We need more parties, don’t we? Well, I know I do, especially Jane Austen parties! Other people have ventured opinions on this topic. 99% of them involve a) tea, b) watching movies, or c) both. I’m in favor of all three of these activities (well, duh), but I do think we could broaden our horizons here, venture across the ha-ha, as it were.
Basic steps: This write-up has some good ideas, including period card games, period snacks, and trivia. Be warned that you are venturing into weirder territory here than you know, as Miss Osborne’s cooking experiments have shown us. Stick to syllabub, is my advice. As far as card games go, I love them, but Miss Austen did not, or at any rate none of her heroines did. So if you play them, stick to the more “comfortable, noisy” games, like Speculation, and avoid Whist as all costs. Whist (the precursor of Bridge) is bo-ring, both in Mansfield Park and in my experience. Still, you get good discussions around the card table, and good insights into people’s characters, the Crawfords’ in particular.
Crafty steps: While “painting tables, covering screens, and netting purses” may draw derision from Mr. Darcy, I am all in favor of “cutting up silk and gold paper” as the girls do in Persuasion, and crafts in general. Here’s some Regency party craft ideas.
Ballsy steps: Lots of places have Regency balls, where you can be spurned by Mr. Darcy and overhear Mr. Elton insulting your best friend, and have good times generally. You can also do this at home, even if you have to dance down the hall to lively tunes from your MP3 player. (It’s better than Mary Bennet on the piano.) Make sure to have white soup, negus, and indiscreet conversations, and, ladies, I happen to know that many gentlemen find Regency/square dancing less intimidating than ballroom. Show them diagrams! Let them figure it out!
RPG steps: It’s funny how you never hear “role-playing” and “Jane Austen” in the same sentence, especially when you consider all that fanfic out there. So, if you are really feeling adventurous, I suggest designing some sort of Austen role-playing activity. You could, you know, assign the different parts from a book beforehand, get everyone together, and let them have at it. Sounds sort of like Lost in Austen, doesn’t it? Or, since it’s almost Halloween, why not do a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies flash mob? Everyone decide beforehand whether you’ll be a zombie, a Bennet sister, or an innocent bystander; show up someplace and have it out! Regency zombie battles on the National Mall! I see this happening, people! Serious Austen party-ers will do this in full costume, of course. But watch where you put that sword. You could put someone’s eye out with that thing.
Olympic steps: OK, OK, it’s true that zombies aren’t genuine Austen. But it’s also true that whenever you get together, you are probably having a party pretty close to one Jane Austen wrote! Oh, the food, drink, dancing, and clothes might be different, but I bet the social dynamics are not far off. I know that’s not what you want to hear, though, so I suggest the Jane Austen Olympics! Events can include: the 100-meter Dash Across the Lawn to Find Mr. Bennet, the All-Terrain Walk to Netherfield (points deducted per inch of dirty hem), the Louisa Musgrove Stair-Jumping Contest, the Pairs’ Rainy Hillside Rescue Dance, Fencing Wits, and Conversational Gymnastics (Lizzie’s an odds-on favorite there, clearly), and . . . .
But you see! The possibilities are endless! Now get your corsets on, go out there, and PARTY!!!
Photo credits: ©juzka81. Used through Creative Commons licensing.
Lovely Jenn over at Citivolus Sus asked us whether she was the only Austenite who like beer. Well, I hardly think so. She even posted recommendations on which beers go with which books. I am, sadly, allergic to beer, but I do like to eat and drink (and travel), so here are my own recommendations on the right ambiance for each book. I won’t insist on Regency dishes. I won’t even go into the hardback/paperback split, and how the musky odors of old books bring out the woodier notes in certain pinot noirs, changing the whole dynamic. Just imagine Giles twittering on in the background, and making you read your Kindle only on the airplane, eating airplane food.
Northanger Abbey has a hard feeling, and such sharp edges and corners. So I see it as going well with Chinese food. I’m not particular as to the dish. Something spicy hot, perhaps with fermented black beans in it. You should drink lots of jasmine tea and get a really surreal Jane Austen fortune cookie afterward. Try to be in a restaurant that at least has Chinese people in it. No P.F. Chang’s, please. If the people are speaking Mandarin or some other form of Chinese, this is a bonus.
Sense and Sensibility: What a weird book, foodwise. There’s no doubt it can be unsettling to the stomach. I think a nice butternut squash soup. Or maybe Welsh rabbit. Orange food is called for, apparently. Orange juice? Sure. Maybe you should be in Orange County, too, whatthehey. Or in any one of these fine Orange places.
Pride and Prejudice: There is no wrong thing to eat or drink with Pride and Prejudice, right? And no wrong place to read it. For all that I have to say: No junk food. Do not insult Miss Austen with McDonald’s, or I will kill you. There are some things beyond even irony. If you must have a specific setting, I seem to see you in a wonderful Belle Epoque patisserie in Alexandria, sipping your tea and eating French/Egyptian sweets. It’s probably sunset or something, too.
Mansfield Park: Somehow, I see Mansfield Park as going best with Indian food. A good rogan josh and a steaming cup of chai make a nice counterpoint to the sometimes startling flavor of this book. You should be somewhere rainy. By the ocean.
Emma is a summertime book. Think a picnic lunch on the lawn, with strawberry shortcake. Please be nice to Miss Bates. Do try the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, and make the Assam tea strong, with plenty of cream. As long as you sit in the sun, you may be anywhere you like.
Persuasion: This is also a book that makes me want to feel cozy and warm. It has, yes, autumnal overtones. A traditional Irish dinner followed by a really good whiskey, and some chocolate cake, maybe? Please curl up on the couch and enjoy a roaring fire while you read.
Lady Susan and The Watsons: You really should be absolutely drunk to read these, and possibly high on opium as well.* I don’t mean this in a bad way! Absinthe, I think, is the way to go. If you want to smoke a hookah and be in Istanbul as well, just to get the feel right, we’re down with that.
Sanditon: With its emphasis on health fads, I do see Sanditon as a breakfast book. You can do the straightforward hippie thing with yogurt and granola, or go all ironic with croissants and coffee. I seem to see you doing this in Paris, I don’t know why. Can you even get granola in Paris?
As a final note, I feel that all Jane Austen is most properly accompanied by chocolate. Dark, rich, delicious chocolate. Any other suggestions are optional. Readers, what do you think?
*Austenacious does not endorse the use of illegal drugs, even if they are picturesque. Note that absinthe is not illegal in the U.S. anymore. Yay!
Photo credit: ©Ed Yourdon. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
We here at Austenacious like to reminisce about the good old days when we were young(er). Men had billowy shirts, women had “om-peer” waists (thanks to Stacy London) and lots of cleavage, fans were often employed in flirtation. Good times for all! But, I have to tell you, the old days were not all about wet shirts and boobs. Other people can talk about Napoleon and the lack of arm movement in old dresses; I am here to tell you that the Regency HAD NO COOKIES! No wonder Mr. Darcy was so pissy.
Or, if Jane Austen’s time did have cookies, Miss Osborne’s head is going to roll. One evening she presented her innocent Austenacious sisters with the aptly quoted “cakes” below. Three jaws chomped thoughtfully. Hmm, we said, pleasant flavors of molasses and ginger (and caraway, if you like that kind of thing). But we can’t get no satisfaction. A texture sort of like dried out cookie dough. And no zing, no happiness, no. . . sugar, or salt! Our consensus: They were okay if you’d never had a cookie, but here in the 2000s, why bother?
This caused Mr. Fitzpatrick to think about the future. “What do we eat now that in 200 years they’ll think, well, I guess it was okay if you’d never had a — ?” Any ideas, tasteful readers? Will the futurites be like, “Geez, why were they so afraid of genetically modified food? Life is unthinkable without naturally chocolate bacon!”? Or, much as we think “How could the Elizabethans drink beer at every meal and no water?”, will they think “How could they eat so much sugar? Especially so much corn syrup?!” as they munch their gingerbread “cakes”? Count me out, if so.
Martha’s Gingerbread “Cakes”
(Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye)
1-3/4 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 Tbsp ground nutmeg
4 Tbsp butter
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1/3 cup molasses
- Set oven to 350°F.
- Sift together flour, ginger, and nutmeg into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture is like crumbs. Add the caraway seeds if you are using them.
- Blend molasses into the spiced flour. It will make a soft, sticky dough.
- Dust a work surface lightly with flour, and roll out the dough not less than 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into rounds, or use simple cookie cutters. Arrange cookies on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and place an almond flake on each cookie.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet until cold, then store in airtight container.
Makes 14. Eating is optional. However, you might find yourself consuming them without fully being aware of it. They are a little hypnotic that way.
P.S. Miss Osborne had one genuine Scot try the “cakes,” thinking they might be a culturally acquired taste [cough] Vegemite [cough]. Our scientific sample of one’s conclusion: no go. She thought they were as boring as we did. However, we’d be happy to hear from our lovely English/Welsh/Scottish/Irish readers: was this the treat of your childhood? And if so, why?
Lately, it seems lately like we all want to get inside of literature: to have our own holodeck or other scifi virtual reality device. It’s the promise of escape.
So I think the most interesting takes on the Jane Austen novels are the ones where people from our world, the “real world,” enter the world of the books. And what ensues? In Jasper Fforde‘s books, Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next works in a kind of meta-book world (lord, I said “meta”—just shoot me now), where she devotes herself to keeping literature the way we know it. In First Among Sequels, Thursday has to prevent Pride and Prejudice being turned into a reality book, where the characters have to perform tasks and will be voted out by chapter. She succeeds of course; Fforde is not attempting realism here, though his wry look at the silliness of the world around us is well worth getting into.
Have you seen Such Tweet Sorrow? It’s a real-time tweeting of Romeo and Juliet, a collaboration between Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company. So it’s almost like Romeo and Juliet: The Reality Show, and given the plot of Romeo and Juliet, no, they don’t encourage the actors to turn up the drama! It’s as authentic to the play as possible. I think it’s the next step in bringing literature into a virtual world setting.
Then I had a vision: Could we find volunteers to live out Pride and Prejudice and tweet about it in real time? Or live it as a reality show? I feel dizzy—can I really have made this up myself? Someone tell me people have already done this! Readers, I know you would sign up! Wouldn’t you?
Why, even now, you can take tours of filming locations for the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice and have supper at Longbourn. If you’re Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems and Urban Decay, you can even put on a ball at Chawton House and have Mr. and Mrs. Darcy come host it. As Ms. Lerner says, “Life is short. Why watch other people doing stuff?” She would sign up for a virtual Regency machine, I’m sure.
I’ll admit to mixed feeling about pretending to live in the Regency in general or inside a Jane Austen novel in particular.
For one thing, I like to dress up and drink tea and all, but in the end, how much does that have to do with Jane Austen and why you read her? Maybe I would get a romantic thrill from being trotted around the dance floor by a tall, silent man, all while displaying wit and cleavage. Maybe I just wouldn’t want to admit that part of that thrill was based on a scene from a novel, i.e., from someone else’s head. I am a snob about my fantasy worlds. (I like them to be my own.) And I read Jane Austen because she’s funny, not because she wore Empire dresses.
For another thing, if I was actually living in a novel, I think my adventures would go a lot like Amanda Price’s. Lost in Austen has, dare I say it?, a realistic take on living your fantasy: Pride and Prejudice addict Amanda Price finds herself inside the book, which Lizzie has vacated for modern life, and she wreaks havoc on the plot, all while trying to restore it to what she knows it should be. Kind of like a baby with a birthday cake. Kind of like an Austen fan’s nightmare. Not the same thing at all as reading the book, and having it be in your own head.
So, what do you say? Meet me in Holodeck 3 for the ball at Netherfield? Or will we apply the lessons of Jane Austen to this life? I must admit the holodeck does sound more fun. But then, doesn’t it always?
Lauren Miller, posting over at nameberry, a baby names site, sounds like someone we’d like to know: she’s a true Austen enthusiast, and we appreciate her thorough knowledge of and appreciation for the names in Austen’s books. And I appreciate her suggestion of naming your child after the hero or heroine of your favorite book—a friend of mine named her daughter Serenity, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that (though I would not name my child Enterprise.) Yes, your Elizabeths, Janes, Emmas, Annes, bring ‘em on!
However, I do think Ms. Miller is a trifle naive in some of her name suggestions. To wit:
Kitty: Ms. Miller realizes you probably don’t want to name your kid Fanny. But naming her anything that can be twisted into the name of another female body part is really not a good idea. Alas, I speak from experience here.
Lydia or Maria: There’s nothing wrong with either of these as names. But do you want to name your progeny in honor of Lydia Bennet or Maria Bertram? Why not call her Scandal and be done with it?
Benwick: “It’s ‘Ben-ick,’ not ‘Ben-wick.’ On second thought, just call me Ben. Ha ha, Icky Ben! Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
Bertram: What ho?
Bingley: Is it my own dirty mind, or is this potential phallic territory? Rhymes with Dingaling, doesn’t it?
Dashwood: Similarly . . . Though we may have to face the possibility that NO name is safe from that sort of thing. But this one really does sound like a porn name. Sorry.
Wickham or Willoughby: See above re Lydia and Maria, plus, I think I’d kill my parents if they named me Wickham. At least Willoughby could be Will.
Darcy: As a girl’s name there’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s so . . . 80s. Isn’t it?
Grey: I know people can get used to virtually anything being someone’s name, and can forget its original meaning. But Grey, especially for a girl? Why not name her Dreary or Grim and be done with it? Also, small point, but Miss Grey in Sense and Sensibility was not exactly a nice person.
Price: LOL, think of the emotional scarring! Poor girl, branded as a prostitute from birth. “The Price is right!” The jokes are really endless.
Tilney: More random than anything else, I guess. But, Tilney? Really?
For the record, Ms. Miller, I love your other suggestions. Isabella: a nickname of mine, actually; Emma: a name I’ve considered for my own (strictly potential) daughter; Georgiana: just plain awesome! And considering some of the actual names people have actually named their actual children, I know it could be worse. But, please, think of the ramifications before you suggest these things! And, we’d love to hang out sometime and talk Jane Austen with you. You can even call me Isabella.
Like any healthy young lady, I like to take a brisk walk or carriage ride to visit my friends, and stay with them for weeks at a time. Sometimes, though, it’s more like a brisk plane ride. Anyway, when going to Texas, New Jersey, and New York, who better to travel with than my dear companion, Jane?
Here we are in Austin, Texas, marveling at the misuse of our name by “Austintatious Autos.” Carriages have come a long way, though.
Next stop, an afternoon out at the Alamo Drafthouse to see Wolf Man. (It was a terrible movie. Don’t waste your time. Jane would rather be seen with Wolverine if she must be recast in all these postmodern contexts. At least Hugh Jackman can dance.)
While perusing the extensive menu of pub-like food, we were entertained by talking dogs. No, really . . . it was frightening and strangely interesting. Much better than maggoty Stilton and Lydia not paying for lunch.
After a few days of girlfriend time, toddler cuddling, and WiiFit Plus entertainment (AKA, staying with the Collinses minus interesting man problems and plus Rhythm Kung Fu), Jane and I wended our way to New Jersey. We enjoyed Mrs. Osborne’s futomaki rolls and the time with the nieces and nephews. (Yes, Jane, we know you will often have a niece with you!)
We then went to London, uh, I mean New York City. (We are in trade, like Mr. Gardiner. Don’t tell Lady Catherine!) Jane did a double-take when we saw that Jennifer Ehle was currently appearing on Broadway in Mr. & Mrs. Fitch!
But how can one spend time at the theatre when the Olympics are on? All that healthy outdoor exercise and fresh air . . . it just makes us want to fall down mountains! (OK, OK, we’ll stop using that joke. ) Here’s Jane watching men’s alpine skiing. She approves of my new Olympic boyfriend, hunky Norwegian skier Aksel Svindal.
Alas, it’s not all fun and games in town. Jane accompanied me to a conference I was attending for work. Most of the time was spent in dark and air-conditioned conference rooms. However, during lunch the view of Times Square was delightful! Probably more to Miss Crawford’s taste than Fanny’s, though. Miss Price would faint dead away at the sight of Times Square, Jane says, though Lady Susan might find some quiet enjoyment.
Liza Daly discussed how ebooks have helped books become “citizens of the net,” as there are new ways to connect books to readers and readers to authors. Imagine our surprise when this slide appeared on big screens!
Jane said, “Well it’s true ‘I hate tiny parties—they force one into constant exertion.’ One can say anything in social media, and one so often does!” I poked her to be quiet.
And so we flew home to California, having quite failed to catch husbands, but having had a pleasant visit with friends, family, and business nonetheless.
Photo credits: All photos © 2010 Christine Osborne, except for the Twitter image, which was borrowed with permission from Liza Daly.
It’s Valentine’s Day this Sunday. Being Jane Austen readers, we’re guessing you feel a complex mixture of happiness and cynicism, yearning for true love and despair that it will really be as shiny as it’s made out to be. What would Miss Austen say about Valentine’s Day? That’s a topic for another day. But guess what—it’s also Chinese New Year’s! This may suggest pink dragons and exploding hearts to some, but ingenious reader Charlene suggests combining the two events with our love of Jane Austen—because who else can console those on both sides of the fence so equally?—to make Jane Austen fortune cookies. (You probably saw that coming.) Homemade fortune cookies are divine and fun to make: you get to play with your food and call it origami. Here is a recipe. You’re on your own re the white chocolate and sprinkles in the photo.
And here, for your delectation, is a file of loving Jane Austen quotations chosen by your dedicated Austenacious literary chefs and formatted for use in fortune cookies. Go forth and rule the destinies of your friends! In bed! And let us know how it all turns out.
Given that the ladies of Austenacious think mainly about two things, food and Jane Austen, you’d be surprised at how long it took us to put the two together and think about Jane Austen’s food! Well, now we are, and we have great plans in the works. In the meantime, though, Miss Osborne came across The Supersizers Go . . . and The Supersizers Eat . . . in her researches. This show is hilarious and educational and disgusting! You must watch! We command thee!
If you don’t see the player above, here’s the Regency series on YouTube.
I’m writing today from the South, the land of delights from mustard-based barbecue sauce (!) to the world capital of mini-golf to sixty-degree (F) weather the week before Christmas, among others. My arc through this portion of the States, along with nine-hour days of driving, is full of meditations on the richness of Southern language and literature—particularly, today, the words of a fine craftsman from another time. Say, the 90s. The 1990s (around here, best to clarify). By this, I mean—wait for it—the “You might be a redneck” joke, popularized by the word wizard Jeff Foxworthy.
I don’t actually know much about ways in which I might be or become a redneck,—I’m not sure whether this makes me more likely or less likely to unwittingly be one—but I do know a fair amount about ways in which I might be or become a character in Jane Austen novel. To wit:
If your strategy for husband-hunting in your own family includes the tenet “the closer, the better,”….you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
If flannel says, to you, neither “I cut down trees for a living” nor “I live in Seattle in 1993,” but rather “I am forty going on Dick Clark,”…you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
If you love a man with good taste in hat-ribbons…you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
If you’re destined to find that your charming new man-friend is actually an enormous cad and may or may not have debauched the honor of several young ladies previously…you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
If your best friend is your sister, and your sister is your best friend…you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
If you use your own respiratory distress as revenge on others’ sanity…you might be in a Jane Austen novel.
What do you think, readers? For future reference (and in case of some serious Thursday Next-stye hijinks), how might you know you’re in a Jane Austen novel?
(I’ll find a new comedian when I get to Texas, promise. That’s, like, two days of highway. I just need time to think.)
I took up my pen tonight intending to tell you all that “Jane Austen Loves Emoticons.” It would be a steep leap, I knew. She was not the girl for happy faces lying down beside her words. But—she was the woman for dashes—! Dashes of all kinds, & all sorts of other slapdash grammar by our standards;—Miss Osborne is going to go crazy when she sees this post. — She usually cleans up our punctuation. (That’s what you get for reading the blog-child of a writer, an editor, & a copyeditor.) But—Miss O—I’m saying lay off this one!—This is the homage to Miss A’s own crazy punctuation.
When I first read Lady Susan, The Watsons, & Sanditon as a teenager I was struck, by the plots, by the rawer picture they present as compared to the polish of the finished, longer works;—but also, by the punctuation. As a good little student, it had simply never occurred to me that punctuation could be a means of expression!—Not to mention the charming, erratic Capitals. Punctuation, until then, was a list of rules, not a playground.—So, I started Wildly Varying the style of my grammar, and even of my spelling. I used punctuation in my writing to indicate the Quality of different Types of Silences. . . the questioning silence —? . . . the shocked silence —! . . . the “I can’t believe my ears; how could you suppose I’d be so stupid” silence —?! . . . or —!? I even, you can see it coming, started drawing little happy faces beside my notes to indicate that I was being sarcastic (who, me?) . Though I never liked the winky face or the sad face; they seemed to me insincere at the time. Mind you, this was in the dark ages, back when I wrote LETTERS to people, and they wrote letters back to me. Now, everyone understands what those little faces mean.
It was Jane who taught me to play with punctuation, to make sentences read the way they sound in your head. Why then, am I not telling you that Jane Austen loves emoticons? — Two reasons: one, I have a feeling she’d think they were lazy (though maybe space-saving in letters); and two, flipping through my copies of the aforementioned works and the complete letters, I noticed that she uses dashes after almost, if not every sentence. — This is in addition to using them mid-sentence, and to using other ending punctuation after phrases and sentences.
What’s up with this? Was it a convention of the age, a stylistic peculiarity all her own, a device to make it easier to read cross-hatched letters, or what?—I sincerely hope some scholar of the age can enlighten the grammar geeks of Austenacious on this point, or we may be drowning in our own dashes. Though I have noticed scholars seem to fight passionately about editing Austen’s punctuation, so they may not have time for a simple question from the likes of me.
In the meantime, though I may edit other people’s work with the sparingness of modern punctuation, I reserve the right to be as profligate as I like with my own.