I’m on a First Name Basis with Jane Austen. Really!

Jane Austen

I confess; I’m a devotee of period piece dramas. Based upon classic novels, many of which I’ve read, or quickly read anyway after seeing the drama, there is just something so wholesome, so engaging, so finessed about the way relationships developed a few centuries back. Still, Showtime’s The Tudors might be another story altogether…. So when the TV is turned to BBCAmerica, or a PBS Masterpiece Theatre, my children just assume that I’m spending time with Jane again.

It’s not that I don’t watch for the lush scenery and brilliant costuming, because that’s all part of it, but I love the complete restraint that was shown by men and women in bygone days. For instance, in Jane’s Emma, up until almost the very ending of the novel, Emma calls Mr. Knightley: Mr. Knightley. And even upon her betrothal to him, she finally undertakes to call him “my dear Mr. Knightley.” How amazing that even with an engagement finally underway, the bride-to-be respects her future partner enough to still call him by his title. And even after marriage, spouses in Jane’s novels refrain from using endearments, except in private.

I guess, for me, it all comes down to these three “R” words:

Restraint, Refrain, & Respect

In today’s society, there is so little of that anymore. It’s a Jerry Springer/YouTube/Oprah/MySpace world, and everyone knows everyone else’s “stuff.” Even though I’m as guilty of it as anyone else – yes, I have a Facebook page, and obviously, here I am blogging for the world to see – I am so envious of the time when men were men, and women were women, and there was a delight in that being the way it was. Sure, I know that it really wasn’t that easy for women then; most had to marry for money and not love, but even if that was the case, each gender was, for the most part, a respecter of the other. Even more so, everyone refrained from laying all their cards on the table. Journaling was common then, as even siblings were often left in the dark as to what thoughts and feelings were swirling inside one’s head and heart. As an example, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice shows utter restraint by not sharing the juicy morsel that Mr. Darcy had proposed, even to her sister Jane! And in Persuasion, Anne Elliot never lets on to a soul that indeed, she is still wildly in love with Capt. Wentworth. Likewise, Capt. Wentworth doesn’t betray his feelings for Anne either.

Of course, when it comes down to it, I don’t think I’d want to actually live back then. No showers, microwaves, flushing toilets (!), or electricity would make it awfully difficult. And then, there is a comfort in knowing that today’s woman has voting rights, the flexibility to make her own living should she choose to, and even that her concerns as a woman are listened to by the males in her life. I’m sure that men did listen to their wives with the same zeal as they do now – “I had the worst time getting the mud out of our hems today dear” is probably akin to “I am so over texting and IMing. These children are technological zombies!” I would imagine that men can zone out whether a woman is talking mud from the pigsties or children enslaved by electronic devices. But the point is that men wouldn’t be expected to listen way back then, whereas now, the women’s movement probably did cause women to depend on being listened to. That, I like. I like knowing my opinions, ideas, and feelings are important to at least one human being. And, in all fairness, in Jane’s time, once most women were married, they probably had some semblance of attention from their husbands.

But maybe we’d all be a little more mature, focused, or not prone to whining if we just kept some of our thoughts to ourselves. Maybe if we refrained from speaking every little rumination to others, if we restrained ourselves from blabbering all our secrets, fears, and complaints to everyone we know, we’d have more respect not only for those we know and love, but respect for ourselves as well. At least, that’s what I learned from my good friend Jane.

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