Solomon once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new?’” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10) And I thought, Really? Pshaw. That can’t be true. He never saw HMOs, Spam®, pet rocks, fly paper, Rock’em Sock’em®, Velcro®, disco,…Oreos®(!). All sorts of new things. With some contemplation, though, I began to discern that he is speaking rhetorically about humanity’s tendencies and habits. As an example, I cite Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey as witness of just how immutable male and female traits remain, even two centuries later.
First, a little background about Jane Austen and her work. Jane Austen is a much beloved British novelist from the turn of the 18th century, who is known for her ready wit and acid tongue. Of her six novels, I find her at her sarcastic best in Northanger Abbey, her satire of Gothic romance novels, which always leaves me giggling to myself. She has a running commentary throughout the novel about society, etiquette and the duplicity sometimes concealed therein. What I couldn’t overlook, though, was her portrayal of the characteristics of men and women of that period, because they are almost identical to modern stereotypes these more than two hundred years later.
Let me here quote from Northanger Abbey: “…they all three set off in good time for the Pump-room, where the ordinary course of events and conversation took place: Mr. Allen, after drinking his glass of water, joined some gentlemen to talk over the politics of the day and compare the accounts of their newspapers; and the ladies walked about together, noticing every new face, and almost every new bonnet in the room.” That could be any mall or modern meeting place, if one simply substitutes “cup of coffee” for “glass of water,” and “outfit” for “bonnet.”
Which of you men out there haven’t rolled your eyes at a wife/girlfriend’s exchange that sounds something like this? “Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make inquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said.” Blah. Blah. Blah. “…Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with the discovery, which her keen eye soon made, that the lace on Mrs. Thorpe’s pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own.”
And which of you women out there wouldn’t recognize this discussion about a much-prized new vehicle? “Curricle-hung, you see; seat, trunk, sword-case, splashing-board, lamps, silver moulding,—all, you see, complete; the iron-work as good as new, or better. He asked fifty guineas. I closed with him directly, threw down the money, and the carriage was mine.” And the accompanying “engine”: “But look at his forehand; that horse cannot go less than ten miles an hour: tie his legs, and he will get on.”
As absurd as it sounds, perhaps Solomon was correct; there is nothing new under the sun! However, considering that the spouse-unit and I are interested in neither of these stereotypical colloquy topics, perhaps we are new under the sun! Or just a pair of fruit loops.