It is a truth universally acknowledged that Maureen Dowd loves writing absurd, gimmicky, cutesy op-eds. But yesterday's "Mr. Darcy Comes Courting" is, even by Maureen Dowd's absurd, gimmicky, cutesy standards, ludicrous. Dowd's contention that Barack Obama "is a modern incarnation of the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy" to America's Lizzie Bennett is absurd to both the casual follower of politics and the most casual reader of Austen - albeit rather unduly flattering to America. For it is also truth universally acknowledged, Miss Dowd, that the Austen canon is practically Biblical in its scope, as easily twisted to one argument as another. I get it: women like Jane Austen; let's use an Austen analogy! But even by these SparkNotes standards it's a ploy that breaks down pretty fast. But it just seems like Dowd kinda misses the whole point; if anything, Austen makes a mockery of the entire absurd system as only she can. Smitten with Obama? Well, "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment."On even the most literal level, Obama's not anything like Darcy. Darcy, after all, is defined by his sense of entitlement: haughty, reserved, born to privilege, while Obama revels in his outsider status. Then too, Obama's major strength is as an orator. "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done." And where does this exceedingly literal argument leave Hilary? The absurd, obsequious Mr. Collins, whom Lizzie rejects early on? The haughty, thwarted Lady Catherine de Bourgh? And what of McCain? Sir William Lucas, perhaps, the self-aggrandizing baronet? And much as I'd love to see the USA as a sharp, humorous wit, I'd be more inclined to call it a compendium of the Bennett Family;a pinch of Elizabeth, sure, but also credulous and vulnerable to the sob story like Jane; silly and frivolous like Lydia; self-righteous and ponderous like Mary. Dowd's is a dangerous tack for an Obama partisan to take in any event, because couldn't his foes just as easily label Obama a Wickham, equally handsome and polished, agreeable, with an easy charm and silver tongue? "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his MAKING friends—whether he may be equally capable of RETAINING them, is less certain." After all, "Affectation of candour is common enough- one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design- to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad" is rare indeed, rarer still in politics. Dowd does touch on one tender point, and a point which could have made for an interesting piece had she not descended into cuteness: our general eagerness to believe, to love, to project. "However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters." The larger analogy of candidates as swains is well-taken; we're all as inclined to yearn for the perfect man and settle for the reality as any of Austen's heroines. When Charlotte Lucas settles for the ludicrous Mr. Collins as a husband it's distressing but, she is the pragmatist who proclaims, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life." This is probably the wisest bit of political analogy in the Austen canon; what do we gain by the modern scrutiny of turning stones and exposing skeletons, really? Dowd would have us believe (to the extent she considered it, which I'm willing to believe isn't much) that looking deeper will reveal an Obama even more perfect, more honorable, more eligible than the man we've already seen. In truth, Charlotte Lucas' advice is probably far more to the point. The trend of applying Austen's tiny world to a larger context as a means of solving all Big Problems is wearing pretty thin, anyway. Austen didn't care about the Big Problems. At the end of the day, her credo is Mr. Bennett's: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" Mr. Darcy Comes Courting [NY Times]
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