|Jane's cousin, Eliza Hancock, was|
|likely the illegitimate|
|daughter of Warren Hastings.|
|Nobody said so.|
This reaction is almost incomprehensible to members of the modern Westernized world. So much so that within the past few years, several books have been published about how awful it was that women in the '50s were forced by mean-spirited prejudice to give up their children for adoption.
I can't speak for children adopted during the '50s, but I can say that from Mr. B's perspective, his refusal to openly acknowledge his out-of-wedlock daughter as his daughter-by-blood is an attempt to protect--not punish--her.
The issue in the eighteenth century was not illegitimacy per se. It was status. The illegitimate sons and daughters of kings often rose to prominence and married quite well. And nobody much cared about the illegitimate sons and daughters of peasants, who were held to a far less rigorous set of social standards by their "betters" (this wasn't out of any belief in the intrinsic merit of sexual freedom, by the way: the upper-classes overlooked peasants having illegitimate children because they thought the peasants weren't human enough to know better; one of the biggest criticisms of Pamela at the time of its publication was that Richardson would actually, gasp gasp, give a servant girl such high-falutin' ideas as wanting to wait until after the wedding to have sex).
|Emma and Harriet|
American society was more relaxed on this topic almost from its inception, partly because American society was composed of the merchant, gentry, farming classes (their children didn't need to marry "up") and partly because the Protestantism of early America almost immediately produced a belief in innocent childhood (in both the moral and legal sense).
English society, however, was far less kind for far longer.
Speaking as a modern, human product of the Westernized world, I proclaim it a very good thing that parents and children no longer feel the need to go to such lengths to avoid Mr. B's fears. Speaking as a history buff, I believe historical personages (and characters) should be judged by the difficulties of their time rather than the understanding of our time. Consequently, I've never really "bought into" contemporary regency romances in which the mother reveals the truth of her natural-born child's birth to that child "out of love." My guess is the writers don't understand the internal and external burdens the natural-born child would then operate under within that society and time frame. For good and for ill, the social pressures of society--even when accompanied by absolutely no legal ramifications--are tremendously powerful.
Having written the above, I think that social pressures are accepted without constraint or feelings of betrayal when they are consistent between generations. It never occurs to Richardson (or Mr. B) to "fight the system." The issue with '50s babies is that the social pressures changed so rapidly--from less pressure to more pressure to considerably less pressure--within a single generation. The social pressures were never completely assimilated and therefore became objectionable in a way that much earlier generations would never have felt.