For the Men: Appreciate Austen in your Quest for Fair Lady

The other evening I was conversing with ConvertKat at a social event. Topics naturally changing, it turned to literature, and – to my somewhat surprise – switching from his own conversation to ours was SearchingGuy. SearchingGuy and I are not friends, in fact I barely know him, except from a couple conversations during Sunday Coffee hour. SearchingGuy somewhat interjected and asked abruptly what literature I read. When I replied “classics, mostly”, CatechumanGuy joined the conversation as well. We talked on for a few minutes, and in a natural conversation pause, they both turned to me and pointedly asked “but really, what do you read?” I replied again, “mostly classics, Thomas Hardy at the moment.” SearchingGuy responded with an “ugh, that means you read Jane Austen” and CatechumanGuy chuckled with an affirmative comment I don’t remember. “Whoa! Do I hear tones of condescension?” I asked, in a somewhat louder and probably unintentionally disgusted sounding tone.

I have zero to no respect for men (particularly catholic men) who condescend and belittle females who read Jane Austen novels, and here’s why:

Austen’s work is such a clever and vibrant study of human nature & interpersonal relationships. Not only is her writing witty, but her ability to understand such a variety of characters and personalities is vastly under-rated. Unfortunately her work is painted as the romantic’s fantasy, which is such an injustice. Condescender’s (who have evidently not read her) often think Austen’s work is filled with “ideal men”, and if you read her, your head becomes filled with a type of perfect man that doesn’t exist (which, I gather, frustrates these catholic men because they feel this now excludes them from achieving respect and admiration in catholic women’s eyes).

But upon actually reading Austen’s books, one learns how imperfect her male characters (all her characters for that matter) are. Here is a brief outline of “perfect” male characters our Condescender’s hate on:

  1. Edward Ferrars: unintentionally plays with Elinor’s heart when he falls in love with her but is committed to another. After fostering a friendship which is obviously a bit more, he withdraws and isn’t heard from for quite some time. If it was a modern tale, he’d be a jerk-face at first glance. But then we learn the reasoning behind his behaviour, and suddenly there is an outpouring of respect for him. Do men not identify with this? For whatever reason, their actions are misunderstood, but when it comes to light, they are suddenly admired for those same actions?
  2. Captain Wentworth: after the heroine breaks his heart (eight years before the story begins) he does all he can to move on. Yet he comes back once circumstances change, and, despite still being deeply in love with her, he flirts away with her cousins, trying to both forget her, and pain her in the process. So he’s definitely not perfect, since if he were, his un-dying love would have brought him straight to her feet and begged for her love. But no, he doesn’t do that, because he has pride. Contrary to popular belief, we female readers admire men with healthy pride and self-respect. It’s the vengeance on Anne’s emotions that brings Wentworth lower.
  3. Fitzwilliam Darcy: could there be a more pompous character? Ok, granted, he wasn’t actually that pompous, it was partly a misinterpretation on Lizzie’s part and some mis-communications on both ends. Doesn’t this also happen to modern men? A girl they like perceives them incorrectly and so the story goes… Darcy & Lizzie knowing each other changes both of their characters for the better. But not without some major misunderstandings and verbal disagreements which included both parties expressing their dislikes of the other. This is  pretty standard mis-understanding etc. between men and women that Austen deals with in these two characters. Darcy is a pretty normal guy , striving for virtue, excelling in some, but falling short in others, just like every other catholic guy. Darcy & Lizzie’s relationship is an excellent example of working through mis-understandings & communications, bringing both parties closer & strengthening the bond between them. Contrary to the popular belief of this being a “perfect love story”, what we catholic females actually like about this story is the work put into this relationship on both ends, which blooms into a beautiful romance.
  4. Frank Churchill: Oh Frank. Such a fun, charming guy, who likes to hangout with friends and socialize. But on the flip-side, he gets jealous, and harsh flirts with another girl all the time, just to..what exactly..prove a point? I’m not even sure. He was just being an emotional fool. Something men and women alike fall into.
  5. George Knightly: We’ll just move on from here, since there’s literally nothing wrong with Mr.Knightly. At all. Ever. He is definitely Austen’s perfect man – albeit in a very human way. He reprimands Emma (in all charity) for her mistakes, expects more of her then her laziness sometimes allows, goes the extra length for other’s, not just those he is closest to. He gets irritated, even angry. He strives for self-discipline, and never takes advantage of others, or assumes anything. He’s imperfect in a perfect way. He is forever encouraging Emma in virtue, through friendship and fraternal love, which eventually becomes romantic love. She gets haughty with him at times, but because of his genuine care, character, and the belief that he only ever tries to do that which is good, she always accepts her mistakes, and tries harder the next time. And in turn, her feminine – though imperfect – nature encourages Knightly to be a better example, to be the best man in every situation, and always in genuine humility.

Of course these are all rather watered-down accounts of the various male characters shown such contemption by our jolly Condescender’s. It seems fitting to explain characters in simple ways to people whose simplistic attitude leads them to believe they know what they’re talking about despite never having read a single page of Austen. This sums it up rather quickly. There isn’t a single character in all of Austen’s work who is literally perfect. Her works aren’t about the “perfect romance” like some harlequin romance dubbed a “New York Times Bestseller”, or the latest of Nicholas Spark’s line of cookie-cutter “love” stories. Au contraire, Austen is a true love author. Her works deal with the true and good meaning of love and relationships, be they friends, family, or lovers. None of her heroine’s are perfect, they all have their strengths and weaknesses alike. The same goes for her heroes. Each story is an intricate web of characters, class, life styles, emotions, practicalities, attraction, virtue, vice, and everything else innately human.

(As a side note, I will also point out that Austen’s heroine’s have definitive characters. They have looks, a style of dress, natural virtues & vice, emotions, thoughts, sweet tongues or sassy tongues, every aspect of personality that makes a person individual and unique. Unlike many modern “heroines” who are intentionally written in a vague way, so as to allow any and every woman who reads said book insert herself into said character’s position, and “identify” with the character. I would think this would be appreciated by men, since they complain of this trait in modern stories.)

Appreciating such an authoress and the works she has written that provide momentous opportunity for contemplation, understanding and enlightenment on the subject of human relationships, shows a side of character that women find attractive. A man who shows the ability – or even the attempt – to understand and appreciate (and perhaps even learn to communicate a bit better) through a means that contains such insight into a vital part of the inherent nature of woman, shows himself to be a man who strives to go beyond himself, one who reaches past his own nature so as to form better bonds with one who is the opposite of his own, i.e. woman. I don’t believe men feel the same need to be understood by women, which is simply just a difference in our nature. But I know, personally, I have appreciated Austen’s insight into the male species as well. We won’t understand everything about each other, but the point is to understand what you can, so as to strengthen your relationships and grow in love.

By nature, women are more emotional creatures then men. We form bonds by sharing emotionally with one another, by conversation and a glimpse into one another’s hearts. This is what encourages and forms friendships and love between two people, be they men or women. Yes it comes more naturally to women (it’s a woman’s natural tendency towards nurturing & community, after all). And I’m not of the belief that men must always be in tune with women on a level contrary to their natural instincts. We are different creatures, God made us thus. But are men and women not called to form solid, healthy relationships, where both parties strive to understand and communicate effectively, with empathy and love? My point is that in the attempt at getting to know, appreciate, and have good relationships with women, catholic men would do well to give Austen a chance, and find out what it really is about her books that catholic women enjoy so much. Particularly if said men hope to find the right catholic woman someday. And maybe – just maybe – you’ll end up enjoying Austen’s books, and appreciating her insightful logic and reflections of the opposite sex.

 

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And now for a meme that I hope makes you laugh as much as it made me laugh…note to men: avoid being a Mr.Collins at all possible costs. 

Be Happy in Hope, and Let the Sun Shine Through You

“And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope which, though perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes will. Thus they were all cheerful, and many of them merry.” – Phase the First – The Maiden, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy

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Let the sun shine through you (photo taken while out for a walk at a near by Canadian Lake)

To put this treasure of a snippet into context, the narrator is speaking about village country girls, sometime in the later half of nineteenth century England, as they dance in a May Day celebration. But as I read this, I thought how fitting it is for young Catholic women. We should all be warmed by some hope, rooted deep within us, that sprouts itself so high it’s peeping out through our faces, where everyone will see it. The specifics need not be known by others. But a dream, a hope, a love should be so firmly rooted in us that it’s as constant and immovable as the sun itself, and warms our whole being so that those whose paths we cross are warmed by the sun within us.

Sometimes it can be tough to hold on to hope in a dream we’ve been holding onto for a long time. But hoping when everything seems hopeless, is what it’s all about. That’s what hope really is. Hope doesn’t die when the road ahead seems too vast or treacherous. On the contrary, this should invigorate us to hold on and persevere with renewed strength, knowing that at some point the road eases, or we’ll finally hit the luscious valley. The key to hope is seeing the end in your mind’s eye, and keep walking to it no matter the ruts, dips and hills that we have to trudge through to get to it.

Sometimes it feels like it’s time to let go of one dream, and find a new one. And sometimes this is the right thing to do, depending on the dream or hope – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes our lives take a turn we didn’t see coming, and it changes the course of our path entirely, perhaps even away from the initial dream we had. It’s okay to let go of one dream, and pick up another. If a dream really has no chance of coming true, is it a good dream to have? Probably not. Real hope means there is a legitimate chance your dream can come true. To hold onto something that has no probable, possible chance of coming true, is not a dream that will foster healthy hope. If a dream will not foster true hope, it will be detrimental to the soul, since hope is a fundamental piece of the soul. If you’re not going up the hill, you’re rolling backwards. If there is no reasonable hope that a dream can come true if you persevere in prayer and action, it should probably be let go of, because it’s unhealthy to live in an irrational dreamland. But don’t mistake this with persevering in your hope or dream that seems like it won’t ever come true. Use the seemingly endless times, the strenuous times, the times when no matter how much you give it feels like you’ll never see your dream fulfilled, to strengthen your spirit, strengthen your resolve, and grow in love for Our Lord.

That hope or dream within you is the warmth carried through your being, that will draw others to you. Let it bring a smile to your face, let it keep you a merry and happy woman, even during the vast and treacherous times. As Catholic young women striving to be valiant, we should always be striving to bring others closer to Our Lord through our lives. And how better to bring others to him then through our own love, hope, dream, secret sunshine that we can use to show others His Love. Let the joy you find within your own hopes, dreams and desires, be magnified by His Love and shine right through you for others to see, always reflecting Our Lord’s Love.

 

2017 Book 7: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

 

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Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited is a narrative story told from the perspective of one Charles Ryder, an agnostic young man who becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte, a cradle Catholic who struggles with his faith. Charles is quite taken with the members and dynamics of the Flyte Family, (a family of Catholic’s living in 1920s Protestant England) and each of them have their own particular relationship with him. A family torn between a pious mother and a rogue father, each of the four siblings has his/her own struggles. Two are committed Catholics. Two are confused, lost, and somewhat repelled by their faith. Charles witnesses the lives of these different characters as they live out the consequences of their decisions, some outwardly suffering but inwardly excelling in virtue and holiness, others materially excelling but inwardly suffering as they ignore and have anger towards their faith.

Charles himself develops an animosity towards the Catholic faith through the years of knowing the Flyte family. But during WWII, he is brought back to the family estate and as he reflects on his life’s entwinement with this family, he slowly realizes the purpose, the point, the whole mystery of the Catholic faith.

This whole story was a very real example of family circumstances regarding the faith. The mother, a cradle catholic, is a pious soul, whose intuition and ability to communicate do her service in managing and dealing with those she loves. The father, a lapsed convert, is living abroad with his mistress and holds hostile resentment towards his wife. The eldest son is a committed catholic, and goes about his staunch but slightly odd way, never outwardly reprimanding his lapsed siblings but calling things as they are, and not pretending they are otherwise. The elder sister defies her mother and religion by marrying a protestant for his social position, leading her down a path of hardship and saddness. Sebastian feels he can never quite aspire to be the good man he should be, always having an under-lying suspicion that he is too much like his father, and falls into a habit of drunkenness at a young age. The youngest daughter is a pious thing, and although she does not live the life she thought she would, she grows in piety and holiness the older she gets.

Waugh writes about living the catholic faith with such reality. The temptations and struggles each character deals with are very apparent in our day-and-age. The father’s decisions and life choices also affect the children and the struggles they have later in life. This is something I often ponder – generational sin and how our spiritual lives will affect the spiritual lives of those who come after us, just as our spiritual lives are affected by our ancestors. (Generational sin – there are excellent sermon’s online about it). Just as the mother’s piety affects those of her children who are inclined towards that, so the father’s various sins affect those of his children also inclined to those particular sins. It’s a complex thing, but at the same time, simple. The father’s virtue and vice affects his children. The mother’s virtue and vice affects her children. And each child will be affected by it differently, therefore living very different lives, each with his own struggles and successes.

Charles doesn’t quite understand many things within the household, of the dynamics and relationships between various members of the family. But, despite the unsettling feeling the wayward children have towards their mother and more pious siblings, there is still an under-lying understanding of their family and faith. Sebastian comments to Charles a few times that he “just can’t understand” because Charles is not a catholic. Speaking as a cradle catholic, this is more often then not, quite true. Sometimes I find myself in conversations with others who simply can’t grasp what I mean. And it comes down to faith. It’s not something you can explain to another person, particularly if they aren’t wanting or willing to understand. Faith is also a gift, and not everyone has been given it – although all they need do is ask for it.

The “wayward” children know the choices they should make, even if they can’t put a concrete reason as to exactly why. Also what struck me was the emotional outrage stirred up in one character during a particular scene, when her older brother spoke simply and openly about her choice to live in mortal sin. The brother wasn’t unkind or accusatory at all in his speech, but speaking openly and truthfully about her actions ultimately brought her guilt to the forefront. This is too true a scenario. When one runs one’s life catering to the passions, it is naturally the emotions which take over whenever an opposition comes about. It usually ends in an ugly scene where said outraged person is illogical, full of self-pity, and contempt for the opposition (and, I might add, all in the name of “being judged”).

We also see the compassion within the catholic characters, the forgiveness which is such a core part of the faith, and the mercy shown it’s most bitter and ornery children, even if it’s merely moments before death. Because ultimately the catholic faith is about Love and making sure we spend eternity with our one True Love.

I really found this story intriguing. It’s written in a captivating style, keeping every moment interesting. And because it is written in first person, there is a vast chance to ponder the reasons behind different characters actions, which adds so much to the story, if you’re one who likes ruminating on various aspects of life and the soul.

 

2017 Book 6: Bella Poldark, by Winston Graham

Last of this twelve book series! It took a day or two to mourn the loss, but fond remembrances of this series will forever allow me to willingly lend these books out to friends or acquaintances.

I found the relationship state of the main hero & heroine as the book comes to an end somewhat odd, considering. But Winston Graham is not a “sunshine and rainbows” type of author. One character finally does get her happy ending, which was a relief. Another suffers an illness that forever changes the course of her life. That was interesting and unexpected, and she still lives the life she wanted, in the end. More deaths, which was not surprising, but I was also quite shocked, due to events in the previous book.

Maybe one day in years to come I’ll read the whole series over again… for now it’ll sit contently on my bookshelf and continue being lent out to various relations and friends.

2017 Book 5: The Twisted Sword, by Winston Graham

The next book of the ‘Poldark’ series. It includes an under-cover mission to Paris following Napoleon’s initial defeat, a marriage, a major tragedy, pain, loss, beginnings of healing. Can’t possibly give any more info then this without giving away the 10 books before this one.

Winston Graham writes with such understanding of human emotion. Since the very first book of the series, I can identify quite a bit with one of the heroines of the story – temperament, outlook on life, different emotions that come and go, and her ability to sort things out in a logical way, despite the emotional charge surging through her. In this book she goes through such trails (as in past books, but these are of a different type of suffering), it was fascinating to read in Graham’s words exactly what was going through my head as I read the reactions and processing steps going on in one of the heroine’s minds. Every single character (and there are ever so many throughout this 12 book series, multiple side stories of different inhabitants of the Poldark’s area of Cornwall), is entirely unique. Despite it being fiction, Graham writes with such truth of human reality.

 

 

Sorry Blondie, not much changes as you grow up…

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The other day I was at a favourite restaurant, where they have a kiddie corner with some toys (kiddie corner being unrelated to it being a favourite restaurant). A beautiful little curly haired blondie quietly came and tapped Calvin (little nephew #1, who was sitting beside me) on the shoulder, and asked “do you want to come play with me?” Calvin, who is easily embarrassed, stared downwards at his plate and quietly said “No I don’t”. Blondie looked up at me in puzzlement, I encouraged Calvin to go play, but he was resolute in staring down at his plate and repeated “I don’t want to play with you”. Blondie quietly walked back to her table and buried her face in her mothers body with hurt and dramatics. I over-heard her sympathetic yet rational mother relay “just because he doesn’t want to play, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you”.

Feeling dreadfully sorry for the wee blondie who had enough gumption to make such an inquiry of a strange boy, I urged Calvin to go play with her, she was so nice to come ask him to play. He gazed up at me with his big deep blue sea eyes and replied “but Auntie, I just don’t want to”. I left it at that, knowing his strong will (which he comes by honestly) and calculating ability. I’m sure it wasn’t a full minute later when he casually said while colouring his page, “and I will go play with her, if Fairy (his older sister) will come”. He happily hopped down from his chair, and accompanied by his slightly older sister, went over to Blondie’s table. The three of them scurried over to kiddie corner and played until food arrived.

Pondering this little episode, I realized how little men and women change as we grow older. I greatly sympathize with Blondie. Extroverted and enthusiastic, she worked up the courage to come ask a little boy she thought she would like to come and play with her. He quickly and emphatically shut her down without so much as a “how d’ ye do?” Poor girl. But then, not much changes as you reach adulthood. Extroverted and enthusiastic, I often approach new guys in group situations or after mass, am sociable and easy-going, just wanting to socialize, chat and make the newcomer comfortable, or at least put him at ease. More often then not, I find myself doing this with introverts. Maybe that’s because introverts and I are like magnets… they always seem to be in my vicinity. And then I feel bad for them, usually because they seem so awkward, uncomfortable, not sure what to do. So I gaily approach, introduce myself, and fly wherever conversation chooses to go. There are typically two outcomes: 1) introvert is dreadfully awkward the entire time, and the next time I see them they are still awkward, but perhaps very slightly less so; or 2) it starts of slightly awkward and then they fall into ease and we enjoy conversation, laughs, and general amiability…but who knows what on earth will happen the next time I see them.

I’m speaking primarily of introverted men, of course, as the story above is about a little boy & girl. As a generalization, I quite like introverted men. And as another generalization, they are a confusing lot, sometimes avoiding eye contact, other times smiling as they catch my eye. I’m never quite sure what to make of them, and have often times (no doubt to continue throughout life) gone home thoroughly confused by their conflicting social cues. So Blondie going back to her mom and wailing “he doesn’t like me!” when Calvin rejected her offer to play is pretty accurate for us extroverts, no matter what the age, or the social situation. Of course as time goes by, it becomes less dramatic-flinging-onto-bed-in-tears, and more insight into introverted ways: he doesn’t know you enough to reject you; rather, his inability to make a quick decision (and preference to avoid doing so) regarding any social situation or commitment is what made him freeze, avoid eye contact, and firmly ignore. But upon consideration, mustering the strength to conquer his shyness, and further observance of you, he might just decide to come play with you after all.