If you have read Pride and Prejudice, even if you recognized the reference to Fordyce’s Sermons, you may not get the subtle joke Jane Austen intended. It would have been understood by most readers of her era, particularly the ladies, but the majority of modern readers will miss it all together. Today, Regency romance author, Jane Lark, whose most recent book is The Passionate Love of a Rake, will explain Jane Austen’s joke with regard to Mr. Fordyce’s book of sermons so that we can all enjoy the fun.
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If you’ve never seen a copy of Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, you won’t understand Jane Austen’s little joke. She does not even mention in her text that the Sermons Mr Collins chooses to read after dinner are for young women, which is probably because at the time every woman would have heard of them and perhaps been given them by a father or a husband for the express purpose of moderating their behaviour.
The titles of the Sermons include:
- On the importance of the female sex, especially the younger part.
- On modesty of apparel
- On female reserve
- On female virtue
- On female virtue, friendship and conversation
- On female virtue with domestic and elegant accomplishment
- On female meekness
And here are a few little quotes;
‘…I must take the liberty to say that amongst a number of your sex who are not sunk so low, there is a forwardness, a levity of look, conversation and demeanour unspeakably hurtful to young men.’
‘Remember how tender a thing a woman’s reputation is, how hard to preserve and when lost how impossible to recover; how frail many, and how dangerous most of the gifts you have received; what misery and what shame have been often occasioned by abusing them!’
‘The male heart is a study in which your sex are supposed to be a good deal conversant. Yet in this study you must give me leave to say many of them seem to me, but indifferent proficients. To gain men’s affections women are naturally desirous. They need not deny, they cannot conceal it. The sexes were made for each other. We wish for a place in your hearts; why should you not wish for one in our’s? But how much are you deceived my fair friends if you dream of taking that fort by storm!’
As you can see Jane Austen clearly found the directions within it amusing, and so must many women for it to be included as a joke in Pride and Prejudice, and I love the fact that Jane Austen ends Mr Collins reading of the sermons with Lydia interrupting, clearly making the point that Lydia’s character acted exactly as Fordyce’s Sermons inform a woman not to act.
If you are interested in reading further tips on female moderation the whole book is available on-line Sermons to Young Women.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
© 2012 – 2014 Jane Lark
Originally posted at Jane Lark’s Stories from History
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.