One of the things that I love about Austen is the sudden jumps in drama. People go from “oh no thank you sir, I couldn’t possibly-” and angst-laden handclasps, to scandalous affairs or, in this case, complete annihilation. Seriously. Austen does not hang about when it comes to social embarrassment. If you are an Austen character, and an acquaintance involves themselves in an affair, Austen does not think the appropriate reaction is a little embarrassment on their behalf, or even secluding yourself from society for a time; no, if you are embarrassed in Austen’s books, the only option for you is complete destruction.
Take the case of Mrs. Rushworth in Mansfield Park. She- (spoiler alert) has an affair (you can honestly see that coming, Mr. Crawford is like a Wickham-doppleganger) and, when Fanny finds out, she doesn’t think “oh that’s embarrassing for her family, but we’ll get over it” or try to think of what should be done, no no, those are far too ridiculous measures; no, in Austen’s eyes, the only reasonable course of action is annihilation for the embarrasser and the embarassees (yeah I know that’s not a word):
“Sir Thomas’s parental solicitude, and high sense of honour and decorum, Edmund’s upright principles, unsuspicious temper, and genuine strength of feeling, made her think it scarcely possible for them to support life and reason under such disgrace; and it appeared to her, that as far as this world alone was concerned, the greatest blessing to every one of kindred with Mrs Rushworth would be instant annihilation.”