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Many thanks for inviting me to your blog today, Ceri! I am most humbled and honored to share about my recently released book, Jane Austen Speaks About her Life, the Modern World, & Heavenly Pursuits, with your readers today.
This book is my own lighthearted attempt to allow Miss Austen to voice what might have been her “own” opinions on modern day matters, based on a knowledge of her life, work, society, and the prevailing social mores inherent in Western culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with which she was raised.
Though the book’s tone is frequently lighthearted, there is often a more serious undertone to the juxtaposition of viewpoints which Miss Austen offers to readers through the contrast between her world and that of the modern day. This profound contrast highlights both positive and negative changes in our society and culture over the past two centuries, especially in the roles we play—and especially for the female half of the population.
One of the several underlying themes in Jane Austen Speaks has to do with womanhood and how vastly society’s view of women and attitudes regarding their role in society have changed. As a fairly educated person, I have known this intellectually for a long, long time. However, it was not until I began to write from the perspective of Jane Austen--knowing full well the type of familial, social, and cultural milieu from which she came--that I became fully appreciative of what a profound and dramatic transformation has occurred in women’s lives in the past two hundred or so years. It was truly an eye-opening experience for this writer.
Inevitably, people will ask me the question, “Do you think Jane Austen was a feminist?” Naturally, such a construct did not exist until roughly one hundred and fifty years after the great lady novelist from Hampshire’s passing. Personally, I do not believe it is important to judge the degrees to which a female novelist of a bygone era adhered to what may be considered feminist ideology. All labels aside, I do think I can say with a fair amount of confidence that as an unmarried woman for the entire length of her adult life, Jane Austen would have been at the very least an ardent advocate for her sex.
While Jane might have admired the views of Mary Wollstonecraft, in other words, it is highly dubious that she herself would have adhered to such radical notions. It is certainly true that Miss Austen led a rather conventional life, following quite closely society’s rules for unmarried women of her time period. She did, however, create several strong-spirited female characters, who were well able to make their own decisions and stay true to themselves while remaining within the confines of accepted patriarchal society. Furthermore, the very fact that Jane Austen accomplished the publication of several novels during her lifetime is proof positive that she was not purely a conventional eighteenth and early nineteenth century woman.
Of course, there are those who will point to what they call the many “anti-feminist messages” in Austen’s work, especially the husband-hunting that ends in marriage for the most deserving heroines.
Yet if it is possible to strip away feminist doctrine to define feminism as maintaining a complementary balance between the sexes (if not equality), I believe it is definitely possible to view Miss Austen’s work in a much different light. Jane Austen lived during an era in which most did not believe that any woman could hold a rational thought in her head, let alone manage her own life without male direction. Her novels repeatedly show that any woman who blindly follows social dictates over her own intelligence and internal wisdom, or one who is irrationally emotional, will not fare well. Jane Austen herself was quite well-read for a woman of her day, and her own writing comments on the need for women to be well-educated. In her time, marriage was the only viable option for a woman who was not financially independent. Miss Austen’s work clearly shows that she advocates women to make life choices based on a foundation of love--not merely money and status--therefore asserting both their ability to make rational choices for their own lives as well as their God-given right to pursue their own happiness. These were indeed progressive ideas for Jane’s time, whether one might call them “feminist” or not.
Would Jane Austen have appreciated the fact that a female novelist could appear on the face of her nation’s currency, or that a woman could be prime minister or president, or that women could vote alongside men? Quite probably. But would she have been scandalized by modern fashions, women sporting tattoos and piercings, and modern relationships? Again, I would say, quite probably! With her abundant wisdom, I am sure that Jane Austen would be among the first to express the opinion that change can be marvelous thing, but it is not always for the better.
I happen to think that Jane Austen would have also appreciated many of the new freedoms that the changes in social dictates brought to women’s lives (and which most of us in the twenty-first century completely take for granted). Here is an excerpt from “Wearing Trousers: A Happy Thought, Indeed!” for your reading pleasure:
…I must confess that there is one item of modern female apparel which I find truly magnificent: trousers! Dear Readers, you must try to imagine how difficult it was to do much of anything with one’s body when encumbered by floor length skirts and petticoats (not even to mention laced stays). Ladies could not ride a horse astride as only would have been sensible. It was not even possible to walk out of doors for any length of time without muddying one’s hem considerably. Since we owned but few gowns, and there was no such thing as a “washer/dryer,” you can imagine the difficulties this would present for a lady, who would never presume to traipse about with mud on her hem, unless it absolutely could not be helped.
Do you twenty-first century females have any notion of the debt of gratitude you owe to Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, the leading advocate of trousers for women? She adopted the mode of dress in 1851 and encouraged other ladies to do the same. One should not forget the public ridicule she bore with grace and dignity, not to mention the scurrilous insults of men who derided trousers for women as not only brazen, but indecent.
Indeed, it is my dearest hope that twenty-first century ladies are not ignorant of the brave women who paved the way for the Freedom they enjoy and perhaps take for granted. In addition to Mrs. Bloomer, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mrs. Hannah Tracy Cutler, Miss Susan B. Anthony, and Miss Lucy Stone were amongst the many courageous females who dared to flout the restrictive, uncomfortable, and dare I say, unhealthy fashions originating from Paris.
Although most men interpreted this action as a mere political statement about women’s suffrage, in truth, these ladies promoted wearing “bloomers” for health reasons. You must only try to imagine, Gentle Readers, how difficult it was to breathe deeply or undertake any real form of physical exercise while one was laced tightly into stays. Add voluminous petticoats and floor length skirts to a woman’s daily costume, and perhaps you can grasp my meaning. Now, please allow me to clarify that I am referring to modest trousers for ladies—none of these skin-tight garments worn by females in the twenty-first century. (In truth, I blush to write this, but it is an unalterable fact of human anatomy that the female body was not constructed to make the wearing of such very tight trousers either comfortable or healthy.)
Upon my word, I believe that the male of the species felt that women were trying to usurp their age-old authority by wearing this physically freeing mode of dress. Tut-tut, how pitiful that they believed Freedom to be the exclusive right of the male sex for such a very long time!
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I do hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please enter your comments below for a chance to win an eBook copy of Jane Austen Speaks. I look forward to hearing from you!
Maria Emilia de Medeiros is a teacher, writer, artist, and lifelong Janeite. She read her first Jane Austen novel at the tender age of twelve and has never looked back. In addition to reading, playing the pianoforte, and embroidery, she is fond of dogs, long country walks, and drawing. Jane Austen Speaks is her first published book about Jane Austen.
In JANE AUSTEN SPEAKS, author Maria Emilia de Medeiros “channels” the great Jane Austen from her heavenly home and allows her the opportunity to speak her mind about the modern world nearly two centuries after her passing. Readers will gain a healthy dose of wise counsel and witty advice for leading a sensible, well-mannered twenty-first century life. Jane Austen’s heavenly exploits (not to mention her recipes) will both entertain and delight you. At times serious, drily humorous, or even a bit naughty, JANE AUSTEN SPEAKS is a necessary addition to every Janeite’s library. Dear Readers, if you have ever asked yourself, “What would Jane Austen think?” you have indeed come to the right place.
Maria Emilia de Medeiros is kindly offering to give away an e-book copy of Jane Austen Speaks About her Life, the Modern World, & Heavenly Pursuits to a reader here! To enter, just leave a comment on this post, including a way for me to contact you, by the end of the day of Sunday 31 July 2016. This giveaway is open to international entrants.
There are other stops on the blog tour, with additional chances to win. The dates are below. Please note that each giveaway will have a different closing date, check individual posts for details.
Blog Tour Schedule
My Jane Austen Book Club: July 6
Laughing with Lizzie: July 8
Obsessed with Mr. Darcy: July 12
So Little Time...: July 14
More Agreeably Engaged: July 19
My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice: July 21
Babblings of a Bookworm: July 25
Darcyholic Diversions: July 28