Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Modern Women Still Love Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

I read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in eighth grade and haven't revisited it since, but I've been meaning to watch this this BBC produced mini-series for ages. Ever since reading Bridget Jones' Diary my freshman year of college and thickly realizing that my beloved Bridget is just a modern re-imagining of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark is (hello! She didn't even change his name!) Mr. Darcy. Remember the chapter in Bridget Jones' Diary where Bridget interviews Colin Firth and bumbles all her questions because of her simmering crush on this version of Mr. Darcy.? Me too.

Wanting to be in on the joke, Eric and I finally watched the mini series this week. Every detail was so beautifully done, I can't say enough to recommend it. The acting is superb and manages to feel lively and filled with meaning and emotion, despite the unwieldy language these Edwardian characters are bandying about. The costumes and homes featured are lovingly arranged in beautiful shots. And of course, there is the story itself.

As I watched, I couldn't help but think that there is a reason why Jane Austen's novels have stood the test of time and continue to appeal to modern women hundreds of years later. They contain three often contradictory components women are still looking for in romantic endeavors all these years later.

First, there is the idea of being ardently desired that appeals to women on a very basic level. It is flattering when a usually composed and dignified man loses his cool to become a puddle at your feet. Even if you don't desire him. Especially if you don't desire him. It makes you feel powerful.

Secondly, there is the idea of security, which Ms. Austen handles deftly. During her time, the idea of marrying for love was a new concept. Most people were concerned with marrying someone of good position that could to support them through their old age. If we answer this question honestly, we have to confess that this is still a factor in choosing the person to spend our lives with. And yet, no one wants to be the sort of person who marries only for this reason. It seems so calculated. So unfeeling. Ms. Austen had to tread lightly with her heroines, causing them to hate the wealthiest men at first and spurn their affections only to be convinced after a very long, slow and dramatic series of events prove this terrible rich guy to not be terrible after all. And then perhaps she could entertain the idea of being his wife. And then, we can finally remember that he's rich! (This trope is still being worked into novels and screenplays by the way. See Friends with Money for more evidence of the slightly distasteful "Did We Mention He's Rich?" surprise.)

Thirdly, modern women prize their independence. No one wants to think of themselves, or their heroines as sheep who meekly follow the course set for them by their families or societies. Instead, we like to think of ourselves as headstrong, determined, and busily creating our own destinies. This ties in beautifully to the theme of a passionate love unabated by any societal pressure or impediment. There is something about being with someone against all odds, of fighting for each other, of overcoming obstacles that no one thought you could, that makes you feel your love is invincible. Your love can withstand anything because it has already overcome so much. That is a good vantage point from which to consider marriage. From that heady view, you can convince yourself that despite knowing not one couple truly happily married fifty years in, you and your beloved will triumph. Now that my friends, is romance. And I for one, want much more of it.

Why do you think Jane Austen remains so popular so many years later? Which of her books is your favorite? Also, do you think Colin Firth is as hot as Bridget and I do?


Jennifer said...

I love reading Jane Austen and I loved reading this post! I've most recently read Persuasion, which is a bit shorter and I think perhaps the last book she wrote. For one of her less famous pieces, I enjoyed her insights as usual. But I periodically come back to Sense and Sensibility because somehow, I always gleam more lessons with every read.

And, um, yes to Colin Firth. He had a really great interview on CBS Sunday Morning I think a month or so back - swoon-worthy indeed.

jessica said...

I was talking to my roommate, who is a big Jane Austen fan, about this and she thinks what is so pertinent in Austen's novels is that the women never lose power. They get romance and beauty and marriage but they are not subservient to anyone. And they wouldn't be.

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