I’m a Jane Austen fan. Although I would not consider myself a Janeite, whenever a new book comes out about her life I’m sure to check it out. Recently I saw this one, Jane Austen at Home, on the new releases list, and reviewed it on Goodreads.
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Can there be such a thing as a bad book about Jane Austen – no. Even though we know every detail of her story, and there is really nothing new to be discovered about her life, (excepting the photo of the blue and white egg cup excavated at the Steventon Rectory), Austen fans still find any new book about her fascinating. This is a particularly satisfying read as it focuses more on her quest for a home – after all she is the author who wrote “There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort.” Of course, there are the usual biographical facts, literary and otherwise, seeming to focus more on her personal life, including her five marriage proposals, thus dispelling the myth that she was a lonely old spinster. (Really the woman was so intelligent as to be intimidating, and would she have been happy with any of them?) There is a satisfying number (40 pages or so) of footnotes, always a sign of a good biography, and some photographs, including said egg cup. A lovely read for commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of her death – we remain as captivated as ever.
A friend gave me The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, (edited by Joelle Herr), for Christmas as she knew I was a fan, and it is full of her famous quotes and observations. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen book, and then Emma, but some of the others I must admit I have never read, although I have seen the movie versions. It is her life that I find most intriguing. I often find authors lives to be as or sometimes more interesting than their books, (check out Margaret Mitchell’s biography for parallels to Gone with The Wind, the character of Rhett Butler was thought to be based on her first husband and Ashley Wilkes on her second). If you are a writer, you want to know where they got their ideas. Due to the lack of media back then and the passage of time we have little to base our conclusions upon, and baring someone discovering a cache of old letters in their great house, there is nothing new under the sun about Jane Austen, but we still can’t get enough of her life. She remains a puzzle, an enigma, we want to figure her out. A fellow blogger asked me which historical figure I would most like to interview, and my answer was Jane. And so, as Jane said, indulge your imagination in every possible flight.
An Interview with Jane Austen
Welcome to the BBC show, Portal to the Past. We would like to welcome renowned British author, Jane Austen. Even though she has been dead for over two hundred years she has been gracious enough to grant us this exclusive interview, and we thank her for the opportunity, because two centuries later we remain as fascinated by her as ever. (Cue opening pianoforte music link). Jane enters, wearing a white flowing Stella McCarthy gown, because a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. (Camera man sighs, white is not good for the camera, adjusts lighting).
Host: Welcome Jane. Would you like some tea?
Jane: (demurely declines refreshments. She doesn’t want to smear her lipstick – imagine lipstick! Something to make your lips ruby-red and kiss-worthy. She wonders if she’ll get a free swag bag from Sephora).
Host: I’m so glad you could join us today.
Jane: There is nothing like staying home for real comfort, but if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.
Host: Did you ever imagine when you were sitting at your little writing table in Chawton Cottage, scribbling away about three or four families in a country village, that your novels would still be read two hundred years later?
Jane: (smiles sweetly) Alas, it is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.
Host: Did you ever dream that you would become so famous?
Jane: I have no talent for certainty, but I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities. The fame though was quite unexpected, though slight initially it has now has grown to such proportions that I find myself adorning the ten pound note. (blushes modestly). Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked. I lay the blame on my nephew for that biography he penned. Fame can be a double-edged sword, for regrettably I have now lost all privacy, and sometimes when I want to pay a visit to Chawton Cottage, there are too many tourists milling about.
Host: (surprised) Are you saying you haunt your old sites?
Jane: I do enjoy dropping by occasionally, but the tourists, their fashion choices are really quite beyond comprehension. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire, but still…yoga pants and t-shirts. (shakes head, and thinks silently, for what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.) Chawton House was my only true home and I was very content there. Sometimes I like to sit at my little desk and recollect….or I might visit the kitchen if the new cook is on, because as you know good apple pies were a considerable part of our domestic happiness. As for my childhood home there is nothing remaining, although I read that a blue and white egg cup was discovered recently in an excavation at Steventon Rectory, but it wasn’t mine, it was Cassandra’s. An egg cup – really! Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first. It seems like a fair bit of nonsense that people would be interested in such things, but that is the price of fame. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.
Host: Are you aware of how many copies of your books have sold, 20 million of Pride and Prejudice alone?
Jane: Yes it’s quite astonishing to be so immortal, but I wish I had the royalties. A single woman with a narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid, the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.
Host: That portrait of you in the National Gallery, is it a fair likeness, because I’m not seeing too much of a resemblance? (it might be the makeup and hair blowout, thinks to self, but a little makeup can make even the plainest Jane quite pretty.)
Jane: I believe it has been photo-shopped too often to be an accurate portrayal. (ponders uploading a new photo via Instagram for the ten pound note). To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
Host: Are you happy with your media image? The sweet loving demure persona, sunny Jane?
Jane: I must confess I was a bit annoyed with my sister Casandra for destroying most of my letters, especially the ones full of sarcasm and wit. The ones that survive make me out to be some sort of vapid ninny. I suppose she thought she was protecting my reputation…(sigh)…but she destroyed the best ones.
Host: You had five marriage proposals and turned them all down, did you ever regret being a spinster?
Jane: One should only marry for love. And the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! You must be the best judge of your own happiness.
Host: What do you think of the movie versions of your novels?
Jane: Some were of more merit than others, but Colin Firth was simply divine as Mr. Darcy. Such a handsome man. I wish I had thought of that wet shirt scene but that would have been too risqué for the era.
Host: Speaking of Mr. Darcy – who was the model for that darling man?
Jane: ………………(prolonged silence, that wasn’t in the script, looks extremely annoyed).
Host: (quickly changes subject). And that famous speech, let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Did people really talk like that back then?
Jane: HA, that speech……(contemplates laughing)…..Said. No. Man. Ever.
Host: Jane you seem to be well versed in the ways of the modern world, colloquial speech, photoshop, how do you know about all these things?
Jane: The afterlife is heaven – there’s plenty of time to read and learn new endeavors. With a book, you are regardless of time. You ask yourself, why did we wait for any thing? Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! There are balls and a fair bit of dancing, and dancing leads to romance, for to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love. If one has been forced into prudence in one’s youth, one can learn romance as one grows older.
Host: Well that sounds fascinating….romance in heaven. (eyes camera man signalling time’s up). Any advice for modern day lovers?
Jane: Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. But don’t settle. Do anything rather than marry without affection. Wait for your own Mr. Darcy…..(flutters false eyelashes and smiles coyly)….I have found mine….
Host: Thank you Jane. (notices camera man motioning cut). You have delighted us long enough. Would you like more tea?
Jane: Thank you, but I must dash to Sephora before the portal closes and I have to return to the past.
And so there you have it folks, Jane in her own words. Like I said, nothing new there…..other than the blue and white egg cup was Cassandra’s.
(Disclaimer: I apologize in advance if I have messed up any of the quotes or facts as I am by no means an authority on Jane Austen, merely a fan. Next up, the Brontes – Branwell would be on board for sure, Charlotte and Anne might be tempted but Emily would never agree.)