Marriage Proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither

Display Date
December 2nd, 1802

During her time living in Steventon, the Austens lived next to the Bigg-Wither family of Manydown. After moving away, Jane and her sister Cassandra returned to Manydown to visit their old friends and neighbors in the fall of 1802. Harris Bigg-Wither (21 years old at the time) proposed to Jane (who was almost 27) the evening of December 2, 1802 (Halperin 730). A few weeks short of her 27th birthday, Jane had no source of independent income and was relying heavily upon her brothers. In dire financial distress, Harris’ looming inheritance was, logically, very appealing, thus, Jane, “disappointed in love and still unpublished, had to accept him” (Halperin 731). Upon accepting the proposal, Jane “found she was miserable and that the place and the fortune which would certainly been his, could not alter the man:” consequentially, Jane changed her mind overnight and retracted her acceptance the following morning before she ran away from Manydown. (Halperin 730, Tomalin 263). 

Jane's nontraditional decision and rejection of marriage resulted in various family tensions. This incident may have served as inspiration for several instances and character development points in both Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. Charlotte Lucas, from Pride and Prejudice, accepts Mr. Collins in a manner and situation starkly similar to Jane and Mr. Bigg-Wither. Correspondingly, the development between the characters Fanny and Henry in Mansfield Park, reportedly similar to Jane’s love life, resulted in some real life drama between her family; the only documented fight between Jane and Cassandra revolved around Fanny’s treatment of Henry and Mansfield Park is reportedly, the only of Jane’s works her mother didn’t like (Halperin 730). 

Works cited
Austen-Leigh, William and Austen-Leigh. “Prospects of Marriage,” Biography.
          Pride and  Prejudice.  Ed. Donald Gray, ed 3. New York: Norton, 2001. pp 262-264. Print
Halperin, John. “Jane Austen’s Lovers.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900.”
             Autumn,  1985. Vol. 25, No. 4. pp 719-736. DOI: 10.2307/450671