Sally Smith O'Rourke Guest Post and Giveaway
To Read or Not to Read
Some years ago I re-read all of Jane Austen’s works which brought something to my attention that I’d never noticed before, perhaps because it was the first time I’d read them in succession. I realized that Jane Austen was a feminist, a gentle feminist but a feminist none the less. She wrote strong, intelligent women who were, for the day, independent thinkers and men who loved the women for those traits and not in spite of them. I was fascinated, not so much by her characters as the author herself. I wanted to know how it was that a woman in an era where women were, for the most part, not much more than chattel wrote about strong women and the men who love them. So I indulged myself by reading three biographies and the 160 surviving letters she wrote.
I discovered that her parents and brothers were feminists, at least to a degree. Her father educated his daughters the same way he educated his sons, at least up to the point of going to college. She still learned the ‘womanly’ activities like drawing, music and needlework but from the earliest age preferred reading and writing to every other activity. The support she received from her brothers after the death of her father was instrumental in her success. Not only did they provide for her (as well as her mother and sister) financially, Henry arranged for the publication of all her books. They never attempted to marry her off and made sure she always had the paper and ink so she could write. All the brothers were particularly proud of her ability and talent and in spite of the fact that she wanted some anonymity so had published as ‘a lady’ they couldn’t stop themselves from telling anyone and everyone that she was the authoress of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma.
Something else I discovered was that most of the characters in her works could easily be identified as people from her own life experiences. Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship with her father is very much like the relationship Jane had with her own father. Jane, Elizabeth’s older sister is a reflection of Cassandra, Austen’s older sister. The one character in Pride and Prejudice, in fact in all her stories, who remains an enigma, is Mr. Darcy.
Here is a wealthy, although untitled, young man of the highest social standing who has the responsibilities of vast estates, which means a lot of people as well as the care of his young sister thrust upon very early in life. The situation makes him cynical, prideful and prejudiced particularly toward those not in his sphere. Being thrown in with those very people he distains and would judiciously avoid, he finds himself first attracted to and then falling in love with a women he considers beneath him.
Unable to control his feelings for Elizabeth Bennet he offers her his hand in marriage. He considers her his social inferior which he tells her during his proposal, still he is stunned when she refuses him (in fact he finds it inconceivable). She rebuffs him saying he has offended and insulted her. Horrified by her response he leaves, chagrined and mortified.
That however is not the end of it; this in no Cinderella story. Darcy is at first angry at the rejection but cannot escape the sting of her words, ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner’. He reflects upon her reasons for rejecting him and finds himself dissatisfied by his own perceptions. He vows (to himself) to change those things she found abhorrent. Not in an attempt to win her for he is certain that is not a possibility, he makes a concerted effort to rectify those things because after introspection he realizes Elizabeth is right.
At their accidental meeting some months later he is determined that she sees the changes, again not to woe her, but to show her that he took her words seriously and to heart. She does see and is confused because she is certain his arrogance and prejudices were immovable, that implacability and resentfulness were shades in his character. But here he is, gracious and kind.
A few weeks later he saves her youngest sister from an elopement that would have ruined the reputation of her entire family. He does so with the help of her aunt and uncle whom he had derided in his proposal as low connections.
By the time she sees him again his transformation is complete and he is just as much in love with her as he was earlier possibly more, so risks a second proposal. He admits that she had properly humbled him by showing him “how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” She admits to being wrong about him as well then accepts his offer.
Darcy was unusual in 1813 when the literary world met him for the first time and he is unusual today and for all the intervening two hundred years. I can think of no era when a woman would not be touched by a man willing to change his perceptions and actions to better himself.
Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen and its prequel The Man Who Loved Jane Austen posits an explanation of how this character came to be. The what and who inspired Austen to write what even by today’s standards is an unusual and very romantic character.
A personal aside to this discussion is that the current interest (almost obsession) with Fitzwilliam Darcy has much to do with Colin Firth’s portrayal of the character in the Andrew Davies 1996 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for BBC/A&E. By far the best adaptation ever done and the most touching portrayal. Firth’s Darcy coupled with the superb Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet brought Austen’s characters to vivid life. I believe this production also brought about the resurgence in popularity of Jane Austen’s work.
The audio book with Kendra Hoffman’s wonderful narration is now available at Audible.com, Amazon
Trade paperback available at Amazon and eBooks available pretty much everywhere.
Was Mr. Darcy real? Is time travel really possible? For pragmatic Manhattan artist Eliza Knight the answer to both questions is absolutely, Yes! And Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia is the reason why!
His tale of love and romance in Regency England leaves Eliza in no doubt that Fitz Darcy is the embodiment of Jane Austen’s legendary hero. And she’s falling in love with him. But can the man who loved the inimitable Jane Austen ever love average, ordinary Eliza Knight?
Eliza’s doubts grow, perhaps out of proportion, when things start to happen in the quiet hamlet of Chawton, England; events that could change everything. Will the beloved author become the wedge that divides Fitz and Eliza or the tie that binds them?
Follow the tour: Tour Schedule
Follow the tour: Tour Schedule