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Tapir

Oh, thank you, thank you for bringing up Heathcliff, possibly my most hated fictional character of all time, as a point of comparison. No matter how many times I hear it, I'm always surprised when people describe Wuthering Heights as a romance and Heathcliff as a sympathetic character. To some extent, yes, he is a victim of societal expectations and gender roles, wherein it's assumed that men and women can only interact in a romantic relationship with the man as the dominant, controlling force to the exclusion of all other influence. But no matter how pervasive that model was in the culture around him, he still accepted and embraced it of his own accord, and at some point, I think it becomes his own problem, not one for which I have any sympathy.

To me, the only way Wuthering Heights works is as an indictment of that type of relationship, but many other people read it differently, and I suspect their viewpoint is more in line with the author's intentions. It just doesn't work for me.

To be fair, it's been years since I read the book, and maybe I should give it another try. Given how much I hated it as a high school student, though, I think I'd have even more problems with it now. But if anybody has a thoroughly different reading of it that they'd like to share, I'm all ears - I'd love to at least understand the appeal, even if it doesn't change my mind!

Gwen

one reason that Mr Darcy is considered such a good match for Elizabeth is because she can respect him as a superior (see the part where Elizabeth talks to her father after Darcy has asked permission for her hand), not as an equal.

Oh, hm, interesting. I don't have my copy and don't remember the exact phrasing, but I seem to remember Mr Bennet saying something along the lines of "don't marry someone you can't respect" - or, more specificially, "you, Elizabeth, of all people, should not marry someone you don't (can't) respect and admire." I read that as a clear reference to Mr B.'s own unsatisfactory marriage to a woman who - in part because of her determined embrace of stereotypical femininity - he couldn't respect. And as a general comment that caustic, clever, sarcastic types are most likely to be unhappy when they marry the sort of people they mock, rather than the sort of people they admire. I didn't see that as a gender thing at all - the reference to Mr B. himself cuts across that line - and I don't read the "not as an equal" bit of your statement in there. It's more a "not as an inferior" thing - because one element of Elizabeth's characterisation (as with Darcy's; they both form a neat contrast to Jane and Bingley in that respect) is a very clear-sighted ability to perceive and criticise 'inferiority', in one sense or the other. That's always been my image of one of the fundamental themes of the book - the presentation of the ideal/happy marriage, any variation thereof (the Gardiners, Jane/Bingley, Elizabeth/Darcy, and, satirically I think, even Lydia/Wickham) as the equal marriage. All these perfect, symmetrical pairs. :) As opposed to the "bad" marriages - the Bennets, Charlotte Lucas/Mr Collins - which are all about massive, wince-inducing inequalities, particularly in intelligence.

Hogan

I dunno - one of the things I like about Mr Rochester is that he recognises Jane Eyre's quality.

But he still has to be blinded and maimed before he's a suitable partner for Jane.

Gwen

I dunno - one of the things I like about Mr Rochester is that he recognises Jane Eyre's quality.

But he still has to be blinded and maimed before he's a suitable partner for Jane.

Oh. Yes. Charlotte Bronte. Issues. On the one hand, Rochester is this crazed domineering somewhat-callous and possessive ("I'll wear you on my watch-chain", anyone?) "master" type, and on the other she tries to posit him as the "equals! yay!" hero who Sees Jane As She Really Is. It's kind of a schizophrenic effect, and contributes to that bizarre half-monster-demi-god vibe Rochester gives off all through JE. I think I like the solution she reaches in Villette of cutting the two in half - so that the somewhat sadistic sexy macho guy is one person, and the ultimately unrealistic romantic choice, and the fantastic "I see you for who you are" teasing-friendly soul-mate guy is another. And they both come off as real people as well, as opposed to Id Monsters.

Hogan

On the one hand, Rochester is this crazed domineering somewhat-callous and possessive ("I'll wear you on my watch-chain", anyone?) "master" type, and on the other she tries to posit him as the "equals! yay!" hero who Sees Jane As She Really Is. It's kind of a schizophrenic effect, and contributes to that bizarre half-monster-demi-god vibe Rochester gives off all through JE.

C. Bronte seems to have absorbed the Byronic version of Gothic pretty early, and had to fight her way out of it. (Literally, or at least literarily literally--with the maiming and the splitting and all. Killing her father.) Austen never bought into that nonsense in the first place; she was old enough to know better by the time she was exposed to it.

The Happy Feminist

Ooh-- I feel as though I am hosting a fabulous literary salon.

With regard to Morgana and Gwen's discussion as to Mr. Bennet's statement, Mr. Bennet's exact words were:

I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior.

The whole chapter can be found here.

I have to say that the phrasing is a bit disappointing, but it doesn't seem to be necessarily tied to gender but rather to Lizzie's personality, as Gwen pointed out, and it doesn't necessarily reflect anyone's view but Mr. Bennet's, as Morgana pointed out. Even if it does, there is no evidence anywhere else that Lizzie views Darcy as her superior -- or more importantly that Darcy does.

On the other hand, there probably was an assumption that a woman should always marry someone who is a superior. My father used to always say that I would have to marry a very dominant person because he was worried that I worried that I would marry someone less dominant than I. I am sure this concern of his was tied to gender.

bacca

Re: Wuthering Heights. I always liked it because I read the romance as pure metaphor/fairytale: Heathcliff is the wildness and brutality within Catherine that can't be restrained, the shadow self you get when you try to transform "human" into "feminine", the physical embodiment of the destructive resentment that women who are forced into passive feminine roles against their will secretly feel, wreaking destructive havoc on the "gentility" which created it. I think if you try to think of Heathcliff as a real character and not as some kind of fairytale-ogre metaphor, you're going to hate that book.

stacy

i never quite had a crush on darcy,
but i think he's a great character,
and i think you're right about him...

and did you notice that bridget jones' diary
was pretty much pride and prejudice?

the guy's name was darcy, even...
:)

h sofia

I like Jane Austen's works - in particular Mansfield Park, which was very funny. I loved Pride and Prejudice as done by BBC, but I never fancied Mr. Darcy myself. I am not attracted to those difficult-to-love types. The fellow in Jane Eyre was too aged and had some serious emotional problems! My favorite romantic male character in literature is from the simple Little Women series. Professor Baer (sp?)! He was intelligent, intellectual, academic, hard working, and truly saw Jo as his equal and confident. He was not disturbed or rude or unkind. He was kind of shy but honest. For years it was my dream to find my Professor and live in a big teaching house with him and our 13 adopted, homeschooled children. =) He was older than Jo but not creepy.

ballgame

First, some disclaimers: I've never read Austen, and am relying solely on the recent P&P movie for my comment. And I liked the movie a lot; thought it was smart, funny, touching, and really almost impossible not to root for the (perfectly cast) leads.

But my question is, how can the "perfect feminist romantic hero" be Darcy, when he also happens to be the penultimate patriarch? The man is stinkin' rich, at the top of what was an extremely brutal economic pyramid. It's almost like the attitude is, "I like patriarchs, as long as they treat me well," which has a certain sleazy hypocrisy to it, no? And I will tend to view any protestations of, "we don't care about his money, we only care about his character" with a great deal of skepticism, given that the man's wealth seems to play a pretty critical role in his identity and in the plot. Frankly, I didn't see a lot of strength in Darcy. I saw a lot of intelligence, a fair amount of emotional reserve/repression (not unusual for men of the time or most times, for that matter), sensitivity, a certain smoldering anger/passion. The only thing I could see which you could construe as strength was a certain unwillingness to be blown about by the winds of fate, which frankly he was able to do mainly because he was rich.

Now I don't begrudge anyone their fantasies. And I wouldn't mind being Darcy; hell, if you're going to have to put up with all the crap that comes from being a guy, it's a whole lot easier to deal with it when you're at the top than when you're at the bottom. But you didn't say Darcy was the (not-quite-PC) romantic ideal of a feminist, you specifically said he was a feminist romantic ideal. And to that I just have to say, WTF?

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