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Inquiring readers: Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has been submitting posts to this blog for over two years. As we discussed Downton Abbey, we realized we had very similar views, including a snarky streak. Chris has graciously submitted her take of Episode 3, which is right on the money (in my book.) Enjoy!

If you have not seen Episode 3, click here to see a streaming video online provided by PBS Masterpiece Classic. Warning: Plot spoilers if you continue reading on.

3D Glasses image - movie theaterDownton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 3: Not Enough Noses Out of Joint

This week, except for the copious use of the P word and the discussion of women’s right to vote, there was very little to learn here, both historically, or about the characters. I kept wanting “Downton Abbey 3-D.” Give me some glasses to put on so I could find the depth.

Anna and Mr. Bates: The Case of the Missing Letters

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carson hands out mail. No letters for Anna from Mr. Bates again. She’s worried. Cut to letters handed out at the prison. None for Mr. Bates. He looks upset too. So clearly someone is holding both their letters back at the prison. There’s a quick end to a possible source of tension for the hour.

Anna tells Mrs. Hughes about the letters. Is Mr. Bates being gallant and trying to set her free? Why else would he be silent and stop her from visiting? Whoa there! If this happened, we should have seen her go to the prison and be turned away. Much better than missing letters.

While at work, another prisoner whispers to Bates, “They know you tricked them.” Bates: “What that’s to do with me?” He thwarted their plan to pin something on him so they’re angry. I find the prison drama both too low-key and vague. Apparently, Bates was reported to the Governor for violence and is considered dangerous. This is why no letters and no visits. “Thank God, I thought she’d given up on me,” Bates says. “Don’t thank God until you know what else they’ve got in store for you,” his fellow prisoner warns. Ho hum. I admit, though, the look of relief and happiness on Bates’ face, got me. More of what we love Bates for, please!

Later, the guards enter his cell and search it, go through the bedding again. According to plan, Bates has hidden the object previously hidden in his bed, in his cell mate’s bed. They take the cell mate away. He tells Bates that he’ll be sorry. Cue ominous music.

Matthew and Mary, Still Married to the House

Mary and Matthew discuss Matthew’s role as co-owner of Downton. He doesn’t want to go into every detail of the running of the estate or challenge Robert’s authority. Mary says he has to pull his weight.

Matthew and Mary meet in nursery to look over wallpaper. Matthew asks if that’s all she wants to talk about. They are in the nursery after all. What about that trip to the doctor? Is she announcing she’s pregnant? No, she had trouble with her hay fever. Matthew leans close behind her and says suggestively, what will they use for a day nursery if the need arises? Mary looks very uncomfortable and says they can worry about that further down the line. Whoops! Did they not have the Kids Talk before marrying? Mary looks like the subject is distasteful to her.

More of Matthew being warm and loving with his wife, and more of Mary being a wet sock. Boy did marriage kill this love story.

Saving Ethel (Isobel and Mrs. Hughes)

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Isobel visits Mrs. Hughes and gives her a letter from Ethel (um, when did this take place? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time we saw Ethel she closed the door in Isobel’s face). Isobel confirms Ethel is a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes is surprised. “That’s not a word you hear in this house every day.” No kidding. Even I felt uncomfortable at the use of the word in those hallowed halls. Isobel asks Mrs. Hughes to let her know if she can help. Mrs. H says Ethel will be too ashamed to face how far she’s fallen. I have to disagree. Ethel sees clearly how far and it’s given her a kind of grace and nobility that it’s a pleasure to watch. She’s certainly much more interesting than our beloved Anna of late. Dare I say Ethel is the new Anna? Someone needs to be since Anna’s going in circles.

Ethel asks Isobel to write to the Bryants. They can have Charlie. The Bryants come and meet Ethel at the Crawley house. They know what she is. It’s not difficult to find out about a woman like her. Mrs. Bryant says they can offer money to help. Mr. Bryant seems to bond with the boy. Ethel wants her son to have the opportunities Mr. Crawley had.

She says goodbye to Charlie, hugs and kisses him. Mr. Bryant carries him off to the car. Mrs. Bryant says she’ll write to her. Ethel’s reaction is heartbreaking. This story line was the best of the episode.

Robert and Matthew: The Bromance May be Over

Once Carson knows of the Robert-Matthew partnership, he gets to the point, asking if the staff can be brought back up to snuff? Matthew says the world is different now than before the war. Mr. Carson is immediately indignant and booms out, would Mr. Crawley like him to continue doing extra duties as a footman? Robert steps in and says Matthew didn’t mean it. Matthew looks chastised. I wouldn’t want to cross Carson either. When he lowers those impressive eyebrows at you, watch out.

Robert asks Matthew to help with estate accounts. Matthew does and tells Mary there are some issues. Rents are unpaid or too low. No maintenance scheme. Half the assets are unused or ignored entirely. Mary says a country estate isn’t a city business. She bristles and defends her father. True to stereotype. Sigh.

Matthew goes to the Dowager Countess for advice. How can he fix things without putting people’s noses out of joint? She says do what must be done but a great many noses will be out of joint.

Well, that was pointless. Maybe she’s hoping for some trouble to liven things up. I found her ambivalence annoying and confusing. She’s always been so particular about the estate and tradition, yet she doesn’t give Matthew a lecture or advice. Somebody took the zing out of the Dowager this week. I hope it’s found before next. Her comments were boring and repetitive.

Edith, Post-Jilting

Edith shows up at the breakfast table. Matthew remarks on it and she says she’s an unmarried woman so can’t have a lie in like her married sisters. She prefers to be up and about. Note how we’ve moved from ‘spinster’ to ‘unmarried woman’. Robert reads aloud from the paper that all American women will have the vote. Edith says it’s ridiculous that women don’t vote in England. Matthew suggests she write to the paper to give her opinion and she says she might. Robert seems alarmed at the prospect. We all know Edith will write a letter. And there’s Edith all sewn up now. No lingering ill effects from being dumped at the altar. She’s got a cause. That’s all a woman needs to completely forget about her broken heart and abject humiliation. Edith had her fifteen minutes last week, apparently, let’s move on.

Edith visits her grandmother and the Dowager Countess asks her how she is. Edith: “Being jilted at the altar, yes it is horrid, multiplied by about ten thousand million.” Actually, Edith, I give you a five on that scale in terms of how hurt you seem to be. Nowhere near ten thousand million, my dear.

Her grandmother tells her she has brains and ability and to “Stop whining and find something to do.” Wow. Ouch. Basically, “We saved you from the old guy. You’ve been enough of a bother. Get on with it.” Now, Edith hardly seems crushed over what happened. She’s back to her old self, but she didn’t deserve that. I wish Edith would go down to the village pub and get really drunk and dance on some tables, make out with someone in the street, and be brought home by the local constable. Yes, stiff upper lip and all that but, broken hearts have long-term effects. I’d love to see Edith go very, very wrong for a bit.

Edith does write to the newspaper about the vote. Robert says it won’t be published but it is. He’s horrified. Edith is pleased.

The New Footman and Dirty Looks from O’Brien

Jimmy Kent is hired as the new footman. I’d say he’s pretty, but not handsome.

When Carson tells Mary the maids want him to hire Jimmy, she says, “Do pick him and cheer us all up a bit. Alfred is nice but looks like a puppy rescued from a puddle. Tell the maids they can buy their valentines.”

This quip is so unlike Mary that it fell flat. Mary isn’t very humorous so it just doesn’t work for her. At dinner, when Jimmy, now called James, is introduced, Mary says, “Well done, Carson.” Felt a bit cougar-ish to me, Lady Mary. Maybe you could direct that sort of thing to your husband.

There’s some question/quibbling about who is first footman, Alfred or James. Carson takes Alfred’s side by spending time helping him with table settings, which spoons are for what.

Did this remind anyone else of “Pretty Woman”? Later, Thomas is passing James’ room and James asks if he can come to Thomas with questions and for help. Thomas says, of course. Game on!

O’Brien passes James’ door directly after, looking menacing. O’Brien did a lot of walking and glaring this episode.

Not much else. I think I’m going to start calling her Mrs. Danvers. I feel a bit sorry for her. Who is she left to plot with? Moseley? She’s being wasted right now.

Tom and Sybil, the Runaway Revolutionaries

It’s a dark and stormy night. A man runs through the streets. Back at Downton, Edith takes a call from Sybil, who says she’s all right and out of the flat and hasn’t been stopped. She hangs up before Edith can get any more information. Edith tells Cora and Mary about the call. Everyone is appropriately worried.

Tom bangs on the door during dinner, is hidden in Matthew’s rooms until the guests have left, and tells them he was witness to the burning of an aristocrat’s house, one that the Grantham’s knew. The Dowager Countess says, “The house was hideous, of course that’s no excuse” which seemed completely out of touch with the emotional tone of the scene so no score there, Dame Maggie.

The police think Tom was one of the instigators. That’s why he ran. Robert is, of course, furious. “You mean, you gave them Sybil to save yourself!” Tom says that when he saw the family turned out, with their children, in tears, watching their home burn. “I admit it – I want a free state but I was sorry,” he says.

But what’s happened to Sybil? Their plan was that he’d leave at once and she’d follow the next day. Robert explodes. How dare he leave a pregnant woman to fend for herself? Everyone else seems too subdued. More worry and emotion was exhibited when Matthew was missing in the war than for Sybil now. Robert will decide what to do in the morning. Tom goes to his room, cries. No pity from this quarter. A real man would not follow through on such a ridiculous plan, leaving his wife in such danger, pregnant or not. Another coward. First Sir Anthony, now Tom. Is Matthew next?

This whole Tom and Sybil escaping Ireland story was badly done. No adequate story preparation, just dumped on us, so didn’t register emotionally with me. Meh.

The next day a woman walks into Downton. We don’t see her face. Tom runs to her. Big dramatic make out session with the camera circling them. Really? Please. We know it’s Sybil. We never saw her in any danger, so the mysterious arrival and dramatic kiss is pretty pointless.

Robert returns from seeing the Home Secretary on Tom’s behalf. Tom can’t go back to Ireland or he’ll go to prison. He didn’t tell them that he attended Dublin meetings where the attacks were planned. Sybil, whose been holding her husband’s hand, drops it at this news. Later Sybil is upset. What else hasn’t he told her? Tom says he won’t stay at Downton for long. Sybil says they must stay for the baby’s sake. Poor Sybil. For all her independent thinking, she’s just traded one trap for another.

Daisy Gets Frisky

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy asks again about the new maid. Mrs. Patmore says they’re working on it. Alfred compliments her on speaking her mind. Daisy is about to say something to him but Mrs. Patmore cuts her off. Daisy visits William’s father and asks what he would think if she’d met a man she liked. He is supportive and wants her to be happy. Again, Daisy tries to say something to Alfred, but is interrupted by Mrs. Patmore (enough with the interruptions! Get on with it!) who introduces Ivy Stewart, the fresh-faced new kitchen maid. Daisy is now assistant cook. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Alfred says to Ivy, and offers his help if she needs it. Daisy stares daggers at her. Ivy smiles at her and says she hopes they’ll get on.

“We don’t have to get on. We have to work together,” Daisy says. Meow! I kind of like Daisy jealous and possibly plotting against Ivy. This turn of hers will be entertaining, but makes her seem a little nutty. She and Alfred haven’t had much interaction. I could easily see Daisy going off the deep end.

The third episode ends with Mrs. Hughes brings Anna a packet of Bates’ letters. Cut to Bates in his cell. A guard brings him all the withheld letters from Anna. He’s back in favor so can have them. Bates sits reading Anna’s letters. Cut to Anna in bed reading his letters. Both smiling and crying. Swelling music.

I vacillated between thinking it was sweet, nice to get back their original romantic vibe, but also another easy a wrap up of a conflict and a pretty unearned level of sentimentality since the ‘drama’ wasn’t made enough of. And why couldn’t we hear a voice over from both of them as each read the other’s letters?

What worked:

Ethel’s parts, anything with Thomas, Daisy’s surprise turn, Matthew trying to make sense of the books and figure out what to do.

Otherwise, mostly a bit blah, with the usual leaps and inadequate back story. I did some calculations, and I counted about 48 scenes in the episode. Some were the same ongoing scene interrupted by cutting back and forth to other scenes, making everything too fragmented so you’re not allowed to settle into the emotion, the tension, the characters. You’re continually whisked away, getting 1-2 minute sections at a time of the same scene as we cut back and forth. The show would fare much better if that stopped and if three story lines were picked per episode and developed and followed the whole show, rather than the 7 or so we have here.

Let the debate begin!

To read the rest of this blog’s Downton Abbey’s Season 3 links, click here. 

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Dear Readers, Christine Steward from Embarking on a Course of Study has frequently contributed articles from her blog. She developed this post from her notes during a lecture by Jane Austen scholar, Gillian Dow. 

GOUCHER JANE AUSTEN SCHOLAR LECTURE: “Translating Austen; Or, when Jane Goes Abroad”

Following are my notes from a fascinating lecture that takes place every other year at Goucher College, home of the Alberta H. and Henry G. Burke Papers and Jane Austen Research Collection. This year the scholar was Dr. Gillian Dow, Professor at Southampton University and of Chawton House Library.

Gillian has written a piece for Masterpiece on PBS that addresses my reading project:

What was “extensive reading” to consist of for Austen’s female contemporaries and her fictional heroines? Certainly, a diet of pure fiction would not suffice. Indeed, many late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century novels employ the device of a warning from the narrator, directed at their female reader: beware of the dangers of fiction, the young woman is told, it enflames the mind and leads to romantic flights of fancy.

More of that article here if you’d like to read it. Let’s continue on with my notes. It was a fascinating lecture!

(Note: if any of what appears below is incorrect, it is entirely my fault as I may have misheard as I tried to keep up.)

The talk took place in February, in the Alumni House at Goucher on an, if not warm, definitely almost-spring-like, evening. The room was packed. More than 100 people, with at least 20 students (a coup!). Her talk focused on the various translations of Jane in other countries. She began with a quote by T.E. Kebbel in The Fortnightly Review (1885): “Miss A could hardly be appreciated by anyone not thorough English.”

That said, Gillian told us that there’s a room in the Jane Austen House Museum where translations of Austen’s novels are kept on the shelves (wish I’d known this when I visited there last year – if you go, check these out). About 70 of them, from Japan, Serbia, Iran, and other European countries – Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France for example.

Christine meets with Gillian

The first translation was in a Swiss periodical in 1813 – Pride and Prejudice.

To read further click on this link: http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers: Jane Austen Pilgrimage III: Jane Austen House Museum and the Writing Class I Took There is Christ Steward’s third post on her travels to England last summer. The author of the blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, Chris has been closely examining the life and novels of Jane Austen for well over a year.

We arrive at the magical day I’d been dreaming of for many years!

The day after my visit to Winchester I woke up in my charming little room at the Alton Grange so happy because I’d slept well but I had the best day of all ahead of me: a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum – Jane’s home – also known as Chawton Cottage.

This is where Jane’s writing life came back to life, after the grief over her father’s death and moving around to several places in Bath, the rectory in Adlestrop and also Stoneleigh Abbey. Finally she had a place that felt like home again—peaceful, beautiful, with a garden she loved. And it was here that she resurrected previous work and wrote new novels that were subsequently published, two posthumously.

It was a gorgeous day!

I thought I could take a taxi to Chawton (the map on the Jane Austen House Museum – JAHM from now on – site wasn’t at all clear about how to walk there, in my opinion. It looks easy, but once you’re standing there with the map and no real street signage, it’s not), but there was some conference in the area that was monopolizing all of them so I took the bus right outside the hotel.

I was told too late about the taxi problem to catch the right bus, so had to wait an hour for the next, fretting, I don’t mind telling you, all the while about how late I would be for the class. It started at 11:00 and the bus didn’t come until 10:50. I really didn’t want to walk in late to the class and miss anything.

But, lucky me, the bus driver was the same gentleman who had dropped me off the night before! I told him where I was going and he said he’d get me as close as he could, which he did. I was dropped off at a roundabout (middle of nowhere it looked like) and told to cross it to the other side and keep going.

To read more about the visit, the class, a charming tearoom, visiting Cassandra’s grave: http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, this is Christine Stewart’s second post about her trip to England this past summer. The author of Embarking on a Course of Study, you will enjoy her reminiscences.The day after visiting Jane’s writing desk and portrait in London, I went to Paris. Yes, for the day. It was there so I popped over to squeeze in what I could – a long, exquisite day of mostly walking and a trip up the Eiffel Tower (okay, more like hobbling because I walked everywhere in Reykjavik and had two days of London walking behind me as well. My ankles looked like I was 85 years old. But it was worth it for the view).

Paris turned out to be a 20 hour day, so I slept in and caught a later train to Winchester and had just enough time to see the Cathedral and the house on College Street where Jane died before catching my bus to Alton (near Chawton) to reach my hotel.Winchester is delightful. Twisty turny streets, archways, alleys tucked between the backs of houses with gates and wooden doors. It felt like one big secret garden to me. I could have wandered for hours.  The sky was grayish when I arrived at the Cathedral – perfect for photographs. I took many pictures of the outside as there were so many interesting vantage points but here’s the main one (to keep reading:  http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Christine Stewart recently took a trip to England. Here are some of her impressions. For fabulous images, click on her blog,  Embarking on a Course of Study.

It’s a funny thing to visit an object used, worn, or created by people you admire, whether historical, literary, political, or religious figures.  There’s an immense satisfaction in standing in its presence. I had been to the Morgan Library in NYC for the exhibit of Austen letters, but there was something about her desk. It was an everyday object that had been important to her writing life. She used it to write amazing novels that outlive and outsell those of her contemporaries.

And I had worked very hard to get there!

I arrived in London just before noon from Reykjavik, where I’d been attending the wedding of a friend, ready to officially begin my Jane Austen Pilgrimage. I had a couple of suitcases and decided to go to the flat of my friend’s new husband to drop them off before venturing out further.

British Library Lobby

So, after getting up at 4 a.m to catch the shuttle to the flybus to the airport, then a plane, three trains, and one cab later (the cab driver called me ‘Luv,’ awesome), I dropped off all my bags and went out again. I then got caught up in taking pictures of the very charming streets as I walked down to the tube station.

That, coupled with the train to King’s Cross/St. Pancras, the tube stop near the British Library, took up another hour, so I arrived after 4:00 p.m. and had to let go of my plan to also go to the British Museum as there just wasn’t enough time before they closed. Oh well, onward! The British Library was easy to find – it’s basically next door to St. Pancras (see the picture, is that an amazing building or what? It’s also a hotel).

Once inside the Library I had a difficult time navigating the floor plan. There are several levels to the front lobby, perhaps I should say landings, and then other floor levels themselves off of the lobby, which are not clear via the map. Perhaps the fact that there is a lower ground, upper ground, and ground floor before you even get to floors 1, 2, and 3 and they are not full levels beneath one another or all reached by one flight of stairs or set of elevators that is the problem!

Eventually I located the Sir John Ritblat Gallery where the Library’s ‘treasures’ are, including Jane’s desk. Unless you know exactly which room the desk is in and what it looks like, and how deceptive the word ‘desk’ is, you will have just as much trouble, so let me tell you exactly what to do.

To read the rest of the post and see the pictures:http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

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Gentle Readers, Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has often contributed posts to this blog. She will be visiting England soon. Lucky Chris! Before leaving, she asks you a question, a quite interesting one:

Next month I’m heading to England for a visit to London, which includes a too-brief pilgrimage to places associated with Jane Austen, including the Jane Austen House Museum, where I’ll be taking a writing class after I tour the house. The JAHM has a blog that you can follow and in catching up on the posts, I read one from April that talks about how much making a pilgrimage to Jane’s house means to most people who visit (myself included; I can’t wait!). One very special surprise, is that some visitors leave a gift or message for Jane that the staff finds later.

“It seems that for many people being in her home is part of an ongoing relationship that they develop with her as not only an author of their favourite books but also as a woman. Recently Isabel and I have found a few gifts and offerings to Jane and the house. I found a carefully made fan of hearts hung on a door handle in The Austen Family room. Each heart has a name of a character from Sense and Sensibility and they rotate to align with different people.”

Isn’t that wonderful? For pictures of the gifts and letters they’ve found, and to leave a comment about what you would leave in Jane’s house were you to visit (and find out what I’ll be leaving – you know I’m going to do it, it’s such a great idea!), go to my blog: Embarking on a Course of Study http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

Chris Stewart
Get to the Heart of Your Writing
Mentoring, Workshops, Editing, Critique: http://www.therealwriter.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChrisStewartTheRealWriter
Poets & Writers Profile: http://www.pw.org/content/christine_stewart

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Juliette Wells (L) and Christine Stewart (R)

Gentle Readers: Chris Stewart has contributed her recent thoughts to my blog. She has Embarked on A Course of Study regarding Jane Austen, a most fascinating journey that has her interviewing Janeites, dancing country dances, studying Jane Austen’s life and novels, and interviewing Jane Austen Scholars like Juliette Wells. Here then is Christine’s most recent contribution:

(A post in which I complain about everything I’m reading.)

Sometimes I really love my job. And sometimes it sucks the life out of my life. Between it and the fact that more furloughs are on the way so I’ve decided to rent out my house, move in with my sister, and save money (travel to the UK is also on the agenda), my focus has been elsewhere. There’s work to do on the house, documents to file with the property manager, packing. I just haven’t felt like reading anything taxing. I wanted book candy, so I reread Shannon Hales’ Austenland. Which is just as fabulous as I remember. See? I am committed – even my fluff reading is Austen-related.

So back to why I love my job. Stick with me, I do have sort of a theme going here. I’m the program director for literary arts with my state’s arts council and that meant, last month, I was able to make a site visit to Frederick to hear Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) speak. It was hosted by an organization that may apply for funding and I needed to attend an event, get a feel for what type of events they present, what type of audience attends, etc.

Before I go further, let me say that I think I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t fall for Eat, Pray, Love. It was just too ‘precious’ a story and didn’t have enough grit. It was all just too perfect for me. And the book/trip was planned. It didn’t just happen. That takes the magic out of it.

It made me think that maybe the pilgrimage thing is now officially ‘done.’ I mean, there’s EG’s book, and there’s Lori Smith’s book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Thankfully, though, after reading Lori smith’s book, I realize it’s not ‘done’ when it comes to Austen.

I really wanted to like the book. Lori and I see things similarly sometimes; I often found myself thinking she was going to say something and she then said it. I think that’s good. Or it might be predictable. I can’t decide. I was leaning on the side of trying to connect with her as a good reader should.

But there’s very little joy in the book. Most of it is either about God (there’s A LOT of Christianity in this book), or regurgitating Jane Austen info that we can find anywhere, or dissecting a non-existent relationship with a guy named Jack, that she meets at the start of the trip. None of these are positive musings, except the Jane part, as we love Jane, but I would have preferred less rehashing of known info.

And there’s very little in the way of a sense of humor in this book – a ‘make the best of it, find the humor in it’ mentality. I mean, she’s in freakin’ England visiting Austen sites. What is there not to be happy about??? She has an ongoing illness, which I am sorry about, but if it was going to drag her down as much as it does physically, mentally, emotionally (and us with her), then maybe she shouldn’t have gone.

Tina Fey

She also makes a huge error in judgment in the beginning of the book with a man she meets, inexcusable in one who is supposedly so well versed in Austen’s novels, which I go into more detail about in my post.

I don’t really have a connection to Tina Fey here, except that she strikes me as a 21st century Austen in her medium – television. She’s the edgy, sarcastic, funny, sometimes bitter side of all of us. As Elizabeth Gilbert is the open, loving, spiritual, innocent side. I think we should do justice to both. Plus, my best friend swears Tina Fey reminds her of me. I’m taking that as a compliment.

Evelina by Frances Burney

I haven’t just been completely idle; I have started Evelina by Fanny Burney and have decided two things.

You’ll have to go to the website to find out what they are: Embarking on a Course of Study

More Posts on the Topic

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fifth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. Herewith are her impressions of Country Dancing, her interview with Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at the Jane Austen House Museum, and her chat with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College

I’m officially six months in to this project and, lately, many things have happened to move me forward, as well as set me back due to my own occasional tendency towards doubt that got the best of me!

The most exciting was a correspondence with Rebecca Smith, writer-in-residence at the Jane Austen House Museum. Ms. Smith is the great, great, great, great, great niece of Jane Austen and is installed there for six months (until May 2010) working on a novel (she has already written two, which can be found on Amazon).

In response to my question, “How has being in Jane Austen’s house affected your writing and your feelings about yourself as a writer?” Ms. Smith writes:

“Well, I think the first thing I have noticed is how 200 years now seems to be such a short time, and I think this has changed the way I feel about everything.
If 200 years isn’t so long, the past and its people are more present, and less seems to be lost. I find this comforting. One of the odd and lovely things about being here is that some of the objects in the Museum are things that were once owned by my great aunts. For instance, a box that was carved by Jane’s brother, Francis, was, until not that long ago, something that my Aunt Diana kept cereal box and cracker toys in for the amusement of visiting children; and some of the smaller portraits I recognize as having once hung on their walls. I only had vague ideas of who these various Austens were when I was growing up – I probably wasn’t paying attention – but here they are now. It is as though I am following them round and we have all ended up where we should be. I do have this feeling – probably quite misplaced – of coming home. And this is ridiculous – why should I pay more attention to this branch of my family tree than any others? I have some really interesting Scottish ancestors too, including a captain who was shipwrecked on an island and was rescued to tell the tale. I had an Indian grandmother who died when my father was tiny – we know close to nothing about her. These stories are what I’m interested in writing about at the moment. It will be fiction, but the novel I’m trying to finish follows the story of five generations of a family from Hampshire to Canada and India and back again. I’m only going as far back as the Edwardians and the novel isn’t to do with Jane Austen.
I’m interested in ideas about home and belonging (and not belonging). But I can see that it is rather convenient of me to feel the pull of Jane Austen’s cottage in Chawton, which happens to be gorgeous and only 27 miles from where I live, rather than the houses in Scotland or India or Canada or the north of England where other ancestors dwelt.”

The title of the novel she is working on is tentatively called The Home Museum, which sounds welcoming and intriguing all at the same time. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to write in the same house in which one’s ancestor wrote so brilliantly. There’s a longer answer to other questions on my website.

I also hosted an English Country Dancing lesson that took place at the end of January in the ballroom of the Baltimore Hostel, a renovated 19th Century home in downtown Baltimore. There are pictures on my website of the room and the dance in progress. We had a wonderful professional, English, caller, Mr. Michael Barrelclough, who taught us five dances. We had eighteen people and by the end of the second dance, I could look down the set and see everyone becoming more comfortable and familiar with the style of English Country Dancing and the steps.

English Country Dancing, Emma with Kate Beckinsale

We still stumbled and Michael led us through some sections several times until we got it, and we laughed and laughed. It was one of the happiest evenings, and I felt so much more confident about my ability to remember steps and understand the calls. I worried less about messing up and just had a marvelous time. There’s something about these dances that is both down-to-earth and elegant and you feel both giddy and graceful at the same time. Everyone wants to have another dance so, we shall!

I’d like to say I’ve made progress on the dating ‘the Jane Austen way,’ but I have not. December – February is my busiest time of year at the arts council and I’m barely keeping my head above water – or should I say snow? The back-to-back snowstorms in the last few weeks set me back quite a bit and rescheduling meetings and Poetry Out Loud competitions completely took over.

There’s also the cost. I’m a state employee and due to our mess of a budget, state employees are required to take 8 furlough days, which is shredding my paycheck. I can’t afford a $30 or more fee for online dating services every month. Maybe in a few months, once the fiscal year ends and we, hopefully, have a balanced budget (or I have a decent tax return!).

In the meantime, I will do what practicing I can at any events I attend, of which there are many when one works in the arts!

Most recently I sat down with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College this year. Dr. Wells teaches at Manhattanville College in New York and was here for a week to give a talk, meet with faculty and students, and do research in Goucher’s Austen collection, donated in 1975 by alum Alberta Hirshheimer Burke (1928) at the time of her death. This nationally-recognized collection consists of Austen first editions, rare period publications related to the life and landscape of rural England, and Alberta Burke’s own notebooks of Austen-related memorabilia and correspondence with Austen collectors and scholars. The Burkes also donated letters to The Morgan Library in New York, where the current Austen exhbit is taking place.

A little trivia: apparently, her husband, Henry Burke, cofounded JASNA with Joan Austen-Leigh and J. David Gray just a few years later in 1979, so the first 25 years of JASNA’s archives are also housed at Goucher.

Dr. Wells was interested in, and supportive of, the project, and I’ll be posting more info about our meeting soon, along with a picture and a podcast of her talk at Goucher. She is writing a book called Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, and is exploring how Austen has been appropriated and absorbed by popular culture through film, television, and books. She completed a fellowship at the Chawton House Library last summer.

You can read one of her articles in Persuasion at this link.

and find a link to an interview on Penguin Classics On Air at my website. She was the editor of the recent electronic version of Pride and Prejudice published by Penguin Classics, that includes all sorts of wonderful extras about fashion, architecture, dancing, and etiquette.

You can also read about the mini-crisis I had about this project, mostly because people began asking me about whether or not I wanted a book deal and if so, what was the purpose of the project, and I realized I didn’t have a thesis and did I want a book deal like Lori Smith was angling for when she had her blog that turned into A Walk With Jane Austen ?!?!?!

Deep breath!

So then I became very overwhelmed and lost sight of the joys and the basics of what I was doing. I realized I did need to figure out the purpose of the project for myself, and let the rest fall where it may.

This led me to an examination of character through the unlikely source of Pamela Aidan’s trilogy Fitzwilliam Darcy, A Gentleman which was the only reading I could manage during the storms. It’s both cozy and anxiety-provoking to be caught in snowstorms, knowing you’re missing all your commitments and how much catch up there will be….Plus I had a dead battery and every day I left the car at the dealership they seemed to find something else wrong with the it!

But back to my crisis. Did I figure out that darned purpose? I did, with Dr. Wells’ indirect help.

Next weekend I’m off to NYC to visit The Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit.” Some friends are going and we’re taking a video camera, so watch out!

Share/Bookmark// More on the Topic

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fourth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. During the recent snow storm on the East Coast, she made good use of her time by completing 100 pages of The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Okay, here’s my clever (I hope) new idea for the new year: dating a la Jane Austen via match.com.

What better way to test out the preferred behavior, character, and values of our favorite heroines (for me: Lizzy, Elinor, and Anne) that captivated their men? And what better arena than one of (or the) largest dating site on the Internet – arguably the biggest ballroom in the world?!

Let’s look at the necessary criteria:

  • I’m single and available – check.
  • I’m armed with an arsenal of advice Jane Austen style (see book list on my site) – check.
  • I’ve got a healthy sense of humor – check.
  • I’m willing to make a fool of myself – check.
  • I’m willing to learn something – check, check, check!

That’s what this blog is all about!

Though I consider myself a great catch, I’m an interesting (odd?) mix of come hither and cautious, which makes for some contradiction. I can flirt, but at heart I want someone grounded, centered, not necessarily old-fashioned, but someone with integrity and good manners to go along with his rockin’ sense of humor, his smarts, creativity, good heart, and sex appeal. I’ve really misjudged men in the past and accepted less than I deserved, sometimes ignoring my intuition, which was yelling Run! in favor of being with someone rather than being alone. Settling for Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right Always. Good grief – who hasn’t, right? It’s all part of growing up.
But still – ouch.

I took a break for a few years – focused on career and writing, friends, buying a house, and now this blog, but this is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
If you’d like to hear more and see the books I’m using (and take this challenge along with me), go to my site, Embarking on a Course of Study.

In a previous post a week or so ago, you can find a  link to listen to and/or download the entire ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho.’ Some readers of the sections are better than others. But it’s a delicious treat regardless.

I’m still doing my regular course of reading per Marianne Dashwood’s possible list. It’s sometimes slow going as there’s so much (!), but worth it.

Happy New Year!


Chris Stewart
http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com
(A Sense and Sensibility inspired project)
http://www.pw.org/content/christine_stewart

Christine’s other posts for this blog:

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Inquiring readers: This is the third guest post by Christine Stewart, who has embarked on the year-long Sense and Sensibility inspired project on her blog, Embarking of a Course of Study.  Read her biography on Poets and Writers. Enjoy!

Let’s just say how much I am enjoying rereading Northanger Abbey. The first few times I read it, I think it was right after reading P&P or S&S and I was still steeped in all the (I was going to say romance, but Austen doesn’t really do romance) push and pull, hopes and dreams, of the characters’ road to marriage (let’s go with that), so I was frustrated with the satire and play and narrator’s voice in the book at times – because I wanted it to be another P&P or S&S or Persuasion.

Well, it’s a rollicking good time now and I can appreciate it for all its charms and cleverness. It’s the one book where Jane’s voice speaks to you directly and it’s a fun dialogue. Her wit is beyond compare! She really goes full force, no holds barred. Awesome.

It’s gotten me thinking how much of her characters’ character, and whether they take the high road or low and end up where they want to go, is tied to books. Books have power – whether read or written (women created some measure of independence – money – through writing) – and they make or break the character and her future. The wrong ones give you the wrong ideas and make you the wrong fit (and wrong-headed) for the partner who could have been right otherwise. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. The heroines who do well are the ones with self-command, self-awareness, and the power of self-examination. The ones that follow (to the greater degree) the rules of propriety, and who have a handle on their emotions, go the furthest.

This is something many women may not be taught today, as young girls. Yes, as children, we knew about behaving at the dinner table and in malls, etc., but I’m pretty sure my friends and I never heard word one about dealing with/managing our emotions (fears, worries, even joys), so they didn’t rule us. And self-examination? What??? Who heard of that as a teenager or young adult, when you needed it most?

With all the silly (ok – STUPID) magazines we read – Tiger Beat, Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Cosmo – that were all about dressing and making oneself up for a man and making him feel important, forgetting about what was inside us and making ourselves feel good first, we didn’t stand a chance. And then it became all about career – women ‘having it all.’ Always looking outside, not inside for ways to manage our lives. Media in general was not (and still isn’t) responsible in how it communicates with young women. And most of our parents didn’t know how to help themselves let alone us.

There’s been a big resurgence of self-help books, classes, and videos geared towards teaching women how to relate to men, how to get what they want from men, how to meet the right one and marry him. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary. But it’s even larger now. Being 43 and single, I get targeted for these kinds of ads/info on the Internet. There’s a huge industry with audio, video, books, teleconferences, soulmate kits, vedic astrology readings, and more. Who knew?

It’s really boomed since The Secret came out and the masses learned about The Law of Attraction on Oprah. It’s a new (and very commercial – because that’s what we Americans do best) version of the ‘how tos’ that Austen’s characters (the sensible ones) demonstrate for us.

And guess what? It’s all about self-examination, self-awareness, and self-command. That’s the good news. It’s still about reading the right books, which is still a minefield experience. That’s the bad.

Let me ‘share’ that about 13 years ago I had an anxiety disorder that lasted for several years (panic attacks and everything, good times), and that taught me those three skills. It forced me, more like, but I hadn’t known or seen their necessity in my life to that point, so that’s what it took for me to wake up, apparently! I’m grateful that it happened as it was a major turning point in my life and a constant reminder to keep up those practices. It’s not an experience you forget. Still, would have been easier to have had good examples in life and books instead….

So what do you think? How were you raised? Who were your examples/models of womanhood? Do you regularly take stock of your feelings and behavior and adjust where needed? Do you put yourself first (not thinking selfish here, there’s a difference), take care of yourself? Make hard choices/decisions? I’d love to hear.

Stop by the website and comment, and check out a video of Jane Austen’s House (12/11 post), and a link to The Gentlewoman’s Companion, or A Guide to the Female Sex (11/30 post). Let’s read along together!

Enjoy Jane’s birthday!

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Inquiring readers, Over a week ago, Chris wrote a post about her blog and her personal journey in pursuing a course of study about Jane Austen, her novels, and the time she lived in. This is her second post about her year-long project.

Over here at ‘Embarking on a Course of Study,‘ I’ve been hard at work on the project. Having finished Sense and Sensibility, I asked people to weigh in on who they felt they were most like, Marianne or Elinor, and who they would like to have as a friend. The results so far are overwhelmingly in Marianne’s favor. If you haven’t posted your comment/vote, please do! I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve begun Mansfield Park again and have re-encountered, as I expected, another heroine I don’t much like (my other has always been Emma – I love her spunk, but she does too much damage). I forgot how dull Fanny is. Not that I think Mary Crawford is as fantastic as Lizzie Bennet, with whom I’ve read her compared. Mary is manipulative and racy. I enjoy how she pushes the limits, but not much more. The dynamics among the characters are the most fascinating for me, as are Austen’s insights and writing, of course.

I’ve been reading the Jane Austen Cookbook as well, to decide on something to contribute to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and have settled on Little Iced Cakes. As you’ll read in my blog, I had to choose something family would actually eat. I do want to make Things With Fun Names like ‘trifle’ and ‘syllabub’ at some point. I was tempted to go for something really foreign to us these days, like the ‘forcemeat balls,’ which would require the purchase (or capture?) of 2-3 pigeons, but just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of eating what struts around the streets of Baltimore on a daily basis. If you’d like to join me in the making of this dessert, the recipe is on my blog, along with a link to other recipes from the Jane Austen Cookbook.

If you’re in New York City any time before March 14th, there’s a wonderful new exhibit at The Morgan Library: A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. Comprised of letters, drawings, films, and lectures, it promises to thrill the Austen lover. If you’d like to see the 15 minute documentary film entitled The Divine Jane, which “examines the influence of Austen’s fiction—and her enduring fame— through interviews with leading writers, scholars, and actors,” go to my blog.

Next week, I’ll post notes from my meeting with Professor Robin Bates at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, who has been teaching a class on Austen for years, asking his students to read the books and poems mentioned in her novels, similar to my plan. I will also update you on my efforts to arrange an English Country Dancing class with an instructor from the Baltimore Folk Music Society. I have 8 ladies interested and am working on the venue. We’re all tremendously excited about learning some dances.

For those of you in the US, Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Stewart

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christineInquiring readers, Several weeks ago, Chris asked me to link to her blog. Looking at it and reading her posts, I asked her to keep me updated on her work, which she describes as a personal journey that she is doing “for the pleasure of pursuing a course of study in a structured manner, which I greatly miss from my time in graduate programs. And to have fun and explore, more deeply, the work of a writer I admire and the time period in which she lived.” Below are her thoughts, and a link to her blog, Embarking on a Course of Study, which I encourage you to visit.

Would you, if you could, spend a year entering ‘on a course of serious study’ as Marianne Dashwood vows to do at the end of Sense and Sensibility? If the answer is yes, please join me in an Austen-inspired project of that nature. Specifically, “A writer, reader, and Austen lover spends a year (or more) embarking on a course of study similar to that probably undertaken by Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, without the benefit of Colonel Brandon’s library and with room for diversions, digressions, and (hopefully) fun fieldwork.”

I’ve begun by rereading the novels (which has been both a joy and a frustration at times, and I’m sorry I waited so long to pick them up again!), and Austen’s letters. I’m contacting Austen scholars for reading suggestions and to interview them. So far the Chawton Library has been the most helpful. Sadly, JASNA, not so much.

I have my first interview with a professor at St. Mary’s College here in Maryland, who is offering a class on Austen that examines the important aspects of the time period in which they were written: poliltics, economy, social codes, etc.

I admit the fieldwork so far has been the most fun. I’ve been country dancing (a real thrill, but surprisingly hard to learn and hot/sweaty!), am working on a silk ribbon embroidery project, and am deciding between hat decorating and archery classes. I have the Jane Austen Cookbook, as well, and plan on cooking one or two items for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve promised my family not to make pigeon, which I admit I was not sorry to give up.

The reading list is growing and my goal is to alternate the serious with the silly. So – Mrs. Richardson then Sir Walter Scott, and on like that.

I hope to attend the festival in Bath next fall, so will probably need to find a seamstress to make me something fabulous or brave the process myself. Let’s see how well I do with the silk ribbon embroidery first!

This is not a project in the vein of a PhD dissertation or an intellectual discussion, though I welcome ideas, comments, and suggestions of all kinds. I’m trying to stay as true to Marianne as I can, but also see where this path leads me, personally.

Based on my post a few weeks ago (‘The Ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute’), that could be to a class in NYC on walking in heels at ‘Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls.’

You just never know where we’ll end up!

My latest post is on Elinor vs. Marianne. Who would you rather have as a friend? Who are you most like? Would love to hear from you.

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