Speaker 1: That’s it. That’s it.
Speaker 2: Welcome to The Waves Slate’s podcast about gender feminism and single men in possession of good fortunes. Every episode you get a new pair of feminists to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. And today you’ve got me, Shane Roth, a senior producer for Slate.
Speaker 3: And me, Anna Nordberg, a freelance journalist who writes about books, TV, family, feminism and how they all mixed together.
Speaker 2: This week we’re talking about Jane Austen. And when I think of Jane Austen, I think of my high school crush. We read Pride and Prejudice in my AP English class and watched the 2005 movie starring Keira Knightley as our heroine, Lizzie Bennet and Matthew McFadden as the love interest Mr. Darcy. And there’s a scene where Darcy helps Lizzie into a carriage, and then the camera pans down to the hand flecks that made a million women swoon. And my crush was in that class. I’m fairly certain he did not know I existed. But when that scene happened, he turned to me and said, Is that like because he’s really into her? And I blushed so hard that my armpits began to sweat.
Speaker 2: And I have honestly been in love with Jane Austen ever since. And I love her novels, in part because despite being written in the 1800s, there’s something so modern and transcendent and universal about these stories that even the school jock who happened to be in the AP English class can’t help but become invested in her characters.
Speaker 2: Jane Austen completed only six novels, but those works have been turned into so many period appropriate and modern movies, television shows and novels, not to mention just a cottage industry of Jane Austen action figures, which I own sweatshirts, mugs, candles, kitchen towels, pillows, scarves. Got one of those, too. I mean, the list goes on. Jane Austen and her works have saturated our culture to the point where you don’t even really realize it anymore. And even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. If I ask you about your favorite movie where a stuffy or seemingly grumpy man falls in love with a feisty woman, I mean, chances are you’re going to be talking about some version of a Jane Austen adaptation.
Speaker 2: Anna, why did you want to talk about Jane Austen today?
Speaker 3: Well, this is a topic I can’t stop thinking about, because at a time when we’re re-evaluating so many of the stories we watch or read growing up, it’s it’s just amazing how well Austen actually holds up in terms of her themes, her women, her characters. They are downright enlightened. I mean, I read her novels again and again throughout my life as a kid.
Speaker 3: Pride and Prejudice was my mother’s favorite novel, so I learned about it early, you know, as a single woman in my twenties, after I was married, after I had kids. And then during COVID, you know, staggering through Zoom school and unloading the dishwasher seven times a day. Like every other mom I knew. I read all of her novels again. And it was amazing how much they how much relevance they had and also how interesting the relationships are between men and women. I mean, here we are in 2022.
Speaker 3: You know, we’re saying, you know, did COVID kill feminism because it for so many women outside of the workforce and still showed how unequal so many of the domestic labor and childcare is in our country? And while Jane Austen has nothing enlightened to say about childcare, she does have these relationships where the men and women have these intellectual conversations that are on very equal footing.
Speaker 3: These conversations feel far more modern than the stifling norms of the Victorian era that would have followed the Regency area that Austen wrote in, and also the Gilded Age in the U.S. that came after. And while Austin’s heroines are, for the most part, easy on the eyes, it’s their minds, their intellect, their temperament, and, again, their character. You know, that all important Austen idea of character that they are truly loved for.
Speaker 2: We are going to return to a lot of those stories. Coming up, we’re going to talk about Jane Austin’s characters, why they endure and why some of them maybe need to be kept on the shelves. But first, a quick break. One. Welcome back to the Waves. Let’s start with Jane Austin’s women. They get to speak, which sounds like, you know, well done. Of course they do. It’s a romance novel. But but it’s it’s really not especially back then, it’s a big deal that the women were allowed to talk. And even today, women in media are really not given a lot of room to talk.
Speaker 2: There was a 2019 piece in Vogue that said, quote, Females made up 34% of all speaking characters, a decrease of one percentage point from 2018. A new report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found while males accounted for 66% of speaking characters. And this even includes romcoms. Just think about how much airspace the men take up in your favorite rom coms. Women just don’t get to talk. But in Jane Austen’s novels, we get characters like Emma, who’s also the title of the book, who says things like, quote, I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other. Well, you know, we get sisters talking to each other. We get an entire novel about sisters and sense and sensibility and female friends talking to each other and even old widows and spinsters get to talk. It really is amazing.
Speaker 3: Austin’s women have a lot to say, and they say it in her novels and their on screen adaptations. Women have far more dialogue than both the men do and more than what we see in contemporary movies or TV shows. And it actually reminds me a little bit of the classic films of the thirties and forties, like Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn, where the women actually speak so much more than they do now in contemporary Hollywood.
Speaker 3: And it’s sort of like, what happened? When did we start becoming afraid of letting women talk? You know, the enduring power of Austin, to me should be a rebuke to all the concerns about the marketability of movies that rely on dialogue driven by women. So, you know, and I found even in the last couple of years, I’ve even had some sympathy for, you know, poor Mrs. Bennet, who talks a lot and is very histrionic as we know when her curves that you know, even she really does get her say and is this full fledged character.
Speaker 4: So, Mr. Bennett, how can you tease me? So but you know, compassion for my poor nubs.
Speaker 5: Oh, you must take me, my dear. I have the highest respect for them. They’ve been my constant companions is to.
Speaker 3: And I think that is that is great. You know, let the women speak. That’s one of the sort of central themes of Austen.
Speaker 2: And that’s an interesting point that you bring up, Mrs. Bennet, who is the mother in Pride and Prejudice of the Bennet sisters, the fact that she feels like such a full character, even though the story is not about her, if anything, she’s she’s not really a villain, but she’s kind of an antagonist in the book because she’s just trying to get her daughters married.
Speaker 2: What’s interesting to me about Austen is not only that her women speak, but that she has so many different types of women. There is not just a single Austen gal. I mean, there’s some of them tend to share characteristics. Like they all tend to be fairly intelligent. They tend to be well-spoken and mannered women. But I would argue that someone like Anne Elliott in Persuasion, who is a very gentle character, one that we don’t really see very often anymore, you know, she’s kind of quiet, she’s very reserved.
Speaker 2: She’s a very interior character, is very different from, say, a Lizzie Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, who’s very outspoken, who’s very fun, who I think you could probably call her Jolly, who is also very different from Emma, who is, you know, a very rich, sophisticated busybody. You know, these are all just very different types of women. And I feel like when I read Austin’s books and I really look at all of the different types of female leads she’s had, it’s depressing because it seems like today we don’t get that variety of of women.
Speaker 3: And one of the things I love so much about Clueless, which is the adaptation of Emma set in modern Beverly Hills with Alicia Silverstone starring as Cher Horowitz slash Emma is that it actually showcases a character who we don’t see a lot of now, like the idea of she she’s charming and wonderful. She’s also a total busybody, thinks she knows more than she does, and thinks it’s her job to sort of change everyone’s life around her. And it backfires terribly and she has her learning lesson and is sober.
Speaker 6: I would just like to say that physical education in this school is a disgrace. I mean, standing in line for 40 minutes is hardly aerobically effective. I just I’ve worked off the calories in a stick of carefree gum.
Speaker 3: So if this were not an update of. Emma. I could see it maybe being a harder sell that this sort of busybody know it all is is is actually going to anchor a film the way Alicia Silverstone anchors clueless so amazingly you know all of her characters have flaws, even our amazing Lizzie Bennet, you know, she is the first person to jump on the George Wickham bandwagon. Wickham is the villain of Pride and Prejudice who slanders Darcy and kind of makes up these stories. And then we find out that he’s actually the one who’s been preying on younger women. And and so Elizabeth is so quick to believe Wickham because she wants to because she wants to think badly of Darcy. And and she has to, you know, do her own come to Jesus at the end of the book and realise that she’s also made her mistakes.
Speaker 3: And then an Elliot and Elliot of persuasion in her gentleness, in her interiority, in her in the sort of unwavering courage it takes to lead a good life for yourself and others, even when your heart has been broken. And she does that. And she is the you know, Lizzie is all fire and witty quips.
Speaker 2: Lizzie is sort of what you see nowadays. Lizzie is sort of like the modern archetype of the ideal female character. She’s sassy but sweet. And, you know, you can you take her out for a beer. She’s almost hate saying that. She’s almost the manic pixie dream. Almost, almost. I don’t want to fully say it, but like.
Speaker 2: Yeah, but. But you see her as being the ancestor of the modern female character. Whereas the Eleanor Dashwood, who is also a very gentle character, who, you know, puts her sister above herself and her own happiness. We don’t see that anywhere near as much lately. I think it almost feels as though Austen was not afraid to have characters that you didn’t like sometimes that were cringeworthy almost at times, and we just don’t see that as much today.
Speaker 2: There is a movie that recently came out called Not Okay, and there is a disclaimer like a like a trigger warning at the beginning of the movie unlikable female character, which I think was part joke and part just like kind of pointing out that we don’t really let women be unlikable nowadays, but Austin’s books are filled with unlikable, yet usually likable characters, and she balances that line really well with COVID.
Speaker 3: I keep returning to these heroines of Austin because I’m like, They matter. They kept things going when, you know, everything was was kind of was kind of going to shit and they kept it together. And so I think I would like to see more complicated women, more sort of, you know, air quotes, difficult women, because that’s such a charged word anyway. And I think Austin is again this reminder of like, were we more open to more versions of women and femininity and what it meant to be, you know, how you could be a woman, what that character was, you know, 200 years ago. And we are now and again, I think. No, but it does it does bring up an interesting point.
Speaker 2: And that kind of draws a contrast for me, at least to the men of Jane Austen. I sometimes wonder if they’re really that great. You know, there’s always the Mr. Darcy which everybody thinks back to. He’s given a pretty full character development. You know, he really changes throughout the course of Pride and Prejudice. But a lot of her male heroes feel kind of interchangeable. Edward Ferris In Sense and sensibility as Eleanor Dashwood, a man like her love interest, he really doesn’t talk a lot at all throughout the book. And so I wonder if her if her male characters are just kind of men.
Speaker 3: Well, Edward Paw, I think we would call him an introvert today. He is very shy. So that is one of the reasons. And I do think Hugh Grant, in Ang Lee’s sense and sensibility, brings Edward to life actually in a better way than Austen does in the book.
Speaker 5: Eleanor I met Lucy when I was very young.
Speaker 2: And.
Speaker 5: I had a profession I should never have felt so little foolish inclination. My behavior, ignoring it was very wrong. But I convinced myself that you felt any friendship for them and that it was my heart alone that I was risking. I’ve come here with no expectations, only to profess now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is in. And always will be.
Speaker 3: But I hear you. You know, maybe you could say the same thing in Mansfield Park about Fanny’s love. She’s the poor cousin, and she’s in love with her first cousin. You know, I often return to Colonel Brandon in sense. And Sensibility to me, is the sort of perfect blend of he’s not, you know, he’s not as sexy or dramatic as like a Darcy or Wentworth from Persuasion, but he is the consummate good guy. Emma Thompson calls him the kindest and best of men. And in the movie version, but in but in a sort of sexy way. Not in a boring way. I think Austin is more interested in the women and manners of stem and women’s the flower, and they get to shine more in. And I like that. But I do think there is subtlety and texture.
Speaker 2: And speaking of the men, so a lot of the villains in her books are men, and they are villains because of their treatment of women. I mean, one of her few repeats is the side stories of men taking advantage of women either to increase their own station or essentially just for their own pleasure. And I do love that Jane Austen one is just having none of this. We don’t see as much in modern times these stories of like, hey, this is a man taking advantage of a woman in a non assaultive way. You know, he’s just like he’s taking advantage of her emotions and her feelings and leading her on and things like that. And I think, you know, it’s a very rich story that she paints with these villains and sort of like why they are villains and why we don’t like them, even though sometimes we kind of like them. She’s very good at making them charming and interesting and then pulling the rug out from under you.
Speaker 3: Well, if you take the sort of two classic villains, George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice and then Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, what’s interesting is like Wickham is like a through and through black hearted villain, just kind of out for himself. But he has such charm and openness of manners that he kind of lures everyone in.
Speaker 3: Willoughby is more interesting because he actually was going to propose to Marianne, who is Eleanor’s younger sister, who’s madly in love with him. He loves her. They they both you know, they love literature. They love poetry. They love walks in the rain. You know, they’re very into each other. And then at the last moment, he’s disinherited by his patroness because he acted badly towards another woman. In fact, not just exploited her, but got her pregnant and abandoned her. And so what’s interesting about Wilby is Willoughby is a bad guy. He’s for a moment. If none of these other complications had come along, we might have never known that he could have just married Marianne and had a happy life. But he’s. He’s not a good guy. And it’s Marianne who, in the end, marries Colonel Brandon, not this fiery character, but this reliable character.
Speaker 3: And I think that’s another thing in our romcoms that we lose sometimes, that that reliable nurse is sexy, too. It takes a lot to be that kind of guy. It’s kind of easy to be the sexy ruffian bad boy. You don’t have to call anyone back. You can just, you know, do your own thing and then come back and say you’re sorry in some dramatic way and you’re so good looking, it doesn’t matter. And, you know, it takes more to be that that reliable person. So I’ve always thought it is not settling to go for that person over the sexy ruffian. It’s actually, I think, a good choice. Dare I even say a feminist choice?
Speaker 2: We’re going to take a break here. But when we come back, we are going to get into Jane Austin’s legacy. And if you want to hear more from Ana and myself on another topic, check out our Waves Plus segment is this feminist? And today we are debating whether the proposals in Jane Austen’s novels and the rejections are feminist.
Speaker 3: And please consider supporting the show by joining Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast, no paywall on the Slate site, and bonus content of shows like Amicus, Slate, Money and of course, this one. To learn more, go to Slate.com, slash the waves plus and I’m asleep plus member I love it so definitely consider joining.
Speaker 2: Welcome back to the Waves. It is very hard to make a Jane Austen adaptation. It’s one of those things, it seems when they’re good, they’re really good when they’re bad. Just set it on fire. The modern ones, set in modern times seem to fare better. Thinking of clueless a fire island. Granted, there are some exceptions. So Anna, what is your take about all of the Jane Austen adaptations in general? Why are these so hard to get right?
Speaker 3: It’s a great question. And I think the most important thing is very simple. It’s, you know, does an adaptation preserve the spirit of the novel? And it can preserve the spirit of the novel while doing very interesting new things, looking at it new ways set in a contemporary time. But the spirit of the novel has to be preserved when it doesn’t preserve the spirit of the novel. Like, dare I say, Netflix’s latest adaptation of Persuasion, which sort of united the Internet in in wielding pitchforks against it.
Speaker 3: The problem is that the adaptation refused to kind of throw off the constraints of the novel, and everyone was in costume in Regency England. It followed the basic parameters of the plot, but the dialogue was just sort of like invented out of whole cloth. It sounded like a tick tock, a parody of persuasion.
Speaker 5: The first, oh, he passed me in church playlist. He made me one lock of hair from him and one from his horse.
Speaker 2: Samson, whom I.
Speaker 3: Scarcely knew unless.
Speaker 2: Cowbell.
Speaker 5: Whose sad empty now best captures my melancholy.
Speaker 2: A is of it.
Speaker 3: Stop, stop. This is, you know, as one viral tweet put it, you know, whoever wrote this needs to go to like a penal colony in Australia. You know, it’s very it was just it was a bridge too far. It wasn’t fun. It basically felt like it was trading on our affection for these characters while while turning them into completely unrecognizable versions.
Speaker 3: So I think the adaptations fail when they only look like Austen, but they don’t care about being Austen. And my my final thought on this would be is there are so many interesting ways to update Austen. For instance, there’s only one glancing mention of slavery in the slave trade in all of Austen’s novels, and it’s in Mansfield Park and where Sir Thomas is sort of head of the family, has a plantation in the West Indies, which, even though it’s not said explicitly, that would obviously have have run on slave labor and benefited from the slave trade.
Speaker 3: What we could have seen in Persuasion say is, you know, Wentworth, he traveled to the West Indies, he would have seen this. He’s a really upright, heroic guy. What would he have thought of this? Could he have had a conversation with Anne about it or Captain Bennet, his friend? That’s where I think you can push Austen into more modern territory. Don’t make an Eliot sound like fleabag.
Speaker 2: One of the areas that I think our culture in general tends to get wrong about Jane Austen is in the enemies to lovers trope, which you see in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth does not like Mr. Darcy to begin with. He is very resistant of his affections for her, but they come together at the end. And this is a trope that Jane Austen did not invent. You can go back to Shakespeare had this trope there is otherwise. But she certainly seems to be the sort of modern architect of it. She is the one that really brought it into sort of our current pop culture.
Speaker 2: When we think of the enemies two lovers trope, we think of her, we think of that story. And I think where this has at times turned toxic is when people think that Elizabeth changed Darcy, that she actively tried to change him and make him a better person. I believe that that becomes toxic when we are telling that story of a woman needing to change a man, that he is a bad man, as she used to make him into a better one.
Speaker 2: And I think where they tend to get wrong, but you go with the spirit of the story, with Pride and Prejudice, is that Lizzie never actively tries to change Darcy. And not only that, I don’t even know if it’s a true enemies two lovers. Because very early on in the book, he’s talking about her bright eyes and. How much is into her and making it kind of known to people in his social circle that he’s got eyes for Elizabeth and she’s the one that’s like, I need you to get away from me. Just leave me alone.
Speaker 2: And I think it’s really interesting when people look at the enemies two lovers trope and examine like, is it toxic? Is it not? And they kind of look at Pride and Prejudice and think, what is Mr. Darcy really this this great character? Why is this story all about Lizzy having to change Darcy? And it’s like, no, that that’s really not the case. And I think that when we accurately look at the spirit of Austin’s books, particularly Pride and Prejudice, that’s, I think, where it really feels fresh and modern. And that’s what really endures. This idea that we do not change people, but we change ourselves to be better people because of those that we are around and those that we aspire to be good enough for.
Speaker 3: It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliché for a reason. Darcy does the work himself, and he has to do the work himself. I mean, if you actually read the novel or watch, you know, most of the adaptations. They. He initially insults her and she overhears him.
Speaker 5: I’ve never seen so many pretty girls, in my view, of dancing with the only girl in the room. She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld. But her sister Elizabeth is very agreeable, certainly tolerable, I daresay. Not handsome enough to tempt me to return to your apartment, enjoying a smile and wasting your time with me.
Speaker 3: She’s hardened against him, but almost immediately he starts becoming obsessed with her. It’s almost as if he had to insult her, because otherwise he could tell how much she was going to captivate him. And he really is in love with her. And Austin spends a lot of time with Darcy’s internal processes about how he feels about Elizabeth. She refuses him when he proposes the first time. And he can’t believe it. He cannot believe that he, Fitzwilliam Darcy, has been refused. And he basically goes off for months. Never expects to see her again. Just like nursing, these were proofs. And he, when he does by chance, see her again.
Speaker 3: At first, it’s not about winning her back. It’s simply about showing her that he she he is not the man she thought he was in that refusal. And he does this by being very gracious and warm to her aunt and uncle who live in Cheapside in London. So for the old Darcy would be beneath his notice. He he changes that. He changes his manners to be more welcoming and open and make an effort. And also on the really important particulars, like, did he do a dreadful wrong to a childhood friend? He’s exonerated immediately. Elizabeth realizes this is an untrue story. So it’s not it’s not that he becomes a good person from an evil person, but he does become, as he says when she finally accepts him again.
Speaker 5: I’ve been a selfish being all my life. As a child, I was given good principles but was left to follow them in pride and can seek such I might still have been received. There is loveliest Elizabeth.
Speaker 3: And that, if not for you, of course. Maybe someone reads that and thinks, Oh, she changed him. But what he’s saying is, if not for you and you standing up for yourself and you rejecting me because I did not act in a more gentleman, like in a kinder and in a more thoughtful way. You know, I would have just kept muddling along in my horrific, selfish pride. So he does the work and that as the canon story of enemies to lovers, we have to remember that Darcy has to, you know, put on his big boy pants and do the work himself.
Speaker 2: Before we head out, we want to give some recommendations. Ana, what are you loving right now?
Speaker 3: I’m loving right now what I love always, which is Ang Lee’s adaptation of sense and sensibility. And to me, it is just the most glorious Austen adaptation. It has humor. It has pathos. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. And side note later married the man who plays the sexy ruffian Willoughby, which I love, too, that off screen, they’re actually together. And to me, you know, it is the Austen adaptation. I could watch again and again and again on a loop on a desert island.
Speaker 2: I mean, I have to rewatch that one again very soon. I am going to recommend Cosmo Jarvis music. We kind of should on the most recent version of Persuasion. But Cosmo Jarvis played Captain Wentworth in the Netflix’s Persuasion and as it turns out, he has really great music. He hasn’t really put out anything. In a few years. I’ve only been able to find his stuff a little bit on Spotify, mostly on YouTube. But if you just search on YouTube Cosmo Jarvis he’s got some really fun songs I recommend. Look at the sky or shit, you’re the one. They’re all really, really fun songs.
Speaker 2: And then finally, I also just want to add, because we’ve been talking about Jane Austen, I just wanted to remember a very beloved professor of mine from Aquinas College, Dr. Brent Chesley, who passed away several years ago, and he taught my Jane Austen seminar. And the man absolutely adored Jane Austen. He adored Jane Austen, and he adored car chases. And I learned so much from him more than anything. I just learned what it meant to be a magnanimous human being. He was delightful. He always called us persons of quality when he was greeting the class at the beginning of every session. And it was very sad when when he passed away. And it is very hard for me to think about Jane Austen and not think about him and his delightful and lovely wife, whom we got to meet a few times. And you really saw the sort of Jane Austen influence in in their love together. And so I just wanted to remember Doctor Brent Chesley.
Speaker 1: That’s it.
Speaker 2: That’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by myself, Shayna Roth.
Speaker 3: Shannon Paulus is our editorial director. Alicia montgomery is vice president of Audio. Daisy Rosario is senior supervising producer of Audio.
Speaker 2: We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.
Speaker 3: The Waves will be back next week with different hosts, different topics, same time and place.
Speaker 2: Thank you so much for being a Slate Plus member. And since you’re a member, you get this weekly segment, is this feminist? Every week we debate whether something is feminist, and this week we’re talking about whether the proposals in Jane Austen’s novels are feminist. My initial thought is that, no, this is not exactly a feminist thing where if it’s like a man has to propose to the woman in order for there to be a marriage. But Anna, when you and I were talking about this, you had a really interesting point. When it comes to refusals of which there are also quite a few in Jane Austen’s books.
Speaker 3: Absolutely. Well, one of the things I find fascinating about proposals in Jane Austen novels is they’re one of the few moments of pure agency for the woman. And and obviously, it’s important to say that women of a certain social strata, women who did not have means women in vulnerable positions, they would have felt like they had to say yes to a proposal. But Austin’s women often say no. And I find that a sort of fairly radical choice in that the most famous refusal is, of course, Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, refusing Mr. Darcy, you know, a man of great wealth and consequence, and then the fabulous estate of Pemberley, all of which could be hers, if, as she puts it, he were not the last gentleman on Earth that she could ever be tempted to marry.
Speaker 2: And of course, the first proposal. The first time he approached.
Speaker 3: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m fine, actually. You know, they work out their differences and and she accepts. But to me, there is this amazing moment of Elizabeth is this incredible character. Of course, she is a little impetuous, a little spontaneous, but she has this sort of core character, character, that sort of all important Jane Austen idea. And there is no way she is going to say yes to a man who at that time, she believes, has both destroyed her sister’s hope of happiness by derailing the marriage between Jane and disturbingly, and also thinks has acted in an underhanded way towards Mr. Wickham.
Speaker 3: We, of course, learn later that much of this is actually untrue. But at the time, she’s operating on a set of principles that says, no, I’m not going to take this fabulous home in Pemberley and all the security and status because this isn’t a good person. And she can say no to a man like Mr. Darcy. She has that agency.
Speaker 3: So I’ve always I’ve always found that even in its very sort of traditional framework, kind of amazing. And we also see, and Eliot in persuasion, decide that she will refuse Mr. Eliot, even though it would mean she would become Lady Eliot, she would take her mother’s place, Mr. Eliot, as her father’s heir, because she also doesn’t quite trust in his character. So you have two women who are turning down a tremendous amount of wealth and security in consequence because they don’t think these men are good people. And I think in Regency England, to write those stories, there’s something pretty feminist and radical about that.
Speaker 2: And I think there’s also something to be said about some of the acceptances that we see, some of the more like minor acceptances. So I always come back to Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, whom I’ve kind of turned a corner on in my older age. You know, one of my favorite refusals has always been Elizabeth Bennet refusing. Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is the sort of relative of theirs who stands to inherit their estate. There’s a lot of the states in it, so many books, so many heirs and people who stand to turn you out onto the streets. But he was one of them, and he proposed to Elizabeth after Mrs. Bennet said that Jane was likely spoken for. So he’s like, Oh, I guess I’ll I guess I’ll go with the other sister and she turns him down because she finds him a bit ridiculous.
Speaker 2: But then her best friend, Charlotte, is proposed to by Mr. Collins and Charlotte says yes. And Lizzie is like aghast at this at first. And I used to be so aghast at this. And just like poor Charlotte, why would you want to be with this? You know, just ridiculous human who spouts sermons. It doesn’t really seem to have a real personality of his own. He just kind of glommed onto like what other people are saying at the time.
Speaker 2: And as I’ve gotten older, I realize, you know, Charlotte was in a really difficult circumstance. She was getting into those spinster years. It was getting to be that she was too old. She was a burden on her parents. It was important for her to find some level of stability. And now I see her acceptance of Mr. Collins as, as you say, an act of agency. It is an act of. This is something that I can do to. Help myself to better my situation, to find that security and to help out my family in a time when women didn’t have a whole lot of ways to help out their families.
Speaker 3: Totally. And I think remembering that Charlotte is 27, I believe, hurtling towards spinster hood at 27 and in Jane Austen. And she does make this this rational choice, this very rational choice. And what’s interesting is when I would read it and watch Pride and Prejudice in my twenties, like you saying, I was horrified. I was like, Well, who would ever want to take this sort of bumbling, ridiculous, absurd person?
Speaker 3: And then as I’ve watched it and read it again, as I’m older, I have a very different reaction to to the acceptance, because, you know, Mr. Collins is not a bad person. If he were actually if we’d known he’d done something nefarious or mistreated women, it would be a different thing. He he’s not he’s just absurd. And she decides here is a man who is not going to be cruel to me, is not a bad person. He’s absurd.
Speaker 3: But I don’t want to be sitting around my parent’s house anymore. I want to have my own home and my own life. And she makes the right choice for her. And there’s a there’s an interaction between her and Lizzie where she really sort of makes Lizzie realize, you know, what the luxury of kind of saying no. And Lizzie is a bit humbled by that.
Speaker 2: And she really buys into it. I think you see sort of throughout the novel that Charlotte makes the most of this life that she has. She’s she seems really happy with how things go. She’s got, you know, rooms of her own. She’s got a house to manage. And unfortunately, back then, that was one of the gold standards for women to expect, is to have that ability and that structure in their life and to have that that safety. So I think I’ve come around that the Jane Austen proposals can be feminist.
Speaker 3: Absolutely. And she’s got her chickens, she’s got her garden, and she’s got her room in a place at the house where Mr. Collins never come, which Lizzie realizes she’s got a pretty good set up and and she makes the most of it, as you say. And and I have also come around on that, too. You know, maybe that just says something about us staggering through COVID, whatever, valuing different things.
Speaker 2: But we just want a room of our islands and security.
Speaker 3: Some chickens just, you know, maybe a vegetable garden.
Speaker 2: Well, is there something you’re dying to know if it’s feminist or not? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.