A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Month: October, 2011

Probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever set for myself

I am in the midst of writing a one-page abstract for a break-out lecture I would like to present at the 2012 Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting to be held in Brooklyn, NY.  Editing down a 40 minute lecture into a page is extremely difficult, harder even than childbirth!  As you probably have guessed Jane Austen is involved and since the theme is Sex, Money & Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction those who know me will assume that sex is involved too.  And they would be right!  Stay tuned to see how I manage to introduce a topic not usually associated with the gentle world of Jane Austen.

In the meantime, back to writing!!

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Quote of the Day: John Locke

John Locke, by Herman Verelst (died 1690). See...

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“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”  John Locke, 1632–1704

‘with ships and sailors she felt herself at home’

Detail from a modern reproduction of an 1805 p...

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It is, perhaps, not known Jane Austen’s personal connection to the Battle of Trafalgar.

Those at home always await patiently for word from their loved ones at sea and this was especially true 206 years ago when Jane Austen eagerly awaited the letters of her brother Capt. Francis W. Austen on board Canopus in the Mediterranean.  Canopus was a prize ship (formerly L’Admiral) captured by Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile; Nelson subsequently was responsible for Frank taking command of this ship.

“You may rely upon all attention in my power to Capt. Austin [sic].  I hope to see him alongside a French 80 gun ship and he cannot be better placed than in the Canopus, who was once a French adl.’s ship and struck to me.  Capt. A. I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man.
I am, &c
Nelson and Bronte”

The French fleet had been alluding the British for months and the situation had become precarious.  On board was Admiral Louis, Nelson’s second in command.  Frank and the Admiral would be shocked when on September 28 Nelson arrived off Cadiz and gave orders for Canopus to sail to Gibraltar to fetch urgently needed water and stores.  Louis complained of being sent away with hostilities promising to escalate.  Nelson, assuring Canopus of its role as his right hand, promised that they would be back before the French dared to come out.  Frank wrote home of his disappointment.

“Having borne our share in a tedious chase and anxious blockade, it would be mortifying indeed to find ourselves at last thrown out of any credit and emolument which would result from such an action.  Such, I hope will not be our lot.  ….if there has been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious of my life.”

On October 19 the French and Spanish fleets left Cadiz, led by Admiral Villeneuve, making their way along the coast to Cape Trafalgar.  On the morning of October 21 Nelson, glorious in his military honors hoisted the signal, “England expects every man to do his duty”.  By the end of the day the British were victorious and Nelson was dead.

Frank could not help but lament his regret at having missed the battle which was only intensified by the news of Nelson’s death.

“To lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience.  ….A melancholy situation, great and important as must be the victory, it is alas! dearly purchased at the price paid for it.”

And as the female members of his family enhanced their needlework with the ‘Trafalgar stitch’ Frank Austen wrote of Nelson:  “His memory will long be embalmed in the hearts of a grateful Nation, May those he left behind in the service strive to imitate so bright an example.”

HUZZAH!!!!

Regency reading

Lost in Austen

I have recently picked up a book that I can’t seem to embrace.  Not because of the subject matter, March, an historical fiction by Geraldine Brooks, would normally be something I would be all over.  It is the story of the absent father, Mr. March, of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and documents his experiences during the Civil War while his “little women” tend to the home fires.  I will go back to it certainly but right now I have many on-going  literary projects focusing on Jane Austen and I find myself preoccupied by her and repeatedly drawn into her world.

This month my book club, The Petty Rebuttals, are reading Pride and Prejudice.  It is my turn in the line-up, and since we collectively decided to read classics this cycle, I chose to introduce the group to Jane Austen.  We are a mixed bag,  evenly divided of those who have read P&P and those who have never had the pleasure.  I am excited to give my insight to the group and share my love and enthusiasm for this novel (and of Jane) and only hope that I don’t overwhelm the group with my zeal.  P&P is universally acknowledged (yes, that was intended) to be one of Austen’s best novels and I am currently trying to decide what of the novel I want to focus upon.   Do I focus on character, storyline, class?  My latest re-reading I specifically examined the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy, their imperfections and their strengths.  I am intrigued how they evolve through the story and am struck by their capacity for self-awareness.  Both come to terms with their pride and prejudice and become mindful of helping one another to overcome their shortcomings and give prominence to their assets.  In other words, form a true partnership of  like mind and heart.  I think I will allow the group to take initiative though, regardless of where the discussion leads it, no doubt, will be stimulating.

I am also preparing to lead a discussion next month for the Jane Austen Reading Society.  I am thrilled to be presenting Catharine, or the Bower.  A work of Jane Austen’s Volume, The Third of her Juvenilia.  A charming piece, written in 1792 when she was only 16 years old.  It is an unfinished story,  predominately for the gratification of her family but has enticing elements present in her more mature works.  The diversity in characterization and domestic realism is already evident in this short piece; it exhibits her wit and seemingly light and playful prose but also emerging is her perceptive understanding of class, gender, social decorum, and wealth.  It is an important piece still raw in its youthful vivacity but intimates a more developed novelistic approach as she attempts to move away from her earlier mocking works.  Catharine highlights the potential of the young Jane Austen’s scrutinizing eye and sardonic humor that fans know and love and appreciate.

A lamentable picture of an insipid Victorian-friendly Jane Austen. She's wearing a wedding band for crying out loud!!!!

In anticipation of all of this, or perhaps in consequence of, I have undertaken a biography I have not read before.  My favorite has always been that by Claire Tomalin but I decided to give David Nokes’s biography, Jane Austen:  A Life, a go.  Both biographers diverge from the generally accepted portrayal of Jane Austen as the staid and dour spinster, happy and accepting in her quiet life of little event.  This myth of Jane Austen was perpetuated by her family soon after her death, in fact, her tombstone at Winchester Cathedral doesn’t even mention that she was an author and became more pronounced as Georgian England became Victorian England.  In the Victorian era, a woman’s place was the domestic sphere; home life and motherhood were considered all that was necessary for a woman’s emotional fulfillment.  Reading the little that is left of Jane Austen’s letters, her Juvenilia, and her novels it is clear that Austen was not willing to place her well-being in a virtuous ideal of femininity.  She was feisty, opinionated, mirthful, and cutting.  She wasn’t one to not cut to the chase and often described things the way they were, albeit with a derisive wit.  Comments to her sister in letters emphasize her dry humor: 

 “I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.” [upon the birth of a nephew]

“Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my morals corrupted.”  [upon arrival in London]

“How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”  [commenting on the Peninsular War]

“You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.”

I love the “rebellious, satirical, and wild” Austen!  This Jane and I could be great friends unlike the virtuous, devoted, and retiring maiden Aunt popularly portrayed for nearly 200 years.

Quote of the Day: Jane Austen

Back View of Jane Austen, Watercolor

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“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

 

Quote of the Day: E.M. Forster

E. M. Forster, ca. 1947.

Image by Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.”  ~E.M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951

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