Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

"I Prefer Walking": Jane Austen and "The Pleasantest Part of the Day". (the Country and the City)

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

"I Prefer Walking": Jane Austen and "The Pleasantest Part of the Day". (the Country and the City)

Article excerpt

"JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD is one of interiors," asserts David Selwyn (89). This observation is only partially true. Although Regency women of the gentry were largely confined to home and carriage, to Austen herself, as well as to her fictional heroines, the most enjoyable and significant moments of life were spent not indoors but "walking out." In contrast to the immobility of female life inside four walls, the daily walk, whether sociable or solitary, is shown in Austen's letters and novels to be a valuable, even treasured, habit. Austen would contend that walking has a salutary, healing effect on health and vitality. It also promotes and advances social relationships, develops aesthetic sensibilities, and leads to proper understanding of correct behavior and thinking. Readers note that walking moves the female body voluntarily forward through time and space in a shift from stasis to mobility, increasing a woman's power to see and experience the world "on her own two feet." Walking similarly moves the events of A usten's plots forward, emphasizing sequence, process, and change: in a sense, her narrators "walk" the reader through the story. For Austen, then, "taking a turn in the shrubbery" is a way of moving both literally and metaphorically "in the proper circles." In making this daily circuit, women observe the boundaries of taste and convention; reconcile past, present, and future; and redraw the lines of social connection.

For Austen and for her characters, walking is a habitual part of daily life. In letters written in 1805 and in 1806, Austen says, "we do nothing but walk about" and "we walk a good deal" (196). She characterizes herself as a "desperate" walker, and this disposition is shared by her heroines. In Sense and Sensibility, for example, Sir John speaks of Miss Marianne's "'usual walk to Allenham"' (111); Edmund reassures Mansfield Park's Fanny that if she goes to live with aunt Norris she will "'have the same walks to frequent"' as she would have if she stayed with the Bertrams (27). Emma's Robert Martin "'thought [Emma and Harriet] walked toward Randalls most days"' (32), and in Pride and Prejudice the Bennet girls find that "a walk ... was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening" (28). For varying reasons, older characters do not walk as regularly as the young, but most of the main characters demonstrate prodigious stamina, by today's standards, in the amount of ground they daily cover for health and exercise. Secondary Austen characters walk regularly, too. Confronted with a walk in the rain to see her sister Jane at Netherfield, Elizabeth Bennet points out that "'The distance is nothing,... only three miles"' (32); Persuasion's Mary Musgrove protests that she is "'very fond of a long walk"' (83); and the Dashwood sisters of Sense and Sensibility discover interesting sights a mile and a half from their cottage. Walks routinely take about half the morning or afternoon, and provide a pleasant and healthful way of passing the time.

Health, however, being fragile in a 19th-century world, is always paramount, and walking must never jeopardize this asset. This means that when the weather is cold or wet, or the roads muddy, walking is unwise. Austen's letters lament an occasion in late November when it was "too dirty ... to get out of doors" (Austen-Leigh 153), although the Bennet girls of Pride and Prejudice manage to walk to Meryton during January and February, even when it is "sometimes dirty and sometimes cold" (151). Emma's sister Isabella is "not at all afraid" to walk a half mile in bad weather on Christmas Eve, despite her husband's disapproval --"'I could change my shoes, you know, the moment I got home"' (127). But Austen's narrator keeps Emma home the next day when "the ground [is] covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise" (138). And even Sense and Sensibility's impetuous Marianne Dashwood cannot, in early April, "fancy [walking i n] an heavy and settled rain" (303). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.