Wednesday, 10 October 2012

"Gentle Raillery" is Just Nagging in Period Costume

I am thinking once again about Pride and Prejudice and the thousands of knock-offs it has inspired. I am thinking also about the different demands of real life and of novel-writing.

Romance in real life usually involves people hitting it off right away, either as friends or as strangers or mere acquaintances mutually attracted to each other. Any massive personality conflict usually comes later, ending or transforming the romance. In the beginning, all is smooth sailing and goofy smiles.

But this does not meet the demands of romantic fiction, which needs conflict right from page 1 to keep the reader interested and the plot going. After a lifetime of being forbidden from reading any but Georgette Heyer's romance novels, I read a whole glut of non-Georgette for Irony class in grad school. And it struck me that they were all the same. They all involved Woman meets Man, Man behaves Rudely, Woman chastizes Man, Man feels amused and intrigued, Woman goes off in huff, Eventually Woman realizes she had Man all wrong, Sex Stuff (or Just Kissing), The End.

Man often had steely grey eyes. All over the world there may be grey-eyed men who wonder why women berate them and then hang around expectantly.

This may be very hard to believe if your primary interaction with men and romance is through romantic novels, films and television programs, but men do not like being mocked, chastized or harangued. Not once in my life, and I dated for over 20 years, weep weep, have I ever heard a real-life man say "Dang, but I like a gal with spirit!" This cannot be because I lack spirit. I have spirit in buckets. I think that this is just a line men use (if they ever do) when they have decided in ADVANCE that they are going to court this particular woman, no matter what she thinks about it.

Beautiful Woman at Buffet Table: Would you mind not breathing down my neck?

Smitten Man: Great buffet, isn't it?

Beautiful Woman: I'd enjoy it more if you didn't breathe down my neck.

Smitten Man: Dang, I like a gal with spirit!

Do you see the distinction? You cannot make a man fall in love with you by teasing or berating him, although you might not necessarily discourage a man who is already interested in you by teasing or berating him. If a man is constantly hanging out around your desk at work and blushing, and you say with a smile, "Gracious sakes, Fred. Why don't you just ask me out for coffee and be done with it?", Fred will probably do just that. But if Fred only acknowledges your existence with an absentminded nod in the photocopy room, such "gentle raillery" will not encourage Fred as much as it will annoy him.

Elizabeth Bennet thought that Mr Darcy was a rude and pompous ass who would leave her community as suddenly as he entered it and, as she was worried that her sister was in danger of losing her heart to his best friend, the sooner they both went, the better. This is why Elizabeth stuck metaphorical pins into Mr Darcy. This is not why Mr Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth.

Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth because she had beautiful, intelligent eyes, a nice figure and amusing conversation (Chapter 6). And of course she was clever and very caring to those she loved. She was also a mystery to the people-watching Mr Darcy because she was so unlike her relations. And she must have been a refreshing change from Caroline Bingley, who did her very best to captivate him, including with "gentle raillery."

Someone quoted me from P & P the other day, thinking Elizabeth quite delightful and her speech hilarious. However, it was clear that my interlocutor had heard or remembered the speech out of context. Context is often what gets dropped from film or TV versions.

Here is the speech within the context, with my bolds to flag what must be flagged:

Chapter 10

...Mrs Hurst sang with [Caroline Bingley], and while they were thus employed Elizabeth could not help observing as she turned over some music books that lay on the instrument, how frequently Mr Darcy's eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great a man; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her, was still more strange. She could only imagine at last that she drew his notice because there was something about her more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. This supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I love your blog. Mr Darcy is staring at me. Why?

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

Because he thinks you are the most beautiful woman in the room, you moron. And he's been staring at you since Chapter 6.

Grace and peace,
Seraphic

After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon after Mr Darcy, drawing near to Elizabeth, said to her--

'Do you not feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity for dancing a reel?'

She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.

'Oh!' said she,'I heard you before; but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say "Yes," that you may have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all--and now despise me if you dare.'

'Indeed I do not dare.'

Dear Elizabeth,

He was asking you to dance, toots.

Grace and peace,
Seraphic

Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness [Uh oh! Jane, that word 'archness' is going to blight countless female lives...] in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.

Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and...[s]he often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness in such an alliance.

***
So Elizabeth, who dislikes Mr Darcy, uses raillery to anger him and fails, and Miss Bingley, who has a crush on Mr Darcy, uses raillery to make him dislike Elizabeth and also fails. Truly, raillery is a dangerous thing. If you want a man to like you, don't use it.

And if you are determined, despite my repeated pleas not to do so, to keep Pride and Prejudice as your personal Guide to Life, please remember that Elizabeth didn't have a crush on Mr Darcy, he had a crush on her. For the love of Jane Austen and all she held holy, don't talk to your crush object the way Elizabeth talked to Mr Darcy.

16 comments:

Magdalen said...

Oh man, I learned this the HARD way at age 20, believe you me.

He was such a NCB, too. And he liked me. But not so much so that a bizarre personality transplant changed the direction of his affections. Sigh.

JustAnotherCatholicGirl said...

Oh Auntie! I laughed out loud while reading this! You are so right haha! Thank you for making my morning a sunny one. I'm going to be thinking about this all day, chuckling to myself hahaha. Have a blessed day!

Ally said...

But, crush objects, feel free to talk to us the way Mr. Darcy talked to Elizabeth after Chapter Six.

Seraphic said...

Unless they have made as careful study of "Pride and Prejudice" as Mr Darcy's female admirers, they are most unlikely to do this. And, frankly, I advise all girls to flee any man who attempts it.

Cindy said...

Bravo! Great analysis. When they love you there is almost nothing you can do to squash it. When they don't love you there is nothing you can do to inspire it. :) Never be harsh for when they love you their feelings are tender and you want them to stay that way for a lifetime.

Sarah said...

I'd just like to state, once again, that girls' obsession with Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett almost turned me off of Jane Austen entirely.

However, having just finished Northanger Abbey yesterday, I've decided it's not really Miss Austen's fault that readers of her books try to conform their life and their expectations and their behavior to her characters'. Those who do obviously have never read Northanger Abbey, whose theme is very much in the vein of "stay rooted in reality" and the dangers of referring to novels as a guide to every day life.

By the way, I thought Mr. Tilney is probably my new favorite. He's funny and he's the least pompous of all Austen's heroes.

Urszula said...

I love your dialogue with Elizabeth. I wish more susceptible girls could read it and figure out that no, behaving like Elizabeth will not get them a Mr. Darcy as husband. JA Readers are frequently not rooted in reality - I know I wasn't.

This may be going off on a tangent a bit, but I'm not quite sure that men dislike being teased. I realize Elizabeth never really meant to tease, rather she wanted to affront Darcy so he would leave her and her sister alone - so she isn't a really good model, in any case. But from my experience, men (especially intelligent men with a sense of humor, and who would want to date someone who wasn't both?) don't react badly to gentle sarcasm or small nudges of irony. That's my style of interacting with men, based on growing up in a Polish family with a large amount of brothers and a large amount of sarcasm - and it's served me well in a male-dominated work setting, as well as social interactions. I think the key here though is being ‘gentle’. If I poke fun at my male friends, they know that I am treating them comfortably, as if they were my brothers or cousins, and that I like them, I just sometimes like to point out the inconsistencies of their behavior. I also frequently poke fun at myself, so maybe that serves to soften the blow. Either way, I’ve found my male friends sometimes appreciate not just batting eyelashes and gushing about their brilliance, but just simple good humor which may or may not be directed at them, depending on the circumstances. Ditto with the men I’ve dated.

Seraphic said...

Three thoughts. One, brothers are brothers and male colleagues are solidly in the friend zone. So if you make fun of them the way men do (and men rag each other in a friendly way all the time), that is not a big deal. Two, if eligible men are clearly interested in you already, a bit of joking around won't hurt. Third, it can be hard for the jokester to determine where joking around ends and belittling begins. Such joking can be the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that makes married couples absolutely miserable.

okiegrl said...

Why all the hating on Pride and Prejudice and Austen in general? I think there are several great things about P&P, and I wonder how many women actually read the book.

Take Darcy, for example. He starts off proud and aloof, but in the end he humbles himself, repents, and does penance in the form of saving Elizabeth's ENTIRE family from certain ruin. THAT is what wins Elizabeth's affections, along with a good report from his servant. How this got turned into "women should insult men that aren't interested in them" or "a guy who is a jerk is a catch because he is like Darcy" is beyond me.

I'm not trying to be insulting, and it seems like I am the minority opinion. I just don't understand.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Brilliant post, and I think it should be required reading for young ladies. :-)

~Nzie

Seraphic said...

There's no hating on either "Pride and Prejudice" or Jane Austen on this blog. My difficulty is with women who read it as a Guide to Life. It is not a Guide to Life.

It is a comic novel written at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries by an Anglican woman (with Evangelical leanings) who was on the bottom rung of the English landed gentry and therefore never had to get a job and certainly never went on a date as we know it.

Initially called "First Impressions," P & P pits the pride of one character against the prejudice of the other.

Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter of a small landowner/millionaire, is prejudiced against a Mister Darcy, a billionaire a few years older than herself, whose massive wealth very likely depends, not only on the British feudal system propped up by the groaning masses, but on African slave labour in the West Indies, because he wouldn't dance with her at a party, saying (a trifle imprudently) that she was not pretty enough to dance with.

Elizabeth decides to hate his guts on the strength of this remark and to fear his influence over his best friend, with whom her beloved sister is in danger of falling in love. They live in a very small community and if any of the girls are courted and dumped, the entire community will know, laugh at them, and talk about it for the next 50 years because that's how pre-industrial revolution English villages rolled.

The story of witty, pretty Elizabeth and incredibly rich and unsmiling Mr Darcy has particularly captivated recent generations, thanks to a BBC television series which portrays Elizabeth as a sparky feminist and Mr Darcy as the thinking woman's crumpet, whose stolid exterior hides a tiger of thunderstorm of a volcano of a something or other.

It might have helped that the BBC actors had so much chemistry that they actually wanted to sleep together and, if the papers (and Helen Fielding) are to be believed, eventually did. So when Colin glowered at Jennifer, he was not just acting, he really was thinking "She MUST be MINE!" and when Jennifer blushed, she was not just acting, she was really thinking, "What are his motives? Oh me! Oh my! Is he my enemy or my friend?" It was all very sexy, no doubt.

"Pride and Prejudice" as an model of the birth of the 19th century novel is marvellous. "Pride and Prejudice" as a guide to 21st century life is quite dangerous because it can lead bookish girls into thinking that men who scowl at them might secretly be into them and if only the girls are witty enough, they will win their hearts. Or something.

At any rate, I have noticed girls insulting boys they are crazy about all my life, and I think it a bad idea.

Magdalen said...

*cough* The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube is awesome *cough*

Urszula said...

Seraphic, I totally agree with your three thoughts above. For me, there are two ways to use humor and sarcasm:

a) Gentle joking/teasing which I guess can be a mild form of flirting. I was thinking more of what you've discussed on this blog before (I believe as bantering) and which for me is a way of building rapport and is a signal that I like someone and am comfortable around someone - and vice versa.

b) Using humor and wit to tear someone down - this is along the lines of dialogues ie in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which truly are belittling and marriage-shattering.

Men - and women - very easily distinguish between the two.

I think men appreciate a girl who is fun and comfortable enough with who she is - and around them - to make jokes along the lines of a). I also find it's an often subtle and gentle way to get a point across than outright confrontation. At any rate, it's worked for me, so I just thought that maybe there was some subtle distinction that was being lost here.

Oh, and it may be too that the joking/teasing I was referring to is inherently Polish. We do tend to have a strangely subversive and self-mocking sense of humor, and strange ways of expressing love. When these two mix, you get the Polish saying "Kto sie czubi, ten sie lubi" = those who argue really secretly like each other.

okiegrl said...

Seraphic, okay, I grant that the hating I referred to in my prior comment was a tad hyperbolic. :-) I can be a little dramatic at times.

I guess I've just never considered any Austen novel a guide for life, just fun and witty read. That said, all the posts against using JA as a guide for life was just puzzling. I agree with the posts, I just didn't realize so many women were using JA as a guide for life.

Seraphic said...

Dear Magdalen, thanks especially for the Polish point of view and proverb! Those are both very helpful, especially as I am going to Poland at the end of the month to talk to Polish Singles!

Seraphic said...

Oh, sorry! I meant Urszula, of course.