Monday, March 26, 2012

All I Needed to Know About Men I Learned from Jane Austen, Part 1: Introduction

My Dear Reader,

I realize that there are a lot of people who do not understand the fascination that people like me have with Jane Austen. To be brief: she speaks the truth. She is a writer who captured relationships and human nature in a way that most authors can't.

In a way, she reminds me of Charles Dickens. Before Dickens, books were about the rich. But Dickens grew up as a poor child. He understood the poor, and he wrote about them in a way that got attention. In a culture obsessed with social class, Dickens offered the higher classes an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of the poor. Ironically enough, he had to hide his poor upbringing because it would have killed his credibility, but the deeper you go into the writing, the deeper you go into the soul of the boy in rags who was brilliant and talented enough to make his fortune. The more you read Dickens, the more you realize that Dickens is telling his own story in code.

Jane Austen, in comparison, was not especially poor, and not especially interested in writing about the poor. She was, however, a single woman in a culture where being single wasn't exactly an option. Austen's tales of romance are compelling and timeless because she was a talented author writing about a subject that she uniquely understood. She knew what it was like to be shoved at suitors who were less than desirable and to be snubbed by men of means. She knew what it was like when you either had to marry an idiot or lose the farm. And, through her own experiences and those of her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen knew what it was like to have heart-wrenching loss that was so soul crushing, it would take more than a lifetime to recover from.

I like to think that she poured these parts of her into her stories, and that by reading them, I get closer to understanding the kind of person Jane Austen was. More importantly, I find that the experiences she describes in her novels are so human, and so relatable, that I kept running into version of her characters in my life. I will explain by way of her most popular creation, Pride and Prejudice, and the four prominent male characters in it: Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins, Mr Bingley, and Mr. Darcy.

For your convenience, I will be breaking this analysis of Austen up into installments that will be published throughout the next few weeks. Why is Wickham so destructive? How can you escape the clutches of a Mr. Collins? What is heartbreaking about Mr. Bingley? Why is Mr. Darcy so special? Check back and find out!

Regards, best wishes, and happy endings,

-Cecily Jane

No comments: