Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Mourn like Jane Austen Part Two: Write a Poem

The hardest part of grief is that it never goes away. With time, it might become less acute, but then something happens to remind you of the person lost - a joke, a song, a scent - and the pain comes crashing down upon you as intensely as when they first died.

The following is a poem composed by Jane Austen in honor of Mrs. Lefroy, a dear friend and mistress of nearby Ashe Rectory, who died on December 16, 1804. The date is Austen's birthday, and three days ago, when our cousin dies, it was my father-in-law's birthday. Many things will remind him of the departed in the years to come, but I imagine there thought must be most acute and melancholy on his birthday, which now must always feel somewhat tainted, just like Jane's. The poem was completed four years after the death, and we can see how intense the loss remained. In someways, mourning can become harder with time, I suppose: when death first strikes we cry and lament, but only with time cane we truly appreciate the impact of living without someone important to us. I think Jane conveys the nature of grief exceedingly well in this poem, one of my favorite she wrote.

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 -- my Birthday.

The day returns again, my natal day; 
What mix'd emotions with the Thought arise! 
Beloved friend, four years have pass'd away 
Since thou wert snatch'd forever from our eyes.-- 
The day, commemorative of my birth 
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me, 
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth. 
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!-- 

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise 
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind. 
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!-- 
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!-- 

At Johnson's death by Hamilton t'was said, 
'Seek we a substitute--Ah! vain the plan, 
No second best remains to Johnson dead-- 
None can remind us even of the Man.' 

So we of thee--unequall'd in thy race 
Unequall'd thou, as he the first of Men. 
Vainly we wearch around the vacant place, 
We ne'er may look upon thy like again. 

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgant Power,-- 
--Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!-- 
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour, 
Let me behold her as she used to be. 

I see her here, with all her smiles benign, 
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet. 
That voice and Countenance almost divine!-- 
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.-- 

I listen--'tis not sound alone--'tis sense, 
'Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul. 
'Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence 
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole. 

She speaks; 'tis Eloquence--that grace of Tongue 
So rare, so lovely!--Never misapplied 
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong, 
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue's side. 

Her's is the Engergy of Soul sincere. 
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign, 
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear, 
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.-- 

Can ought enhance such Goodness?--Yes, to me, 
Her partial favour from my earliest years 
Consummates all.--Ah! Give me yet to see 
Her smile of Love.--the Vision diappears. 

'Tis past and gone--We meet no more below. 
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o'er the Tomb. 
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go! 
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!-- 

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate, 
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair 
From this connection in our Earthly date. 
Indulge the harmless weakness--Reason, spare.--

Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Mourn like Jane Austen Part One: Sense vs. Sensibility

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen first published novel, begins with death. Our introduction to the two heroines is through the opposing manner each lady copes with death, establishing the theme of the story: Marianna represents the cult of sensibility, which encourages excessive emotionalism, while Elinor is the sensible sister, unwilling to allow her own sorrow overwhelm to her. Austen tends to look to births, deaths, and marriages - the major life events - to provoke her plots, and she does this particularly well in S&S, for what better way to get to know a character than through their behavior, so particularly revealing in times of heightened emotion? By showing Elinor to be better at handling death, Austen also demonstrates how she is better equipped to handle life, as the events of the story amply bear out.

With the death of a dear cousin two days ago (really more than a cousin - she grew up in close proximity to my mother-in-law, and both ladies were only children), I have had a new opportunity to observe and reflect on how different people express their grief. I'd like to share an example with you.

My mother-in-law called to tell me her cousin had died. Words were unnecessary to express her shock and pain. The loss is grievous, and as she she spoke of the basic details regarding what happened, how and why, the stringently suppressed tears in her voice conveying the sudden wound from which she suffered. We tried to find the good in our loss, tried to think what to do next, surrendering to the inevitability of fate and looking towards the world without our dear one. It's a quiet way to greet death: submitting to it. This is what Elinor does when her father dies.

An hour or two later I called my mom, an action I typically have cause to do every hour or two. I shared our sad news. My mother knew the departed through family gatherings and birthday parties, but they were not close acquaintances. However, my mom and Marianne are two of a kind, and she burst forth with exclamations of horror and despair. You really should hear the quality of my mother's gasp, for it's remarkably harrowing. Struck at once by the contrast in these two maternal figures' responses, I laughed. Now, my mother knows me excessively well, and she did not take offense at such an inappropriate reaction, and it was all far too much like a Jane Austen novel for me to contain myself. The foundations for some yet unwritten scene lays in that moment.

Those who have been paying attention know I look to Austen for guidance in life. Persuasion has long been my favorite of her novels because Anne Elliot has for decades been my idol. I have diligently tried to model my behavior off of the near perfect example set by the resigning, sensitive, and intelligent heroines Austen created, almost always falling far short. Often I have complained of my Marianne-esque tendencies, no doubt taught to and fostered in me by my mother, and I have striven against nature to be more like Elinor. When next my mother-in-law and I search for the good in this tragedy, I will try to remember that I handled it with sense rather than sensibility. We've come a long way, baby! Far more impressive are the actions of the departed's daughter, who has been remarkably pragmatic and functional throughout the last 48 hours. It is my hope to have such presence of mind on the awful day I have to cope with the loss of one of my own parents. Hopefully, I have many more years to imbibe Austen's teachings before being so tested.

It occurs to me Austen provides a great deal to advice to guide mourners, just as she does for most of life's challenges. I may do another post or two on the topic, if my brain doesn't wander to far before I get around to it. Maybe these musing will be able to help someone else someday. One never  knows.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

After the fast, the feast: Great New Reviews!

Just when you feel your books have disappeared from the collective consciousness, a sudden burst of good reviews spurt forth and quench the thirst for feedback. I really should have put up this post last week (where did the last two weeks slip away - this is supposed to be the low key time of year!) when a review of First Impressions first appeared on Indie Jane, a wonderful website dedicated to the promotion of independently published austenesque. Yet it took a foot of snow to get me to sit in front of the computer and focus long enough to write it! So be it. There was a giveaway, which is unfortunately now over, but there is some solace to be found! A review of Second Glances is now posted, including a giveaway of that novel. Do check out both reviews at the links below!

First Impressions also received some attention from Jody of the aptly named blob, A Spoonful of Happy Endings. My kind of place, right down to the Mary Poppins silhouette! There is a beautiful review and also an interview, so please check it out and leave your thoughts.

I have posts I already intended to write but have yet to get to, sitting in the backlog of my brain. I picked up a new project this year and I'm still getting used to managing the additional constraint on my time. I trust I will adapt, and blogging will proceed at normal intervals, rather than fits and starts. Maybe I'll pound out a long overdue review tomorrow, when I'm sure to still be snowed in. Maybe 14 inches! That's the most we've ever had in this house. Kind of exciting, but I wish we weren't still waiting to repair the leaky roof. Fingers crossed on that one. Happy and safe nor'easter everyone!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polar Vortex, a Brave New Year, and More!

Happy New Year! So wonderful to finally be sitting in front of my computer once more and giving some much needed attention to my poor, neglected blog. I truly intended to write posts over the holidays, even setting alarms to remind myself, but once I escaped regular life there was no hope for it. The good news is that I left the blog in a far healthier state than it had been in 2012. Generally, 2013 was the year I finally reclaimed my Jane time post baby. It took me a year and half to learn how to meld my identity as a Janeite with that of a mother, but I think I've finally figured out how to balance it all. I can't but look back on the past year with a great deal of pride. I feel like I've started to really find my own voice as a writer, and my productivity has been tremendous. The downside is that I was totally exhausted when we arrived at my in-laws in Indiana on December 19th, and from that point, through a trip to Texas, and continuing into a most slothful week at home, I barely touched a computer. Now I'm recharged and ready to rev back up. I think.

It's FREEZING outside! I laughed when I first heard the term Polar Vortex thrown about - I mean, to
what melodramatic heights will our weathermen not climb? - but my daughter cried as we walked into school this morning, it was so cold. 10 degrees colder to day in Wilmington, DE than Anchorage, AL. Crazy! I convinced my husband to take a car to the train for work, a thing I am almost always encouraging him not to do, but this weather is no joke. Thank goodness it's only one day, and I have a toasty warm house in which to hide from it. My heart goes out to those who don't. May everyone who needs it find shelter today.

As I said yesterday, "Whatever shall we talk about now the holidays are over? It will have to be the weather, which is very dull, indeed." Unfortunately, my 2 year old can't appreciate my wit, though we're working on it. The Pride & Prejudice play set (which I reviewed here) that she received for Hanukkah looms large amongst the favorite gifts she received. She also got a copy of the Cozy Classics Emma, which will have to be reviewed sooner or later. Another winner was the Fresh Beat Band costumes I made her (she loves them, it's a Nick Jr. show, if you've never heard of it think Glee for the under 7 set). I know these have nothing to do with Austen, but bear with me for a second. I got the idea from this blog post, found through Pinterist, and used a basic pinafore pattern, to make two reversible costumes, one for each member of the band. I got the iron on decals from Nick Jr. It was so easy, extremely cheap (I think I spent $20, mostly on iron-on paper), and one of the most preferred offerings, amongst far too many, that Eliza received. Excuse the wrinkles, for they stand testament to my motherly triumph. At the poor camera quality you are welcome to take offense.

But Eliza was not the only one to make out big this Christmas. I received, to my great surprise, an Austen book I had no notion existed. My quilting mother-in-law found  Jane Austen Quilts Inspired by Her Novels by Karen Gloeggler. The books appears part travelogue, focused on a trip to Chawton to see the quilt Austen made (a pattern to copy her quilt is included), and part sewing manual. More on this come? Perhaps. I think someone is trying to pass on the quilting bug. We'll see if works. Maybe I'll just do a post on the quilt ...

There is some business to which I must attend. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah dah! The winner of my Jane Austen Christmas Cards is Luthien84! Congratulations! Also, my books received some attention while I was neglecting all and sundry. First, Holidays at Pemberley was reviewed on December 22nd at vvb32 Reads. It was then lauded by Mrs. Darcy herself on the 28th at Laughing with Lizzie. These were precious Christmas gifts, indeed. Thank you, ladies!

The only other item I feel must be shared is my discovery of a contemporary Regency Romance writer who is quite Heyer-esque in feel, if a bit more mystical. I cruised through three of Mary Chase Comstock short novels published, but  of them while traveling. Lots of fun. Probably wont review them, but I had to make a pitch in their favor. Easy reading for the cold nights ahead, and rumor has it she's working on a P&P sequel. I'll have to keep an eye out for that.

BURR! It's cold.