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The Cardus Daily

Forgetting Jane Austen

Julia Nethersole  |  October 19, 2012  |  Arts, Loves

I am aware that this this is entirely cliché, but I shamelessly admit to being bewitched, body and soul, by the prose of Jane Austen. Despite the disdain of friends and family members, I am content to reference her work at the first opportunity. As Jane Bennet says, “Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

I’m likely better off for it, because speaking of laughable opinions, I recently came across an article about Hannah Rosin’s controversial new book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women. Rosin argues that “hook-up culture” is helping women become more successful in their careers. From the Business Insider piece:

Most scholars think the phenomenon of young people replacing serious relationships with casual ones hurts women, but the opposite is true, according to Hanna Rosin’s new book . . .

Seeing relationships in a more casual light actually helps young women free themselves of relationships that might keep them from their professional goals, Rosin told us in an interview.

Rosin claims that “today’s college girl likens a serious suitor to an accidental pregnancy in the nineteenth century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it thwart a promising future.” Among the many issues I have with Rosin’s argument, I marvel at how far removed she is from Austen.

Where Rosin implies an unnecessary mutual exclusivity to love and success, I remain convinced that Pride and Prejudice can provide some far more valuable lessons on love. Though set in the turn of the nineteenth century, Austen’s work does not fail to capture the heart of the modern reader.

The story is founded on the reality of human weakness, yet not to the exclusion of self-improvement. Pride and Prejudice is a tale of presumption turned to introspection, misread intentions turned to truth, and pride turned to acceptance. And how do Elizabeth and Darcy work to their delicate balance in this classic love story? Certainly not by following the 2012 advice of Hannah Rosin: “Cannily manipulating to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind.”

The evolution of the love between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is not easy or without strife. Before they are wed, Elizabeth and Darcy have been exposed to the very worst of each other. In hook-up culture, both would have moved on long before their worsts are exposed. Implicit in Austen’s text is the message that love is a battle, but one that is always worth fighting.

Rather than plotting, manipulating, and packing up early, could not hard-earned love be considered a form of success in its own right?

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