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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.

 

The art of Housekeeping

“Well now, there is one very excellent, necessary, and womanly accomplishment that no girl should be without, for it is a help to rich and poor, and the comfort of families depends upon it. This fine talent is neglected nowadays, and considered old-fashioned, which is a sad mistake, and one that I don’t mean to make in bringing up my girl. It should be a part of every girl’s education, and I know of a most accomplished lady who will teach you in the best and pleasantest manner.” 

“Oh, what is it?” cried Rose eagerly, charged to be met in this helpful and cordial way. 

“Housekeeping!” answered Dr. Alec. 

“Is that an accomplishment?” asked Rose, while her face fell, for she had indulged in all sorts of vague, delightful dreams. 

“Yes; it is one of the most beautiful as well as useful of all the arts a woman can learn. Not so romantic, perhaps, as singing, painting, writing, or teaching, even; but one that makes many happy and comfortable, and home the sweetest place in the world. Yes, you may open your big eyes; but it is a fact that I had rather see you a good house-keeper than the greatest belle in the city. It need not interfere with any talent you may possess, but it is a necessary part of your training, and I hope that you will set about it at once, now that you are well and strong.

– excerpt from “Eight Cousins”, by Louisa May Alcott

Currently re-reading this novel, Uncle Alec’s house-keeping ideals couldn’t be more true, or better said.

All through the centuries, keeping house was a recognized position. A woman’s worth was not measured by her income, it was measured by her accomplishments and temperament. The upper class had time to spend on finer accomplishments – languages, painting, drawing, needlework, etc. The lower class focused on practical accomplishments – sewing, cooking, house work, etc. One was encouraged to also be an attractive personality, and grow in virtues of charity, patience, understanding, courage, perseverance, etc. But for both upper and lower class, was the art of house-keeping. Whether you were married to the blacksmith, or married to the Squire, you had a job to do in keeping house.

I remember my mom once saying on the phone, when asked her profession, that she was a “domestic engineer”. This answer was readily accepted, no further questions asked. But would the same response have been given if she had answered with “stay-at-home mom” ? Perhaps it’s the connotation that comes with the phrase “stay-at-home”, which I suppose could sound like a leisurely past time you choose instead of going out to an evening party. “Domestic engineer” does sound more like a pointed purposeful position.

Position titles aside, both come with the necessity of keeping-house, which is a far more complex endeavour then given credit for. A home should be the sanctuary of a family, a safe haven, where all the cares and worries of the world are wiped off your feet on the front door matt, and you are free to be loved, encouraged, and cherished openly and without reservation. With this care and attention come daily necessities, such as food, cleanliness, warmth, beauty in things surrounding you, etc. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, comfortable and nice things, may sound rather trite and odious to some, but there is so much more skill needed in doing these things then is realized. If these tasks aren’t done with love and care, they don’t mean half as much. Anyone can prepare food if necessary, particularly when Costco’s frozen food section is filled with such a vast variety. But real cooking takes time, energy, and a certain devotion in learning how to do things. Anyone can pull out a swiffer mop, dust, vacuum and call it clean. But cleanliness isn’t in the larger things, it’s in the details; grout groves, door jams, polished glass – strong arms and determination. Housekeeping – the key ingredient to a home – is so looked down on now, is it any wonder houses are no longer “homes”, homes no longer the centre, families no longer the root of an individual, and the world is so full of people who don’t understand true love.

If proper care and attention went into teaching girls the purpose and beauty of making a home, there would be happier and more fruitful homes and families. Housekeeping isn’t to be scoffed at, or seen as inferior, or for those incapable or undesiring of a “real profession”. On the contrary, it takes a truly conscious effort and willpower, backed by love, to effectually complete the task of housekeeper. And a housekeeper  is rewarded with the best of all – the satisfaction of knowing and seeing you’ve made others happy and content.

 

 

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true that

 

 

 

I didn’t steal it, God gave it to me: part I

Girls, this one’s for you.

Immodesty. The word so many Catholic girls cringe at.

I’ve grown up in an authentically Catholic home, where we were encouraged to grow and strive for virtue. Modesty is one of the virtues I was encouraged to cultivate. Basic principles I learned as a child – don’t show too much skin, no short skirts (short being above the knee), no painted on pants, don’t show you’re midriff, no bikini’s, etc etc, basic principles to achieve dignity and modesty in your dress. As a teen, I further learned some history of fashion. I was horrified at the idea that a prostitute was commissioned to model the first bikini because no other would dare do it. Also to learn that the flapper dress was initially designed to make the female figure more boy-like – the loose & low bodice intended to hide the curves of the bust & waist. I read an enlightening book on modesty and dress, entitled “Dressing with Dignity” by Colleen Hammond. Read it yourself to find out more details. I’ve always loved clothing. My mother will no doubt vouch for my exuberant tastes and wardrobe choices even as a toddler – changing my skirts and dresses three times a day merely so I could wear more then one awesome outfit. From a very young age my father would compliment my floral patterned dress, or comment on the drastically 90’s sweater I had paired with frilly socks and a scrunchy. If Dad liked my outfit, it was surely a success – ergo, my flair for dress took it’s flight from a very young age.

Modesty is a virtue we, as Catholics, are encouraged to cultivate. Not only in dress, but in attitude. Charity is also a virtue – the highest of virtues, in fact. Modesty and charity. You can be charitable to your neighbour by being modest, but you can also be uncharitable to your neighbour by putting modesty as the highest virtue. Yes, modesty is a virtue which women should strive for. It is one that should be encouraged, cultivated, should be second nature to us. Eventually it should be such a habit that we don’t need to think about it anymore. However, like two sides to a coin, there are two sides to modesty. There is external modesty (which is typically the stressed side of modesty) and internal modesty. External modesty would include dress and body language, while internal modesty would include the state of his/her soul. They do go hand-in-hand, but they are different and each require their own attention to ultimately form the full virtue of true modesty. The internal state of one’s soul comes first, and it will be reflected by the exterior of one’s body. External modesty means nothing without the internal. Without the interior beauty of a soul, the exterior quickly fades. One could be forced by her parents to dress like a frump (under the guise of “modesty”) but without the interior soul’s modesty and virtue, her actions and behaviour will counter that “exterior modesty” so drastically that it wouldn’t matter how much of her is covered because her mind, attitude and body language say the opposite. Just as a beautiful soul will cause an average face to be beautiful, if the interior is striving for virtue, it will manifest itself exteriorly. As one grows in virtue, one adapts and changes the exterior to fit what is happening on the interior. It is true that the outside will affect the inside. An ordered & cleanly home will encourage an ordered & cleanly soul, but it will not make one. The desire for order, cleanliness & virtue has to come from within the soul before it manifests itself on the outside, keeping an ordered & cleanly home on a consistent basis.

Modesty as defined by the ‘Catholic Dictionary’: the virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station in life.

Modesty as defined by the ‘Oxford Dictionary’: 1. The quality or state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; 2. The quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level; 3. Behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency

Where the concept that modesty means “hide” or “cover” came from I will never know or understand. Neither of these definitions use either of those words, or synonyms of those words. “Moderate” comes from the latin word “moderari: to restrain, or control”. So where does this cult-ish idea of completely covering and hiding away what you’ve rightfully been given by God Himself come from? Where are it’s roots? Surely not from dogmatic teachings – never have I heard or read anything that demands these strict and objectifying rules.

That’s right, I just said “objectifying”. Because in my opinion this trad modesty cult is no better then the m*slims and their b*rka’s. I recently heard, while conversing about this subject, the phrase: “I didn’t steal it, God Himself gave it to me.” How brilliantly this stated exactly how I felt! Treating what you’ve been given by God Himself as if it is something to be shamed, is disrespecting and objectifying God’s creation. The tabernacle is not covered with ugly dirty rugs to hide it away from the public eye. Rather, it is adorned and locked safely to give glory and preserve what is contained inside of it. So the female body shouldn’t be hidden under unflattering clothing to hide away from the male eye. Rather, it should be adorned and protected to preserve the beauty within.

Yes, as women, it is our responsibility to preserve and protect the men from falling into sin because of our own negligence in properly adorning our bodies. If the tabernacle isn’t properly veiled and locked, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and Our Lord could be at risk, as the passer-by will be of committing a sacrilege. So too if the female body isn’t properly veiled and protected, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and result in sin for both the passer-by and the keeper.

In the true spirit of modesty, we should adorn our bodies in such a way that will be pleasing to Our Lord, as our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost. But to hide, cover, and pretend our bodies are not what they were created for, is to treat God’s creation & gift to us falsely. We should beautify our bodies through dignifying dress, attract the eye to admiration without fully revealing and exposing what is protected underneath.

More on this subject to come.

 

 

 

The Perks of being Nimble

lifts and cooks

Stay nimble, ladies – you never know when it will come in handy. It’s also very good for your health. Go for walks, workout, hike, just on a trampoline, play at the park with your nieces and nephews, go swimming, anything that makes you use those muscles and keep them in tune. Don’t ignore them or forget about them. One day you might need to bolt across the street to save a toddler about to be hit by a car, or carry a solid wood bookshelf since there’s no man to do it for you, or you might need to pull a heavy piece of equipment out of a trapped child’s way, or climb the roof and squeeze through a window to let yourself into your home because you forgot your house key and everyone else is gone and locked up behind them. God gave us our bodies for a reason, and you never know when you may need the reflexes and agility that come with staying in shape. So always be prepared!

Meg & Amy: forgotten characters

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**WARNING: possible spoilers for those who haven’t read the book!

“Little Women”‘s Meg & Amy are, I think, characters not given enough credit. The boyish Jo is the one who, flying about, grasps everyones attention, holding all the dear on-lookers enthusiasm, quickly turning into an idol among young girls. The good Beth is praised by all as the saintly, pious giver of self. But what of Meg and Amy? Meg is admired by all as the beauty of the family, and Amy as the vain artist. Despite these seemingly shallow descriptions, there is so much to their characters, yet it’s tom-boy Jo who gets all the attention of young female readers. I don’t dislike Jo, I simply believe too much emphasis is put on her. Meg and Amy put such effort into becoming better women, and it goes unrecognized by girls in rapture with ambitious tom-boy Jo. So know that this post is not to criticize Jo, but rather to put some emphasis on Meg & Amy, in the hope of drawing female readers attention to these splendid female & truly feminine characters.

From when we first meet the sisters, Meg is the motherly oldest. She sees it as her duty to financially contribute to the family while her father is away at war, she takes it upon herself to tend to her youngest sister, she is the epitome of social etiquette, is kind, gracious, gentle, warm, cordial, if a little shy. She holds standards for the rougish Jo & Laurie. Certainly she has her flaws – she is too concerned with her social standing, and is materialistic, setting her desires on pretty and expensive things.

Amy is the spoiled youngest. She is too vain with her looks, headstrong and occasionally haughty. Yet at her tender age she is she sees the greater purpose in life. She sees the value in virtuous womanhood, and chooses to achieve it. She denies herself, understands that she must grow in love for Our Lord (and even strikes up a devotion to Our Lady via her great aunts Catholic French maid – ha HA!).

As the years pass, Meg marries the dashing Mr.Brooke, and we see her go through struggles and accomplishments. She looses her temper at John in frustration with her wifely duties, yet after consideration, she meekly apologizes and makes a firm resolution never to take the same steps that lead to her un-loving mistake. Self pity rallying up inside her, she allows her vanity to go un-checked and frivolously spends her husbands hard earned money. She immediately realizes her wrong doing, and feels atrocious when she witnesses the love and sadness in her husbands face when he discovers her lack of satisfaction. (Needless to say she sells the expensive fabric to Sally Moffat, her friend rich in money, but sadly lacking in love.) When her twins are born, months go by as she puts her husband aside to tend entirely to her babies. Eventually her mother tenderly and discretely steps in, and Meg learns yet another lesson for love. She makes adjustments and proves to John that he is needed and loved and wanted. Meg always tries her hardest to be the best woman, sister, daughter, wife, and mother, she can be. She makes plenty of mistakes, but she consistently strives to greater heights, to conquer her own self, and die to others.

Amy begins as a spoiled child and grows to be a dignified young woman. It’s when Beth is sick and Amy must stay at Great Aunt March’s when she begins to see the bigger picture in life. Her good, saintly sister is on her death bed, and Amy is heart-stricken as to what would happy if she died. She steps outside her own self, and longs to fill the void their family would have without good, gentle, pious Beth. Ultimately her sister is her inspiration, and she makes the conscious decision to grow in prayer and virtue. Her Catholic French maid sets up a little chapel for her (featuring a painting of the Blessed Mother!!), and she retires every day to pray while Aunt March takes her nap. She wishes to be a great artist someday, and drives herself to discipline and practise. She is popular with all of Laurie’s school mates, yet doesn’t allow this to play to her vanity. She goes abroad, and while there she learns about love, (looses her desire to marry rich), and aids Laurie in becoming a better man. She speaks her mind, yet knows when to bite her tongue. Without her, Laurie would not have become the man he does become – which is exactly right, for no man or woman is complete without their counter-part whom God has intended for them.

By the end of the book, both Meg and Amy have grown into beautiful women filled with love, consistently striving for virtue and loving others to the best of their ability.

p.s. Leave a comment on which is your favourite Little Women character, and why!