Manners Maketh Man

I forgot though, the first time I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (PnP). Maybe when I was ten or twelve. Had watched the BBC‘s first adaptation, but I like the 1995 version (Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) better as it was in closer terms with the book. Oh well, be gentle with me, you see… I got acquainted with it at a tender age when the idea of a “prince charming” was common among my peers. Back then, the equation was prince charming = Mr. Darcy. And Mr. Firth’s “Fitzwilliam Darcy” (minus some years of age) was the archetype. Though now, I consider such equation and the prince charming idea totally groundless and laughable.

However, when I spotted it on a shop months ago, I was surprised, shocked actually, “Oro! That particular adaptation is available here? In the country? Swell!” It was like, hmm…., an old friend poking at me, “Hey! Long time no see!” And I thought I saw the shop attendant stealing glances at my direction in suspicion for I, out of the blue, couldn’t stop giggling.

Anyway, couple of weeks ago, while doing a little cleaning up, I came across an old article in Feb 12th 1996 Newsweek edition: Hooray for Hypocrisy by Evan Thomas in Society & The Arts section. I found the last sentence interesting, A little hypocrisy is not always a bad thing.

At the time, I think, this 1995 BBC adaptation was being aired in USA and Mr. Thomas was assessing the high popularity of PnP broadcast amid “vulgarities and common indignities” the TV screened in everyday’s “family viewing hours.” Sure, there were romance and fine sceneries. But, it wouldn’t too far off to also include manners: the grace, consideration, self-restraint, virtue, and prudence.

In the book, Jane Austen ridiculed the manners and civility the Old English practiced. Manners can, of course, be a thinly disgused tool to keep the lower orders in place. In England, modes of dress and speech long bespoke one’s class…… in America, the Old South had lovely manners, but they also had slaves. “However,” Mr. Thomas wrote, “the abandonment of manners as elitist and confining, didn’t get over the needs for them. People may scoff the idea of being ‘respectable’, but they do want to get respect.” Throwing out manners has not abolished class distinction, superiority and arrogance. Birth and breeding have gone out-of-date as IQ or SAT scores, education, money, and careers set up today’s class distinction.

Is there a way to have the manners celebrated by Jane Austen without the snobbery she satirized? “The real lesson in Austen is not how to look but how to act – with deference and respect.”

It’s just that… I get a little confused these days. Latey I hear people say, “Show your real self!” or “Be free!” and “Let it all out” in the name of freedom of expression people preach. When we criticize something in rude, blunt and harsh way, we call it “telling the truth” or an “in your face” attitude, and be proud of ourselves for being “honest”. Yet, if the ones we critizise feel affronted and react in equal severity, we call them narrow-minded and impulsive.

*scratch head…*


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