After spending the last month re-watching some of my favorite A&E and BBC movie versions of Jane Austen’s books, I spent some serious time thinking about my life. And all that thinking
gave me a headache has convinced me that in 19th
Century England, I would've been super hot.
|Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennett (Robert Z. Leonard, 1940)|
My friend Laura and I like to talk about how we'd be 10's in England, though we're probably only 8's in the U.S. (she's closer to a 9) and maybe only 4's in Los Angeles (she's more like a 6.5...what can I tell you? People are made of plastic here.) But standards in England are notoriously low. I think it has a lot to do with their teeth.
Okay, so back then you were considered a really hot catch for a wealthy country gentleman with a large fortune if you could do the following:
1. Read and write. (Check)
2. Ride a horse. (I’ve totally done that before. Check.)
3. Play the pianoforte (I can play “Moon River” and both parts of “Heart and Soul” on a real piano, so I’m sure that the pianoforte would’ve been no big deal for me. Another check.)**
4. Walk a 30-minute mile without getting tired, even while wearing binding clothing. (Check and check. While my clothes aren’t usually binding, they’re often short, which presents a whole different set of problems. Also, I’ve worn corsettes in plays and I think we should bring those back. They preclude breathing, but are super slimming.)
5. Play Whist. (I can play Go Fish, War, Bullshit and Spoons, so Whist should be a snap. Check.)
|Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (Simon Langton, 1995).|
6. Not have a job. (I’m actually really good at this one. Check.)
7. Be “handsome.” It’s not quite clear what, exactly, makes for a “handsome” woman; but based on the movies I’ve watched, it doesn’t seem to take a lot. You just have to be female, have hair and teeth, and not have a hunchback or a debilitating illness. (Of course, if you’re wealthy, you can totally have a debilitating illness and it’s no big deal. But I’m not wealthy.) And since I have a strait, full set of teeth and can walk upright (when I try) I’m going to give this another Check.
8. Recite poetry or Shakespeare. Now here’s where my theatre degree would finally pay off, if you discount the fact that in that time period actresses were generally considered to be whores. But they’re considered whores in this period, too. So Check.
|Keira Knightley as Elizabeth. I'm sorry, is Elizabeth a model? A major film star? (Joe Wright, 2005).|
9. Engage in witty repartee. I do that all the time! I was just engaging in witty repartee a few moments before I began writing this list! Check.
10. Sit around all day with little to nothing to do. Check. (Actually, if napping wasn't permitted, I probably couldn't have pulled this one off.)
|This is what I'm talking about: Jane is considered the "pretty one." See, this time period was a whole different ballgame. Not saying she's ugly, it's just....different, you know?|
Here’s what I’d have some trouble with: in order to be considered a “lady” you'd have to be able to do the following:
1. Keep your opinions focused on the weather and everyone’s health. I have a natural inclination towards what the 19th Century folk might call "quite talkative," though I seldom make a strong point about anything. Okay, actually this should probably be up there with the pluses.
2. Needlepoint: yikes. I’ve actually tried this, and it REALLY didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. Also, it sucked and was boring.
3. Dance: oh my god, I’m really, really bad at dancing. Like, I’m scary bad. The gentlemen would run from me at your run-of-the-mill, friendly, neighborhood ball.
4. Be under the age of 25. Sadly, I cannot do that without a time machine.
|Emma as Elinor Dashwood. Everything about it was brilliant, despite the fact that Emma was a solid 36 years old playing the 20-year-old Elinor. Eh. She's entitled, since she wrote the screenplay.|
5. Sit around all day listening to other people talk about really boring things.
6. Not ask any guys out because they have to ask you first: if that were the case today, I’d have never had a date or a boyfriend in my entire life. (It's probably not ladylike to mention that.)
7. Keep your trap shut when someone is being boring/stupid/rude. That’s hard for me. I really like calling people out on their bullshit. I like it even more than Whist. But if someone calls me on my bullshit, I can't handle it at all. NOT AT ALL.
8. Sit around in times of extreme heat, cold, and boredom with no electricity.
9. Not drink alcohol, except for the occasional sherry during an acute (and most likely life-ending) bout of tuberculosis. Ew.
On the advice of Emily, I recently started reading Mansfield Park, which is perhaps one of Jane Austen’s most opinionated/judge-y books. It has me convinced, based on the way some of these purported “hot bitches” behave, that I would have probably been considered a bit of a “forward” young lady (old lady? I'm not under 25, after all). But I honestly think that I would’ve had dudes coming out of the woodwork and begging me to marry them and live on their 400 billion acre estates. Seriously, based on the size of my forehead alone, I would be hitched to a thousandaire by the age of 18, tops.
|Here's Fanny. From Mansfield Park. Fanny sucks. I could totally get married before her.|
It would be advantageous if I could go back to this time period with information about the future (our present), though. Not to scare anybody, but just so I seemed really smart and informed. I’d say things like, “If Napoleon keeps up with these petty battles, he’s going to end up exiled to an island of some sort.” Or “The days of the French Monarchy seem to be drawing to a swift close.” Or “Why don’t we all start doing something about the drinking water around here? It seems most of us are developing rather unsightly teeth.” Or “Have you guys heard the latest song I’ve written (insert “Moon River” on the pianoforte)?”***
*Lady Catherine de Bourgh explains how she'd be a really great musician if she'd ever learned an instrument. My feelings exactly. From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
**Just did some research and discovered that “pianoforte” is just the Italian (and, I believe, the original) word for “piano.” So, um, yeah. I could totally play that. A little bit.
**But they won’t know what “Huckleberry friend” refers to, which will make it less impactful.