Ever since I started reading on the Kindle I’ve been reading free books– all books by female authors. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. I’m in the middle of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott at the moment, and I can’t get over the similarities. I probably need to read more novels penned by women before I can speak informedly, and I am enjoying the books– I thoroughly am. But I can’t help but notice a trend.
Once you get past the obvious point that all of the women in Austen’s books are unemployed with lives revolving around their future marriages (Little Women is a bit more progressive on that point), the books focus entirely on how these women should be working harder to perfect themselves. They should be musical, well read, witty and beautiful, of course. But a great deal of every book is spent on the inner reflection of each character or conversations with the other women in their family. They spend every day wondering how to better themselves emotionally, to always act prudently (a word used often in the books and not today), and to be mindful of class and station. They chastise themselves for being loud, opinionated, quick to anger, in want of anything material, etc etc.
That’s not to say it isn’t good to aim for those things, but 100+ years later and not much has changed. Most women would rather anything than to be exposed as anything other than nice and good. It practically defines us from our infancy, striving to be good, constantly wondering about what kind of person we are (okay, a lot of women are worried about their appearance as well). When was the last time you read a book, written by a man, where the entire story was about them realizing some character flaw, obsessing over trying to be a calm and good person, and internalizing their emotions and pleasing others? Especially a book written before the 20th century.[Note: I have to mention the book The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons. My mother gave me a copy a few months ago and I was surprised to not only relate, but it was also somewhat shocking to realize that (most) boys don’t think and feel about themselves and the world that I (and other) women do. I can’t pretend it hasn’t influenced what I have just written.]