Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sense and Sensibility a Page at a Time

Over the last two days, I have sat in bed with a sick child and have read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin.  I am proud to say, I am half-way done.  Many paragraphs I read repeatedly, losing my place when my daughter talked with me.  The book is really wordy for me at times, full of double negatives that takes me a while longer to decipher than direct language, so it is a slow read.

The thing I love about this book is the characterization and the subtle comedy.  Last night, I was at the part where Marianne found out that Willoughby was engaged.  When Mrs. Jennings brought a glass of wine to Marianne, Elinor (who is in quiet misery over Edward's secret engagement) drank it down instead in an attempt to self-medicate.  The gossipy but well-meaning Mrs. Jennings assured Elinor that she would not speak of Marianne's situation, while insisting she would tell everyone so they would also know not to speak of it. 

The characterization of Mrs. Jennings being such a jerk to Marianne and not realizing it is a quality I find in many people I know today (not you, of course, if anyone I know is reading this).  Actually, I am probably oblivious to times when I make people feel bad when I try to console them. 

The feminist in me is definitely drawn to this book.  This book was written around 1860 (I'll fact check that later), only 150 years ago.  At that time in England and likely elsewhere, women were financially helpless.  I was confused when I read the first chapter or two to try to figure out why Mrs. Dashwood's stepson got the property instead of Mrs. Dashwood.  According to the book, that was the law. 

I was struck by the younger Mr. Dashwood's wife talking him completely out of helping his mother financially - for the mother's own good.  After all, he wouldn't want his mother or sisters to become dependent on him.  This chapter rang so true to me.  I have experienced that theme not only with people being afraid to offer financial help, but just helping people out when they are in need.  My family seemed very terrified to help me with my kids when I got divorced with a 14 month old baby and a five year old.  While no one said it out loud, the consensus seemed to be that I was having a personal problem and made a choice I had to live with.  It was implied that maybe I should have sucked it up and waited until the kids were older. 

It's the fear of dependency that I have seen so often in my life.  I agree fully that surviving without help is a strength-building exercise.  I have learned that if you have your back against the wall, you will do anything you need to do to survive.  There certainly are differences in my situation and the Dashwoods - more than I can count.  I found it hilarious that they seemed to be suffering when they realized they had to reduce their staff of servants.  On the other hand, they would have been envious of me since I had a really good job and could actually provide for myself financially better than I could have if I had remained married.

I am not sure that the schools are teaching the girls how far women have come in the U.S.  I do believe that schools do a good job teaching about the hardship and discrimination that African-Americans and perhaps even Native Americans have faced over time in our country.  I don't think my daughter has a clue of the history of women and the slow-go of women's rights.  The fact that there was talk by Obama of passing laws to enforce equal pay for men and women in 2010 is ludicrous to me.  It really piques me that in the 150 years since Jane Austen's writing, women are still experiencing economical and social inequality.

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