Sunday, 28 July 2013

Are YOU an Elizabeth Bennet?

The Secret Victorianist assesses
her heroine potential
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you read too many nineteenth-century novels, it won’t be long before you start imagining yourself to be in one. And while I've done my bit to debunk the myth that the literature of the period is all romance, parties, and pretty dresses, like most of the women who dream of being a heroine, it’s invariably this sort of novel I imagine myself in. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) is a particular site for playing out these reader fantasies, as the high volume of sequels and reworkings it has inspired suggests. The reasons for this may well extend beyond the visual appeal of adaptations – lush locations, jaw-dropping houses and Colin Firth – to the archetypal structure of its romance plot (I’d recommend Radway for an accessible academic treatment of the genre’s motifs). So, for better or for worse, I’m going to assess my suitability as a nineteenth-century heroine, and hopefully get this out of my system. You’re welcome to join me for some self-reflection along the way:

1. Appearance: Let’s get this over with. Elizabeth isn't even the prettiest sister, right? That’s Jane. And yet our Lizzy still bags the man with more of a backbone (and five thousand more a year). My sister might read this so I’m not going to comment, but sibling rivalry aside, I may already have some issues. No hair dye! Yet judgement if your hair is the ‘wrong’ colour. No make-up to covers my sins, without suggesting I’m a whore. Not to mention those ridiculous waist measurements I dealt with in an earlier post. At least my teeth might compare favourably if suddenly whisked back to a time of poor oral hygiene. Still, it’s not looking good. At least I’d be so blind without contact lenses I couldn't see my eventual husband anyway.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet
2. Accomplishments: My father still likes to quote Mr Bennet’s ‘You have delighted us long enough’ when he wants me to be quiet and, while I may not be tone deaf, I fear my pianoforte playing still may not quite be up to making anyone fall head over heels in love with me. While, selfishly, the idea of singing after dinner without even drunkenness for an excuse sounds quite fun, not sure anyone else would agree. Oh, and I can’t draw. At all. Even stick people. And I’d  definitely go the wrong way during those complicated dances. Oh dear – it seems I've misspent my youth!

3. Witty conversation: This is the bit we all like to believe we’d be good at. Blistering put-downs and fascinating conversation, perfectly articulated with as little effort as it takes to flutter a fan. But I was born in 1991 – not 1791 – and my flirting is of quite a different calibre. We’re a generation who consult with friends over text responses, take days to reply to an email, double check our facts on extra tabs. I’m going to say I still have the Elizabeth Bennet spirit, but I may well have to introduce Darcy to sexting.

4. Morality: Not sure I could hack it. Give me a fortnight of playing at being a lady and I’ll probably do a Lydia. It’s not flighty – it’s enlightened. Promise.

Julia Sawalha as Lydia Bennet
5. Youth: Ok, I have it. I’m not quite old enough to be on the shelf. But what then? Elizabeth is 20 and gets MARRIED. Life over, story done, will probably die in childbirth. Now we have decades to get it wrong – say the wrong thing, wear the wrong outfit, date the wrong people, and I definitely appreciate that. Plus, it doesn’t matter what my parents think (sorry, Mum) and there are other ways for me to make money.

Definitely a Fail - think I’ll leave the fantasy for bedtime reading. How about you? Let me know how you’d measure up as an Austen heroine here or on Facebook!

15 comments:

  1. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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    1. Thank you very much! Glad you're enjoying it and would love to hear your thoughts/ideas on anything I post :)

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  2. Haha, well if you put it like that... I guess I'm glad I just read about it! Though if I could do something like "Austenland" and just live in the world a little (with paid actors to think I'm very witty) that would be great! LOL

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Charlene! And the occasional fantasy/costume party is perfectly understandable still...

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  3. I'm not the only one who feels this way! :D
    Terrible conversationist (to the point where I'm questioning the value of conversation altogether), a complete novice at everything, but I could be a tragic heroin, right? No? Ok, I'll go read Sherlock now. Bye. :P

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    1. Ha ha - maybe you could be an Eliza Doolittle style heroine?? :)

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    2. Doolittle? There's a Doolittle in Victorian lit? O.o

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    3. Eliza Doolittle is a character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. Pygmalion was first performed in 1912 so I'm cheating slightly, but Shaw was born in 1856 so I think it's ok! The musical My Fair Lady (film version from 1964 with Audrey Hepburn!) was based on Pygmalion. See Eliza's conversation skills being improved here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVmU3iANbgk :)

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    4. Thanks! I reblogged this entry, hope you don't mind! All credit is given, of course. :)

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    5. Of course I don't mind! Thank you! :)

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  4. I always browse blogs online. I like the look and style of your blog. And, I can additionally state that did an excellent job of sharing helpful info. Maintain the wonderful job!

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    1. Thank you! Hope you keep enjoying my posts!

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  5. Are we abnormal - neither my daughter or myself like Elizabeth Bennet and God forbid we see any qualities of ourselves in her. She is not clever, only a bore and titters endlessly, amusing only to herself. Mr Darcy is likewise unappealing - most of Austin's men are, so we wouldn't like one for ourselves. Darcy is horrible, cold detached and would make a horrible husband. Very unengaged and somewhat of a boorish bully. Taciturn and miserable, why would anyone want their very own Darcy? Life once the novelty had worn off from the capture would quickly spiral into one of abuse and misery. Only Heathcliffe is a worse romantic ideal.

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    1. I think a lot of people would disagree! May do a shout out on Twitter to see who agrees with you! Which hero is 'ideal' for you? :)

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  6. 1. Appearance: I'm not very pretty but many of those around me, including men, try to persuade me otherwise

    2. Accomplishments: I can play the violin (which was a servant's instrument in the Regency), I can sing quite well, I can't draw, I enjoy sewing and I love traditional English dancing, although Playford (which is the dancing they indulged in the Regency) is my least favourite because it is so boring and slow.

    3. Witty conversation: I am quite good at this. Maybe not BLISTERING put-downs but I do have a very sharp tongue and I mock pretty much everyone I know.

    4. Morality: I already adhere to an antiquated morality system that has men 40 years my senior calling me quaint.

    5. Youth: Yep. Still in my early 20s.

    Overall, I think I'd survive. In fact, I'd quite enjoy it apart from the clothing, the side-saddle and the fact women were the property of a father or husband.

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