Friday, 17 June 2016

Jane Austen's Stoical Heroines

What makes the English stoical? It has something to do with England’s status as an island. Renaissance-inspired stoicism certainly stuck. The English were brought up to maintain the stiff upper lip, to suffer in silence, to consider that what matters is playing the game rather than winning. National heroes were not so much those who succeeded but rather those who lost their lives while failing. Think of Captain Scott.

My Latin teacher (John Gore) many decades ago instilled in us the maxim of Horace: 'Nihil admirari' (roughly meaning that we should let nothing shock or disturb us). It behoved the Englishman to be undemonstrative. This is why the English seem aloof and feel embarrassed if the conversation takes a continental turn.

In Jane Austen's novels, there are no Captain Scotts. It is the ladies who are presented as stoical - Fanny, Anne, Elinor, even Elizabeth and Emma for moments; but I suppose this is inevitable, given that the novels are essentially about what goes on in the minds of the ladies.