|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!