Jane Austen Deemed “Unladylike” . . . I Want To Be Like Her

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. 🙂


11 Responses to Jane Austen Deemed “Unladylike” . . . I Want To Be Like Her

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I work 50 hours a week and hubby does help out. I have coded laundry baskets so I sort and he does the laundry. 5 nights a week he and my son fend for themselves…I have her Juvenalia, but haven’t yet read it. I need to add it to my TBR. Thank you for a lovely post.

  2. I would not admire Queen Elizabeth1 ,She was anti-Catholic. She was no better than her sister Queen Mary. Elizabeth even had her own cousin Mary Queen Of Scotland beheaded. She may have done good things for England,but she was a cruel and prejudiced Queen!

  3. Thanks for the great post, Elizabeth! So true! It’s amazing, when we really think about it, how ahead of her time Jane Austen was. Her contemporaries, so much more acclaimed in their lifetime, are all but forgotten. Few can relate to the trials and tribulations of the Belindas and the Evelinas, but Jane’s heroines and Jane herself are so so easy to relate to!

    Her Juvenilia works are delightful, so wickedly funny I guess that she was lucky too, in being born to an enlightened family, who encouraged and rewarded her ‘unladylike behaviour’.

    Wonderful to hear you have such a supportive hubby! It might be a long time till they become the norm, so we’ll just have to be glad we’re among the lucky ones 😉

    • Indeed. Though I’m sure my husband would also say he too is lucky. Not only can I cook, I can run a business empire and still hold my children when they’re sick! LOL. Yesterday I worked on writing from 8 am to 11 AM, had a lunch date with him, got back to my office for 4-9 (dinner was leftovers). I worked an 8 hour day around my family and that is a real dream come true. Because even though I did start off being more like Stephanie, not wanting to sacrifice my personal success for a housewife role, I do find satisfaction in both realms of my life. But I hate the vacuum cleaner, that won’t ever change. 🙂 I am happy that we all have options to do what our hearts desire, be that motherhood or not. Not every man becomes a father and very rarely do we give them flak for that, hopefully one day that will stop being a question to women in their 20s and 30s . . . “when are you going to have a kid?”

  4. I think this is the very reason I originally became such a fan of JA when I was so young. I was always unladylike and obstinate. I drove my mother nuts (and still do to some degree) because I didn’t want to do any of the things that “women do”. I never wanted to marry or be a mother. I wanted a career and my own living space and no one to tell me I couldn’t. Of course one of the ironic things is that I love to cook and bake and can and all those things that “women have done” since the beginning of time. LOL I however do not like a lot of the thou shalt nots. Luckily I, like you, married a thoroughly modern man who allows me to be unladylike and obstinate without trying to change me a bit. =D I will never forget when I chose to get my tubes tied (partially because I didn’t want children and partially because of health reasons) and I had other women saying things to me about how I was neglecting my “God given duty” to produce babies. What year is this again?

    • When I was Jane Austen’s age for her earlier works, I dreamed of being a big shot in international business with a boyfriend in all the major cities. I imagined a jet-set lifestyle of apartments and three languages. 🙂 My mother never had those kind of dreams, heck she was told girls don’t NEED math past Algebra and yet, I took and aced Calculus. The other day I startled my husband with the point that our great-grandmothers, women we both met in our early lives, were not born with the right to vote.

      It takes time for society to progress. I am happy we are moving forward in many ways, and I hope lifestyle choices are easier for my daughter.

  5. Elizabeth, Thank you for a very interesting comparison. Times have changed in so many obvious and subtle ways. Yes we are healthier by virtue of modern medicine, but have we given up the benefits of a slower lifestyle and less stress? One of the current expressions that tickles me is when a couple says: WE are pregnant. I am only a bit older, but in my time that expression was unheard of. The woman was pregnant. The baby was her responsibility. The father would no more carry a diaper bag than a handbag. I embrace the new man and wonder if Jane would have felt the same.

    • I think Jane Austen would have a FIELD DAY with modern pregnancy and even modern weddings! She loved to poke fun at society, and we have a society with a much more robust middle-class that was still finding it’s identity in the Regency era. I think the fluidity in what constitutes “the Ton” today would astound her, and she would giggle over things like “reality TV star.”

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