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AUSTEN-L  February 2017, Week 1

AUSTEN-L February 2017, Week 1

Subject:

Tomboys - "She Grew Clean as She Grew Smart"

From:

Arnie Perlstein <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

AUSTEN-L Jane Austen List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 3 Feb 2017 09:50:44 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (57 lines)

Ellen: "One of my objections to NA long felt is that Austen has a tomboy
type, which I find a cop-out: tomboy girls say they are not respectable but
they are and admired. Those of us who like Ginny dolls and Little Women
and  dresses are by an equivalent made a little too much fun of; we are an
easy  target, an injured body, my friends."

Diana replied: "I don't see why you would object to Austen creating a girl
who has been a tomboy, as a heroine. Why wouldn't, or shouldn't, she?  She
varies the personality types of her heroines interestingly, and the tomboy
element is varied, too. It is seen as a stage in growing up, but not all
girls partake in it."

Ellen, I am guessing that part of what bothered you in NA was the way Mrs.
Allen's hyperfocus on fashion is mocked -- in effect, she's treated as if
she were a Fashion Nero -- i.e., she is so focused on fashion that she
ignores her responsibilities as a chaperone. And so I guess you see that as
a sharp contrast to the way Catherine's early tomboyism is subtly approved
of by the narrator?

I'll agree with Diana's commonsense response, I see nothing in all of that
to indicate that Jane Austen was remiss in her authorial moral
responsibilty for failing to stand up for "girlieness". When I think about
Mrs. Allen, one of JA's great comic characters because she is not merely a
stick figure caricature, I think that Jane Austen's real hobby horse is the
person who is out of balance, regardless of the specific content of the
imbalance. Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Dr. Grant, Mr. Woodhouse, Miss Bates,
and Mary Bennet all represent apparent imbalances in personality, each
taken to an absurd (and extremely comic) level, yet all feeling like real
people. But each of them has counterparts in Austen's novels from the same
walks of life who are in balance. And, similarly, there are women in her
novels who are attentive to feminine fashion but who don't let it get out
of control -- Ellen, do you doubt for one second that Mrs. Gardiner, Mrs.
Weston, and Eleanor Tilney, to quickly name three, are all attentive to
fashion, and yet they keep it under good regulation?

But I'll also go one step further -- it is my firm conviction that Jane
Austen was not heterosexual -- whether she was lesbian or bisexual, who
knows----but it's crystal clear to me that she was fiercely opposed to the
casual cruelty and uninterest of society toward women who did not fit the
feminine stereotype. Austen was a fierce advocate for a Wollstonecraftian
critique of women being pushed and trapped by societal norms into becoming
obsessively concerned with making their physical appearance be pleasing to
men, without regard to developing their minds by extensive reading.. And
that's why I love Cassandra's actual sketch of JA (in the NPG) in which we
see a strong country woman who is comfortable appearing plain and not
particularly feminine.

So, Ellen, I think you've ascribed to JA a hostility toward feminine women,
she was just standing up for women who didn't fit the conventional mode. If
you want to talk about an "injured body", those were the most injured
female bodies of all, because in society, women who didn't conform to
fashion and appearance norms of femininity were scorned and ignored as
human beings --- unsexed females. So I say, let's hear it for JA's most
delightful tomboy, Catherine Morland!

Cheers, ARNIE
@janeaustenCode on Twitter

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