This has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves dating terminally ill women, just to be clear.
- This is some amazing Austenian…is dollcraft a word? It is now. In context, they’re are actually kind of strange, in the sense that they’re for little kids AND skip approximately 63% of the novel (the MIDDLE 63%, so…good luck with that), but the visuals are fantastic. Action Jane weeps with envy; the only man she gets is Action Poe.
- Need some advice from a two-hundred-year old fictional character? Of course you do, and you’re in luck: Mrs. Elton Sez, everybody’s favorite Austenian Agony Aunt, has deep archives and plenty to say! I mean, of COURSE she does.
Enjoy, Austen Nation.
Jane, I should have trusted you. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, I was duped by the Serious People into taking something you said at face value. Out of context even.
I’ve been reading William Deresiewicz‘s new book, A Jane Austen Education, which is better than the Huffington Post feature makes it sound. (Geez, I wish I could say that about my book . . .) But we can talk about that later. The point is, all my academic life, people have told me that you repented writing Pride and Prejudice, and justified themselves by this quote:
The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling . . .
This is how they explain Mansfield Park, you see. However, Mr. Deresiewicz continues the quote:
—it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter—of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense—about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte.
Or, to sum it up in modern terms, Jane is saying, “I’m too sexy for Moby Dick.” (Oh dear . . . you all remember that song, right? . . . and anyway she is.)
Is this generally known by those that didn’t study math in college? Is it just me who’s been underestimating Miss Austen all these years? Learning the truth here is such a relief—Jane didn’t really hate P&P after all—but is also a little disturbing when you think about it. A friend once said that I was ironic at least 70% of the time, and Mr. Fitzpatrick thought he’d underestimated it. How many of my off-the-cuff remarks have been wildly misunderstood? How many of yours? If we’re still read in 200 years (ah, if only!), will the Serious People have their way with us? It makes me kind of sad to think so.
Ah well, who cares, I say! We’re too sexy for them! Repeat after me:
Jane’s too sexy for your paper, too sexy for your theory, so sexy . . .
As a final thought, I leave you with this quote from a Guardian sports article: “this Mr D’Arcy is some way removed from Jane Austen’s bodice-ripping fop.” Bodice-ripping fop. Just let that sink in. And then go hit someone with your copy of Pride and Prejudice. Repeatedly.
Well, this is delightful.
Leave it to good old HuffPo—and this fine gentleman Bill Deresiewicz, who apparently teaches at Yale, so good on him—to give the world a quick crash course in what’s good and right about Jane Austen (read: everything, but perhaps I’m biased). Sure, the listed items are bumper sticker material; that doesn’t make it wrong, and it doesn’t make me want to dive into a massive Austen re-read any less. So: celebrate maturity! Get over yourself! Learn something new! Become your very own Jane Austen hero!
After all, Jane would.
The Huffington Post had an article this week on Ten Tremendous Women Who Never Married. It’s an august list, you guys: Queen Elizabeth I, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, and our own Miss Austen. Oh, and Oprah Winfrey. Samara O’Shea meant it as a “sweet reminder that you don’t need anyone but yourself to live an incredible life and have people remember you long after you’re gone.” True indeed, Samara, though you do need incredible drive and determination. Or, if you’re a cynical loner, these things happen more naturally.
Because Jane didn’t have all that hopeful a picture of marriage, did she? We may love to imagine Lizzie and Darcy, Emma and Mr. Knightley, et al., drifting off into the sunset, but Jane paints a dreadfully real picture of long-term marriage. Loveless marriage, that was her great fear, and what her heroines strive so much to avoid. Lots of heroines strive for love and marriage, but Jane knew so well what could go wrong, and she doesn’t let us forget it.
She lived with her parents all her adult life, and it shows. Just think of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: “[he], captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humor which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all affection for her.” The dangers of loveless marriage are all around you in Pride and Prejudice, and Jane devotes a whole page to describing the ill effects of the senior Bennets’ marriage, not only on their own happiness, but on their children’s fates in life. (It’s at the beginning of Chapter 42, if you want to check it out.) Mr. and Mrs. Collins show us the beginnings of one of these loveless marriages, with Charlotte deriving all her happiness from “her parish and her poultry,” and so do Lydia and Wickham, “brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue.” (What a delicate way to put it!) Today we are all too aware of the fragility of happiness in marriage, and while it was no doubt well-known in that time too, the idea that “respect, esteem, and confidence” was necessary in marriage was not so common. You might call it Jane Austen’s revolutionary thesis.
Most of the marriages in Austen’s books have a kind of nothingness to them, with the same history as the Bennets’. Think of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Mary and Charles Musgrove, or Mr. and Mrs. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility (so hilariously brought to life by Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton). Or Mr. and Mrs. Allen, Catherine’s chaperones in Northanger Abbey. I’m always haunted by the line “Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.” The idea being that they don’t like them for long; what usually passes for love doesn’t last. In a way it’s the lack of tragedy in these marriages that is heartbreaking. These people are just getting on with it, tied to someone they don’t love and don’t hate—just someone who annoys them day in and day out.
The only truly disastrous marriages I can think of are anything involving Lady Susan and that of Maria Bertram and Mr. Rushworth. And since Maria gets married out of spite and a broken heart, not too shocking that it doesn’t go well. She’s as emotional as Marianne, and she doesn’t get off so lightly.
On the happy side, we basically get the dark example of Fanny and John Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, the Gardiners in Pride and Prejudice, and Admiral and Mrs. Croft in Persuasion: “If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him than driven safely by anyone else.” As she got older, was Jane mellowing? Surely Persuasion is a more mellow book in general, with musings on autumn, and the sea. I think she believed happy marriages were possible, but that they required a lot more thought and effort than people generally suppose. And that’s why Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Anne Elliot don’t just feel love (twue wuv!)—they think about it, as rational creatures. They think about love without being dreary and grim, and so they appeal to us today, when thought is more expected, if not universally practiced.
On being asked about her broken engagement, Jane Austen wrote to her niece, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.” Even living with your parents, it seems.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.