It is my theory that one of the reasons Jane Austen captures the imaginations and hearts of so many 200+ years later is the same reason I worshipped and studied Queen Elizabeth I from the time I could read non-fiction. Both are women who defied the norms for their time and since history is so often “HIS STORY”, we women are left with a dearth of historical role models. Unless you want to study women who helped men, there aren’t that many names to write a report on for school.
When the University of Cambridge studied the full works of Jane Austen in 2010, including her earlier works, they realized much of her pre-novel writing was suppressed because it was “unladylike.” (3rd paragraph, http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/the-uncensored-jane-austen). Much younger than even most children begin today, Jane Austen mocked the adult world before her teenage years. Her stories were scandalous, dramatic tales of criminals, suicide, and vices a young woman should not now know enough about to write! Almost makes you wonder where did she get her source material? (Shakespeare?)
Modern audiences love Darcy and Elizabeth; it’s the original “sexy billionaire” story. But what about the rest of Austen’s sardonic humor? I confess that I love the ridiculous characters, I have a few people in my own life that play those roles well. Jane Austen had the courage to write and see her works published, but not only that, she had the brashness to write things that pushed the envelope. Her story about Charlotte engaging herself to two men and seeing suicide as the only way out is just as relative today. Our society still deals with suicide as a tragedy. But to write such a thing as a young woman two centuries ago? Can we posthumously award her some medals for bravery? 🙂
Earlier this week a post about modern women lacking role models sparked my interest and it made me think of Jane Austen. When you look at society of the late Regency period, it’s really one of the first times in modern civilization women were beginning to live on their own. You don’t really HAVE stories of women considering their options because to the collective psyche, there were no “options.” You grew up, you were married off. Or you were in service. I could kiss Austen’s male relatives that respected her wishes in regards to her personal life, but wonder if we are not in a similar schism today?
The post about modern women looked at the fact that still in many households, even where a woman is a breadwinner, she is still most likely the primary caregiver for children and responsible for running the household. In other words, “progress” has equated to extra double overtime for women and not much of a lifestyle change for most men. This was all self-reporting survey work of couples and how they feel about their work and home responsibilities. I confess that many days I feel like I work morning to night between waking up, getting my children off to school, writing, getting them home from school, managing their homework and afternoon needs, then starting dinner, then putting them to bed.
I AM lucky in that I also have a modern man for a husband, and though we don’t prefer his cooking to mine, he will pitch in more than what my friends’ husbands do. But as a society, we are scratching our heads. No one wants either gender to go back to being solely dependent on the other, but historically, men are not caregivers of the children and women are not the primary providers. We are moving to a more egalitarian family structure, but it’s still a work-in-progress.
If you need proof that it’s still a work-in-progress, look at how I described myself as “lucky” to have a husband who helps me “do it all,” when one day hopefully no one will say lucky because it just will be the norm. I don’t say that to bash men, far from it, the problem is equal parts women giving up some traditional tasks and things they do and men taking them on, and vice versa. I am not kidding when I say my mother-in-law was floored I would think it okay for my husband to bathe our daughter. Um, hello? What if I’m run over by a bus tomorrow? Hmm? Not to even mention, he is her FATHER. The point is that in 2015 we still don’t quite have the “options” figured out. That is astounding.
I wonder if Jane Austen would mock the mother working 24/7 as a CEO, ignoring her family for the corporate one? Or a man who commutes 2.5 hours a day so that the family can have a house with a picket fence, therefore giving the family a “good life” by taking himself mostly out of it? Or what would she write about the digital dating services like Tinder? I am sure she would find the ridiculous in them all, and more.
I think as writers, we need to be as brave as Jane. I, for one, will be working on improving my unladylike behavior with my writing. 🙂 And as readers, maybe you will join me in reading her early works to discover more of her natural wit and personality? The book cover above is clickable. 🙂