Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Best Austen Quotes, today at Austen Authors

This is my post for 1/24/17 at Austen Authors:

My laptop is on the verge of death and unbearable to use, and I am praying for the new one's daily arrival. Coping with a distorted screen and often unresponsive keyboard, I attempted to write about the politics behind the empire waisted gown, but the subject proved too complex to pursue amidst the technical complication, and I abandoned it in frustration (I will try to tackle it again for my post next month). So instead of a more scholarly offering, today I am falling back on a staple tactic of my earliest blogging days: when in doubt, make a list. This I think I can handle despite the cantankerous computer. I've tackled a variety of Austen rankings in my time, but I never have offered up my absolute favorite quotes from each of the novels, probably because it is an entirely partial and prejudiced endeavor. If I engaged in this exercise again next week, I would probably land on different selections. Nevertheless, here are the lines that currently stand out most prominent in my mind, ranked according to my momentary preference.

#6 - "Mr. Bertram," said she, "I have tidings of my harp at last. I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so often received to the contrary." Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise. "The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant, we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but this morning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher's son-in-law left word at the shop." - Mansfield Park
Hayley Atwell, 2007.
I just love this line (Mary gets all the best in this book). It reveals something very quintessential about Austen world.
  • Runner up: "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."

 

#5 - Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.

In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he had revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared, might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before. - Sense and Sensibility

Jean Marsh, 2008.
I adore Austen's narrative voice, and this bit of commentary on Mrs. Ferrars beautifully critiques the character's absurdity. It makes me laugh every time I read it.
  • Runner up: "Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that?--They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something." - Fanny Dashwood

4. "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. -- Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do." - Pride and Prejudice
Benjamin Whitrow, 1995.
There are so many fabulous lines and zingers in the book, but these three, short sentences strike me as both powerful and pivotal, excellently demonstrating the ruling dynamics of the Longbourn household.
  • I have no less than four runners up for this novel. All are great:
    • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
    • "I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh." - Elizabeth Bennet
    • "Kitty was no discretion in her coughs ... she times them very ill." - Mr. Bennet
    • "Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?" - Lady Catherine

#3 - "Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Mr. Knightley.

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me."

"Will you?" said he, offering his hand.

"Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."

"Brother and sister! no, indeed." - Emma

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, 2009.
I had the hardest time choosing a single quote for Emma, as it is chock full of masterfully constructed text. In the end, I selected the above exchange rather than a single line, because the moment is magnificent.
  • Runners up:
    • "Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very 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 any body else." - Miss Woodhouse ("Badly done," Emma!)
    • "You must go to bed early, my dear—and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.—You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel." - Mr. Woodhouse
  
#2 - "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." - Northanger Abbey
JJ Feild, 2007.
Mr. Tilney has maybe the best dialogue of any character Austen created. I chose this line because it is so quotable. I once seriously considered painting it over my bookshelves (crappy handwriting is all that stoped me).
  • Runner up (from the same chapter): "My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous."
  
#1 - "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever." - Persuasion
Ciaran Hinds, 1995.
The best words Austen ever wrote, totally ROCKED by Captain Wentworth. They make me want to jump up and cheer.
  • Runner up: "My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." "You are mistaken," said he gently, "that is not good company; that is the best." - Anne Elliot and Mr. Elliot

So what are your favorites? Do you take issue with any of mine? Let us indulge ourselves in frivolous debate! Come join the fun at Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net/six-best-austen-quotes/.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Seduction of the Waltz, today at Austen Authors

So the holidays lasted a little longer than they were supposed to. Unfortunately, I'm not posting original material here today, but rather turning your attention to my latest Austen Authors post. The Seduction of the Waltz was inspired by my time in Vienna over the New Year. I had a lot of fun putting this together:


Thomas Rowlandson's frontispiece for "A Selection of Most Admired and Original German Waltzes" by Edward Jones, 1806
"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! -- There is nothing like dancing after all. -- I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies."
"Certainly, Sir; -- and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. -- Every savage can dance."
Mr. Darcy's snide retort to the oblivious Sir William Lucas might have had a different resonance with Austen's contemporaries than it does with modern readers. I always read it in the past with racial overtones, and I think a lot of modern scholars put a post-colonial interpretation on it. The word "savage" undeniably has its colonial implications, yet it is possible Mr. Darcy refers not to the indigenous people of distant continents, but rather to Europe's very own German and Austrian peasantry, spinning about scandalously wrapped in each other's arms. You see when Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, Regency society was just being hit with the dance revolution called the waltz. This infiltration from the continent was considered just as libidinous in its time as the pelvic thrusts of Elvis Presley were in his, maybe even more so. Society seems to have had three main objections to the waltz: it required very little training (always dangerously egalitarian), the "closed hold" brought the bodies of dancers together into a heretofore unheard of degree of intimacy, and it eliminated the passing of one's partner to another, keeping a couple anti-socially focused on only each other throughout a set. Jane Austen herself probably never danced a true waltz, being thirty-six and a confirmed spinster when the dance finally made its official debut at Almacks in 1812. Nevertheless, many Austenesque fiction writers can't resist the urge to portray our heroes and heroines engaged in a waltz. We're in good company, as neither can Disney. Admittedly, one can't quite float on air through the steps of a country line dance (nor maintain a solid conversation), but I'm not sure that's enough to explain the unique grasp the waltz has on our imaginations. It takes a very special dance to hold humanity entranced for hundreds of years, and it's ubiquity shows no signs of abating.

I was so fortunate as to spend New Year's Day at the stunningly beautiful Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Hapsburg imperial family. It is hard to visit without having your thoughts turned to the waltz. Walking through the Great Gallery one can vividly imagine the dancers at countless balls across the centuries, twirling about in fabulous gowns and frock coats (they do not allow photography at the schloss, but you can enjoy an excellent virtual tour of all the rooms open to the public at the Schönbrunn website). This is where the waltz as we know it was born, amidst the dazzling splendor of 18th century Vienna, but its ancestry is far more humble. The waltzer, a dance for two persons, first developed around the mid-18th century amongst the alpine peasantry in Germany and Austria. At the same time the ländler, another couples dance, became popular with peasants across the Alps, from Switzerland to Slovenia (see it performed in The Sound of Music above). Aristocrats, for generations constrained to performing intricate and controlled dances like the minuet and allemande, seem to have developed something like envy for the freedom allowed their underlings, and the gentleman are said to have snuck off to the parties of their servants in order to indulge in the new fad. Eventually a new form of allemande developed in Vienna, backed by the likes of Mozart, melding the traditional court dance with that of the peasantry. The allemande was always characterized by intricate arm formations and hand grasps with one's partner. Now the close hold was introduced. A few more refinements from the dance masters - less stamping, more gliding - and the waltz was well on its way to arguably being the biggest dance craze of all time. By the beginning of the 19th century, everyone was waltzing except the Brits.

The Napoleonic Wars are certainly much to blame for delaying the waltz's arrival in London, but society in England was also more conservative than that on the Continent. Dances such as the Duke of Kent's Waltz (see it performed above) were popular at the turn of the century, but these received their names from the act of spinning with one's partner in a tight circle and did not incorporate the closed hold. It wasn't until after the Regency officially began that the waltz had it's shocking debut. That first waltz at Almack's was still very different from the forms codified a few decades later, possibly resembling the new form of allemande more than anything else. A version of this survives as a traditional German folk dance and can provide some notion of what it might have looked like. Compare the video of it below to that of the baroque allemande to get an idea of how the peasant's waltzer and ländler influenced the dances of the European royal courts.



Whatever it looked like (we will probably never know for certain), the scandal was very real. Even the infamous Lord Byron, no prude by any means, was appalled by the dance and wrote a poem expressing his horror entitled The Waltz in 1813, the same year the world was introduced to Lizzy and Darcy (read the poem in it's entirety here). This is an excerpt just to give you an idea of how overtly sexual Byron considered the dance:
1815 print by Henry Meyer after G. Williams, courtesy of The British Museum
But ye—who never felt a single thought
For what our morals are to be, or ought;
          Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,
Say—would you make those beauties quite so cheap?
Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,
Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,
Where were the rapture then to clasp the form
From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?
At once love’s most endearing thought resign,
To press the hand so press’d by none but thine;
To gaze upon that eye which never met
Another’s ardent look without regret;
Approach the lip which all, without restraint,
Come near enough—if not to touch—to taint;
If such thou lovest—love her then no more,
Or give—like her—caresses to a score;
Her mind with these is gone, and with it go
The little left behind it to bestow.
The sanctity of feminine virtue aside, the waltz was in England to stay. The politicos and socialites who flocked to the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815 came home fully enrapt. The danced received the highest sanction in July of 1816, to great uproar. First came the announcement on the 11th of the publication of dance master Thomas Wilson's A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing, the Truly Fashionable Species of Dancing (which you can view in its entirety here). This codification of the dance for polite society must have been all the Regent was waiting for, as a mere three days later he held a ball at which the waltz was said to be danced for the first time by the royal court (The London Times, 16 July, 1816). Below see an instructional video for the version of the dance as described by Wilson (skip to the very end to watch the steps danced in succession).


For decades to come the waltz would continue to be condemned for it's crudeness and sexuality. Even Queen Victoria's firm advocacy would not completely silence detractors. Would we like the waltz so much if it had? For we cannot deny, even from our jaded, modern perspectives, that the waltz is sexy. It always has been and always will be, even in a world where twerking is socially acceptable. Maybe especially in a world with twerking. What would Mr. Darcy say if he could see that?
Let's end on a far prettier image and enjoy one last video, this one filmed at Schönbrunn, both in front of the palace and in the Great Gallery. It's a beautiful demonstration of the art and elegance with which this once rustic dance was eventually imbued. The music is the Kaiser Waltz by the waltz master himself, Johann Strauss, and features a ballet interpretation of the music as well as Viennese waltzers. The lead ballerinas are in the guises of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (better known as Sisi), who ruled the Austrian Empire for most of the 19th century.


For more information on the history of the waltz in England, please read Cheryl A. Wilson's excellent essay, The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812, to which this piece owes a great debt. I also relied on this post which provides a broader overview of the history of the waltz.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How far have we come? Princess Charlotte's death in childbirth

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales
by George Dawe, oil on canvas, 1817
I'm not going to devote the time this topic deserves. That's more of a promise to myself than anything else, but I have been inspired to speak on the subject, and I will do so, even if I do not go as deep as the topic warrants.

I spoke not long ago of Princess Charlotte of Wales when I was sharing my adventures in London at the National Portrait Gallery (read the post here). She died after an excruciating breach labor to a still-born son which use of forceps could have prevented, but such intervention was against the philosophy ascribed to by her attending physician. This national tragedy sparked a new interest in birthing practices amongst members of the medical establishment: an entirely male body. Prior to this time, many doctors were content to leave the mysteries of childbirth in the capable (if often dirty) hands of the midwives. The effect of childbirth becoming such an intense focus of study had many positive effects but also many drawbacks, and we remain to this day subject to the inadequacies of a field of study conducted almost entirely by those who have no first hand knowledge of the experience.

Two articles in the news lately grabbed my attention. The first's headline is one that I'm sure ensnared many. 100 Women in 2016: Researching the female discusses the lack of knowledge we have in mapping the nerve endings in female genitalia as opposed to the swath of information available on the male. This dearth of knowledge leads many in gynecology and obstetrics to attribute responsibility for sexual dysfunction on the patient, as they do not understand the medical cause. The second article, Cesarean births "affecting human evolution", regards a study conducted in Austria demonstrating an increase in the number of women suffering from fetopelvic disproportion, or FPD, and attributing it to medical intervention's effect on the evolution of humanity. Basically, because cesarean births have enabled women who (like Princess Charlotte) may not otherwise have survived and delivered healthy offspring to do so, a genetic predisposition for a narrow pelvis is being passed down from one generation to the next, increasing the number of women who aren't able to deliver vaginally because the baby's head is too large to pass through the mother's birth canal. The result is the cervix doesn't dilate all the way, and labor fails to progress naturally.

This next paragraph is somewhat gruesome. Be warned.

Princess Charlotte went into labor at 42 weeks and 3 days on the evening of November 3, 1817. Having followed her prescribed diet, called a "lowering" treatment, she was weak due to inadequate nourishment and bloodletting. Mild contractions came at 8 to 10 minute intervals. Her cervix was considered to be a "half penny dilated," whatever that means (I could find out, but I'm not taking the time to do so). Around 3 am the princess had a violent vomiting spell, and important state personages were called into attendance. At 8 o'clock in the morning on the 4th she was only 3 centimeters dilated, and the labor continued to progress slowly. The following day at noon, after the presence of meconium was detected, doctors began to fear for the cild's life. A 9 pound, still-born boy was not delivered vaginally until 9 pm on the 5th of November. Charlotte had been in labor for 44 hours. Thirty minutes later she began hemorrhaging. The doctors were able to extract the placenta, and for a time all seemed relatively well, yet by the 6th she was dead, having experienced a series of severe spasms (follow the link for a detailed account of Charlotte's labor and death: http://www.innominatesociety.com/Articles/The%20Death%20of%20Princess%20Charlotte%20of%20Wales.html).

This is in many ways so similar to what happened to me when I gave birth to my daughter, yet with all the benefits of modern medicine that a 19th century princess could ever imagine. My daughter wasn't breach, but she was facing backwards, so all my labor pains were in my back and very intense. I could have blessed the anesthesiologist when I received the epidural. From then on my pains were not acute, but the labor didn't really advance. I had discussed with my doctor upon first being pregnant my doubts about being able to deliver vaginally, and she must have recalled my warnings, because after only one round of pushing at 8 centimeters with no progress she looked at me and said, "How wed are you to the idea of vaginal birth, because this is going to take a very long time. A mere hour later I had my daughter, but I could not hold her for several because of hemorrhaging. Sound a bit like Charlotte?

The reason I doubted my ability to give birth naturally was many fold. First, I was so fortunate as to have a gynecologist once who thankfully bothered to mention that I had unusually narrow cervix. Second, my husband and I were both the products of mothers who only had cesareans. Both are small women who delivered large babies. Third, my husband has one of the biggest heads I've ever seen. I mean, he can hardly buy a hat. I considered the matter and concluded it was quite likely I would not have a natural childbirth. Every medical expert I spoke with fervently disagreed.

I am now thinking of having another child. My hope is that this new research will allow me to point out a body of evidence to my new Swiss docs that helps them take my concerns about a VBAC seriously. My fear is that it will increase an already strong cultural reluctance towards assisted births of all sorts. I'm not particularly concerned about receiving proper medical attention if I need it, but I would rather avoid the rigamarole of waiting for the doctor to see the evidence before his or her eyes that I have been trying to explain for months and just get the whole ordeal over and done. First world problems, I suppose, but they take up a great deal of my attention.

So these are my thoughts on this sunny Tuesday morning. Doctors need to be less satisfied with their breadth of knowledge and start filling in the massive holes left by centuries of male-dominated medicine. In the meantime, please listen to your patients. Particularly when it comes to the female body, we are each so unique that it is impossible to boil us down into neat categories and distinct experiences, no matter how hard pregnancy manuals might try. It's disgraceful I should be able to compare the birthing practices of two hundred years ago to those of today and find doctors still subject to the same prejudices.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Crafty Regency Christmas, today at Austen Authors

Come join me today at Austen Authors for my post, A Craft Regency Christmas. Here's the beginning of the post. Follow the link for more.

Wheew! I just wrapped up the NaNoWriMo madness, and now it’s time to bring on the holidays!
I can’t help but get crafty at this time each year. My fingers seem to literally itch for a needle and thread, a pile of scrapbooking supplies, or whatever else I’ve found on Pinterest to inspire me. Ah, Pinterest! What did we ever do without you? So as my attention turns away from writing and onto paper folding, I thought I would do some research on Pinterest for Austen/Regency inspired craft projects to decorate your home with this holiday season. I’m not sure if I will personally get to any of these projects this year as I am in midst of appliquéing a set of Twelve Days of Christmas ornaments, but all are going on the “maybe someday” list, of which I have such a treasure trove.
The first project I will definitely get to someday, as I have a proliferation of inherited, crochet doilies (not all of which I’m willing to cut up – but some seem perfect for this!) and have yet to find a use for them. Why not turn them into a garland for use on any festive occasion? This is an item that you can buy on Etsy from DaisiesBlueShop, but I think it would be quite easy to make. The key is getting your hands on the doilies, if you haven’t a convenient stash on hand. Now you have an excuse to go antiqueing: you’re welcome!

Read the rest of the post at Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net/a-crafty-regency-christmas/.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NaNo Update: My parody of Carroll's parody of 'The Sluggard" by Isaac Watts

Just popping in to share a but of fun I've been having with my NaNoWriMo story, Darcy in Wonderland. I'm just under 35,000 words as I write this, a bit behind after a crazy viral thing that took me down for four full days last week, but still on track to finish 50,000 words before the end of the month. Some of the hardest earned words in those 35,000 are my responses to the many poems Lewis Carroll includes in Alice in Wonderland. I just got though the episode with the Mock Turtle, which is very verse heavy, and I'm in need of a short reprieve. 

In that scene Alice is asked to recite a famous moral poem by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and the words come out quite nonsensical instead. Thought I do a quick side by side comparison of Watts' original, Carroll's version, and my own Austen inspired variation. This is very rough still, but I'd still love to hear what thoughts you have on it: please share them!

First, Isaac Watts:

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading. 

                                                                    (1715)

Next:, Mr. Carroll's, with interrupting dialogue omitted:

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon;
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by eating the owl. 
                                                                    (1865)

And my own:

’Tis the voice of the Lobster: In tones not muted,
‘Take no pleasure in novels? Intolerably stupid!’
Like a lady when shopping for muslins and lace,
Our minds shout agreement, even as our hearts race.
‘Little boy and girls should be tormented,’ he said,
But only so long as it is good for their heads:
‘To torment or instruct: words found synonymous.’
All precision of language has now gone amiss.”

“I passed by his garden, and to my surprise,
Something shocking indeed was happening inside.
‘Indeed! Of what nature!’ The questions were fret.
‘More horrible than anything we’ve met with yet.’
‘Good heaven! A riot? Give me peace of mind!’
‘I expect murder and everything of that kind.’
 Laughing, ‘The riot is only in your own brain!
The confusion there might drive anyone insane.’
                                                                              (2016)