Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Things That Piss Me Off

Forgive me, I'm coming off a 10-day stint of nonstop on-campus immersion. But I am in a literary state of mind and thinking in general about some of my favorite authors.

Jane Austen. Some love her, others hate her. Some adore swooning to film adaptations depicting handsome men and beautiful women finding their happy ending. Others think it's all drivel and pre-chick-lit. Fluffy, these people (often dudes) say! Completely trivial novels about marriage-obsessed women. Why bother reading this shit, when there's important Literature (with a capital "L") to read! This Literature, not incidentally, will very likely be written by men.

The thing, however, is that Austen wrote some exceedingly clever books exposing the hypocrisies and injustice of her society. All of these happy frothy weddings and marriage-obsessed ladies? Note, if you will, that if you were a lady of a certain station living at that time, it really wasn't an option to forge your own career path. A Jane Austen could become a governess, if she were very lucky. Or she could hope her male relatives or kind friends were generous in supporting her, her like-wise unmarried sister, and their mother (as was the case). Or, she could marry an appropriate man, of suitable birth and some means. Marriage, very frequently, was a matter of economic survival.

Through the lens of Pride and Prejudice, you could say that Elizabeth's exceedingly silly and vapid mother is the only one with some apprehension of consequence and a semblance of a plan. Mr. Bennet, amiable as he is, doesn't really see the totality of his mistakes and squandered opportunities until Lydia runs away. (Thus endangering the family's reputation and threatening the other four girls' chances of getting married--how are they supposed to live, exactly, when their father dies?)

Austen is enjoyable and fun to read, but no one should miss that she knew the stakes for the women she wrote about.

No comments: