The Austen Question

Feminist ideology and the effect it has had upon society
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The Austen Question

Postby Andrea » 04 Feb 2014, 19:55

A popular sentiment expressed in today's society is the longing many women have for their own "Jane Austen romance". Now, I find this an intriguing dilemma, and one which I do not believe has been fully addressed on this forum. There are so many products out there, which read, 'Waiting for Mr. Darcy' etc, and I can't help but wonder why Jane Austen's prim and proper world can still be so incredibly popular despite the almost 180 degree change in societal beliefs. How can it be, that women yearn for the inherent romance of Austen's novels when they promote this dreadful "I don't need a man in my life" ideology. I think this is part and parcel of the general muddle many women find themselves in, an identity crisis, if you will, where women desire the comfort and companionship of a good, strong man, and the current trend to be self-sufficient and without the need of a man.

I found myself thinking about all this after I watched the entire series "Lost in Austen" last night. Indeed, I really enjoyed it. The vulgarity inherent (and largely accepted) in modern culture would truly have clashed with the upper middle-class world of Austen's books, and this is shown to great effect. What was generally found amongst the lower classes (and hushed up) is now celebrated throughout every class. In the series, the slightly trashy heroine (from modern London) pines for the decency, the respect men had for women, etc, that now is all but extinct. She smokes, she drinks to intoxication, and she's unhappy with her life. She receives a disgusting, half-hearted marriage proposal from her drunken lout of a boyfriend, and she, rightly, believes that she deserves better. I say rightly because she at least has the sense to know what's good, even if she is less-than-ladylike when compared to the women she so admires in her favourite book, 'Pride & Prejudice'.



What Austen teaches us is that we *shouldn't* go for the cad, (Willoughby, Wickham, Elliot, etc) we should go for the good man who will love and respect us (Bingley, Darcy, etc). Nowadays, lamentably, most women ignore this and go straight for the cads - and reap the nasty consequences for doing so. I feel strongly that we should once again embrace the culture and manners that Austen enjoyed in her time - a time which was far more respectful to women than we experience in our post-feminist world, regardless of what the media likes to make us think.

There are, I think, several categories of Austen fans: 1) I have several close friends who married young (as I did) and who do not identify themselves as "feminists" and who love Austen's writings because they agree with the manners of that time. 2) There are other women who, though thoroughly entrenched in modern mores, cannot resist the comfort to be found in the writings of Jane Austen. 3) There are women who are simply unlucky, who have not been able to attract any male attention and so live vicariously through the pages.

What do you think?
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Gavin » 04 Feb 2014, 21:12

I'm sure you're right in your observations. I watched some of this and found it quite amusing (I like time travel stories of almost any kind, and often wonder what people of the past would make of us today, and how primitive or otherwise we might seem in the future).

What struck me most was the quality of the diction and dialogue. The way that Darcy speaks makes typical modern self-expression seem retarded (I mean that in the proper sense of the word). He selects precise words from a far wider vocabulary than is typically employed these days, enunciates them well, and easily uses metaphor to better make his points. Of course, much prose and dialogue was written in this style around the time of Austen.

It is surely a sign of our degeneracy that were anybody to risk speaking this well today, they would likely be ridiculed and accused of being "up themselves". Yet at the same time adults are well paid to produce the truly ridiculous "managementese" and "gangsta" slang is much admired among many of our younger people.

I will add that sadly, the message of these dramas often seems to be lost even on those who act in them. In interviews I have seen it is apparent that the women enjoy "dressing up" and pretending to be ladies for a little while, but they are unlikely to internalise what valuable lessons there are, and when the cameras stop rolling many will likely be back to "grrrl power", smoking, swearing, and generally being as unfeminine as they can be. Deep down, as you suggest, they probably feel differently, it's just that the poisonous doctrine of feminism has told them to reject their natural feelings.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Elliott » 06 Feb 2014, 20:24

I watched the first episode of this and it struck me how odd it was that none of the Austen characters commented on how bad the woman's diction was, or how ill-mannered she was, etc. It seemed to me that the message being conveyed was that these 19thC people are cute and amusing, but we vulgar moderns are more realistic and strong people. Of course this might not be the story's message - maybe I should watch the other episodes!
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Jonathan » 06 Feb 2014, 22:36

Andrea wrote:How can it be, that women yearn for the inherent romance of Austen's novels when they promote this dreadful "I don't need a man in my life" ideology.


I wonder if it's just the romance which makes the books so popular. After all, there's plenty modern romance out there, some of it quite good - you might expect Austen to be drowned out by all of it.

I wonder if it's perhaps the world which Austen brings to life which makes her stories so appealing. Consider a modern woman - 33 years old, after eight boyfriends (serious ones only, mind you) making slow but steady progress on her career path, trying to find time for dating, but finding only losers and playboys - and she sits down to read a book about a world in which women put finding a good husband before anything else; all their efforts are aimed at improving themselves or catching the eye of a suitor; men pursue women, and women expect to be pursued by men, with no confusion of roles or identity crises; men pursue women explicitly for love and marriage, not for one-night-stands, or to be friends-with-benefits.

It's also a world without divorces or custody battles, as marriages are expected to last a lifetime. The sexes are engaged in a dance, not in a wrestling match. And even that not-so-good-looking friend of Elizabeth's manages to catch a husband, right? So much better than our world, with its failures and frustrations, confusion and crises. Who wouldn't be happier there?

Especially if there were also Zombies....
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Grant » 07 Feb 2014, 06:41

I'm sure Miss Austen's intentions were noble but her method is the literary equivalent of Stillnox. To inflict her turgid scribblings on adolescent males is cruel and unusual punishment. These boys should be deliberately denied her "pleasures" until they have reached middle age and have trouble sleeping. They will then appreciate her narcoleptic qualities.
It was Mark Twain who said a library with no books was infinitely better than a library with even one work by Jane Austen!
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Yessica » 07 Feb 2014, 08:08

Grant wrote:I'm sure Miss Austen's intentions were noble but her method is the literary equivalent of Stillnox. To inflict her turgid scribblings on adolescent males is cruel and unusual punishment. These boys should be deliberately denied her "pleasures" until they have reached middle age and have trouble sleeping. They will then appreciate her narcoleptic qualities.
It was Mark Twain who said a library with no books was infinitely better than a library with even one work by Jane Austen!


I fear a library full of books men like to read would be very very small.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Gavin » 07 Feb 2014, 08:36

That's very harsh, Grant! I don't think you are in the target market.

Yessica, I think men have written most books and probably read most books throughout history - the more intelligent ones do like reading.

Jonathan it seems to me you go very easy on the modern (feminist) woman. I think the point Andrea was making is that many are (on the surface) actively proud of eschewing all men. When it comes to a means of being considered, "manosphere" men know well that the surest route is to be generally unpleasant. (We see, for example, otherwise literate men deliberately dumbing down their text messages, ignoring the woman, "negging", behaving in a vulgar manner, etc.) Few want for female attention. Sheer "field experience", logic and observation of sexual market forces (not morality) have led them to this behaviour.

I don't know anything about the state of Israel, but at least in our culture, the decent, responsible conservative man is unlikely to have a look-in, because he won't be "exciting" enough. The cad or delinquent much more so (as evidenced by so many of Dalrymple's stories).

It's true that the quality of woman attracted by such tactics is likely to be low, but with so many women who would otherwise be serious prospects being seduced by femi-power (thus breaking the natural order of things and making themselves unattractive to men), the decent gentleman can sadly have a long wait indeed to meet a marryable lady (or even a lady!).
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Yessica » 07 Feb 2014, 08:43

I started watching it, very enjoyable, hope to watch the rest soon!

I think that there is good things, bad things and interesting things about that time gone by.

I just pick some of the things I noticed.

* Take the character of Wickham, he squandered his money... and this is seen as a sign of low character. I know quite a few modern day Wickhams and all of them a) are quite open and not a bit ashamed of their situation b) annoy the world with stories how they are not to blame for their misfortune, c) instead of trying to live within their means they whine and ask other people for money and d) you are not even allowed to tell them what a disgrace they are - oh, how I would love to do that.

* At some part of the modern day story Mrs. Price is said to be the daughter of a poor fishmonger and becomes an outcast for that. Well, I think this is cruel. People should not be judged by the way they are born... but what is just as bad. Imagine a person on a upper middle class party today is discovered to be the daughter of a poor fishmonger or a single mother that lives on welfare as fishmonger is middle class today... everybody would assume or at least pretend to assume that the person is somehow more authentic / better than the daughter of the lawyer / medical doctor / professor. I wish I could get an Euro for every time I overheard a person on such a party brag with her lowly birth, poverty and so on.... oh and I wish I could say in a pseudo-compassionate voice "Oh, what a misfortune! I happen to come from a decent family... but not anybody can be that lucky". That would be great fun.

As for marrying young, going dancing / to balls, for sure that has not been outlawed, has it?
But I actually did not like the balls of today that much when I was unmarried. There are several reasons for that and one is the ungentlemanly nature of many men, who will laways try to make you give them favours... and I know many women feel like this about men.
If you dance too much with a man nowadays he things you owe him - and too my mind you don't. I ended up hated by some of my friends because I had been dancing with one of their brothers but did not want to date him - as if I had to.
I did not marry a virgin, don't think one should... but I think that feminism made women more vulnerable in a way. Nowadays a man can whine and complain "Why did you not give me that favour - may be a kiss, a date or more - after all you have been dancing with me / talking to me and sparked my hopes" and young and vulnerable women will feel guilt tripped by that.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Yessica » 07 Feb 2014, 09:14

Just to give another example of how far our world has fallen to my mind.

When I was sixteen, I was at an evening party and had a nice conversation with a good-looking young man. I wanted to leave early in order to catch the last night bus home but he begged me to stay, he would give me a ride. My friends left, I stayed.

Well, I stayed and he gave me a ride home. We had a nice conversation, ABSOLUTLY NOTHING happened during that ride.

Now the next day... everybody said "Congratulations. What was it like?", "What was what like", "Sex with him"... "are you a couple now?" well and I did not have sex with him and we were not a couple... but nobody believed that we did not do it anyway and since obviously we did not date anybody believed we had a one night stand.

That left me really really puzzled. Do other people really jump at each other and have sex in a car every time they find themselves alone with somebody of the opposite sex? May be I don't want to know the answer.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Grant » 07 Feb 2014, 11:01

Gavin, I favour a more direct style such as Hemingway. I don't think he and Miss Austen are spending much time in the hereafter comparing notes, although I'd love to see a Hemingway-like editor apply his skills to Austen's opaque style. I then might understand what she was trying to say. It must be a male thing!

As a fan of Mark Twain, he delighted millions with a dry wit that probably would have been lost on the literal lady of Hampshire.

I remember, with a shudder, as a callow youth having to plough through "Persuasion" for my high school finals. If my inability to fathom the intricacies of dear Jane is a cross I have to bear, it is one I wear with pride.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Andrea » 07 Feb 2014, 11:07

I thought perhaps my initial post had fallen on deaf ears, so I was pleasantly surprised to find all of your comments today.

Grant, I'm afraid your comment made me laugh because I have it on good authority that most of the men in my acquaintance have read - and enjoyed - Jane Austen's novels. But you are entitled to your opinion, of course, as I am; I found all of Twain's books exceedingly tedious - but then again his books were not so much for girls as they were for boys. Persuasion happens to be my most favourite of Austen's books!

Yessica, very good observations, especially that people are viewed upon more favourably if they come from humble origins. I think people are in general dirty-minded now (and this is seen as a good thing!). I enjoyed the show and I think you will as well - however ludicrous the plot becomes! As for men reading, well, as above, most men I know are ravenous readers, but then again, they are intellectuals and eschew sports (and I prefer men that way!).

Gavin said, "I think the point Andrea was making is that many are (on the surface) actively proud of eschewing all men." That was absolutely my point, and I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear enough. Anyway, I do think that the tide may be turning. Since writing the initial post, I have found another film called "Austenland" which I have not yet seen, but think goes hand-in-hand with this discussion. I think it might not be as good as Lost in Austen, though!

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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Yessica » 05 Apr 2014, 09:07

Yessica wrote:Just to give another example of how far our world has fallen to my mind.

When I was sixteen, I was at an evening party and had a nice conversation with a good-looking young man. I wanted to leave early in order to catch the last night bus home but he begged me to stay, he would give me a ride. My friends left, I stayed.

Well, I stayed and he gave me a ride home. We had a nice conversation, ABSOLUTLY NOTHING happened during that ride.

Now the next day... everybody said "Congratulations. What was it like?", "What was what like", "Sex with him"... "are you a couple now?" well and I did not have sex with him and we were not a couple... but nobody believed that we did not do it anyway and since obviously we did not date anybody believed we had a one night stand.

That left me really really puzzled. Do other people really jump at each other and have sex in a car every time they find themselves alone with somebody of the opposite sex? May be I don't want to know the answer.


Yesterday I watched a quite un pc report about rapes in India.

It was quite shocking, there was a middle class woman who went to a restaurant, had a nice conversation with another guest (also middle class) and he and his buddies offered to drive her home. She ended up gang raped by them, what was even more shocking was the reaction of the police, who insisted she must have been to blame for what happened, and the public reaction. One local politician said she must have been a prostitute for acting that way.

Even more scary was the case of a teenage lower caste girl, who had been snatched by strangers, held captative, beaten up and "married" agaist her will to several grown-up men, her family informed the police, who did not do anything until an NGO and a camera team intervened. She returned to her village afterwards, but was an outsider because most villagers blamed her for what happened, she realized she could not live there anymore and moved to a big city.

I was impressed by some of the people covered, for example the brother who sold all of his land in order to be able to bribe the police to get his sister back and the people of the anti-rape NGO two of whom had already been murdered.

Why do I mention this here? Because several times India was called "backwards". People often insist that there is a course of events that will happen in any country if the country is given enough time. It will become, more modern, more like ours and so on.

I wonder if this really is the case. Did times like this really exist in our societies?
Was there ever a time when it was okay and socially accepted for middle-class men to gang-rape a women from a good family you offered a ride home? Wouldn't the perps be excluded from middle class society? Would her family not have done something?
I know there were arranged marriages, but was it ever socially accepted for several men to "marry" a teenager against her will (and that of her family)?
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Kevin R » 10 Apr 2014, 17:24

The point in Andrea's opening post about living vicariously was a very pertinent one I think. Vicariousness is now much more than a holiday, it is a global fabrication industry. What Stanislaw Lem back in the 1960s saw fit to term 'The Phantomat'.

Even in Jane Austen's era and beyond into the 19th century, I should think that 'novels' were probably the most direct conduit to a vicarious escape into imaginative adventure - hence the descriptor. How many legions of young women living back then (and since) amongst the growing affluence of the merchant classes have sat on a lounge chair by the fire and read their way into somewhere else? Weren't the Brontes all an amalgam of quiet rectitude and domestic gentility, living away from the urbanities and dissolutions of London bohemianism and belles-lettres? Like Austen, they were a cleric's offspring and had the opportunity for a respectable literary education, even if only at home. As we all know, when the worst of want and excess toil was banished to the periphery, time was then freed up, and had be filled with something to stave off ennui during the long evenings. So one either wrote novels, or read them, or both.

Two or so centuries later just about everyone has the possibility of access into the matrix of virtual fantasy. Some critics posit that we're now on the brink of a new epoch in which technology increasingly offers the choice to banish life's uncomfortable contingencies and all it's attendant disappointments to the periphery of daily experience. If society is becoming increasingly experimental but chaotic, it's institutions corruptive and abortive, the personal relationships and behaviour of it's members increasingly riven with unfettered and demanding ego, it's popular culture a mere Bachannale around the extremes of sentimentality and brutality, then corporate commerce is realising that there is gold in them thar' valleys of the virtual. They can offer us a Faustian escape if only semi-permanently. And technology will provide the means. Already it's becoming possible to access virtual-reality programmes that will take one to another time or place using headsets. Possibly in the future it will become a full bodily immersion..

The question is: if this is the future, then how will that affect the notion of free will? Why choose to try and get on with others, why opt to attempt at moulding one's moral character to deal with life's vicissitudes and other people's demands, thus becoming a fully rounded human personality, when one can instead defer or neutralise the need for it? If we are all going to be living in increasingly crowded cities, and increasingly complex reproductive relationships affected by our technology, would it be less demanding to abdicate a freedom to try in favour of a freedom to pretend? We'll know it's a false freedom, but will we care?

The posts above mention the increasing conflict of expectations between men and women. Is this a result of increasing withdrawal into the solipsistic realm? Do we demand more of each other from our relationships, rather than of ourselves to make them succeed?

And all of that is what brings me back to the theme of her two best known novels. On the whole, I think that recent television and film have slowly managed to obfuscate the literary satire imminent in Austen's books in favour of heaving décolletage and candlelit curls. All in line with current trends for surface and 'desire' of course. The 1980 BBC version of 'Pride and Prejudice ' was the first one I encountered on the screen, and the best in adhering to the August prose in the book's dialogue. For me, it did the most convincing job yet of throwing into relief her message to the reader, that we have to look and examine inside ourselves if we are to grow as rounded people. Escape into fantasies and surrogates only corrodes the ability to make real change for the better.

Until recently, academia has always been careful to distance itself from the more prosaic terms of Austen's adulation, such as F R Leavis focusing on her moral preoccupation and satirical style. But I think that her recent popular resurgence has been mostly the result of careful marketing. To me, it's a strand of the current fetishisation (or even a sexualisation) of period history.. or, rather, the apprehensive and opulent appeal of it's sartorial pageant -a means to indulge jaded modern palates. Most people at large in the streets now lack any graces in dress, manner or deportment, so naturally the lack thereof creates an aching longing for a return to a time when plastic beauty and social etiquette had a seemingly whimsical poetry. Nevertheless, modern sensibility ( or should I say a lack of sense and sensibility) has inculcated the commodification of heritage and the past as a sort of thematic obsession with history - a playground for the indulgence of modern leisure activity, an activity that demands an escape from it's own dysfunctional tendencies.. The National Trust is one example of this commodification . As it's membership has recently shot up by millions, it's policy has become increasingly commercialised. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a Darcy will be in want of a dollar.
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Re: The Austen Question

Postby Yessica » 11 Apr 2014, 08:06

Please help my understand that. Why do you think reading Austen is escapism?

I sometimes read novels with elfs and dwarves having to defeat evil overlords. I can understand why people think THAT is escapism.

I think that Austen however is describing some real life problems people encountered... mainly marrying well, which was of tremendous importance in that time (and to my mind has not become unimportant today).

I do not see Mr. Darcy as the perfect human being. He was written to be somewhat flawed, too proud, sometimes disrespectful, withdrawn.
What makes him (and his contemporaries) different from some men of today is that they had higher standards for moral conduct.

"Escape into fantasies and surrogates only corrodes the ability to make real change for the better."

Why do you think so? I think it could also lead the fact that women expect their admires to behave themselves better / have higher standards when it comes to choosing a spouse.
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