I was thirteen when I was given my first copy of Pride and Prejudice. It was bent on the edges, and the pages had turned yellow with time. What I had first thought would be just another period novel soon turned into an intrepid journey of a young woman battling against the hackneyed mindset of the society. A 19th-century author who wrote about the limited lives of women, in a time when success was defined by who you married, might seem a strange source of admiration for a 21st-century girl like me. But Jane, you were different. You broke Elizabeth through the barriers of the patriarchy and the social ladder — and made her a fierce and independent woman. You transcend your genre and era, and that is why your works are accessible to women of all generations.
I was surprised — that in this modern world of literature, having thousands of pages on strong women, I chose to read your works criticising sentimentality. Perhaps it was your powerful observations or the witty dialogues between Lizzie and Mr Darcy that made me replace any other novel by one of your works. Be it Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice or Marianne from Sense and Sensibility—both defied what was expected of their class and gender. Both are examples of women who used the tools given to them, to challenge the society they found themselves in.
Jane, you were so ahead of your time. Your elusive but critical attitude towards the existing social norms was so brave and unconventional. Your words and the ability to express yourself was something that was especially powerful at the time—where there were very few women in public life, and the conventional wisdom suggested that the path to real power lied in sharing a pillow with a successful man. Maybe that is why you chose not to write your name in your published novels. You were unsettled that society would not welcome your story with open arms. You were moderately successful in your lifetime, but the exceptional quality of your work deserved so much more.
In today’s modern literature and writing culture, it is your portrayal of contemporary realism that influences my words. The biting irony in your lines, along with humour and piercing social commentary, showed me the limitless power that words can possess. You have imprinted your veins through my lines like no other—and I am nothing but grateful for that.
You inspire me, Jane—not because of your headstrong characters, but, because you make them real and imperfect. You never tried to enforce the concept of ideality in any of your pieces and made them relatable to an ordinary girl like me. But it is not just me, thousands of young girls, read your books and get persuaded to break the norms every day. You taught me that I can be flawed and still loved. That I can laugh when life is unfair, and challenge what is expected of me. In my short experience of seventeen years, I have come to know that life is not a straight path but rather, a treacherous slope. But I have also learned to course through it. I have learned to be astute and sarcastic like Lizzie, caring and sensitive like Marianne, or even self-willed like Emma.
It is 2019, and unfortunately, there are millions of young women who are still held back by the claws of society-defined gender roles. There are millions of girls who are engulfed by self-hate and despair because they do not meet the stereotypical standards of being female. We still live in a world where a bold and outspoken woman is looked down upon, and any unideal trait is heavily scrutinised. We have come far from the orthodox dominion, but still, have a long way to go. I know that I am nowhere near perfect, neither am I quintessential. But the world is not black and white; it is a vast spectrum of colours — each having its ideas and norms. And in this world, I promise to embrace my flaws and unapologetically be myself. I promise to encourage my fellow women to stand up for who they are and do not hesitate to put their own needs before others. But most importantly, I promise to never judge my fellow women, or myself for who I am— allowing to be the most authentic version of myself, every day. Irrespective of what the world may seem to think.
A girl trying to break through the prejudices
—Written by Alankriti Singh for MTTN
—Artwork by Sreeja Krishnamari