<< WARNING: English major tripe ahead.>>
I am a romantic at heart. In my brain I’m decidedly cynical, but deep in my heart, I’m a romantic.
That’s why I love a good romance, and I’ve been going back in time and reading Jane Austen.
Now obviously, I didn’t get through a BAH and MA in English without reading Jane Austen (or Jane Eyre 50 zillion times.) I read Sense and Sensibility for one class, but it’s been only in my spare time that I’ve been going through her other classics like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and the one I recently finished, Mansfield Park.
In some ways, if you’ve read one Jane Austen book, you’ve read them all. Not that consistency is always a bad thing. It’s not. Austen wrote relatively few books in her short lifetime, she wrote them well, and if she stuck to a certain formula, that’s fine because it worked for her.
I’ve enjoyed Austen’s books. Reading them feels very comfortable, because they draw on themes and situations that have influenced romances to this very day. This is why I love classics. We’re immeasurably influenced by them, and reading the originals can be quite rewarding.
In a way, it ticks me off that I love romances. Because I have many issues with the portrayal of women in romances, as one might tell from my theses, if you were tempted to blow the dust off the bound copies at Acadia and read them for the first time since my supervisor signed off on them. My Masters thesis was titled Courting Disaster: The Enforcement of Heteronormativity in Halifax Explosion Romances 1918-2003. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what it means. I barely do. (Theses should always have pretentious titles.)
Basically it means that women aren’t always portrayed so nicely in romances and are usually roped into some marriage and childbearing scheme. I’m pretty critical of that when it becomes the expected societal norm (because I’m sure many of us would like this family ideal, men or women, George Clooney excluded.)
However, I really enjoy a good romance whether in book or movie form. So what does that say about me?
I can relate to the relationships in Austen, even if they are from the early 19th century. Some human characteristics are timeless; it doesn’t matter if we’re wearing petticoats or Old Navy.
Mansfield Park is not quite as popular as some of Austen’s other novels, perhaps because the heroine of the novel, Fanny Price, is highly moral for 1814 and doesn’t provide a lot of connection to modern readers. (See here for the comments of Austen’s contemporaries on Fanny and the novel.) The fact of the matter is, in 2011, she is rather nauseatingly angelic, even for the century that brought you the Angel of the House trope.
Of all the Austen books I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed Persuasion the most. I love the narcissism of Anne Elliot’s family, especially her father. It is through this family that Austen does her best criticizing of social mores. (There is just something exquisite about Austen’s tone and approach to society: it’s an elegant snarkiness.)
This is why I adore Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. It is a delightful story (well the whole series is great) yet even through this rosy narrative, Montgomery manages to question the romance ideal, while at the same time exploiting it.
So I get to have my cake and eat it too.
(Cue Homer Simpson drooling sound. Mmmmmmm. Cake.)
I think, since my summer has been excessively boring (mostly because gas requires cash and I’m unemployed) I’ve had to survive on living vicariously through novel characters. Thankfully I don’t have to put on a corset. And quite frankly, since the British didn’t have contacts, Tums, and flavoured coffee in the early 1800s, I would want to be a permanent resident there anyway.
Are romance ideals realistic? No. I’m probably not going to meet a Captain Wentworth or Edmund Bertram any time soon, and quite frankly, they probably wouldn’t like that I blog or drive anyway (they seem rather traditional.)
But a girl can dream, right? That’s why I enjoy watching Hawaii Five-O.
(Cue Homer drooling sound one more time.)
Romances survive and thrive because they are great entertainment, allow us to see ourselves in the characters, and give us the happy endings we don’t always get in real life. They may not be perfect (honestly, like not all of us are blonde or slim) but they sure beat American Idol (honestly, like not all of us are blonde or slim!)
There, I’m done talking Englishy stuff. Thought I was going to expose some sweet summer romance, eh?
Nope. This summer, I’m hanging with Austen and Dickens and gettin’ my British on.