Dating, Jane Austen, and the Virtues of Chastity

Like most rugged and red-blooded American men I have long enjoyed the work of Jane Austen. My mother (a women with excellent literary credentials) once described Austen to me as the Mozart of fiction. What she provides, so says my mother, is perfection. In Mozart you hear each note and think “Ah yes. That is exactly the right note for there.” Mozart does not shock or surprise. Mozart does not produce works of dark brooding genius (no Beethoven he). Rather, he is a master of working within and tweaking conventions to produce wonderful, rational, and elegant pieces that are simply perfect. That is Austen.

I first encountered Austen in my teens. Through a complex series of events, I found myself on a hideously long bus ride from the south-west corner of Turkey up what used to be called the Ionian coast to Istanbul. The bus was filled with noisy, smoking Turks, the road we traveled was long on traffic jams and short on scenery and I had exhausted my reading material. In extremis, I turned to the one book that was available to me: Pride and Prejudice. I threw a jacket over my head to filter out some of the smoke (the windows as a cruel fate would have it, did not open) and read about the Miss Bennetts and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Bingley. I was entranced. Needless to say, I fell a little in love with Elizabeth Bennett, although even at the end of the book I couldn’t really figure out what she saw in Mr. Darcy. I can’t think it accidental that in the fullness of time, I did in fact end up marrying a Miss Bennett.

Austen, so I am told, has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the last ten or fifteen years, although, needless to say, there has always been a solid core of rugged manly fans like myself. The argument I have heard is that in the romantic chaos of the second or third generation after the sexual revolution, there is a powerful nostalgia for a world like Austen’s where sexual interaction proceeded according to well-defined patterns with well-defined goals, and where participants in the game had a rich vocabulary of social custom with which to negotiate. I can’t help but thinking that there is some truth to this.

My wife’s roommates in college expressed shock that she dated. For them a world in which a young man would ask a young woman out seemed almost as foreign as Netherfield Park and worries about scandal and good society. For myself, I observed the same chaotic social dynamic among my non-Mormon friends. There were periods of hanging out which would then lead to hooking up. In the best case scenario, hooking up resulted in “a relationship,” which imposed some duties of loyalty and order. Since “intimacy” has replaced “fornication” as the description of pre-marital sex my friends seem to find themselves in a world that is both too informal and too formal. They have the undifferentiated situation of “hanging out” or the odd proto-marital (or perhaps sub-marital would be a better term) status of “a serious relationship.” What they lack is a clear system for testing and trying out the possibility of being a couple with others. The decline of dating has destroyed the intermediate phase between friendship and acquaintance on one hand and commitment (of some kind) on the other. This portrait is, of course, overdrawn, but I think there is some truth to the caricature.

The Mormon dating culture is not without its own pathologies, and I have the scars to prove it. Still, I can’t help but feeling that I was in some sense well-served by it. It provided me with a set of social templates that had enough independent content to supplement my own meager social resources. I was able to venture into the jungle despite intense romantic insecurities because the date provided a kind of limited liability, and I knew that what ever train wrecks might come, provided that I stayed within the rules of the convention the damage would be limited. Furthermore, I could place some hope in the institution even if I didn’t place much hope in myself. I had some half-articulated faith in the ability of a tried and true process to carry me through. In a sense, I suppose, that my faith was somewhat misplaced, as the wooing of my Miss Bennett ultimately forced me out of the safety of the conventions. Nevertheless, I think that on the whole they served me well.

It seems to me that we tend to think of chastity in crassly biological terms. Our goal is for the unmarried to avoid unauthorized copulation and undue stimulation of the reptilian bits of our brain where the completely inarticulate instinct to do so lurks with a single-minded determination to insure the survival its genes. Yet it seems to me that chastity should be a social as well as a simply hygienic exercise. It is not simply a matter of suppressing certain glandular tendencies but also of providing a social vocabulary in which they are channeled, endowed with meaning, and properly celebrated. At the end of the day, Austen’s England — even in its hearty, unaffected, country-side instantiation — would have driven me nuts. On the other hand, I do think that the Mozart of her stories provides us with an important insight into a certain aspect of what makes chastity a virtue.

78 comments for “Dating, Jane Austen, and the Virtues of Chastity

  1. August 10, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Amen.
    Before I got married, I often wished our cultural had retained some of the dating customs and formalities of Jane Austen’s day.

    “It seems to me that we tend to think of chastity in crassly biological terms. Our goal is for the unmarried to avoid unauthorized copulation and undue stimulation of the reptilian bits of our brain where the completely inarticulate instinct to do so lurks with a single-minded determination to insure the survival its genes. Yet it seems to me that chastity should be a social as well as a simply hygienic exercise.”

    Very well put, thank you.

  2. Cyl
    August 10, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    A second Amen. I joined the Church at 23, after college; I had those “serious relationships” of which you spoke. They started as hookups.

    My first serious boyfriend, the summer between high school and frosh year of college, started as a friendship, followed by dating. That was the sweetest thing. *sigh*

    Even with my husband it was quite that way. He’d been revealed to me, and we were engaged very quickly once his mission was over.

  3. Orson Welles
    August 10, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    There is no doubt that you are correct about the power of vocabulary and custom in the shaping of the public presentation of sexual standards during Austen’s day. We should exercise caution, however, in painting the private sexual morality of the past in rosy tones. Historians have done intesting studies of things like out of wedlock births and found that periods in which public standards were high did not have significantly fewer such births than more openly libertine eras. This is to say nothing of the studies of private sexual behavior in the publicly chaste Victorian era which showed a marked rise in private “deviant” behavior. Not all of these studies are of equal value, of course. In any case, anything that promotes social structures which encourage chastity (like Austen’s work) is fine by me–we just need to acknowledge that she was asserting an ideal, not representing a reality.

  4. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    OW: I am not really trying to make any suggestions about fornication rates now versus in the past, etc. I’ve no doubt that humanity has always been engaged in a healthy amount of premarital sex. My point about Austen’s work is that it suggests that there is more to chastity than the fornication rate.

  5. Orson Welles
    August 10, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    Nate,
    Thanks for the clarification.

  6. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    OW: Mind you, I think that fornication probably is more widely spread today than in the past (or at least certain periods and places of the past), but I think it would be a mistake to imagine the extra-marital sex is some sort of modern aberration that begain ca. 1965.

  7. jimbob
    August 10, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    “[Chastity] is not simply a matter of suppressing certain glandular tendencies but also of providing a social vocabulary in which they are channeled, endowed with meaning, and properly celebrated.”

    I would argue that the general understanding and practice of sex today does no less, but that the channeling is more fluid, the meaning is somewhat less salient, and the definition of proper celebration has become somewhat more vulgar. Am I going too far, then, in interpretting your argument to be that the channels, meaning, and celebration of the past were more effective in bringing out better societal and biological results? If so, isn’t this just a discussion whose preference of proper expression is better?

  8. b bell
    August 10, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    I have read in several articles that somewhere of north of 90% of Americans have engaged in pre-marital sex. Seems on the upswing since the 1960’s. Its now the social norm for young adults to have pre-marital sex. Our LDS young adults who are not sexually active (not sure what the percentage is on those who are Virgins) are quite an exception to the world standards. I will never forget that nobody I worked with would believe that my fiancee and I were not having sex until our wedding night. (how this came up I do not know).

    The world of Jane Austen would be a interesting place with defined dating rules etc. Seems kindler and gentler

  9. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    b bell: I don’t know about Austen as kinder and gentler. There is a genteelly brutal economic realism about Austen’s romances. They do, however, present a world that seems more orderly and where social conventions provide a bit more in the way of resources for gracefully negotiating sexuality.

  10. August 10, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    This seems like a good post to plug the project of a good friend of mine. She started a “Regency Historical Society” in Utah Valley which she describes as “a refined group of ladies and gentlemen who enjoy learning about the unequaled literary works of Jane Austen. We also enjoy learning about her life and times, including learning English Country dancing. We are seeking more members in beautiful Utah Valley who enjoy similar affinities, and who would like to be included in our assemblies or other sundry activities.”

    I have attended one of their meetings where they teach English Country Dancing and it was an absolute blast! They even had a live string quartet to play the music!

    They also learn to design and sew their own beautiful period dress.

    She holds a Regency Dance once or twice a year where everyone is invited to wear their period clothing and dance to authentic, live music.

    Both the dance workshops and the ball are fun activities for married couples, unmarried couples, or singles looking for new friends.

    Anyone close enough to Utah County who would like to participate may contact me for more information and I will help them get in touch with the society.

    jon at millennialstar.org

  11. b bell
    August 10, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Blogging never conveys what you are really trying to say.

    I was referring to Dating seemed kindler and gentler. No hookups, all looking for a marriage as the end result.

    The economic aspect of searching for a spouse though seems a little more pronounced in Austens world. I feel that in the LDS community we marry for love not economics. Most of us are so young that we have no economics. Just a hard slog for a few years. This is also largely true in the broader US culture, most are now marrying for love not money or status. Although $$ can play a role but in a smaller degree.

  12. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    b bell: I suspect that a lot of this has to do with economic change as much as romantic change. In Austen’s England wealth, by and large, was still mainly held in the form of land, most of which was encumbered by legal rules designed to keep it from being subdivided or sold. Remember, one of the main plot devices in Pride & Prejudice is the fact that the Bennett estate is etailed to the male line, which means that by law Mr. Bennett cannot pass on any of his wealth to his children. What this means it that wealth was largely acquired by family connections and was in visible, tangible form.

    By and large, today wealth is created by brain power. Marrying a smart, hard working person is roughly equivalent to marrying someone with a large estate that generates a fixed income: both promise long term prosperity. The difference is that the smart, hardworking brain may well be penniless at the wedding, which creates the illusion that economics no longer matters.

    Of course another difference is that modern society in the west (particularlly in the US) is vastly more wealthy than was the England of Austen’s day.

  13. b bell
    August 10, 2005 at 4:29 pm

    “By and large, today wealth is created by brain power. Marrying a smart, hard working person is roughly equivalent to marrying someone with a large estate that generates a fixed income: both promise long term prosperity. The difference is that the smart, hardworking brain may well be penniless at the wedding, which creates the illusion that economics no longer matters.”

    Nate, I agree with the comment above. This is our version of land holdings. My brothers and I were all broke students when our wives stooped to our level. Now the wives investment in us has paid off economically 10 years later.

    I would like to add that love matters as well. Plus personal revelation What my wife and sister in laws did was date guys with the characteristics above until they fell in love with somebody and got married after personal revelation said it was OK.

  14. Robert Ricks
    August 10, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    “I found myself on a hideously long bus ride from the south-west corner of Turkey up what used to be called the Ionian coast to Istanbul.”

    This is ironic, Nate, because just last weekend I found myself reading Austen on a miserable, all-night bus ride from Istanbul to a town 500 miles away on the Black Sea coast. Before I left I visited a bookstore to pick up some reading for the trip: Austen’s Persuasion and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. This was my second reading of Persuasion, and once again I was astonished at Austen—her effortless exposition, understated wit, gem-like aphorisms, and genuine insights into human character. I absolutely agree with your mother’s judgment about Austen’s genius.

    “although even at the end of the book I couldn’t really figure out what she saw in Mr. Darcy.”

    Darcy can’t match up to Captain Wentworth, of course, but it’s not so hard to see him as a likeable guy, is it? At the end of P&P, in a bit of half-serious banter with her sister Jane, Elizabeth says that she first realized she loved Darcy after she saw his estates at Pemberly. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but money never hurts, does it?

  15. Brian G
    August 10, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    I think that a close reading of Austen’s work that doesn’t force it into a nifty Mormon framework reveals that she was, in fact, quite critical of the social norms and customs of her day. Part of her genius was the subtlety and class with which she critiqued her society, but the criticism is there to be sure.

  16. Kevin Barney
    August 10, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Good on you, Nate. I’m a big Austen fan myself, and I fall in love with all the heroines. (The Utah Valley RHS sounds great; too bad I don’t live there.) I also enjoy some of the filmed versions of her works. I especially love the six-hour BBD production of P&P, and I also like Ang Lee’s S&S. I’m less fond of Gwyneth’s Emma, however.

    Did you read Elder Oaks’ comments on the demise of dating and the rise of “hooking up?” Very interesting stuff.

  17. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    Brian: This is no doubt a valid point. As I said above, there is an economic brutalism about Austen’s work, although we moderns and post-moderns tend to exalt the role of the critic and wish to find critics every where. While I think that you can read Austen as critical of certain aspects of class and economics, I don’t really see her as being critical of social norms and conventions, per se. My point is not to force Austen into some nifty Mormon framework but rather to use Austen to try to reveal something about Mormonism. In other words, Austen is the independent rather than dependent variable in the equation.

  18. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Kevin; The best “Emma” of course is the one portrayed in that cinematic masterpiece, “Clueless.”

  19. Brian G
    August 10, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Understood, Nate, and I think there are definite reasons why the work of Austen is so clearly appealing to Mormons. I am by no means an Austen scholar, but I think modern and post-modern tendencies aside the argument could be made that her criticism of class and economics extends to the social customs which arose out of that same system.

    I guess my point is that much of the reason Austen’s work strikes a chord with Mormons is not only the chaste world of courtship ritual found in her stories, but just as much if not more the pathologies, to use your term, that Austen’s dating culture and our dating culture share.

  20. ed
    August 10, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    Orson says: “Historians have done intesting studies of things like out of wedlock births and found that periods in which public standards were high did not have significantly fewer such births than more openly libertine eras.”

    I wonder what studies you’re referring to? I’m not really an expert, but it is my impression that illegitimacy rates have varied greatly accross times and places. They were much lower in pre-industrial England than in the modern USA and Europe. (On the other hand, pre-wedlock pregnancies were very common.)

    For example, here’s a quote from http://govt.mckenna.edu/welliott/Sexrevns.htm citing Laslett’s work :

    In England around 1600, about 30 percent of births were conceived before marriage, and two or three percent were illegitimate. These fell to 16 percent and one percent, respectively, by 1660, then rose to 37 percent and six percent by 1850 (Laslett, et al., 1980, pp. 16-24).

    It should also be noted that Austen’s England was characterized by relatively late marriage ages, with a substantial minority never marrying at all. Such a system served to keep down population growth in a time of limited resources. That’s quite a difference from modern mormon society!

  21. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Brian G: The joint pathologies thesis is interesting. (BTW, I would never claim to be an Austen scholar — or even a serious Austen reader — so feel free to ignore me.) It seems to me that there are two obvious criticisms to be leveled against the customs that Austen presents. The first is that they rest of static social hierarchies involving the unjust distribution of power and wealth. On this point, I think that Austen is less of a revolutionary than a tragedist (tragedemian? What is the word?) Her books have lots of middle-class heroines who must suffer through the sleights and economic anxieties created by their “station.” She is clearly keenly aware of the vulnerable position of such women and sees it as an injustice. On the other hand, I don’t see her out to pull down the aristocracy (of course she wrote in an England at war with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, so this is hardly the sort of thing that she could have said if she had thought it).

    The second great pathology of the rigid social norms that Austen shows is their very rigidness, and their ability to stiffle sponteneity etc. This, it seems to me, is a criticism that she meets head on and scewers with tremendous wittiness. Austen’s books are filled with those who struggle to find sponteneity amidst the welter of social norms. It seems to me that this is perhaps the central issue, for example, in Sense and Sensibility. It seems to me that what Austen shows, however, is that these eruptions of sponteneity are themselves carefully scripted by social norms and she does a wonderful job of showing the basic absurdity of those who purport to trancend convention in thoroughly conventional ways. It is always her sensible heroines who end up coming across as the most lively and independent minded characters, but they are the characters who have mastered the vocabulary of social convention and are at home within it.

    It seems to me that it is hard to read either of these pathologies as providing parrellels between Austen and the Mormon dating scene. The Mormon pathologies do not, I think, really rrevolve around class and social hierarchies analogous to Regency England. And as I say above, I dont’ think that Austen thinks that conventions are something to be transcended. Of course, Austen’s books are full of gossip, petty slieghts and the the anxiety of the marriage market so in this it seems there are strong parallels. These are certainly the parellels that the makers of the Mollywood version of P&P played off of.

    Perhaps it would be better to say that Austen illustrate in some sense both the social virtues of chastity as well as its vices.

  22. JKS
    August 10, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Robert Ricks,
    I love Persuasion!

    Brian G
    I agree. She is quite cynical and points out the faults in everyone in some way. But she does it in a way that is witty, subtle and also somehow optismistic so it makes a wonderful story.

    b bell
    “all looking for a marriage as the end result. ” Well, not exactly. If Miss Bennett had been farther beneath him, Mr Darcy could have asked her to become his mistress. His problem was that she was a little to lower to be a good match in marriage, but too respectable for anything else.
    The chastity of women of lower social classes was not respected as much as the chastity of the ladies of higher classes.
    The the chastity of men was not viewed as very important at all.

  23. Steve Evans
    August 10, 2005 at 5:31 pm

    I’m sorry, but while Austen has always been one of those authors whose genius I recognize, but whose works I loathe. I find her dreadfully boring, which I know is more of a commentary on my personality, but there it is. I have always found her style to be off-putting and pretentious, perhaps more so than any of her contemporaries.

    With that out of the way: I agree with Nate’s proposition that chastity be reconsidered as a broader notion than simple biological virginity, but I think the Church already emphasizes this as much as it can. Yes, we often get bogged down in dress codes and keeping our feet on the floor at all times, but there is also a strong vein of teaching about worthy thoughts and established dating patterns.

  24. Nate Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Steve: You find Austen more pretentious that Walter Scott or Byron or Shelly?!?!

  25. Adam Greenwood
    August 10, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    “Like most rugged and red-blooded American men I have long enjoyed the work of Jane Austen.”

    Yep. Real men like scathing wit.

    And Country Dances. Morris, Sir Roger de Coverley (?), etc. Blast Utah County, why can’t I live there?

  26. August 10, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Nate, nothing profound to add. Just let me say that I agree with your well-written post.

  27. Adam Greenwood
    August 10, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    “At the end of P&P, in a bit of half-serious banter with her sister Jane, Elizabeth says that she first realized she loved Darcy after she saw his estates at Pemberly. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but money never hurts, does it? ”

    No, no, no, no, no. ‘Money’ is such a crass, modern way of looking at it. Pemberly represented wealth but also beauty and a rooted way of life.

  28. Steve Evans
    August 10, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Nate – yes. I’d pick Ivanhoe, Don Juan and Ozymandias (or Ode to the West Wind) any day over Austen.

  29. Mathew
    August 10, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    I’m with Steve here. In a word–boring. Mark Twain didn’t care for her either:

    “To me [James Fenimore Cooper’s] prose is unreadable – like Jane Austin’s [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

    Letter to W. D. Howells, 1/18/1909

    “Jane Austen’s books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”

    Following the Equator

    “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

    Letter to Joseph Twichell, 9/13/1898

    I have to confess, however, that I find certain movie adaptations of her books enjoyable (leave it to a Taiwanese director to give the proper treatment to Sense and Sensibility (which makes me wonder what went wrong with Hulk?)).

  30. Eric Russell
    August 10, 2005 at 6:14 pm

    Mathew,

    Considering Twain’s comments on The Book of Mormon, I’m not sure how authoritative a source he his. Pretty funny though. My favorite of his comments, on the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses,

    “And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but “hefted” them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”

    I tend to think Twain would have been a viciously snarky blogger.

  31. August 10, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Didn’t Twain say that it was called the “Book of Ether” because it put him to sleep? Yes, he was the original snarker.

  32. D. Fletcher
    August 10, 2005 at 6:19 pm

    The best movie made from Austen is undoubtedly MGM’s 1940 “Pride and Prejudice,” with Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennett, and Laurence Olivier as Fitzwilliam Darcy. The other adaptations are more faithful in detail, but not to the spirit of the book. Try it and see.

  33. Mark
    August 10, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    I think it is interesting, not to mention very, very cool, that elder Holland’s dissertation at Yale is entitled “Soul Butter and Hog Wash: The Religious Sense of Mark Twain”.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might not be the cornerstone of my religion, but it is pretty close.

  34. D. Fletcher
    August 10, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    In Austen’s time, women basically were speculating for husbands — the only way to make a living at the time (for women). Austen herself was quite surprised that her novels were publishable and readable, and profitable.

  35. Brian G
    August 10, 2005 at 6:45 pm

    Sure, crusty cynics like Mark Twain and Steve Evans don’t like Jane Austen, but for those of us who haven’t replaced our souls with snark-a-matics, and who still believe in a thing called love, Jane Austen rules.

  36. JKS
    August 10, 2005 at 7:20 pm

    Boring, huh? Jane Austen’s books take place entirely in the world of women. If something happens outside of their world, we are only given a summary by a male character of what happened.
    I happen to be a woman, who finds my world interesting. Most great literature is boring to me, I think mostly because I am a woman and prefer female characters who I can truly identify with.
    I can identify with Elizabeth. It is hard to be bored with Jane Austen.

  37. Steve Evans
    August 10, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    JKS, it’s interesting that you would suggest that I find Austen boring because she describes a woman’s world. I can think of half a dozen female authors that work with female worlds in ways more interesting to me than Austen. Your assumptions along gender lines are a bit simplistic in this case. In other words: Austen is boring, even for a girl.

  38. August 10, 2005 at 7:31 pm

    You should know, huh Steve. :-p

  39. Steve Evans
    August 10, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    JMW: huh?

  40. August 10, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    Re: “Austen is boring, even for a girl.”

  41. Nathan Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    “It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

    That is a wonderful line. I am going to remember it for Steve Evans’s graveside, provided of course that he does not arrive there via homocide.

  42. gst
    August 10, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    JKS: Interestingly, I don’t enjoy Austen precisely for the reason you do: it takes place entirely in the world of women. I appreciate wit, crafted prose, and a look into that particular society, but novels which revolve around finding husbands don’t hold me. That’s why I prefer “Jane Austen for men”: Patrick O’Brian.

    I’ve said it before on this blog (and others have said it before me): Patrick O’Brian is like reading Jane Austen except that the protagonists’ ultimate goal, rather than finding a husband, is to knock Frenchmen on the head.

    There are still plenty of marrying and social events and vicious snubs and lawsuits and other reversals of social fortunes, but every couple of hundred pages two ships of the line pull alongside and murder the hell out of each other. That’s a great improvement on Austen.

  43. Nathan Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 8:04 pm

    Steve: My increduality comes not from the fact that you would pick them, but that you would find them less pretentious than Austen. Mind you — as ought to be obvious — I have no objection to pretentiousness per se. I just have a hard time buying into the idea that Austen’s fault is pretentiousness.

  44. Brian G
    August 10, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    Re: #21

    Nate, admittedly you do a slam-bang job of setting up two pathologies and quickly knocking them down. I think a broader more thorough analysis reveals a lot more analogies between courtship in Austen’s England and contemporary Mormon courtship. You give brief lip service to three things focused on in the Mormon version of P&P: petty sleights, gossip, and the anxiety of the marriage market. In my way of thinking the very fact that a Mormon version of Pride & Prejudice was even financed and produced speaks to the fact that the parallels are considerable in number.

    A case could be made for many, but maybe not all, of the following parallels between courtship in Austen’s world and ours:

    1) Women are expected to marry and in many ways that is the only acceptable option.
    2) Men are evaluated on the basis of their wealth or ability to provide wealth.
    3) Women are encouraged to develop talents, but not necessarily careers.
    4) Women are expected to be passive and feminine, but simultaneously active in indirectly pursuing a spouse.
    5) Men who are unskilled at picking up signals of interest from women are at a distinct disadvantage.
    6) Much of the courting involves not only social interaction between the two prospective marriage partners, but also their respective families.
    7) Marriage is considered the most important event in an individual’s live.
    8) It’s a middle-class setting. (Obviously, outside of the U.S. Mormonism is not quite so entrenched in the middle-class).
    9) There’s a world of difference between someone worth dating and someone worth marrying.
    10) Relatively small gestures of affection, or the lack thereof, are given great significance.
    11) A premium is put on chastity and/or the appearance of chastity.
    12) Women (and men although I believe less so) frequently suffer from feelings of powerlessness during the courtship process.

    I think there’s probably more. In any case, the parallels are there I believe, and so are the pathologies. I feel like since you and I are both Mormon men, we’re probably less sensitive to the both the pathologies in Austen’s world and our own, but as your post pointed out men face their own pathologies in both worlds as well.

  45. Nathan Oman
    August 10, 2005 at 8:21 pm

    Brian: That is a great list. I identify especially strongly with #5 (source of most of my dating scars). There is no doubt a lot of truth to your gendering of the discussion, but I rather suspect that I would be socially clueless and insensitive regardless of my gender.

  46. Steve Evans
    August 10, 2005 at 8:57 pm

    Nate, we’re admittedly dealing with preferences and matters of taste rather than absolutes. I have no beef with those who like Austen – so long as they keep it to themselves. It’s just not my bag, baby.

  47. Jack
    August 10, 2005 at 9:15 pm

    Who cares if Austen’s work revolves around the woman’s or the man’s world? So what? If it’s good it’s good. I, for one, am impressed by her ability to understand the internal workings of men. IMO she has the ability to deeply intuit what’s going on in their hearts as well as their minds. I must say that one of the gripes of have with feminist influence in the arts is that it can have the effect of cordening off the genders from one another. In otherwords, there’s a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) an implication floating around that women no longer have anything to gain from works that revolve around men–and likewise men from women. I can’t imagine reading the scriptures with that kind of distinction in mind. They simply would not make sense (to me anyway) without a cross-gender application. Artists like Jane Austen help us to remember that–in the vast scheme of things–the genders are really far more similar than dissimilar.

  48. D. Fletcher
    August 10, 2005 at 9:20 pm

    Here’s a little exchange we had on my board last year, about certain kinds of stories.

    http://p069.ezboard.com/fsondheimandusfrm10.showMessage?topicID=129.topic

  49. August 10, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    in comment #30 Eric Russell wrote: I tend to think Twain would have been a viciously snarky blogger.

    Just days ago I read an interesting post that speculated the same thing. I am starting to see Mark Twain quotes about Mormons that I hadn’t heard of before. This post includes a rather interesting “bogus quotation” that Twain invented and attributed to Brigham Young.

  50. Elisabeth
    August 10, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Jane Austen’s writing genius and social commentary aside, at least her male characters knew how to dance properly. And they probably didn’t leave their dirty dishes and socks lying around the house either.

  51. August 10, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    Darcy may have known how to dance, but according to the new movie, he certainly didn’t like to. Good man, that Darcy.

  52. gst
    August 10, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    Jack (#47), I’ll tell you who cares whether Austen’s work revolves around the woman’s or man’s world: a reader who, when selecting a novel, cares whether it is set in the salon or on the quarterdeck! All else equal, doesn’t one attract you more than the other?

    It brings to mind what was once said of Captain Slocum’s fine memoir of his solo circumnavigation: “Boys who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once.”

    And lest I be accused of being a he-man woman-hater, I will state for the record that my all-time favorite TV show is Mary Tyler Moore.

    Nate, all: sorry for straying off-topic.

  53. Jack
    August 11, 2005 at 12:02 am

    “…doesn’t one attract you more than the other?”

    Yes, I suppose so–all things being equal. However, I’m not going to get “Jane Austen” by reading another author. So, I doubt that all things can ever really be equal–though your point is well taken about the quarterdeck.

  54. El Jefe
    August 11, 2005 at 12:57 am

    Of course, one of the things about Jane Austen is that she shows how “convention” ruled the way people behaved. In our day, we have flung aside any notion that convention, or manners or anything other than the law, should limit our behavior. There is much we have gained by that liberation, and much we have lost. If the law is the only thing that limits how we behave, then I believe our society is the poorer.

  55. El Jefe
    August 11, 2005 at 12:58 am

    BTW, Patrick O’Brien is all right. But C.S.Forester did it first, and did it better.

  56. Nate Oman
    August 11, 2005 at 9:39 am

    It looks as though there is a new movie version of P&P coming out. Kiera Knightly will be Elizabeth Bennett (shivers of horror)…

    Here is the movie homepage with trailer.

  57. August 11, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    I have no doubt that had Jane Austen lived after Mark Twain, instead of the other way around, she would have been able to make devastatingly funny criticisms of his work.

    I’ve read several Jane Austen novels twice within the past few years. I haven’t read a Mark Twain novel since high school.

  58. Nate Oman
    August 11, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    Oops. I just noticed that Eric James Stone already linked to the forth coming movie. The trailer describes Elizabeth Bennett as a “modern women” in Regency England and says that she was “ahead of her time.” This does not sound promising…

    The Elizabeth Bennett that I know and love is a thoroughly 19th and 18th century woman. It will be a horrible waste if she is turned into a 21st century pop-feminist in petticoats. Ick!

  59. August 11, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    > I just noticed that Eric James Stone already linked to the forth coming movie.

    ‘Twas not I. ‘Twas Eric Russell.

  60. Kaimi
    August 11, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    My goodness, Nate, what do you have against poor Keira? I thought that she displayed an admirable range of acting ability when she was walking the plank in Pirates. Fear, tension, betrayal, balance, plus she knows how to swim. What more could one ask for? The Katharine Hepburn of our time. Or something like that.

  61. August 11, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    It’s a good thing Keira’s not starring in Emma, because having to portray a character falling in love with a Mr. Knightley might have given her a complex.

  62. RoAnn
    August 11, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    Re Elizabeth #50: “. . . at least her male characters knew how to dance properly. And they probably didn’t leave their dirty dishes and socks lying around the house either. ”
    Hmm, I think that both male and female characters in Jane Austen’s novels left dirty dishes and socks lying around the house, because it was the job of the household help to pick up after them. That’s why they all had time to learn to dance properly.

  63. gst
    August 11, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    El Jefe, I can’t let your Forester assertion stand unchallenged. The Hornblower stories are capable entertainments for adolescents but little more. The miniseries that ran on A&E had far more sophistication, depth, and nuanced characterization than did any of the Forester books. I think many people enjoyed that series and turned to the books to find them seriously wanting. They should go to O’Brian.

    I think it’s interesting that O’Brian was specifically commissioned by a publisher to write a “Hornblower-type” series, and then proceeded to blow Hornblower out of the water. Take note, Nate: commerce and art, serving each other.

  64. gst
    August 11, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    Though I gladly recognize that Forester’s nonfiction “The Age of Fighting Sail” is a fine book.

  65. diogenes
    August 11, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    The Katharine Hepburn of our time. . .

    Hm, yes, well:

    “She runs the gamut of emotions all the way from A to B.”

    — Dorothy Parker, reviewing Hepburn’s performance in The Lake, 1933

  66. gst
    August 11, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    Diogenes, I concur. The woman who played Hepburn in the Aviator was more compelling than Hepburn ever was (in anything I’ve seen anyway).

  67. Nate Oman
    August 11, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    gst: See “A Lion in Winter” Katherine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, and a young Anthony Hopkins.

  68. JKS
    August 11, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    “She runs the gamut of emotions all the way from A to B.”

    LOL. I love that!!!!

  69. JKS
    August 11, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    I am excited to see the new P&P, but nothing can ever live up to the 5 hour long version A&E did. A 2 hour movie has to cut out so much of the story.

  70. Brian G
    August 11, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Okay, you guys slamming Katherine Hepburn don’t know jack and obviously either haven’t seen a lot of her films or can’t recognize good acting when you see it. Sad, really. She won 4 Oscars and was nominated 12 times, which is still a record I believe. BRINGING UP BABY, PHILADELPHIA STORY, ON GOLDEN POND, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. Any of her collaborations with Spencer Tracey. Sheesh. You’re all driving me nuts.

    Cate Blanchett is the name of the actress who played Hepburn in The Aviator, by the way.

  71. gst
    August 11, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    This Blanchett lady, does she ever win awards? She should.

  72. August 11, 2005 at 11:07 pm

    gst-

    This Blanchett lady, yeah, she gets some awards sometimes. Small ones, you know, like, an Oscar. Apparantly other people found her quite compelling as Kate Hepburn as well.

  73. August 11, 2005 at 11:07 pm

    gst-

    This Blanchett lady, yeah, she gets some awards sometimes. Small ones, you know, like, an Oscar. Apparantly other people found her quite compelling as Kate Hepburn as well.

  74. gst
    August 11, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Then my faith in movie awards is restored!

  75. Jack
    August 12, 2005 at 1:03 am

    I’m with Brian G.

    Katherine Hepburn is definitely one of the all-time greats.

  76. Soyde River
    August 12, 2005 at 2:05 am

    gst–You know not whereof you speak. C.S. Forester was a more accomplished writer than O’Brian, and in Horatio Hornblower he created a complex leader who has been the inspiration to many writers (including Gene Roddenberry, who used him as part of the inspiration for the original Star Trek series). The good parts of Captain Kirk were modeled upon Hornblower (concern for his crew above all, willingness to risk his own life, presenting a confident and courageous front regardless of his inner doubts, willingness to take risks rather than play it “by the book”, etc.). The bad parts of Kirk were all William Shatner, overacting as usual.

    On the other hand, under the Platonic view of criticism that an author’s works cannot be separated from his own life, stands O’Brian’s despicable abandonment of his wife and child crippled by spina bifida.

  77. Keith
    August 12, 2005 at 4:39 am

    I like Austen. The Video Series on Pride and Prejudice is superb. My Honors Intensive writing course read her Persuasion. That said, Twain’s comment on Austen was that he couldn’t read her on salary and it was a pity she died a natural death.

    Nate, a good philosophical/theological treatment on chastity is by the Catholic thinker Josef Pieper in Four Cardinal Virtues (under the chapters on Temperance). I can already hear the rush to Amazon.

  78. texasviolinist
    August 15, 2005 at 11:55 am

    There is a high degree of respect for social conventions as well as a degree of forgiveness that I find very appealling. Wickham seduces Elizabeth’s sister and is very dishonorable; however, Darcy redeems the girl from the abject poverty that is inevitable fro her “indiscretion”. One could argue that it is self-serving but Elizabeth has already rejected his proposal.

    I for one am tired of parent’s who justify their children’s sins. I all too frequently hear them say that there children are where they need to be and are learning from their experiences yada yada yada. Love the sinner we must but tolerate the sin never. Hurray for Jane Austen and conventional morality.

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