I may not be writing this to the best audience, but on the other hand perhaps it will appeal to people that may not traditionally consider Austen.
In a few days Marvel’s Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron will open in theaters and my husband and I hope to see it…well, sometime when we can get a babysitter.
Growing up I had a lot of male friends. I was not athletic enough to be considered a tomboy and I’m no one’s idea of classic beauty. I can be sarcastic and irreverent. I have absolutely no idea when to shut up or when to let an issue drop. I will fight to the death over injustice, and I will debate until you pass out. It’s not that I need to have the last word; I’m just convinced with enough education anyone can see things the right way (aka my way). I also don’t get drama games and competition. I don’t get building people up to tear them down. I’m not secretly jealous of people when I support them and their achievements. It may sound like I am blindly proud of these things in my character, but I recognize they are faults more often than not.
I’m sorry to say, all of this meant I didn’t get along very well with girls—at least girls my age. That’s another rant. So, my friends were boys. I didn’t play mind games with them. I wasn’t trying to attract them. I was just their friend. A safe friend. Between that and two brothers, I’ve been exposed to more action adventure films than perhaps the average Janeite and long standing lover of costume dramas. All this to say that I am excited to see Avengers 2, I’m not just going with my husband.
I didn’t read the comics, but I’ve enjoyed all the films that have come out in recent years. If this post were coming out after I had seen the film, perhaps I would be trying to compare characters to Austen’s, but I won’t. I do, however, think there are some compelling universal themes for both Austen and superheroes.
Some of the super heroes come from different planets, such as Superman and Thor. Some, well, an entire franchise, have mutated powers. Some are humans changed because of scientific experimentation. Still others simply use their brains and man-made resources. Most would say each superhero is unique in some way. There is, however, a prevailing similarity between them all: heroism.
Superhero films have big fights with explosions and flashy powers and weaponry, but the real story, is how the characters overcome their inner obstacles. They have failures and weaknesses we all recognize (even if they’re not all technically human). They have fears and aspirations. They can be confused or led astray by bad logic and information. They’re imperfect and live in an imperfect world.
This is where Austen comes in. She was among the first to write imperfect heroes and heroines (I’d say it’s all about the women—but again, that’s another rant). Each one faces a moment requiring heroic bravery in which they are tempted to make a different choice. Each one is nearly “destroyed” by their own flaws. It’s not that they’re simply outnumbered or outgunned. The moments of inner struggle are the most poignant Austen wrote.
Elizabeth Bennet refused two advantageous marriage proposals, and some believe that is a heroic moment in literature for womankind. I suppose so. Yet, I think it was just an earlier symptom of the true hero inside her; the one that could evaluate her failings and assess her wrongs. I clapped when Lizzy turned down Darcy the first time I read the scene. But what sealed my love for her was the point where she cried: “How despicably I have acted! Till this moment, I never knew myself!”
At the end of that chapter, as Lizzy could only think of her letter, I could only think of the inner spirit of this character. Austen crafted the perfect climax for the story with Elizabeth choosing to love Darcy when all seemed hopeless and making the self-sacrificing and brave choice to thank him for his kindness to her family. She might once have been too proud to humble herself that way and too vain to do so with no sign of encouragement from him. In the end, however, Elizabeth’s heroic nature triumphs.
Darcy’s argument: “There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.” is an example of the universal truth of heroes. Education cannot overcome these defects, the possibility for evil residing in each of us, but a superiority of mind, a strength of character, an inner heroism can overcome.
As a fan fiction writer I’ve recently given a bit more tangible proof of heroism to Jane Austen’s beloved characters in my latest release, Undone Business. It follows Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley as their inner heroes emerge, despite the flaws of their past. They all find true love, of course, but they also conquer something greater than themselves as well.
What’s your inner hero like?