(Ed. Note #1: Upon reading a recent post on “MillersTime” — “Lexicographic Gratification: Confessions of an Introvert” — another long time friend offered the article below for readers of this website. His title was “Austen Apology,” but I have taken the editor’s liberty of giving it the title you see above and below.)
An Apology and an Overture to Jane Austen
by Harry Siler
Dear Miss Austen,
Writing this letter, most forward of activities on my part, is made necessary by the surprising realization that I have grown to like you. I had been quite ready to blame you, before coming to know your writings, for the most awful state of the gender-divide in the English Speaking World.
My original mistaken complaint was related to having assumed that you had, by your influence on young women readers, taught them to make marriage their goal and having provided them, thereby, with the very handbooks of just how their goal of marriage might be achieved. Your glowing stories of pretty ribbons and long dresses were unrealistic, and your endless discussion of gender-mingling continues as an energizing human endeavor among the lay people has only offered a partial story. There was no discussion of the not-so-niceties of life such as discussion of frequent trips to the privy, with its imagined attendant complications. Nor did you offer any suggestion, or warning, that life extends beyond the wedding day and deserves its considerable consideration if those lives, thereby being bound, are to be made “for better or for worse,” as the saying goes.
Or so it seems to me.
Another of my early complaints was toward the narrowness of your stories and subject matter. England was at war for most of your life, first with the rowdy Americans rebelling and then with the French. War, it seemed, to be of no concern to you. Neither, it seemed, was what must have been the clearly lesser lives of those who served you and your family, and your uppity friends. But, I soon came to see that, despite my initial objections, by the very narrowness of your focus, the story that you were telling was quite interesting to me, and was made more so, and more focused, by what you were not saying. I found myself reading late into the night, more interested in the lives of your people than in what the lack of my own sleep would mean for my own morrow.
The matchmaking and the miss-matches being made have been of keen interest to me, as has been the revealed secret that people do not always say what they mean. That that has been going around longer than my discovery of it is also a surprise. Perhaps it will not surprise you that such is happening still. (Indeed, one might say that new means of communications having been added, some with batteries, that permit increased misreading of the mind of others even more readily and at a much greater distance.) Or, that it often misleads those of us in the irony-challenged classes to jump forward, with our wishful-thinking, into, surprisingly to us, suddenly empty places, much as an eager bull might charge at a never-intended cape.
Your written discussion in Pride and Prejudice of Mr. Bennett’s marriage, its beginnings and its effects, showed me how, again, I had misjudged you. You did see, and I can only hope those generations of your young women readers also saw, the depth of life made possible, or thereby rendered impossible, by the marriages they were seeing you illustrate.
Dear Lady, you and I, if you will entertain my overtures, will have as our guide the good offices of Lady Herring-Hicks helping us with the protocol of our various times, places and stations. I will seek her advice at each turn as I next approach you. But this letter seemed the least I should do, in the way of a warning, before I attempt to engage with you further.
Our own rowdy American, Benjamin Franklin noted in his writings that older women much appreciate the attention of a younger man, and I must tell you it adds to my excitement no end to consider myself a younger man, as I wait your reply. There may be rattlers among your friends who will say, because you’re dead, that I can’t be taken seriously. Please know that I have, in my past life, gone out and about with some women who were quite similar in their presentation, and that I thereby feel I have been more that sufficiently prepared to meet you as you are presently situated. Your views on dancing alone suggest a liveliness unknown in my own past life. As a young man I attended a college that suppressed sexual relations among its attendants for fear that dancing might break out. I will bring my own set of peculiarities with me when I come to call.
Some wise person, finally and in time, has advised that marriage was an institution whereby, “one was capable of having your burdens halved, and your joys doubled” if it be done well. That seems a more complete statement, however ideal, of the institution’s potential. Even failing at the doing of that might be the better sort of enterprise to aim for. And if, as partners in the effort beforehand, each partner is pregnant with the knowledge that practice will be required in its achievement. The word “practice” has long held special meaning for me. Ages ago, back home visiting, I crossed paths with a friend from when we were both young and just married, and asked if he had children. He said, “No, we’re still practicing.”
Please do feel free to react to this overture in whatever fashion you are moved to. It is on of the great inventions of the new age that women are now free to speak their minds and that they have assumed the role of partners in this kind of enterprise, sharing in both the design and in the manufacture of the lives that they aspire to.
Your’s, & c.
(Ed. Note #2: Mr. Siler can be reached by email – harrysiler