The Darcy Dilemma

OR I am in love with a fictional man, who may or may not be perpetuating Patriarchal masculinity. Oh my.

I have recently realized that much of my adult life has been spent in pursuit of a well-known character from one of my favorite novels. He somehow subconsciously became my perfect man all those years ago, and the masculine ideal for countless others.

Readers all over the world know him as a prototype of the tall, dark and handsome mystery man; he is somber and stoic on the outside, yet soft, sensitive, smart, and thoughtful when the layers of his personality are revealed. He has social clout, knows what he wants, is straightforward, and can defend a family’s honor when need be. Sound good? This is the fictional man I have searched for in the real world, alongside countless other admirers. His name, as we all know, is Mr. Darcy.

Darcy has been popularized in contemporary literary media through adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by the BBC and Focus Features, parodies like the movie Bride and Prejudice, or the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book-turned-film Bridgett Jones’ Diary, and countless other interpretations. The novel itself is likely one of the most popular classics in today’s society, and the story and its characters are far more well-known.

Collin Firth has become the visual representation of Darcy for many, and we pine for Darcy to stare at us. I mean, have you seen the lake scene in the BBC Adaptation?

I will keep watching, admiring, and thoroughly enjoying Collin Firth in his many Darcy-based roles. However, I have been left disappointed by the expectations that Darcy as a character has raised for my experiences with the men in my life. I feel that all of my experiences searching for my Mr. Darcy have ended with either a man who cannot express himself, or is really just kind of an ass. It has been my experience that Darcy-esque qualities don’t really translate from the Austen novel to the everyday twenty-first century very easily.

In fact, it can be dangerous to love someone who does not show his emotion, not very fun to love a man who is a snob. Real men who have Darcy-esque qualities in fact may be suffering from what bell hooks terms “patriarchal masculinity,” where they are emotionally cut down by society because nobody cares about their feelings.

A real man with a Darcy exterior may not have that rich internal life that Darcy has, and surely is unlikely to write verbose and life-altering letters to us. Darcy’s personality cannot be the end all-be all of male sexy. In fact, he could be perpetuating our current society’s obsession with an ideal patriarchal masculinity, with production of the “strong, silent” type.

I have real problems with that possibility.

As modern readers, we hope that our tough-on-the-outside men will be so in love with us they crumble into a pool of desperate emotion as Darcy seems to when he proposes to Elizabeth the first time. However, without the presence of Austen’s clever narrative voice simultaneously chastising and sympathizing with Darcy, I’m not sure we’d fall in love with him alongside Elizabeth.

Perhaps the reason Darcy is so appealing to me and others is that despite his seeming emotional constipation and adherence to the patriarchal society in which he exists, he was imagined and given breath by a woman. I feel like Jane Austen herself does not get enough credit for Darcy’s creation. Could his appeal be so universal without the author’s genius? Without her gender? What do you think?

Best,

Miss E

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The Help- the movie vs. the book

I enjoyed the book The Help. While I did have initial issues with the concept of black maids in the 60’s risking everything to work on a white writer’s novel, I liked the vivid personalities of characters in the novel, (the bad ones and the good ones), and I enjoyed the writing on a sentence level.

All movies are different than the book- different media, different art, different relationship. I didn’t hate it- for me to say that about a movie that takes a little bit more of what Minny would call the heart palpitations. Despite the wonderful actors and the realistic costume design, I had some major problems with it.

I can narrow it down to 3 elements from the movie that really drove me nuts.

1). Lack of suspense and intensity. The book is infused with a sense of danger throughout. The film downplayed that danger and the tangible tension present in every chapter of the book. One of the book’s primary strengths for me is that it portrayed so many emotions so believably—the deep sadness of Skeeter in slowly losing everyone important to her and seeing her mother dying from cancer, the absolute terror of living in Jackson Mississippi during this time, the bloody horror when Minny finds a miscarriage and a collapsed employer in the bathroom, the threat of sexual violence against female characters and rampant misogyny, and the Help’s ever-present fear of Miss Hilly, white people, and of racial and sexual violence on a daily basis, etc. It always felt emotionally intense.

2).  In the book, no interaction was comfortable- the awkwardness between the society women, between blacks and whites, between Skeeter and her mother. The movie showed some of the awkwardness, but I was craving more, as weird as that sounds. Everything in the movie seemed  a little too easy.

3). So, speaking of awkwardness, the third thing about the movie that bothered me most was a specific scene—Minny’s interaction with her employers at the end.

In the novel, the last scene we have with Minny and her employers comes after Skeeter and Aibileen’s book is circulating through Jackson. Minny goes to work, anticipating that she will be fired, but her employers tell her she can have a job for the rest of her life. Minny and the Footes relationship could only be described as awkward and bizarre. Later, the conflict that has been building in the novel between Minny and her abusive husband Leroy escalates. Leroy locks her in the bathroom of their house and threatens to burn it down with her inside. She escapes, runs to the gas station barefoot, and calls Aibileen to tell her she’s going to live with her sister and she’s leaving Leroy for good.

In the movie, Minny walks in (after thinking she’s being attacked by her employer Mr. Foote) to a magnificent feast prepared solely by Miss Celia Foote. Then the narrator says something to the effect of “that meal gave Minny the courage she needed. She left Leroy that night.” That’s when I almost screamed in the theater. What!?

I’m sure you can see the problem with this discrepancy. The white family shows kindness to Minny, one of the most skeptical characters in the whole novel, and all of a sudden she decides to “turn her life around.” Although part of the comic relief in the movie comes from Celia’s confusing lack of racial and class boundaries, and well, boundaries in general, that feast just seems unbelievable. The narrative addition is just insulting to Minny’s character. It both takes from Minny and gives way too much to the Footes.

In the novel, Minny was very brave. She did what she had to do, but she stood up for herself more than most. She was not afraid to speak her mind, except in her abusive relationship.

Minny left Leroy to save herself, because the abuse had finally reached the point of threatening her life. That push to escape came from the realization that he could, and would kill her eventually, NOT a dinner from her white employers!

Yours with the heart palpitations,

Miss E

Pondering Publishing in Barnes and Noble

Today I was at Barnes and Noble, contemplating the demise of Borders and the state of the publishing world today. I felt conflicted. Let me give some context for this. As an English-y person, I have kind of become a bookstore connoisseur. I go to all bookstores and libraries- independent, corporate, independent-used, and coffee shop bookstores. I have even been to a bookstore with a bar. I have never been incredibly discriminating about my bookstores, at least not the ones I will go into and purchase a book from. If there are books there, usually I will buy them.

However, since I have moved to Seattle, a place where local business thrives more than anywhere else I have ever lived, I have been going to a ton of great local bookstores. For example, yesterday afternoon I was in a charming bookstore in my neighborhood, one I was seeking out even on short visits before I moved. So yeah, it’s that amazing.

Anyways, at said charming independent bookstore yesterday, I had the best customer service I have ever experienced in a bookstore. I as having a casual conversation with an employee there who was really friendly. He was stocking books and we began discussing what I like to call “Bus Books.” I ride the bus to work every day, and so far I have finished 3 books on the bus. I don’t read them anywhere else- they are just for my commute. They have to be both light, and intriguing enough to grab me at 6:50am when I may have slept 5 hours the night before.

He knew exactly the book he thought I should read. One by Thomas Hardy- Far From the Madding Crowd. Apparently there is also a very amazingly cheesy looking movie. I have not read much Hardy, but from what he described from the story, it seems perfect for both me and the bus.  Has anyone else read this one or seen the movie?

I found the image a few different places, but linked to one of the websites below with a review of the book: http://myggm.org/book-discussion-far-from-the-madding-crowd/

At the corporate bookstore today, I just wasn’t feeling it. Everything felt so sterile, despite all of the books on the shelves.  All the books were shiny and new, many were hardcover, and almost all of the employees were wearing suits (it was in a fancy pants shopping center downtown).  Compared to the bookstore from the day before, I felt isolated and uninspired to buy.

I have not been buying most of my books at full price this whole summer, but more for cost-cutting and a sort of pseudo rebellion against capitalism. However, I feel guilty about it. About only buying books from my favorite, local, bookstores. Conflicted, as stated earlier. Why?

If we don’t support the bookstores that buy their books directly from the publishers, they may stop being able to make books altogether. I do not enjoy reading from a nook, thank you very much. I want that book smell, that physical relationship with the book where you eventually break the spine from reading it so much. So, in order to keep book production going, and be able to go to my favorite local used bookstore, I may need to buy an occasional book from Barnes and Noble. Because if Borders is any indication, the market for paper copy books is diminishing and may continue to decline as online and paperless media rises. So when I finish my current bus book, I may go to a B&N before hitting up my local place for another one.

What do you guys think? Do the pros of local bookstores outweigh the possible cons?

Cheers,

Miss E

The World Before Her

I just finished The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall.

Cover

It actually has taken me a long time to read this one, what with finishing grad school, moving to a new city, and on the hunt for a job every waking hour. It was packed away in the bottom of one of my backpacks, but am I ever glad I dug it back out.

The story of Marian Evans (aka George Elliot) is fascinating, since much of it is speculation based on real historical documents and periodicals. I was expecting to be interested in this story line, since I have been a nineteenth century scholar and had just finished Middlemarch.

There were a few pleasant surprises in this book.

1) The beautiful description- it so luscious you almost feel like taking a bubble bath in the words. It was very obvious that Weisgall had done her homework before writing. The descriptions of art and the so-difficult-to-describe subjective impressions and emotions one feels upon encountering that artwork modeled the artistry they were describing. The depth and richness of her descriptions is difficult to champion enough.

2) The tone is simultaneously sweet and melancholy, with a touch of bitterness. If you read the story, you will understand how perfectly that tone represents.

3) Although I did not love Caroline’s character, I really did want to go to her art show and see her work.

Read it if:  you enjoy feeling like you are reading the soul of an artist, if you want to luxuriate in prose, or if you are suffering through an incompatible relationship.

Read with: Beecher’s cheese paired with Pinot noir/ dark chocolate paired with a rich port.

Happy Reading!

Miss E

Looking for Pemberley?

Me too.  In fact, I have been looking for a while.

There are a few reasons that I chose to include Pemberley in the title of my blog.

I feel that Pemberley is significant to me and thousands, if not millions of others. It represents home, and it represents epiphanies. It was where Elizabeth had her AHA moment about Mr. Darcy, wasn’t it?

Reading Pride and Prejudice my freshman year of high school opened me up to the rewards of trudging through some maybe-not-so accessible language for a 20th century audience and long character descriptions, and was a pivotal moment in my life as a reader.

My first read took me about a month (partially because I re-read the first four chapters over and over and over trying to figure out which sister was which and why the new neighbor was so important), but after I was finished, I was exhilarated. I told all of my friends at school that the novel was amazing, and rented every P&P adaptation I could lay my hands on.

In high school, when other friends were out partying on the weekends, my best friend and I would geek out, rent an Austen adaptation and wallow in visions of the Edwardian period.  To us, the time Jane Austen lived in was brilliant and wonderful.

Many men seem baffled by this obsession with Austen. An ex-boyfriend once asked me, “why do you enjoy this so much? I mean, I can’t even understand what they are saying?” The answer was and always will be, (for me at least), courtship.

Courtship, you say? Yes. Courtship. The thought of having a man who attends social functions as part of his social manly duty, politely pursues you, and after your family is sure of his “intentions” really has to provide for you with an offer of marriage (albeit not always a happy one, but are they now?) or be called a cad for the rest of eternity seems pretty romantic when you are 16 and don’t fully understand the political contract of 18th century unions.

In high school, (and probably even in college), I would have given up anything to be wearing a bonnet and riding in a carriage with one of Austen’s characters. I don’t think this is unusual- check out the film Lost in Austen http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117666/  for an entertaining parody of this desire (give it about a half hour to grow on you- it has a slow start).

I have fallen in, and out, and back in love with Austen’s world, but the love her most prolific novel inspired in me for reading, for human relationships, and for courtship, is a passion I will never stop looking for.

This blog is about my journey through life and literature, looking beyond Austen’s novels into text, media, and society for home and human connection.

Looking Forward to Blogging with you!

Cheers,

Miss E