In between reading a teetering stack of scholarly journals articles and books for my thesis, I’ve found myself gravitating toward funny memoirs. In the last few months I’ve read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and The Bloggess’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. A few weeks ago, I finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. In the postscript she asks,
Would Jane Austen’s characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look and who fancies them if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?
Who knows what we’d discuss with friends if woman were more powerful and/or wealthy! I don’t know how I rank in this wide world of ours, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m not in control of my own destiny. I’m educated. I’ve had a 20-year career. I’m starting on a second career just because I think it’ll be interesting. I’ve traveled to many places around the world. And I own a home. I spent New Year’s Eve with three other women, all of whom are educated, have good careers, and own their homes. That’s at least two steps ahead of most women in Jane Austen novels in terms of controlling our destinies. But you can bet your bonnets that we talked about relationships and how we look. (Though to be honest, the “how we look” discussion what more about the appropriateness—or not—of jeggings and less about whether or not we were happy with our bodies.) We talked about online dating, old fashioned dating, busted marriages, the good and the bad of single motherhood, introducing new boyfriends to your kids, what to do when 50+-year-old Canadians want to meet you on Match.com, and much much more.
I love that Moran questions how differently we’d think about things if woman worldwide were considered more powerful than men. It’s worth envisioning a different world—even a world that goes beyond simply (ha!) achieving equality. But I suspect that my girlfriends and I would still talk about relationships. My life is wildly different from the Miss Dashwoods and the Miss Bennets, and I most certainly don’t have the equivalent to Emma’s £30,000 inheritance! I support myself. I got to work (or school) every day. I hang out with men, often without a chaperone. I don’t go to balls, but I drinks pints of cider and beer at a local bar after choir practice. With single men! I don’t have to ask permission from anyone to anything having to do with money, my home, or my relationships. But I still like to hang out with other women and talk about all of it!
For those of you who haven’t already seen it, some LA Mormon girls have made a hilarious and so far fake trailer for Jane Austen’s Fight Club.
Now this is deeply satisfying; I don’t deny it. Everyone wants to see proper young ladies kick ass. Time period is not important, but the more proper, the more ass they obviously have to kick. (See: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, obviously Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Kill Bill – does she count as proper? – and so on and so on.) I’m tempted, naturally, to make a list of other movies Jane Austen could be inserted into, for copyright-ambiguous fun and profit. The Matrix: Jane Austen Reloaded springs to mind.
What about Little Miss Sunshine Bennet? In this quirky romp, the Bennet family drives their falling-apart carriage from Hertfordshire all the way to London just so Mary can compete in a talent competition. Lydia isn’t talking because she wants to join the military [wink wink nudge nudge], and Mr. Collins dies en route, the dirty old man. I think it should do well.
Or, in Eleanor and Marianne’s Excellent Adventure, the two bodacious sisters set out on a time-traveling quest to find sweet rhyme and pure reason, which will save the future universe from annihilation by evil spamlords. Along the way, they pick up a fun set of characters, including Lady Gaga, Stephen Hawking, and Stephen Colbert, all of whom embarrass them immensely. Quite by accident, they do find true love and happiness. Barack Obama advises a gathering at Sir John Middleton’s to be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!
All of this is very jolly, but I would just like to point something out here. Readers, has or has not Austenacious had a Jane Austen Fight Club column for almost a year now?! Are we owed royalties on this video? Our legal team better get busy!
In the meantime, perhaps our loyal readers could make trailers for our other columns. What Would Jane Do? is clearly a sickeningly sweet romance in which a cynical advice columnist is saved by a long-lost love (probably by falling down a hill). Jane Austen Hates You is probably an indie comedy, possibly about YouTube, MySpace, and all them there Social Networking Sites, hopefully starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick sounds like an Agatha Christie to me, and Quote Unquote is clearly the new Bond movie.
Readers, are you game? What other movies mesh well with Austen novels? Or mesh so terribly badly they just have to go?
P.S. Jane Austen’s Army of Darkness! Just saying. . .
My friends say I am pretty and agreeable—if a bit prone to emotion—but I can’t seem to attract a man to devote himself to me entirely. How can I find the right mate?
Manless in Manchester
Attend to the weather: look out the window. If the sky is clear and there is not a chance of rain, then retire to your sitting room and continue with any tiresome and eyesight-killing work you may have to attend to. If, however, a severe storm threatens, prepare yourself: produce your finest bonnet and consider leaving your shawl at home for a more helpless, waifish effect. Remove yourself for a walk in the countryside, find a hill, and as the rain and thunder become quite intimidating, throw yourself downwards. Without fail, a handsome man on horseback will appear and carry you to safety.
Be warned, my naive friend: although he appears both dashing and virtuous, this young knight is unlikely to save you from any trouble but the rain. Young men gadding about in thunderstorms and keeping their eyes open for young ladies in need of rescuing may turn out to be cads in disguise, and should be avoided at all cost. Beware of handsome, ready help!
Rather, here is your real task: look around for any more aged, possibly slightly less handsome (but ever more brave) gentlemen that seem to take an interest in yourself and the young man (or, more likely, yourself without the young man). If he is honorable and charitable and seems to enjoy your moments of girlish fervor, then you may indeed have found yourself a winning husband indeed.
If you should prefer dashing young men who save you from certain death by thunderstorm to brave and sensitive older gentlemen who sit by and wait for another to rescue you, well, you might endeavor to submit yet another plea to this humble (and yet wise) source of advice. Your troubles may be of graver concern than your simple singleness. Please consider our request that you write again.
pp Jane Austen, signed in her absence
One of the consultants my company works with is super hot, and all of my colleagues know I think so. I don’t want to date him and have no plans to pursue him; I just like looking at him. However, my colleagues continue to imply that all I really want is a “private meeting” with this guy. How can I get them to see that I’m not the office slut?
I Don’t Even Want to Do It on my Desk
My dear madam,
There is nothing wrong with liking to look at a well-set-up man, especially one who dresses the part. Does this gentleman wear a blue coat? Or a great coat (those do enhance the breadth of the shoulders, you know)? Why some among us—I’m looking at you, Sir Walter, put the mirror down!—think that looks are simply everything. Does this gentleman parade the halls of your workplace in a well-fitting suit? Does he talk condescendingly of his fondness for cottages in the country? These are good signs that he is a mere popinjay, and can be ignored out of hand, even if he is cute.
Of course, your question did not concern the eligibility of the gentleman; in fact you expressed desire for other people to stop speculating on his eligibility and character. Miss Austen apologizes (and turns a blind eye on your more explicit references, even if as much of that does go on in the country as in the town!). I doubt very much that your coworkers really do think you are the office slut, if this is all they have attacked you with. But the rampant desire to speculate about any possible relationship for any young lady has not changed in 1,000 years or more, and is not likely too, either. This gentleman is provoking exactly the reaction in your neighborhood that Mr. Bingley did when he turned up (It is a truth universally acknowledged, etc, etc). You recall how much Miss Bennet enjoyed being teased about him and how tactless, nay, oblivious, most of her relations were in this regard. It is indeed a friend of great delicacy and discernment who can repress his or her natural instincts and treat your feelings with respect. Cherish these people. Regarding the others, I advise philosophy: they will never change. Though a biting remark is tempting it does tend to, uh, come back and bite you. You might also attempt to divert their interest into other channels. Miss Austen leaves it to you as to how scrupulous or honest you wish to be in this endeavor.
For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?
pp Jane Austen, signed in her absence
I’ve enjoyed connecting with old friends on Facebook (and keeping up with my children). The trouble started when an old boyfriend friended me. At first I was flattered—we dated when I was in my thirties, which was, ahem, awhile ago! However, he seemed rather obsessed with me, always phoning, chatting, etc. And when I agreed to visit him (which I admit was a mistake) he not only posted status updates about how excited he was that I was coming, but berated me for not doing the same! Even before I went, I was remembering why I broke up with him, but now that I’ve seen him in person. . . ! He’s pompous, arrogant, he never lets me finish a sentence, and he simply doesn’t believe me when I tell him it can’t work between us. Please tell me how to convince this knuckleheaded “gentleman,” once and for all, that it’s OVER!
Reconnecting with gentlemen you’ve been attached to and quarreled with can be done, but it’s tricky work. There generally must be some change of mind on one side or the other to overcome the reason for the separation (such as the acquisition of a large sum of money by at least one party.) This can be true even though he may be using you as a standard which no woman, not even yourself, can reach.
When the gentleman has not overcome his faults, and you are no more willing to put up with them than you were, it’s a different story. You now have to re-crush his hopes, and this can be difficult. Many gentleman are knuckleheaded, and so full of their own importance that they can believe a woman to be accepting them even when she is refusing them in the plainest language. My first advice would be to refer the matter to your father, whose refusal may not be mistaken for the delicacy of an elegant female. However, if you don’t have a father or brother who can tell him to get lost, your best recourse is to ensure that he fancies himself in love with someone else. Have you no friends panting for such obsessive attention, who wouldn’t mind the annoyances you describe? Hook him up with an eligible spinster of your acquaintance. I promise you, if she is amiability itself, he will soon forget about you, or at least only remember you enough to constantly remind you what you have lost, and I’m sure you can bear that very well!
pp Jane Austen (signed in her absence)
P.S. A further piece of advice: renewing old acquaintances is all very well, but you don’t know what these people have become, and their rapacious children may try to marry yours for their fortunes. Light chat and status updates can be deceiving. So, be careful!
I recently met a young man at a party, and I think I’d like to date him. He’s very cute, and I think he likes me. But I’m shy, and we don’t live near each other. How should I proceed?
Beware! Before you embark on any journey of affection, it would be wise to discover the man’s history with as much veracity as possible. Good-looking and personable men are, as we all know, typically cads and liars. Prepare yourself.
What do you know about this gentleman’s family? Has he any cherished siblings whom you might engage in conversation? Seek out handsome, true-hearted childhood friends from whom you may learn the truth, and remember: handsome, true-hearted childhood friends must always make superior lovers. Were it not for the smiling, beguiling leeches of our honor and decency, many an honest match would never have been made, and thank the heavens for them!
If you have any sisters, be sure to spread the news about this treacherous young man as quickly as possible; the more attractive and honorable his manner, the more likely it is that he will soon make off with the first silly, naive creature to cross his crooked path. Save your family the expense and the trouble of a midnight search party. It is your duty to report the future misdeeds of this young scoundrel-to-be.
You must now congratulate yourself, Adoring, on preventing such scandal from approaching your door. Better to attach yourself to this lout’s sworn enemy, and save yourself the trouble of a charming, good-looking husband.