So… I was planning to post this before the World Series ended, but Detroit just didn’t have any stamina, did they? Let’s go, Giants! (The Beloved Sisters are Oakland A’s fans, but San Francisco is very nearby.)
“Oh, but you write a Jane Austen blog” they say. “That must be about tea and flowers. What does Jane Austen have to do with baseball?”
Ha! Sister and brother Janeites, remember that a Jane Austen book contains the very first reference to baseball in the OED itself!
Cue excerpt from Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Jane’s setting up Catherine Morland as someone you would never have picked to be a Gothic heroine, because she’s so ordinary.
…it was not very wonderful* that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least to books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all.
*Wonderful here means “full of wonder,” i.e. surprising.
Here is a Jane Austen heroine to-be not just watching baseball, but actually playing it! (Let’s put her up against the zombies…) Now, Catherine Morland goes on to learn to read Gothic novels and sigh artistically, and famously “curl her hair and long for balls,” the dancing kind, and not cricket or baseballs.
Jane Austen has a lot of affection for Catherine, and though she also likes Gothic novels, Northanger Abbey is a straight-up lesson in the folly of considering them a model for life. It contrasts the simple health and sanity of the Morlands with other peoples’ deceptions, follies, and evils.
So I’m going out on a limb and saying that Jane Austen also loved cricket, horseback-riding, books that are all story and no reflection, and of course baseball!
And I think we can totally see her at work when Miss Osborne bakes cakes for every A’s playoff game, when Miss Ball tweets about Josh Reddick’s hair, and when Mrs. Fitzpatrick calmly eats baseball cake and cheers when she remembers.
I think she would understand and laugh at us, I hope with affection. And I think she’d find the World Series pretty funny too. Pity we’ll never know…
Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, of disputed causes, making this the 193rd anniversary of her death. Is it weird that we haven’t seen a book yet with Jane Austen as a ghost, ala Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter? We’ve been through swathes of the Austen undead without coming to this fairly obvious choice. Is it passe, perhaps? Rather than having a vampire Austen chomping on wine and chocolate, how about a ghostly Austen flitting through a Gothic story or setting, making sure all the mysteriously locked chests are only filled with laundry lists? I could go for that.
Or what about a banshee Austen shrieking when people misunderstand her take on marriage, again? Psst! Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was doomed because they got married out of lust and boredom, not because they got married quickly. And actually, it wasn’t all that quickly. Jane would have agreed that you should marry the “right” person (duh), but it’s a considerable leap from that to hustling to the church/registry office/destination wedding with any old man you happen to pick up. Quoth Charlotte Lucas, “It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and we all know how she fared at the marriage market.
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. We were discussing sarcastic ghosts who make fun of the Gothic, and ironic banshees. Let’s see, what else has been missed? We could make a case for Jane Austen, Necromancer, raising armies of spin-offs, but I think my favorite glimpse of Jane Austen’s life after death comes from E.M. Forster, in “The Celestial Omnibus.” Jane drives a carriage to heaven. And it’s not a barouche-landau.
Photo: The ghost of Barbara Radziwiłł, by Wojciech Gerson.
I know. We is a terrible Jane Austen blog because we did not post on Jane Austen’s birthday! Miss Austen, ladies and gentlemen, please forgive us! But maybe on her 234th bday, Miss Austen wouldn’t see being a day or two late as being very late at all? . . . No, you’re right, I’m sure she was a stickler about that sort of thing. Anyway, Happy Belated Birthday, Miss Austen!
Mystery author P.D. James has a new book out, Talking About Detective Fiction, and this book contains, I think, a birthday present for Jane Austen. P.D. calls Emma “the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story.” What is the secret in the novel? Of course it is the “unrecognized relationships” between characters caught up in Emma’s romantic machinations, says Lady James, adding: “The story is confined to a closed society in a rural setting, which was to become common in detective fiction, and Jane Austen deceives us with cleverly constructed clues.” I’ve read mystery stories my whole life, and I’d never thought of that. At last, a fresh voice in Austen debate! (Unless this is well-known in academic circles, and I just missed it?) And it’s true. Critics are usually so caught up in hating Emma to bits that they don’t talk about the craft that Jane Austen uses to give us these situations that can be read in a number of ways. And she plays fair—if you know, you can see the significance of Frank Churchill’s going to get his hair cut and Mr. Elton’s giving the poem to Emma instead of Harriet. But, and this is the mark of a good detective story, the first time around, I completely misread those clues! I totally bought Emma’s reasoning about Mr. Elton and missed all Jane Fairfax’s telltale blushes. How about you? Are the Emma-haters so angry because they were deceived by her too?
Interestingly, there’s also a mystery in Northanger Abbey, at least in Catherine’s mind: the mystery of Mrs. Tilney’s death. But this mystery, Jane Austen’s avatar Henry Tilney tells us, is ridiculous—it’s too like a Gothic novel to believe that a wife could be killed under the eyes of a physician, or locked up without anyone’s protesting! Miss Brontë and we think differently, and the long lineage of detective and Gothic/horror stories certainly has something to do with that. But Jane Austen sympathizes a lot more with Emma’s self-deception than she does with Catherine’s.
It’s too like a Gothic novel. . . Jane Austen liked those, but she thought they were silly (hence Northanger Abbey). She followed the old adage about writing what you know about, and not about long ago and far away with monstrous creations wreaking havoc. She appreciated girls trapped by monstrous men in exotic Italian castles hundreds of years ago, so I think she would understand our fascination with girls trapped by werewolves in exotic English country houses two hundred years ago. But there’s no doubt she’d think it and us more than a bit silly. I wish she were here to tell us how much. But at least now someone is appreciating her real sense of mystery.