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Jane Austen presaged the current obnoxious teenage girl, equipped with walks down country lanes rather than cell phones, and letters instead of text messages, in most of her stories.  Clearly part of her popularity today is due to the fact that movies (like Clueless) can be made from her work that appeal to the modern teenage audience.  She’s certainly the least painful of high school reading assignments.

Though Emma  is her most finely drawn version, Northanger Abbey gives us Catherine, who is probably the worst uber-teen there is.  She would have done well with Bratz dolls and Juicy sweatpants.  Without a wit of commonsense and a lack of wit to boot, she’s the epitome of flighty, willfully silly girl.  She’s got a brain she just won’t use,even when her future husband points the obvious out to her.  One wonders how quickly the appeal of this student/teacher relationship will last.  Poor Henry (and poor Catherine) in the age of no divorce, once her girlish charms become churlish wifeliness.

Jane Austen is famously attributed to have said that girls are no use to anyone until they grow up.  And though she illustrates this opinion broadly in Emma and specifically in Pride and Prejudice (especially with Lydia) there is no other book that tops the sneering, snarkiness of Northanger Abbey.  It is called her most lighthearted book.  But I think it her darkest, in the sense that she lets her real opinions on girls out.  It is humor, but humor at someone’s expense.

This is the book in which I wholeheartedly embrace what I see as the real Jane Austen.  The girl who saw other women’s mistakes and grew up to be the woman who did not repeat them.  She chose not to get married to save her self and she chose not to tolerate the foolishness of others, regardless of gender. 

Though she makes Catherine likable enough to keep the reader interested (she uses her heavy artillery on Isabella) she is almost certainly laughing at loud at her own creation’s naivete.  

And that makes me like Jane all the more.

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Cover ImageI’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately.  With everyone I know getting married, it’s inevitable that I’d ponder what marriage means, particularly when everyone is trying to push me into it (and I’m digging in my heels as hard as I can).  I can’t help but feel that they are all pushing me into marriage without any consideration or respect for the relationship that I already have.  Because to me that is what is important – what exists between two people, not how they go about it. 

There are as many treatises singing the praises of marriage as the salvation of society as there are polemics about why it is the road straight to destruction.  Marriage as a social construct has been studied to death (or divorce).   But very rarely does a reader uncover a fine-focused discussion about what is the relationship between two people.  Or what such a relationship could be, freed from the trappings of social obligation.

I read this book when I was a teenager, with no personal conception of love or committment or monogamy. I was “in love” with a new boy every five minutes (more if class just got out and everyone was milling around the hallway).  I was not exactly the target audience and to be honest I don’t even remember where or why I picked it up.  Still something about this book clearly resonated it’s dog eared like crazy.

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{Full disclosure:  I’m a little defensive lately.  My best friend got married in the last of the weddings for this season (what a relief) and we didn’t make it to rehearsal dinner before the “When are you getting married?” questions started.  I’ve mentioned before that reading keeps me sane and my choices this week are no exception.}

I’ve had my anti-bride rant already so I’m moving on to bigger prey.  In a long hot summer filled with wedding after wedding (really it was only three, almost four, but it seemed like exponentially more) I’ve become increasingly frustrated by social expectations being laid at my feet.  Everyone wants to marry me off. 

It still amazes me how rude some people can be.  When are you getting married is not, by any means, an innocuous or polite question.  And yet it’s completely socially acceptable.   Even if we excuse the blatant invasion of privacy there are issues with the semantics.  Firstly there is the “when” of it which implies there is no choice not to – it’s  pretty clear that this is not a question of “if” after all.  Secondly there is the fact that the questioner even has to ask the question, which implies that you’re taking too long (the poor, frustrated souls, I really feel for them).  This questions belongs, along with its sister when are you having kids, to a society where people had no choices in the matter – matrimony and childbirth were inevitable – and frankly, they had nothing better to talk about.  I for one think we’ve moved past that and our social manners should evolve as such.  Unfortunately it appears that I’m in the minority on this one.

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