over Anxious Wife Drive Husband to Road Rage?
Dear Mrs. Elton,
I have been happily married to my Edmund for several years now. He is the rector of our parish and we have two dear children, Thomas age seven and Maria age five. They are good children and look up to their father in all things. My life with my family is indeed tranquillity and comfort because of my dear husband’s consideration and patience with his wife and children. He is above all men in all things but one dear lady, which I will attempt to explain, though I feel quite reticent to reveal. His driving of our carriage is quite erratic and worrisome. When he takes up the reins, and commands of our gig, he becomes quite a different man, loosing his temper with other drivers along our narrow country roads, shouting at Mr. Barker to remove his herd of sheep from our path, and knocking poor Rebecca in a ditch soiling her frock and giving her such a fright that it took a week before she could return to her duties at the great house.
I am hesitant to speak to him about such matters, as he is my dear husband, and I owe so much of my happiness to his love and support. I alone could abide such discomfort and anguish, but for our children’s sake, I must speak up. To see their distress and hear their cries of fear for their lives takes years off my life every time we travel by carriage. I have prayed much on this matter without any sign for guidance. I know not what to do Mrs. Elton and entreat you for a solution to end our torment.
Mrs. Fanny Bertram
Mrs. Elton's Reply
My dear Mrs. Edmund Bertram,
Reputation has preceded you, and I am familiar with your character, from the phantasy the authoress Miss Jane Austen wrote that was (report has it) based upon your life. Consequently I am similarly acquainted with the character of your husband, Mr. Edmund Bertram; and even were I not a devotee of all the works of Miss Jane Austen, your husband, as a respectable clergyman, would yet be known to me. If I am not mistaken, my dear caro sposo, Mr. Elton, kept similar terms with him at Oxford, and more recently associated with him again at a convocation they both attended in Northhamptonshire, September last.
I am on solid ground therefore in my knowledge of Mr. Edmund Bertram by character and reputation, and it is categorically inconceivable that this sterling gentleman could possibly be guilty of any such rash behavior or impropriety as either driving a carriage erratically, or losing his temper. Did he ever lose his temper once, during the entire course of Miss Jane Austen's narrative? His temper was infinitely tried on many occasions, by his Aunt Norris's meannesses, his brother's foolish peccadillos, his sister's crimes, and his beloved Mary's - but perhaps on that last point I had best be silent. In short, Mr. Edmund Bertram is the most phlegmatic and even-tempered of men, and it is not possible to believe evidence to the contrary. Therefore I must conclude it is much likelier that your own neurasthenic anxieties, evident on nearly every page of that exquisite effusion Mansfield Park, have grown out of all proportion, perhaps as a result of your own increasing age, the stresses of childbirth and motherhood, and responsibilities that may have proved to be too much for such a fragile young woman as yourself.
Mrs. Bertram, I must warn you that such tendencies as over-anxiety and wild exaggeration of circumstances, are very dangerous, and must of all things be controulled. You must not allow yourself to become prey to these weaknesses, for the next thing that happens, is that you will be given over to nagging; and that is fatal in marriage, where your duty is submission to your husband above all things. If you continue to find fault where none exists, and stir up your children to cry and demonstrate bad behavior in the presence of their father, you will be very gravely at fault. Perhaps, indeed, you are already guilty of being what is expressively called a Nag, and that is what is driving poor Mr. Edmund Bertram to drive his carriage more heatedly than he ought.
I first suspected something was wrong with your thinking when I noticed that you have named your daughter Maria. Heaven and earth, madam, of what can you be thinking! Is that not a shameful name and memory that ought to be erased from your family for ever? The naming may have been done in honour of your mother-in-law, not your disgraced cousin, I will allow; but it my opinion it was very ill thought of, in any case. I can see that Mr. Edmund Bertram has much to bear with, and so I adjure you, with all possible forcefulness, to conquer your nervousness and timidity once and for all. These are not useful qualities in a clergyman's wife, and you ought always to concentrate upon the useful, and your parish duties, as to be sure I always do.
Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall. Please join her once a week in August for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects.