Let Us Keep Our Money

Let us begin by reflecting upon a line in Jane Austen: “Two economically disadvantaged women yearn for upper-class men of perfect character”.

Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Yearn, I mean. They yearn to share the wealth of the upper-class men, whose perfect character means that they will make no attempts to withhold any of it from them. So far, so normal. But what are the two women bringing to the table themselves?

When an aristocracy takes bloodlines seriously, and imagines all sorts of qualities to reside in the genetic inheritance that we moderns would rather attribute to learned behaviour, then the women might offer soundness of family ¬– though if they are not themselves upper-class and so listed in the “stud-book”, the aristos may fail to believe it. In some times and places, the economically disadvantaged women could be quite upfront about offering sex, but I do not think that Austen’s was one of these. If we had asked Austen exactly how they thought they deserved the rich men, or what they themselves brought to the table, I do not know her works well enough to guess what she would say. I have a possibly ill-founded suspicion that she is standing at the very threshold of the Age of Bullshit, where an impecunious maiden offers an upper-class man something that might or might not be sex, might or might not be loving loyalty, all dressed up and obscured in the new-fangled language of sentiment and romance that Austen herself did so much to explore.

Ang Lee claimed that his Chinese background helped him make one of the best Austen adaptations. This puts me in mind of a fortyish Chinese woman who virtually proposed to me, at a time when I was richer than now. Trying to be diplomatic, I pointed out that I was getting long in the tooth, whereupon she said that she would prefer an old man who wouldn’t need as much sex. Really good advertising, that! So what would I be getting out of it? I never found out.

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