Are Austen's characters passive-aggressive?
Passive-aggressive people don't directly say what they need. They don't tell you what they are angry about or resistant to. Instead, they withhold their feelings and radiate hostility in indirect ways, such as through avoidance, losing things, or lateness.
Lucy Steele is a passive-aggressive character in Sense and Sensibility. She knows that Edward has come to prefer Elinor to her, but she will never acknowledge that Elinor means anything to Edward. Instead, she needles Elinor in passive-aggressive ways, like "letting her in on" her secret engagement to Edward. Lucy knows this information will hurt Elinor, because she knows Elinor loves Edward, but Lucy also realizes Elinor will never be able to say that she loves Edward once she discovers Edward is engaged to Lucy. Lucy then goes on and on about Edward, continuing to want to hurt Elinor. Possibly the ultimate passive-aggressive act Lucy performs, however, is running off and marrying Edward's brother Robert, showing that she holds Edward in contempt, even though she was willing to taunt Elinor with him.
Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, although she is more sympathetic than Lucy, can also be passive-aggressive. For example, she attacks Mary Crawford by trying to draw Edmund's attention away from her at the glee by encouraging him to stargaze with her. She also retaliates against Mary, whom she hates as a rival for Edmund, by talking about how she loves nature, when she knows full well that Mary is a city girl. Mary, in turn, retaliates against Fanny when she manipulates her into borrowing the cross the Henry gave her, knowing that wearing it will make Fanny uncomfortable.
Often women in Austen's novels behave passive-aggressively because the restrictions of being a lady or their dependent positions forbid them from letting their true feelings out.
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