"I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be truly disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

21 February 2011

Why Are All My Relatives Such... Twats?

Having recently finished Jane Goes Batty (which I may rant/rave about soon), and with the timely-yet-unexpected random inspirational quote from one of my dear friends, I find myself compelled to follow in the footsteps of scholars and fans far more deserved than I to explore the realm of what many consider the anti-Brontë: Jane Austen.
One might surmise that my overall disdain for two-thirds of the Brontë sisters would create an automatic enjoyment of all works Austen. Sorry to disappoint, dear quick-to-judge readers, but I find Miss Jane flawed as well, though admittedly not with the kind of vehement passion I aim at her Byronic successors. Still, on the whole (and though I have not read all their works), I do gain more personal enjoyment and find more intriguing and worthwhile in Jane's writing than in Charlotte's or (*hurk*) Emily's.
The quote which helped spur on this Austen topic quite took me as both accurate and bitingly amusing:
Apparently to have an Austen-esque romance, your family must be filled with twats.
(Texts from my friends are not, I think, like most people's texts... also, at least in my circle, 'twat' seems to be making a much needed comeback.)

While at first glance the assessment holds true to the 'it's funny because it's true' adage, both for works of Austen and those who hunger to emulate her, on reflection it caused pondering of classic feminine literature in general and how applicable this statement may be.
First, with Austen, it rather amuses me that by all accounts her own family was quite stable and satisfactory, if a little wanting for financial stability. Yet the heroines in most of her novels must deal with family (or those who may become family) who exemplify twattiness while on their individual journey to personal (and matrimonial) bliss.
Obviously Lizzie has to put up with not only her own but Darcy's atrocious relations (I'm looking at you, Aunt Lady Catherine de Twatourge). Twatilicous Lydia even ends up marrying a complete asshat, and I still wonder who got the worst end of that deal: her or Wickham. Even the almost nauseatingly perfect Jane and Bingley must contend with Charles' complete twat of a sister. No wonder Caroline so longs to be in Darcy's family -- she and Aunt Twatty would be the Twats of the Town. And in an informal facebook poll, my friends unanimously crowned Mr. Collins as the King Twat of Pride & Prejudice.
Then we have poor Fanny whose own immediate family pawns her off on her rich relatives at an age where her female cousins can be expected to shat on her like their pet puppies do on the front lawn. Then of course we have the Twat Twins who seduce various members of the Bertram family and end up exposing the fact that Edmund and Fanny are about the only respectable people in that circle -- and even they almost get duped and seduced by the Cunty Crawfords (yeah, I said it).
Similar patterns of familial twattery appear in Emma, Sense & Sensibility and (at least the parts I've read) of Northanger Abbey. The only Austen work which I am almost completely unfamiliar with is Persuasion but I would wager the twat theme queefs mightily in that novel as well.

Still, on my brief contemplation of female literature in general, Jane is not exempt from familial twatishness as a plot device. Miss Charlotte created an epic family of twats with the Reeds, and even the boorish Emily ensured her characters would never see happiness due to their über-twat relatives (of which Heathcliff and Catherine both suffer from and then become themselves). Yes, even my Brontë goddess Anne enlisted the family twat device in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (though Gilbert's family of twats pales in comparison to Helen's husband and Lord Twat, Arthur Twatingdon).
While not 'feminine' literature, She Who Has More Money Than Everyone Else In The World Combined (aka Jo Rowling) excels at using FamTwat. Though young adult literature is steeped in twat tea, few families twat it up as well or as much as the Dursleys or the Malfoys (when your parents' names are Lucius and Narcissa, you're pretty much guaranteed a twatty childhood and thus becoming a top class twat yourself).

Obviously this is not a plot epidemic limited to female authors (Shakespeare was king of family twats), but from one little text I find yet another way to examine feminine literature and authors. I know Familial Twats: Exploring Twatticism in Post-Colonial British Female Authors probably won't garner me any academic accolades or grant money, but it is very interesting as a topic and damn fun to write about... or maybe I just like finding new ways to use 'twat.'

Coming Soon:
Coping with Twats Leads to Bliss? -- how the twatty behaviour of literary families correlates to the ultimate happiness of their protagonist relatives.

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