Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Austen's Heirs Still Fight Male Prejudice

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Austen's Heirs Still Fight Male Prejudice

Article excerpt


IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that there must always be new ways for women to be in the wrong.

Go to the delicious new film of Pride and Prejudice and you will see the panicky Mrs Bennet trying to get her daughters married before they are too old.

Jane Austen wrote P&P in 1813.

Fast-forward 192 years to a report which warns of women "defying nature and risking heartbreak" by delaying babies until it's too late. Not just women, mind you.

Career Women. Selfish creatures who put their work before their reproductive function. Women like, er, Jane Austen.

No one understood better than Austen how female destiny is dictated by economics. The Bennet girls will all end up homeless unless their mum finds them a fortune with a bloke attached.

Bright young women like Elizabeth Bennet may have hoped for a love match, but only if they looked like Keira Knightley. And only until the age of 26, when they passed their sell-by date and got put into Special Offers with the other greying meat.

"A woman, especially if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can," said Jane. We tell ourselves it's different now. We're equal, aren't we? We have nothing to hide. No longer, like poor Charlotte Lucas, do we have to accept creeps like Mr Collins because the only alternative is the long drought of spinsterhood. At the age of 27 today, most women are not worrying about dowries, but about downpayments on flats in Deptford that cost more than a Derbyshire stately home.

Yet how much have we really progressed? Are there thoughts and ambitions that we conceal not only from our bosses, but, more dangerously, from ourselves? Last week, I met a 21st-century Elizabeth Bennet. She is pretty and clever with a good job and a boyfriend she is too busy to see.

Thirty-two-year-old Lizzie has done well in her male-dominated office, so well that she can't conceive of a time when conceiving would be a good idea.

When I teasingly told Miss Bennet she should hurry up and have a baby, she pointed out that all the women who had become mothers had been demoted.

"How about fighting that?" I asked and Lizzie snapped: "They're not going to put my name on some monument for women who sacrificed their career for the greater good, are they?"

This latterday Lizzie is doing what that tut-tutting report calls " denying nature". Why?

Because Mother Nature still has no place in the world of work.

There is a beautiful scene in the new movie when Elizabeth and Darcy are at a ball. As the couple begin to fall for each other, the rest of the dancers disappear, until it seems to be just the two of them in the room. Love makes the world fall away. It is our surest instinct and it leads to children, who are our greatest consolation. …

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