We speak of them as they were
Male Voices in Praise of Jane Austen
|Volume 2, Number 8||August 1, 2003|
Edited by Sophia Sentiment
Here is the surprise link for this month.
Sophia Sentiment welcomes you to the August edition of The Loiterer. Our intrepid co-editor, Linda, has just spent some time in Jolly Old England (or—if you prefer the mundane—in the UK), and what's more, put her time there to good use by attending a scholarly conference. Some of her reflections are included in this issue and more details will appear as she gets time to sort through her notes.
The Loiterer is a monthly newsletter produced by your co-Editors, Linda and Cheryl (aka "Sophia Sentiment" in keeping with the Jane Austen influence.)
Yours, as you behave,
Contents of this Issue
The Winchester-Chawton Conference—July 2003
The Winchester-Chawton conference was entertaining, informative, literary, and more. The highlight—and the reason for the conference—was the opening of the Chawton House Library and Study Centre on Wednesday at this site ...
The Great House at Chawton—Former Home of
Jane Austen's Brother, Edward Austen-Knight
The Chawton Great House was practically in shambles ten years ago when Sandy Lerner bought it. Ten million dollars and ten years of renovation culminated in the Official Opening of Chawton House on Wednesday. Close inspection revealed that it really is old.
You might ask ‘who is Sandy Lerner and what is her Chawton House connection?’ Her story is the kind of stuff movies are made of, or should be. I will give you a brief sketch and then some links containing more details. Sandy and her husband, Len Bosack, (students and colleagues at Stanford) started a computer company, Cisco, which they sold for $125 million in 1990. By then Sandy’s interest in Jane Austen and other women writers of that era had become such that she wanted and needed a place to house her rare book collection. Chawton House was on the market and the rest is history. The details can be found at these links:
Sandy Lerner Biography,
an article about Sandy,
and a history of Chawton House
After returning to the "States", a friend on the Ramble board drew our attention to an interview of Sandy Lerner on the BBC radio where she gives a very nice description and explanation of her Chawton House adventures—you can link to it from here (but hurry because I don't know how long it will be up on that site).
During her BBC-radio interview, Sandy Lerner, who had read Persuasion 70 times, responded to the question "What did you get out of your 67th reading of Persuasion that you did not get from the 3rd?" First she said that there were no "throw away" lines in Jane Austen's works. What she finally noticed was the reference to a "landaulette" that Sandy described as a "ladies" carriage similar to today's woman having a powder blue Mercedes two-seater sports car for her own use. That knowledge put the Anne-Wentworth relationship in a whole new light. He cared enough for her to buy her a carriage for her use only, giving her some independence to go when she pleased (she did not have to wait to use the family "carriage"). It was especially wonderful because Wentworth was not as wealthy as a "Darcy".
This picture of a landaulette was found here:
A Landaulette—c. 1830
As you can see it is quite a carriage. The date is about 15 years after Jane Austen's time so hopefully it did not change much in those years. I was curious as to my own notes in my copy of Persuasion concerning a "landaulette" and was surprised to find that I had underlined the word and put a question mark in the margin. I did have sense enough to wonder what it was.
Monday - July 14, 2003
Today was checkout time at the very comfortable Wessex Hotel and check in time at the West Downs Student Centre, my first time to be back in a dormitory in forty years. Wow, that long? In addition to that, I went to the Post Office, got my first glimpse of the Winchester School of Art, checked out the local Mall, and all the shops along the main street.
Now you will never guess who was the first delegate to the Conference that I met. "Well, you will never guess, so I will tell you." She was a lovely young teacher from, of all places on earth, New Orleans—my old stomping grounds. Well, then it turned out to be "old home week" as we met another couple from New Orleans too.
The dorm room was comfortable, but you could certainly tell it was a "study room" for students. In order to look out the window, it was necessary to stand on the bed, but the view was lovely. Our meals were served downstairs in the Shakespeare Room—a very elegant name for a very plain room, however, the companions made all the difference.
Tuesday - July 15, 2003
On Tuesday and Thursday the meetings were held at the Winchester School of Art and the Guildhall in Winchester. There were Professors, authors, and literary enthusiasts from around the world. The majority were women but the men were well represented also. Everyone was friendly and helpful; there was no condescension. Having never attended such a conference, it was a learning experience in more ways than one. The only negative (and I don't really want to use that word) thing was, because the papers had to be a certain length and be given in a certain amount of minutes the speakers had to talk really fast to get it all in. Even with talking fast I noticed that they had to condense several times. That factor made it hard to take notes and listen at the same time. Several times the speaker would begin by saying that their paper was an excerpt from a longer article they had previously written.
After the Welcome speech, a panel session, and lunch we had a short walk to the Guildhall for two plenary sessions. By the time of the second plenary session I was getting used to the routine and feeling more comfortable with the activities. So much so, that after that session, when they invited questions, I raised my hand to make a comment in front of God and everybody. My comment was addressed to Prof. Janet Todd who spoke on Editing Austen: What do Readers Need/Want to Know? She had explained that she was co-editing an annotated seven volume edition of Jane Austen's novels to be published around 2005 for Cambridge University Press. She gave some astounding examples of their annotations that I did not have time to write down nor do I remember at the moment. I was put in mind of our efforts at Male Voices to search for "influences" in order to better understand Jane Austen's novels.
After raising my hand, I was handed the cordless microphone and in view of the title of her topic, made the following comment: "Professor Todd, to answer your question, 'How much do we want to know?', I want to know everything!" I handed the mike to the next questioner and sat down with my mind going blank and remembering nothing. I was told later that there was some applause and laughter.
The last event of the evening was a showing of the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice. It had been a few years since I had seen it and putting away my "prejudices" I quite enjoyed it as a "film" especially with like-minded Austenites who could laugh at certain parts.
I will say a few words about the new friends I met to give you an idea of the people from the far corners of the world who also share a common interest in Jane Austen's era.
The first one I met on Tuesday was Francisca, a young graduate student from Mallorca, Spain, and she was the last one I said 'Good-by' to on Thursday which gives you an indication of our friendship. Valerie, a teacher from an English school, joined us on several occasions. We were quite a merry party. I enjoyed meeting and comparing notes with Dr. Sue Parrill and Dr. Sarah Spence from my alma mater in Louisiana. On Wednesday, I made a special effort to meet Dr. David Wheeler from the University of Southern Mississippi, since he and I were the only ones from Mississippi.
It was exciting to exchange a few words with Brian Southam, Jennie Batchelor, and Cora Kaplan among others. For example, on Friday before breakfast, I fell into conversation with three lovely Ladies from Italy. The conversations were all ease and politeness; we did not stand on ceremony. My only regret is that, being unfamiliar with the events of such conferences, I did not make a concerted effort to search out the other authors of note. Ah, another reason to return!
I am afraid that inadvertently I gained a 'reputation'. The most common question was "Why are you here?" It was a question we all asked of each other. My answer included several reasons: I came to nourish my literary soul; I was intensely interested in the circumstances of women of the era; and, because of my desire to overcome my own past experiences. Everyone seemed to understand the third reason because the information had spread.
The upside of having a reputation is that on Thursday evening I walked to the train station with Jessie, a teacher from California, to buy our tickets for the next day. She was going on to Scotland to vacation with her family, lucky Lady! We stopped on the way back to the dorm to eat supper and had a most interesting conversation about General Tilney, home schooling, etc. It did not take long to become friends. When we arrived back at the dorm, she took my picture and we hugged "good-by". Such lovely people! Hmm, maybe it's a 'virus' we catch from reading too much Jane Austen. Nah.
Wednesday - July 16, 2003
We were picked up at the dormitories by a coach (bus) for the short (five miles approximately) ride to Chawton and back. I took a couple of hours to visit Chawton Cottage that you will hear about later. In addition to the speakers and Chawton Cottage, we had the opportunity to tour Chawton House (see picture above) that will be The Centre for the Study of Early English Women's Writing, 1600-1830. The paintings were magnificent. It was quite wonderful to walk where "Jane walked". We were able to "visit" the books in the Library room, but only eight people at a time were allowed in. The main stacks were downstairs and could only be accessed by the Librarian who would bring the books up for researchers. The Librarian has an email address and will reply to inquiries about the books.
Because the Great House could not accommodate such a large group, two large "Marquees" (white tents) were set up on the grounds next to the Great House—one for dining and the one for lectures, shown here with Prof. Claudia Johnson in the white shirt.
Between sessions I had the pleasure of collecting autographs from Brian Southam and Marilyn Butler. At the afternoon Drinks Reception, a group of us were delighted to have Mr. Southam join us as we chatted. He related lots of interesting facts about the Jane Austen Society (UK) of which he is currently the Chairman.
Prof. Butler has written several books about the Jane Austen era, most notably, a biography of Maria Edgeworth (my copy is now autographed!). Later on, I brazenly approached Mrs. Butler and her husband in the driveway to request a photo as seen here with the Coach House in the background. It is being renovated as a residence for Sandy Lerner. As you walk towards the Great House, the Coach House is situated on the left side of the driveway with St. Nicholas Church on the right side.
The Chawton Coach House
Future Home of Sandy Lerner
Thursday - July 17, 2003
In every session, I was able to find something that "spoke to my soul". Since it was impossible to attend every one, it makes me wonder what all I did miss. Since there were two professors from the University of Exeter in two different sessions this day I asked both of them about Robert Mack and his work on The Loiterer. They were under the impression that he had found a publisher, but they did assure me they would make inquiries and let him know we are interested.
University of Southampton Logo
The "meeting places" for the conference were interesting as well. The Winchester School of Art is part of the University of Southampton though the campus is in Winchester. Just a short walk from the center of town, the buildings are modern and equipped with some awesome looking machines used in textiles (at the Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies) as well as an art gallery. The Refectory (cafeteria to us) where they served our delicious meals was quite modern and air conditioned as were all the buildings of the school. They were the only buildings in England that were air conditioned—well, the ones I visited anyway, except for the Guildhall.
The Guildhall is in the center of town and is quite old and lovely and has been modernized to accommodate meetings, etc.
The Guildhall in Winchester
In the lunch line I ran into Jocelyn Harris, the editor of an edition of Samuel Richardson's The History of Sir Charles Grandison. I had been looking for her to inquire about the inaccessibility of copies. She informed me that a new edition is soon to be released and gave me an email address to inquire about the status. She is associated with the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Several times the subject of the large number of "women writers" of that era (1660-1830) came up providing me the opportunity to put in a word for our forgotten nineteenth century American women writers who I have only recently discovered, namely Marietta Holley (often called "the female Mark Twain") and Fanny Fern. Several people wrote down their names for future reference.
The Closing Plenary was chock full of "Thank you"s and a large bouquet of flowers for Jennie Batchelor for all her hard work. Well, Cora Kaplan should have gotten a bouquet too. They both worked hard to make the conference a success. And a Success it was. I will be forever grateful.
Thoughts on Twain and Jane:
Mark Twain's dislike of Jane Austen is legendary, at least among "Male Voices in Praise of Jane Austen" devotees. The question of course is why he disliked Jane's novels so vehemently.
The answer is, he didn't."Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
No one reads a book they hate multiple times. So what's with all the Jane-bashing?
The Admiral character appears in Twain's Roughing It on a voyage to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) The same character also appears as one of Twain's fellow travelers on the Quaker City I suspect some of Twain himself in all the recurring characters that appear in his travel books.
The Admiral knew only one narrow line of conduct to pursue in any and all cases where there was a fight, and that was to shoulder his way straight in without an inquiry as to the rights or the merits of it, and take the part of the weaker side. —And this was the reason why he was always sure to be present at the trial of any universally execrated criminal to oppress and intimidate the jury with a vindictive pantomime of what he would do to them if he ever caught them out of the box. And this was why harried cats and outlawed dogs that knew him confidently took sanctuary under his chair in time of trouble. In the beginning he was the most frantic and bloodthirsty Union man that drew breath in the shadow of the Flag; but the instant the Southerners began to go down before the sweep of the Northern armies, he ran up the Confederate colors and from that time till the end was a rampant and inexorable secessionist.
Could it be that Twain, having discovered Jane Austen for himself, rejected her when the full extent of her popularity became known? Once it became clear that Austen was no underdog needing a champion, he dropped her like a hot potato, but still continued to read Pride and Prejudice over and over again.
Or is there another reason?
The wry observation of human folly in the most ordinary circumstances is both writers gift. But what's truly remarkable is how similar the cadence of their writing.
Jane Austen wrote: "Elizabeth longed to observe that Mr. Bingley had been a most delightful friend—so easily guided, that his worth was invaluable; but she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin. In anticipating the happiness of Bingley, which of course was to be inferior only to his own, he continued the conversation till they reached the house. In the hall they parted."
While Twain wrote: "By some happy fortune I was not seasick.--That was a thing to be proud of. I had not always escaped before. If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day it sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick. Soon a venerable fossil, shawled to the chin and bandaged like a mummy, appeared at the door of the after deck-house, and the next lurch of the ship shot him into my arms. I said: "Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day." He put his hand on his stomach and said, 'Oh, my!' and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight."
Again, Jane Austen wrote: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
While Twain wrote: "The last twenty-four hours we staid in Damascus I lay prostrate with a violent attack of cholera, or cholera morbus, and therefore had a good chance and a good excuse to lie there on that wide divan and take an honest rest. I had nothing to do but listen to the pattering of the fountains and take medicine and throw it up again. It was dangerous recreation, but it was pleasanter than traveling in Syria. I had plenty of snow from Mount Hermon, and as it would not stay on my stomach, there was nothing to interfere with my eating it—there was always room for more. I enjoyed myself very well. Syrian travel has its interesting features, like travel in any other part of the world, and yet to break your leg or have the cholera adds a welcome variety."
Was Twain's public dislike for Austen merely a reaction to readers' comparisons of the two? We all hate it when our friends tell us we're going to love someone because he's just like you, especially when we ourselves may not find the resemblance all that flattering. Twain went on to write some very serious novels and essays and may not have appreciated a comparison between a novel like Huckleberry Finn and Sense and Sensibility.
There's an old folk wisdom that milk takes on the flavor of whatever its in contact with. Judging by the similarities of their humor, I'd say Twain had a lot of contact with Jane Austen, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
The Plague and I: By Betty Macdonald
A Washington state publisher is reissuing Betty Macdonald's (real name, Anne Bard) best-selling books The Egg and I, Anybody Can Do Anything, Onions In The Stew and The Plague and I. Macdonald's books are terribly un-PC by modern standards; at least in regard to native Americans, but they're also terribly funny. Macdonald had a talent for finding the very worst in people and bringing it to the fore in all of her books.
The Plague and I documents her 9 months in the Pines tuberculosis sanitarium; a thinly disguised Firland which was a Seattle public institution until the early 1970s.
The sanitarium cure consisted of complete bed rest, which meant no talking, no reading, and no writing. Patients were bathed lying down and had to use bedpans for the first month of their stay. Many had to eat lying down. The theory behind the sanitarium cure was to rest the lungs, allowing the immune system to wall off the TB.
After the first month, if the patients temperature stayed down and his weight went up, he was allowed up time which consisted of sitting up for 15 minutes a day, which was gradually increased over the months. Any relapse and up time was taken away.
Some patients progressed to more active/invasive treatments such as temporary or permanent collapse of one lung or replacement of a section of diseased spine with healthy bone from the thigh. Without antibiotics, these procedures were dangerous in and of themselves without reference to the TB.
Many patients were in the sanitarium simply to keep them from spreading active TB to their families and the population in general. Its sobering to note that two nurses died after contracting military TB in the time covered by the book.
Macdonald's talent for bringing American (no matter where they were born) eccentrics to life is at the forefront in this book. Kimi, the brilliant young Japanese woman; Eileen, the bawdy usherette; Minna, the poisonous Southern belle; Delores the Sex Goddess, and a dozen others.
The Plague and I is Macdonald's usual mix of disarming charm, annoying condescension, and hilariously skewed accounts of ordinary events. And somehow, while her account of life at the Pines is interesting and funny; its never anything less than pathetic and horrifying; all the more so for the modern reader knowing that Pines' regime was completely ineffective against TB.
Macdonald's stay at the Pines was from September of 1938 to June of 1939, when TB was still the #1 killer of Americans. She was placed in the Pines ahead of 200 others because she had two small children, and her TB was active. She found readjustment to life outside the sanitarium difficult at first, and stayed close to her fellow released roommates. Eventually, through a chance meeting she landed a job with a friend of her brother's and went on to write one of the best selling books of the decade: The Egg and I. Macdonald died in 1958, just as antibiotics effective against TB were being developed. The Plague and I is an excellent slice of life (horrible life, yes) from a time that seems eons rather than decades removed from our own. Its definitely not as good as The Egg and I but its certainly worth a read.
Things have been a bit hot here in Eastern Washington with the highs hitting 95-110 every day. Weve had a series of brush fires, the most serious in Keller WA, which consumed several thousand acres on the reservation. Im sorry to say that a helicopter pilot, ferrying water to the fire was killed. Our thoughts go to his family. Another fire, closer to home is detailed here. It brings back memories of the Buffalo Lake fire which, eyewitnesses have verified, was started when a grasshopper jumped into an electric fence, caught on fire, then jumped away starting a 10,000+ acre fire.
The bosses wheat harvest just finished, giving me a much needed break from work. Other excitement has been the onset of huckleberry, raspberry, blackberry, pie cherry and apricot season. The larder is pretty full of jam right now. I just hope we can do the same with pie filling.
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