zondag 16 augustus 2015

The Inherent Liberalism Of "Pride And Prejudice"

Or how to make a good propaganda story.

No, I'm not yet finished with P&P! Though I promise that this will be my last post on the topic. I'd also like to place a disclaimer stating that despite everything I have written about it so far, I still like both the novel and the famous Colin Firth adaptation, which I have watched countless times. So there:)

Best propaganda stories are subtle. In fact, the viewer/reader may follow such a story and not even notice there is propaganda in it, unless he is alerted to it. How can one, for instance, make traditional family look disgusting?  Invent a story where the wife is a homemaker but she is unsatisfied with her role/bored. She can't wait till the children are older and she can embark on an exciting new career. Then her husband takes her to a small idyllic (on the outside) town, where all the women are sweet and submissive (to a nauseating degree) and only interested in homemaking.

Suddenly the wife discovers that there is a conspiracy of men in the town to keep all the women subjugated by means of substituting them with robots. Just as she is trying to escape she is murdered in cold blood and her sweet submissive copy appears in the local supermarket. You all know which story I mean, do you? (Funny enough, there are men ranting on the net about how s*xbots will soon substitute wives and artificial wombs will take the place of mothers).

The power of a thrilling story to promote certain ideas was certainly known to our ancestors. So let's look at P&P again keeping the above in mind. I know that feminists love the novel because Lizzy Bennet is supposedly so sassy and independent and Mr Darcy gets rather betaized domesticated in the end, and we are even told that she "takes liberties" with her husband. This is all there and I don''t deny it, but it goes deeper than that.

Traditionally marriage was never viewed as the union of two individuals based purely on romantic feelings. Though Europeans, especially those of the Northern variety, where nuclear family was something that had existed since at least the year 1200, were rather romantic and sentimental in their views on the fair sex, and marrying out of love wasn't something out of the extraordinary, one was still expected to take into consideration things like income, class, family etc.

For instance, in the famous affair of the abduction of Jean Key by Robin Oig, a Rob Roy's son, one of the accusations  against him was that he had forced her into marriage while being of a character, circumstance, and situation, utterly unbecoming or unfit for her, as being destitute of fortune,
substance, or good fame
. (Link). (She being a wealthy widow).

The marriage in Northern Europe didn't have to be arranged (though it did happen), but the partners (to use a modern word) had to be suitable for each other, in character, circumstance and situation, i.e in reputation, social standing and income. Marrying well (or even marrying at all) was also often seen as a duty to one's family

Another thing typical for British upper classes was cousin marriage the purpose of which was to keep wealth in the family. Cousin marriage is practically an English tradition as you come against it even in children's literature (in the famous Five e.g, there is definitely something growing between Julian and Georgiana).

The liberal point of view, however, stated that feelings were the only thing that mattered; and that marriage was a private affair between two individuals and nobody else's business. So how would a creative person set about to promote this idea to the general public? Why, by writing a novel featuring a crazy mother obsessed with marrying off her (penniless) daughters to wealthy men. She goes so far as to insist that one of them marries her own cousin (the one who will inherit her father's estate). The cousin in question is a pompous fool who would give any normal woman shivers.

Then there is a young man in love with another of her daughters. His sisters and friend are against the match and try to point out the great difference in the circumstances between the two, but don't stop there, forming a diabolical conspiracy to separate two loving hearts. They succeed, but the chief instigator comes to regret it in the end, apologises and the marriage finally takes place.

He himself falls in love with the sister mentioned first. The difference between their character, circumstance and situation is even greater since he is related to the landed nobility, and he also has a cousin! Her mother insists they marry each other and points out all the disadvantages of an imprudent match. Of course, his aunt is an arrogant old witch and his cousin is sickly and ugly. He makes a proposal to his sweetheart (actually he does it twice which shows the tremendous power of love, but I'm talking here about the second of his proposals). The girl's father isn't initially thrilled to have him as his family, because love. But it all ends well!

Of course, Elisabeth and Mr Collins, just as Mr Darcy and Miss de Bourgh are suited to each other being societal equals but the reader can´t expect these marriages to take place, not after all the negative things said about Lizzy´s cousin and Lady Catherine´s daughter. For a bonus, Darcy´s dwelling on the differences in his and Elisabeth´s situation is shown as unpardonable arrogance. While the Bennets´ behaviour is criticised, the idea that the difference in their situation amounts to anything, is ridiculed.

And that´s why I think Pride And Prejudice is Jane Austen´s most liberal novel.

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