via the Atlantic
Why Men Like Jane Austen
In Culture on February 20, 2011 at 1:07 am
The stories have female protagonists, are full of dresses and dancing, have no battle scenes whatsoever, and are wildly popular with women. And yet when our girlfriends want to watch a date movie, we men will usually agree to watch Pride and Prejudice before we’ll submit to Ever After.
Many people have tried to explain why. Without diminishing any of their explanations, I think there is an important reason today’s guys will watch Jane Austen movies, and even read the books, which may sound counterintuitive. I think we like Jane Austen because we like stories with men in them.
Do not misunderstand me. We don’t watch a Jane Austen movie because Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne aren’t men. But we face—and have been facing for some time now—an identity crisis with which those heroes are no help. Kay Hymowitz, in a superb article over the weekend, called it the man’s search for an “acceptable adult identity.” We live in a woman’s world—the home has been traditionally the domain of the woman, and nowadays the workplace is no longer the domain of the man. Growing up, I didn’t get to see my father do many explicitly “manly” things. Today, my wife has to live with a husband who spends part of his time at work in a woman-dominated workplace, and the other part at home.
Entertainment is some small outlet for our manly instincts. Most of our wives let us have Sunday afternoons to watch football (ignoring the irony that the one time we know how to be “men” is when we are entertaining ourselves). However, in entertainment, we have only two choices in terms of role models. One is escapist; to enjoy heroes whose situations do not remotely resemble our own (such as those in action movies or football games, where manliness is a matter of sudden, dramatic action and there are no women allowed). The other is an acceptance of low expectations; to enjoy “heroes” who are in normal situations we can identify with, but who are “guys,” not men (Joey and Ross, Jerry and George)—emerging adults, if you will. In real life, we have none of these luxuries—we have to be men, and we have to do it in a swordless world that seems to be full of women. We are in desperate need of heroes who know how to be men in situations like ours—in normal life.
This is quite a predicament for us. And for you women who want to date a real man…well, you see your problem.
Enter Jane Austen.
I contend that a key reason we like Austen’s stories is that there are real men in them who know how to be men, day after day, moment after difficult moment—in awkward situations, in thankless tasks, in rooms full of women, when their actions and even their mannerisms are constantly scrutinized and judged. “Principles,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “are essential to Jane Austen’s art. [They] might be described as the grammar of conduct. Now grammar is something that anyone can learn; it is also something that everyone must learn.” Jane Austen’s heroes have learned it—so they are role models for the rest of us in a way that few heroes can be.
Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility is my favorite example of this. He has to be a hero in excruciating social situations that would have me dying to slip away and go throw a football somewhere. (I should preface this by saying that if your only experience with the gentleman has come in the form of Alan Rickman’s awkward interpretation, you haven’t seen what I am describing. Read the book, or watch the BBC’s 2008 adaptation starring David Morrissey.)
Sir Walter Scott, a literary man’s man, appreciated this. “[Austen],” he wrote, “had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which has to be the most wonderful I ever met with. The big ‘Bow-Wow’ strain I can do myself, like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary common-place things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me.”
This ability to dramatize the ordinary for a man is precisely what makes Austen so indispensable to someone like me. David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon captures the book’s character well. He is unspectacular at first glance; clearly lacking a desire to entertain others or draw attention to himself. Yet his sober demeanor and penetrating gaze quickly make it clear he is a man who is unlikely to judge a situation wrongly. On top of this, he is keenly aware of the feelings of others—yet this does not reduce him to indecisiveness, but instead produces a polished manner that seeks to make others feel safe and comfortable. He is an island of strong sanity in an often emotional, confusing, and tumultuous environment. As I follow Brandon’s character, I see subtleties in his small actions that betray manliness at every step—yet I rarely see him in what we might consider manly situations.
This is the Austen hero. Chesterton observed, “When Darcy, in finally confessing his faults, says ‘I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice though not in theory,’ he gets nearer to a complete confession of the intelligent male than ever was even hinted by the Byronic lapses of the Brontes’ heroes or the elaborate exculpations of George Eliot’s.” This kind of self-aware yet self-confident manhood does not impress in the way that a quick wit or a quick sword does. Rather, it inspires respect—something we too often do not know how to gain, because for the Austen hero, “manly” is not something he does, like rescuing a damsel in distress; it is something he is. There is an integrity to him that transcends situation.
Contrast this with the men Austen does not wish us to respect. Her villains are always double-dealers; presenting a façade to the world that is often more immediately impressive than the heroes’ character. Comic characters like Mr. Collins lack the sobriety and sensible temperament that mark the Austenian true man. However, perhaps the most sympathetic character to the modern “guy” is Mr. Bennet. Bennet is the only man in the household, and is ill at-ease in his role. Rather than be a man in a woman’s world, he constantly retreats to his library to read. This is his 19th-century version of playing video games—it’s an activity in which he knows who he is and doesn’t need to adapt.
The older we grow, the less likely most males are to have such a luxury. To have a good career, to win a woman, to achieve any goal we might want, we can’t be a Mr. Bennet. So after we’ve put up what we consider to be the expected amount of resistance and agreed to watch Pride and Prejudice on our date, just sit back and relax. Enjoy the romance of Mr. Darcy, and ignore us. We’re taking notes.
via humane pursuits
thanks for sharing Ash!
Here are some snippets from Keiko’s posts:
Sunday, March 13, 2011
When I first arrived in Japan a few weeks ago, I had a deep discussion with a former Japanese colleague of mine about how Japan is the most socialist nation among today’s advanced nations. Even China with its Communist regime is closer to capitalistic America than Japan, despite it being the headquarters of some of the top companies in the world. He griped about how the average Japanese youth today are not nearly as driven as their counterparts in China, US, and Europe, and are happy producing mediocre results in their jobs, and relying on the country (and its citizens) to take care of them. It’s really only a matter of time until their lazy asses get a serious wake up call when China becomes the superpower of Asia.
Fast forward a few weeks to the day of the Sendai Earthquake. The earth shook violently and stranded tens of thousands of Tokyo citizens at their work place for the night. We heard reports that people were going to have to walk hours to get home. But an amazing thing happened that night that news reports didn’t capture since they were busy getting more vital information out to the public. The people of Tokyo came together to help each other.
There was a woman holding a sign near a major street that read, “I know you’ve been walking a long time. If you need to use the bathroom, you’re welcome to come to my house and use mine. This way.” Cars were at a stand still at intersections all over town and at times, only one car could get through a traffic light at a time. But no one honked. No one yelled out their frustrations. The only honking that was heard were honks thanking each other.
When some of the trains started running again on one of the busiest train lines in Tokyo, you could see that people were lined up in orderly rows, as they do every morning, not the panicked chaos you might imagine anywhere else.
The same kind of scene could be seen at the convenience stores and water replenishing stations. Orderly lines and no one trying to cut the line or push or steal.
When I read these stories online, I realized, THAT is socialism at its best.
Gregory Pflugfelder, director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University says the following in this CNN article:
“Such social order and discipline are so enforced in ordinary times that I think it’s very easy for Japanese to kind of continue in the manner that they’re accustomed to, even under an emergency.”
The communitarian spirit at the foundation of Japanese culture seems to function even more efficiently under the stress of disaster, he said. The natural American inclination is to operate independently.
“So you do everything you can to protect your own interests with the understanding that, in a rather free-market way, everybody else is going to do the same. And that order will come out of this sort of invisible hand.
“And Japanese don’t function that way. Order is seen as coming from the group and from the community as a sort of evening out of various individual needs.”
So what was I doing while all of this was going on? Living 5 minutes from my office, I knew I wouldn’t have a problem getting home. So I just joined a group of expats for a drink at the bar. Then another drink, then another. Until I was drunk enough that I couldn’t feel the anxiety that I was feeling inside. I feel ashamed now that I was thinking only about myself. But I plan to change that moving forward now that I have acknowledged how selfish my actions truly were.
So, I don’t agree with my former colleague. Japan isn’t as screwed as he said weeks ago. This strong socialist foundation is what will actually help Japan recover much quicker than any other nation that has undergone this level of devastation. In fact, I truly believe that through this experience, the people of Japan will feel an even stronger bond with each other and it will inspire the Japanese youth to step up, and not sit back taking the easy road in life any longer.
Friday, March 11, 2011
…It was around 3 pm on March 11, 2011 on a typical Friday, and I was looking forward to the weekend. I was in the bathroom when all of a sudden the 3 walls around me started to shake and within a split second I realized it was another earthquake. The second one in a week. Little did I know this one was going to be this big. I ran out of the bathroom and back to the office where my colleagues were buzzing. Oh my god, this building is really shaking. Are we ok on the 26th floor? What’s going on?! Where’s the epicenter? What, magnitude 8.9! What should we do? Get under the desk?! Should we evacuate?
The building swayed left to right for about a hour with aftershocks rippling through every 15 minutes, but all in all, we were in good spirits. Looking back now, I realize that that’s what we had to do. You couldn’t panic and acknowledge your fears because that would cause others to panic. And panicking on the 26th floor is never a good idea. But I know that their hearts were pounding, hands sweating as much as mine were…
Then the news and videos started pouring in. A tsunami in Sendai washing away entire homes and cars, an exploding oil refinery in Chiba that we could see from the office, whole towns engulfed in flames, nuclear power plants losing the power to keep the plants cool, hundreds of people missing and displaced. Then the messages started pouring in on Facebook. “Are you ok?” We all told our friends and family we were ok to reassure them, and ourselves…
…I called a friend and she asked how I was doing. I started to say that I was fine and what a crazy time to be here. Then, I started to cry. Out of nowhere. All the pent up anxiety was finally released. No, I’m not fine. I’ve been pretending I’m fine, but this is horrific. There are hundreds of people dead or missing, and all I can think about is how fortunate I am that I wasn’t in Sendai. How the rippling aftershocks remind me of what’s really going on, even if I try to put it out of my mind. When tragedy strikes this physically close to home, it’s really hard to be fine. But that would be selfish of me to complain how emotionally wrecked I am when nothing really happened to me. It just *almost* happened to me… The tears were real, but short-lived.
I’m back to being strong now and praying for the people of Sendai. And donating. I’ve never felt this passionately about providing resources and support in any kind of natural disaster before. I realize the importance of that now. The news reporting plays an important role in getting people to donate. The coverage and reports on BBC and other world news organizations has made it look like the entire nation of Japan is a set for the movie, the Day After Tomorrow. Tsunami washing us all away… the truth is, Sendai is as far away as San Francisco is to Los Angeles. But the people of Sendai are getting hit hard along with the northern provinces. And they desperately need the help. So, with the news reports drumming up attention to this tragedy, I hope that will inspire people all around the world to donate even a few dollars to help these people out.
Here’s a link if you’re interested in helping. You can choose your preferred charity and organization. Don’t wait. It’s for a worthy cause. Trust me.
Lastly, I wanted to say thanks to all of my friends and family that have contacted me and sent their well wishes. It’s a pretty crazy time to be here all alone, but it’s great to know that I am not alone. So thank you.
Dear NYT Magazine,
Why oh why can’t i just subscribe directly to you? You’ve gone through all these changes, with the exception of the crossword which i have never conquered yet admire from afar. I don’t need the rest of the sunday papers…you’re the only one i want.