channeling Austen

(May I preface this entry by apologizing to my friend Erin, who thinks she does not like Jane Austen -- and so is probably sick of reading about her on this blog -- even though she’s only ever read Persuasion. Not that I could ever judge someone for making such a decision since I think I do not like Mordecai Richler even though I have only ever read the first 30 pages of Barney’s Version. Three times. But Erin has never read Pride and Prejudice, regarded in most circles as Austen’s best book and one of the best English-language works of the late 17th century.So I think I’ve finally found her.

The One.
The character created by Jane Austen who I can best identify with.
If Austen’s women were characters in Sex and the City, I think most people would identify with Elizabeth Bennet the way most women think they are shades of Carrie Bradshaw. Miss Bennet has the best lines, Ms. Bradshaw the best shoes. Miss Bennet sees the irony all around her, ditto Ms. Bradshaw. Mr. Darcy? Mr. Big.

For those who see themselves a bit more Charlotte, I offer up Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne -- ever the dreamy, frankly not-swift romantic.

Samantha? The sexually avant garde Ms. Jones does not lend herself to 17th- or early 18th- century comparison. Mr. Wickham was too much a cad. Mary Crawford too sly. Mr. Willoughby too stupid.

Now, I have always thought of myself as something of a Miranda. Career-driven. Cake-driven. Prone to obsessing the failures of technology.

Miranda isn’t just commitment-phobic. She doesn’t need to be in a romantic relationship.
Love it, love her.
Love Emma.
Just hear me out for a second.
I have no familiarity whatsoever with Northanger Abbey. But the balance of Austen’s work is about relationships between men and women. Not love stories, really, though certainly stories about the importance of marriage.

Not necessarily marriage for love -- though that’s all well and good if you can put aside your pride and your prejudice, etc. etc. Instead, marriage to keep a woman going, keep her under a roof with food in her mouth, yadda yadda.
But Austen’s Emma deals with a girl who does not need to marry at all. Emma Woodhouse will do perfectly well, thank you very much, with a very large inheritance. And, while “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” not so for a single woman in possession of the same.

Thank you very much.
Yes, Emma is snobby. Very smart, but given to stupidity because she lets her imagination run away with her.
(Me! Me!)
But she isn’t some wimpy Anne Elliot. Or sad sack Fanny Price. Or chin-up martyr Elinor Dashwood. Or vaguely bull-shitting Elizabeth Bennet.
Emma doesn’t just think she doesn’t need a man.
She knows it.
She thrives on friendships and family. She honestly wants for nothing.
Take this haughty line, in the middle of a heated argument with her sister’s brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley:
“Oh! To be sure,” cried Emma. “It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anyone who asks her.”

I know, I know, just halfway through the book I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyone who’s familiar with the Austen formula, or who has watched Clueless, knows what will happen. Emma will surely get her come-uppance. Probably more than once. She’ll realize snobbery is bad, or at least not to be celebrated as a virtue. She’ll hook up with the naggy brother-in-law. Who seemed rather less naggy and more hot when played by Paul Rudd.
I guess I might just be early Emma, rather than fully-developed Emma.

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