Thursday, May 03, 2007

Are beauty and a sense of irony mutually exclusive?

...Barbara Kay discusses what if Jane Austen were more beautiful, would her novels have been less brilliant.
What rankled was that the original Elizabeth’s brilliance depends on her sense of irony. Most extraordinarily beautiful women’s sense of irony is almost always underdeveloped. Only a woman keenly aware of the odds stacked against her, like Elizabeth, who accepted with good humour the unbridgeable social gulf between her and the diffident Mr. Darcy, would have the what-can-I-lose insouciance to embark on the exquisitely nuanced repartees that become the novel’s glory. It is noteworthy that the beautiful older sister in the novel (weirdly, in the movie, she is far less beautiful than Elizabeth) is a correct and sympathetic social companion, but a banal conversationalist, a deliberate and meaningful contrast with the sparkling, but sometimes alarmingly ironic Elizabeth.

What rankled was that the original Elizabeth’s brilliance depends on her sense of irony. Most extraordinarily beautiful women’s sense of irony is almost always underdeveloped.

The ironic sense grows in proportion to one’s exposure to the disparity between reality and the ideal. The mating ideal has it that men and women should be attractive to each other according to their common interests, status and values. But the universal, timeless reality is — as a rule, there are always exceptions — that men attract women with their power or promise of power, whether reified in wealth, influence or talent, and women attract men with their sexual charisma. It is a reality that beautiful women might muse about once a week, but which plain women are wont to brood on every hour.

While plain women like Austen are disadvantaged in the mating game, they find compensation in their unfettered access to whatever creativity it is in their gift to exploit. But extraordinary beauty in a woman usually turns her attention away from objective self-expression, condemning her to a life of relentless self-consciousness and an obsession with loving mirrors — real ones, and those contained in other peoples’ eyes.

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