There's just no escaping her conservatism. You can probably avoid it in P&P and S&S -- or maybe I just haven't read them in a while. But it's unavoidable in Emma. Everyone must stay in the socioeconomic sphere to which they were destined by birth, or bad things happen. It's so hard to reconcile such odious politics with my passion for the books. Particularly when the central focus of every book is the very sort of paternalistic love story that grinds my gizzard the most. All of Austen's heroines marry father figures who mold and teach them how to be a better woman. Emma's intended, who is 16 years her senior, tells her he fell in love with her when she was 13! Sweet Jesus. Her heroines are strong, assertive women, there is no doubt about that. But all that is cured by falling in love. It's exasperating to confront this sort of thing in a writer I adore. And it worries me: here I've been reading these books from an impressionable age, no doubt forming many of my ideas about love and romance on them. What insidious inflence might they have had on me?
When I was about 10 or so I was reading a collection of feminist fairy tales -- Don't Bet on the Prince, edited by Jack Zipes -- while at tennis camp and one of the camp counselors, a woman in her twenties I'd guess, asked me, with obvious horror, whether my mother knew I was reading that book. She gave it to me, I answered, extremely puzzled. I'm still puzzled by it, although I also now find it extemely amusing. What on earth did she find so shocking? Would she have been similarly disturbed had I been reading a collection of traditional fairy tales, in all their violent misogynism?
I tell this story here because it occurs to me that Austen's nefarious influences probably had some counterbalance in my reading habits. Now I just have to wonder whether I should feel dirty about the pleasure I still get from her books -- which, to be honest, has as much to do with her exquisitely crafted plots, in all their matrimonial obsession, as it does with her wickedly sparkling prose.
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum is the author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Madeleine is Sleeping, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Georgia Review, and The Best American Short Stories 2004.
And yet ... Sarah Who? How thrilled would I be to get a story published, to finish a novel , to publish a novel, to have it nominated for an award, to have it be finalist for an award ... and then what? Then it's just a line in your bio and you have to get back on the horse because you haven't "made it" yet. It's ... daunting.
I can't remember where I read or heard this recently, which is driving me nuts, but it was an offhand sort of comment by an established author about how in writing workshops one is always exhorted to show rather than tell. It made me wonder whether my legal training has ruined me for writing fiction. I've spent a number of years honing my ability to get straight to the point. On the other hand, it occurs to me as I'm writing this, I've also learned to support every sentence with a citation to factual evidence or legal authority. I sometimes think of footnotes as the nails from which I hang my sentences and thereby construct an argument. Isn't that showing, rather than telling?
I recently put a statcounter on this blog (and got rid of my google ads, which were only there because they gave me a hit count) that allows me to see how people got here. Apparently using Shakespeare quotes as titles for every blog post is a good way to increase hits, because I get a lot of people linking from google searches for the language I nick from old Bill. But none of those people ever stick around to read my other posts, which is clearly their loss. Off hunting after more Shakespeare, no doubt. Fools!
We saw Noel Coward's Private Lives on Friday. Altough it was a very light comedy, there were a couple exchanges in it that touched on some very deep stuff, like the inherent loneliness of the human condition. I tried to find one of the lines for a dogeared but Google Books failed me. Damned intellectual property laws. Anyway it struck me as very interesting that there were those few little nuggets in a play that was mostly highly entertaining nonsense.
I went to my first bar mitzvah on Saturday and was struck by how meaningful the ceremony was. It seemed much more meaningful than Catholic Confirmation, and I thought in large part because the focus was on just the one kid, rather than a whole class together. He had to lead the congregation -- he was given the responsibility of adulthood. That strikes me as much more effective than anything I went through for Confirmation. The flip side, of course, is that I'm pretty sure the party cost more than my wedding, all in honor of a 13-year-old. I think the message that sends might cancel out the ceremony.
Old like her father was old, a shaggy shambling old, an old where you'd lost the order of things and felt so sad that you simply had to embrace the loss, reassuring yourself with the lie that you hadn't really wanted all that order to begin with.
(What is dogeared?)
So I treated myself to a nice long bath with a book and a glass of wine last night, but I neglected to keep a close enough eye on the tub when it was filling and it ended up being not as hot as I would have liked. Especially after I lingered in there with my book and wine as it it cooled. I gambled on having waited long enough that the hot water might have replenished, but I ended up making it worse by running cold water for a minute in the hope that it would heat up.
So I took a page from Little House on the Prairie and called out to my husband to boil me some hot water. Back and forth he went with three large potfuls and a kettle of hot water, and it still wasn't hot enough for me. (Is my husband not the greatest?)
When I was about 10 I desperately wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I think it's safe to say I'm no frontier girl.
I once asked Ray if Episcopals had Lent. Why yes, he said. So I asked if he'd ever given up sweets for Lent. Why no, he said, he'd never given up anything. How could anyone live without abstinence? That was my question.
The Church had some odd answers. My aunt, who was a Sister of Mercy, knew them all. She told me if I married a Protestant, I'd be excommunicated and go to hell. If I married Ray, she said she'd pray every night he'd die before me. That way, the marriage would be over, and I could go to heaven. But how could it be heaven without Ray? I asked. Charlotte, you can't change Paradise to please yourself, she said. What I wanted wasn't part of the picture. It was easier to think of what I didn't want.
Belzner wrote about these things in the most vivid detail. He achieved realism, I remember my grandfather saying rather cryptically, with none of its accompanying vulgarity.