In between reading a teetering stack of scholarly journals articles and books for my thesis, I’ve found myself gravitating toward funny memoirs. In the last few months I’ve read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and The Bloggess’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. A few weeks ago, I finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. In the postscript she asks,
Would Jane Austen’s characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look and who fancies them if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?
Who knows what we’d discuss with friends if woman were more powerful and/or wealthy! I don’t know how I rank in this wide world of ours, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m not in control of my own destiny. I’m educated. I’ve had a 20-year career. I’m starting on a second career just because I think it’ll be interesting. I’ve traveled to many places around the world. And I own a home. I spent New Year’s Eve with three other women, all of whom are educated, have good careers, and own their homes. That’s at least two steps ahead of most women in Jane Austen novels in terms of controlling our destinies. But you can bet your bonnets that we talked about relationships and how we look. (Though to be honest, the “how we look” discussion what more about the appropriateness—or not—of jeggings and less about whether or not we were happy with our bodies.) We talked about online dating, old fashioned dating, busted marriages, the good and the bad of single motherhood, introducing new boyfriends to your kids, what to do when 50+-year-old Canadians want to meet you on Match.com, and much much more.
I love that Moran questions how differently we’d think about things if woman worldwide were considered more powerful than men. It’s worth envisioning a different world—even a world that goes beyond simply (ha!) achieving equality. But I suspect that my girlfriends and I would still talk about relationships. My life is wildly different from the Miss Dashwoods and the Miss Bennets, and I most certainly don’t have the equivalent to Emma’s £30,000 inheritance! I support myself. I got to work (or school) every day. I hang out with men, often without a chaperone. I don’t go to balls, but I drinks pints of cider and beer at a local bar after choir practice. With single men! I don’t have to ask permission from anyone to anything having to do with money, my home, or my relationships. But I still like to hang out with other women and talk about all of it!
It’s Halloween again, so if you don’t normally partake in things that make you shiver in fear and anticipation, now’s the time to give it a try! I, for one, can’t deal with zombie movies. (No judgement! Zombies may move slowly, but they’re tenacious and keep coming at you.) So here are some other ideas.
• Have you read Dracula? Seriously . . . if you have not read Dracula, you need to read it. Now. I read it in high school and was a little meh about it. But I re-read it a few years ago, and I was freaked the heck out! Like, holy-crap-old-and-musty-smells-like-rot-Nosferatu-gonna-kill-me!
• And there’s always Edgar Allen Poe. Secretly, I imagine that his action figure wants to make out with our Jane action figure. But I’m pretty sure Action Jane wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him. She would have disapproved of his marrying his 13-year-old cousin and possible alcoholism-rabies-and/or-syphilitic death. (Then again, in the afterlife, Jane would enjoy a good laugh over people still trying to figure out how they both died.)
• If you’re more of a visual person, my new favorite time sink is looking at “spirit photography.” And I’m not just talking about what you see on Google. Even museums and archives have these sorts of images! Check out SFMOMA’s Artscope. Type in “spirit photography” into the search box, and all sorts of goodies show up. Those photos are almost as creepy as when Nicole Kidman finds the book of dead people in The Others. *shiver*
Jeez, now I’ve thoroughly creeped myself out. Why did I let myself watch that scene again? That’s almost as bad as when the dead girl comes out of the tv in The Ring. (There is nothing that will entice me to search for that clip on YouTube. I’ve been scarred for life seeing The Ring.) Rainbows! Unicorns! Colin Firth diving into a pond! Sunshiny goodness! Okay, I’m back.
• Maybe you should give Northanger Abbey another whirl. What’s not to love about a parody of gothic novels? It’s not scary.
• Or you could watch Revolution on NBC and wonder if it’s really possible for people to go a little feral when the power goes out. Timely, no? (Then again, Hurricane Sandy may have knocked out the power on the east coast, yet people still seem to be able to update their Facebook pages. Guess those phone chargers for the car were a good investment after all.)
Whatever your choice in spooky entertainment, we at Austenacious wish you a very safe and happy Halloween!
Hi, my name is Miss Osborne. I’m a rage-aholic. But only when I have to sit in traffic! (Or when people mangle grammar.) And this summer, I’ve had many, many hours sitting in traffic. My 50 miles of good road is not a very easy distance. It’s actually only 13 miles, yet it can take an hour and a half to travel. Oh the pains of commuting across a city and over a bridge! I’ve found that I can subvert the rage if I keep myself occupied. First, you have to keep snacks around. I know it’s not the best idea to have food at your fingertips when you’re bored and trapped in your car, but being hungry ensures a lightning-fast downward spiral. Second, have music, audio books, or podcasts at the ready. Listening to the radio is fine, but listening to a musical allows you to follow a story and sing, sing, sing like you’re Norma Desmond ready for her close-up. (Side note: You are sure to entertain other poor suckers who are stuck in traffic when they see and hear you crooning your favorite ballad! Everybody wins!)
I’m not always a big a fan of listening to audiobooks because the quality varies depending on the narrator. Miss Ball and I—both fans of Sarah Vowell—nearly drove off the road from the sleepiness induced by listening to audio version of The Wordy Shipmates while on a cross-country road trip. But I recently listened to Simon Pegg narrate Nerd Do Well, and I smiled the entire commute for a few days.
If you’ve got a soul-sucking commute, here are some recommendations to pass the time:
• BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects podcasts—The director of the British Museum talks about artifacts from the museum in the context of the state of the world when that object was made. I bought the book a few months ago, and I’ve been reading about a few objects every night. But listening to the podcasts is interesting because you have to picture the object based on the description, and they vary the audio with interviews and sounds.
• Audiobooks of Jane Austen novels—Okay . . . what I was really hoping for was a novel narrated by Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, or Patrick Stewart . . . you get where I’m going here. Unfortunately, not all of the audiobooks listed on Amazon state the name of the reader. However, there is a version of Pride & Prejudice read by Lindsay Duncan that sounds promising. (Who, strangely enough, is exactly the face I saw in my head when I was reading Lady Susan. Perhaps because she often plays really unlikeable people in her TV appearances.)
• When Love Speaks CD—Speaking of listening to the delightful sounds of British voices, I bought this CD when I was in the middle of an Alan Rickman obsession. (My library had a copy of Return of the Native narrated by Alan Rickman, but even though I love listening to him speak, the thought of twenty bazillion hours of Thomas Hardy prevented me from borrowing it.) Take turns imagining you’re Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby reading sonnets to each other on a cold, rainy day sitting by the fire! When Love Speaks is a set of Shakespeare sonnets read by the likes of Alan Rickman, Diana Rigg, Juliet Stevenson, Ralph Fiennes, Ioan Gruffud, and more. I promise, hearing Colonel Brandon say, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” is swoon-worthy. Just remember, you’re driving! Keep your eyes open!
• If Alan Rickman doesn’t rock your world, perhaps Loki is more to you liking? Tom Hiddleston’s the new British sexy! And he’s narrated The Red Necklace. One fan says, “I have been listening to The Red Necklace audiobook as read by Tom Hiddleston, and oh, my lord, my ears are pregnant now.” Could you ask for a better recommendation than that?
• The End of the Affair, read by Colin Firth. I wasn’t going to list this, but then I started listening to the audio on YouTube, and I figured you just can’t lose listening to Colin Firth for six and a half hours.
• Believe It!—You know that old guy who plays Gaius on the so-bad-it’s-enjoyable Merlin? That’s Scottish actor Richard Wilson. He’s best known for his ten-year run in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Anyway, he’s the main star of the BBC radio show Believe It! And for an extra special bonus, you get David Tennant, too.
I’m sad to say, no one has made an audio book of Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. But if you’ve got any other recommendations to keep us sad commuters smiling while we drive, please chime in!
Photo Credit: Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/153778544/
While many of you were suffering through sweltering summer temps, I was surviving the arctic: that special brand of shiver-inducing weather that is San Francisco in July and August. You see, I was lucky enough to have a very short commute in the temperate East Bay for over a decade, and now I know I was spoiled. This summer I spent a good portion of my time commuting to the far reaches of San Francisco—specifically, the Presidio (see X on the map). The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio is delightful . . . if you can actually see it! Which you can’t. Not in the summer. It was so cold that I made a roast in August. A roast! The up side is that making a roast gave me an opportunity to finally try my hand at one of the most British of foods—Yorkshire pudding. Now that it’s almost fall (which, ironically, for us Bay Area folks means heat and sun-sunny-sunshine), I highly recommend having pudding with your meats. It’s really easy to make. Just be sure to keep your noggin away from the oven door when you open it or you’ll melt your mascara when the 450-degree air hits your face.
(From Nigella Lawson)
1-1/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon beef drippings or vegetable oil
herbs (such as chives, rosemary, and/or thyme) optional
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Mix the milk, eggs, and salt, and add pepper, beating all well together with a whisk or mixer. Let these ingredients stand for 15 minutes, and then whisk in the flour. Meanwhile, add the beef drippings a large heat-proof pan and put it in the oven to heat for about 10 minutes. Pour the batter into the hot pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until well puffed and golden.
You can make one large pudding (as in the recipe above) or you could also make a bunch of individual ones. I did that by pouring the batter into oversize muffin tins. I also used the herbs. Not traditional, but I liked having a little extra flavor, as pudding is a bit bland on its own.
If you want to read more about pudding and enjoy old-timey books, check the delightful The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, an Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex: Containing Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behavior through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, or Widows : With … Rules and Receipts in Every Kind of Cookery from 1737. (Phew, that’s a mouthful!) There’s an entire section about puddings.
Photo Credit: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=79119
What is Mother’s Day without fondly remembering the times when our mothers were looking out for our best interests? Mrs. Bennet certainly took great pains to ensure the future happiness of all of her daughters. When Jane asked for the carriage to visit the Bingley sisters, Mrs. Bennet replied, “No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” Always thinking ahead, that Mrs. B. And she wasn’t wrong, was she?
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I have collected some wisdom bestowed on me and my friends by our dear mothers.
On marriage prospects…
• When you get on the plane, you have to be nice if there is a man sitting next to you. He might be single and marry you.
• The entire family is going to fast for one meal every day until you find someone and get married.
• After receiving an email saying I was dating someone, her response was, “I’m so happy! I’ve been praying for this for so long!”
On personal safety…
• No, you can’t go to the New Kids on the Block concert. If you were to go to a concert, you’d probably stand up on a chair to see better. Then you might fall off the chair and break you neck!
• Whatever you do, don’t try on clothes in a Parisian boutique. If you do, you will be abducted and sold into white slavery in Saudi Arabia! I read about it in a magazine.
On the lack of hardiness of subsequent generations…
• Your Great Grandmother Lizzy would wipe her arse with a broken gin bottle.
On becoming a lady of musical accomplishment…
• Don’t bother playing those country songs. Just scream rock ‘n’ roll and kick up your leg and shake your bum!
On the importance of an heir…
• Just get pregnant, you don’t have to get married. I want great grandchildren.
• What? Why would you adopt? You don’t know where that baby came from! If you can’t find a husband, just go out and get pregnant. (Note: This occurred when I was in my 30s.)
On appropriate clothing…
By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like.
I do wonder, though, about how society determined when someone transitioned from being a young lady in need of chaperoning to being an old maid who did the chaperoning. Sure, it was a different time and place, but there’s no reason to think that old maids or widows weren’t interested in some hanky panky with available (or unavailable *gasp*) men, too. People haven’t changed that much, even if the rules of social decorum have. I guess I should be grateful that whatever people make of my single state, at least I’m not required to bring an escort to watch over my every move.
Apparently we’re moving away from cursive handwriting. My immediate reaction was, “That’s just stupid.” I mean, seriously . . . who doesn’t write in cursive? Upon further thought, I realized that I’ve hardly been required to write out anything by hand—cursive or not—in many, many years. Though I did have a pop quiz in class this week, and admittedly my hand was pretty tired after writing out a two-page of essay. Also, I was mad at myself for not having a pencil. I’m so used to editing my words as I type that trying to get the words correct when pen hit the paper wasn’t easy. Words were crossed out, and my handwriting drifted into a disgraceful mess by the end of the quiz.
With computers, it’s more useful to have good typing skills. With smart phones, I suppose we’re better off working on our thumb-typing skills by breaking out video games to improve phalangeal dexterity. I think my initial reaction was more about the loss of something that seems so basic. How many generations does it take to unlearn how to read something that’s slightly different? If I try hard, I can read a medieval manuscript with its uncial or blackletter script. But it takes time to decipher the words. (And it would probably help if I knew Latin.)
I think I’m also reacting to the sense of loss I feel about the demise of letter writing. Lately I’ve been reading a book of Jane Austen’s letters. They feel like dozens of emails or texts rolled up into daily or weekly groups, so you get some sense of her daily life. But it’s so much more fun looking at Jane’s handwritten letters. There’s more personality. Her handwriting is a mess, and she admired others who wrote neatly. She wrote to her sister, Cassandra:
I took up your letter again to refresh me, being somewhat tired and was struck with the prettiness of the hand: it is really a very pretty hand now and then—so small and so neat! I wish I could get as much into a sheet of paper.
Not that I hold her chicken scratch against her. My handwriting is no picnic, particularly now that I don’t try to keep it consistent. I guess I sort of miss the idea of everyone being taught penmanship. I used to marvel at how my grandmother’s handwriting looked just like her sister’s. And my aunt’s handwriting is also similar to theirs. (They were all teachers . . . maybe that has something to do with it.) But I guess it really doesn’t matter whether or not kids are taught to write in cursive. I draw the line at grammar, though. I will defend the need for good grammar (and the serial comma) to the death!
Photo Credits: Handwriting image from New American Cursive; Medieval manuscript is in the public domain; Jane Austen’s letter from The Morgan Library & Museum
It’s that time of year again. Yeah, that’s right . . . it’s not even Thanksgiving, and Christmas songs are on the radio and glittering lights are out on the streets. In case you’re like me and haven’t started buying holiday gifts yet, here are some suggestions.
Are you tired of searching through the piles and piles of holiday cards at Target? Try these handmade Regency Christmas Cards from Etsy:
Looking for some new wall art to remind everyone that you (heart) libraries? Try this photo of Bath (Circulating Library and Reading Room) from Etsy:
And for the bookworm who has everything, how about this Pride and Prejudice necklace from Etsy:
This is the time of the year when I love baking more than ever. I hear the Earth telling me, “Hey you guys, it’s autumn! You must bake!” I don’t how much time Jane Austen spent in her kitchen making pies, but she once said in a letter, “Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” I couldn’t agree with her more!
Even better than simply slaving away in the kitchen, autumn provides many ways to enjoy your pie-baking weekend with friends or family. Miss Ball, Miss Tarango, and I went apple picking in Sebastopol yesterday (with some wine tasting and found-art viewing thrown in). And today we had an apple baking extravaganza. The menu: apple cake (from Smitten Kitchen), apple pie, and apple puffs (from The Jane Austen Cookbook).
(Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye)
12 oz–1 lb cooking apples
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp brown sugar (more or less to your desired sweetness)
8 oz puff pastry
sugar for sprinkling
1. Peel, core, and slice the apples. Stew them in a little water until tender. (I have no idea what it means to stew. I simply let the water heat up and then let the apples simmer.) Drain well and reserve the cooking juice. Allow to cool. Put the cooked apple pulp in a bowl and mix in the lemon zest and marmalade (and cinnamon, if you like). Add the brown sugar.
2. Heat the oven to 425°. Grease and flour a baking sheet lightly, or cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Cut the puff pastry into 4-inch squares. Divide the apple purée between the squares. Fold the pastry over diagonally to make turnovers, or fold the pastry horizontally to make rectangular pockets. Pinch the ends of the pastry to seal. (Alternately, what I ended up doing—mostly out of sheer laziness—press the square of pastry into a muffin tin, add apples, and add a bit of pastry cut into fun shapes for decoration.)
4. Brush the pastry lightly with the reserved apple juice and sprinkle with sugar.
5. Bake the puffs on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with a little extra marmalade or vanilla ice cream.
After being such a good sport about hiking 100-plus miles in Glacier National Park this summer, I owed Jane a vacation that was a little less sweat inducing and a little more cerebral. Our dear friend, Mrs. Light, extended a gracious invitation to spend a few days at her cottage in Massachusetts. What could be better than autumn in New England?
The flight was uneventful, though we both lamented the state of meals while traveling. Gone are the days of leisurely stops at an inn, where one is served a roast and some wine to revive one’s spirits. Instead, eight grapes, half a walnut, and some cheese and crackers were the best we managed to acquire on the airplane.
Life became more civilized when we arrived in Amherst and made our way to the Emily Dickinson Museum. We marveled at Emily having a spacious room of her own and a writing desk that was at least four inches larger than Jane’s!
In that space Ms. Dickinson wrote nearly 1,800 poems! I am fond of this one:
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.
After the tour, Jane and Emily spent some time in the garden comparing notes about the difficulties of writing when your little sister was butchering Mozart on the piano in the back parlor. (I’m pretty sure I also heard them debating the merits of Gerard Butler and Jon Stewart when they thought we weren’t listening. Scandalous!)
The following day, we took a leisurely drive north through Vermont with a detour through Plainfield, New Hampshire to admire a display of Maxfield Parrish paintings and prints at the Town Hall. We were delighted to make the acquaintance of the artist’s granddaughter! Jane particularly admired the luminous quality of the print that Mrs. Light purchased.
Today we plan to cap our New England adventure with a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum and a last look at the fall colors. Our minds and spirits have been revived with splendid scenery, art, friendship, poetry, and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.