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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"

And this post directly follows up on the immediately preceding one, as I respond to Elissa Schiff's response to my earlier comments about Letter 13 and Pride and Prejudice:

[Elissa] "But Arnie, Lysistrata was written thousands of years ago - its message still has never prevented wars, continual devastating wars around the globe, from being waged."

Not to blame women at all, Elissa, but maybe there are still wars because women (rightly so) never felt safe or empowered enough to actually mount such a coordinated campaign. It remains an interesting idea, don't you think? ;)

"I do agree that those in control - basically men - have generally felt that reading, books, the printing press could be dangerous to the status quo if everyone could participate; the Protestant Reformation challenged Rome and spread because of the printing press and spread of Luther's tractates as well as the Bible translated into European vernaculars."

The same strategy is being applied, but in a very sophisticated way, in China right now, particularly in the way they regulate the Internet there. And I don't recall ever seeing any female faces at the highest levels of power there.

In any event, my principal point, given that this is a list devoted to Jane Austen, is not what I or you or Nancy or the leaders of China think about this subject, it is that _Jane Austen_ made it very clear that _she herself_ believed that it was important that women hold the pen, too.

And as these letters we've just been discussing illustrate, even private letters to a sister were an important part of women holding the pen, and that is why JA takes the correspondence between her and Cassandra so seriously when they are separated. In a way, I now realize, it is the same voice (which I claimed in an earlier blog post was really Mary Bennet's).....

....which whispers to Lizzy, when Darcy and Bingley come to Longbourn late in the novel:

"The men shan't come and part us, I am determined. We want none of them; do we?"

This is _exactly_ what JA is saying to CEA, in so many words, in Letters 12 and 13. She is saying that, in a man's world, where men's needs are always catered to first, it is crucial that women create solidarity with each other, to compensate for their less powerful position. Women must at a minimum come first _there_, in their correspondence, if nowhere else!

And the idea of female solidarity also makes me see an irony that JA obviously never intended in the final words of Emma:

"But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of _the union_."

The accidental irony, of course, has to do with the huge political fight being waged at this very moment in Wisconsin and Indiana, where Republicans seek to bust the state employee _union_, but the union members are responding with calls to solidarity.

But back one more time to JA....isn't it interesting that none of the film adaptations of P&P have ever picked up on "We want none of them; do we?" ? It's not just that all film adaptations have to leave things out, I claim it is always omitted because that line would radically destabilize the universally acknowledged "truth" that so many readers see in the novel and want to see in the film adaptations, i.e., that a young woman of small fortune _must_ be in want of a (rich) husband!

But what if JA is showing us that Mary Bennet has already reached the same conclusion that JA herself reached in her later twenties, if not sooner, i.e., that it was better to pursue accomplishments and to give birth to printed "babies" than to marry a rich man (like Bigg-Wither) and produce a litter of human babies? Which is why Colleen McCullough's sequel to P&P, for all its other sins of style, is still of interest--because it portrays Mary Bennet as a writer!

And, in that same vein, isn't it also interesting that none of the film adaptations has ever accurately portrayed Mary Bennet as _whispering_ the following in Lizzy's ear, but instead they all have shown Mary as smugly proclaiming it to the entire Bennet family:

"This is a most unfortunate affair; and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation…..Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable -- that**one false step involves her in endless ruin**-- that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, -- and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex."

This is a crucial distortion, because Mary's words mean something _entirely_ different if Mary is _discreetly_ directing this comment _only_ to Lizzy! Instead of the vain, insensitive, even gleefully heartless parade of erudition gloating over Lydia's fall that is always shown, we should instead see this little speech as Mary's attempt to awaken LIzzy to risks that Mary perceives _Lizzy_ to be running at that very moment!


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