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Austen, Aristocracy, and Regular Joes

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  • Gina Vick
    ... Not to mention the fact that governesses or lady s maids, just as much as regular servants, were obviously in a class of women who didn t have family --
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 27, 2003
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      mythsoc@yahoogroups.com wrote:

      > Message: 21
      > Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 14:25:30 -0700
      > From: Jane Bigelow <jbigelow@...>
      > Subject: Austen
      >
      > Wendell wrote:
      > Because of the law of primogeniture, many of her heroines are in danger of
      > not inheriting an income to live on from their parents and thus might
      > actually have to work for a living.
      >
      > Wendell,
      >
      > Just how many jobs as governess do you think there were? Even if a young
      > woman got one of them, she was hardly in for a life of ease. She wasn't a
      > servant or quite a lady; she was often lonely and seldom well-paid. Jane
      > Austen's heroines are, for the most part, well aware of the consequences of
      > failing to catch a husband who was able to provide for them. There were
      > independent English women in Austen's time, but so far as I know they
      > almost all inherited at least a small income.
      >
      > For many reasons, I'm glad I live now and not then.
      >
      > Jane
      >

      Not to mention the fact that governesses or lady's maids, just as much as regular servants,
      were obviously in a class of women who didn't have family -- especially a male guardian --
      to protect them. You could hope to find a decent situation in a good family where the male
      lordlings of the house kept their hands to themselves. You could just as easily find
      yourself in a position where your male boss pushed himself on you in a way that today we'd
      call sexual harrassment -- and with no recourse of law to protect you. You could quit --
      and get a reputation for being difficult and thus become unable to be hired. Aristocratic
      women in the Victorian era really walked a narrow path to survive -- bad luck could easily
      force you into starvation or prostitution.

      Austen and the Brontes clearly are highlighting this, not glorifying the aristocratic life.
      So is Henry James. If you want another view into what women could be reduced to, read Moll
      Flanders, where James can take off the gloves in a way Austen and the Brontes don't.

      Now, on a side note -- I'm thinking that it's really easy to think aristocrats have no
      sense of reality. In fact, it really works both ways. They have problems just as real and
      difficult as "real people" do. Money, power and fame do NOT buy protection, happiness or a
      good life in and of themselves. I've known several people born into some of America's
      richest families, and they suffered a great deal in their lives -- AND, incidentally, they
      worried constantly about money and some of them were forced by their family to live very
      frugally despite their family wealth. They often have less loving family situations than
      many middle and lower class families, and they are often either hypercompetitive within
      their own family as they jockey for recognition and difficult-to-attain approval, or they
      have difficulty committing to any one path. They are often under tremendous pressure to
      succeed in a grandious way -- or conversely are dismissed as being completely incapable of
      doing anything even if they are doing something as normal and good as you or me (be a
      librarian??? a teacher??? a nurse???? poor thing, how sad....an underachiever, not like his
      brother...) Or they devote themselves to doing a tremendous amount of volunteer work with
      the poor -- sometimes even going to live with people in places I wouldn't go. They struggle
      a lot with depression. They struggle a lot with knowing who likes them for their money, and
      who likes them for them. Some of them commit suicide when the realities they face
      overwhelms them.

      Ah, yes. The jet-set. After knowing some of them I think the middle class has it easy.
      Extremes of poverty and wealth are best avoided. And you don't have to be an aristocrat to
      drop names, titles, or flaunt whatever you do have.

      Now how this conversation is mythopoetic is slipping from me....OH YES!!! CHIVALRY and
      COURTLINESS! the thing I see, is that we tend (undeservedly) to equate aristocracy with
      high manners. The set who knows how to behave and even broker their behavior, including
      their influence and power, for their desired goals. In the best case, this could be see as
      chivalry at it's best. You could look at it also as having the charisma to lead people. So
      does Aragorn have the blood right? Certainly -- but he's also got the gift of chivalry and
      charisma as a leader on his side. The best aristocrats do -- the best aristocrats are very,
      very real and down-to-earth people. Depending on the societal rules, the best regular joes
      are like that too.

      Gina
    • alexeik@aol.com
      In a message dated 3/28/3 1:37:02 AM, Gina wrote:
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 28, 2003
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        In a message dated 3/28/3 1:37:02 AM, Gina wrote:

        <<I've known several people born into some of America's
        richest families, and they suffered a great deal in their lives -- AND,
        incidentally, they
        worried constantly about money and some of them were forced by their family
        to live very
        frugally despite their family wealth. They often have less loving family
        situations than
        many middle and lower class families, and they are often either
        hypercompetitive within
        their own family as they jockey for recognition and difficult-to-attain
        approval, or they
        have difficulty committing to any one path. They are often under tremendous
        pressure to
        succeed in a grandious way -->>

        I think that there's also a fundamental difference in cultural ethos between
        aristocracy-of-wealth (_haute bourgeoisie_) and artistocracy-of-blood
        (_noblesse_). America has no examples of the latter, and therefore no
        manifestation of their particular ethos. In a country like France, however
        (and most European countries, for that matter), they're two quite separate
        social groups, despite some surface similarities and crossovers.
        Samuel Delany's fantasy novel _Neveryona_ has some scenes that express,
        with wonderful insight and observation, the differences between them. His
        Candide-like heroine wanders around in an imaginary ancient civilisation,
        meeting various groups of people who exemplify, in embryonic form, the class
        cultures our society will eventually develop. So the rich _bourgeoise_ woman
        is intent on *impressing* the heroine with her material achievements: her
        status is defined by the wealth she has accumulated through her own efforts,
        and needs to be constantly reaffirmed through public display, in competition
        with (and distinction from) others of greater or lesser wealth. By contrast,
        the aristocratic (old sense) characters [and I was flabbergasted by Delany's
        uncanny ear for the precise mannerisms of their speech: it felt like reading
        a transcription of a conversation with my maternal relatives] have a status
        defined unchangingly by who they *are*, as opposed to depending on the
        vagaries of their wealth, and as a result feel perfectly comfortable
        interacting with "lower-class" people, since such interaction can have no
        effect on an identity that is secure from birth.
        It is this kind of consciousness that keeps _noblesse_ alive as a
        sociocultural phenomenon even when its members no longer enjoy political
        supermacy or even wealth: they continue to have a "special" identity based on
        the *stories* about their lineage that they inherit through their bloodline.
        Alexei
      • alexeik@aol.com
        In a message dated 3/28/3 1:37:02 AM, Gina wrote:
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 28, 2003
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          In a message dated 3/28/3 1:37:02 AM, Gina wrote:

          <<I've known several people born into some of America's
          richest families, and they suffered a great deal in their lives -- AND,
          incidentally, they
          worried constantly about money and some of them were forced by their family
          to live very
          frugally despite their family wealth. They often have less loving family
          situations than
          many middle and lower class families, and they are often either
          hypercompetitive within
          their own family as they jockey for recognition and difficult-to-attain
          approval, or they
          have difficulty committing to any one path. They are often under tremendous
          pressure to
          succeed in a grandious way -->>

          I think that there's also a fundamental difference in cultural ethos between
          aristocracy-of-wealth (_haute bourgeoisie_) and artistocracy-of-blood
          (_noblesse_). America has no examples of the latter, and therefore no
          manifestation of their particular ethos. In a country like France, however
          (and most European countries, for that matter), they're two quite separate
          social groups, despite some surface similarities and crossovers.
          Samuel Delany's fantasy novel _Neveryona_ has some scenes that express,
          with wonderful insight and observation, the differences between them. His
          Candide-like heroine wanders around in an imaginary ancient civilisation,
          meeting various groups of people who exemplify, in embryonic form, the class
          cultures our society will eventually develop. So the rich _bourgeoise_ woman
          is intent on *impressing* the heroine with her material achievements: her
          status is defined by the wealth she has accumulated through her own efforts,
          and needs to be constantly reaffirmed through public display, in competition
          with (and distinction from) others of greater or lesser wealth. By contrast,
          the aristocratic (old sense) characters [and I was flabbergasted by Delany's
          uncanny ear for the precise mannerisms of their speech: it felt like reading
          a transcription of a conversation with my maternal relatives] have a status
          defined unchangingly by who they *are*, as opposed to depending on the
          vagaries of their wealth, and as a result feel perfectly comfortable
          interacting with "lower-class" people, since such interaction can have no
          effect on an identity that is secure from birth.
          It is this kind of consciousness that keeps _noblesse_ alive as a
          sociocultural phenomenon even when its members no longer enjoy political
          supremacy or even wealth: they continue to have a "special" identity based on
          the *stories* about their lineage that they inherit through their bloodline.
          Alexei
        • David S. Bratman
          ... And it is this sense which is meant when it is said that America is a classless society. America is in this sense so entirely classless, in fact, that
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 28, 2003
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            At 10:09 AM 3/28/2003 , Alexei wrote:

            >I think that there's also a fundamental difference in cultural ethos between
            >aristocracy-of-wealth (_haute bourgeoisie_) and artistocracy-of-blood
            >(_noblesse_). America has no examples of the latter, and therefore no
            >manifestation of their particular ethos.

            And it is this sense which is meant when it is said that America is a
            classless society. America is in this sense so entirely classless, in
            fact, that it's hard for many Americans to imagine what such a class system
            would be like; and those who claim that America isn't classless are
            mistaking the privileges of wealth and fame, or those of "old-boy"
            networks, for those of class.

            The haute bourgeoisie is a democratic aristocracy in the sense that anyone
            can rise into it, the same way that anyone can become President. (Whether
            you actually _will_ is of course another question.) The noblesse doesn't
            work that way. One example I remember reading about: the 14th-15th century
            Earls and Dukes of Suffolk were from a rich merchant family that had been
            raised to the nobility, and for generations the rest of the English
            nobility looked down upon them because of their "jumped-up" origins. This
            sort of class system - judging people by who their fathers and grandfathers
            were, not by their own characteristics - is still visible in Jane Austen,
            and it was still apparent in British government power struggles as recently
            as 40 years ago.

            When Tolkien gives Wootton Major's fairy star to plebian children, or makes
            Sam a hero equal to the aristocratic Merry and Pippin; when Lewis packs an
            assortment of varied people, from a professor to an ex-convict, into the
            Fellowship of St. Anne's; when Williams sends a duke, a clergyman, and a
            journalist out to look for the Holy Grail together - they are being
            daringly egalitarian, and really making a point about how all humans are
            equal under God: the same point Thomas Jefferson made when he wrote, "All
            men are created equal."

            - David Bratman
          • Stolzi@aol.com
            In a message dated 3/28/2003 12:22:47 PM Central Standard Time, ... There was a little bit of this in the older Southern culture. I was always taught that it
            Message 5 of 6 , Mar 28, 2003
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              In a message dated 3/28/2003 12:22:47 PM Central Standard Time,
              alexeik@... writes:


              > It is this kind of consciousness that keeps _noblesse_ alive as a
              > sociocultural phenomenon even when its members no longer enjoy political
              > supremacy or even wealth: they continue to have a "special" identity based
              > on
              > the *stories* about their lineage that they inherit through their
              > bloodline.
              >

              There was a little bit of this in the older Southern culture. I was always
              taught that it was not how much money you had which made your family a "good"
              family, but your standards and your heritage. This was natural in a society
              where many white Southerners had lost everything they had in war,
              Reconstruction, and then just when people might be picking themselves up
              again, the Great Depression.

              Though my =own= family were neither white-trash nor white-columns, but rather
              professionals (doctors, engineers) or farmers working their land. I even
              remember thinking that my in-laws were a bit flashy, a bit nouveau-riche -
              they were quite prosperous as a pair of professionals (when working wives
              were not so common) in the rising tide of the 1960's - and they were enjoying
              it!


              Diamond Proudbrook



              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • alexeik@aol.com
              In a message dated 3/29/3 12:01:49 AM, Diamond Proudbrook wrote:
              Message 6 of 6 , Mar 29, 2003
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                In a message dated 3/29/3 12:01:49 AM, Diamond Proudbrook wrote:

                <<There was a little bit of this in the older Southern culture. I was always
                taught that it was not how much money you had which made your family a "good"
                family, but your standards and your heritage. >>

                Interesting, as Southerners were the Americans with whom the old-style French
                aristocracy shared enough core values to feel comfortable dealing with them
                as equal partners, to the point of intermarriage. I have American cousins on
                my maternal side, and they're all descended from marriages made by French
                ancestors in the 19th century. And they're all Southerners.
                Alexei
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