23 May 2013

a lady of leisure: pretending to be a Jane Austen character

Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character.

Perhaps you think I do this all the time, what with the title of this blog and all, but I don't. In fact, the point of the blog's title is more that it's hard to be like a Jane Austen heroine in the modern world. {Should you be extremely interested in this, you should read one of my first posts, wherein I explain the title and exactly what I think dear Jane should've prepared me for. And oh my word, I just realized I wrote that post three years ago today. It's like a blogaversary for me! Please buy me something.}

It's hard to be a Jane Austen character for many reasons:
  • lack of empire-waist dresses
  • lack of a silly mother who draws too much attention to her nerves {and for that I am ever grateful}
  • lack of a horse
  • lack of living in England
  • and the distinct need—and ability—to work

Back in Jane's day, a woman of a certain class wasn't expected to work, even if her family rather desperately needed money. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility embodies this: she, her mother, and her sisters are left virtually penniless after her father passes away and the estate they've been living on passes to a son from dear old dad's first marriage.

And really, when you've been living on an estate complete with a stable and servants and more rooms than you know what to do with, anything less than that is going to feel like you're penniless, even if you do actually have a few hundred pounds a year.

This is Elinor's point when she's trying to talk some reason into her mother as they look for houses to rent: when your income is just a few hundred pounds, you can't spend all of it on the house. You do, at some point, have to eat, and you should probably have money for clothes.

But as sharp as Elinor is, she can't just go get a job at the local bookseller as a way to supplement the family's income. And to think of getting a career, say as a financial advisor or an editor? Please. Women of her class were expected to be well-rounded in things like music and art and languages {who feels a pressing need to re-read the classic discussion of Darcy and Elizabeth on just what it takes to be an "accomplished" young lady?). They were expected to do pretty needlework and know how to run a household and organize games of whist.

But work? Never. Their work was to find a husband who was attracted to all that well-roundedness. {Why be accomplished if it doesn't accomplish you a husband?} And this is Elinor's frustration: she can't even earn a living.

You see, I'm sure, my main challenge in being a Jane Austen character: no, it is not that I'm not well-rounded. It's the whole working thing.

But not today. And not for the last five weeks, actually. I have been, as I like to tell people, pretending to be a lady of leisure as I transition jobs {I can tell you more about that, if you'd like, sometime}. Today, the pretending stopped, and I actually was a lady of leisure, someone who sees the hours stretch out in front of her and doesn't think, 'Oh, but which item on my to-do list shall I tackle first?!?'

Instead, I looked at the hours and thought, 'I shall do some embroidery today, and accomplishing that will be enough.'

I sat on the couch for hours. Just here in one place! I sipped coffee, and I made a little lunch, but mostly I focused on my pattern and watched movies. {Another reason I couldn't be a Jane Austen character: the inability to watch Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina while I do my well-rounded stuff like needlework.}

How long has it been since I have just sat? How long has it been since I didn't make a list for the day? How long has it been since I got to indulge in a day and spend it decadently? {It's an indication that you're a sensible, practical girl when your idea of a decadent day is watching Audrey Hepburn.}

Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character {although yes, they did more than just sit}, and it was just what I needed. Also, I've gotten really good at needlework and that in and of itself makes me a modern-day Jane Austen girl.

1 comment:

  1. Whether it is good, bad, or ugly, I'd certainly love to hear the story about the job change. I think many can empathize since we have gone through the same thing.



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