Thursday, May 6, 2010

DP 5/6 - Which Austenian Mother Are/Have YOU?

This week, I find myself still somewhat depressed after a quick read through Andre Agassi's "Open," which was certainly frank but not terribly edifying. It depressed me to see how much he disliked the vast majority of the other players (without much cause beyond finding Michael Chang's propensity to credit God for his victories offensive); he was neutral about Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, positive only about Patrick Rafter, and negative about basically everyone else, though he did come to terms with Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. It was also a little disappointing not to get his perspective on the Graf-Hingis 1999 French Open final, as that was more or less when he and Stefanie finally got together. Still, as he does seem to be under a good influence, perhaps he will turn out better in time.

Moving on to this week's DP, it does not strike me as incredibly inspiring. Maybe it's the enforced Mommy Theme, as the letters themselves don't seem too much below par if at all.

L1: Decent fodder here, without even inquiring into the details that might be of most interest to the majority of male posters. It ought to be easy enough to determine that this all occurred before LW1's existence. What interests me most is the mother's parenting style. As LW1 does not mention anything specific that strikes her as peculiarly surprising about the news given her upbringing, I might start the line of questioning along the assumption that Mumsy didn't jump right onto the Virginity-Or-Else Train. Reluctantly, I shall also state that there probably wasn't any coo-coo-ca-chew going on either with LW1's friends during the Mary Kay LeTourneau years or since. Does LW1 think that might be just the flimsiest possibility? Perhaps, but I have no strong interest in this particular Pandora's Box.

I do see a few traps here. The first is in assuming that they were actually really great parents in the first place. If we can assume LW1 isn't outright lying, then they were probably popular parents and she was the Most Popular Mom, but just because LW1 thought (s)he had parents that were just about perfect doesn't mean they'd score so high on an objective scale. My So-Called Life gives us a glowing example of how the teenage fantasy of the Perfect Parent can fail to measure up to the ideal. Another trap is for posters who might be inclined to smack LW1 around with the intent to invalidate what (s)he is feeling. While one might be inclined to find it a bit odd that someone would still be having difficulty processing such news almost a year after the disclosure, people have their own timetables, and putting on the You're So Wonderful mask DP suggests just glosses over that LW1 isn't quite where (s)he wants to be yet. Planning a bit of time apart for the summer seems in order. Not that I don't think LW1 deserves to be smacked around a little, just not for the reason that may seem the most likely. I am getting a very faint read that LW1 has assumed an air of undeserved moral superiourity for having such wonderful parents, perhaps not because of having been raised that way. That might be able to take some adjusting. The end goal, perhaps, might be for LW1 and Mumsy to be able to accept it being okay for them to have differing views of the past while still being able to keep it in the past.

It's interesting to reach for an Austenian parallel, as obviously we cannot find an exact parallel. I suppose Mrs Bennet or Lady Susan might not have objected to the conduct of the secret past, though neither was a popular mother. Mrs Dashwood would be the best parallel to the mother whose house was always where all the kids were, but she isn't the sort to have had a real past. I shall go with a non-mother here, Mrs Croft, who would have been the most popular mother around had she had children, and who, having at least married the future Admiral after an acquaintance of a duration she would just as soon not mention, comes as close to having a chequered past as any of Miss Austen's admirable females of middle age.

Moral: This letter will be nothing to the one that will be written after LW1's intended happens to learn Mumsy's Little Secret.

L2: As this letter deals mainly with logistics, I have little to say. It might be entertaining watching LW2 and Mumsy each determined to say and do what the other secretly wants her to say and do while never having an adult conversation about it, but not for more than five minutes or so. How unfortunate that this situation will be permanent.

The Austenian parallel is again not the easiest. Lady Elliot, Mrs Woodhouse and Mrs Tilney have already died. Only Mrs Churchill both thinks herself ill and is really ill, although her using her health as an excuse to her own advantage backfires on her. The mother and daughter who seem best suited to each being more determined than the other to bend over backwards are Mrs Dashwood and Marianne. It's almost a common theme for them. Marianne is only convinced by Elinor to refuse Willoughby's gift of a horse because clearly Mrs Dashwood would never admit to being unable to afford to keep it. And Mrs Dashwood in her turn is only too eager for Elinor and Marianne to accept Mrs Jenning's invitation to accompany her for a short season in London.

Moral: Happily, this sort of situation does not always turn on the unfortunate circumstance of ill health.

L3: The overwhelmed and dependent mother seems to be largely Mrs Bennet (despite her indefatigable efforts to get her daughters well married) with little bits of Mrs Price, who was completely unable to cope with the demands of a large family and a small income. The sisters are a little tougher. Anne Elliot might serve as a model for LW3's sister, but neither Elizabeth nor Mary would feel guilty about a falling-out. Emma Woodhouse might lose her patience in the way LW3 has done, only not with her father. The closest it might be possible to get to a parallel would be to take Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth might just possibly become fed up with their mother at some point, though she probably would never allow herself to give rein to her exasperation, and she certainly would not fall out with Jane about it, although they would have different opinions about the situation.

LW3 and perhaps her sister as well might do well to take Jane and Elizabeth as models. Although Jane consistently thinks rather better of people than Elizabeth does, they manage to maintain their affection for each other in the most perfect repair. I might also question LW3 along the line of whether what she really wants isn't to get out of the rent agreement without sacrificing her sisterly relationship. That probably isn't possible, and I'm not sure whether LW3 is willing to give up enough of her resentment for a happy ending.

Moral: It seems quite possible that LW3 isn't female, but these sorts of situations just play out so much more satisfactorily among sisters.

L4: One thing on which I am willing to take a little guess is that LW4 was presumable not among the intelligentsia when she was in school if she rallied against popularity instead of railing against it. But enough snarking. I find it very interesting that I am getting a strong feeling that LW4's having popular daughters seems a peculiarly apt punishment for her. She comes across as one of those Intense Social Worker types who have the unfortunate knack of alienating people who agree with them. "There are students who are picked on at their school," may just be awkward phrasing but comes across as if LW4 finds this a unique phenomenon. And the idea that her daughters might actually go through a rebellious phase seems to be the sort of thing she thinks she can eradicate if she raises them properly, so that, even if she suppresses it at present, it might be worse when it occurs. Think of Liz Probert, daughter of well-known Labour leader Red Ron, going to University and joining the - gasp - Conservative Association!

The daughters remind me of Maria and Julia Bertram. "Their vanity was in such good repair that they seemed quite free of it," or something along that line ran the description of them. LW4 herself seems more like their aunt, Mrs Norris, than their mother. And this leads me to my line of questioning. I cannot shake the suspicion that LW4, for all her wanting her daughters to have empathy and to stand up for the underdog, has been raising them to do so in that Intensely Earnest sort of way that makes it only too painfully clear to the underdogs for whom they stand up that they *are* Underdogs. It's all well and good to stand up for people, but how many have they actually befriended? And if the girls have befriended some underdogs, have they treated them the way Emma Woodhouse treated Harriet Smith or Miss Bates? For all her "rallying," I am not entirely sure that LW4 is clear on the concept, and therfore how far can we trust the principles she has instilled into her daughters?

Some posters see potential Carrie moments in the offing, which is certainly likely enough to explain the behaviour of those who rejected the however-sincere-it-was gesture from LW4's daughter. But there seems to be a little too strong a desire to contrast the Mean Girl popular faction against those Little Angels who Genuinely Like Everybody, who are occasionally instanced as the pinnacle of personality perfection. Too much like Mr Weston for my taste, though. The affections of someone who likes everyone can't really be the highest distinction in the calendar.

Moral: Had LW4 read her daughters two pages of Miss Austen's every night before they went to sleep, she might not have had this problem.


  1. "It's interesting to reach for an Austenian parallel, as obviously we cannot find an exact parallel."

    This is why I am glad you are here, among other equally enjoyable reasons. My take, typically, is to say "you f*%ing a$$)&e, get your f*&%ing head out of your f*%ing a$$ you g(#*&mn f*&er." It soothes my edges a bit, and is befitting my lack of advanced education. Plus, frankly I cannot remember a phrase, a concept, or a plot line for Pride and Prejudice, and suspect I didn't finish it and reached for something by Tim Dorsey instead. ADHD cannot abide real literature.

    And for you, executed just so on poor LW4, a somewhat too-intense mommy who has recreated her own insanity from without which does not meet the expectations of her own insanity from within; Kudos!

    Very nice, H.R.(o.t.B.)

  2. Greetings, hrumpole! I have to share a dream that I had last night, just as I was waking up. I should have written it down immediately, but, sadly, I'm not in that habit as I don't usually dream in much detail (that I can recall, anyway). It was modern day, and seems that Jane Austen was alive. A sort of Rumpelstiltskin thing had happened to her. She'd fallen asleep in a cave or some such other protected area on the moors, and, after an obviously long slumber, had awakened today. She was trying to secure rights to her books, but no one would believe that this woman claiming to be Austen was really her! She was thwarted at every turn. She'd tried writing new novels, but, in today's literary world, her style and story-telling are old and cliché (because, of course, she's been so thoroughly copied), so, no one was interested in her new, original works. It was quite distressing to her, obviously. There was more, something about a love interest, but that's the part that I've forgotten. The relationship was impossible due to something about her being Jane Austen, but, I can't, for the life of me, recall what the difficulty was. It wasn't familial. It seemed very poignant and ironic at the time, though. And it's really annoying that I can't recall that specific. Damn. :-( Anyway, I wanted to share that with you because, reading your column and having it work around in my brain is obviously what set off the dream.

    As for LW#1, I'm not sure why you question the parenting skills of the parents here? Especially given the examples. Kids, in my experience, don't normally congregate at the houses of bad parents (except, perhaps, to party). And that would have taken on a very different tone, I think? So, I'm quite curious as to your clues. I do understand the "My So-Called Life" reference, but, I just don't get that vibe. Please understand this is not a challenge so much as a genuine interest in your thoughts. I'm always desirous of wisdom. :-)

    As for LW#4, I agree whole-heartedly. I can't wait until her oldest is elected to the Homecoming Court and mom is required to help with a dress! Then, when her daughter is named Homecoming Queen at the halftime ceremony and mom is descended upon by all of the Stepford moms offering faux congratulations and air kisses?! Oh, it will be most epic! :-) This may traumatize our LW to the point of involuntary hospitalization. Which may not be a bad thing. It'll force her into the counseling she so very much needs. And perhaps she'll learn to quit using her daughters in the terrible way that she is.

    Wonderful responses, as always, hrumpole! :-)

  3. My thanks to you both, and what a dream. SB1, I think I am just reaching around for possible explanations of LW1's weird situation. Even after all his posts on the other boards (if, as Ms Messy points out, that person even is the real LW), I am still finding it very hard to get a grip on the situation. As you seemed to pick up best, why is he still so afraid nine months after Being Told that he's going to ruin his relationship with his parents? Is he really that afraid of being an adult?

    Given what the original letter gave us, there were lots of straws at which to grasp. We had a letter writer who was clearly conflicted, and the first thing that came into my head was that the conflict was perhaps between Mumsy's Parenting Style and her past. Had she and Popsy raised Sonny along such lines as drilling it into him that Good Girls Don't, or had they become ardent Christianist types, now there would be a pretty good conflict. It seemed the most obvious explanation at the time. Then, too, there was the possibility that she was the Popular Mom in the classic Amber-v-Patty way. (It was a shame the series never really had a chance to bring out Camille's superiourity to both of them.) That might give rise to rather different worries. And it's sort of supported indirectly in his having turned out so weird, so that possibly some Amberian lapse in her parenting might have contributed to it.

    And now, apparently it turns out Mumsy was a bit of an Amber. She thought it would be a fun thing to do one summer when she was as old as he is now. Well, okay, more power to her for having a positive experience. I don't know that that's what would be my Dream Date, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

    And this is where I get frustrated. The obvious problem for him to be having, and which would really explain his letter quite well, would be that he's worried his not celebrating her past moral choices will cause a rift. He could reasonably say something like, "I think she made a bad choice at the time, but hope we can accept that the past is past and that we have different opinions and move forward," and perhaps be worried that thinking she made a bad choice might mean, as you yourself suggested (though I think you had rather stronger disapproval in mind), he's morally obligated not to drive the car they gave him.

    But the vexing thing is that, even after he's made multiple posts afterwards, we still have no real clue as to how well her past aligns with the way he was raised or his own views on her pornographic summer. We know that she's taken it quite casually (I don't think cavalierly), but the only clue we have to his attitude that I've seen has been in a cryptic reference to his not being able to reconcile the image of his mom with the image of a porn star. I am highly irritated.