Monday, July 26, 2021

Ruminations on and a story of Sense and Sensibility

This post, or something very like it, was first published in the summer of 2018. It has been updated to reflect current happenings

It’s so tempting to interpret Sense & Sensibility through the lense of its title, even more so than Pride & Prejudice. Yes, Elizabeth is prejudice and Darcy is proud, but there is some muddling of the lines, whereas Elinor is all sense and Marianne is total sensibility. Furthermore, Austen’s exploration of this polarity fits so beautifully into the context of Romanticism (somewhat ironically, as it implicitly rejects some of the movement's core precepts). Of course, the dynamic between the two sisters isn’t entirely black and white. Marianne will eventually be swayed by sense and Elinor is proven far from a cold fish. Feelings are not incompatible with reason, as she so eloquently argues:
If you can think me capable of ever feeling–surely you may suppose that I have suffered now. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion;–they did not spring up of themselves;–they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first.–No, Marianne.–then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely–not even what I owed to my dearest friends–from openly shewing that I was VERY unhappy.
It’s a conversation I have with my mother quite often.

The funny thing about that is that I am usually on the side of sense and my mom sensibility. This is amusing because the other temptation I find myself succumbing too when analyzing this text is dismissing Marianne’s behavior as adolescent. It’s an argument I’ve made far too many times to count, and I rather wish I hadn’t. As I grow older it becomes more and more apparent that some people are less able (or less willing, some might insist, to attempt) to constrain their feelings. If this is not merely a characteristic of youth but a defining personality trait, then despite Marianne’s best intentions, she will never succeed in regimenting herself into pragmatism. Even in her old age, she will continue to be subject to the whims of emotion. I dwell on this thought now having just reread a story I wrote well over a decade ago about Marianne’s engagement to the Colonel. I’m glad that even at a time in my life when I was quite dismissive of Marianne, I understood this about her character.

The story is part of the collection “And Who Can Be in Doubt of What Followed?”: The Novels of Jane Austen Expanded, extending the ending of each of Austen’s six novels in accordance with those hints and explanations she so quickly flies through in her closing chapters. Here is a favorite scene, just to give you a taste:
Elinor used the opportunity afforded by the Dashwoods’ visit to reaffirm her relationship with her brother, knowing it was what her father would wish. They often walked together in the mornings, when Edward’s parish duties kept him occupied, and as Fanny was no walker, here was ample time for the siblings to share confidences. It was on one such occasion towards the end of his stay that John, as they passed by the gates of Delaford House, began the following soliloquy:

“I will not say I am disappointed, my dear sister. That would be saying too much, for certainly you have been one of the most fortunate young women in the world, as it is. But, I confess, it would give me great pleasure to call Colonel Brandon brother. His property here, his place, his house, everything is in such respectable and excellent condition! And his woods! I have not seen such timber anywhere in Dorsetshire as there is now standing in Delaford Hanger! And though, perhaps, Marianne may not seem exactly the person to attract him, yet I think it would altogether be advisable for you to have them now frequently staying with you, for as Colonel Brandon seems a great deal at home, nobody can tell what then may happen. When people are much thrown together, and see little of anybody else — and it will always be in your power to set her off to advantage, and so forth; in short, you may as well give her a chance. You understand me.”

Elinor had the grace to betray neither her own hopes in this direction, nor any shame for her brother. It was not until John renewed the subject with his wife on their journey home to Norland that his hopes received any encouragement

“I would not be surprised if that is precisely how matters unfold,” Fanny declared, having heard him out. “Our next visit to my brother will surely find us staying at the great house.”

“But do you think Marianne could attract a man like Colonel Brandon? A year ago, perhaps, but having lost her bloom, I see nothing but the convenience of her company to entrance him. I have suggested to Elinor that she would do well to throw them together quite often.”

“You miss a great deal, John! Marianne has fully recovered her looks, and with her disposition so vastly improved, I think her prospects better than ever. Her manners used to be impertinent — never a characteristic to endear a potential husband — but she has grown quite presentable. Furthermore, she seeks out the Colonel with surprising regularity, his library being her excuse. I am rather shocked your mother allows it, but she never was able to regulate the conduct of her daughters. Even were such advantages not hers, you must see that when any comely young lady sets her sights in the direction of an aging bachelor, one should not bet against her success.”

John, as usual, was quite pleased to embrace his wife’s perspective. “Indeed? I think you might be right, my dear. What a match! What timber! Did you take the time to properly observe the hanger?”

“Who could not? It is a vast deal more than Marianne has any right to expect, but I always did think your sisters would do well for themselves. I suppose we must have the entire family to Norland soon.”

“Yes indeed!” exclaimed John, allowing free rein to his most sanguine expectations.
The book is available for purchase on Amazon. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 19, 2021

The following was originally posted in 2015 and now feels rather dated, but it still makes me smile. I hope it will do the same for you, dear reader.

There is a certain class of people who, upon learning of my Jane Austen obsession, feel the need to explain why the modern world is superior to that of the Regency. “But the 19th century was a terrible place to live! Women didn’t have any rights, most people lived in squalor, and you were lucky to survive your infancy!” Of course I realize that Jane Austen’s world was not just one of manor homes, top boots, and ladies maids (I do spend three months in Portsmouth with the Price family every time I read Mansfield Park). I have a massive appreciation for modern plumbing, medicine (especially the medicine!), electricity, and something resembling gender equality, but that does not mean that there are not ways in which the Regency period was superior to our current era. I am working on a novel entitled Being Mrs. Bennet, in which a modern woman, following a car crash, finds herself inhabiting the body of probably the worst mother Austen ever foisted upon heroine. Alison Bateman finds much of the early 19th century disconcerting, but she also discovers aspects to treasure. One can adapt to almost anything.

I planned this post to be a list of reasons why the Regency remains superior to the modern world. I intend this list to be egalitarian, so it does not include privileges and luxuries that belonged to the upper classes alone, and I confess: it was rather difficult to make. It started out as a top ten, then narrowed to a top eight, etc, until finally levelling out as the top five reasons why I think Jane Austen’s world was superior to ours. Enjoy!

1. Caps

A married woman used to wake up in the morning and plop a frilly cap on her head. Hairdressing done. I call the cap the Regency equivalent to the ponytail in Being Mrs. Bennet, and it is true, but how many of us actually get to wear that ponytail to work? Thanks to makeover shows, a ponytail is derided as boring and lazy, where as a cap could be fashionable and even becoming. Somewhere in the course of women’s liberation, we messed this one up.

2. Custom Shoes

You couldn’t share shoes with your friends and relations back in the day. Each shoe was made for and molded to a particular foot. Today you can buy handmade Italian leather shoes for somewhere in the range of $1000 a pop, but this buttery and luscious feel of slipping your foot into such a concoction used to be much more accessible. Of course men’s boots, those of both the laboring classes and the gentry, would be made of sturdier stuff that needed to be broken in, but once that first round of blisters healed you had a shoe that hugged the contours of your feet perfectly.

3. Cheap Live Entertainment

One need not be a mogul to attend the theater in the Regency Era. Even the most lavish venues had seats cheap enough to accommodate the working classes. Now even our sporting events are beyond the reach of many, television having rendered live entertainment a luxury item. Sigh.

4. Standardized Mourning Rituals

Having been to more than my fair share of funerals lately and experienced mourning rituals ranging over a wide swath of cultural and religious beliefs, I really think it would be nice to have not an imposed period of mourning (that would be far too stifling), but the broadly recognized need for a person to step outside their normal activities and take the time to grieve. I also like the idea of wearing all black, or having some other, external signifier of grief, so that others know to approach you with care, preferably without looking like an overgrown Goth kid. I also like that they had gradations of mourning. Black ribbons in my hair would have been perfectly appropriate for my cousin’s death last year, while my grandfather’s loss made me crave bombazine and a heavily veiled bonnet. Can’t wear that to the supermarket!

5. Etiquette

While some of the imposed social rituals of the 19th century, like calling cards, are archaic in our modern world of cell phones, they represent a code of behavior designed to help humans interact with each other in a peaceful and orderly manner. We’ve lost a lot of that. I could really go on and on with this topic, which would end up being preachy, at best, so I’ll just beg each reader to hold the door for someone, wait for others to exit before you enter, and say excuse me when you step in someone’s path. The world could be such a happier place.

There you have it! What is your favorite thing about the Regency Era? Anything you would gladly trade for today? Or has Jeanna inspired any one else to confess their closely held secrets to the world?

Monday, July 12, 2021

Lord Byron and The Prisoner of Chillon

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
by Richard Westall, 1813
Recycling content from 2015, inspired by recent conversations with my husband about wanting to go back to Montreaux. The next few weeks are very busy for me as school finally lets out and my mother arrives for an eagerly awaited visit. I might have to take a pause, but this having been my best streak of blogging in oh, about a decade, I'm determined to keep it up 🤞.

The weekend before Christmas my husband, my four year-old daughter, and I had our first adventure into the french speaking part of the country. Montreaux on Lake Geneva (Lac LĂ©man) has a huge Christmas celebration complete with a market, Santa’s workshop, and medieval fun and games at the Chateaux de Chillon, a strategic holding of the Counts of Savoy dating to the 12th century. The castle is gorgeous, and we enjoyed the performances, crafts, and food provided, but the highlight of the experience was found in the unlikely locale of the dungeon.

I have never been a huge fan of Lord Byron’s poetry. He is not my Romantic poet of choice. However, lack of interest in his writing had never hindered my fascination with him as a popular personality from the Regency. After all, he was with Mary Shelly when she conceived Frankenstein, he did have a public and raucous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, he has been accused of incest with his sister, and he fathered the woman who helped invent computer science. It is extremely hard to resist him. So when I spotted his name on a plaque in the dungeon, I had a full on fan girl moment, complete with squeals and swoons. Byron came to Chillon on his travels and became fascinated with the castle’s most famous prisoner, François Bonivard. Bonivard was a Genovese patriot who opposed the Savoy attempts to consolidate their power over the region. He was imprisoned twice for his defiance: for two years in 1519 and then again in the dungeon of Chillon in 1530, where he remained until the area was conquered by the Bernese in 1536.

In 1816, Byron penned his 392 line narrative poem loosely based on Bonivard. He is represented as a
typical Byronic hero, but the poem is devoid of the sexual current that usually runs through Byron’s works. I had not read it before visiting Chillon, but I was quick to devour it afterwards. The descriptions of the dungeon are chilling and visually acute, while the plight of the prisoner (who remains anonymous), shut out from the world and at the mercy of his keepers, is incredibly touching in its humanity. I may have to revisit some of his lordship’s other works. Perhaps he will hold more appeal for me now in my late 30’s than he dis in my early 20’s, when I last groaned my way through Don Juan.

The Prisoner of Chillon

My hair is grey, but not with years,
Nor grew it white
In a single night,
As men's have grown from sudden fears:
My limbs are bow'd, though not with toil,
But rusted with a vile repose,
For they have been a dungeon's spoil,
And mine has been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are bann'd, and barr'd—forbidden fare;
But this was for my father's faith
I suffer'd chains and courted death;
That father perish'd at the stake
For tenets he would not forsake;
And for the same his lineal race
In darkness found a dwelling place;
We were seven—who now are one,
Six in youth, and one in age,
Finish'd as they had begun,
Proud of Persecution's rage;
One in fire, and two in field,
Their belief with blood have seal'd,
Dying as their father died,
For the God their foes denied;—
Three were in a dungeon cast,
Of whom this wreck is left the last.

There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,
In Chillon's dungeons deep and old,
There are seven columns, massy and grey,
Dim with a dull imprison'd ray,
A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Of the thick wall is fallen and left;
Creeping o'er the floor so damp,
Like a marsh's meteor lamp:
And in each pillar there is a ring,
And in each ring there is a chain;
That iron is a cankering thing,
For in these limbs its teeth remain,
With marks that will not wear away,
Till I have done with this new day,
Which now is painful to these eyes,
Which have not seen the sun so rise
For years—I cannot count them o'er,
I lost their long and heavy score
When my last brother droop'd and died,
And I lay living by his side.

They chain'd us each to a column stone,
And we were three—yet, each alone;
We could not move a single pace,
We could not see each other's face,
But with that pale and livid light
That made us strangers in our sight:
And thus together—yet apart,
Fetter'd in hand, but join'd in heart,
'Twas still some solace in the dearth
Of the pure elements of earth,
To hearken to each other's speech,
And each turn comforter to each
With some new hope, or legend old,
Or song heroically bold;
But even these at length grew cold.
Our voices took a dreary tone,
An echo of the dungeon stone,
A grating sound, not full and free,
As they of yore were wont to be:
It might be fancy—but to me
They never sounded like our own.

I was the eldest of the three
And to uphold and cheer the rest
I ought to do—and did my best—
And each did well in his degree.
The youngest, whom my father loved,
Because our mother's brow was given
To him, with eyes as blue as heaven—
For him my soul was sorely moved:
And truly might it be distress'd
To see such bird in such a nest;
For he was beautiful as day—
(When day was beautiful to me
As to young eagles, being free)—
A polar day, which will not see
A sunset till its summer's gone,
Its sleepless summer of long light,
The snow-clad offspring of the sun:
And thus he was as pure and bright,
And in his natural spirit gay,
With tears for nought but others' ills,
And then they flow'd like mountain rills,
Unless he could assuage the woe
Which he abhorr'd to view below.

The other was as pure of mind,
But form'd to combat with his kind;
Strong in his frame, and of a mood
Which 'gainst the world in war had stood,
And perish'd in the foremost rank
With joy:—but not in chains to pine:
His spirit wither'd with their clank,
I saw it silently decline—
And so perchance in sooth did mine:
But yet I forced it on to cheer
Those relics of a home so dear.
He was a hunter of the hills,
Had followed there the deer and wolf;
To him this dungeon was a gulf,
And fetter'd feet the worst of ills.

Lake Leman lies by Chillon's walls:
A thousand feet in depth below
Its massy waters meet and flow;
Thus much the fathom-line was sent
From Chillon's snow-white battlement,
Which round about the wave inthralls:
A double dungeon wall and wave
Have made—and like a living grave
Below the surface of the lake
The dark vault lies wherein we lay:
We heard it ripple night and day;
Sounding o'er our heads it knock'd;
And I have felt the winter's spray
Wash through the bars when winds were high
And wanton in the happy sky;
And then the very rock hath rock'd,
And I have felt it shake, unshock'd,
Because I could have smiled to see
The death that would have set me free.

I said my nearer brother pined,
I said his mighty heart declined,
He loathed and put away his food;
It was not that 'twas coarse and rude,
For we were used to hunter's fare,
And for the like had little care:
The milk drawn from the mountain goat
Was changed for water from the moat,
Our bread was such as captives' tears
Have moisten'd many a thousand years,
Since man first pent his fellow men
Like brutes within an iron den;
But what were these to us or him?
These wasted not his heart or limb;
My brother's soul was of that mould
Which in a palace had grown cold,
Had his free breathing been denied
The range of the steep mountain's side;
But why delay the truth?—he died.
I saw, and could not hold his head,
Nor reach his dying hand—nor dead,—
Though hard I strove, but strove in vain,
To rend and gnash my bonds in twain.
He died—and they unlock'd his chain,
And scoop'd for him a shallow grave
Even from the cold earth of our cave.
I begg'd them, as a boon, to lay
His corse in dust whereon the day
Might shine—it was a foolish thought,
But then within my brain it wrought,
That even in death his freeborn breast
In such a dungeon could not rest.
I might have spared my idle prayer—
They coldly laugh'd—and laid him there:
The flat and turfless earth above
The being we so much did love;
His empty chain above it leant,
Such Murder's fitting monument!

But he, the favourite and the flower,
Most cherish'd since his natal hour,
His mother's image in fair face
The infant love of all his race
His martyr'd father's dearest thought,
My latest care, for whom I sought
To hoard my life, that his might be
Less wretched now, and one day free;
He, too, who yet had held untired
A spirit natural or inspired—
He, too, was struck, and day by day
Was wither'd on the stalk away.
Oh, God! it is a fearful thing
To see the human soul take wing
In any shape, in any mood:
I've seen it rushing forth in blood,
I've seen it on the breaking ocean
Strive with a swoln convulsive motion,
I've seen the sick and ghastly bed
Of Sin delirious with its dread:
But these were horrors—this was woe
Unmix'd with such—but sure and slow:
He faded, and so calm and meek,
So softly worn, so sweetly weak,
So tearless, yet so tender—kind,
And grieved for those he left behind;
With all the while a cheek whose bloom
Was as a mockery of the tomb
Whose tints as gently sunk away
As a departing rainbow's ray;
An eye of most transparent light,
That almost made the dungeon bright;
And not a word of murmur—not
A groan o'er his untimely lot,—
A little talk of better days,
A little hope my own to raise,
For I was sunk in silence—lost
In this last loss, of all the most;
And then the sighs he would suppress
Of fainting Nature's feebleness,
More slowly drawn, grew less and less:
I listen'd, but I could not hear;
I call'd, for I was wild with fear;
I knew 'twas hopeless, but my dread
Would not be thus admonishèd;
I call'd, and thought I heard a sound—
I burst my chain with one strong bound,
And rushed to him:—I found him not,
I only stirred in this black spot,
I only lived, I only drew
The accursed breath of dungeon-dew;
The last, the sole, the dearest link
Between me and the eternal brink,
Which bound me to my failing race
Was broken in this fatal place.
One on the earth, and one beneath—
My brothers—both had ceased to breathe:
I took that hand which lay so still,
Alas! my own was full as chill;
I had not strength to stir, or strive,
But felt that I was still alive—
A frantic feeling, when we know
That what we love shall ne'er be so.
I know not why
I could not die,
I had no earthly hope—but faith,
And that forbade a selfish death.

What next befell me then and there
I know not well—I never knew—
First came the loss of light, and air,
And then of darkness too:
I had no thought, no feeling—none—
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was, scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;
It was not night—it was not day;
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness—without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
No check, no change, no good, no crime
But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!
A light broke in upon my brain,—
It was the carol of a bird;
It ceased, and then it came again,
The sweetest song ear ever heard,
And mine was thankful till my eyes
Ran over with the glad surprise,
And they that moment could not see
I was the mate of misery;
But then by dull degrees came back
My senses to their wonted track;
I saw the dungeon walls and floor
Close slowly round me as before,
I saw the glimmer of the sun
Creeping as it before had done,
But through the crevice where it came
That bird was perch'd, as fond and tame,
And tamer than upon the tree;
A lovely bird, with azure wings,
And song that said a thousand things,
And seemed to say them all for me!
I never saw its like before,
I ne'er shall see its likeness more:
It seem'd like me to want a mate,
But was not half so desolate,
And it was come to love me when
None lived to love me so again,
And cheering from my dungeon's brink,
Had brought me back to feel and think.
I know not if it late were free,
Or broke its cage to perch on mine,
But knowing well captivity,
Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine!
Or if it were, in wingèd guise,
A visitant from Paradise;
For—Heaven forgive that thought! the while
Which made me both to weep and smile—
I sometimes deem'd that it might be
My brother's soul come down to me;
But then at last away it flew,
And then 'twas mortal well I knew,
For he would never thus have flown—
And left me twice so doubly lone,—
Lone as the corse within its shroud,
Lone as a solitary cloud,
A single cloud on a sunny day,
While all the rest of heaven is clear,
A frown upon the atmosphere,
That hath no business to appear
When skies are blue, and earth is gay.

A kind of change came in my fate,
My keepers grew compassionate;
I know not what had made them so,
They were inured to sights of woe,
But so it was:—my broken chain
With links unfasten'd did remain,
And it was liberty to stride
Along my cell from side to side,
And up and down, and then athwart,
And tread it over every part;
And round the pillars one by one,
Returning where my walk begun,
Avoiding only, as I trod,
My brothers' graves without a sod;
For if I thought with heedless tread
My step profaned their lowly bed,
My breath came gaspingly and thick,
And my crush'd heart felt blind and sick.
I made a footing in the wall,
It was not therefrom to escape,
For I had buried one and all,
Who loved me in a human shape;
And the whole earth would henceforth be
A wider prison unto me:
No child, no sire, no kin had I,
No partner in my misery;
I thought of this, and I was glad,
For thought of them had made me mad;
But I was curious to ascend
To my barr'd windows, and to bend
Once more, upon the mountains high,
The quiet of a loving eye.

I saw them—and they were the same,
They were not changed like me in frame;
I saw their thousand years of snow
On high—their wide long lake below,
And the blue Rhone in fullest flow;
I heard the torrents leap and gush
O'er channell'd rock and broken bush;
I saw the white-wall'd distant town,
And whiter sails go skimming down;
And then there was a little isle,
Which in my very face did smile,
The only one in view;
A small green isle, it seem'd no more,
Scarce broader than my dungeon floor,
But in it there were three tall trees,
And o'er it blew the mountain breeze,
And by it there were waters flowing,
And on it there were young flowers growing,
Of gentle breath and hue.
The fish swam by the castle wall,
And they seem'd joyous each and all;
The eagle rode the rising blast,
Methought he never flew so fast
As then to me he seem'd to fly;
And then new tears came in my eye,
And I felt troubled—and would fain
I had not left my recent chain;
And when I did descend again,
The darkness of my dim abode
Fell on me as a heavy load;
It was as is a new-dug grave,
Closing o'er one we sought to save,—
And yet my glance, too much opprest,
Had almost need of such a rest.

It might be months, or years, or days—
I kept no count, I took no note—
I had no hope my eyes to raise,
And clear them of their dreary mote;
At last men came to set me free;
I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where;
It was at length the same to me,
Fetter'd or fetterless to be,
I learn'd to love despair.
And thus when they appear'd at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage—and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
With spiders I had friendship made
And watch'd them in their sullen trade,
Had seen the mice by moonlight play,
And why should I feel less than they?
We were all inmates of one place,
And I, the monarch of each race,
Had power to kill—yet, strange to tell!
In quiet we had learn'd to dwell;
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.

Monday, July 5, 2021

A Mixed-up Mashup Excerpt

As previously discussed, I have resumed work on an absolutely insane story started ten years ago. In a moment of madness, probably inspired by the tale, I volunteered to read from it for the next JAFF Reader/Writer Get Together WIP meetup on July 17th (you can sign up here: I'm not really sure what compelled me, but I have made a commitment, and I must follow through. The thing is, I am not the best at public readings, and this story is so weird that I really have no idea which part is best to read. The following excerpt is probably the most obvious to choose, because it kind of (sort of) explains a lot of the story, but it is also dialog heavy, and that is exactly where I tend to read too fast and lose my audience. I am, therefore, posting it here in an attempt to eliminate it from the contest. It can still be my fallback option. If you like what you see and want to read more, I am posting the story at A Happy Assembly. Please do come by and read along:

To get an idea of just how wild this tale is, I have drawn this rough map to keep track of the characters. I keep adding to it as the story develops, and I have a beta reader who does beautiful watercolor work and has agreed to remake it pretty for me, should I end up publishing this story. That remains uncertain. First, I need to see my way through this mess I've created. Enjoy!

He frowned. "You are not Miss Bennet."
"No, sir. Certainly not."

"Do you have a purpose here?" he pressed. "Forgive me if I intrude, but these are my aunt's grounds."

"You must be mistaken," she replied readily. "This land belongs to the parsonage. My father is the rector," she continued, by way of explanation.

Mr. Darcy, being rather sleep deprived, and feeling more depressed and excitable than was his custom, replied with horror, "Good God! It cannot be so!"

Miss Morland was affronted. "I have no reason to prevaricate, sir!"

"You are the daughter of Mr. Collins?"

"Certainly not! I am Mr. Morland's eldest daughter," she said in as superior tones as she possessed. "And who might you be? Mrs. Allen has no nephews your age."

"Mrs. Allen? I have no notion of any such person! This land belongs to Rosings," he gestured empirically towards the house, just visible through the trees, "the estate of my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh,"

"You are mistaken, sir!" she stubbornly insisted, though quite unsure from where the elaborate structure could possibly have appeared. "This land belongs to Fullerton, as it always has."

Mr. Darcy knew not what to make of such an assertion. He had never heard of Fullerton, the Morlands, or the Allens, and he was on the verge of concluding the young lady was out of her senses, when he suddenly had cause to doubt his own. There, right before him, where he was certain a path never before existed, came yet another young lady, elegantly dressed and of eager stride.

"May I be of some assistance?" Emma Woodhouse inquired pleasantly, eying the two before her with approval. She knew not what two such promising looking strangers were doing in Highbury, but she was pleased to see them. It had been a particularly dull morning, and such interesting persons, arguing in the middle of the lane, must provide diversion. When neither responded to her question, only staring at her most disconcertingly, she pressed on. "You appear as if you were lost," she explained, somewhat irritated that it should be necessary. "I know this country well and might be able to direct you."

"But," stammered Miss Morland, looking to the strange gentleman for confirmation of what she saw, "but, excuse me, there was no a lane here before, was there?"

"Certainly not," affirmed Mr. Darcy, relieved enough to have his own senses confirmed that he dispensed with any further examination of his measure. Other questions were more pressing. "How it comes here now, I cannot say. But we all agree it is here now," he paused in confusion, "are we not? That is something."

Miss Woodhouse, quite out of patience, spoke her mind. "What nonsense do you speak, sir? This path, or something very near like it, has been here more than 20 years," she asserted confidently, "and though I cannot bear witness to what proceeded that time, I think it is enough is to prove the path's existence just a few moments past."

Though he could not see where it led, Mr. Darcy thought he spotted solid foundation, which he desperately required, in her assertion. "Then tell me, Miss ... I am so sorry, ought we not introduce ourselves? I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Derbyshire, and this is Miss Morland, of Fullerton, I believe, and you are?"

"Miss Woodhouse!" she snapped, quite expecting to repress the man's impertinence. Her surprise when the name meant nothing to her companions was transparent. “Of Hartfield,” she continued, still no effect. 

Darcy saw her confusion and hurried to establish those facts he could. "Miss Woodhouse, I do not know from where you materialized, nor Miss Morland either, but I do know that this," he pointed again towards Rosings, "is the estate of my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. You can both see the house, can you not?"

"From where did it come?" exclaimed Miss Woodhouse in disbelief, but before the matter could be further investigated, an angry voice was heard approaching from the direction in which all three were gazing.

"I will not have it, sir! I cannot say how such a thing has come to be, but I warn you it will not be tolerated!" Mr. Darcy had only just processed who it was that spoke so empirically when his aunt, accompanied by Charles Bingley, came into view. The latter spotted his friend gratefully, but before he could express a word of greeting, Lady Catherine commanded his attention.

"Darcy! There you are! You must assist me. This man has put a house on my lawn, and I insist that it must be removed at once!"

Mr. Darcy stared at Mr. Bingley, who hurried, as best he could, to explain the situation. "I do not know how it may have happened, Darcy! A marvel it is, but I am only leasing the house, you know, so I really cannot be held responsible for a thing like this." He gestured behind him, where the ramparts of a second house, quite next to Rosings, could now be discerned.

Mr. Darcy, shaken, asked, "What can Netherfield Hall be doing in Kent?"

"This cannot be!" declared an alarmed Miss Woodhouse. "We all saw that it was not there two minutes ago. And we are not in Kent, but Surrey! What can be happening?"

"Oh, dear!" a new female voice was heard to moan, and the entire assemblage turned to confront two newcomers: a woman, very handsome put no longer young, and an older gentleman, of extremely dignified appearance. "We cannot live in Surrey! It is far too close to London."

"Indeed my dear, you are quite right!" the man replied. "Nothing but merchants and tradesmen, seeking to gain a bit of respectability by purchasing the mere acre or two of land, at an easy distance from their shops and warehouses. Surrey will not do for us."

"Pardon me," declared an incensed Miss Woodhouse, "but I have heard it said that Surrey is the garden of England."

"Your point is highly irrelevant," insisted Lady Catherine, not to be outdone in indignation, "as Rosings is in Kent. The De Bourghs have always hailed from Kent, and neither I, nor my daughter, will reside anywhere else!"

Elizabeth Elliot sniffed disdainfully. "I do not know what to make of this new company we have found ourselves in, Papa. Who might they be?"

"I don't know my dear, but this gentleman certainly appears presentable," Sir Walter Elliot gestured towards Mr. Darcy, eying his greatcoat. "My good sir, who is your tailor?"

Monday, June 28, 2021

Glorious Old BBC Austen Adaptations

I failed to record the date for the original version of this post, but it was several years ago, at least. I've only updated this to reflect the most recent Emma adaptation, upcoming Persuasion adaptations, and to remove links now obsolete. I continue to celebrate these old, very close to canon adaptations. Enjoy!

I have long championed the old BBC Austen adaptations, produced in the 70s and 80s. I was so fortunate as to receive the pictured box set several years ago as a Christmas gift, and since I have watched these films time and time again. Now, if you require beautiful cinematography and have no tolerance for this style of old, made for TV literary adaptation, which admittedly tend to be long, move slowly, and are hampered by unfortunate production quality, then no amount of praise from me will help you find enjoyment in these movies. You will lose your patience. But for me, it is precisely such attributes that make these versions feel a little more true to Austen. There is a quietness to the old adaptations, incompatible with the glossy and dramatic versions made over the last quarter of a century, that better conveys the atmosphere of her books. Not that I don’t adore the newer movies – they’re (mostly) phenomenal – but these are excellent too, and should not be forgotten. In some cases, I have yet to see a version I prefer. So here is a brief intro to each film. When I’ve written them, I’ve included links to full reviews. 

My Review

I believe Sense and Sensibility translates to film particularly well, and all the versions I have ever seen of it are quite good. I’m not sure why this version was included in the box set instead of the 1971 version (it features Joanna David as a wonderful Elinor, familiar to Janeites from her portrayal of Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice 1995, and a fabulous performance by British TV icon Patricia Routledge as Mrs. Jennings). Both versions leave out Margaret Dashwood entirely out of the script, which I do find irritating.

The 1981 adaptation stars Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood (also Charlotte Collins in the 1980 Pride and Prejudice), Marianne is played by Tracey Childs, Bosco Hogan is Edward Ferrars, and Robert Swann is Colonel Brandon. Julia Chambers is fabulous as Lucy Steele, but my favorite performance by far is that of Amanda Boxer, who portrays Fanny Dashwood. Throughout the film, she is odiously smug and collected, and to see her let loose on Anne Steele (Pippa Sparkes) is hysterical. Often film makers forget that Austen is, first and foremost, a comic writer, and I really appreciate it when they pay homage to her love of absurdity and amusement in human folly. 

Pride & Prejudice, 1980

My Review

I think it is fair to claim that this is the most beloved film in the collection. Many Janeites continue to prefer this version of Pride and Prejudice to the more acclaimed, recent versions. I think that’s because Elizabeth Garvie is so good as Elizabeth Bennet, and David Rintoul, while a bit stiff, just looks perfect as Darcy. Also, because the story has been less, um, sensationalized (no wet shirts here), it's definitely the cosiest of the Pride and Prejudice adaptations available. Tessa Peake-Jones is my favorite Mary Bennet.

Mansfield Park, 1983

My Review

This is easily my preferred Mansfield Park, and that alone is enough to make it my favorite film in the boxset. There are only three versions of Mansfield Park, and both the more recent films make the fundamental mistake of trying to fix the novel. This is the only one that honestly attempts to capture the true story, and Sylvestra Le Touzal (who also played Mrs. Allen in the excellent 2007 version of Northanger Abbey) is the only actress to have portrayed the real Fanny Price on screen. She is supported by Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. Bernard Hepton is Sir Thomas (he was also Mr. Woodhouse in Andrew Davies’ 1996 Emma), Anna Massey is a fabulously awful Aunt Norris, and Angela Pleasence is spectacular as Lady Bertram. This one is "must see."

Emma, 1972

I really love this one, despite the fact that I think all four of the more recent versions of Emma are better. For whatever reason, I’ve consistently watched it more often than the other films in the boxset. Part of it, I think, is that like Sense and Sensibility, Emma works very well on film. Highlights of this version include Mollie Sugden (best known as Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served?) as Mrs. Goddard, and my favorite Mr. Woodhouse, Donald Eccles, who is fabulously nervous. Emma is convincingly portrayed by Doran Godwin, and Mr. Knightley is very well captured by John Carson.
Mrs. Elton (Fiona Walker), like every other Mrs. Elton, is awesome. For some reason I do not fully comprehend, Austen's awful ladies translate really well to film.

Persuasion, 1971

This is my favorite Persuasion adaptation. It isn’t perfect, but unlike both more recent versions, it does not rely on Austen’s cancelled chapters of the story for plot. This really bothers me. It pains me there isn’t a better, yet still accurate, film adaptation of my favorite Austen novel, but I am cautiously hopeful that the upcoming Netflix version will not fall into this trap. In the meantime, when I want to watch Persuasion, this is my go to, simply because it causes the least frustration. Anne Elliot is played by Ann Firbanks and Bryan Marshall is Captain Wentworth, though it appears to be Robert Swann – Col. Brandon from Sense & Sensibility – on the DVD cover. Such quirks, I suppose, are part of the experience. 

Northanger Abbey, 1987

My Review

Easily the strangest Austen adaptation ever made, the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey doesn’t really fit with the other films in this boxset. It is by far the shortest (only 78 minutes), and it wildly diverges from the novel, playing up its gothic aspects. A source of both outrage and fascination for fans, it is something you should really see at least once, if for no other reason than to join the debate. Also, Northanger Abbey has only ever been made into a movie twice. For those long horrified by this version, the 2007 film is so magnificent that they might like to forget this one ever existed. I think that’s a mistake. Especially now that we have a much more accurate adaptation to cling to, I can appreciate this film for just being so darn bizarre. Catherine Morland is played by Katharine SchlesingerPeter Firth is Mr. Tilney, but most memorable are the skin crawling duo of Cassie Stuart and Jonathan Coy as Isabella and John Thorpe. If you thought they were bad in the book, they are absolutely revolting here. The 80s-gone-18th century coiffures are marvelously awful. Actually, the whole film might be worth watching for the crazy head gear alone. It's so bad, it's good.

Have you seen and enjoyed (or hated) these films? I’d love to read your thoughts. Do share them.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Are you a Fanny or an Emma? Redeeming Austen's belittled heroines through partial and prejudiced personality quizes.

Back in 2016, while moderating an Emma read-along, I put together a highly biased quiz I called "Are you an Emma?" I was inspired by a desire to emphasize the character's good qualities, so often overlooked. Anyway, I stumbled upon it fairly randomly over the weekend and shared it in a Jane Austen chat group. Here it is:

Are You an Emma Quiz?

1. Do you live in a small town?

2. Do you take an active interest in your neighbors?

3. Have you ever volunteered at a soup kitchen?

4. Are you independently wealthy?

5. Has your mother passed away?

6. Are you more likely to have a few intimate friends rather than a wide acquaintance?

7. Would you feel slighted if you weren’t invited to a party thrown by a person you didn’t like?

8. Has a person you considered just a friend ever mistaken that friendship for a romance?

9. Are you artistic?

10. Have you ever given a friend a makeover?

11. Do you enjoy planning parties?

12. Are you more likely to trust your own opinion over that of others?

13. Have you ever stuck your foot in your mouth?

14. Are you imaginative?

15. Have you spent most of your life in the same place?

16. Have you ever been a caretaker?

17. Have you ever set a friend up on a date?

18. Are you able to admit it when you’re wrong?

19. Are you good at solving riddles?

20. Have you ever fallen in love with a friend?

21. Do you have hazel eyes?

22. Do you feel secure in your place in the world?

23. Have you ever been the butt of a practical joke?

24. Do you ever feel as if you are the parent and your parent is the child?

25. Have you ever had a crush on the boy/girl next door?

Uber Emma (17 – 25 yeses)

Nice to meet you, Miss Woodhouse! You’re the complete package. Your natural talents and help you thrive in this world, but that doesn’t mean you don’t blunder from time to time. When you do, kudos for learning from your mistakes and trying to make things right, but if you can keep that ego in check you’ll be less likely to find yourself in embarrassing situations. You have a sincere desire to make the world a better place, but sometimes you give up too easily. Others might resent your seeming perfection at times, but you do your best to deserve your blessings. Don’t let the haters hold you back.

Pseudo Emma (8 – 16 yeses)

You and Miss Woodhouse have a great deal in common, as you are both talented and clever, but your experiences have provided you with a broader perspective than can be attained within the confines of Highbury. Yours is a truly generous nature and your intimates can depend upon you to provide support in times of trouble, but you are reluctant to intervene in their lives. When the occasion calls for it you are an excellent manager. You have a long list of projects you’d like to complete … someday.

Not at all an Emma (0 – 7 yeses)

You and Miss Woodhouse might both human, but the similarities end there. You would never dream of meddling in the lives of those around you. You prefer to live in harmony with the world, and when troubles come you are flexible enough to roll with the punches. Aware of the power of words, you try to measure yours carefully before speaking, but this does not mean you shirk away from confrontation when it’s appropriate. Be confident in your instincts. You have much to teach the world if you will make your voice heard.

This exercise was a bit self-serving, as I myself am an Uber Emma, with 18 yeses, but I received excellent feedback, and one commenter suggested making a similar quiz for Mr. Darcy. Maybe I will do that, someday, but as his good qualities are already widely celebrated, my head flew instead to Miss Fanny Price. She is another character in need of empathy. So I did it! 

Are you a Fanny quiz?

1. Do you come from a big family?

2. Were you raised by anyone other than your parents?

3. Are you interested in astronomy?

4. Do you or have you ever had an Aunt Norris in your life?

5. Do you tire easily from physical exertion?

6. Were you ever dependent on wealthier relations?

7. Have you ever had "friend" who you really didn't like at all? 

8. Have you ever had a crush on a relation?

9. Do you prefer the company of your extended company to that of your immediate?

10. Are you often overlooked, even by those you care for most?

11. Are you sentimental?

12. Are you morally judgemental (be honest)?

13. Are you good at keeping secrets?

14. Do you have a strong sense of filial duty?

15. Do you feel misunderstood?

16. Do you find it difficult to advocate for yourself?

17. Are you invariably polite?

18. Do one or both of your parents favor other children over you?

19. Have you ever undergone a test of moral character and prevailed?

20. Are you smarter than your current/most recent partner?

21. Are you reluctant to perform in public?

22. Do you prefer the country to the city?

23. Can you enjoy displays of talent by people whom you either disapprove of or dislike?

24. Are you loyalties unwavering?

17-24 Total Fanny 

You are an asset to all those so fortunate as to be held in your regard, even if it might take a thump on the head for them to realize it. Your quiet nature shies from the spotlight, but others, even those who understand your value, might sometimes try to push you into it against your will, that the whole world might see and sing your praises. Others, jealous of your fine qualities, might try to harness them for their own ends or tarnish their shine. Do not allow it. Always remember that you are the best judge, and follow your instincts. Never compromise your formidable integrity, and forgive those of us who cannot live to your exacting standards. Those worth your time will see your example and (eventually) try to follow. 

9-16 Middling Fanny 

A balanced personality allows you to navigate the world with grace. Some might refer to you as zen. You are comfortable in a variety of environments and amongst diverse groupings of people, your open-mindedness freeing you from the limitations that hinder so many others. On the downside, you might sometimes acquiesce to that which you oughtn't in order to avoid conflict. Remember that part of being at one with the universe is also listening to your internal guide. It's okay to stand strong, even in the face of great opposition, when your heart and mind tell you it is the right thing to do.

1-8 Inverse Fanny

On the surface, you are the diametric opposite of Austen's most demure heroine. A more inclusive quiz might pin you as an Elizabeth Bennet, but let's be honest: don't we all have a bit of Fanny within? We have all experienced what it is like to be a scared and uncertain child. You have the advantage of having risen above such timidity, and you face the world with confidence in your own abilities. Your social skills are enviable, and others are naturally drawn to your vivacity. You'd far rather spend an evening actively engaged than gazing passively at the stars, but that doesn't mean you never pause to admire them. You are full of joie de vive. 

I'd love to get your feedback and learn my readers' results. I will, when I have a spare moment, make this pretty and postable, like the Emma quiz (below, click on it to enlarge). I add the graphic to this post when done. Please feel free to share, if you like. 

I, myself, have 11 yeses and am a middling Fanny.

Should I make more of these? Which characters would you like to see represented?


Monday, June 14, 2021

A Mixed-up Mashup: Take Two

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to a new week. Six years on, I'm still adjusting to calendars that begin the week with Monday, but whatever! Be it a full-on new week or just the beginning of your work week, may it be excellent for all those kind enough to stop by and join me in my meanderings.

I'm feeling very optimistic today, which is not an emotion I have experienced in abundance recently. My daughter turned ten last week, and we held her long postponed sleepover party on Saturday. I am almost as relieved to be on the other side of that event as I was to get my first COVID vaccine (ten days until the second!). It feels like life is really beginning again, and I hate to think that some reading this post aren't there yet. The pandemic has been so devastating to so many, and while my brain is finally out of crisis mode (those of us with preexisting PTSD will be spending years figuring out the mental fallout endured), I know this thing is still far from over. May we all be on the other side soon.

I am writing again! Not what I am supposed to be writing (not ready to plunge back into the deep waters that Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice has become quite yet), but writing, at least a little, and it feels so, so good! Without any previous intention of ever attempting to turn my Mixed-up Mashup into something coherent, I have returned to it, ten years later, and I think I see a path to actually making it a functional story. In it, characters from all of Austen's novels find themselves thrown together in most perplexing circumstances. I have removed the page containing the previous content from this blog, so I apologise to those who know not of what I speak, but I have started posting the new version at A Happy Assembly. Please join me there. I need all the feedback and encouragement I can get to sort through this mess. What happens when you stick Lady Catherine and Sir Walter in a room together? Chaos. Please help.

I began writing this story shortly after the birth of my daughter, when my days were primarily spent pushing a stroller around our beautiful neighbourhood in Wilmington, Delaware. The Rockford Park area is filled with a mishmash of gorgeous houses, in a variety of styles. My more humble abode lay in a townhouse behind the Delaware Museum of Art, having been built to house workers at nearby Bancroft Mills in the late 19th century, but there were mansions in my neighborhood. As I strolled past their impressive facades, I assigned each one the identity of a house featured in Austen's novels. Soon I was pointing out Delaford and Uppercross to my perfectly oblivious infant. I did indulge a variety of other fantasies as we walked, discovering a Lowood school (a ghastly place) and a Burrow, but as usual, Austen dominated. Inevitably, I started writing down and blogging the elaborate fantasy born of these musing.

I must pause to share an anecdote. When my daughter started preschool and we met the other parents in the class, it turned out that one of them lived in the house I had dubbed Longbourn. I figured this out the very first time I met the mother, and I must have confused her to no end when I announced this fact. Despite the real concern she must have had for my sanity, we were invited to the house on multiple occasions, and it was perfect: the sitting room exactly right to suit Lady Catherine's complaints. A beautiful house and a beautiful family.

Anyway, I stopped work on the story when I wrote myself into it and simply could not stomach writing a fictionalised version of myself. I was in the early throes of motherhood, after all, and far more interested in self-sacrifice than self-fixation. Perhaps the pandemic has cured me of that, which is why I can now tolerate the notion. I almost lost myself while quashing all my own needs beneath the enormous ones of my family. I think I'm okay with indulging a little ego now, as long as I don't let it get out of hand.

Another issue with this story is I used a major plot line from it in Being Mrs. Bennet, but I think I now have figured a way out to make that work. Maybe. The story feels like it has direction and momentum, which is already more than I ever imagined for it. I'm not sure if I will publish it or not. We'll have to wait and see how it lands.

I will conclude with another plea to come to A Happy Assembly and read along. The beginning of Rocky Horror Picture Show keeps running through my head: "I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey." It's just too perfect. Maybe it needs to be in the book, too. Yes, we're dealing with that strange of a book. If nothing else, it will be perfectly silly, and can't we all use a good laugh?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Touring Austen's Country Houses

This post was originally composed in September of 2017.

Touring Pemberley’s Interior (Sudbury Hall, Pride & Prejudice 1995)




The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking, elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight. As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. - Pride and Prejudice

In Jane Austen’s time, it was an established matter of hospitality that great country houses could be petitioned by the public for access to their grounds and public rooms. Such tours served as a means of additional income for the housekeeper and groundsmen, who one can assume were inclined to accept or reject such requests not only in deference to the family’s convenience, but also based on the seeming affluence (and likelihood of tipping) of the applicant. Obviously, Elizabeth Bennet and the fashionable Gardiners are welcomed kindly to Pemberley, the same manner in which they were presumably greeted at the many other houses they are said to visit during their time in Derbyshire. It is during the tour that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy begin to undergo a radical change. His good taste and the testimony of Mrs. Reynolds in his favor all act to increase her opinion of his character. Throughout Austen, a man’s home reflects who he is and what he values. She conducts us through three complete house tours in her six main novels: at Pemberley, Sotherton Court, and Northanger Abbey. Each illuminates the strengths and failures of their owners.

Pemberley's exterior (Lyme Park, 1995)
Pemberley is perhaps such an idealized place because Mr. Darcy, despite his crusty introduction, proves tobe such an ideal man. In his late-father’s favorite room, we see that Mr. Darcy has preserved it in his honor, even thought this means keeping a miniature of George Wickham, distressing to both him and his sister, on display. We also observe his affection for his sister, both in the new pianoforte he has purchased for her, and in the care taken in having the room she favors redecorated:
On reaching the spacious lobby above, they were shewn into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
Upon the tour’s conclusion, Elizabeth has an entirely new notion of Mr. Darcy, as revealed when she seeks out and studies his portrait:
Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
(Pride & Prejudice, 1995)
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth’s mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people’s happiness were in his guardianship! — How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow! — How much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
What a very different notion we receive of Mr. Rushworth, when his mother conducts the guests from Mansfield Park about Sotherton Court! We already know him to be rather trifling. As Edmund Bertram succinctly puts it, “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.” We also can judge him by the fact that he is happy, maybe even relieved, to entirely turn over the task of improving his estate to a near stranger, Mr. Crawford. Certainly, Mr. Darcy would never treat the grounds of Pemberley in so cavalier a manner. It further diminishes Mr. Rushworth’s dignity that the man in whom he confides this trust is a rival for his betrothed’s hand, but these damning facts aside, let’s just examine what actually happens on the tour and how it reflects the man:
The whole party rose accordingly, and under Mrs. Rushworth’s guidance were shewn through a number of rooms, all lofty, and many large, and amply furnished in the taste of fifty years back, with shining floors, solid mahogany, rich damask, marble, gilding, and carving, each handsome in its way. Of pictures there were abundance, and some few good, but the larger part were family portraits, no longer anything to anybody but Mrs. Rushworth, who had been at great pains to learn all that the housekeeper could teach, and was now almost equally well qualified to shew the house. 
Two major points are here revealed. The first is that Mr. Rushworth entirely concedes the tour to hismother’s direction, much in the same way he does his life. As mistress of the house, it is fitting that Mrs. Rushworth lead the tour, but a more engaged landowner would surely have something substantive to contribute. Secondly, we learn that the house and furnishings were once the property of another family, who presumably sold it off lock, stock, and barrel after falling upon hard times. That the Rushworths have added no portraits of their own to the collection suggests they have no familial history of which to brag, suggesting humble origins, which further suggests their wealth was gained through trade. Austen is not so terribly elitist that a made fortune renders a family unworthy (Mr. Bingley and Mr. Weston are both prime examples of her egalitarianism), and Mr. Rushworth is obviously at least a few generations removed from the “taint” of trade, but within her contemporary context it does, nevertheless, further tarnish an already flawed character. The man and house are also diminished by its low situation, devoid of the fine prospects to be commanded from each of Pemberley’s windows:
Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Rushworth
Mansfield Park 1999)
The situation of the house excluded the possibility of much prospect from any of the rooms; and while Fanny and some of the others were attending Mrs. Rushworth, Henry Crawford was looking grave and shaking his head at the windows. Every room on the west front looked across a lawn to the beginning of the avenue immediately beyond tall iron palisades and gates.

Even Fanny price, who barely dares offer criticism elsewhere, can speak confidently about Sotherton's deficiencies 

Having visited many more rooms than could be supposed to be of any other use than to contribute to the window-tax, and find employment for housemaids, “Now,” said Mrs. Rushworth, “we are coming to the chapel, which properly we ought to enter from above, and look down upon; but as we are quite among friends, I will take you in this way, if you will excuse me.”

They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel.”
Like it's master, Sotherton is as opposite Pemberley’s perfections as it could be, both “gaudy” and “uselessly fine,” as made clear by the abundance of windows. Those are the adjectives used to juxtapose Pemberley’s “real elegance” to that of Rosings Park (see the complete quote at the top of this post), which, interestingly, is the only other house in all of Austen whose description invokes a reference to the window tax, a property tax determined by how many windows a house possessed. In Mansfield Park, Austen dismisses Sotherton’s many and prospectless windows as superfluous. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins displays an absurd pride in Rosings “by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis De Bourgh.” Like Mr. Collins and his benefactress, the Rushworths are superficial, frivolous characters.

 Stoneleigh Abbey, possibly the inspiration for Sotherton Court

Such pretentiousness seems the perfect introduction to Austen’s third house tour: Northanger Abbey, home of the insidious General Tilney. This is the most complete and detailed of the tours (and appropriately so, as the novel takes its name from the place), revealing loads about the General’s character. As Mrs. Rushworth’s dominant presence during the Sotherton tour reflects her relationship to her son, so does General Tilney’s usurpation of his daughter’s right to conduct her guest about the house and grounds demonstrates the total authority he seeks to yield over his children:
Something had been said the evening before of her being shewn over the house, and he now offered himself as her conductor; and though Catherine had hoped to explore it accompanied only by his daughter, it was a proposal of too much happiness in itself, under any circumstances, not to be gladly accepted.
Yet even Catherine Morland’s enthusiasm for an abbey is totally overwhelmed by the General’s determination to show off his possessions, and indeed, it is he who provides all the desired admiration he intends to excite:
They set forward; and, with a grandeur of air, a dignified step, which caught the eye, but could not shake the doubts of the well-read Catherine, he led the way across the hall, through the common drawing-room and one useless antechamber, into a room magnificent both in size and furniture — the real drawing-room, used only with company of consequence. — It was very noble — very grand — very charming! — was all that Catherine had to say, for her indiscriminating eye scarcely discerned the colour of the satin; and all minuteness of praise, all praise that had much meaning, was supplied by the General: the costliness or elegance of any room’s fitting-up could be nothing to her; she cared for no furniture of a more modern date than the fifteenth century. When the General had satisfied his own curiosity, in a close examination of every well-known ornament, they proceeded into the library, an apartment, in its way, of equal magnificence, exhibiting a collection of books, on which an humble man might have looked with pride.
Liam Cunningham as General Tilney
Northanger Abbey 2007)
As the tour proceeds, we see that unlike Mr. Rushworth, General Tilney has taken a managing hand in everything pertaining to his home. His pride in his work is so acute that he cannot perceive how little such details matter to his audience, and he is determined, with military precision, to account for every dimension and each improvement:
From the dining-room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen at five o’clock, the General could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out the length, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what she neither doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to the kitchen — the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls and smoke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. The General’s improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention to facilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, their spacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had often produced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent.
His persistence in flouting his family’s prosperity is so complete that General Tilney totally misses the fact that modern conveniences mean absolutely nothing to Catherine, who would far prefer it were the Abbey in some half-ruinous state, more in keeping with her notions of Gothic grandeur.
With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourth side of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been removed by the General’s father, and the present erected in its place. All that was venerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itself to be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable-yards, no uniformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the General allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on.
Image of a kitchen from 
The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 1791

As they entirely mistake the others' motivations in the broader plot of the novel, General Tilney and Catherine are equally as uncomprehending in the other's tastes. The former not only has no notion of what might please the latter, but has also formed an entirely faulty conceptions of what she values. Surely, after it’s suggested, Catherine can acknowledge that modern conveniences in the kitchen and offices greatly benefit the staff that must toil within them, but it does not decrease her sense of loss for what was swept away to make room for such accommodations:

The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an Abbey! — How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost.
Let us stop to note what Catherine misses in her chagrin with the General’s improvements: the rather suspicious activities of the many maidservants and inappropriately attired footmen. The General may pay scrupulous attention to the accoutrements of his house, so much of which he claims is for the benefit of his servants, but the morality of his staff seems beyond his notice. It is in keeping with the way he presents a false picture to the world, concealing his true character: domineering, materialistic, and rapacious.
They returned to the hall, that the chief stair-case might be ascended, and the beauty of its wood, and ornaments of rich carving might be pointed out: having gained the top, they turned in an opposite direction from the gallery in which her room lay, and shortly entered one on the same plan, but superior in length and breadth. She was here shewn successively into three large bed-chambers, with their dressing-rooms, most completely and handsomely fitted up; everything that money and taste could do, to give comfort and elegance to apartments, had been bestowed on these; and, being furnished within the last five years, they were perfect in all that would be generally pleasing, and wanting in all that could give pleasure to Catherine. As they were surveying the last, the General, after slightly naming a few of the distinguished characters by whom they had at times been honoured, turned with a smiling countenance to Catherine, and ventured to hope that henceforward some of their earliest tenants might be “our friends from Fullerton.” She felt the unexpected compliment, and deeply regretted the impossibility of thinking well of a man so kindly disposed towards herself, and so full of civility to all her family.

The gallery was terminated by folding doors, which Miss Tilney, advancing, had thrown open, and passed through, and seemed on the point of doing the same by the first door to the left, in another long reach of gallery, when the General, coming forwards, called her hastily, and, as Catherine thought, rather angrily back, demanding whether she were going? — And what was there more to be seen? — Had not Miss Morland already seen all that could be worth her notice? — And did she not suppose her friend might be glad of some refreshment after so much exercise? Miss Tilney drew back directly, and the heavy doors were closed upon the mortified Catherine, who, having seen, in a momentary glance beyond them, a narrower passage, more numerous openings, and symptoms of a winding stair-case, believed herself at last within the reach of something worth her notice; and felt, as she unwillingly paced back the gallery, that she would rather be allowed to examine that end of the house than see all the finery of all the rest.
Northanger Abbey
(Lismore Castle, 
Northanger Abbey 2007)
Excessively gracious one moment and cold and forbidding the next, the General’s tour of the Abbey portends much of what we learn of him (and his eldest son) as the novel progresses. Like his home, he has gilded his exterior to hide the decay beneath. Even the innocent Catherine can see there is falsity behind such display, though she imagines him guilty of even worse than his real and rather commonplace sins. Her instincts were not wrong.

Many other country houses feature prominently in Austen’s novels and most provide an accurate reflection of their owners’ personalities. Prosperous Donwell Abbey is the embodiment of Mr. Knightley, the cold and proper atmosphere at Mansfield mirrors Sir Thomas' parenting style, and the forsaken Kellynch Hall symbolizes Sir Walter Elliot’s failures as a father and landowner. Yet it is in her three house tours that Austen really draws concise correlations between estates and their masters, capitalizing upon these scenes to provide complete character sketches of the gentlemen in question. It is a brilliant use of narrative, but I admit I am rather relieved the authoress can’t knock on my door and request to inspect the premises. One can only imagine what devastating conclusions she would draw! And on that note, I think I’ll go clean my bathrooms.

Thanks for reading!