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The Global Future of Contract and Trust Republicans are Regular Guys

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The Real Charlotte Simmons

by Christopher Chantrill
January 16, 2005 at 12:35 pm


TWENTY years ago, writing The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe worried that his novel about Masters of the Universe bond traders and race hustling reverends in New York City would be received as too over-the-top. Instead, he was roundly criticized for his lack of imagination. His white bread Sherman McCoy could hardly compare to the reptilian Ivan Boesky and the junk-bond king Michael Milken. And his race-hustling Reverend Bacon was nowhere near as salty as the Reverend Al Sharpton. Now in I Am Charlotte Simmons, he has done it again. The real Charlotte Simmons is much more compelling than the fictional one.

Two hundred years ago Jane Austen taught us to care about how young women like Charlotte Simmons came to adulthood. In her two central novels, Mansfield Park and Emma, she introduced us to two unforgettable heroines, the timid country cousin, Fanny Price, and the rich, overconfident Emma Woodhouse, as they came to womanhood. Perfect in feeling and judgment, Fanny’s problem was to preserve her virtue from the wayward young Bertrams and the amoral adult children of the vicious Admiral Crawford as she sought to secure a place in a world that all but ignored her. Emma’s need was the opposite. Queen of all she surveyed, she badly needed to learn a little judgment.

For the liberated Charlotte Simmons in 2005, things are not so very different from Mansfield Park in 1814. At Dupont University, the modern Fanny Price is still being dragged unwillingly into amateur theatricals. Only now, of course, the embarrassments and humiliations visited on a young woman of modesty and feeling are more direct and personal than in the bad old days. And there is no convenient Sir Thomas Bertram to return from Antigua and put an end to the improprieties of his wayward children. The modern Fanny must submit to the humiliations visited on her or be ostracized. The modern Emma Woodhouses on the other hand, if reports from the Ivies have any credence, have found a way out of indignity by adopting a lesbian identity for their college years. It seems an unlikely strategy for learning a little judgment. But Emma Woodhouse can afford a mistake or two.

In an article in FrontpageMag.com, Stephen Goldstein tells the story of the real Charlotte Simmonds, a young woman he calls Jane. Raised a Christian in “a loving home” with a father in the ministry, she set off to university and a world that prided itself “on being ‘sensitive’ and ‘welcoming’ to minorities who are different.” This compassion did not extend to her.

While the fictional Charlotte Simmons learned to stop worrying and love the hook-up culture and accommodate to its viciousness, the real Charlotte Simmons did not. Jane “spoke out against abortion” and was verbally assaulted. She “declared that she was a virgin and was proud of it,” and subsequently returned to her dorm room to find used condoms strewn around, and dried semen on her clothes. When she complained, “her academic advisor told her she needed to ‘grow up.’ Several of her professors openly mocked her in class for her pro-life, pro-Christian stance.”

“Jane’s grades began to slip.” And then the day came when she didn’t show up at class or at her job at the college bookstore, and a friend decided that she’d better check up on her.

There may be young women glad to be as immodest and as available as the campus culture of “sexual exploration” and “choice” pressures them to be and as the popular culture represents as the essence of cool. But we may wonder why the hook-up culture so notoriously requires the assistance of alcohol for its consummation, and how it is that many young women wonder plaintively what it would be like to be courted.

We had better take steps to curb this evil, or we should prepare ourselves for the terrible vengeance these young women will wreak on us once they have discovered the rage they have been forbidden to feel and their eternal feminine power has come to full tide.

Two hundred years ago society eventually honored the timid Fanny Price for her virtue and her constancy. But it was a close run thing. When she refused to marry the wealthy Henry Crawford all the world anathematized her, and the stern Sir Thomas rusticated her to the chaotic home of her mother in Portsmouth. It was only through the kind intervention of the author that Crawford’s vicious nature was revealed to the world and Fanny was restored to Mansfield Park and her beloved Edmund.

But when the friend of Jane—the modern Fanny Price—and the student dorm advisor opened the door to her room they found the young co-ed inside, “in her hands a mock fetus with a pair of scissors in its head.” Jane was dead.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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