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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Jane Austen and Mexico

are not generally mentioned in the same breath, but for some reason, my escaping-the-heat reading is including a fair amount of Miss Austen. One reason, of course, is that long, lazy afternoons are great for her carefully-crafted sentences and delicate character sketches, but another is the character of much of Merida itself.

This city saw a real boom in the 19th century, as demand for sisal rose and haciendas in the Yucatan scaled up to meet that demand. It wasn't quite the British Empire, but an influx of cash allowed for a lot of conspicuous consumption and the creation of some lovely country estates and town houses. On my way back from a grocery shopping trip today, I chanced to stop at a bench across from a house museum, home to one these wealthy families.

Now I have not taken the tour of this place to hear the stories of the family that lived there, but today's reverie found me imagining the lives of unmarried daughters in such a family, which led to thoughts of Jane Austen and the Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice and their acquaintance. While women of their class did not face the time constraints of those of us who spent (or are spending) decades of our lives trying to balance conflicting demands, these women were not free. Unless they were among the rare few who inherited enough money to be independent, they needed to marry as "a preservative from want" or risk being dependent on the kindness of relatives for their support. I ask the reading audience to imagine being totally dependent upon one's in-laws or siblings for food and housing.

Moving away from crass thoughts of money, I thought of the sheer boredom likely faced by intelligent people with few outlets for their energies, especially if they were surrounded by an extended family unsympathetic to their interests. (True confession: I have occasionally wished that someone would strangle Mrs. Bennet.) Imagine decades spent with the same people, listening to the same complaints and gossip. Shudder.

Looking at some of the exquisite porches on these colonial homes, I wonder if any of the ladies of the house passed their time reading translations of Jane Austen. She understood their lives.

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