“A woman especially, if she have the misfortune to know anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”
This well-known line is taken from Northanger Abbey, the narrator’s response to Catherine Morland’s admission that she knows little about what is thought to constitute a picturesque view. The author points out that Catherine needn’t be ashamed of her ignorance, that it’s actually an advantage when desiring to curry favor with others, since everyone enjoys having their superior taste and understanding admired. “Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid.” Of course, as with so much of Jane Austen, this advice is given tongue-in-cheek.
Irony, however, always grows out of a grain of truth. The quote above is no exception, particularly as it relates to women. Then as now, women usually find it’s best not to flaunt their intelligence in front of the men they meet, socially or even in the business world. In my second novel, For Myself Alone, Jo Walker learns this hard lesson and tells us, “To my dismay, I have discovered that most gentlemen do not wish their prowess in the intellectual realm challenged, especially by anyone female.” Is it any different today? Maybe we haven’t come as far as we thought in the last two hundred years.