Sunday, March 19, 2006

Truly, I should thwart my following thoughts due to a popular (and dare I say political) following of this lovely 18th century novel. The book is a masterpiece, a compendium of social manners, a glimpse into a societal structure, a wit and dialogue extravaganza, a study in subtlety. My daughter could learn to be a lady from it.

However, something bothers me about the perfect "Pride and Prejudice". I'm sure it's personality driven which goes to show that maybe the whole lady concept is troubling to me. But, strikers out there would slap me down with retribution if I extended it beyond my own comfort zone and said the following:

"Pride and Prejudice" is a bleak look at womanhood. Of course, it was realistic back in the aristocratic England for a woman to be engineered for marriage; however, to see all hope and hype directed towards this saddens me. A woman's choices were narrow, yet in this work, stemming from the author who lived in that time, a romanticism caps the other contents. The love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth flows beautifully, we sigh, they break through obstacles, we sigh. And, yes, I've sighed. However, I sighed during Cinderella once upon a time too, and not because she became a woman underscored by princedom. Now, it's just I prefer more of an inner look. Perhaps Virginia Woolf has ruined me. Mrs. Ramsay (in "To The Lighthouse") spelled out clearly what the world of social and marital limitations might demand. It's the post honeymoon view, of which I'm more curious.

"Pride and Prejudice", although excellent in many ways, shouldn't be used as a moral and politically correct code book. I've seen quite a few bloggers who wave their Austen in one hand and their Bible in another (ouch, sorry). That's perfectly fine. I can wave my Woolf and Bible too. However, for me, some of this Austen waving seems also judgmentally proclamative in the sense that "a woman should be this way" not "a woman is this way". I guess I just value the suffrage movement (I prefer "Little Women" over "Pride and Prejudice" ) and don't want to return to the 18th century view of women. I also believe that "biblical womanhood" doesn't necessarily mirror an Austen novel where women are kept in neat safe categories. Yes, marital fidelity, goodness of character, are jewels in the Bible; however, one can embody that with some realistic complexity and some compassion for those outside one's own category (socially or religiously).

Austen was an outstanding, avant garde (for her day) writer whom I've appreciated. It just helps, though, to ponder the fairy tale a bit without adopting it as gospel.

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