It is the universally acknowledged truth that a lazy publication in possession of a reason to write about a woman will use her love life as an angle, whether it’s pertinent to the story or not.
“Jane Austen was the master of the marriage plot. But she remained single,” declares the headline of a Washington Post article. Shocking, right? Well, not really, as many tweeters were keen to point out…
As funny as it is to see The Washington Post get torn apart for their ridiculous article, the fact they published it in the first place is supremely irritating. It was designed to mark both Austen’s birthday (December 16) and the fact she died 200 years ago, and celebrating her is a worthy cause, but it’s such a weird essay. There’s the fact it focuses on her love life, for one thing, but then this is interrupted by what can only be described as fangirling over Darcy and his… house, for some reason. There’s the liberal use of words like “frigid”, “dreamy” and “spinster” in an article published in 2017, the year of #MeToo and feminism being the word of the year. There’s the way Austen’s decision to defy convention and not marry a man she didn’t love so she’d be able to focus on her writing is seen as a “bitter irony” rather than a brave dedication to her talents.
But mainly it’s that there is so much else about her fascinating life that they could have focused on. The fact she started parodying the world around her in stories from the age of 11. Her penchant for wild parties and subsequent descriptions of her epic hangovers. How she went from being thought of as a quiet, thoughtful person to “a poker of whom everyone is afraid" after her novels were published. But no. Let’s focus on the “bitter irony” of a woman who is famous for love stories and not getting married. Plot spoiler: she never even wrote about married life! She wrote about seduction and, if the stories are to be believed, she knew plenty about that.
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
The most frustrating thing is, let’s be honest, they wouldn’t say this about a man. Walt Whitman never married. Neither did Beethoven, Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Leonardo da Vinci, Hans Christian Anderson or Vivaldi. Hugh Grant, the king of the romcom, isn’t married! Where are the deep-dives about how odd it is that they all managed to write, compose or act about love despite having never said “I do”?
Jane Austen was a badass. If she was alive in 2017, she’d be that amazing woman in the office who is funny and acerbic and just a little bit cleverer and quicker than you; the woman who sends you strings of bitchy Slack messages that make your shoulders shake with laughter while her expression remains completely neutral; who is always last out at the office party and comes in the next day absolutely hanging but still pulls it out of the bag at the big meeting. She was sharp and funny and clever and a lot more than a bitter spinster. She deserves more than this.
If there is one redeeming feature in all this, it’s that Austen wouldn’t give a single solitary shit about what this writer said about her. In a letter to her beloved sister, Cassandra, she wrote, “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” Or, in modern parlance, “Get fucked, mate” – an excellent motto to take into 2018 with us.