Jane Austen was a Bastard

Posted on March 20, 2016 by Richard Goulter
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Jane Austen strikes me as quite the bastard, from the stories she tells.
I mean that in an appreciative way.

And I think the adaptations I’ve seen of Jane Austen’s work are happy, & don’t tend to show so much of an angry, bitter side to them.

Pride and Prejudice

Take Caroline Bingley, for example:
She’s (maybe) the girl Darcy would’ve ended up with if not for Elizabeth coming onto the scene.
There’s this one sentence, as Caroline is goading Darcy at Pemberly: “Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.”. – While Caroline is in many ways unpleasant and unsympathetic, this one sentence show’s the author has a very strong empathy for her. – & I think in these modern adaptations, which aren’t angry or bitter, the same intimate sense of empathy is lost.
I think her disingenuous, arrogant and manipulative nature make her less endearing to the reader; the heart doesn’t bleed for her as an “unrequited lover”.

– “Austen has empathetic understanding of an unsympathetic character. Surely that means she’s not a bastard?”.
Kindof. It shows Austen’s capable of such portrayals; and she’s got a sharp mind.
This sharp mind isn’t so generous to other characters:

I’m grateful to Lizzie Bennett Diaries for going out of its way to highlight the very-famous opening line of Pride & Prejudice. The sentence nod’s to Austen’s sarcasm; but it’s kindof hard to tell what exactly the sarcasm is targeting.
(I recently came across the term “ha ha only serious”. I think Austen’s scathing wit is an example of this).

For a story which features rich & titled marrying lower-class, Charlotte’s solution is awfully bitter. (That her best shot is marrying a man she doesn’t know; the less she knows the better!).

The Bennett’s are a complete mess.
And one might lazily say P&P involves “first impressions aren’t always correct” (e.g. Darcy seems a twit, but is noble; Wickham seems charming, but is an asshole), many characters are never shown to improve.
Mrs Bennett is a complete fool. That’s not a hard point to argue.
Mr Bennett comes up short here, too, which gets a bit interesting: ostensibly, Mr Bennett is “sensible”, and Lizzie and Jane get their sense from him; that the family can’t provide for themselves is ‘blamed’ on hoping for a boy. – See, while it’s clear Mrs Bennett is a poor matriarch, Mr Bennett is uninterested in crafting sense into his daughters, not interested in managing the household; he’s hardly a great father.

But in terms of “Jane Austen is a bastard”, Lydia is a character who gets cut out these days:
– While in many ways, P&P can be considered ‘feminist’: the conflict of having no male heir, Charlotte’s jaded cynicism of marriage; Elizabeth’s strong independence & intelligence, her exertion of choice as to who she wants to marry (even refusing the rich, well-titled individual!)..
Lydia’s character very much is not ‘feminist approved’.
It’s not so much that Lydia eloped with a man outside marriage. – Her unrepentant, unaware self-indulgence are every bit as much condemned by Austen as Mr Collins’ obscene flattery, or Lady de Bourgh’s patronising.
– I don’t see that Austen would fix that these days: girls shouldn’t be like Lydia; girls are made to be greater than that. – Boys shouldn’t be like Wickam; boys are made to be greater than that.

Or, simply put, Lydia is a stupid slut. And authors these days, (especially Good Feminist ones) don’t write characters like that.

I came across a post the other day where some people said “hey, y’know what, I don’t see what’s so great about Darcy.”.
I like this. Let me never argue that anyone must love Darcy as a character.
But I think it fits my point: if Austen isn’t the ‘nicest’ of people, Darcy is more of an ‘acquired taste’ than prince-charming on the white-horse.
– It seems more honest for women to admit that the shy-introvert male isn’t their favourite of heroes, y’see.

But for me, I adore the first proposal scene between Darcy and Elisabeth.
It’s so, so good. – Darcy confesses, “most ardently”; yet, steps on Elisabeth’s pride as he does this. As the conflict escalates, Elisabeth hits back every bit as hard as she gets.
It hurts. It’s honest and brutal between them.
Austen’s written Darcy to be a total prick to this point. And Elisabeth, though brilliant, has been blind to the merits of Darcy’s perspective. – So after the fight, Darcy aims to be more gentlemanly; Elisabeth feels the shame of supporting Wickham, etc. – They each improve, thanks to each other.


Whenever I mention “Emma”, the usual response is “oh, I hated Emma.”.
(If you don’t hate the first 5s of the 1st episode of Emma Approved, you mightn’t understand – I can’t tell if that’s a win for Joanna Sotomura or not).
I dunno about that. Emma is my favourite female character ever: she’s a top-notch, top-class character … misapplied, not living up to her potential; realises her own faults, and improves on these.

– “Clueless” as an adaptation does this amazingly.

It seems to me Austen strongly dislikes the pretty-boys. They turn out to be cads.
Emma is the same character, but well-situated. She gets by, without needing to apply herself. The world is handed to her on a platter.
– I think that’s “ha ha only serious” in the same kind of way as other Austen things: that the setting has a beautiful woman treated specially, it’s hard to tell who the target of the sarcasm is. – But there’s the scathing cry: demand people apply themselves. Of Emma, that she was made to be greater.

– Fortunately, since Emma’s clueless-ness is embedded in the plot, so adaptations kinda-have-to include that bastard-ness.

“Ha Ha Only Serious”?

There’s kindof an important element to Austen’s scathing wit, here:

She’s more ready to criticise and lambaste characters (albeit human characters) than she is to praise. – Yet, the “hard to tell what her sarcasm is about” is apparently an important part of this. It’s not that Austen doesn’t have ‘nice’ things to say. She rewards the characters who are humble, self-aware and self-improving.

But some of the very recent adaptations of Austen’s work decide to add a little flavour of their own to things. Adding positive characters in support of some ideology. – Such an attitude is more likely to be a character Austen mocks as excessive than a character rewarded for modesty.
– In “Emma Approved”, the Frank-and-Fairfax sidestory resolves with the compromise wherein the man changes everything about himself to get the girl. Sure. What was amusing was the split reaction to Jane’s overbearing-righteousness towards Frank; some seeing it as perfectly reasonable that she would, with great fickleness, switch between adoration and getting angry/upset with him for having a job she didn’t like. – In any case, in “Emma Approved”, the author gives Jane’s ideology a blessing; not very Austen-like of the story to do that.

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