Monday, June 2, 2008

Odd Bedfellows/gals

Here's an odd connection: I just finished reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, all 19th century and a mile wide. It focuses on the fortunes--romantic and monetary--of a semi-wealthy family in England, as experienced through the viewpoint of the eldest daughter, sensible Elinor. The premise is that good girls marry honest, upstanding, respected men, and with a "living" on which they can depend. Clothes, manners, social connections drive this system, and when one fails the system, censure is immediate. The clever foil for Elinor is a girl of less than wonderful qualities, Lucy Steele, who does a good-enough job of fitting in and manages to marry well, wins the affection of her sour but wealthy mother-in-law, and ends as Elinor's sister-in-law. It's a girly thing.

Then yesterday I saw, in company with half a dozen other women, Sex and the City. Among other things, this film is Jane Austen on steroids! It's clearly a girly thing, all about clothes, sex, and marriage. At one point, the wedding dress becomes a trap for Carrie, the main character. Shoes and handbags figure heavily. And there's another similarity: both the book and the film manage plot lines for several women at once, and their positions in their culture. Each of the four famous friends in the film has her own story woven into the whole. In the book, three young women provide a similar structure. Almost two centuries later, after all the bra-burning, protests, and progress (We very nearly had a viable female candidate for Pres!), our popular image is still what we wear and whom we marry. To be sure, the graphic sex in the film sets it clearly in our time, but the underlying themes are twins. Fun, but nothing new. We still love Cinderella. KD