Friday, June 24, 2011

Two Weeks of Parenthood ...

C.E. Brock's illustration for Emma -

... and though I'm a bit sleep deprived, I am loving every moment (well, perhaps not the dirty diapers and aching mammaries). Recovery from the cesarean I ended up having is a bit more difficult than I bargained for, but I feel stronger everyday. I'm almost as amazed by my rapidly shrinking stomach (and it's cottage cheese-like texture) as I am by little Miss Eliza herself! Those of you who are parents know all too well how much there is to stand in awe of at this unprecedented period of life. She was born on her due date of 6/10 at 6:10 PM, coming it at 9 lbs 1 oz (hence the cesarean). Such a prompt and orderly little lady! Needless to say, we find her excessively diverting.

Even at this time, Austen cannot be far from my thoughts. I am reading (slowly) the newly released Annotated Sense and Sensibility by David M. Shapard, whose work I adore, and my thoughts inevitably drift to those Austen novels where babies play a role. Most prominently, I keep pondering that scene at the end of Emma in which the Woodhouses meet Frank Churchill upon visiting little Ana Weston. It suddenly strikes me in a manner it never has before, and I wonder if Austen set it up this way on purpose. As you will recall, Mr. Churchill gives a speech in which he praises Jane Fairfax's previously disparaged complexion to Emma, all while the "others had been talking of the child". He says: "Did you ever see such a skin?--such smoothness! such delicacy!--and yet without being actually fair.--One cannot call her fair. It is a most uncommon complexion, with her dark eye-lashes and hair--a most distinguishing complexion!" As I have spent the better part of my time staring at a newborn lately, I must marvel that anyone could make such a statement with a baby in the room, an immediate example of far better skin, with greater smoothness and delicacy than any lady, no matter how beautiful, can ever hope to possess. Is this is yet another intentional example of Mr. Churchill's extreme egocentricity, or could Austen's childless state have possibly rendered her oblivious to the irony of these lines? I certainly prefer the former explanation to the latter, especially as Austen was certainly no stranger to the charms an infant possesses. Her familiarity with the concerns and cares of the new parent are made abundantly clear later in this scene when Mrs. Weston relates her alarm over the baby's health and having considered calling in Perry for consultation:
She believed she had been foolish, but it had alarmed her, and she had been within half a minute of sending for Mr. Perry. Perhaps she ought to be ashamed, but Mr. Weston had been almost as uneasy as herself.--In ten minutes, however, the child had been perfectly well again. This was her history; and particularly interesting it was to Mr. Woodhouse, who commended her very much for thinking of sending for Perry, and only regretted that she had not done it. "She should always send for Perry, if the child appeared in the slightest degree disordered, were it only for a moment. She could not be too soon alarmed, nor send for Perry too often. It was a pity, perhaps, that he had not come last night; for, though the child seemed well now, very well considering, it would probably have been better if Perry had seen it."
Yes, this is a great opportunity to once again laugh at Mr. Woodhouse's hypochondria, as well as the paranoia of the new parent, just as Austen has poked fun at Isabella Knightley's motherly concerns throughout the novel, but only familiarity with the realities confronting new parents could have allowed Austen to leverage her wit so effectively on this subject. In fact, Austen was so well acquainted with the less pleasant realities of child rearing that she seemed to find great satisfaction in not having to take such cares upon herself. She certainly attributes such feelings, or rationalizations, to Emma, as in this explanation to Harriet Smith regarding her feelings on marriage: 
"And as for objects of interest, objects for the affections, which is in truth the great point of inferiority, the want of which is really the great evil to be avoided in not marrying, I shall be very well off, with all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about. There will be enough of them, in all probability, to supply every sort of sensation that declining life can need. There will be enough for every hope and every fear; and though my attachment to none can equal that of a parent, it suits my ideas of comfort better than what is warmer and blinder. My nephews and nieces!—I shall often have a niece with me."
Undeniably, such an arrangement would be more comfortable, but could Austen have experienced such warmer and blinder sensations she certainly would have adapted herself to them, just as Emma surely will upon her marriage to Mr. Knightley. Little of my experiences in these two weeks of parenthood can be described as comfortable, but never have I embraced discomfort so willingly, nor has it ever been more felicitous.

Such are my musings as we approach my daughter's  two week birthday. I'm sure there are many more to come. Poor little girl! To be so quickly subjected of my Austen obsessions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jane in June and Baby Update

For the interested, I'm still waiting for this baby to make her appearance. I've had a multitude of false alarms, but my doctor told me yesterday that I will be induced next Tuesday if she hasn't arrived prior to that point, so it is now just a matter of days. In the meantime Jane in June, hosted once again by Misty of Book Rat, is in full swing and I urge you all to check out the excitement. A piece I wrote a few weeks ago, rushed towards completion as I had my first false alarm, discussing the "What If?" genre and providing an excerpt from Second Glances (read it here), the continuation of First Impressions, made its appearance yesterday, and I hope it is to your liking. There are a multitude of giveaways, a read along, and all things Jane going on, so please don't miss out on this fabulous celebration. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Mistress's Black Veil by M.K. Baxley

Still no baby. While the wait seems interminable, it has given me the opportunity to plow through some neglected reading. One of the books I had sitting in the TBR pile is The Mistress's Black Veil by M.K. Baxley. I have avoided Ms. Baxley's books in the past because I knew that they were racier than what I typically enjoy (the fact that I usually don't go for modernization, and that is what was previously available, had something to do with it too), but this book had received so many great reviews, and in such a short amount of time, that I decided to check it out. I think if the product description of the book had been more accurate, I probably wouldn't have bothered. However, that being said, I'm not sorry I read it. A discussion of the story's plot will help illuminate this somewhat mixed reaction.

This is basically a tale of Elizabeth Bennet becoming Mr. Darcy's mistress. Five years after the proposal at Hunsford, the Bennet family, following a multitude of deaths, are horribly impoverished, driving our heroine to make that most desperate of decisions by joining the demimonde. Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, continues to mourn for the lady who inadvertently stole his heart, losing himself in his business interests, which has resulted in his accumulation of a fortune surpassing the Duke of Devonshire's. At the urging of his cousins, he finally concedes to the need for female companionship and attends the ball at which Elizabeth, disguised as Sofia Molina, a Spanish lady who never removes her mask and veil, makes her debut. As she reminds him of Elizabeth, the two quickly enter into a contract, and soon this "business" relationship blooms into love.

Now had I read such a synopsis before buying this book, I would never have made the purchase, and as I began to read and discovered what the plot actually was, I admit to fearing for the very worse. But besides a few scenes, the storyline really isn't as lewd as you would expect, especially considering the subject matter. I have read many far more sexualized Pride and Prejudice reimaginations that follow much more innocent story lines. I was actually rather impressed by how Ms. Baxley took these dramatically altered circumstances and manipulated them so that the course of Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship remained remarkably true to the original tale. That being said, the obviously episodic writing of the story (I believe it was first published at A Happy Assembly) was a little frustrating. Each chapter begins and ends with a first person narration recap and conclusion, while in between the level of dramatic content almost overwhelms. Putting that aside, I was pretty entertained. I read the book in a single day, it was light and compelling, and it succeeded in keeping my mind off the elephant in the room - my enormously bulging belly. If you enjoy darker and more sexual Pride and Prejudice retellings, you will probably greatly enjoy this book. If the notion of Elizabeth selling herself to the highest bidder makes you want to scream, I would probably look elsewhere for your next read. With so many great "What if?" stories out there these days, we readers have the luxury of picking and choosing precisely those which cater most to our individual tastes.