October 27, 2010

A Bit of a Quibble with Jane Austen

Ok, I have to start out by saying I love Jane Austen. Love, love her. I think it’s fascinating that in 1877 a group of “eminent” men and women appeared to Wilford Woodruff in the temple to receive their ordinances:

“The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, ‘You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we … remained true to it and were faithful to God.’ … I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men [and women], making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 160–61).

. . . and Jane Austen was one of them.*

A theme throughout Jane Austen’s work is a call to create a healthier society by addressing some of the inequities women were dealing with. I’m sure a Mr. Darcy in 1797 would be intrigued by a woman as forthright as Lizzie. She represented a healthy correction that needed to be made, the salve that fit the wound. But in a day when articles like The End of Men, and the truly enlightening (though excruciating) short film Dennis, strike a chord in society, I wonder if we, well, I mean, not to quibble, but, maybe we would have benefited by seeing the story go on just a little bit further. Not to say that Austen didn’t give us enough (that would be ridiculous). I mean, I just think that in our day we really could have used a Pride & Prejudice - Part II. You know, the part where we watch them, after they've overcome their pride and prejudice, treat each other well. The part after they ride off into the sunset.

Though I wouldn’t say I fill my life with romantic films & books, I still find myself, at times, with a sort of envy that compels me to create and provoke the drama these stories model. I wonder if we might forget here or there (ok, "me", not "we", and I don’t wonder, I actually know) that the mark of a good relationship is not the tension and drama and frustration but the acceptance, the kind treatment, and healthy growth. More than chance meetings and declarations of love (or at least as much) I want to see Jane treat Mr. Darcy well, or at least see them have a normal conversation.

In Jane Austen’s day her audience may have had a healthy and clear picture in their minds of what happened next (and hopefully you do as well!). I'm not so sure, though, that our society equips us with the vision needed to navigate the complexities of our relationships that nicely. Have we gotten to a point where the Part II needs to be spelled out a bit?

Sadly, Jane Austen herself never experienced a Part II in her own life (see the real "Mr. Darcy" below), but I believe she’s provided us with valuable lessons. In my own life, I’m seeking not to be Lizzie exactly, but to put the lessons into action within the quite different society I live in. The salve, the corrections needed to help our society and relationships, is different now, and will be different in every age.

Having said that, I know I will never be perfect and neither will the "he" I hope to be with someday. The beauty of the story is really the grace that allows Darcy and Lizzie to find one another, despite their habits of pride, and judgmental prejudice. God moved their lives in ways that allowed them to see each other for who they really were. To forgive and allow the deep and real connection that existed within them to live. Against the odds.
    "A tiny portrait of the man a young Jane Austen loved and lost - believed to have inspired Pride And Prejudice's Mr Darcy."

    My top 3 favorite lessons from Pride & Prejudice (right now):
    • Maintain high standards but also be easily pleased, remembering perfection is not attainable in this life.
    • Mercifully hold back the one-pithy-criticism-too-many.
    • Create a vision of peaceful, rather than dramatic, interactions that allow for true romance.
    • Bridle your passions that you may be filled with love.
    *Click here for a full list of the men and women who were in the temple with Wilford Woodruff. You can read more about the men in the informative and interesting book The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. I heard that the author, Vicki Jo Anderson, is planning on writing a book about the eminent women. I really hope she will! And last but not least, no discussion about Jane Austen and single LDS women would be complete without this short video made by a few of our own.


    Picture from here.

    4 comments:

    1. Good read and one of the difficult quandaries of life…how do you create something “after the ride off into the sunset” that is still compelling to people. There is reason that history looks like nothing but bloodshed, war, and murder; it is the only part that is interesting enough to write about. All the rest is summed up with the phrase “…and they lived happily ever after.”

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    2. I nominate this for blog post of the year.

      As a dude, I suppose I have had too much 'pride and prejudice' to apply the lessons into my 2010 lifestyle.

      Like the mortgage crisis... some of us have been a bit leary of jumping into an eternal mortgage payment with balloon payments of love expected throughout the lifetime of the contract.
      In short, I feel the 'expectation inflation' for romance/money/etc... has risen to 'unsustainable levels'.

      Could it be that smoldering, burning love that goes on forever is in part

      I see fathers/mothers who see the heart of their child struggling to learn how to walk.

      could it be that the smoldering, burning love that goes on forever starts with our acknowledgment that we are in sacred space... to partner with someone in the process of learning how to love.

      to love ourselves
      to love each other
      to love children
      and lastly our enemies?

      anyways... I guess what I love so much about this post is the idea that for love to not only be affordable & sustainable, but to be enjoyable...

      non-drama traits like forgiveness, patience, peaceful, sacrifice, respect, hard work....

      actually increase the romance, not decrease it.

      that's hot. :)

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    3. Lizard,
      I got this link from Elle. I wish I had known about it earlier. I love staying connected to you in some way. So interesting that Jane Austen was one of those eminent women. I had no idea. Very cool.

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    4. Haylie! Sweet cousin, I'm so glad to hear from you and love to stay connected as well - hope to see you over Christmas! Love you!!

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