Thursday, October 22, 2009
A Generation of Lydias?
This past summer my dear husband, Matt conquered something I had not yet been successful in doing. He read “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. This accomplishment came as a result of his long commute for work (2+ hours each way by train) and the realization that despite my claim that I ‘love’ Jane Austen I had never read the book. He would read something that I had not read! Amazing!
Now, I have seen every movie of this wonderful story, with the Colin Firth version edging out the Kyra Knightley one slightly. I have seen the other Jane Austen treasures bought to screen, but am embarrassed to admit I had never read them, any of them, in their entirety. I have made attempts throughout my growing up years but always failed. I would give up on the language and the descriptions and came to decide that ‘classics’ weren’t for me!
If you will humor me, I would like to share an illustration of just how pathetic I was in this regard. During my 10th year of school I had Mrs. Higgins for English. Everyone has a “Mrs. Higgins” in their school memories. She was infamous in my high school for being demanding, critical and very out-of-date. She wore black on report card day and stood barely 5 ft. tall. She not only expected her students to read but went so far as to hand out a list of what you could read - nothing else was allowed when a “book report” was due, which was once a month. These reports were written during class time based on questions she distributed and were required to be at least 200 words. There would be no using CliffNotes or cheating here, you couldn’t pay anyone to write this paper for you. It was all your own work and your words. Getting an “A” in Mrs. Higgins’ class was a historic moment and cause for pride.
I, however, was excited to have her as a teacher and took her on as a challenge, after all, I was a voracious reader and got nothing but ‘A’s’ in English/Literature. I read 2-3 books a week and was a frequent ‘shopper’ at both our school and public library. When, during the first week of classes some 25+ years ago, she asked if anyone liked to read I quickly raised my hand. “What did I like to read”, she queried. “Anything but the classics” was my arrogant reply. I saw her brow furrow and felt the heat from her laser stare. “And what do you deem a classic?”, she demanded. “Anything written before I was born”, I replied and, yes, with all the disrespect and sarcasm you imagine. I am mortified by this memory and it came back to haunt me this past summer.
Once Matt began reading the saga of Elizabeth and Darcy, he wanted to share his insights and excitement. But my movie experience was nothing (as you all know) compared to the actual story. To be able to keep up the discussion and salvage my own pride, I had no choice - I had to read the book. As is always the case, it is not the movie and so much better than I imagined. I had much to learn from Miss Austen.
For our purposes here, I want to share about what I learned specifically from Lydia, the youngest of the five Bennett daughters. For those of you who have not read the book (or even seen the movie), she is described in the beginning of the book as such, “a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humored countenance; a favorite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal sprits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which with the attentions of the officers, to whom her uncles’ good dinners and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance.” She almost brings complete ruin upon the family when she elopes with the awful Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham, a long time acquaintance of Mr. Darcy, “has neither integrity nor honor. That he is as false and deceitful, as he is insinuating.”, who convinces Lydia to leave with him. Matthew and I are divided as to wether this was done by him with no intention of marriage but only in the hopes of gaining a mistress (Matt’s view and the correct one) or some dowry funds from Mr. Bennett (my more hopeful view).
Regardless, by the time the news of the elopement has reached the ears of Elizabeth, we discover that Lydia “has never been taught to think on serious subjects; and for the last half year, nay, for a twelvemonth, she has been given up to nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that came in her way.”
I myself read these words with deep embarrassment as those could have been used to describe me at that same age. Lydia was only 15! The age at which I found the reading of “Pride and Prejudice” just too much of a challenge and I let myself be content with mediocre, poorly written romances that were nothing but ‘amusement and vanity’. The age at which Mrs. Higgins took me on as a challenge and led me from shallow thoughts and books to deep reading that showed me the real power of words.
What are we doing for our girls - especially our older girls - are we raising a generation of Lydia’s?
If you are surprised at what I am writing, don’t be worried, I am as well. I am probably more known for my love of joy and eutrapelia than perhaps piety and perseverance. But I love those more ‘heady’ virtues as well. Every virtue is a necessary part of our characters and formation but we all know that some are easier to make our own that others. Such might be said of joy versus moderation which might have been Lydia's struggle. The challenge of us as mothers (and as Catholics) to make sure we are giving our daughters (and ourselves) appropriate challenges based on age, temperament and abilities to tackle the more challenging virtues and more difficult manners and personal habits.
There are any number of struggles to our faith and Christ’s Kingdom during these days and if our daughters are not taught by us; they will taught by someone else. Do not feel as if I am requiring reading of Jane Austen as Mrs. Higgins did (though it might not be a bad idea), but I would want us to remember the words of St. Paul, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Phil. 4:8.
Let us not leave our daughters to “ to adopt any opinions that came in her way” but teach them the skills necessary to listen, discern and learn what is true, for they themselves will be teaching others - either their own children or someone else’s possibly as a religious or a teacher.
And while Elizabeth and Darcy’s story has a happy ending, we know nothing of Lydia's which sometimes makes me pause. For while this ‘Lydia’ (me) turned out all right, and even managed to get an ‘A’ from Mrs. Higgins by the end of that year of school, I know other Lydia’s from my grade and past who did not have the same good fortune. Let us be committed to prevent such endings for our daughters and do what we must to ensure they have a better chance that poor Lydia ever did. Asking great things of our daughters and ourselves will be a struggle but have courage for "In Him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything!" (Phil. 4:13). Even the tough job of parenting!
(We have many opportunities here at EHP to challenge your girls beyond the ‘idle and frivolous’ wether it be through the Honor Guard or a new look at Little Flowers Wreath One which they might not have seen since they were 5 or 6 years old.)