How I Turned Into A Jane Austen Heroine During The Lockdown
June 01, 2020
The buzz of the alarm clock (or mothers shouting, or fathers switching off the pankha), speculating whether to risk taking a walk outside or not, mandatory participation in family dinners and chitchat, and reading…so much reading. If you take out the technological advancement (because screaming mothers can be found in every century), you might come to a startling conclusion – we could easily be characters in a Jane Austen novel!
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to stay at home during the pandemic, but are slowly realising that with every silver lining comes a huge grey cloud, looking at life through the ‘Jane Austen lens’ might help. My life, especially, has become almost similar to that of Austen’s heroines; and one glance at her stories will show you why.
Just like everyone else, I was apprehensive about the new restricted reality I was fast becoming a part of (damn you, Corona). I felt disconnected from real life over the first few weeks of the lockdown. I went from being constantly surrounded by people to being only surrounded by family. So, I turned towards my beloved author Jane Austen for comfort and escape. But I was in for a dramatic surprise this time since I suddenly realised that my life was now eerily similar to those of Austen’s heroines (minus the constricting corsets, awesome gowns and the charming gentlemen).
I learnt that being a Regency-era heroine was not very different from being a woman in social isolation. They were almost always socially distant – living in houses that were easy to get lost in, or in the countryside where the land went on for miles; even the romance took place across a socially acceptable distance that would make my neighbourhood aunties proud. Barring the reasons for this isolation, and modern technology, I found myself asking the crucial question – am I going to survive being an Austen heroine? (Spoiler alert – I do.)
Social Distancing And Courtship Romance
Over the past two months of social distancing, two different pigeons have laid eggs and had their children fly away in front of my eyes (I became a foster mom for a week – and, let me tell you, motherhood is no piece of cake). Apparently, birds are hornier than usual, and I get to witness this instead of going out on a date of my own. I mean, on one hand, I am happy that a bird is getting some (you go, girl!), but on the other hand, I understand why Lydia Bennet was always going on and on about men. While Tinder and Bumble are great, nothing really matches the magic of actual, in-person dating.
Due to mobile phones and dating apps, romance has taken a turn today, and not for the better. There’s Aaditya spelled with ‘aa’ (don’t ask), who writes bibliophile in his bio, but has only read a Chetan Bhagat book; girls are lucky if they manage to get a proper conversation going before the eggplant emoji rears its head; and, complaints of ‘high standards’ are rife. Where’s the romance? Where’s the guy with the boom box outside my window (although my dad would morph into the Hulk and my neighbourhood aunties would chant ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ in unison)? Where is my Mr. Knightley with his witty banter? Well, girls, now is our chance.
Thanks to social distancing, dating has, once again, taken an old-fashioned turn. Due to restrictions over meeting, guys (and even girls) have resorted to texting and calling all day, wooing each other creatively, and having a long (extremely, extremely long) courtship period right now. We are now in the Austenian Era, where long texts have replaced booty calls, with the no-touching rule making a comeback. Just like Jane and Mr. Bingley, or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or even Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy (albeit not voluntarily by the latter), we now have to resort to using our words to convey romantic feelings, walks that involve so much distance an entire horde of gossipy aunties can pass through, and sarcastic banter with sexual undertones.
I like banter and passionate discussions to be a part of my dating rituals, as do a lot of young women. Here’s our chance to ask our future Mr. Darcy (although looking at the bios of guys who think it’s ‘cool’ to say TikToker, I’d say my chances are slim to none) about their thoughts on dating, or dancing, or even literature. Here’s our chance to vet them, to test their patience, to see them set aflame by the fire of waiting and waiting and waiting….
So, you see, I am really enjoying moonlighting as a Miss Bennet (although I think I am more like Mary Bennet at this point), i.e., being the belle of this dating ball, without the pressure to meet or think up excuses to postpone. This time, Aaditya will suffer. Welcome to the age of actual dating and pining. Welcome to the era of long text messages and detailed descriptions of my beauty, as opposed to describing me by the temperature of the environment, and welcome as ‘we bout to get Jane Austen up in here’. Mwah ha ha.
The Perils Of Family And Freedom To Walk
In India, lockdown has forced most of us to stay home. Unfortunately, for me, this translates to no privacy whatsoever. My mother will suspiciously be folding my laundry when I am in the middle of a call (this from a woman who is ‘always busy to cater to my lazy ass’), and my cousins will always, ALWAYS, look at my texts when I hand them my phone for games. How did Elizabeth Bennet, who had an overbearing mother and annoying younger sisters, and Emma Woodhouse, who had an anxious father, deal with family?
It was easy for Jane Austen to write, ‘Ah! there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort’, when home meant huge country houses. Well, Jane, this is the 21st century, and our houses end just as they begin. Perhaps the Bennets might be a more relatable example here, living in such close quarters that Mr. Bingley had to awkwardly propose to his lady love with her mother and sisters waiting with their ears pressed to the door.
So, what do we do if our families get overbearing (did I say if? I meant when)? Pre-lockdown, that meant going out and spending time with friends. Since that is out of the question, simple walks inside housing societies, or on the terrace have become the need of the hour. In fact, my society has set up a schedule allocating slots for every family to spend some time on the terrace.
While I might not match Elizabeth Bennet’s level of sass, I do understand why she loved walking, not only as a form of exercise, but also as a means to escape her overbearing family. Elizabeth walked to avoid Lady Catherine, I walk to avoid my mother’s video calls. I walk to get back a semblance of temporary freedom from the madhouse I often find myself in. I walk to burn off calories I have gained from binge-eating. I walk to feel the breeze on my face and to remind myself that no matter what happens, I am still alive.
It used to feel absurd reading about Caroline inviting Elizabeth to take a ‘turn about the room’. She found it refreshing, and it took me over 200 years to understand its importance. As I crave for fresh air and moments of peace on the terrace, or any place that isn’t my house, but am forced to walk from room to room instead, I can feel Caroline laughing at me from her imaginary grave.
It’s funny how much of a difference a few hundred years can make. Our circumstances have changed right now, but things will go back to their default state again.
But once normalcy returns, I know I will admit to missing the simplicity of the life that I have experienced over these months – one that has made me appreciate the Jane Austen world in a whole new way. Just like her heroines, I, too, will strive to experience life to the fullest with what I have been given, and have a few (not illegal) adventures of my own.
Most of all, I will always remember a time when I got to experience what being an Austen heroine felt like.
Prasanna is a human (probably) who makes stuff up for a living. When she’s not sleeping or eating, you’ll find her in the quietest corner of the library, devouring yet another hardbound book. She vastly prefers the imaginary world to the real one, but grudgingly emerges from her writing cave on occasion. If you do see her, it’s best not to approach her before she’s had her coffee.
She writes at The Curious Reader. You can read her articles here.