The biggest virtual party this side of the Janeiverse may have ended, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. Read our guest post on EMMA (it’s the 200th anniversary of its publication), and see if there’s a little bit of Emma in you. There are lots more guest posts and hilarious roundtable discussions, and much more.
8 Writing tips from F. Scott Fitzgerald (courtesy of 1st Books*)
My favorite of Fitzgerald's: “I think it’s a pretty good rule not to tell what a thing is about until it’s finished. If you do you always seem to lose some of it. It never quite belongs to you so much again.” Read the rest of his tips here.
6 Writing tips from Kazuo Ishiguro (also courtesy of 1st Books*)
My favorite of Ishiguro's: “Focus on the relationship, and the characters will take care of themselves." Read the rest of his tips here.
8 Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut (courtesy of Boing Boing)
My favorite of Vonnegut's: "Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of." Read (or hear; they have the audio!) the rest of his tips here.
*I recently discovered 1st Books, and I LOVE this blog. It's all about writing, and it's filled with inspiring pieces about the creative process. 1st Books is hosted by New York Times best-selling author Meg Waite Clayton.
We’ve all read the books (or at least seen some of the movies). We’ve all fantasized about being magically transported to the world of Jane Austen and indulging ourselves in a whirlwind of assembly room balls, elegant gowns, and our very own Mr. Darcy. But would we really have what it takes to make that journey?
Chances are, our idea of life in Austen’s world comes mostly from Hollywood and the BBC, and not from the novels themselves. Jane Austen didn’t write lots of period detail; in fact, her stories were quite spare in that regard. She wrote for her contemporaries, and thus there was no need to describe a world they already knew.
Not to mention the details that no lady would dream of putting to paper, and no movie would think of including. Like a tutorial on the finer points of Regency-era hygiene (see below), a description of what typically passed for a bathroom in those days (that would be a chamber pot), or what kind of knickers one wore under those long, empire-waisted gowns (that would be none!). [By the way, the picture on the right is not a teacup.]
Of course, none of that matters when we are in the realm of fantasy. But imagine you have the opportunity to buy a ticket on a time machine to Austenworld. You’d want to prepare yourself for the many adjustments to your life that this exotic land would entail–and not only in terms of physical conveniences, but in terms of your social world and your basic liberties. Especially if you’re a single woman.
Not that you wouldn’t want to go anyway. It’s just that you might want to make it a round trip instead of a one way. Or maybe you’re made of stronger stuff than that.
In any case, you might just find yourself looking with new eyes at a number of things—good or bad– that most of us take for granted in our own world. For example:
1. Your Daily Ablutions
” What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”
–Jane Austen, Letter (1796-09-18)
Imagine how inelegant you might feel without the ability to take a nice cool shower on a hot summer’s day. Such conveniences were yet to be invented, and a bath involved sweating servants heaving buckets of water upstairs, something that definitely would not be practical on a daily basis. But perhaps we inhabitants of the 21st century are just too darn neurotic about washing our bodies.
And deodorant? Fuggedaboutit. But don’t fret; there’s always cologne liberally applied to a handkerchief. Or on oneself.
Choose A or B:
a. Ewwww! There’s no way I’m going without my daily shower and my favorite roll-on.
b. There’s very little I wouldn’t forgo in order to get up close and personal with Mr. Darcy/Knightley, et al. I’ll take a daily basin and ewer over our contemporary obsession with cleanliness any day.
2. Your Beauty Regimen
Imagine a Sephora-less world. A world without concealer, mascara, and lip gloss. A world in which the following piece of beauty advice is delivered without any irony whatsoever:
“Wear a piece of lead beaten exceeding thin, for a forehead-piece, under a forehead cloth; it keeps the forehead smooth and plump.”—The Compleat Housewife, 15th edition, 1753
Hard not to raise an eyebrow when reading that (unless you’re using Botox).
Let’s say you manage to obtain some rouge (or make it yourself). Using it would generally be frowned upon unless you’re well-to-do, middle-aged/married or a widow. Or getting over an illness. Even then, you’d better have a light hand, as the natural look was the fashion by the time Austen was a young woman.
The bottom line: If you’re a single woman, you’ll probably be pinching your cheeks and biting your lips to get a little color into them. Unless you manage to sneak a swipe from your mother’s rouge pot (which she denies using, and which may just be the sole item in her cosmetic arsenal). Better hope your application of her forbidden goods escapes detection, lest you be labeled a loose woman or worse.
Choose A or B:
a. I’m not about to wear a lead headband. Or go to the assembly ball without at least a dab of lip gloss and a touch of concealer.
b. Who needs an arsenal of paints and powders, let alone all that time it takes to put it on? A turn in the shrubbery with Mr. Darcy is all I need for a glowing complexion. Besides, everyone else would be sans make-up as well, so what’s the big deal?
3. Regency Dream Date
Imagine your dating pool is limited to those of your own rigidly defined social class. The only way you can meet a potential mate is via introduction by a mutual acquaintance. Or the master of ceremonies at an assembly ball. If you do manage to meet someone you like, and who likes you, too (and if you’re a woman you are strictly prohibited from making the first move), the only acceptable “date” is him visiting you at your parents’ house (you’re not allowed to live alone as an unmarried woman), or maybe a country walk (where friends or family will almost certainly tag along), sitting next to him at a large dinner party (yay!), or a dance at a ball (which is probably your only chance to have a somewhat private conversation, and certainly your only chance to touch).
Oh, and you’re not allowed to write each other either. Unless you’re engaged. So even if all the wonders of modern communication were at your disposal, you’d be prohibited from sending a single text.
Then again, there’s something terribly romantic about all those sidelong glances, maneuvering to be near each other, and making every word count.
Choose A or B:
How would I ever really get to know a potential mate if we can only get together in a group? Doesn’t sound like a recipe for a lasting relationship.
I like the idea of having my peeps in the periphery when I’m interviewing the MOMD. They can always set me straight if I’m not seeing him for who he really is.
4. Sealing the Deal
All that restriction of movement in #3 above is all about one thing: Keeping ladies chaste until they say “I do.” A woman wasn’t even supposed to kiss her man before marriage. Meanwhile, we in the modern world navigate a labyrinthine set of conflicting “rules” served up by friends, family, and self-appointed relationship experts as to how not to give away too much too soon to the wrong person.
Choose A or B:
I cannot imagine marrying someone without first making sure our chemistry has all the right elements.
I am so tired of figuring out if I should wait till the third date or the fifth or not at all that I’d welcome a world where sex means a sacred, lifelong commitment.
5. Happily Ever After
Let’s say you’ve found your very own Mr. Darcy/Mr. Knightley/Captain Wentworth/[fill in the blank with the Austen hero of your choice]. What happens after “I do”? Is it all just blissful days and nights, or are there other forces at work?
For example, did you know that your property becomes your husband’s, or that you wouldn’t be allowed to earn your own money? If you marry well, however, marriage settlements would entitle you to a generous allowance. In any case, marriage is considered to be your career, and the most desirable one there is for a gentlewoman. The only other options being maiden aunt, governess, or paid companion, and the latter two are simply the last resort of impoverished ladies. Gives one a little more sympathy for Charlotte Lucas’s decision to marry Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Or, on second thought, maybe not.
Not that you’re lying around all day eating bon bons as the mistress of a great estate. Running the household and managing all those servants is a big responsibility. Plus there are many ways in which your good works can improve the lives of those living on your husband’s land.
And how about starting a family? In Austen’s day, there was not much in the way of contraception, and married women were often continually pregnant. Three of Austen’s sisters-in-law died from childbirth, two of them after delivering their eleventh child. These were the days before even the routine medical practice of washing one’s hands existed, let alone all the other wonders of modern medicine we take for granted.
The good news is that if you married well in Austen’s day, you’d have a full contingent of servants and nursemaids to make life a whole lot easier. Ten kids? No problem! We have staff! Not to mention an Austenesque hero as the father of your brood.
I’m as romantic as anyone, and I love children. But some things are non-negotiable. Like female self-determination, my choice of career, and an epidural.
With my 21st century knowledge, I’d do a little family planning of my own. Plus I’d find a midwife who washes her hands and a mate who supports me in pursuing my passions, whatever they are.
I could go on, but you’ve got a journey to pack for!
First take a moment to review your answers:
If you chose mostly A:
“I’ll take a round-trip, please. I love me some Mr. Darcy/Mr. Knightley/Capt. Wentworth, but I’m already in a long term relationship with electricity, indoor plumbing, and personal freedom.
If you chose mostly B:
“That’ll be a one-way ticket to Pemberley, please. No baggage. Buh-bye!”
If you’re split down the middle:
“That’ll be a one-way ticket, long as I can sneak in a few little essentials, like my SonicCare toothbrush…you mean there’s no way to charge it?…And tampons….what do you mean I won’t be able to buy any more?…Okay …when do you think they’ll have wireless there? Hmmm… maybe I should switch to a round-trip? Or can I book when I get there?”
It is indeed a dilemma.
This post originally appeared as a guest post on The Book Rat.
Dr. Cornel West was one of the plenary speakers at the JASNA 2012 Annual General Meeting in Brooklyn, which focused on the theme “Sex, Money and Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction.” Dr. West, who retired as Class of 1943 Professor of Philosophy from Princeton University, is now Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminar in Manhattan and the author of many books, including Race Matters and Democracy Matters.
An edited transcript of Dr. West’s talk, “Power and Freedom in Jane Austen’s Novels,” can be read in the 2012 issue of JASNA’s journal, Persuasions No. 34. JASNA is pleased to offer here an audio file of his talk and of the Question and Answer session that followed.
Press the "play" control on the console below to start the talk or the Q & A. (Note: it will begin playing in a few seconds.)
Inspiring and delightful!
"I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."-W. Somerset Maugham, quoted in the excellent book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, with a foreword by Robert McKee. Just open to any random page, and you will find a gem.
"This year is going to be different. This year I refuse to get stressed out during the holidays."
This year we at Austen Addict Central would like to help you keep that promise.
We've got tips to help you melt away the stress of the holidays. And we've got a HOLIDAY READATHON DE-STRESSING PRIZE PACK that may just have your name on it:
**I've got Merry Christmas blend diffusing as I write this. Cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, and mandarin essential oils blended into an indescribably comforting melange of scent. I can just feel the stress melting away...
IT'S SUPER EASY TO ENTER: Just visit the Rafflecopter below.
FOR MORE CHANCES TO WIN: Post a blog comment here that tells us about your favorite holiday de-stressors. (My list is after the Rafflecopter.) a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is international and ends at midnight, Dec. 7th.
HERE's MY LIST:
My go-to read(s) that make me feel right with the world again:
My favorite relaxing indulgence(s) that help me remember what this season is all about:
My favorite ways to shine happiness on others:
Check out more mini-challenges, giveaways, and ways to give back at the annual Holiday Readathon, hosted by WhoRUblog.com.
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The big takeaway is one of those rare things: It's not just a quick fix: it is a profound practice that creates instant results.
Here it is, the "Wonder Woman" power pose that everyone should do two minutes a day. And especially before any situation in which your work or who you are or how you present yourself is to be evaluated by others. You'll walk in feeling confident, powerful, the master of your world.
But how about those times when it's your own inner critic that does the evaluating? I've been doing the Wonder Woman pose before sitting down to work on my novel, and I'm happy to report that it's very effective.
I'm thinking of trying the costume as well.
[photo from Harvard Business School hbs.edu]
When I first read what many consider to be Austen’s most controversial novel, I wasn’t thrilled. Although I have developed, over the years, a deep admiration for this work, in some respects my first impressions of Mansfield Park remain intact today. For Mansfield Park differs from Austen’s other major works in a few significant ways.
The most striking, and, to this reader, the most challenging difference, is its heroine, Fanny Price. She, unlike all of the other Austen heroines, is not someone that most readers would like to be. Even those who admire Fanny’s moral fortitude are more likely to imagine themselves as the “light, and bright, and sparkling” Elizabeth Bennet or the quietly steadfast Anne Elliot. Austen may have thought of Emma as “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” but at least the self-important, self-appointed queen of Highbury has an enviable degree of autonomy and power that few ladies of her day could boast, while Fanny is, as Mrs. Norris enjoys reminding her, always “the lowest and last.” She is also not remotely what anyone would call the life of the party. In fact, I can think of but one instance in the entire novel where the timid, fearful, and nearly humorless Fanny Price is even tempted to laugh at a joke.
In Fanny’s defense, she didn’t exactly choose the path that formed her personality. Not only was she torn from her childhood home (and her horribly negligent parents) at a young age, she was then systematically suppressed and oppressed by the powers-that-be at Mansfield Park. It’s no wonder that such early and continuing life experiences would produce the antithesis of a lighthearted young woman. Fanny thinks seriously, enjoys seriously, suffers seriously.
Mary Crawford, however, is a different story. Lively and brimming with humor, Mary is Fanny’s polar opposite. Although she is set up as Fanny’s rival in love and the anti-heroine of the piece, Mary has a definite appeal that plays with reader loyalties. She may be the worst sort of material girl, but at least she’s up front about it. And despite her self-confessed selfishness, Mary has a great capacity for affection, especially for her brother and sister. She is also compassionate towards Fanny (though her kindness is often cluelessly misdirected). Most important, at least for this reader, Mary has a sense of humor. And quite a wicked one. Who could forget her infamous pun on “rears and vices” or her “What gentleman among you am I to have the pleasure of making love to?” It is interesting to note that Austen scholar Emily Auerbach, author of Searching for Jane Austen, has compared several lines of Mary’s dialogue with lines from Jane Austen’s own letters and makes a convincing argument that in some respects, Mary’s lively social persona may indeed bear a stronger resemblance to the author than her morally upright heroine.
Mary is, above all, a social firecracker, and lord knows the staid atmosphere of Mansfield Park could do with a bit of shaking up. After all, this is a place where the introduction of home theatricals (Quick, fetch my aromatic vinegar!) not only gets Fanny’s knickers in a twist, but also those of her like-minded cousin, Edmund Bertram, the elusive object of her affections.
Which brings to mind two more significant differences between this novel and Austen’s other major works.
First and foremost of the two is Edmund, the hero of Mansfield Park. Second is the aforementioned play. Edmund was, and still is, at least for this reader, the most unappealing of Austen’s heroes. Even Sense and Sensibility’s Edward Ferrars, who not only had the poor taste to engage himself to Lucy Steele, but also misled Elinor into believing he was still on the market, doesn’t even come close to Edmund. Yes, Edmund was kind to Fanny when she was a child. But his obliviousness to her romantic feelings for him, his throwing in her face his blind preference for Mary Crawford, and his self-righteous prudishness, outweigh his often powerless attempts to mitigate Fanny’s subservient role at Mansfield Park.
Then there is the play. While one of the delights of reading Austen is the timelessness of its themes, so is the exoticism of its long-ago manners, mores, and window dressing. Guys in tight pants and long-tailed coats? Yes, please. Carriage rides? Count me in. Entailing an estate? Okay, that needed a bit of explaining. But putting on a play at home for one’s family and a couple of neighbors equals highway to hell? That just doesn’t translate to a modern reader. Even the Mansfield Park characters themselves are split as to whether or not they are doing anything objectionable. One needs to do considerable cultural detective work for any of it to make sense to a twenty-first-century reader. It is only then that one has any chance of understanding that putting on this particular play (Lovers’ Vows) with this particular group of people in this particular situation (especially the female players, who are single, one newly engaged, and whose father is far from home) would be the modern equivalent of a group of sheltered teens planning an unauthorized and semi-wild party in their strict parent's home while said parent was out of town.
Not that I understood any of that when I first read Mansfield Park.
Despite my issues with the novel, I was so smitten with Austen’s other five major works that I knew in my heart to stick with Mansfield Park until it began to reveal its treasures. It is, after all, a work by Jane Austen, whose other productions have continued to delight and reveal new layers of storytelling mastery and wisdom with each successive reading. Which is why I faithfully reread Mansfield Park again and again, trusting that Austen’s genius would eventually become clear to me in this work.
After several readings, new vistas began to open up. Slowly I began to see Mansfield Park as uniquely masterful, despite its challenging heroine and hero. Slowly I began to understand that, in fact, the very act of juxtaposing such a pair with their amoral counterparts in the form of Mary Crawford and her brother Henry was a great part of its genius.
Fanny and Edmund may be a pretty unexciting pair on their own, but coupled with Mary and Henry Crawford, who are unendingly fascinating to watch, Fanny and Edmund are rendered interesting. The respective effects that these two paragons of virtue have on the bad boy and bad girl of Mansfield Park give the story its engine, and thus Mansfield Park takes us on a complex and fascinating journey of rivalries, jealousies, and unlikely pairings and unpairings between Fanny, Edmund, and the Crawfords, with a good deal of conflict thrown into the mix in the form of Edmund’s sisters vying for Henry’s affections. There is an incomparable sophistication to the plotting and style of this novel, which is filled with suspense, a suspense that transports this reader no matter how many times it is read. That suspense is such that I have often wondered to what degree the author herself might have been in the dark as to how the book would end, and which characters would end up with one another.
While the other books in the canon could have only ended as they did, Mansfield Parkstands alone as the one novel that truly “could have all turned out differently,” as stated in the voice-over of the much-debated film adaptation by Patricia Rozema.Mansfield Park is the only one of the canon where we as readers can spend hours, days, or weeks hotly speculating alternate histories and defending our respective points of view: What if Fanny had said yes to Henry? Would he have reformed? Would he have resisted the impulse to soothe his vanity by flirting with Maria? Or would he have carried on as before once he completed his conquest of Fanny? Can true love reform a rake? Or tame a material girl? If, indeed, what they feel is true love? What if Edmund had married Mary? Would he have loosened up a bit more, and would she have learned to be a bit more comfortable with the idea of being the wife of a clergyman? Or would she be forever nagging Edmund to live a more expensive and worldly life?
These are questions we can debate forever, for Mansfield Park cleverly does not provide us with definitive answers but rather leaves those questions tantalizing open.
Mansfield Park also has some powerful sensory description—only Persuasion comes close to it. This element of style is particularly noteworthy, as Austen has often been admired for her economy of words, and her works are typically spare of physical detail. She did, after all, write for her contemporaries, who could fill in the rest with their experiential knowledge of the period. In Mansfield Park, there is still that controlled economy of words, but the physical descriptions which Austen chose to include are woven so skillfully and organically into the plot that they enhance rather than slow down the action. Take the amber cross and the chains, which serve as metaphors for which of Fanny’s friends is all flash and deception, and which is the perfect fit. Or the locked gate and the oppressive heat of the grounds of Sotherton, which denote Maria’s feelings of being closed in and foreshadow her recklessness in freeing herself. Or the treasures in Fanny’s freezing attic room reminding her of the kindnesses of her family and her feelings of obligation to them, while at the same time underscoring the coldness of her isolation and inferior position in the household.
In the face of all that isolation, I grew to respect and even admire Fanny Price. Here is a woman who has been told since childhood that she is the lowest of the low, and yet she has the backbone to stand up to the biggest and most formidable male authority figure in her life, the person under whose very roof she lives, and say No to what he and everyone around her wants her to do—simply because she follows her inner guide. “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” These are Fanny’s words, and they comprise what is perhaps my favorite Austen quotation of all.
It is not only Fanny’s strength that earned my respect, it is her flawed humanity. The more I thought about this troubled heroine, and the more I understood about The Play in its cultural and social context, the less I was able to dismiss Fanny as nothing more than a buzz-killing Miss Perfect. After all, for much of the story, she is eaten up with jealousy as she watches Edmund fall for Mary, most especially during their interactions regarding said play—and who among us has not struggled with that singularly ugly emotion? Fanny’s jealousy and insecurity make her far from perfect, and all too human.
Fanny may not be the life of the party, but she’s got generosity and compassion, even for her worst oppressors. Most of all, she possesses a strength that few could rival. She even has the courage to risk bringing up the slave trade as a topic of conversation with a family who likely benefits from that trade—and is answered with the resultant “dead silence.” She may not excel in the sort of sparkling social conversation that Mary has mastered, but in the final analysis, Fanny’s qualities count for a great deal more.
[NOTE: There is a giveaway connected with this post, which was written for the Jane Austen Society of the Netherlands' celebration of the bicentennial of Mansfield Park. To enter the giveaway of the British editions of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, go to janeaustensociety.nl)
Slate's Troy Patterson has written a fun piece on the long-outlawed practice of dueling and what alternatives a man might resort to today. Such as an Inuit song duel, for example.
It's full of interesting historical tidbits on dueling, which was outlawed in the sixteenth century but endured for three more centuries. Even the flannel-waistcoat-wearing Colonel Brandon of Sense and Sensibility did it. (His line "we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct" was code for facing each other at dawn, swords drawn). Which, I susprect, is the real reason Marianne Dashwood agreed to marry him.