Lise Rodgers cleverly recreated the Regency clothes and Fiona Baverstock curated the fabulous costume exhibition, Be Persuaded at Watsonia Library. What would Jane Austen have made of it all? The library, a little suburban library in a northern suburb of Melbourne Australia, was full as the audience hung on every word. Given the two hundred year anniversary of her death on the 18th July, this coming Tuesday, this scene is being replicated the world over as Janites meet to remember and celebrate this ground breaking and inspiring author. But why does she inspire still?
Romance was an interest of hers but her books are so much more than the sum total of the various successful couplings. Her books are of a philosophical bent. Originally I thought that this work was not the serious philosophy of the intellectual white male variety but the everyday domestic philosophy of the home; an environment that women tend to inhabit. Yet over recent years as the ancient philosophers have gained more modern currency with their re investigation by the likes of Alain de Botton, we see that hers was always a universal message; not just a women’s message.
From Epicurus to Aristotle, from Carnegie to Seligman, the messages are similar. To lead a good life, we need to face up to our ethical struggles, not just in the big things but in the small things too: treat others, as you would like to be treated; show compassion for those less fortunate; surround yourself with true friends instead of hankering after the hollow. Jane Austen managed to reveal all this in her six glorious novels. And that is why, she has endured and inspires still. And that is why on a cold winter’s afternoon so many came and enjoyed Lise Rodgers and Fiona Baverstock give further insight into the world Jane Austen inhabited. If you are looking for a favourite line that sums up her wit and interest in clothes, here is a favourite from May 12 1801: “I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.”
a gown that Jane might have worn
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
Sometimes taking the slow road can bring enormous pleasure. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate a fast jet on an overseas holiday. But there are compensations in the slowness of some things. Jane Austen appreciated the beauty around her on walks and rides and so it is always with pleasure when I think on the beauty of my countryside. In the southern corner of Victoria Australia, is The Great Southern Rail Trail. It is a bike path made from the old railway line and meanders Continue reading
Virtuous and Undervalued Anne Elliot does regret her family’s lack of feeling when she is to marry Captain Wentworth. She had “the consciousness of having no relations to bestow on him which a man of sense could value.” An extended family that is supportive and fun is an attractive part of any partner’s dowry:
“The disproportion in their fortune was nothing; it did not give her a moment’s regret; but to have no family to receive and estimate him properly; nothing of respectability, of harmony, of good-will to offer in return for all the worth and all the prompt welcome which met her in his brothers and sisters, was a source of as lively pain as her mind could be well sensible of, under circumstances of otherwise strong felicity”. Continue reading
Reading The Age this morning there is another article, Not all women want to be mothers and society is finally accepting it. It makes me appreciate the works of Jane Austen and remember some of my favourite characters who, although considered minor, are great role models. One of my all-time favourites would have to be Mrs Crofts. It is in Austen’s last completed novel Persuasion that she paints the Admiral and Mrs Crofts in such glowing terms. Mrs Crofts lived a wonderfully romantic and adventurous life. She has shared the Admiral’s life on “5 altogether” ships. She rejects the notion, very prevalent at the time, that women “would be too soft to be on a ship”… “We none of us expect to be in smooth waters all our days”. Theirs appears to be a very modern marriage based on equality and respect and this appears to have brought happiness. They do not have children and Austen makes no negative innuendo about such a circumstance.
Another minor character that Austen crafted to challenge the status quo is Mrs Crofts from Persuasion. Mrs Crofts’ marriage is equal as well as romantic and adventurous. She has “crossed the Atlantic four times” with the admiral and was “shrewd” and “seemed more conversant with business” than her husband the admiral.
Jane Austen is portraying a very competent and happy woman here, able to participate in seafaring, one of the most difficult and dangerous occupations of the time. Continue reading
A very minor character, Discontented-Wife Mary, in Persuasion, highlights Austen’s craft. Discontented-Wife Mary is an often disappointed and unhappy character. Recall she is a member of the self important Elliot clan who think they are above others. The 18th century was a hierarchy based on land and the Elliots were at the top of the status stakes. In this society even the order of entering a room was based on the social hierarchy. As the daughter of a Baronet, Discontented-Wife Mary, could pull rank over her in-laws, and constantly did. Continue reading
How could Charlotte Lucas, best friend to Lizzie Bennet choose such an odious partner? Surely this choice, the choice made by our pragmatic Charlotte for Clawing Mr Collins, has been gasped at through the centuries by countless readers of Pride and Prejudice.
Recall Charlotte says, “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I only ask for a comfortable home”. Surely Jane Austen is making a comment on the choices that women must make in such an unfair and patriarchal world. Highlighting such limited and odious choices suggests Austen’s feminist credentials.