Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pride & Prejudice







The Book: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen



Guest review by "Skeleton".

“Oh, tempores! Oh, mores!”

“Oh, how we miss the salted fish of Egypt…”

Oh, am I sounding like my grandmother…

What redeems Jane Austen’s narrow field of vision is the life she imbues her heroines with. Although her characters are hopelessly entrapped and imbibed with the social mores and strictures of their lives, her Emma and Elizabeth are not merely pretty-women-as-decorative-objects. They think. They’re strong. They know their value as equals to their men in a society that trades in fortune and family like a “top” BMG “boy” barters for “naden” and “yichus”.

Interesting is the treatment of Lydia. Young, reckless, and impulsive, she runs off with the shady, yet oh so charming, Wickham. She landed the wrong guy, no doubt, a fish not worth catching, yet she can hardly be blamed for her poor judgment in light of her ‘chinuch’. Lydia gets no credit for her passion, her attachment, her youthful infatuation with what she sees as her beloved forever and ever. Austen, apparently lacking peripheral vision, dooms those unions to be unhappy and ultimately unfulfilling while exalting those socially sanctioned as being mature and everlasting. It would be an interesting turning of the tables indeed if a broader look at a ‘shidduch system’ that encouraged mercenary marriages and frigid women could be taken.

Pride and Prejudice is fiction. A romantic novel in which the heroine (and hero) do not live happily ever after would be a poor seller indeed. But living in a society that reflects the social mores of a century or two ago, we not only read the book and understand it, but in some ways live it. This can give us the unique ability to see what Jane Austen couldn’t see; how true love can endure even as social mores change and marriage ceases being a business proposal. The marriage of Mr. And Mrs. Bennett is more than a comedic portrayal of The Odd Couple to us; it’s the reflection in the carnival mirror of many a marriage close to our hearts. We see that love purchased with connections and finances can be just as foolish and unfulfilling as stolen love. And worst of all, that the extremes of repression and refinement can lead to the formation of ice queens such as Miss Mary Bennett.

16 comments:

Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

"Pride and Prejudice is fiction". Indeed it is, and therefore the turn of events are the author's choice. It is in line with Jane Austen's writing to draw stereotypical portrayals of the personalities with over-simplified categories of good/good and bad/bad. Her depiction of Lydia's 'doomed' relationship reflects that. As much as I like the creative concept of true love budding in the most unconventional ways - having witnessed the ironic fate closely myself - I think the actual events in the novel reflect what's statistically most probable: namely, socially sanctioned and carefully reviewed marriages have more odds at success.

missingdates said...

I don't think Lydia's infatuation is meant to be seen as a serious passion. My reading of it was that it was basically a crush, which, not being balanced by good sense or upbringing, went too far and ruined her life. There was a very telling phrase in there to the effect that this union was probably not going to turn out well, since it was based on the unrestrained appetites and lack of common sense in both parties.
Austen, in general, does not ever address serious, heroic, all-out passion - whether romantic, creative, or spiritual, for that matter - all of the clergymen in her books walk about livings and parishes, not about G-d. It is just not her genre. She is a sharp, sardonic commentator of the small things that tend to make up life. Inside that genre, she is very good. She's just not a Tolstoy or a Dostoyevsky. (Incidentally, Tolstoy, while depicting the grand passions is also very good at the small things.)

missing dates said...

oops... that was "talk" not "walk"

Skeleton said...

As much as I like the creative concept of true love budding in the most unconventional ways - having witnessed the ironic fate closely myself - I think the actual events in the novel reflect what's statistically most probable: namely, socially sanctioned and carefully reviewed marriages have more odds at success

Not necessarily. Rather, marriages in which both parties are from similar backgrounds have better odds because they may have less grounds for strife. However, considering that Lydia and Wickham were well-matched background-wise and they met rather conventionally, that isn't what Austen is trying to say.

all of the clergymen in her books walk about livings and parishes, not about G-d

That is a such a common theme in late 18'th and 19'th century literature because it's true to life, as incredible as it may seem to us nowadays. The clergy were a class back then, below the aristocracy but above the commonfolk, and their titles and land were passed down through generations sometimes. Also, the Anglican church doesn't seem to have that Catholic fire-and-brimstone devotion, nor the Buddhist ascetism, but rather appears like a stodgy and bourgeois institution cluttering the landscape like so many other useless relics of Ye Olde England.

I don't think Lydia's infatuation is meant to be seen as a serious passion. My reading of it was that it was basically a crush, which, not being balanced by good sense or upbringing, went too far and ruined her life.

Austen doesn't appear to believe in serious passion any which way, although her Lydia flits from crush to crush. But let's presume that Lydia was a bit smarter and didn't run off with Wickham. What is there to convince us any other marriage of hers could have been happy? She has neither the personality of Jane, nor the brains of Elizabeth, no fortune, nor any other remarkable feature that would make any "eligible" young man of quality want her for a wife. In the long run, she would have gone to the highest bidder anyway, and who's to say what kind of marriage that would have resulted in?

Marriage shouldn't be a market, and people shouldn't be commodities.

LakewoodShmuck said...

queer choice of a book. i cant wait for shpitzle shtrimpkind to be published in hardcover. glad to have you back

cafe_28 said...

Jane Austen's novels give us a very vivid picture of how English girls lived in those days. Everything they did was to prepare them for a perfect marriage to a gentleman that everyone will approve of.

This is not unlike the Chasidic girl's lifestyle nowadays, aside from the flirting and falling in love. Everything the does until she gets married is to make sure her name stays 'clean' so she should be able to marry the 'perfect gentleman'.

(What makes the story of Pride and Prejudice so much better is the latest movie on it, from last year. The actor that plays Mr. Darcy... OMG!!)

Hoezentragerin said...

" I think the actual events in the novel reflect what's statistically most probable: namely, socially sanctioned and carefully reviewed marriages have more odds at success".

That would depend on how you would measure and define success, dear Shpizel. Please, don't give me the relatively low divorce rate as an indication of happiness.

Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

Hoezen,

"What's statistically most probable�"

My statement on probability is just a guess of logic, without any statistical proof. I'm unsure if Skeleton's assertion as the more probable couple's issue is based on any solid research either, and would be curious if there were any supporting information. But I would assume that "grounds of strife" (as noted by S) are not "grounds for divorce". Even if couples have differences they don't necessarily split. Relationships are more complex.

I'd suppose a well researched marriage has a wider margin for success not because our oh-so-well-researched marriages are happily-ever-after, but because it seems like a more effective way to initiate something that does not last the length of the infatuation, but hopefully for a lifetime.

Skeleton said...

The premise that a marriage should be based on research is all wrong, by itself. What you dismiss as "infatuation", should be the acquaintance, friendliness, and resulting closeness of two people getting to know each others and wanting to get married as a result of their findings, not a result of careful research inquiring among others. Think of any random 3 people. If you asked any other people about those 3 people, would their views necessarily agree with yours? That's the pro and con of a blind date; the pro is that you can unexpectedly meet a gem, the con is that you can just as much (or actually, the probability is even higher) meet a total dud. Research, while appropriate to some degree, simply cannot afford the same level of comfort and confidence firsthand knowledge does.

Grounds for strife do not necessarily concur with grounds for divorce, although the strife may get to a point where divorce is the likeliest outcome. But I do believe that it is similarity in background more than anything else eliminates a large 'fighting' factor. Although I can't say I have actual proof (not without googling, anyway :-)), it's merely logical. If there are x issues any given couple can fight about, and y issues do not apply to a specific couple, they are only left with z issues. Z issues may be enough to lead to unhappiness, but since z > x, the chances of getting to unhappiness have got to be less as well.

Your assertion that couples that have differences do not necessarily have to split contradicts what you said about success and happiness and is a poor argument to make in light of how splitting was (and in a way, is) perceived, not to mention that it was often enough made impossible. Splits are probably the least reliable indicator of marital happiness other than proclaiming how extremely unhappy those that did split were.

Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

It's the concept of marital differences that's definitive here. You seemingly define differences (and its offsprings; quarrels) as the ultimate threat to a couple, while I find them to be a healthy part of a relationship. Disagreements that cover every letter in the alphabet (not only X Y and Z) and are properly handled should not cause unhappiness in a relationship. Meaning, not only don't disagreements necessarily lead to splits, they also don't davka play the factor in unhappiness. It'll more frequently be lack of communication, or of compatibility.

As for infatuation - I'm not suggesting it's a negative. To the contrary! However, when 2 people meet their opinion of each other will likely be very different down the road, than it was at first impression. The context of 'well researched' implied 'to take it slowly' and 'get to know each other on a deep level', instead of running off together on a spur of infatuation. It didn't intend our own definition of 'well researched' which is: 'asked every third cousin's dog for their much-needed opinion of this 18 year old girl, that hardly even knows herself, nevermind be known by her neighbor from four blocks away'. (prph, the latter is a pretty awful way to get two people together, and doesn't qualify as real research at all.)

LakewoodShmuck said...

SHPITZ that would have qualifeid as a post

Skeleton said...

There will be differences in every marriage, in every relationship, simply by dint of there being two different people involved. It's when the differences are deep or fundamental that it erodes at the relationship, destroying whatever was there in the first place. Once the passion blows over, if the two people are very different there will be little to keep them happy together.

But I think we're agreeing here, just using different terminology.

Chaim said...

I thought you dropped dead. You all but disappeared from your main blog.

Anonymous said...

DNP


Shpitzle dear, why did you stopp writing to me..

Hope all is well...

Rochel

SHOMRIM said...

Rochel,

Do you want to say kaddish for Shpitzle?

Malach Hamoves said...

Yisgadal...