Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Editorial: What is it about Austen?

I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice again yesterday.
So, naturally, I had to watch the movie today.
The short one. Don't have the long one. Yet.
I forget how much I love that story.

It got me thinking. Why do we love these stories so much? What is it about this time period, this culture, and this author that captures so many hearts?

The first thing to come to mind was the men. The gentlemen, I should say. I think female fans of Regency literature are so enamored by the idea of being wooed by a gentleman that they pick these stories/film adaptations up again and again, never enjoying them any less than before. 
And of course, who couldn't love those Georgian heroines? Lizzy Bennet's wit and humor, Eleanor Dashwood's strength and forbearance, or Ann Elliot's loyalty and patience; models for us all.

But what is it, truly, about these men and women and their fictional lives that makes us wish we could don a bonnet and Spencer jacket and go strolling alongside some heavily sideburned man in breeches? (Or at least picture our significant other in such sideburns and breeches).

This path of pondering led me to my conclusion: 


Even if we don't realize it, I believe the main reason so many people of so many religious, moral, and financial backgrounds adore these stories is virtue.
Think about it.
The passion that grows in the heart simply from the act of restraint.
The tender feelings brought on by a simple glance, a brush of the hand, a chaste kiss on the knuckles. 
Being treated in such a way that a woman feels completely safe and treasured, while at the same time a man is able to fill the measure of his masculinity by taking charge and taking lead; appealing to his innate role as a protector and provider (not as a chauvinist or, in lay-man's terms, a "playa").

Austen's stories reach us because we wish our lives could be more like that. 
Courtship and marriage would be an honorable institution instead of a ridiculed or even undesirable one. People would strive to improve themselves for the better to win the heart of the one they love (Ex: Mr. Darcy, Emma Woodhouse, Marianne Dashwood). There would be more patience to wait for the one that is worthy (Ex: Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, Jane Bennet, Colonel Brandon, Fanny Price). And we would try to find it in our hearts to accept the eccentricities of life. (Ex: Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Mary Dashwood).

It all comes down to virtue and how priceless it is. The lessons learned from these stories all account for the peace and yes, even power that virtue brings to those who hold it dear. 

Not that our realities are always rosy because we did the right thing; sometimes it's quite the opposite. But I'm not talking about our realities. I'm talking about our desires. 
In the heart of every Austen fan lives the desire to get lost in that world... a world where virtue is triumphant. 

Makes you wish there was more of it in our day and age, doesn't it? 
Maybe our world won't be carriage rides and whispered tete-a-tete's, but it might be a little bit nicer if our culture began to bend back to where it used to be: instead of a place where virtue equals boredom or prudishness, a place where virtue equals greatness and happiness. 

Austen believed in it. And if we love that kind of place so much, we can believe in it too.


La la said...

I just decided you should name your new boy-child Austen! or Austin, the spelling is really up to you...

Darci Cole said...

So true. And so well said. You're a genius, Amy.

Marilyn said...

Awesome Amy! Perfect timing because the sick Miss Alyssa and I just finished watching the loooong version of Pride and Prejudice. I think this essay is worthy of publication. SOMEWHERE!

Unknown said...

Interestingly enough I am currently reading (listening) to Mansfield park for the second time. It has been fun looking at the reasons why people don't like Mansfield Park and hate Fanny. I reasonably wrote about it. mostly I agree with you. (though I have to point out that the time period that Jane Austin lived and wrote in is considered Regency because King George had finely gone so off his rocker that no one was even pretending that he was still in charge.) isn't it interesting that much of the current love of steam punk comes with an infatuation with this and the Victorian, and Edwardian period?

Heather said...

Brilliant editorial Amy. Well said.

heather said...

This is the best thing I've read this whole week.

Also, imagining Hubby in breeches and burn throws me into hysterical giggles. It's so much easier to picture him as Captain Jack from These is My Words. That character and Hubby are practically two peas in a pod. The spirit of a Mr. Darcy, in a rough and tumble man of the Old West.

Jennie said...

I love Austen and I agree with everything you wrote. Perfectly said. You have me thinking about Lizzy and Darcy now... I might have to pick up the book and read it again!

Heather Feather said...

My husband always asks why I like it and I could never quite tell him. You put words to my thoughts that I could never quite figure out! (He likes them too though.) Thanks!

Carrie said...

Playing catch up with your blog posts!

I concur I concur I concur with everything you have written here. Bravo.