Saturday, 28 November 2009

Elizabeth and Edward

I've just watched the lake swimming scene, and the moment of awkward reintroduction of Darcy and Elizabeth and am eking out the last two (and undoubtedly) best and favourite parts of the series. Watching it this time, was the first time that I've wondered about lust in the times of Ms Austen.

I am a lover of words, and the appeal for me of Pride and Prejudice, and to a lesser extent Emma of the Austen books has always been the repartee between the protagonists. The artful prose and the clever, insightful and humorous dialogue. As a 14 year old when I first read the book, I swooned over the love making of the era, when a look, a smile, and a clever turn of phrase could be all that a woman needed to capture the attention of a willing suitor. That, of course, and a nice little dowry.

I have always identified with Elizabeth. Not the most beautiful, not rich, and both stubborn and willful. A lover of words and dialogue. Who liked to poke fun at the most ridiculous of situations. I have always read the books and even watched the series with a veil of Victorian modesty and gloried in the innocence of the play and the chess like manoeuvring to secure marriages.

But where is the lust? I will guiltily admit to having a secret penchant for bodice rippers, and I read one recently that was actually quite well written. It was the first time that I'd really considered that women of the 19th century surely had thoughts and feelings as well of attraction and affection and sex. More than Disney like dreams of marriage and happily ever after - surely there was the heady attraction of sex as well.

The BBC production at the time was accused of "sexing it up". The lake scene was considered by some purists as completely unnecessary and gratuitous (while middle aged housewives salubriously fanned themselves as they found themselves flushing pink). It was as if some believed that sex and the era were mutually exclusive.

I'm not suggesting that Elizabeth took herself off to wench classes with Jane or corset parties with Charlotte, but did she dream of Darcy in the ways that 20 year old women dream of their crushes? Did she ever wake up flushed and pupils dilated after a steamy retinal scene? Did she secretly long to rip off the tophat and run her hands through Darcy's luxurious mop of raven hair? And is Jane Austen now rolling in her grave?

I wonder what married life was like for Elizabeth and Darcy. Whether the passion of their words translated in other ways. If they were passionate in the bedroom and ardent amongst friends. Whether they entertained while wearing the knowing blush of those who have spent a warm afternoon loving each other. Or did their married life follow the pursuits of the time. She practising at the pianoforte and organising parties and dressing hats while he went out to shoot and fence and drink with the men?

Did women of the era ever fantasise about getting away from it all? Did they take holidays together and come home and talk about the experience? Did those who were married for convenience have affairs? Did women have lovers? Did women ever initiate or were they all properly chaste and innocent?

What strikes me most is that I've never thought to research this before. In my romantic, possibly teenaged fantasy, it was a purer time. Where love was simple and uncomplicated by lust unless it was combined with a proper godly reverance and respect. But love and sex and covetousness have been with us since before time began. Clearly it was there. And yet, I realised at some point watching this production, that I've held my own relationship up to it at times and found it somehow inferior, because it lacked that rosy romanticism that I had imbued such a classic story.

I'm going with Bingley to see New Moon tonight, and I have been fascinated since reading the Twilight series (wait! wait! let me explain!) of the themes that Stephenie Meyer has put through her book. The almost biblical concepts of "pure" love. Of its contrast with lust and heat. Of the beauty of coolness and restraint over the eroticism of heat. Sure Bella wanted to jump Edward, but because he was so "good" and protective of her innocence he wanted to keep her pure.

There are many irritating things about the Twilight books, not least for me the never ending references to the physical perfections of Mr Cullen. But the thing that has grated on me and yet is probably the most compelling and appealing to some is this notion of keeping love pure and unsullied by lust and heat and emotion. The idea of Jacob being inferior because of this. Of what that symbolises.

Which, when you consider my position on Austen, is interesting I think.

Movie was quite fun. Enjoyed muchly. But OMG, the TwiMom phenomenon? There's something truly terrifying for you!

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