Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Real Men Read Austen

A few months ago, I published this blog posting on the College & Career blog for my church, Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship. I felt it was worth publishing again on my personal blog.
When I was in University, I took a course on the "novel"--we looked at literature from Cervantes, Flaubert, Dostoevsky to Conrad and Angela Carter. Out of all the novels, my professor, who was a man, stated that his favourite author was Jane Austen. Another teacher of mine, Dr. Michael Haykin, Church Historian and Principal at Toronto Baptist Seminary is also a Jane Austen fan. What is it with men and Austen? Isn't Pride and Prejudice a romance novel? Yes, there is romance, but it is a real, tangible and profound sort of romance.

Peter Leithart, who wrote a number of excellent literary companions (Brightest Heaven of Invention about Shalespeare, Ascent to Love about Dante and Heroes of the City of Man about Greek and Roman epics) also worte a book about Austen, entitled, Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen. In this excellent book, which I gave my wife (an Austen fan) on Dr. Haykin's suggestion, Leithart writes this about real men and reading Austen:

I insist that “real men read Austen” and can read her with interest and profit. Austen, after all, created some very striking male characters. Some of her heroes are more than a little effeminate; Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility is painfully silent in much of the book, though that is in part due to a depression caused by his secret engagement to the manipulative Lucy Steele, which is plenty to take the pluck out of a man… Austen’s other heroes, however, are strong and forceful personalities, and definitely not effeminate. All her great heroes—Darcy, Wentworth, Edmund Bertram, Knightley—are men who hold positions of authority and use those positions for good. Each of them is a Christlike lover who sacrifices, often at some cost to his reputation, to win his bride. They are servant heroes, not macho-heroes. For Austen, machismo is just Spanish for “bluster” and is the mark of villainy.Even without considering her strong male characters, Austen’s novels are highly instructive for men. The mere fact that her novels give men an opportunity to see romance through the eyes of an uncommonly perceptive woman should be enough to recommend them. Even if men do not want to see courtship through a woman’s eyes, who can say we do not need to? She has a strong sense of a man’s role in courtship and his responsibility for the course that courtship takes. More then one male character in her novels proves himself a scoundrel by playing with the affections of a woman. Austen’s first rule of courtship is one I have frequently repeated to my sons: Men are responsible not only for behaving honourably toward women but also for the woman’s response; if a man does not intend to enter a serious relationship, he has no business giving a woman special attention or encouraging her to attach herself to him. Austen sees clearly that men who play with women’s affections are fundamentally egotistical. They want the admiration and attention of women without promising anything or making a commitment...…Nothing happens in Austen… Yet precisely because of this limitation, because so little seems to happen, every nuance and contour of what does happen takes on considerable importance. We begin to realise that men can be cads without kidnapping women and confining them in dark towers, and women can be vicious without poisoning their rivals.

No comments: