Compare and contrast how the authors of The Three Sisters and Teresa’s Wedding portray marriage and relationships between men and women
The story of ‘Teresa’s Wedding’ was written by William Trevor and set in Ireland in the 1960’s. ‘The Three Sisters’ was written by Jane Austen and set in 1793. In both stories the central theme can be identified as marriage and relationships between men and women. Despite their differences in historical settings, both stories present an amazingly similar view of marriage, conveying it to be facade and pretence. The stories both suggest that, to an extent, social conventions result in unfulfilling and unsatisfactory relationships.
Jane Austen presents her view of marriage in the form of characters and letters. Mary’s proposed fianci??, Mr Watts, is in possession of a ‘large fortune and will make great settlements’ on her, evidencing that the women of 1793 entered marriage for superficial reasons. This is further emphasised in the first letter as Mary proclaims she cannot ‘bear to look’ at Mr Watts and that she ‘hate[s] him more than anybody else’ confirming that she is not entering marriage for love but for physical gain.
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Mary’s abuse of Mr Watts the ‘old fool’ highlights Austen’s view of marriage being pretence. The discussion between Mary and Mr Watts about the type of coach they will have to mark their marriage indicates that, for the women of Austen’s time, marriage is seen as a way of acquiring property and a way of becoming richer and wealthier. In the second letter, Mary’s declares ‘I wish I had a Father or a brother’, demonstrating that woman feel powerless in this society. It also indicates that women were seen as inferior to men.
Mary’s delight at the prospect of being able to ‘chaperone Sophy and Georgiana to all the winter balls’ reflects that Mary sees marriage as a way of heightening her status in the community. In the character of Sophy, Mary’s youngest sister, the reader is presented with a more typical Jane Austen heroine. Her expectations of finding a good, decent husband who is ‘good tempered and cheerful’ are considered, in the society of Jane Austen, as ‘very odd’. Her opinion that people should marry for love fits in with our modern society.
On the other hand, Mary believes in marrying for physical benefits. She is pressurised by social conventions and gives in to them in accepting Mr Watts’ marriage proposal. In the story of ‘Teresa’s Wedding’, the writer uses the character of the Father Hogan to convey the church’s power. In the world of William Trevor, the church influences marriage and decisions related to marriage. This view, of how marriage is influenced by the church, is illustrated through Father Hogan’s arrogant insistence that Teresa and Artie to get married despite confessing that in ‘no way did Teresa love’ Artie.
Teresa’s mother turns to Father Hogan when Teresa discovers that she is pregnant highlighting that in this community he is seen as the arbiter of right and wrong and emphasising the power of the church. Father Hogan’s status in the community is brought to the reader’s attention during the wedding reception when he takes on the responsibility of making the toast. Through his action of going round from group to group reminding everyone what ‘a great day’ it is for all concerned the writer is reinforcing the priest’s role as the founder of the feast.
His importance and power as a priest and the power of the church is emphasised. Trevor further demonstrates the power of the church in Ireland during the 1960’s through the character of Loretta and her situation. Loretta had no knowledge of sex, her friends never spoke about the subject and she was never taught about it in school. Her ignorance of sex had been influenced by the church’s belief in sex as for the purpose of pro-creation not recreation and through the church’s ability to control knowledge. The church is all powerful, all controlling and therefore has the ability to destroy lives.
Jane Austen uses characters to convey her ideas and views of marriage. Mary is portrayed as being fickle through her opinion that she ‘cannot run such a risk’ of Mr Watts proposing to the Duttons and through her view that being married before Sophy and Georgiana would be a ‘triumph’. Mrs Stanhope is presented as another foolish character; she is just as fickle as Mary. Sophy’s mockery of her mother’s views that if ‘Mary won’t have him then Sophy must’ strongly evidences that Austen wants us to regard the mother as foolish.
The writer uses the character of Sophy to launch an attack on the view that Mrs Stanhope represents in the story. Mr Watts cannot comply with Mary’s demands, he views that her expectations are ‘too high’ and so he ‘must apply to Sophy’ who ‘may not have raised hers so much. ‘ Mr Watts is just as guilty as Mary is for entering marriage for superficial reasons. This can be perceived through the way in which the process of in finding a wife is presented as a shopping list, ‘if Mary won’t have him Sophy must’.
Austen has, through the presentation of her character, ridiculed social conventions that result in marriage being entered for trivial reasons. Relationships are not straightforward in William’s Teresa’s Wedding. Themes of conflict and control are also very evident in this story. In the society of Trevor William, men and controlled by women. Mr Atty and Mr Cornish, both in the pub, are presented of having a ‘feeling of unease’ as women enter the pub. This is confirmation of women’s control over men; the women have more control over men than in Jane Austen’s story.
The pub appears to be the domain of men and an escape from women’s control. The relationship between Agnes and her husband George Tobin is described as a success as he fulfils the woman’s expectations of an appropriate husband through the way he doesn’t drink, smoke or gamble. At the wedding reception George is sitting ‘reading to his children’ suggesting that he is completely dominated by his wife and emphasising the control women have over men. The writer further emphasises the control that women have in relationships through the relationship between Artie and his mother.
She had told him ‘never to trust a girl’ and to ‘never get involved’, her reluctance to relinquish her control of her son to another woman highlights that in Trevor’s society it is only through marriage that women have that power that it as wives and as mothers. The overriding view of relationships between the sexes in this story is a negative one. Father Hogan’s belief that weddings are a sign of the success of a community under pins the view that the church is only concerned with the idea of marriage as an event; the happiness of the participants has no value.
Taking into account the differences in social historical contexts for these stories, the presentation of marriage and relationships between men and women is similar, although the means by which they explore the issues are different. Jane Austen accesses the two distinct personal voices through her use of epistolary format, her viewpoint is primarily female. Austen’s writing was influenced by her observations of people and the oddities in human behaviour. Her stories have a somewhat limited outlook in terms of geography and experience reflecting Jane Austen’s own experiences. She wrote about the world as she knew it.
Her purpose of writing this story was perhaps that she looked to ridicule the conventions of her society regarding marriage. William Trevor on the other hand uses third person narration thus allowing the reader to drop into conversations. This method of writing gives the reader access to a wider range of thoughts and opinions about marriage. Trevor’s purpose of writing this story was to attack the power of the church and through the way he presented the characters of Teresa and Artie as victims of this repressive church, he is criticising the power and authority of the church.
The story begins with the image of the ‘remains of the wedding cake’, images of death, decay and destruction. The sympathy of the reader is engaged for both Teresa and Artie. However, the story end on an optimistic note as the worst thing that could happen has happened and the reader firmly believes, like Teresa, that they ‘might make a go of it after all’. Conversely Mary and Mr Watts are both presented as victims of their own greed and so the reader’s feelings towards them are remarkably different. They deserve each other.