Jane Austen seemed to like to make the self important fall and the ordinary and unimportant shine. The Very-Very-Important-and-Vain-Sir Walter Elliot, in Persuasion, believes in consequence. To be important, to be special, is to him the most important concern of life. To be honest and to pay one’s debts does not really figure. Who can forget Austen’s opening lines:
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, ……..
“Heir presumptive, William Walter Elliot, Esq., great grandson of the second Sir Walter.” Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.
He is in direct contrast to his youngest daughter, Virtuous but Undervalued Anne. She realises her own insignificance and finds pleasure in friends and social responsibilities rather than her own consequence. She treats all others with respect. As she describes herself, “she is no card player”. She feels compassion for those less wealthy and does not reject friends just because they are down on their luck. She has her priorities right.
Maybe this is why Catherine Middleton is so popular – she also seems to have her priorities right? Sure she is a princess and princesses are often popular, but they have a propensity to lose their popularity if they display their privilege and enjoy the pomp. Some have laughed at her mother but obviously she has brought up her daughter with emotional intelligence: Catherine seems happy to live in a cottage in Anglesey; she (as does her husband) likes going home to her parent’s home for Sunday night dinner; she chooses to wear off -the-rack clothes rather than designer clothes some of the time; and she has chosen her mother and father’s home to bring her baby home to, rather than a palace with a retinue of servants. She isn’t trying to be something she isn’t and she doesn’t trade on her importance and consequence by spouting opinions. Hilary Mantel may suggest she is ‘a shop window mannequin’ that somehow she is so perfect. She suggested: Kate Middleton, as she was, appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished. But would her advisers be suggesting she wear a $280 Hobbs coat or any other of the aforementioned decisions she has so obviously made? Catherine Middleton deserves some credit for being herself.
Jane Cornwell, in her article, Princess Perfect, in Melbourne’s The Sunday Age, sounds a wrong note. Why must we assume the worst when women are in the limelight? And why must some men and women insist that we behave in certain ways? Are we suggesting there is only one way to be a woman? There are different ways of being a woman: in Austen’s world there were the married and un-married; in other worlds, interestingly at the same time in convict Australia, just to give one example, there were ‘damned whores’ and ‘god’s police’ (what brilliant labeling from Anne Summers). And there were nurses and teachers not so very long ago. Now there are a myriad of ways of being a woman, thanks to brilliant women who have pushed definitions and boundaries. And so if Catherine Middleton dares to be ordinary in a world where we are all striving to be special, I for one , despite being a staunch republican, respect her. Isn’t this what feminism is about – allowing women to make their own choices? And let’s stop the carping criticism when women choose to just be themselves. Once upon a time women were criticised for being working mothers (what an oxymoron that term is), now they are criticised if they are not working mothers. Once upon a time they were criticised for just being child bearers now they are criticised for being ‘barren’ (just run that past our former Australian Prime Minister) . The point is women should be allowed to make just as many choices as men. There are many ways of being a woman ; just as there are many ways of being a man. Gender should not dictate our way of being.
Catherine Middleton has shown she has the sense to keep quiet, she is not star struck by those of more wealth and importance than her own family, she chooses the simple over the superficial and she is not too cool and important for her family. Indeed she seems like a Jane Austen heroine, not because she got the man, but because she is not pumped up by her own self importance.