Review: Bride and Prejudice

Hello readers!

Some of you will remember that I wrote a review a while back about a Sense and Sensibility Kollywood adaptation that Aishwarya Rai was starring in, as the Marriane-inspired character. Well, she has had a hand in more than one Indian cinematic Jane Austen adaptations, because she also plays the Elizabeth Bennet lead in the Hollywood meets Bollywood Pride and Prejudice adaptation, “Bride and Prejudice,” directed by Gurinder Chadha. Of course, as always, I rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle. One of my readers from that old review had recommended I review this movie, so here I am.

If you are curious, here is the trailer:

The trailer itself actually purports in many ways what Lalita (the Elizabeth Bennet Character of the film) was trying to counteract in many of her interactions with Will (Mr. Darcy). It advertises somewhat of an imperialized and Anglo-cized version of Indian cinema, and this trailer version seems directed at an American audience.  At one point in the film, Lalita says that Will, an entrepreneur from America, is trying to sell India to tourists who don’t want to see the real India, but who instead want to have “a touch of culture thrown in” during their vacation. Tourists who, “want to go to India, without having to deal with Indians.” This moment is made light of in the film, but it is a serious concern for the main character. Disappointingly, the movie almost becomes just that in its marketing strategy, geared towards an “Americanized” audience used to Hollywood films.

This movie is pretty hard to explain, but I will do my best to give you what in my opinion were the best and worst moments.

Think: cultural cross-pollination and filmic shots between Amritsar in India, London in England, and Los Angeles in America, with some big name stars and some who may be unknown to you.

screen shot from B & P

Pros:

  • Pretty colors, and lots of them;
  • First wedding dance number is very fun, and really sets the tone for excitement throughout;
  • Lots of music to dance to (if you are into that);
  • Aishwarya Rai plays a much better Eliza Bennet character than she does a Marianne, in my opinion.
  • Fun if you are an Austen fan to see how the director interprets some of Austen’s characters from P&P;
  • Underlying critique of American Imperialism;
  • Defense of a developing India after independence from British rule;
  • Not your typical Bollywood film, and quite a bit shorter, which is refreshing;
  • Balraj (Mr. Bingley) is one of the actors from the old television show Lost- Naveen Andrews;
  • “Take me to love” song and Montage that includes helicopter rides, a canyon, and epic choir moment on a beach…

Cons:

  • Unrealistic acting, singing (often in English), and storyline;
  • A definite classism, with characters easily able to traverse the world, and even the “poor” Bakshis (Bennet family) have quite a few servants at their disposal (which is actually true in the original novel as well);
  • Light and fluffy in places it might serve from its modern direction and have some sort of social commentary;
  • Has some pretty heavy colonial overtones in a lot of problematic ways, and makes light of some pretty serious cultural and racial tensions that are present in the movie
  • “Cobra Dance” as the youngest sister’s embarrassing moment- it just felt way over the top, and also kind of another moment of cultural clashing just barely touched on.
  • It must be hard to pull off a mix of so many different genres and cultural references, but I don’t know that this film necessarily did it in a very graceful way.

I won’t recommend it, even though I enjoyed parts of it, because honestly I think it appeals to a very specific niche, and falls short in many other ways. If you love cheesiness, silliness, Pride and Prejudice and dancing, then you may enjoy the movie. Honestly, if you are strapped for time, I would recommend the two songs mentioned above- epic choir moment and intro wedding dance number, as they are probably two of the best moments in the movie.

For story coherency, creativity, energy, and the way it connects back to its source of inspiration (you can at least tell who the characters are supposed to represent from the novel within the first 20 minutes), I would say that the film Bride and Prejudice deserves a 2.5-3 /5 rating.

Warning: do not watch this movie unless you in the mood for pure brain candy, or if you want to do an analysis of the cobra dance moment and share it with me. Honestly, right now I just don’t have the mental energy.

Happy Monday,

Miss E

Emma (NOT) The Musical

Last night I saw Jane Austen’s Emma played in the theater! I posted about it yesterday, and had pretty even- level expectations. The evening was lovely, and I made three new friends with the Meetup members I attended with.

Posters

I did mention the night in yesterday’s post here. However, some of you will disappointed, (others will be relieved, I’m sure), to know that the “musical” I referenced was in fact not a musical after all. I was laboring under a misapprehension (bonus points for knowing that reference), and in fact ended up seeing something completely different: a regular play. To clarify, there exists a musical version of Emma somewhere- it’s  just not what I went to.

During a somewhat comic twist of events, I found out about my error an hour before the show, and I must say that I was a tad bit heartbroken at first. A group of us were discussing the night over dinner, and two of us thought we were going to see a musical. After the option of musical was introduced into the conversation, a horrified organizer was very relieved to discover via smartphone that her original desire to see (not a musical) adaptation of Emma was indeed correct. Another playgoer and I were a bit bummed out, although we were still ready to see Austen on stage.

Personally, I had been mentally preparing myself for weeks for cheesy ridiculousness, potentially ridiculous music, and possible tongue-in-cheek modern commentary geared towards die-hard Austen fans.

Don’t worry. What I saw was actually just as satisfying, if not more so.

In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not sure that a Jane Austen-based musical would be the most brilliant production to witness on stage (or would it)!? I’ll hold out hope that someday I will see the musical version and rate it here for you, but for now, I have the play to summarize.

What we actually saw was the adaptation by Michael Bloom, directed by Victor Pappas, and is simply titled Emma (not Emma, the Musical), at Jones Playhouse in Seattle. It was a production from the School of Drama at the University of Washington, and tickets were very reasonable.

I liked the program, which featured a pink, black and white design, and archery symbolism (an Emma reference made famous in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie adaptation).

Program Design

Closer view

Inside the Program

The theater itself was a very egalitarian half (or more than half) stadium circle structure, and even though we were not the first in the door for will call seating, we had an amazing view of the performance and the actors on the round stage.

The casting was incredible, and despite some players drifting in and out of the faux English accent, each character was chosen thoughtfully, and brought a unique flavor to the personalities of the likes of Emma, Mr. Knightly, Miss Smith, and Mr. Woodhouse. They actors were extremely expressive in their facial expressions, and although the play stuck close to the original plot, the acting brought a vibrant energy to the storyline. Mrs. Elton was sufficiently obnoxious, and Miss Smith ran around the stage with frivolous teenage excitement.

Excuse the poor quality of some of the pics below. I was taking many from an upward angle most of the time- they were quite high above me, and using my cell phone. I swear I will get a digital camera soon!

People looking at the head shots and bios of the wonderful cast.

I took some pictures of my favorite players to share with you:

Harriet Smith, by Monique Robinson

Phil Kruse as Frank Churchill

They had pretty great costumes for all of the actors, but Mr. Knightly, Mrs. Weston, and Frank Churchill pretty much had the best.  They all look completely different in these headshots- the hair and makeup team did a wonderful job too!

Scott Ward Abernathy. A very convincing Mr. Knightley, and very emotive actor. "swoon"

Robert Bergin as Mr. Woodhouse- he looked completely different in the play- about 50 years older, and was hilarious.

This adaptation interestingly showed Emma’s internal thought process (very comical) by dimming the lights during her asides to the audience and herself. Also, the usual ending was challenged a bit by a longer courtship period between Emma and Mr. Knightly, more examples of their life post-declaration of love, as well as a more involved scene between the couple and Mr. Woodhouse when they announce their marriage.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the additions were pulled off.

Sarah Loveland played Emma. She was incredible, and rivaled the best Emma's I've seen on film, actually.

Even though it was not a musical, I was not sad about a lack of music. Not only were Emma and Jane Fairfax’s characters excellent singers and pianists during the “exhibition” scene in the drawing room, but there was also a “soundtrack” feature enriching the background of the entire play.

Very talented musician Miss Fairfax played by Marua Tang.

All around, I would highly recommend this play, and I heard whispers of the production returning in the summer. So, if you happen to be in Seattle, you may want to check it out!

Happy Thursday,

Miss E

 

Excited to See “Emma, The Musical”

Hello readers! Happy Wednesday!

Tonight I am going to see the theater adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma with a meetup group I joined a while back. It should be a fun night, and I am very excited about it.

I read a review of the musical today that was not so enthusiastic.

Photo credit: Charles McNulty

It was also not a diatribe. The reviewer was ambivalent about performance he saw  but I am still excited to see it!

The one I’m going to see is a student performace, and after reading the reviews surrounding it, I don’t have any great expectations.

I do love Jane Austen, and I also love musicals, so this seems like a wonderful combination.

Since I started blogging, I have learned about so many more adaptations than I had ever seen or heard of before, and I count that as a major benefit.

Once I see the “Musical and Romantic Comedy,” I will certainly share my opinion of it here with you!

Best,

Miss E

 

Finding Inspiration

I am a firm believer that to be a writer, one need only to write.

The past year, I have written about completely disparate subjects in almost every genre, from relationship advice, to composting tips, great wineries in the Northwest, and both fiction and non-fiction for different clients. I have written about reading academic and literary and casual novels, Ryan Gosling, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Bollywood/ Kollywood movies, and painting on this site.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

I’ve written a lot of different stuff lately.

And you know what? It has been really fun!

A picture I took a few years back in the Black Hills, South Dakota.

Waiting around for inspiration and writing only when a brilliant idea knocks you over the head will produce little, and will also not give you much practice.

That is how I used to write. I was worried that my everyday writing was too mundane, that nobody would ever read it, etc.

Although it’s tough for me to admit, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years.

Even thought I have always identified with writers and have always enjoyed writing, I never had much confidence that I could be a really good writer. I have that confidence now, but it is because of the daily practice, and the feeling it leads to, rather than coming up with something “groundbreaking” or “great.”

That being said, I now write for a few various reasons.

The primary ones are as follows:

  • I like to read, and I like to create a “finished” product to share with others.
  • I feel compelled to do it, to express myself through words.
  • I enjoy talking, (as anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m sure), and writing is another form of speaking to me.

Like I said before, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years, but I have always wanted to write, to “be a writer,” and to produce written works.

However, it is only recently that I have felt confident in calling myself a writer. That is because lately, I have really dedicated myself to writing on a regular basis.

I took a fiction writing workshop in graduate school, something I’d always been terrified of. Having other readers was empowering. I wrote and edited for a living starting this past summer, (2011).

Now I write all the time. I write articles for you all and for an online magazine, for example. It makes me feel amazing, but I was always afraid of writing before. I think I knew that it would make me incandesantly happy.

I’m ready for that happiness now in a way I wasn’t before.

Some installation art I came across one day in Pioneer Square, Seattle. Loved the paper hanging from trees!

I write to write, but I also do get inspired, and some days I definitely need a push. So, I’d like to share what pushes me to write:

  • Reading. I feel there is a strong connection between reading and being a good writer. When I read the words of others, it is inspiring to me. I feel connected with their psyche, with their way of painting the world around them or around their characters. I find reading endlessly fascinating, and it’s what inspired me to write in the first place.
  • Artwork. When I am looking at art, I feel inspired to create. To draw, to paint, and to write. While living in London for a semester and taking primarily art-based classes, I journaled more than I have in my entire life. Looking at pins on Pinterest and pinning to my boards there is also part of this inspiration for me, as silly as it may sound. Love that site!
  • The feeling that comes from finishing or sharing a piece of art or writing with an audience, for example, with you all here. Not going to lie, it feels great to publish, even when the publishing happens on my own blog.
  • Beautiful scenes in nature, like the above photo from Custer State Park in the Black Hills, one of my all time favorite places for inspiration.

To move beyond writing for myself in my journal has been really rewarding. Audience matters. Readers matter. Thank you all for reading my posts- I truly appreciate you!

As many of you are also writers, I’d love to know- what inspires you to write?

Cheers,

Miss E

The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.

My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E