It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a young woman (or man!) in possession of good taste in literary must be a Jane Austen fan. We love the timelessness of the stories and how the themes are still relevant to us, two hundred years after their initial publications.
As the daughter of an Anglican minister, Jane included prime examples of both virtues and vices in her novels. The virtues are usually more noticeable than the vices. Here is your starter guide to which of the many flawed characters are “good” examples of the 7 deadly sins.
Warning: spoilers ahead
Character: General Tilney from Northanger Abbey. The overbearing head of the Tilney clan, when General Tilney doesn’t get his way… watch out! He is a repeat offender throughout the list, but his anger is what sets him apart from other Austen characters.
Sure, there are other grumpy and severe characters, but General Tilney takes the cake. Turning a poor young woman out of your house simply because you assumed she was rich (when she wasn’t)? For shame, General Tilney!
Dishonorable mentions: Mr. John Knightley and Mrs. Churchill (both from Emma).
Character: Mary Musgrove from Persuasion. Oh, Mary! Although she is another repeat offender, sloth is one of her more obvious shortcomings. More than being lazy, Mary will do whatever it takes in order to always be in comfort and to get her way. She works herself into an audible and visual frenzy to the point of illness (whether real or not is left up to the reader to discern).
When she doesn’t want to visit a relation she considers beneath her, she feigns being too tired to continue walking. As an inattentive parent, she would also rather enjoy herself than sacrifice a dinner party leaving her sister, Anne, to take care of the work she should be doing herself.
Dishonorable mentions: Mr. Woodhouse (Emma), Lieutenant Price (Mansfield Park), Mr. Hurst (Pride and Prejudice).
Character(s): The Thorpe family from Northanger Abbey. From the matron of the family to her ruthlessly ambitious offspring (particularly John and Isabella), the Thorpes are a family you wouldn’t want to associate with. Isabella manages to get engaged to one man she (erroneously) believes in rich only to ditch him when a richer man comes along. Her brother, John, tries (and fails) to attach himself to someone he believes is a future heiress to a large fortune. The mother indulges her children and even partakes in their schemes. Million- and billionaires beware!
Dishonorable mentions: General Tilney (Northanger Abbey), William Elliot (Persuasion), and George Wickham (Pride and Prejudice).
Character: Mrs. Norris from Mansfield Park. This is one character that doesn’t seem envious on the surface but, when you dig deep, you see that her actions are done out of envy and not for herself.
When she sees her niece, Fanny, being shown the smallest amount of affection or favor, she manages to sabotage it. Instead of coveting things for herself, she wants them for her capricious nieces, Maria. Rude, proud, and arguably the most detestable Austen antagonist, Mrs. Norris shows us just how ugly envy can manifest itself.
Dishonorable mentions: Maria and Julia Bertram (Mansfield Park), William Elliot (Persuasion), and Caroline Bingley (Pride and Prejudice).
Character: Tom Bertram from Mansfield Park. Although not a major character in Mansfield Park, he leaves an impression. He takes the “party hard” motto a little too seriously. As the eldest son and future heir, he spends freely and goes into debt through his carelessness and selfishness.
However, the excess does eventually catch up with him and he nearly succumbs to his heavy drinking. It is only after his cousin, Fanny, helps nurse him back to health and gets that dose of reality that there is hope for him.
Dishonorable mentions: Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth Elliot (both from Persuasion).
Characters: Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram from Mansfield Park. No other pairing exemplifies the vice of lust more than Henry and Maria. Henry attempts to seduce Maria while she’s engaged to Mr. Rushworth while simultaneously flirting with her younger sister, Julia. He then tries and fails to woo her cousin, Fanny, who sees right through him.
After he is genuinely disappointed in failing to engage Fanny, he goes back to the willing (and already married) Maria. They go on the run. Their reputation is sullied, her marriage dissolves, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn’t end well for anyone involved.
Dishonorable mentions: Isabella Thorpe and Captain Frederick Tilney (Northanger Abbey), George Wickham and Lydia Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), and John Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility).
Characters: The Elliot family from Persuasion. Pride, the root of all other sins, is the most heavily featured sin in Austen’s novels.
In Jane Austen’s work, there is no shortage of characters to choose from who exhibit the vice of pride. But this vice is lived especially in the lives of the Elliot family, with the exception of protagonist of the story, Anne.
Sir Walter Elliot is a baronet. He is also considered a good-looking man and has a dressing room full of mirrors so that he can look at himself at all times. Sir Walter refuses to talk to anyone he considers beneath him, a trait shared with two of his daughters (Elizabeth Elliot and Mary Musgrove). He and Elizabeth spend so freely as they try to keep up appearances that they go into debt and can no longer keep up their lifestyle.
Dishonorable mentions: Frank Churchill (Emma), Mary Crawford, Henry Crawford, Maria Bertram, Julia Bertram, and Mrs. Norris, (Mansfield Park), General Tilney, Mrs. Thorpe, John Thorpe, and Isabella Thorpe (Northanger Abbey), Captain Frederick Wentworth* (Persuasion), Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, Mr. Darcy*, Mrs. Hurst, Caroline Bingley, and George Wickham (Pride and Prejudice), and Fanny Dashwood, John Dashwood, Robert Ferrars and Lucy Steele (Sense and Sensibility).
There are two exceptions (*) in the characters who display the vice of pride. Both Fitzwilliam Darcy and Captain Frederick Wentworth – the male protagonists in their respective novels – are able to overcome their pride and redeem themselves. This just goes to show that even if there is always hope that someone can overcome their vices and replace them with virtues!