- Being Mrs. Bennet
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- Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice
- And Who Can Be in Doubt...
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
A year has passed since the conclusion of First Impressions, and the marriages made by the Bennet girls are prospering. Kitty, having excelled at her school in Bath, has been invited to join the Darcys in London for Georgiana's first season. The two young ladies, now fast friends, must navigate the pitfalls of London society, a task made far more difficult than Kitty anticipates by a chance encounter at a coaching inn. The situation is further complicated by the interference of three parties: Lady Catherine, who is determined to see both satisfactorily married, the Wickhams, who will do anything they can to leverage their familial connections to the utmost advantage, and Lydia, who, restless and resentful at still being confined to school, resolves to liberate herself. Join the reimagined cast of Pride and Prejudice as they pursue happiness amidst the ongoing obstacles their relatives insist on erecting.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Despite her conviction that the following months would be amongst the longest she had ever endured, Catherine Morland was surprised to discover how very quickly the time past until that fateful day when she would abandon her name for that of Tilney. Between visits from Henry, shopping excursions with Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Morland's not so subtle determination to keep her daughter occupied by improving her housekeeping skills, and Catherine's own faithful letter and diary writing, the days had a way of slipping by quite rapidly, until her constant question became not, “How much longer must I wait?” but, “How am I to accomplish all I must before the wedding date?” However, both inquiries found satisfaction in the end, and not only was the day of her marriage imminent, but Catherine was also as thoroughly prepared for the state as an innocent girl of eighteen could possibly be. Those final days of maidenhood passed with particular speed, as all was made ready and the guests began to arrive. The three eldest Morland children were all home for the occasion, yet despite the packed nature of the parsonage, the family managed to conceive additional room to house not only Mr. Tilney, but also Lord and Lady Seagry, whom they would under no circumstances allow to stay at the local inn, regardless of the Viscount's sincere protests, Mrs. Morland regarding this establishment as unfit for human habitation. How much this opinion coincided with her previous thoughts on the subject, her current feelings being very much under the influence of the rare opportunity and honor afforded by hosting members of the peerage, we will do the good lady the kind service of not questioning.
Catherine tried to present her rather densely printed diary to Henry for his perusal, but that wise gentleman maintained the notion that such secrets were best shared after their marriage, not before. Arguing that following all the excitement of the celebration they would require a reliable source of entertainment to occupy themselves with once they were settled at Woodson, he was easily able to persuade her of the wisdom of this course. It did not go unnoticed by Mr. Tilney that a less doting and trusting lady might have taken umbrage at his assumption that her private thoughts could serve as a source of diversion, and while he blessed his good fortune in securing the affections of such an unaffected woman, he also had the good sense to feel a bit unnerved by what the content of the journal might prove to be. These feelings only solidified him in his faith in the wisdom of waiting until after the marriage to read the diary, as he feared that Catherine's undoubtedly worshipful protestations would only increase his own anxiety to live up to her expectations.
This was an issue of no small import to Henry Tilney. Knowing Catherine's romantic mind as he did, and fully aware of her flattering worshipful stance towards himself, he felt some understandable panic at the notion that the mundane realities of life at Woodson would disappoint her, regardless of her protestations that she was quite resigned to a bucolic English lifestyle. We must forgive Henry for doing her this disservice, as such concerns are most natural in an incipient bridegroom, and though this sole glimmer of weakness in his character might shake some loyal devotees' convictions in his suitability as a hero, it must be acknowledged that it renders him a far more befitting mate for as unlikely a heroine as his bride has been widely recognized to be.
As she prepared to spend her last night in the bedroom of her youth, Catherine was questioned fervently by Sally, who was both entranced by the romance of her sister's impending marriage and sorry to loose the companionship of the sibling to whom she had always felt closest. If Mr. Tilney had been able to overhear the content of their conversation, as troublesome as the fate of all eavesdroppers inevitably proves to be, he would perhaps have gained some of the reassurance that was lacking during his own last evening of bachelorhood.
“Are you not a bit frightened, Catherine? Mr. Tilney seems a very fine man, but how well do you really know him, having spent only intermittent time together this past year?”
“These are daunting questions to be asking me now, Sally, but be assured that I have no fears. I may not have spent endless hours in Mr. Tilney's company, but those I have revealed his character most thoroughly. He is not some creature from a novel, come to sweep me off my feet and then betray a dark internal nature only after marriage. If he were, he certainly would lack the motivation to conceive such a deception. I am no heiress, and his own willingness to thwart his father's wishes in proposing to me proves the sincerity of his feelings.”
“But James thought that Miss Thorpe was disinterested in mercenary attainments, and you saw first hand how that sad affair came to an end.”
“Sally, do not even begin to compare Isabella Thorpe's character to that of my Mr. Tilney's! There cannot be two more different creatures, one making constant protestations that her behavior then negated, while the other has ever been consistent and true. I admit that Mr. Tilney is not the image of the man who I once dreamed of marrying, but the events of the last year have taught me that he is far superior than some romantic hero. I have no misconceptions that everything will always be perfect. Mama has been most persistent in instilling the notion that we, like all couples, will have our trials to bear, but there is no one in this world who I would rather spend this life with, throughout its triumphs and tribulations, then Henry Tilney. When you fall in love, you will understand exactly what I mean.”
And when she walked down the aisle the next morning towards the most disconcerted Mr. Tilney she had ever encountered, the lady on Mr. Morland's arm exuded a confidence and radiant happiness that could have no other effect than to bolster the groom's shattered nerves. The unexpected entrance of the General, shortly before the ceremony began, had steeled his outward resolution, the knowledge that his father had, in all likelihood, graced the assemblage with his presence in order to get a first hand look at Fullerton inciting through indignation the determination to at least appear self-possessed. But it was Catherine's loving gaze that brought on real assurance, and though he knew he might not fulfill all her expectations, the resolution to always do his best by her sufficed to imbue his being with all the contentment belonging to a true hero upon finally achieving his heart's desire.
And so Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and every body smiled, but none more so than the bride and groom themselves. It cannot be denied that to begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well. Some of those interested in the young couple, perhaps provoked by the presence of the cruel General, of whom they had heard so much about, even went so far as to profess themselves convinced that his unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it by improving their knowledge of each other and adding strength to their attachment. It is surely a question to be settled on some other day, so as to leave untainted the felicity of the present occasion, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience. Let the philosophers among you ponder this point; I, like another author, am content to set aside moral undertones in favor of romantic gratification.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Henry Tilney remained at Fullerton for one week, getting to know his new brothers and sisters, enjoying the sincere hospitality of the Morland family, and relishing the time with Catherine, until his father summoned him homeward. Though the General was very well able to part with his younger son for the months during which he was in disgrace, now that amends had been made he found him quite necessary to his comfort. Even had his father not written to bring him back to the Abbey, Henry could not allow himself to neglect his parish much longer, as his absence had been most unplanned. However, while their week of pleasure lasted, the engaged couple were able to make many decisions regarding their impending marriage and enjoy many a casual, and one highly formal, evening of entertainment with the Allens. Mrs. Allen took just as much pleasure in the match – perhaps even more so – than the Morlands, as she fancied herself instrumental in the making of it. After all, it was she who had the good sense to require a pleasant young companion in Bath, and had she not been gifted with such foresight, the engagement could never have come about. Mrs. Allen also took it upon herself to contribute to Catherine’s wedding clothes, an act of generosity which, when he learned of it, did much to increase the General's hope of a future bequest. That gentleman did not know of the very great pleasure Mrs. Allen took in shopping and fashion, these being the occupations that chiefly filled her days, but as he was so enthused by her assistance in the matter, Henry felt he did not have the heart to disabuse him of his unfounded expectations.
The wedding was planned for the end of the year. The young couple would have liked to have married as soon as the banns could be read, but Mrs. Morland insisted that she still had far too much household information to drill into Catherine's whimsical head for the wedding to take place so very soon. Mr. Tilney, while disappointed at the delay, found his future mother's characterization of his bride highly amusing and her purpose most worthy, having a very good notion of Catherine's deficiencies, as well as her charms. The lady in question, however, took umbrage at her mother's words, and if Mr. Tilney was not infallible in her eyes, his humor at the description might very well have been the occasion of their first argument. However, if Henry thought Mrs. Morland justified in her description of the duties the mistress of a parsonage had to perform, there could be no question as to its truth.
The couple parted tenderly, renewing their promises to correspond, with the additional comfort that all need for concealing their letters was at an end. “I shall write to you every day,” Catherine promised with fervor.
Henry smiled in his sardonic way. “If you insist, I shall relish each one, but please do not take it as a waning of my affections if you do not receive responses at such rapid intervals. There is much to do at Woodston, and I am afraid that such superficial missives, which is all you would receive if I set myself to writing daily, would not be to your liking. I think you will find it far more satisfying if I compose two or three truly heartfelt letters a week instead, don't you? Besides, if you must express yourself each day, you had far better put those thoughts and feelings into that journal I still have been unable get you to admit you keep.”
“But I truly do not keep a journal, Henry! I am not such a diligent creature as to be able to maintain such a practice.”
“Then perhaps you should start. It would certainly be an aid to Mrs. Morland's attempts to reform your sadly lacking character.”
“Oh! You do not mean what you say, surely?”
He laughed at her gullibility, “Not in the slightest. But if you do start keeping a journal, I might have the pleasure of seeking it out once we are married and reading all your best kept secrets. Is not such a violation of privacy romantic? Besides, you may even find the practice helpful, once you have all a wife's household cares of which to keep track.”
“If I am only keeping it in lieu of writing to you, I shall gladly show it to you, as it can contain nothing I would not readily profess.”
“And are you so certain that such an attitude will survive marriage? The time may come when your feelings will be very different.”
“Never! I shall only keep a journal if you promise most faithfully to read it.”
“In that case, how can I do anything but concede to your wishes? In return I shall begin a journal as well, one destined for your eyes. It may not be a thrilling as Mrs. Radcliffe's tales, but perhaps you will find it a bit more edifying than history?”
“Will you truly?” He nodded in response. “Now that is what I call romantic! When we are married, we can set aside a time each evening to record and share our thoughts. Will we not be cozy, in your lovely drawing room, side by side in front of a fire?”
Again he laughed, “So you had rather indulge in such domestic comforts than be confined to a dank tower? You have changed these few months, have you not, my Catherine?”
She blushed becomingly while admitting, “I think I have learned the to judge at least a bit better than to crave such adventures for myself. I shall continue to enjoy reading about them, but I much prefer the honest, modern comforts of England to the dizzying emotions of Gothic adventure.”
“Well put, my love, and will it offend you if I admit that I am glad?”
“Not a bit!”
“Excellent,” he smiled, “for the honest, modern comforts to be had in a well-proportioned English parsonage are all I have to offer.”
Catherine only returned to the house several minutes after Henry rode away, having watched him until the very last glimpse of his retreating from could be distinguished and then continued to linger, languidly, staring in the direction which had swallowed his form. Mrs. Morland, who had observed much of this behavior from the parlor window, shook her head at her daughter's quixotic absurdities, but her disapproval was much belied by the smile that graced her face while doing so. When Catherine entered the parlor and lethargically picked up her work, her mother refrained from scolding her into better behavior. Ten children might have robbed Mrs. Morland of much of her own whimsicality, but they had not deprived her of the memories of youth, and she could still vividly recall her own sensations when being courted by Mr. Morland. Catherine, therefore, was granted some lenience, but after two hours of sighing in her chair or, conversely, pacing the room, Mrs. Morland could no longer resist the urge to interfere.
“Really, Catherine, what an example you set for your sisters! You should be celebrating your upcoming nuptials, now that they are guaranteed, rather than mopping about in this feeble manner. Do you not have a great deal of plans to make and work to accomplish? If you cannot find productive occupation, I would be very gratified to have you make an inventory of the store room. We shall have many causes to entertain in the near future, and we must not find ourselves unprepared.”
“I'm sorry, Mama, and I am indeed grateful that General Tilney has bestowed his blessing, but the past week has been so lovely with Henry here, and the house just feel empty without him.”
“I do understand, my dear, but your feelings will not be assuaged by indulging them so fervently. Healthy distraction is what you require. Keep your mind busy, and the time until you next see Mr. Tilney will pass far more rapidly, I assure you.”
“I had hoped to write to him everyday, but he encouraged me to begin a journal instead.” At this thought, Catherine's spirits noticeably rose. “He says he shall read it and, in turn, will keep one himself for my perusal. Is that not a happy thought?”
“Rather impractical, I should say. What use is it to a lady to record her private thoughts if they are only to be aired before her husband?”
“I think it is a lovely idea, Mama, and Henry says that such a practice will prove useful once I have a household to run, as it will give me a place to keep track of the tasks in need of doing.”
“Did he?” Mrs. Morland asked with interest. “I knew I liked your young man. That is a notion of which I can thoroughly approve, and it begins to make sense that he would want to read it. Taking on such a young, flighty thing as yourself, he will be able to provide much useful advise as to how you had best get on.”
“I shall begin at once,” cried Catherine enthusiastically, hastily making her way to the door.
“Not so fast, young lady,” her mother called. “I think you had best start with the store room. It will give you something concrete to record, rather than just your romantic professions.”
“Yes, ma'am,” replied Catherine, a bit downcast.
“And tomorrow you may oversee the commencement of the laundry!” were the matron's parting words, spoken while suppressing a chuckle, as her eldest daughter exited the room,.
“Why do you smile so, Mama?” Sally asked, who had been listening to the exchange between her sister and mother with no small degree of interest. “I cannot imagine anything humorous to be found in the wash. It is a horrid task.”
“It is not the activity I find amusing, my dear, but my own vision of the content such occupation will provide your sister's nascent journal.”
“Oh! I understand,” nodded Sally. “Catherine will write something along the lines of, 'My love for you, dear Henry, is like the store closet, endless in its bounty!' Will she not?”
Mrs. Morland allowed her laughter free rein, “Perhaps not quite the style I had imagined her composing in, but you have captured the essence of my mirth, dear. Well done!”
Friday, April 8, 2011
It would not be accurate to describe Henry Tilney as surprised when he received his father's invitation to present himself at Northanger Abbey. Eleanor's marriage had freed her to correspond as readily as she chose with her disgraced brother, and so he was well informed as to how the General's sentiments had been altering. In fact, though he had not been invited to the actual wedding, he had been one of Lady Seagry's first guests in her new home, during which time the Viscount had pledged to do all in his power to being about a reconciliation between father and son. So when General Tilney's missive arrived in due course, Henry had only to be pleased, not astonished. He proceeded forth at the given date and time to reestablish himself amongst his family and in his old quarters of his ancestral home, and the welcome he received there from his father left nothing to be desired.
It was not until dinner that evening that the General broached the subject of his son's desired marriage. “I understand from her ladyship's report that the Morlands are not as necessitous as I had been previously lead to believe.”
“Eleanor, as usual, is perfectly correct in her understanding, sir.”
“Hmm,” replied the General, and he renewed his attention to his food before choosing to proceed. “And you have been to Fullerton and made the family's acquaintance?”
“Yes, I have, upon the occasion of my requesting Miss Morland's hand in matrimony.”
“But I hear the Morlands would not consent to the match. I admit to be rather surprised by this news.”
“Again, you are well-informed. Though I was disappointed by his stance, I can not blame Mr. Morland for being uncomfortable with an engagement while you stood in opposition to it.”
“Yes, indeed. I admit that his perspective has held great weight in altering my notions of the family.” For several minutes father and son ate in silence before the General plunged further into the matter at hand. “Miss Morland is the eldest daughter of the house?”
“And her elder brother, I understand from Frederick, is not of a robust constitution.”
“I certainly would not choose to describe him so. He seemed hail and healthy to me, though his personality was not one which could be described as forceful.”
“This does not quite concur with your brother's opinion.”
“I think Frederick, living the life of a soldier, might be misled by the more subdued mannerism of one trained to be a clergyman.”
“I see. And, as the house at Fullerton is freehold property, I assume he is to inherit?”
“No sir. There are two brothers before him. If I understand the situation correctly, he will be the recipient of a living currently in Mr. Morland's possession, as well as a portion of equal value.”
“So Miss Morland has three elder brothers, does she?” he confirmed disgruntledly, adding to himself, “That cannot be good for her own prospects,” before asking, “And what do the other two do with themselves?”
“I have never met either, but I believe the eldest is interested in politics, having studied the law, while the next pursues a military career.”
“A military man, eh?”
Perceiving his father's thoughts, Henry clarified, “As you have found the occupation suitable for your own son, sir, you are aware that a careful parent, as Mr. Morland most certainly is, would assure his child's placement in a good regiment that is unlikely to face heavy combat.”
“Yes. Yes, of course,” replied the General, striving to hide any disappointment he felt. “And in regards to the Allens, whom I understand are indeed childless, they take a great interest in Miss Morland, even if she is not a godchild, as I was lead to believe?”
“The Allens have been good friends to Miss Morland, though she does not have any expectation of being favored by them in Mr. Allen's will, if that is your implication, sir.”
“She must cultivate their friendship.”
“As her nearest neighbors, she is a great deal in their company.”
“That is as it should be. I suppose time will tell. I wonder if they have any nephews or nieces?”
“I cannot say, sir.”
“Very well. Let's get to the heart of the matter. What can Miss Morland expect in way of a dowry?”
“Three thousand pounds.”
“It is certainly not a handsome portion, but it is something to secure her future, and perhaps time will increase her fortunes. As I told Eleanor, you are free to be a fool if you like, but I ask you to consider carefully, Henry. You could do a great deal better, with your family and advantages, especially considering your sister's most respectable alliance.”
“I assure you I have given the matter a great deal of thought, sir. Miss Morland is precisely the kind of unaffected young lady that to my tastes. I have know too many society woman, who put on airs and false pretenses in order to attract, and I have found none of them appealing. Miss Morland is all candor and affection. She will make me very happy.”
“Yes, though I do quite comprehend your iclinations, I must admit that she is a pleasing young lady, and her prospects, as I said, if you will cultivate them, may very well improve. I imagine you require some proof of my consent to show to the Morlands?”
“A letter would do very nicely, sir.”
“Very well. I cannot say it is the match I would have liked for you, but you will have your letter. I shall write it in the morning. I expect you are in rather a hurry to deliver the news?”
“Yes, sir. If you find it convenient, I shall leave for Fullerton as soon as your missive is prepared.”
The General emitted a caustic chuckle. “Yes, that is the way with young love. I just hope your enthusiasm lasts when her bloom fades and you find yourself only 3000 pounds the richer for your impetuosity.”
“As you said before, sir, time will tell.”
Thus it was that, not 36 hours later, Henry Tilney came riding into the parsonage grounds, every bit like a gallant knight in days of yore, or better, to Catherine's mind, quite in the guise of Valencourt, though perhaps rather more effective. He was warmly welcomed by the family, and the letter from General Tilney, though its courteously worded yet empty professions were easily seen through, was greeted with glee. Though Catherine, as her communications with Henry had implied, had good reason to believe that this moment of triumph was not far at hand, she nevertheless received the news with all the excitement and enthusiasm one can expect of her, and the sight of her genuine joy reaffirmed in Henry's heart all his best beliefs in her character. What young man could not be moved by a lovely young lady's profession that he has made her the happiest of all creatures? Though the phrase sounds trite on his tongue, Mr. Tilney had little choice but to confess that he too believed himself the happiest of men. We shall leave the engaged couple to dispute whose pleasure was truly the greatest.
Monday, April 4, 2011
My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find it an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?
So what has all this to do with birth announcements? The following passage elucidates:
It was all said very gracefully, and the cards with which she had provided herself, the "Miss Elliot at home," were laid on the table, with a courteous, comprehensive smile to all, and one smile and one card more decidedly for Captain Wentworth. - PersuasionI am beginning to plan out my birth announcement, so I do not have to worry about them after the baby's birth, and in the process I consulted Amy Vanderbilt to learn what the etiquette is regarding this practice. In the process, I came across a section of the book dealing with calling cards. As we Janeites know so well, calling cards were de rigueur in the Regency Era, but they are not commonly encountered in our modern times, so I found this section absolutely fascinating. It begins with a bit of a history of the practice:
Until World War I, "calling" on friends and acquaintances at their residences was an important formal social custom. This duty fell to the woman of the household. If the person she was calling on was not home, she left her husband's calling card with her own on a sterling card tray set on a table in the front hall of every genteel home. Only on certain occasions, such as calls of condolence or congratulations, or calls on the sick, would a man make an appearance and leave his own card in person.Now as I've mentioned before, this book is rather dated. In the digital age, engraving stationary is not a prohibitive expense, and though Amy Vanderbilt cold not foresee the day, I imagine it is safe to assume that she would be reasonably appalled by the modern practice of online gifts coming with gift receipts, often printed in all capitals on super shoddy paper. Furthermore, I am surprised she does not mention the role telephones must have played in eliminating the need for this style of cumbersome visitation. When a person can just pick up a phone and ask when they might stop by, let alone email, tweet, or use Facebook, why stoop by and leave a card? It's a waste of time and gas. Still, it is a quaint old custom. She goes on to address what the cards look like:
Also known as visiting cards, from the French cartes de visite, personal calling cards with matching envelopes have gone the way of many of life's formalities and are no longer thought of as a social necessity. For the most part they are used only by men and women who can afford the luxury of their distinctive look and by those in diplomatic and military circles.
There are several reasons why calling cards are no longer popular: by tradition they are engraved, an expense which is not within most people's budget; they can no longer be used an invitations since their envelopes are smaller than the minimum post office requirements; we have become less rigid when it comes to conforming to stationary protocol and for the most part have replaced the calling card as a gift enclosure with an informal - which allows for more writing space - or with a store's gift enclosure card. Even though calling cards may not be as popular as they once were, it's doubtful they will never completely disappear. As an enclosure card with flowers or any kind of present, nothing can replace their quality and distinction.
In order to distinguish a calling card from a business card, which it resembles closely in size, it's frequently referred to as a social card. While white is the most popular color for a calling card, you may prefer cream color. Either is correct. Calling cards are always engraved in black ink. A script typeface is traditional and is therefore considered by some the correct lettering style for a calling card. Actually any simple face is correct; what you want to avoid are quaint or ornate letters not in keeping with the formality of the card.The next section deals with writing messages on callling cards:
It's up to you whether you have just your name on your calling card or your name and address. If you do include your address, it's engraved in small letters without abbreviations in the lower right-hand corner of your card. If there's any possibility of your moving from where you presently live, you certainly would not want to go to the expense of engraving your address. If you choose not to include your address, you can always handwrite it and/or your telephone number on the card.
While you don't have to write a message on your calling card, to do so is certainly more personal. If you are enclosing your card with flowers to the family of a friend who has died, all that's necessary is a brief message handwritten on the face of the card: "With deepest sympathy." The same thing applies when you enclose your card with a present: "With best wishes for your happiness always"; "Have a great graduation party." In the case of close friends, to personalize your card, put a fine diagonal line through your name and sign above it "Love, Helen" or "Jim" as the case may be. For those you don't know well, you can put a line through your title and first name only and write "Helen" above. Write the recipient's name, or name and address, on the front of the envelope. This is important in case the store mislays the card. Unless the message is personal, the envelope is left unsealed.Now as they were not yet using envelopes for letters, it seems safe to assume, and it also agrees with the way their use is described in Austen, but it does seem very reasonable to assume that members of Regency society did write messages on their cards, as Elizabeth Elliot has done in the passage I quoted at the beginning of this post. Amy Vanderbilt goes on to describe the specific dimensions of calling cards, which are different for men, women, and couples, as well as the specifics of how names should be presented upon the cards.
So what has all this to do with birth announcements? The following passage elucidates:
A nice way to announce the birth of a baby is to attach a small, engraved calling card, bearing the baby's name, to the father and mother's card. Sometimes the baby's card is pink- or blue-bordered and attached to the larger card with a pink or blue ribbon.I have to wonder what Amy Vanderbilt would have to say about the modern practice of sending a picture card. I have absolutely no notion if he would think it "a nice way to announce the birth of a baby" or totally tacky. Your thoughts?
|The diaries of Henry David Thoreau|
The first diary, and by far one of the most enthralling, that I saw upon entering the gallery was Charlotte Bronte's. The entry on display was written when she was teaching at Roe-Head in Belgium, and anyone who has read The Professor (check out my review here), and more particularly Villette, will see massive similarities between this entry and and the content of those novels: an underlying scorn for foreigners, the isolation of being a Protestant in a Catholic world, and, most particularly, the incredible dream world that allowed her to survive the challenges of her existence, written in the overpoweringly beautiful and emotional language that defines her work. For example:
Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, & it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining-room while all the rest were at tea the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, & verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar & these eyes saw the defiled & violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices whence the invader looked out & was not darkened.This line in particular brought Villette to the forefront of my thoughts, specifically the scene in which Lucy Snowe wanders the town in a storm, depression, insomnia, and illness all combining to bring her crisis to a climax:
If the storm had lulled a little at sunset, it made up now for lost time. Strong and horizontal thundered the current of the wind from north-west to south-east; it brought rain like spray, and sometimes a sharp, hail like shot; it was cold and pierced me to the vitals. I bent my head to meet it, but it beat me back. My heart did not fail at all in this conflict; I only wished that I had wings and could ascend the gale, spread and repose my pinions on its strength, career in its course, sweep where it swept. While wishing this, I suddenly felt colder where before I was cold, and more powerless where before I was weak. I tried to reach the porch of a great building near, but the mass of frontage and the giant spire turned black and vanished from my eyes. Instead of sinking on the steps as I intended, I seemed to pitch headlong down an abyss. I remember no more.How I would love to read this diary in its entirety! You can see the excerpt (written in Bronte's famously tiny print) and read a transcription of it here.
Also fascinating were the diaries of Sir Walter Scott, written towards the end of his life. Though these entries were not on display, the audio tour indicates that his thoughts on Austen's writing are recorded within, as well as several complaints about his difficulties and embarrassments of trying to verbally communicate after having suffered a stroke. My only complaint about the exhibit is that instead of showing passages that include such fascinating details, the curator often chose to highlight instead those recounting daily life events. That is the case in Scott's entry, written when he first began recording his thoughts in diary form. While his comments on taking Byron's approach to keeping a diary are interesting, I longed for access to more emotional or intellectual excerpts. You can read and see this page of Scott's diary here.
Although I have never had reason to discuss John Ruskin before on this blog, his diary is another from the 19th century that I was very excited to see. As with Scott's I was a bit disappointed. Two different pages were on display, one that did go far in depicting his eloquence and sensitivity and another that, while very poignant, left me wanted much much more. The latter showed two blank pages, left vacant during the time of his mental breakdown in 1878. When a mind like Ruskin's is under discussion, I would have much rather read the referred to pages that include his observations upon his own mental health and just had the audio tour make mention of these blank excerpts. You can read and see the pages on display here.
A gentleman whose story I have had opportunity to comment upon previously on this blog, when I reviewed the 2006 film Amazing Grace (read it here), was also featured. John Newton's diary shows his struggle in trying to cleans his soul and make it more worthy, echoing the themes that we know so well fromt the hymn that made him famous. You can read his excerpt here. Another extremely touching diary was the one kept by Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, each writing to each other in its pages (reminding me acutely of Dacy and Elizabeth in A Noteworthy Courtship by Laura Sanchez, my review of which you can read here). You can see the excerpt from that testament to romance here.
Several of the diaries that most excited me are unfortunately not available for view online, for example the diary of Author Sullivan, displaying his entry on the day that The Pirates of Penzance premiered (I absolutely adore Gilbert and Sullivan). Though far more modern than I usually allow myself to stray on this blog, I must also mention how fascinating was Albert Einstein's diary, mostly written in mathematical equation, and John Steinbeck's diary, written as a log of his progress while writing The Grapes of Wrath. You can see online Tennessee William's displayed excerpt (I guess I should confess that while I have never been overly enamored of 20th century novels, I do desperately love its plays), highlighting a moment of peace in happiness in an otherwise extremely troubled existence (read it here). And for Georgette Heyer fans who have read Beauvallet (read my review here), there is the diary of a real 17th century English pirate, Bartholmew Sharpe, on display. This massive log, complete with maps of his locations, is one of the most visually impressive in the collection (see it here).
The exhibit is on display through May 22nd, and I urge you to see it if you can get to New York in that time frame. There is also a small gallery displaying the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare, likely to be the only authentic painting of this greatest of playwrights produced in his lifetime, along with several copies. You can visit the Morgan online at www.themorgan.org for more info on current exhibitions and visiting. If you missed it last year, you can still see the video, The Divine Jane, that accompanied "A Women's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy". Bibliophiles everywhere certainly owe J.P. Morgan a dept of gratitude in leaving this wonderful resource to posterity.
Friday, April 1, 2011
While Catherine nursed her heart, Henry improved his home, and Eleanor engaged in those activities most likely to hasten to a close each long and lonely day, General Tilney was amusing himself in town, surrounded by companions whose elevated standing both increased his own consequence and flattered his vanity. Captain Tilney also found himself in London at this time, perfectly happy to pursue the same style of occupation that Isabella Thorpe had been so accommodating as to provide him in Bath. Several of his companions in arms were likewise enjoying the season, as this fashionable regiment was often at leave to do. However, not all equated pleasure with dissipation, and some discovered pleasure was not to be had be all. In particular, one young and worthy member of this band had the misfortune to receive terribly distressing information. His older brother had unexpectedly died, the victim of a carriage accident. The two men had been exceedingly close, the only remaining members of their line, and if other members of the regiment thought Johnson's grief excessive, especially considering the noble title and ample estate he was now to inherit, it did nothing to assuage his own sense of loss. In fact, there was only one aspect to the predicament in which he found any solace, and that was the notion that his increased fortune just might, someday, allow him to marry where he chose, a freedom that had previously been cruelly denied him.
The new Viscount took himself off to his ancestral home, in order to oversea the burial and execute the will of his brother, while Captain Tilney repaired to his father’s fashionable home in Mount Street in order to share the news. He found the General still consuming an ample breakfast, the proportions of which were in keeping with that gentleman's notions of a proper buffet. Knowing that such abundance was not intended for only one, but rather prepared in the name of the luxury of wastefulness, the Captain helped himself to a generous plate and joined his father at the table.
“To what to I owe the pleasure of such an unaccountably early visit, Frederick? Had I known of your intentions, I would have ordered a more worthy repast.”
Frederick smiled at his father's inhospitable tone, it being precisely what he was accustomed to, and with no hesitation launched into the disclosure that was sure to make him a far more welcome guest, “I come bearing important news for you, sir, the like of which is sure to overcome any inconvenience my presence may have caused you.”
General Tilney looked up skeptically from his plate, a mere lift of an eyebrow serving as invitation for his son to proceed.
“Lord Seagry is dead.”
The General paused in his consumption, taking a moment to finish his mouthful and put down his fork and knife, before replying succinctly, “Indeed?”
“Johnson received word last night. His brother was traveling homeward when his carriage overturned, breaking the poor man's neck. He is not thought to have suffered.”
“Well well! These are surprising tidings. Does the new Viscount remain in town?”
“Understandably devastated, he took himself off instantly to attend to family and estate matters. Assuming that in his haste he does not meet with the same fate as poor Richard, he should be installed as master of Gravenly Hall no later than tomorrow.”
The General rose from the table and looked out the window, hands clasped behind his back contemplatively, “I think it would be only appropriate if we paid our respects. What say you, Frederick?”
“I am at your disposal.”
“We will leave in the morning. Nine o'clock sharp. I want to share this news with Eleanor before she hears of it through other means.”
“Very good, sir.”
And so it was that Eleanor's isolation came to an abrupt end. With great surprise did she witness the return of her father, let alone her brother, weeks before she had any notion of seeing either. Like the dutiful daughter she was, her greeting was one of sincere welcome. Upon hearing the reason for their appearance in the neighborhood, however, she was overcome with dismay at the tragedy of this unforeseen event.
“Poor Captain Johnson!” she lamented. “He loved his brother so! Such an unexpected loss must have thoroughly shaken him.”
“Is that all you have to say?” demanded Frederick.
“I suppose that he may at least take solace in knowing that death was swift,” she replied. “Lord Seagry is unlikely to have suffered.” Such words, conveying her very real sorrow, buried her longing for a gentleman more dear to her than any other, and who has been declared, by a most reliable source, the most charming man in the world.
“I declare you are as bad as Johnson! They certainly deserve each other, Father.”
“What your brother is trying to suggest, Eleanor, though with very little grace,” admonished the General, “is that this unexpected event, tragic though it undoubtedly is, might prove greatly to your advantage.”
Eleanor blushed. “I do not know how you can suppose so.”
“Am I wrong in my surmise that you continue to care for the new Lord Seagry, as you once professed to me you cared for Captain Johnson?”
Hanging her head to hide the mounting redness of her complexion, Eleanor uttered a quiet, “No, Sir.”
“Very well then. Frederick assures me that he continues to feel the same for you as he once so prematurely declared.”
Unable to restrain herself any longer, and completely forgetting the flush of emotion so clearly displayed on her countenance, Eleanor rose from her chair and proclaimed passionately, “I have no reason to suppose that he has any lasting intentions towards me, if that is what you suggest, and I think such a conversation entirely premature considering the very recent nature of his bereavement!”
“Come now, Eleanor!” cried an exasperated Frederick. “Surely you cannot be so totally blind to your own best interests!”
“Enough Frederick!” said the General sternly. “Eleanor's modesty and respect for the mourning period is exactly what I like to see in my daughter. Anything else would be unbecoming. However, such scruples would be irresponsible in myself. As your father, it is my duty to place you in the most advantageous situation possible. That being the case, I shall pay my respects to Lord Seagry as soon as propriety allows, and I shall ask him to dine with us here at his earliest convenience. I assume you will not be adverse to seeing him?”
“Very well then. I see no reason to dwell upon this sad matter further. I shall know how to proceed.”
Eleanor was thus left alone to explore the simultaneous sympathetic miseries and repressed flutterings of hope this conversation had instilled in her, while the gentlemen repaired to their respective quarters. Before parting, Frederick questioned his father, “Do you really think that a full six months of morning must be endured before an engagement may be arranged?”
“I certainly think that we must not be the ones to suggest anything less. However, if Seagry's feelings are as you describe, combined with the obvious duty he has, as the very last of his family, to secure the succession, I think he may find it pragmatic to overlook such protocol.”
Frederick smiled at his father's perspicacity and took himself off, anxious to make the acquaintance of a new house maid he had encountered upon arrival at the Abbey.
Unaccountable as it may seem to those of more elevated hearts and minds, sometimes callous avarice proves just as effective, if not more so, in securing the happiness of the truly deserving than resignation and patience. Such was the case for Eleanor Tilney and Daniel Johnson, Viscount of Seagry. General Tilney, master tactician that he was, quickly secured both young people in the assurance of their mutual affections, and, as he predicted, the confines of mourning were easily set aside by a young man in love, while society proved forgiving of such haste when there was a noble estate to be insured. It was not long before the engagement was announced and a wedding planned for late summer.
General Tilney had many reasons to find satisfaction in these circumstances, by far the most important among these being the elevation of his daughter to the peerage. Additionally, he had the gratification of knowing himself instrumental in the making of the match, as he harbored little doubt that, had they been left to their own devices, the couple would have dithered about for years before coming to the inevitable resolution. So elated was he when he first hailed Eleanor “Your Ladyship!” that Eleanor took advantage of his extraordinary good humor to obtain his forgiveness of Henry. Indeed, so pleased was he by the turn of events that he even granted his second son permission “to be a fool if he liked!”, thereby so graciously granting Henry and Catherine all the acceptance they required to secure their own happiness. Once the euphoria of Eleanor's wedding had worn off, the pleasant occupation provided to the General in ascertaining the freehold nature of the Fullerton estate should not be underestimated, though had he discovered it to be otherwise, we cannot suppose that the endeavor would have proven nearly so satisfactory.