Pride & Prejudice and a Life of Leisure

By Cam Mather

My exceptional daughters are always helping me to better myself. Since we didn’t subscribe to cable TV when they were young they had plenty of opportunities to develop a love of reading. Even now as adults, they both still love to read. When Nicole comes home for a weekend she can easily “devour” a handful of books. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, Nicole was home this weekend?” When Katie heard that I’d never read or seen Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” I started taking some flak. I’d seen the movie called “The Jane Austen Book Club” but I’d never actually read any of her novels or seen any of the movies based on them (Note to our male readers: THERE ARE NO CAR CHASES in these books/movies).

Eventually I watched one of the recent movie versions of “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira Knightly and I really liked it. It’s a great story. And it’s the archetypal Hollywood movie theme, girl meets boy (Mr. Darcy), girl hates boy, boy works hard to break down her resistance… I won’t finish because I don’t want to ruin the ending for all the guys who are going to rent it this weekend. (See the trailer here;

Then Katie lent Michelle the BBC six-part version that stars Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Luckily she’s been watching it in the midst of garden preparation season so I have been able to miss much of the excitement and just get glimpses of it when I crash on the couch after working outside all day. Each time Michelle has to bring me up to speed and remind me the names of each of the characters.

From what I’ve seen it was really well done and the sets and costumes are amazing. I had no idea that England is such a beautiful country. One of the things that Michelle pointed out to me is how very little the characters accomplish with their time. Apparently they are the upper crust of British society in the early 19th century and they basically don’t do anything. They have servants to perform very single task. So they just mope around whining about all their problems. You know, what to wear to the ball, which castle to spend the summer at, the sort of stuff we can all empathize about.

I started wondering how this was possible. Especially back then. We hadn’t really let the fossil fuel “genie” out of the bottle to be our manservant yet. Back then, as it is now, farmers work hard to grow enough food for everyone, while those at the top of the heap, the original “1%” were living off of other people’s labor.

Recently TVO (our provincial government-owned educational television network) showed a movie called “Zulu.” I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid and being quasi-traumatized by it. The movie is about a small group of British soldiers in some African country I could never really identify (Michelle’s Note – it was South Africa) being relentlessly attacked by Zulu warriors. Of course when I was a kid it was just like watching cowboy movies and so I was rootin’ for the white guys.

Now four decades later I look at these events from a different perspective. What were the white guys doing in South Africa anyway? In fact this time around I found myself rootin’ for the Zulus. Unfortunately the British had superior technology with their guns. And they had this technology because they had the time and resources to develop it because they had been exploiting the riches of other countries for centuries. And that’s why they were in Africa… to take their stuff so that the 1% could continue to mope around at home being all white and pasty and wondering which other rich person their kid should marry to increase their position in the world.

It’s kind of a jaded outlook on the concept of empire but that’s what it all boils down to in my world vision. Whether it was stored solar energy in the form of food or wood, or precious metals, or human/slave power, empires become empires by taking other people’s stuff. And as a white guy who lives in a country that white guys took over from the native people who lived here to begin with, I am very much the beneficiary of this whole process and therefore share in its collective guilt.

I think the main difference is that much of my current lifestyle of idyll boredom is made possible through the exploitation of the fossil fuel manservant which has allowed us to accomplish incredible things with some stored liquid hydrocarbon, created millions of years ago. And now by burning these hydrocarbons we are imperiling the whole darn planet.

So I’m on a “white imperialist-empire-exploitation-elimination” diet, where I try and minimize my negative impact on other members of the human race. I try and do as much for myself as possible, from heating with my own wood, to using the sun to heat my water to growing my own food. I still drink coffee and coffee growers can be treated miserably by the world markets, but I hope that the fair-trade company I buy my coffee from is working to reduce that impact. I just bought a new motor for my rototiller that was made in China where people can work in pretty miserable conditions. So it’s not a complete elimination process. I just bought twine at the dollar store to hold up my raspberry bushes, again, made in China, and the twine was made out of oil that was pumped out the ground near where someone lives.

I’m not perfect, but at least I am aware and am working on improvement. Ultimately though, I hope to own a castle like Mr. Darcy with fine works of art and a staff of dozens and dress in fine linens and be bored senseless and whine about the hardships in my life of leisure……NOT!

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Michelle’s Totally Unrelated Note – We have one last minute spot available in our full day workshop this Saturday (April 21/12) and a number of spots available in our May 5th workshop. Please get in touch with me ASAP if you are interested in attending either. michelle at aztext dot com

3 Responses to “Pride & Prejudice and a Life of Leisure”

  • Connie Murray:

    Reading your column reminds me that things never really change. Sure we have better technology, better medical treatment, etc. But Jesus said we will always have the poor. Let me add, we will always have the 1% who expect to be taken care of by everyone else and more maddeningly, for some reason we do. Guess the 1% has better politicians, maybe all the politicians in their pockets, and we have none.

  • Jeff Marchand:

    As a teenager I loved to read, loved Dickens, Shakespeare was OK but kinda unaccessible, Hugh Maclenan , Conrad, Hemmingway, etc all great enjoyed reading them for class. But Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters material that was assigned? Could nt do it. Oh my god if I ever got sent to Guantanimo they would nt need waterboarding to make me confess to killing JFK. Just make me read Wuthering Heights!

    About Zulu! It just so happens today I talked to friend of mine who is in the Canadian Armed Forces and served as a peace keeper in South Sudan. He is very knowledgeable about the sad state of affairs on that sorry continent. So little of Africa has known peace since colonial times, especially Sudan. Today North Sudan is threatening to invade South Sudan and inflict more misery. For all the imperial excesses and injustices its not clear to me that the average African is better off today without Pax Brittanica.

  • Linda Proudlove:

    On Pride & Prejudice
    I spent eight years as a missionary in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in Asia, dare I say the world. My best friend was British, and of course, had the six-hour BBC version. Occasionally when we needed a break from the difficulties of living in such a poor country, we’d arrange a day off and hole up in one of our apartments and watch the entire series non-stop, on a laptop. It was a great escape from the realities of our daily lives. “Save your breath for cooling your porridge!”

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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