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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen in the modern world’ Category

Inquiring readers: Today is the 203rd anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She lived from December 16th, 1775 to July 18, 1817, and managed to achieve more in 41 years than a majority of us in twice that time. My previous posts marking this occasion were somber. This one provides a more light hearted, science fictiony approach. The North American Friends of Chawton House sent a limited edition of Celebrity Jane, a bobblehead doll, after I made a contribution that qualified me for this gift. NAFCH challenges Celebrity Jane doll possessors to share photos of Bad Ass Jane, as I renamed her, in various locations in our lives. I chose home.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meeting her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

Bad Ass Jane meets her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

It was a dream. It must have been. I had been researching Jane Austen’s life in Steventon until I fell asleep. Then, when I awoke around 2 A.M., as I am wont to do, I saw a bad ass version of Jane Austen on my bookshelf, staring at a silhouette of herself. Only she wasn’t quite the spinsterish virgin that I knew and loved so well, Oh, no! She was Bad Ass! A Rocker Chick. A person who would have appealed to my rebellious younger self and my current, well, rebellious me.

She still wore her virginal cap, but from the neck down she wore a black tee, low rise jeans that bared her midriff, and leather boots! Best of all she carried a guitar. Regency Jane loved playing music every morning on her piano forte. Bad Ass Jane (BAJ) plays electric guitar at every opportunity. (How BAJ finds the time to write—heaven knows.)

I gruffed at this strange Jane, who wanted to discuss the books in my book shelf, most of which pertained to her life and history. I needed my beauty sleep and promised her a tour of my house and gardens the following morn, but she would have none of it. She desired my company NOW! Jane played a few tunes on her guitar, which woke me more efficiently than two cups of Moroccan coffee. She mesmerized me with her persistence, pluck, and talent.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meets Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

Bad Ass Jane visits Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

I pointed to a 5 foot tall doll house, in which my 7-year-old grand nieces played occasionally. “Here’s your family.” I gestured to the top floor of the house where two female adults and two children resided.

BAJ peered inside. “My family? They look strange and somehow not themselves. And the fashion! Oh, so revealing. Who are those children?”

“Dear Jane,” I said familiarly. “Recall that this is a dream and that this story is a mere figment of my imagination and the result of a host of wishes. Tom Fowle never died. He returned with Lord Craven from the West Indies healthy and hale and became the intended heir of a living in Shropshire. He and Cassy married and had two beautiful children. Your mama, Mrs. Austen, acquired a gorgeous necklace of pearls, brought back by Tom.”

Copy of Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

“How strange,” BAJ muttered. She wandered from the doll house to our ficus tree lit with fairy lights.

 

She then visited the wine corner. Recalling that she had a fondness for a tipple here and there, I offered a glass. Savoring the wine (a nice Australian Shiraz), we discussed her family, my family (our fathers, with their dry wit and extensive libraries had much in common), and our writing. She was better than me. Way. And more successful. Way. I felt humbled in her presence.

When BAJ learned about her enduring fame–the JASNA Societies, the JA groupies, the Austenesque novels and stories–her bobble head bobbled. “Goodness, I’m famous! Did I become rich?”

I shook my head sadly. “Not you, but Cassandra and your ancestors benefited most generously.”

When dawn broke, we walked into my back yard. BAJ played her guitar in the morning, much as she played her pianoforte before breakfast. I was mesmerized. It was time to greet the sun.

Image of Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

I pointed to my bird feeders, where my hungry hordes of wildlife shrieked for their breakfast: blue jays, red cardinals, musical wrens, and colorful goldfinches. The deer, chipmunks, and squirrels were silent but watchful. Their ferocious appetites challenged my meager resources weekly. All stood a respectful distance away as I filled tubs, tubes, platforms, and the ground.

An impatient BAJ wanted in on the action and hopped right on to the feeders. In an impeccable British accent, she asked, “Pray, where are they?”

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The deer and their fawns and birds appeared as we stood still

“Gurl,” I said. “Your Bad Ass attitude must’ve scared them. Stay still and behold the magic.” Shy creatures appeared flock by flock and one by one from the forest within feet of us. BAJ noted with irony that the brown sparrows were as common in the U.K. as in my back yard.

We visited the flowers. “They’re nothing as fabulous as your English gardens,” I cautioned, and so we viewed several areas designed to be deer proof.

At the last, BAJ noticed a sign. “Pray, what is this?”

Image of BAJ posing with an American security sign

BAJ meets an American security sign

“The sign is for security,” I answered. “This deters burglars. We call in and help arrives within, well, whenever.”

She laughed and said, “Is not a dog more effective?,” and jumped into a West Highland Terrier planter.

Image of BAJ's Westie carriage

BAJ Westie carriage

I guffawed. Jennie, our Westie is all bark and no bite. Poof, my dream ended. Once again I missed the chance to ask BAJ the questions swirling in my head. I’d assumed that I had all the time in the world. Ah, well. The mystery that is Miss Jane Austen continues.

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Inquiring readers: Covid-19 has meant making changes for us and our families, friends, and co-workers world wide. Rachel Dodge wrote this lovely article regarding stay-at-home activities in Jane Austen’s era that are still practiced. I think we can all relate!

As we practice social distancing and spend more time at home, I often think about what Jane would have done under similar circumstances. I can imagine she would miss making morning calls, traveling to visit family and friends, going to church on Sundays, and attending balls where she might dance “nine dances out of ten” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, November 1800).

With what we know of Austen’s home life in mind, I’ve compiled a list of activities that I hope will feed the minds, imaginations, and souls of my fellow Janeites:

 

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Rachel Dodge.

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

  • Read all the books

Books provided Austen with the intellectual stimulation and emotional escape her active mind required. (We can certainly relate!) She enjoyed a wide range of genres and didn’t limit herself to one category.

While libraries remain closed, we can follow our own literary pursuits to new places and take advantage of online resources, e-books (gasp!), and audiobooks. Better yet, we can go through our bookshelves and read the books we already own but haven’t read!

If you want to read the books Austen read, you can explore these resources:

Image of bookshelf courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

Image of bookshelf, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

 

Use your creative gifts to connect with others

Austen enjoyed quiet moments by the fire and often found creative inspiration for her writing during those private reveries. Marianne Knight shares this memory: 

[Aunt Jane would sit quietly working beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back to the fire and go on quietly working as before.” (Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, 1901)

Later in the day, Austen would often share her creative work with her family, leading to hours of discussion and laughter. While sheltering in place, my friends and neighbors have taken turns sharing creative love offerings with one another—fresh flowers, special treats, recipes, wine, craft supplies, cards, and homemade bread. How can you share your gifts and talents with others during this time?

  • Play games

In the article “Spillikins,” The Jane Austen Centre (https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spillikins/) shares this: “Jane Austen was a very hands-on aunt, with numerous games and activities in her repertoire. Her nieces and nephews recall with fondness the many games, from paper ships to Battledore and Shuttlecock, that she would play with them by the hour.”

Spillikins was her particular favorite: “Our little visitor has just left us, & left us highly pleased with her… -Half her time here was spent at Spillikins; which I consider as a very valuable part of our Household furniture, & as not the least important Benefaction- from the family of Knight to that of Austen.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, February 8, 1807)

If you have friends and family you’re missing right now, especially younger family members, try playing a game online or set up a Facetime game time. 

  • Enjoy walks and natural beauty

Austen (and many of her heroines) enjoyed a brisk walk. As we can see from her letters and novels, she liked the exercise and the beauty of her surroundings: 

We took a very charming walk from six to eight up Beacon Hill, and across some fields, to the village of Charlecombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green valley, as a village with such a name ought to be.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, June 2, 1799)

My family likes to walk, bike, or go out on our deck when the weather is nice. We’ve paid closer attention to the beauty of a sunset, a mother duck with her ducklings, and the wildflowers blooming along our walking trail. If you can’t get outside, try an exercise program online. There’s something for everyone right now!

  • Pray with Jane
Image of Jane Austen's Prayers

Image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

The Austen family said morning and evening prayers together. You might take time to read through Austen’s prayers for a few days. She wrote three lovely prayers that cover many of the concerns of daily life. 

Austen herself was no stranger to distress and tribulation. She understood the dangerous realities of war, illness, childbearing, and sea travel during her lifetime. Some of the lines of her prayers are particularly fitting for times like these:

“Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.” (Jane Austen, Prayers)

If you’d like to explore her prayers more fully, I created a 7-day Jane Austen prayer guide for COVID-19 here: https://www.racheldodge.com/7-days-prayer-jane-austen/

  • Write letters

Jane Austen wrote letters full of news and details. It was how she and her family and friends kept in close contact when they couldn’t be together in person. They shared everything – both the important and the mundane – in these missives!

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 3, 1801)

If you’re missing your friends and loved ones, why not write a letter? My daughter has been sending letters, stickers, and drawings back and forth in the mail with her best friend. They make their own envelopes and decorate them with colorful designs. 

  • Find comfort in familiar rhythms
Image of Tea with Jane Austen courtesy of Rachel Dodge

Image of Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

In Caroline Austen’s book My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, she describes her aunt Jane’s morning habits: “Aunt Jane began her day with music . . . before breakfast—when she could have the room to herself—.” (Caroline Austen, My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, 1867)

Austen’s days had a certain cadence to them: She began the day with piano practice and letter writing. During the day, she wrote, sewed, visited with her family, and walked. In the evening, she and her family read out loud, played games, and talked. 

Keeping some of our routines as “normal” as possible (and finding new routines) helps give our days shape and definition. Perhaps you can host a weekly tea party or book discussion with your Jane Austen friends over Zoom!

Austen had an active imagination and would certainly have found many things with which to occupy her time. What else do you think Austen might have done? What routines do you find comforting in these turbulent times?

About the Author:

Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

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Good news for Janeites who live within striking distance of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD! At 7:00 PM EST on April 29th, the Bird in Hand, a cafe/bookstore, will be offering the first in a series of workshops on the last Monday of each month in the public humanities. Sponsored by the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore-based professors and students will share new work in the public humanities and oriented toward broader public audiences. The intimate setting is meant to encourage public feedback and critical dialogue. One guest lecturer will be Juliette Wells, author of ‘Reading Austen in America’ (see Project MUSE’s review of the book at this link and purchase the book at this link to Amazon prime.

Date: Monday, April 29, 2019 –
Time: 7:00pm,
Place: Bird in Hand, 11 E. 33rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Excerpt from the advert from the Ivy Bookshop:

Just over a century after Jane Austen’s death in 1817, devoted readers sought out her letters and personal possessions, as well as first and rare editions of her novels. Alberta Hirshheimer Burke, Goucher College class of 1928, built the most extensive collection in the U.S. of Austen manuscripts, editions, translations, and ephemera–plus one famous relic, a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, which made international news when Mrs. Burke donated it to the Jane Austen House in Chawton, England. Second only to Mrs. Burke’s was the collection formed by Charles Beecher Hogan, Yale class of 1928, which included the topaz cross necklace owned by Austen. Drawing on new research in the two collectors’ personal archives, this presentation establishes the importance to Austen reception history of their pursuit of items that held great personal importance to them.

Event Topic (click on links):

 

Other posts on the topic of Jane Austen’s letters and personal possessions and Jane Austen scholars:

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A local historical society will be hosting a book sale this weekend to raise funds. I am finally ready to part with a substantial number of some of my most beloved books (art, art history, English literature, nature books, etc).

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Waiting to be bagged and donated

The first three Jane Austen novels I purchased sat forgotten on the top shelf – all in paperback form. I had always thought that I first read Pride and Prejudice at 14, but the book’s publication date tells me that I was 13!

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I reread the tale of my beloved Mr. Darcy and his Lizzie Bennet so many times that my parents gave me this Modern Library edition of Jane Austen’s six great novels at Christmas, just before I turned 14. I have cherished it and still cherish it for all the good times I spent reading at night before turning off the light. (This book did not sit forgotten.)

I will keep this edition through all my future moves and until my last breath, since I only need a Jane Austen novel to keep me happy.

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Interestingly, I was 15 when I read my second JA book, Emma, which I purchased to read on vacation. At that tender age, I found the book too talky and not nearly as romantic as P&P. Mr. Knightley seemed so OLD and staid compared to the dangerously handsome Mr. D, and bossy Emma was not the sort of girl I wanted to befriend, whereas Lizzie seemed she could fit right into my group. So, it took decades before my mature self tackled Emma again.

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I read Persuasion at 17, too young to appreciate the fact that Anne Elliot’s bloom had faded from sadness or to truly understand the reason why she listened to Lady Russell’s advice. As a rebellious teen of the 60’s, how could I relate to her decision? I am now somewhat longer in the tooth (ahem) and am able to appreciate this gem of a novel fully, as Jane intended.

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Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra in the 60’s.

Now, let’s discuss the 60’s covers of these paperback editions. Mind you, this was an era when high-waisted empire dresses were popular (see Mia Farrow at right) but the cover artists generally ignored this fact. They preferred to see Lizzie in a dark and heavy Gothic gown, more suited to a Bronte novel than a Regency tale. Note that Emma has a decided Victorian look, as does Anne Elliot. At least the P&P cover included this fairly accurate regency scene of Mr. Darcy listening to Lizzie at the piano.

IMG_2315 copy

One of the reasons I like the Complete Novels is the cover art by Paul Galdone, a popular children’s author of the day. The scene reminds me just a bit of  the classic covers painted by Arthur Barbosa of Georgette Heyer novels in the 40’s and 50’s.

My old Jane Austen paperback covers represent a major characteristic of cover illustrations -they reflect the concept of female beauty of the era. Hence the 60’s birdwing eyebrows, eyeshadow, eye liner, and lipstick on Lizzie, Emma, and Anne. You’ll observe similar treatments of “historic” costumes and makeup in past times in cinema and other forms of popular entertainment throughout the decades. Recall the costumes and makeup of 1940’s Pride and Prejudice or the BBC’s versions of Jane Austen novels in the 1970’s. Ouch!

Regardless of the inaccuracies of their covers, I plan to keep these three books. For sentiment’s sake.

 

 

 

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