Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Episode Fourteen: Austen? Chicklit?

Chapters 42-45!


43 was much longer than it said on the tag. This week we only have 42-43...but its an hour long episode regardles...
Next week, chapters 44-??...

Sorry about that!

Well, I'm in the homestretch! This week and next week are the last two I'll be podcasting from Croton-on-Hudson...boy I'll need to change the intro, huh?

I'll be podcasting from the road the week of August 1st, then from Tucson the next week. IF I can, I'll get my son in on the 'cast...but no guarantees. He's quite the ball-o-goof.

So this week!

A little discussion of ChickLit and Austen...

Jane Austen's novels have been repackaged as chick-lit to reflect our modern conception of her as a romantic novelist. But her world is less comforting than we think, argues Laura Thompson...

On 07/09/2006, Laura Thompson created a bit of a stir in the literary world when she said that Chicklit--the girlie romancified summer book lit that's gotten to be so popular among the young--had co-opted Jane Austen, and specifically, Pride and Prejudice.

...It all started in fine non-literary style: with Colin Firth. The scene in the 1995 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which Colin got his shirt wet was, almost certainly, the moment that opened the door and let the modern world in upon the quiet, oil-lit writing desk at Chawton Cottage. And when Firth played Mark Darcy in the film of Bridget Jones's Diary, the deal was sealed: Pride and Prejudice was on its way to fame and fortune.

Which brings her to a point we've discussed on this podcast:

...What on earth would Jane Austen have made of it all?

Well, she would certainly have laughed - "I dearly love a laugh," says Elizabeth Bennet, in the voice of her creator - and she would have enjoyed all the money, because nobody was more aware of its importance. Elizabeth and her sister Jane might have charm to spare, plus wit and good temper to keep fear of the future at bay, but their genteel poverty means that the men who marry them are not just lovers; they are personal relief missions from lives beyond contemplation.

And this acute alertness to the significance of money - to the humiliating gulf between the shillings that buy Elizabeth's hair ribbons and Darcy's £30,000 a year - is just one of the many aspects of Jane Austen that has been lost to a contemporary audience.

She goes on to say that too often, readers today just think it's neat that Elizabeth wound up with a rich guy--rather than noting that it was her job to find a rich husband or live a life of drudgery. In reality, loving Darcy is the bonus. The real marriage is that of money.

....Actually, there is rather more to Elizabeth than the perfection we behold in her (and ourselves). What, for example, is one to make of her ambiguous joke that she began to love Darcy on "first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley"? Sir Walter Scott, for one, thought she meant exactly what she said; and I think he had a point.

....But the novels as a whole are rather less comforting. Indeed, they are, in some ways, terrifying. There is something appalling about the lack of illusions with which Jane Austen viewed her little world. To censor out such a judgment - or to condemn it as "male" - is to do her an extreme disservice.

And the point she makes next made me feel bad for not making a bigger deal out of what Charlotte did, and why:

Take, for example, the character of Charlotte Lucas, one of Austen's finest, who cuts through the nonsense now waffling round Pride and Prejudice like a particularly acid lemon. Her presence lurks sombrely behind Elizabeth's lovely lightness: the two girls are faces of the same coin, expressions of their creator's joyful esprit on the one hand and cold eye on the other.

Like Elizabeth, Charlotte has a lively mind, but, unlike her friend, she has no physical allure. A quirk of nature has taken her out of the orbit of men such as Darcy. And, because she is plain, she sees the world plainly. She calmly perceives its limitations: the ruthless judgments of its marriage market, the life sentence of inhabiting its tight social circles.

Seeing the world, she also sees the possibility of falling off its edge. "Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." She snaps up Mr Collins, the terrible suitor whom Elizabeth has the freedom to reject. "I am not romantic, you know. I never was."

It is almost unthinkable, by today's standards, to do what Charlotte did--but she was wise, and right, and she seems to be "happy"...or at least happy enough...

She is the stony reality at the heart of Pride and Prejudice. She tells a woman's story, but in a way that is utterly remote from feminine convention: with scant emotion, appealing to nothing other than rationality. And, like her creator, she has remarkably little to do with cosy readings of The Jane Austen Book Club and communal swoons over Mr Darcy.

...If Pride and Prejudice can be so easily claimed by the Grazia brigade, why should the other books be any different? It is not difficult, after all, to read what one wants to read in a novel. Every reader does it, to an extent. But the landscape of what is seen in books is becoming increasingly impoverished. Indeed, it might be that the reality of literature no longer lies within its words. As Jane Austen flourishes, the literary sense that she possessed in its most refined form is slowly dying: the irony would have amused her.

Hmmmmm...more to think about...
As always, Pride and Prejudice is narrated by Annie Coleman. Intro music provided by which connected me with Joshua Christian’s “Chasing Hiro.”




  1. Just wanted to drop you a note to say I've recently discovered your podcast, and am loving it! I'm constantly frustrated by how my knitting cuts into my reading time, and am so thankful for this. Also, I haven't read Pride & Prejudice in years, and am really enjoying the refresher. :0)

  2. Yay! I'm so glad. I hope you've been able to get all the "back issues" as I just figured out how to link to all of them.
    ; )
    Welcome to the crew!

  3. You mentioned in the last podcast wanting young women to speech about their perceptions about others take on feminism. I am 24 and grew up and went to school in FL where the f word was rarely uttered and my high school had a Right to Life Club. The girls around me did not think about their choices in some ways they fought against them. I have since moved to CA for graduate school and the f word is embraced by the female students and they embrace their choices.
    I've noticed that more males are being made aware of the choices open to both sexes now due to being raised by second wave feminists. All in all I personally think that females do not think about their choices, but I personally am proud to say I'm a feminist. I am grateful to all of the women who have come before myself.

  4. Yay Lumie!
    I guess that's my biggest fear--I hate losing options. Life is weird and one never knows what one will do in the future.
    Hope you're enjoying CA...are you NorCal or SoCal? (They should probably be two separate states.)
    Thanks for the comment!

  5. I will never forget my Catholic, shy, conservative mother turning on a male collegue who said something idiotic like "how equal women are now" and in no uncertain terms correcting him, how uneven things still are and what an entirely stupid thing for him to say. I was so proud of her I could have just glowed perfectly pink.

    Austen, particularly this book, is the domain, property and touchstone of women. I cannot imagine another gender with that particular perspective to embrace a book so entirely. But, come to think of it, my darling friend Ben did write up some meeting notes last year in the Austen tone and I think she would have found it intensely funny. Some humorless women did not get the gag at all.

    Fabulous podcast, Heather. I adore you.

  6. I was in the first wave of women to be hired in one "traditionally male" job (pre-PC computer repair at IBM in 1979/1980). I am VERY aware of how far we've come. Sometimes I get really angry at the way younger women don't realize how we have to still be vigilant. There are forces active in America today that would be delighted to see women without the choices in career, lifestyle, etc. that we have now.

    In some past cultures, women had rights, and lost them. It could happen again. :(

    I've just recently finished listening to Pride and Prejudice from Librivox. I've really been enjoying listening to your thoughts about things though. Thanks much!

  7. YAY US!
    And I have to say, I love any logon that includes "leiderhosen"...very classy!

    I'm so glad y'all are listening!

  8. I'm a late 20-something, for a few more weeks anyway, and have a difficult time identifying with the early feminist movement of the sixties. The feminist movement has really been underway for centuries. Austen was a feminist in her own cultural way. I don't identify with the movement and actions of the 60s because of the angry undertones and because of the rejection and dismissal of many things that are overtly feminine. I agree with you, Heather, that feminism is about having choices. It seems to me though that with the first wave of feminism was not about choice but about abandoning or looking down upon women who choose to stay at home or knit or would rather be a nurse than a doctor. I identify more with the second wave of feminism, which involves the inclusion of women who decide not to work, the resurgence of knitting and spinning, and the supporting of men who become stay at home dads. I think focus on feminism shows there is still much to do. The complacency of younger females may be a positive. They just can't imagine life where they are repressed. Knowing the past is important so it doesn't happen again. Being unable to identify with it, may be a sign of just how far we have come. Let's face it, I can't imagine not marrying for love. There are still plenty of Charlottes in the world, but there are definitely more Elizabeths. Keep up the excellent work, Heather. I love listening to your podcast. I also enjoyed hearing about your dinner with Arun Gandhi.

  9. What a wonderful post! Thank you I.C.! And I'm with you! I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for years and the number of Stay-at-Home Dads was huge. It was a wonderful thing to see, and very supported by everyone in the community (Dan Zanes being the most famous of late). I can't ever forget the point that Martin Luther King made, that when one group is excluded and dismissed, Everyone (including the dismissors) suffers. Maybe we're coming to a center where everyone has choices, rather than pendulum-ing from extreme to extreme?

    Here's to the Elizabeths and their fabu mates!



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