Plain, Silly, and Stupid Miss Morland – Chapters 1 & 2
Poor Catherine Morland. Austen really spared her little when she describes her. Plain, stupid, silly, and troublesome, just to name a few. With a description of the main character being so negative, it’s amazing that anyone actually read the book. However, with all the negative attributes of Catherine’s character, we find a great deal of heart. She’s kind to her younger siblings and is blessed with an active imagination. Some may disagree with me, that an active imagination is a blessing, but a good imagination has served some people quite well. It was imagination that allowed Da Vinci to invent his many machines. It was imagination that made us look at the universe through the eyes of the wild haired Einstein. It was, in fact, imagination that forced Jane Austen to take pen in hand and become the social commentator of an entire era. Yes, imagination has served this world well and I believe it will prove to do the same for our young heroine.
Probably the single most endearing quality of Catherine Morland, in my opinion so far, would be her quiet joy in receiving mild compliments. Here is a young girl who has very few positive attributes and the sad part is, she knows that. She knows that she is not really a stunner and so when her father calls her “almost pretty”, she holds onto this compliment for all it’s worth. Parents today are so concerned about building their child’s self esteem, that you could imagine the horror if anyone today heard a father call his daughter “almost pretty”. It would probably be on the evening news. However, in the case of Catherine Morland, we see that this sort of growing up has helped her become truly humble. You wouldn’t catch Catherine Morland posting duck lip photos online. When she hears a few young men call her pretty at the ball, you cheer for her and can imagine her skipping with joy.
As far as other characters, so far, I find Catherine’s mother and father interesting. Here, they are sending their daughter off to a big town for the first time and they offer her no real words of caution. They are simple and honest people, who believe the world is the same way. From their quaint little Wiltshire village, they can hardly be expected to know what dangers their daughter could face. I believe that the Morlands are one of those rare Regency period couples that actually married for love. This is a rare event for sure. In Regency England, most couples married for money, status, and family connections. Their marriages had less to do with the heart and more to do with politics. This is a case where we can see a bit of Jane Austen in her book. By all accounts, Austen’s parents were deeply in love. They were not wealthy, probably middle class by today’s standard, but they were happy. This sort of growing up gave Jane a false sense of reality and I believe we may find that to be case with Catherine.
Jane Austen’s gift lies in her ability to make social commentary so enjoyable. She presented her stories in such a way that she was able to poke fun at her neighbors and get away with it. This is clearly demonstrated in her character, Mrs. Allen. Have you ever seen a more shallow woman? In the gifted hands of Austen, though, we find Mrs. Allen lovable and even quite comical. She appears to be quite dense as well. She’s either ridiculously dim-witted or could care the less about Catherine’s suffering at feeling uncomfortable. However, we find her heart to be in the right place. Mr. Allen, god love him, must have been born with the patience of a saint, not to mention deep pockets.
It is widely known that Jane Austen detested Bath. She found it noisy, crowded, and a breeding ground for horrid behaviors. While young Miss Morland seems to clearly enjoy the hustle and bustle of Bath, we get a very descriptive view of Austen’s feelings for the place. The ball scene, in chapter two, tells us exactly how Jane felt about the town. It’s a scene that would have many claustrophobics hyper ventilating. The oppressive heat and the crushing crowd just come alive in the scene. We can feel the jostling, the tugging, and the pushing as we read. To some this may have been entertaining, to me, it was another reminder of why I am thankful I was not born in that era.
Jane Austen’s writing style has always amazed me. I often tell people that each writer has a rhythm. Once you figure out this rhythm, reading becomes a breeze. Jane Austen’s rhythm would be something similar to a fox trot. It’s bouncy and bubbly, it pulls you along with quips and short bursts. Her humor is subtle yet obvious. There have been many praises regarding her writing style over the centuries, but her biggest gift is the ability to suck her readers in. To take a plain Jane like Catherine Morland and make her readable is no small feat. We find ourselves rooting for the quintessential underdog and that’s the real gift of reading Jane Austen. It will be interesting to see where she takes young Catherine, the simple yet almost pretty anti-heroine.
Next Challenge: Chapters 3 &4