Dear Social Historians,
"Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath?" asks Catherine Moreland. Well, not this woman. I only get to visit the place now and then when we stay with friends, and even then my time is not my own, so every excursion is almost as exciting as the first and I have still seen only half of all Bath has to offer for the Austen lover. Stepping from the fiction into the reality of the fiction is always something of a spiritual shock. I'm not particularly fanciful as a rule, but there is something about parking your car in Laura Place or buying a bunch of flowers for your hosts in Milsom St., just opposite Edgar Buildings, which troubles the mental equilibrium.
Nothing, though, is quite so unnerving as a visit to the Pump Room. Here you really feel that Jane is at your elbow and that her characters are only waiting for a bit of imagination to pluck them out of the ether. Not that the Pump Room is some dry, respectful but sterile museum. Nothing could be further from the truth. These days it is a busy, busy tearoom, happily doing what it has done for the last two centuries and more, which is providing a popular meeting place for the people of Bath and its many visitors. On a cold Friday morning in November it's difficult to get a table. There are already many dozens of young city types having informal meetings, elderly gentlemen reading the newspapers, girlfriends gossiping and tourists absorbing the atmosphere. In short, it is exactly as it should be. It is also exquisitely beautiful, but if you want to find that out for yourself, look at the BBC's Persuasion, which was filmed there.
In Jane's time one would have promenaded about the room, arm in arm with a friend. Nowadays there is a roped-off corridor down one side which allows access to and from the Bath Museum and the Roman baths which are all housed under one roof. The rest of the room is filled with little tables with starched white cloths and, depending on the time of day, Morning Coffee, Elevenses, or Afternoon Coffee are served. Regency visitors liked to arrive between 1 and 3pm in order to hear the band, and it is just so today; a perfect little quartet plays Mozart and Pachabel quite beautifully to polite applause.
Jane would have drunk her obligatory glass of water from the pump which is housed in the middle of one of the long ends of the room. These days it is delivered to your table by a gorgeous flunkey in full 18th century servant's dress—wig, powdered face, beauty-spot and all. If you are a member of Male Voices you drink this on behalf of all those less fortunate than yourself. You then spend the next several hours regretting it. Bad-eggy and sulphurous, it reminds my German husband of an enforced stay in a "Kur" and he turns a little green. How the Romans bathed in the stuff is anyone's guess. Never mind—the menu looks promising. To our relief there are no Mrs. Musgrove's Muffins or Cap'n Wentworth's Rum'n'Raisin Cookies to be seen, just Bath Buns and cinnamon biscuits, all baked to old recipes and washed down with hot chocolate with inch-thick cream.
The string quartet begins to play again, the tinkle of teacups in china saucers and the murmour of conversation becomes more muted. Jane Austen would have felt quite at home here, and just for a moment you could swear that Lady Russell is waving a friendly greeting to you from across the room.
[Also, read of Kate2's visit to Chawton]
Dear Ash et al,
I had a birthday luncheon with a couple of friends at a very nice tearoom in honor of Jane's 223rd yesterday. We had birthday cake on the house, in Jane's honor, of course. Ash, of course I wouldn't fail to celebrate! Thanks to all for your remarks on the Ehle/Firth P&P. I've located a rental set here in Houston and am planning to show it at next month's Janeteenth. If anyone will be in the vicinity, y'all are welcome to come and participate (that just means viewing the film and eating and drinking and noshing for 4-5 hours)!
From the Meister: I live in California, near San Francisco, otherwise I would take you up on that invitation. Ummm—about that "noshing"—is that what our Commonwealth friends call "snogging"? I meet Texas women on occasion and I never fail to like them.
Dear Hollis and Sir,
Settle down, settle down! To 'nosh' means to eat—as in eating one's
head off. Snogging, of course, involves heads also, but in quite a
From the Meister: Oh. Well then—Phooey!
I do feel that Emma is a novel that needs to be read twice—to be read 'in retrospect', as it were—to be fully appreciated. Frank Churchill's, and Jane Fairfax's, points of view, and the reasons for their temporary estrangement, are explained in two places: in the conversation between Emma and Mrs Weston in volume 3, Ch. 11, and, later, in the letter that Frank Churchill writes to Mrs Weston, after all is revealed.
In the first instance, Mrs Weston tells Emma, while recounting the conversation she had with Miss Fairfax: 'One natural consequence of the evil she had involved herself in,' she said, 'was that of making her UNREASONABLE. The consciousness of having done amiss, had exposed her to a thousand inquietudes, and made her captious and irritable to a degree that must have been—that had been—hard for him to bear. "I did not make the allowances," said she, "which I ought to have done, for his temper and spirits—his delightful spirits, and that gaiety, that playfulness of disposition, which, under any other circumstances, would, I am sure, have been as constantly bewitching to me, as they were at first."' Now to Frank's letter: 'Of the pianoforte so much talked of, I feel it only necessary to say, that its being ordered was absolutely unknown to Miss Fairfax, who would never have allowed me to send it, had any choice been given her. The delicacy of her mind throughout the whole engagement, my dear madam, is much beyond my power of doing justice to.'
To understand the novel, and the point of the novel, it is necessary to be able to understand Jane Fairfax's point of view. The young woman's feelings, as described by the two quotes above, are not such as would make it likely that she would grope her lover in front of her sleeping grandmother! The tensions and misunderstandings of the two lovers, are, in fact, much more intricate, intelligent and human than the scenario you have put forward; this is what makes Jane Austen so very interesting an author.
Perhaps the difficulty here is a transatlantic one: Jane Austen, again and again, comments on and values, both in her private correspondence and in her novels, restraint, self-control, dignity and forebearance. These are peculiarly English characteristics—I also happen to value them—but then, I am a Colonial. The point I am trying to make is that I do not believe that Jane Austen was as concerned with what we would call the physical aspects of the relationship between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, as she was with the social consequences of their actions. I have commented elsewhere on Jane Austen's capacity to recognise and depict sexual tension between her characters, and this tension exists here, but in this instance, it is darker, more complicated, and more fraught with potential disaster. Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy, Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley, and others, have, ultimately, only themselves to please. Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill are not in this category. Jane Fairfax is bearing the burden of conscience for both of them in the novel, and, thus, suffers more.
Now, before you rush back in to print, consider the above, and read those
parts of the novel that concern Miss Fairfax—forget your affection for her
creator for a bit—and see if you can see those six months or so in Highbury
from her point of view.
Today is the 223rd anniversary of Jane Austen's birth and it also marks the completion of the first year of the Male Voices bulletin board. In the way of a retrospective, I thought we might take turns listing our favorite postings of the year. I will begin with my favorites listed in reverse chronological order:
The most provocative postings were these.
Obviously, the strongest Male Voices in this first year were sopranos. But, not to worry—I sense that the chorus will be more complete in the second year. Incidentally, I should mention that I plan to greatly expand the postings on "What Men Have Said About Jane Austen". Look for that soon. Do you have any suggestions for improvements or changes?
I do not think as you do about the time Frank and Jane Fairfax spent alone (Chapter X of Volume II). We are not told what happened and can only infer based upon the reactions of the couple after Emma and her friends enter the Bates's home near the beginning of the chapter. This would have been a rare moment for the lovers when, except for a sleeping grandmama, they were alone. I feel quite certain that there would have been an embrace, a few kisses, expressions of needs and longings, and maybe a caress. The presence of the slumbering grandmama means that there could only be whispered exchanges and those would have been of love, affection, and of Jane's gratitude for the pianoforte. And, yes, she might have asked how he thought she was to explain the gift.
That is all supposition on my part; it would be unfair of me to pass it off as a Jane-Austen subtlety. However, it is consistent with the mood that Jane Austen sets for the passage, an aftermath particularly characterized by the posture and reactions of Jane Fairfax. She was afraid to allow the party to see her face, I believe, because she was flushed with the emotion of this renewed expression of love and she glowed with arousal from the physical contact. Yes, love and sensuality—Jane Austen at her best.
Still, I must concede one point to you—I think you are quite correct in this. It is more consistent with my view if I admit that Jane's smiles were inspired more by the expressions of love contained in Frank's double entendre than by his mocking of Emma in the same way. I should have better understood that sooner.
In general, though, I think my suppositions more consistent with the text than yours. Maybe not—maybe I don't really understand your interpretations. Is this correct? Frank Churchill had been trained to be nothing other than a gentleman, but he risked everything by engaging himself to a penniless women whose circumstances might offend his sole benefactor. Mrs. Churchill ruled in Yorkshire and Emma Woodhouse ruled in Surrey, but Frank was his own man and he defied his rulers because he recognized in Jane Fairfax all the beauty, grace, and talent that Jane Austen has endowed in this character. He must have been in love. He went to London to buy her a pianoforte and could only invent a flimsy alibi, an alibi so flimsy that he must hear his father call him a cockscomb, endure his beloved stepmother's disappointment, and listen to Emma's pointed teasing. Very well, he submitted himself because he was determined to add to Jane's pleasure and, in this way, to express his admiration for her talent. Then, he found himself alone with Jane for the first time since leaving Weymouth. At that point, you would have Jane Fairfax at his throat—furious with him because she cannot imagine some way to explain the gift or some way to distract the curious. Well, your interpretation is consistent with the text, but if you are strictly correct in this then I tell you what—I think Frank should have dumped her.
Frank was not the enemy of Jane Fairfax, her enemies were the Empress of Yorkshire and the Queen of Surrey. Oh—she had one other source of irritation, another woman—the Parish Pretender, Mrs. Elton. It is the latter person that drove Jane Fairfax over the brink and that led to the battle with Frank at the strawberry harvest.
Some people are too kind to their favorite characters. That cannot be said of me of course because I have never been kind enough to Darcy.
Here is the specific passage that I was referring to on 12/4/98; it is from Chapter X of Volume II. Emma, Harriet, Mrs. Weston, and Frank are visiting at the Bate's where Jane Fairfax is demonstrating the new pianoforte. Frank begins to ridicule Emma by pretending to tease Jane with pointed remarks about Ireland and Mr. Dixon. Emma is quite taken in when Jane Austen tells us this.
"Emma wished he would be less pointed, yet could not help being amused; and when on glancing her eye toward Jane Fairfax she caught the remains of a smile, when she saw that with all the deep blush of consciousness, there had been a smile of secret delight, she had less scruple in the amusement, and much less compunction with respect to her.—This amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings."
Oh Emma, if only you knew how reprehensible!
Your example of the laughing Jane Fairfax misses the true dimensions and complications of that scene—you have taken it out of context.
The pianoforte mysteriously appears after Frank Churchill's frivolous visit to London to have his hair cut. When all is revealed, at the end of the novel, Frank acknowledges in his letter to Mrs Weston that its coming was utterly unknown to Miss Fairfax, who would have prevented it had she been able. Very well.
The chapter opens with Emma entering the Bates' drawing room, and finding all profound peace and silence—but the tension in the air can be felt. Jane and Frank have been arguing about the pianoforte—remember, this is the first time of his having seen her since its arrival. He proceeds to conduct a double conversation with Emma and Miss Fairfax. Miss Fairfax has turned her back on the new arrivals, and Frank is still working on Mrs Bates' spectacles (Mrs Weston comments on how long it is taking him!). Frank's first words to Emma are 'This is a pleasure coming at least ten minutes earlier than I had calculated.' Emma notices that Jane has not the strength to immediately sit to the instrument—she could not yet touch it 'without emotion'. Not because of Mr. Dixon, but because she is profoundly embarrassed, and would like to hurl the bloody thing out of the window!.
Frank niggles and niggles—'whoever Col. Campbell might employ, the person has not chosen ill. .... the softness of the upper notes I am sure is exactly what he and all that party would particularly prize. I daresay ... he either gave his friend very minute ULections ...' Frank knows that Jane knows he chose the instrument himself, he was also 'one of that party' at Weymouth. Jane wishes the earth would swallow her up. Emma thinks he is making Dixon references, however.
Frank niggles a bit more, until Jane is forced to reply, 'I can imagine nothing with any confidence. It must be all conjecture.' 'Conjecture—aye, sometimes one conjectures right, and sometimes one conjectures wrong.' Meaning that he thought she would be pleased with the pianoforte, and cannot understand why she is angry. "Miss Fairfax said something about conjecturing.' Still it goes on. If you recall, on the night preceding this, they had danced, and had been obliged to stop just as Frank was about to dance with Jane. Today, he says to her, '(play) one of the waltzes we danced last night ... you did not enjoy them was I did you appeared tired the whole time. I believe you were glad we danced no longer but I would have given worlds—all the worlds one ever has to five—for another half hour.' He then embarrasses her almost into the earth by pointing out 'what felicity it is to hear a tune again that has made one happy! If I mistake not that was danced at Weymouth'. She looked up at him for a moment, coloured deeply, and played something else. Still he is not done. He goes through the music—'This was all sent with the instrument. Very thoughtful of Col. Campbell, was not it? He knew Miss Fairfax would have no music here. I honour that part of the attention particularly it shews it to have been so thoroughly from the heart. Nothing hastily done nothing incomplete. True affection only could have prompted it.' Frank is, of course, talking about himself, behind the mask of Col. Campbell. THAT is what makes Jane smile, her exasperation with him notwithstanding.
Back to the dance of the preceding evening for a moment. It forms one of those instances, because of which she eventually breaks off the engagement, and ties in with the pianoforte— 'While I, to blind the world to our engagement, was behaving one hour with objectionable particularity to another woman, was she to be consenting the next to a proposal which might have made every previous caution useless?' Frank wrote these words, of course, in reference to the strawberry expedition to Donwell Abbey, but the spirit of them is equally applicable to the pianoforte. She is obliged to sit back and watch while he chats and dances with Emma, and then the next day be made painfully conspicuous because he lands her with an instrument which must cost nearly half what her aunt and grandmother have to live on each year! And, as she knows, most people do not believe the Col. Campbell theory. Neither Emma nor Mr Knightley believe that for a moment. The end of it all is that Jane, battling to appear normal and keep their secret, has been made into an exhibition by Frank. And he, unable to understand why she is not having as fun as he is, thinks her 'cold'.
This really is Jane Austen at her best.
I'm from Colombia, and I am 20 years old. My first contact with Jane Austen was through the movie "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", in 1996. Now, I read "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" and I watched the miniseries performed by the BBC Londres, I felt very happy, this story is wonderful. Also, I watched "NORTHANGER ABBEY", AND I am waiting to watch "EMMA". How much I had liked to Jane Austen. I am studying Foreign Languages at the University of Pamplona, and I am English Monitor at the Resource Centre of English, in which there are a lot of short stories of many great authors, like Jane Austen. I prepared a cycle of adapted movies from English Literature, and for me it was a pleasure to open this cycle with "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", I encouraged the students to read the books of Jane Austen. I am a fan of English Literature!, and I admire very much to Jane Austen, she is a great woman, there isn't nor there wasn't someone like her. I wish to know more about her and to become a member of any Fan Club of Jane Austen. Thank you very much for this chance.
May I add my welcome to those of Hollis and Mr Dennis? I particularly like your comment about the uniqueness of Jane Austen's prose; one of my favourite quotes, from the preface of an old Penguin edition of her novels, says "she came without forebears and she left without progeny". I have never learned a foreign language, which has always been one of my greatest regrets, but I feel that, for anybody studying English as a foreign language, the prose of Jane Austen shows the language at its best. In my view, the only other source of English as honed and bright, is that of the metaphysical poets.
I hope to hear more from you!
Dear Ms. Lujan,
It was a real pleasure reading your thoughts. Your enthusiasm and appreciation for Jane Austen came through loud and clear. You communicate quite well in English, your love of this literature. I felt as though I were reading my own declaration! Don't be too disconcerted by any negative opinions regarding Ms. Thompson's Sense & Sensibility. I agree with Ash about that version, but then I love the version of Pride & Prejudice with Elizabeth Garvie, adapted by Fay Weldon, that I have since discovered is not as well-regarded as the more recent version with Ms. Ehle. I am having a "Janeteenth" gathering sometime in "Janeuary" 1999, and am planning to rent the Ehle version for that showing. As you have enjoyed Sense & Sensibility, I make the suggestion that you view the BBC/WGBH version with Irene Richard as Elinor; I like it very much. What do you folks, out there in Janeland, think of this version? If there is something better out there, I would appreciate your input!
Dear Ms. Lujan,
Thank you so much for introducing yourself, you are most welcome here. I can promise you that the fresh perspectives you will bring to our discussions will be much appreciated and commented upon. You should be made aware of at least one other link and that is to the Republic of Pemberley. That site provides many other links to web sites that you will find interesting. I have made a rather long posting on the filmed version of Sense and Sensibility; I am afraid that you will not like me so well after you have read that. Forgive me—please. Perhaps it would be best if you begin with my observations on filmed versions in general or on the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. I am far less likely to antagonize with those remarks; so, that would be a better way to begin our correspondence.
Jane Austen "fan clubs" are called The Jane Austen Society of— (substitute the name of any English-speaking country). They are wonderful because they are kept open to non-academics as well. I cannot give you much more information, so I suggest that you find the web site for THE Jane Austen Society—the one in Great Britain. They will be able to tell you about any Spanish-speaking societies that may exist.
How fortunate we all are to have you as a correspondent. You write beautifully and your heart is located in precisely the correct place—that is a powerful combination. Thank you.
However, not even you may be able to correctly identify this picture—C'mon, try harder. Actually, maybe Hollis can help you. Readers may be interested in Kate's previous posting on her visit to Jane Austen's home at Chawton. Also, here a link to the web site titled "Jane Austen's Bath index".
I believe that Jane Austen's parents were married at Bath just before they pushed off for the wilderness of Steventon. And, Jane's father is interred there as well. Jane lived in Bath with her sister and parents during part of her fallow period. They lived in Sydney Place for three years during her late twenties. I believe—I am not so fortunate to have first-hand knowledge—I believe that address to be about three or four hundred yards from the Pump Room. Kate very well might have felt Jane's presence. Finally, I should note that Jane's wealthy aunt spent several months in jail ("goal") at Bath. Jane nearly joined her there when her mom wrote to offer her daughters' services to the old shoplifter.
Dear Ash et al.,
Janeuary is upon us, and it is certainly time for Janeteenth! I will be having one this Janeuary, on a Saturday morning, from about 7 am to noonish. I'm not sure what to show, though. It's a toss-up between Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility (although I really like Mansfield Park).There will be salmon spread, dill bread, cucumber dip, tea, cheesecake, and God knows what else! I must ask, is the Ehle Elizabeth Bennet so much superior to the Garvie Lizzie? I have not seen the Ehle version, only the Garvie BBC version, script by Fay Weldon, which I love, love, LOVE! However, the recent scathing review of same that I read herein has set me thinking. Now I will have to re-read and re-view the version I have, and find and view the Ehle version, before I can comment further. What fun!!!!! I love you, Jane!
I suppose you know that December 16 is the anniversary of our Lady's birth. (December 25 is the birthday of Julie Grassi, but I think Jane Austen is older.) So, mid-December might offer another excuse for a get-together. I have offered my opinion of the best country dancer in a filmed version, but maybe your group would like to challenge that opinion.
For me, the Jennifer-Ehle interpretation is incomparably the best. In part, that is because the screenwriter, Andrew Davies, did not write for only the one gender. I am a curmudgeon—everyone knows that—so, don't let me spoil your enjoyment of the Weldon script. Good Lord, I have even nit-picked the Andrew Davies script! Personally, I think that Elizabeth Garvie was not right for the part; if I were to have cast her as a Jane-Austen character, it would have been as Catherine Moreland. Jennifer Ehle is perfect; she is highly, highly talented and presents a robust kind of beauty—right on. A lot more money was spent on this version and it shows. The film, most often comes as a boxed set of six cassettes and runs for about five hours (another good sign). For the longest time, it sold for about $100 but now costs about $60. I have seen sets for rent at Blockbuster and for sale at Borders. Oh, another important thing, Jane-Austen purists will greatly prefer this interpretation of Darcy—and, the women in the audience will think highly of Colin Firth in this role.
Let me attempt to say something positive about the Weldon version. I think—I am not sure—that Chawton cottage was used for the exteriors of "Longbourn". In that regard, here is a link to a fascinating posting. Also, Weldon includes two important scenes that Davies deleted: Those are the scene where Aunt Gardiner confronts Elizabeth (I never write "Lizzy") over her attentions to Wickham, and where Elizabeth comes to realize some of the failings of her own father. There— I knew I could do it!