Jane Austen’s message for Miss Dowd

JA uses her Austen Powers for a message to Miss Dowd.

You’d think that with at least one paid albeit byline-less assistant slaving away for her, The Great And Terrible Maureen Dowd wouldn’t need to crib material from nonentities like Amy Chozick of the Murdoch Street Journal. Yet aside from her Jane Austen name-checkings, MoDo’s latest excrescence rather resembles the glorified mean-girls spoutings of Ms. Chozick. Their critiques of Barack Obama certainly sound quite similar: He’s too thin, too suave, too accomplished, too — uppity. Scratch that: They know better than to call him "uppity" out loud; that’s what Mister Rove’s "arrogant" code is for.

But let’s look at her flagrant mishandling of Jane Austen, one of the first and arguably still one of the best novelists in the English language.

As Molly Ivors points out, Dowd has apparently never actually read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as she misunderstands it so very badly. Either that, or she’s such a shallow, lazy creature that she doesn’t realize that in comparing Barack "Hyde Park hauteur" Obama to that uppity Fitzwilliam Darcy, she is paying Obama a signal compliment:

Second (and related), both Fitzwilliam and Mark Darcy are fundamentally decent but introverted, they do genuinely good things (in both Austen and Helen Fielding’s clever retelling) and they’re not bad guys, and Elizabeth/Bridget is mistaken in her first impression.

Got that, Miss Dowd?  Of course, all the passages you or you assistant quoted are from the first part of the book, before Elizabeth finds out that Wickham had been slandering Darcy.   Go back and read the whole thing, OK?

 Ah, but I digress:

Let’s review, shall we? We’ll start with P&P, in which Elizabeth’s flighty and shallow younger sister risks the reputation and future of the entire family by scampering off with a charming but scummy scam artist. Darcy, the first in a long line of people Wickham has wronged, chases him down, pays his debts, and forces Wickham into a kinda sorta respectable arrangement to save the Bennett family. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Mark Darcy disappears to chase down Bridget’s mother and her scam-artist boyfriend, who have bilked most of their social circle out of money. Even the miniseries of P&P only deals with this episode cursorily–it’s pretty complicated. And the film of BJD doesn’t deal with it at all.

And so, Mo, what you reveal here is your own shallowness. Go ahead, compare Obama to Darcy. Let him reveal himself to be the one who will go to extraordinary lengths to save us from our own foolishness and eight years of Wickham rule. Of course, Maureen, the giggling fool who doesn’t even realize she’s been fucked over because the parties are so jolly, is also prominently featured in P&P: she’s Lydia.

I’d originally pegged MoDo as Mrs. Norris, who has somewhat more of a malevolent edge than Lydia, but this works very well indeed. Thing is, MoDo’s so afraid of getting older (and therefore being Less Desirable To Men) that she’d see being compared to a sixteen-year-old girl, no matter how stupid, as a complement.

How about this:  MoDo’s Lydia in another forty years, with just enough of Elizabeth’s brains (or perhaps some hard-earned experience) to be all too aware of just how badly she’s messed up her life. 

Or perhaps La Dowd is Lucy Steele, whose sharp tongue and social-climbing ways make her a captive of her own cunning.

One thing is for certain:  Be careful when you approach the sharp saber that is Jane Austen, or you may find yourself a bloody and humilated mess.