We need more letter-writing in our lives, right? More cute drawings of lace, gossip about balls (no comment), and generally dipping quills in ink and sealing things with wax. I mean, how can you fan yourself with a steamy text?
So! I am doing the Month of Letters challenge this year, and I invite you to do it with me! The goal is to write a letter every mailing day this month. I know we’re starting late, but since that really means writing 23 letters/postcards/parcels, there’s time to catch up. There’s forums and even Achievement Badges. One of them is for writing an Austen-style letter, because Mary Robinette Kowal, the founder, is clearly one of us.
If you want to be snail mail penpals, just friend me. I’m “Heather Dever” on their site.
I’m off to catch up on my correspondence!
Where early young women take walks by West Cliff Drive before breakfast (with their dogs). Where there are many many coffee shops to shelter from the rain, see, and be seen in. Where Admiral Croft’s arm really would be helpful in fending off undesirable acquaintances-to-be. And where sensible young women are indeed fine for their own pleasure alone.
Recently I went to a conversation between William “Bill” Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, and Karen “Karen” Joy Fowler, author of Jane Austen Book Club. There were about 15 of us there at Books, Inc in Berkeley, and OK, it was almost a month ago (don’t you just love instant reporting on the Internet?), but it was really cool! It was like hanging out with all you dear readers, all of us gabbing about Austen, all of us being surprised at just how differently we see the books. One of those, you know, life metaphors.
Here’s a few of the things we talked about. And because I think of you all as my Jane Austen friends, I’d love to hear what you think about any of them.
- The way that the humor of the books is generally lacking in the movies, and if this could be remedied. I and a few others said, yes, it could, but those movies would not be the rather swooshy pink rom-coms lots of people want from their Austen films. (Talk about irony . . . .) How you would do this I’m not sure, being better at watching movies than making them. Any ideas out there?
- Secularism in Jane Austen—how church and religion are hardly ever mentioned in her books, yet she was the daughter of a clergyman, etc, etc. And how the clergymen run the gamut from Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars to Mr. Collins and back again. Now my own take is that church and the clergy were such a ubiquitous part of Austen’s life that she hardly ever thought to comment on them, and that she saw the clergy in particular as just a bunch of guys. What do you think?
- Bill said that widowhood and loss are a theme in Persuasion. I’m not so sure. He pointed out that most of the characters are widows or widowers, which is true. Anne’s loss of Captain Wentworth and other losses do play a role, but as Miss Ball argued, the recovery of love and happiness is crucial to the book (and is significantly lacking in widowhood). And the way Austen treats the widows and losers of Persuasion, other than Anne, is not really very sympathetic. Like the clergy, I would venture to say that they were just more common in an age of earlier deaths. But it is an interesting thought.
- So was Karen’s comment that Mrs. Smith is a rather sinister character—she doesn’t tell Anne how wicked Mr. Elliot is until after Anne declares she won’t marry him. This is a common problem in friendship, though, isn’t it? In my own circle I know of two instances of one person on the brink of a disastrous marriage and their friend deciding whether or not to say something. One friend did, the other didn’t (having already made her opinions known). It didn’t make a difference in either case, and both couples are now divorced. Aside from the fact that it had never occurred to me that Mrs. Smith was sinister, this discussion pointed out parallels in Austen’s books to my own life that I hadn’t even thought of!
- One person asked how reading Jane Austen has enlivened your life. Do you think and act differently because of her? Karen said she suffered fools better than she used to, enjoyed them even! And Bill said she’d made him able to admit the possibility of his being wrong. For myself, I think that I started reading Austen young enough (~13) that she helped shape my entire outlook on life, both my morals and my ever-present sense of irony. Though I also simply felt that I had found a friend.
What about you? How has reading Jane Austen enlivened your life? Has she changed you?
Photo credit: ©2000 by Sean Dreilinger. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
This Thursday it will be a year since my beloved Mr. Fitzpatrick died. I am finding myself in much the same position Austen was when her family moved to Bath and her father died: just not in the mood to write. So, I give you instead Mr. Fitzpatrick’s favorite Austenacious post, originally published last May.
You are in a car going @#&%$* mph on Interstate 5 towards Los Angeles. An officer pulls you over and asks, “What’s the reason for your speed today, miss?” What do you say?
Mrs. Bennet: Mr. Bingley is come! He is indeed! Officer, hurry up, can’t you?
Mr. Bingley: My ideas flow so rapidly that they make me drive very very fast.
Mr. Bennet: I thought I saw Mr. Collins in my rear-view mirror. And don’t call me “miss.”
Mr. Collins: Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my eminent patroness, most urgently desired me to find a wife, and I have heard there are many fine young ladies in Los Angeles.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Sir! How dare you question me! I shall make sure you NEVER find a wife!
Mr. Darcy: I saw Mr. Wickham tailgating a young lady, and was about to perform a citizen’s arrest. Or make him marry her, if necessary.
Mr. Wickham: I thought I saw Mr. Darcy in my rear-view mirror.
Lydia and Kitty Bennet: We were in search of officers! And it looks like we found one!
Elizabeth Bennet: I do apologize, officer. My sisters just don’t stop making trouble. I have to run after them all the time.
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
Well, it’s happened. The lovely Miss Mason has drawn my attention to a new Jane Austen video game: Matches and Matrimony. In this “visual novel,” Reflexive Arcade’s Russell Carroll does something new—he mashes up three Austen novels with each other. Here is a turn no one had thought of! I don’t have a PC, so I haven’t played, but Emily Short over at Gamasutra gives an in-depth review (also funny for her exhaustive—one hopes—list of Austen fanfic). Apparently you play Elizabeth Bennet, and your goal is to marry Mr. Darcy. Or, if you fail with him, Colonel Brandon and Captain Wentworth show up in their turns for you to take a shot at.
Does the deep irony of this strike anyone but me? Who wrote this game, Mrs. Bennet?! When was it Lizzie’s goal to marry Mr. Darcy? When was it Marianne’s goal to marry Col. Brandon?? Not even after she did, you could argue! It was not even Anne Elliot’s goal to marry Capt. Wentworth, though she wanted to. Any and all of these ladies would scorn to set their cap at any man, to scheme and plan and work on pleasing him—for that is how you move ahead in the game. Uh, excuse me? This is the behavior of Caroline Bingley, not Elizabeth Bennet. And we know how that match-up turned out!
In this same vein, Jane Austen’s Games is working on a game called Matchmaker. Sigh. At least there you’ll be the mother trying to marry your daughter off, and not the daughter herself.
Do you know, this actually makes me wish for Wii games with heroines in Regency dresses and corsets where if you took a deep breath your avatar would faint, and for Jane Austen first-person shooters in which you lose a life (social) if your petticoat gets dirty.
Seriously, though, assuming such a thing was necessary, how would you envision a Jane Austen video game? I think it’d have to be like The Sims or Second Life. (The aforementioned Miss Mason did build her own Pemberley in The Sims, so she’s been onto this for awhile.) Austen wrote about daily life and realistic encounters with family, friends, and local annoying people. Her heroines moved within strict boundaries, which makes programming their choices simpler, perhaps, but they were searching for happiness. That did mean moving away from home and marrying, but that did not, as Lizzie tells Jane, make marriage a goal to be worked towards. It’s a subtle story, and not one that lends itself to dramatic game-play or special effects. So my game would just be a Regency world where you have to act properly or take the consequences, but in which you’d be as you chose. Finding love and happiness would be, well, exactly like in real life. Without Austen’s voice telling those stories, I don’t know how compelling it would be, but Electronic Arts would probably go for it. There’s already a Sims: Medieval, apparently.
However, even Austen heroines kicking unrealistic butt with major weaponry sounds better than Austen heroines competing on The (Regency) Bachelor.
Action Jane and I have a confession to make: We did not go to Bath. Jane, you know, never wanted to go there at all, and she convinced me that a fine spring day would be better spent in the countryside than in the glare of a town. I’ve been to Bath before, so my regret is all for you. But there you have it. A fine estate (formerly an abbey!) appealed to us more. For Miss Morland’s sake, we also looked at many real ruined abbeys, and a ruined castle or two.
Lacock Abbey was indeed bought from Henry VIII after the Dissolution and converted into a private home.
Catherine was pleased that, even though most of the building looks like an ordinary manor house, the cloisters and some abbey rooms still remain.
Only the ghosts of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Snape walk here, though. (At least they did in the first two movies.) Being good guests, we did not search for mad Mrs. Tilney’s bedroom.
To cheer Catherine up, we took her to Tintern Abbey in south Wales. Catherine declared Tintern a little too clean for pure Romantic atmosphere, but at least better than Glastonbury Abbey, which was in the middle of a bustling market town!
However, we all acknowledged Conwy Castle to be a fine, manly pile of a ruin.
Jane and I then returned Catherine to her village to await Mr. Tilney, and headed north on a mission of our own . . .
To enter the Brontë Parsonage by stealth! The sisters’ home was indeed interesting, though they forbade photographs.
Our mission accomplished, we moaned supernaturally in the graveyard, and headed for home.
Photo credits: ©2011 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
. . . as the sign for Hampshire County proclaimed! Action Jane and I have been having a jolly time here, with her showing me all the sights. In London, we stopped at the British Library. My dear friends, I cannot even describe to you the treasures in their little gallery. Even the sight of one of Jane Austen’s handwritten volumes of juvenalia was overwhelmed by the sheer physical presence of so many manuscripts handwritten by her, by Wordsworth, by Chaucer, and, yes, by Charlotte Brontë (and that was just part of one display case). In the spirit of Brontë/Austen relations, I’ll admit that seeing “Reader, I married him.” in Charlotte’s own hand was simply stunning. And that her writing was more legible than Miss Austen’s. We’ve talked before about how indescribable it is to see handwritten copies of Jane’s work. I think, more than anything, the proof that she and these other were all real people, is overwhelming.
Jane frowned on my friend Mr. Coles’ suggestion that I sit on her tomb and sing New Age chants, so we headed on to her last house, where she lived from 1809 to 1817.
Chawton is a lovely little village, and Jane Austen’s House Museum quite worthy of pilgrimage. Really ridiculously so, given the number of things that were hers and that clearly inspired something in one of the books. I found the lock of her hair another shocking proof that she really lived. Some other highlights:
The sacred writing table. It is, as mentioned, very small! In fact, I can’t see how Jane’s writing desk, which was at the British Library, actually fit on it. I’ve heard people say that everything in Austen’s life was small: her paper, her table, the rooms in her house. Paper and table, yes, but to this apartment dweller, the rooms in her house seemed plenty commodious! Not huge, but nothing I’d turn my nose up at.
The actual dress worn by Kate Winslet as she fell down the hill in Sense and Sensibility! Really! Squee!!
Miss Osborne and other aspiring Regency chefs: Here is the recipe book Jane’s friend Martha Lloyd kept when she lived with them. I couldn’t read it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt it’s for jugged hare or some other delight.
And here is Action Jane in the kitchen. To the left of the fireplace is the safe that Miss Austen had the keys of, where the sugar and tea were kept.
In reward for our pilgrimage, we had an amazing cream tea at Cassandra’s Cup across the street. Cream tea consists of tea, plus one or two scones with jam and clotted cream to spread on. Clotted cream! Heavenly. Then, because I am a thorough pilgrimess, we headed down to Lyme Regis.
Lyme is the seaside resort on the south coast where Louisa Musgrove falls down the Cobb steps in Persuasion. (Falling down things is a favorite among Austen girls, isn’t it?)
We arrived in Lyme at sunset, and went to the sea first, as Jane says “lingering, as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who ever deserve to look on it at all.” Believe it or not, we actually stayed at the Cobb Arms, and next morning, we walked along the lower Cobb.
Jane wanted to walk along the upper Cobb, but I wouldn’t let her. Indeed, considering that it’s a sloping stone walkway, with no handrails, 8 feet above the lower Cobb and probably 20 feet above the harbor, and very windy, I’m surprised the ladies were walking there at all.
I liked Lyme Regis, but then I do have a weakness for seaside resort towns. And Lyme has some commercialism, but not too much. I don’t think Jane would be displeased, were she to return. However, as far as I know, I didn’t see any unknown cousins who will later be charmed by my beauty. One can always hope.
Next up: Bath!
Photo credits: ©2011 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
You all know those Jane Austen quizzes that pop up online: Which Austen Heroine Are You? Which Hero is Your True Love? Does anyone ever get Fanny Price? I’m serious here: I’ve scored as Anne Elliot, Emma, and Elizabeth Bennet (not at the same time), but never as Fanny Price. Poor Fanny. She is so hard for modern readers. Even we who like her sometimes want to slap a little backbone into her, want her to tell off Aunt Norris just once. So I was disturbed to find on the Austen-L mailing list page that Fanny Price and I have something in common: our Myer-Briggs type.
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 1996 11:07:22 -0500
The discussion about Fanny Price has been interesting, and leads me to offer my thoughts. My background is in psychology, and I couldn’t help but to try to identify what puts so many Austen fans off about this particular heroine.
I believe that in Fanny, Jane Austen has developed a perfect INFP personality type (in the Jungian or “Myers-Briggs” classification). INFP stands for Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling and Perceptive as dominant traits. In a word: an “Idealist”. Interestingly, only 1 percent of the population fits into this group.
Consider this brief portrait: INFPs—
- present a calm, pleasant face to the world.
- are seen as reticent and even shy.
- demonstrate cool reserve toward others, but inside are anything but distant.
- care deeply about a few special persons or causes.
- have a profound sense of honor derived from internal values. (This is not necessarily religious morality—they have their own sense of integrity and morality.)
- are willing to make unusual sacrifices for someone or something believed in.
- seek unity of body, mind, and soul.
- often have a tragic motif running through their lives, which others may not detect.
- show deep commitment to the ‘good’ and are always alert for the ‘bad’.
- are adaptable to new information and ideas.
- are well aware of people and their feelings and relate well to most people while keeping some psychological distance.
- prefer to live in harmony and will go to great lengths to avoid constant conflict.
- tend to be compliant, and may even prefer to have decisions made for them, until their value system is violated—then they will not budge from their ideals.
- will often be found in service careers— social work, ministry, teaching (or in Fanny’s case, serving as a companion to her aunt).
I think the only way she might have been persuaded to marry Henry Crawford was if he had had a profound reformation, so that she was able to believe that not only was his love true and deep, but her values of honesty (integrity) were shared. I believe she could accept less of a passionate love from Edmund Bertram because she believed him to share her same values.
I don’t have the psychological background to debate Theresa’s take on INFPs in general, (anyone? Bueller?) though I do think it’s a good portrait of Fanny. But do I share these characteristics that put “so many Austen fans off about this particular heroine”? I’m really finding it surprisingly discouraging that had I lived in Austenland I would only have had Edmund Bertram to look forward to!
Come to think of it, these characteristics describe Anne Elliot as well as they do Fanny Price. And yet Anne is not so annoying as Fanny, not so very self-effacing. So I think there is some hope for we INFPs after all. We just need to be born rich, rather than as a poor relation given away when we’re young!
Readers, what do you think? Would you be disturbed to be compared to Fanny Price? Do you think Anne Elliot is like Fanny, but born into better circumstances?
Travel has been much on my mind lately. I need to get away. I need to see new places, have new experiences. I need to go and stay with my friend and her obnoxious husband for two months. Wait . . . back up. Can we try that again?
Take 2: I need to go to London to get my hair cut. And while I’m there I can stay with an annoying old woman, try to glimpse my not-fiancé, and avoid my evil sister-in-law . . . maybe not.
Take 3: OK, yes, let’s take a trip to Bath for someone’s gout (thank goodness not mine). Ooh, and I could meet a handsome young man and maybe he’ll ask me to stay at his family’s abbey, and I can get in some quality ghost time! This is getting better.
Take 4: I know! Let’s drive to the seaside. Someone can fall down and injure themselves, and then we can go to Bath, and . . . and I’ll meet an old schoolfriend and be saved by her from a disastrous marriage, and finally marry the man of my dreams. Under an umbrella. There. That’s a wrap!
I do love it when the characters travel in Jane Austen. You just know that dramatic things are going to happen. Characters and destinies will be revealed. Not like in real life, where they . . . probably won’t. And I have a feeling Austen herself loved travel in spite of her better judgment. She may make snobby comments about the Eltons’ “exploring,” but you get a breath of fresh air when her heroines are on the road, when they look at the sea.
Photo credit: ©Tardiskey. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
The book describes the dress as something that “stepped out of an [Jane] Austen movie,” meaning very Victorian; lots of lace, mounds of tulle and slightly overworked.
NO, IT BLOODY WELL DOES NOT MEAN THAT! Could you go learn some effing history, already? Jane Austen was NOT NOT NOT a Victorian! How many times do I have to tell you?! I may be slightly overworked at this time, but Austen’s clothes were not.
Whew. OK, calming down now. But clothes are important, my friends, really they are. Jane Austen and her beautifully warm and rational heroines wore simple, rational clothes. Victorian thought and Victorian clothes were lots more about emotion and repressions. It’s just a totally different world. Maybe we don’t think Regency clothes were simple and rational, but they did. We think a) They look good wet; and/or b) Boobs! but then so did they. No really. At least these days filmmakers can get the look of the clothes right, even if they miss on when those clothes would come off. (The pond scene . . . not so much. Sorry, everyone!)
Jane Austen said a lot about her characters through their clothes. Think of Lady Catherine, who “will not think less of you for being simply dressed. She likes to see the distinction of rank preserved.” Or think of Mrs. Elton, going on about her fancy new gown, but, oh, she has such a horror of being “fine!” (OK, maybe Bella will wear Mrs. Elton’s wedding dress. Poor girl.) We don’t think Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney are silly for talking about muslin, though maybe Henry talking about it is meant to show that Catherine and Mrs. Allen are silly. And I entirely sympathize with Catherine for thinking Henry looks so handsome in his greatcoat! But Isabella Thorpe reveals her scheming mind by plotting what she and Catherine will wear, and dear Mrs. Bennet shows her silliness when she’s crying to Mrs. Gardiner about all their troubles one minute and being cheered up by the news of “long sleeves” the next. And let’s not even get started about Miss Bingley’s rants about certain people’s muddy petticoats!
The moral of all these stories seems to be: you should look good, but not look like you thought about it much. Not like you tried too hard. And is that not the very essence of cool?