Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Jane Austen's Lessons for Modern Women/Workers

Today is the birthday of both Jane Austen and Arthur C. Clarke.  I wonder if the books of Clarke may one day seem as quaint as Jane Austen's works.  I spent much time in adolescence reading Clarke's work, but I don't remember much about them, except that they seemed more realistic, more rooted in science than many of the other sci-fi works I was reading.

Will they seem that way to readers 200 years from now?

Does the life and work of Jane Austen seem as quaint to others as they do to me?  It's only in my later years that Austen's work has begun to seem more relevant to my modern life.  I used to think that the time that Austen describes was firmly behind us, at least for those of us living in the first world.  I thought that women could control their financial destinies in ways that Austen characters could not.  I rejoiced in the fact that we modern women didn't have to rely on males for our livelihood.

But now I begin to think of those men running the corporations that control our lives as the men in Austen novels:  some of them are honorable, but most of them are feckless idiots whom you wouldn't trust to remember to feed the baby, much less make decisions that will impact millions.

And just as in the time of Austen, it can be very hard to tell which ones are honorable and which ones are morons. To whom should we commit?  And alas, now as in the time of Austen, once we've committed it can be very hard to untangle our destinies.

Meanwhile, here on the ground, in the halls of hospitals and in the nation's classrooms and in the small shops and the daycare centers, we try to smooth over the consequences of those actions of feckless men that do so much damage.

In my younger years, I thought of writers like Austen and the Brontes and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti as fearless creators of lives that had meaning.  From my current midlife vantage point, I realize that they probably weren't as fearless as I've always assumed.  I imagine that Jane Austen might have liked to have been married.  I see the yearnings in Jane Eyre and assume that I'm getting insight into Charlotte Bronte.

I'm also more aware than I once was that my favorite 19th century British female writers weren't trying to undermine the patriarchy--they were carving out these lives little bit by little bit.  It's quite possible that they had no conception of the enormity of their accomplishments.  I know that many of my favorite writers also had other responsibilities, and they wrote their best works in the margins of their days, in scraps of time that they could salvage. 

In these days where my scraps of time for writing seem so tiny compared to the vast bolts of time's fabric I once had, let me take courage.  And let me plan wisely for the time that will be here in just a few days.  Let me resolve to get some writing done during these upcoming holidays when oddly, I will have some free time.

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