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Tag Archives: Jane Austen

A Book- and Blog-iversary

On January 28th, 1813 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second novel, was published. On January 29, 2012, Welcome to My Shiny New Blog, the first post here on A Solitary Ramble, was published.

Coincidence? Yes. Yes it was. However, I don’t believe in coincidences, and I’m sure that this happened to happen for a reason. Probably so that I could conveniently celebrate P&P’s 200th book-iversary and my first blog-iversary in single post.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Time to pop out the tea! Dust off the teacups! And throw ourselves another tea party? Well, maybe not. Mostly because I’m home for a few days. Which is an excellent thing, except for the fact that we don’t have fancy china here. And I’ve been so busy seeing friends and family and doing homey stuff that I kind of TOTALLY MISSED BOTH OF THESE -VERSARIES AND THIS POST IS SEVERAL DAYS LATEThere. Okay. It is so relieving to have gotten that out. I hope you can forgive me for being so remiss.

It’s actually quite fitting to have both of these dates so close on the calendar and bound eternally to one another in this post. I mostly started this blog to drool over Mr. Darcy in a public manner. I guess that didn’t happen much… Except for here. Oh, and here. And probably a little bit here.

My blog’s name, in fact, is lifted straight from a scene in Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth’s sister Lydia and her new husband, Mr. Wickham are paying a visit to the Bennets. Elizabeth is sitting outside, reading a letter from her aunt (which explains the exact conditions under which Lydia’s wedding came to be), when Mr. Wickham intrudes on her reverie. “I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble,” he says, as he joins her.

Aside from the Austenticity of the phrase, I thought it was quite fitting for my brand new blog. It represents me, because (like Lizzy who will walk three miles in the mud, getting her petticoats six inches deep in mud) I’m rather fond of taking walks through the countryside in solitude. Of course, by the countryside I mean the side-walked, suburban streets. And, unlike Lizzy’s, my petticoats aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground.

Also, I figured that these posts would mostly be solitary rambles — sitting by myself at the keyboard, ranting and raving to myself.

Joking aside (just kidding, I don’t know how to shove joking to the side) I think we should take a moment to admire and love Miss Elizabeth Bennet as much as Mr. Darcy does. Because, really, the girl’s amazing. And I don’t think we expend enough energy on adoring her.

Besides inspiring me to get off the couch and get some eye-brightening exercise (if you catch my reference), she literally changed who I am as a person. In far too many ways for me to count.

Credit: allystruth.tumblr.com

From what I hazily recall of the dark ages before Lizzy and I met, I used to be really into following the rules (at or at least appearing to do so). I used to literally tremble in the face of authority (mostly in the form of school principals). Thanks to Lizzy, I managed to stand up to my high school principal last year — in a witty, impertinent manner, no less — on an important matter. And then I stormed out of the man’s office in a huff. Kind of like that time Lizzy stood up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I’m not really sure that this was quite what Jane wanted me to get out of her sparkling novel.

And while Lady C had no real power over Lizzy and her choices, this principal’s “yes” had the power to change my entire year last year (and, you know, probably the entire course of my life, if we’re going to be melodramatic about it).

Besides, I knew I’d be getting a big, fat, ugly NO from said principal anyways — this was not our first meeting on the matter — so I figured I might as well finish the ordeal with a clang.

Among other things, Lizzy has turned me into quite the impertinent  sharp-tongued young lady. (“No, she has not. It was ONE time,” the voice of reason in my head wants you to know.) And I love her for it.

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know,” wrote Miss Austen of her heroine one day.

I couldn’t agree more. 

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A Birthday Party for Miss Austen

If you aren’t already aware that Jane Austen was born two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago today, you’re obviously not as devout an Austen Addict as I am. Ordinarily I’d suggest that if this is the case you can just leave my blog, right now, but today I’m feeling generous — it is a day of celebration after all — and I realize that few people can possibly be as obsessed as I am.

I don’t know about THE world, but Jane certainly changed MY world. And clearly other people’s worlds as well. When I met new people at school this year, Jane often found her way into our conversation at some one point or another. My new acquaintance would then either nod in slight recognition of the somewhat ubiquitous name, or begin gushing about how absolutely delightful Pride and Prejudice is. The latter is what happened with one of my teachers and her daughters when we met a few months ago.

And so, in honour of this auspicious day, these lovely ladies baked a cake and we all got dressed up and had a tea party this afternoon. And let me say, I have never attended such a lovely tea party in all my life. Actually, compared with our afternoon tea, I don’t think anything I’ve ever attended or hosted could even be considered a tea party.

They took out their fancy china for the occasion and we drank from the dainty floral tea cups with our pinky fingers in the air. We put on classical music. We lit candles. We placed flowers on the table.

Tea Time!

We all dressed up — though none of us really got the period quite right. There were shawls and big, floppy hats that were more to the stylings of Anne Shirley than Elizabeth Bennet and we had a southern belle join us in a long, poufy gown. I attempted an empire waist look, placing a thin belt high on my waistline over a purple dress. Nonetheless, we all looked charming in our outfits of choice.

And then there was the food. Chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon pie. Cucumber sandwiches. And you can’t forget the tea. And the china sugar bowl. My family, for some reason or another, doesn’t have good china or sugar bowls or fancy tea sets, so that their family has such things, and that we used them, was very exciting for me.

The Food

The Food

And then we looked at my pictures from my pilgrimages to England where I visited Miss Austen’s house in Chawton and the filming locations for Pemberley used in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We had a marvellous afternoon. And then, to finish off our day we went to Anthropologie, were I got myself a present in honour of Jane’s birthday. The belt I bought was, after all, called the Pierced Floral Corset Belt so I think it was quite fitting.

Thank you Jane, for writing some of the greatest novels ever. You’ve played a huge role in shaping who I am over the past few years since we met when I was fifteen. You’re the reason I started reading Literature. You’re partly responsible for my decision to major in English when I get to university next year. You inspired me to begin writing.You inspired two incredible, bonding-filled trips to England with my daddy. Your novels have taught me so much about life, myself and those around me. And you gave me a great opportunity to have a really fun tea party today in your honour. Happy birthday, Jane. And thanks for everything.

Did you do anything special to celebrate Jane’s birthday? Have you ever? Do share!

Some other posts wherein I gush about Jane and her novels:

My Favourite Books

P&P&ME

Fictitious Crushes

Happy Birth(and Death)day to The Bard (wherein I discuss my visit to Miss Austen’s former home in England)

My Life in Books

The Jane Austen Book Club

For the Love of Jane 

The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club… What do I think? Well, I read the book at some point in the past two years, last summer maybe? The fact that I don’t know specifically when says something right away, because I tend to track my life based on what I read when. When a book doesn’t make it onto that timeline that tends to mean it either sucked or it just wasn’t worth remembering — oftentimes it’s both. So that’s how I felt about the book: for what it was — chick lit that’s sole purpose in life is entertainment — it was just alright, nothing all that special.

Then I saw the movie. It was one of those rare instances where the movie actually surpasses the book — at least from where I sit lazily on the couch. So that’s where I’m going with this. I’m going to share my thoughts on the movie. But, for once in my life, I’m kind of having trouble forming thoughts. It was kind of really bad, but kind of really good. And I’m afraid to profess either of these opinions, because I don’t really feel strongly either way, but would hate for you to have a strong opinion (or even any opinion) that’s the opposite of whichever I choose and then you’ll think I’m stupid for either liking it or disliking it. That’s probably absurd of me. You probably don’t care one way or the other. You’ve probably never even seen this movie.

Credit: romancegirlsguide.blogspot.com

To summarize, there are these five women who all have issues in their lives, especially their love lives, and they start this book club, to ease the distress of their various circumstances. Oh, and they only read Jane Austen books in this book club — if nothing else, the book/movie is aptly named. They do this thing where they read one of Jane’s novel’s each month and each of them is responsible for hosting one meeting, so they each lead the discussion on one of Jane’s novels. But, (oh no, whatever shall they do?) they need six club members (because Jane wrote six novels) and they only have five. So then this Grigg guy comes in. And adds in some Emma-style drama, because he likes this Jocelyn character, but she tries to set him up with her friend and misunderstandings ensue — can you guess how that plot-line ends?

It’s a cute movie, really it is. I love how it starts with this montage of all the noise and technological annoyances that come with modern life — in contrast, I imagine, to the quiet, “simplicity” of life in Jane’s novels. I say “I imagine” because this wasn’t a theme which was really pursued. I’m not sure that there were any themes that got actually, truly pursued. And that’s okay. I guess. It isn’t a very literary work or anything and I’m probably missing the point. But I’m going to over-analyze the heck out of it anyways, because (according to my mother) I have to over-analyze everything. The book, from what I remember, seemed to be completely just for entertainment, the movie, on the other hand, seemed as though it was trying (so hard) to aspire to something more. It could also be that it really was a deep, serious, literary masterpiece and I just didn’t really get it — but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s the former.

I think the problem is that, for me, it just doesn’t really stand on its own. By which I mean, that it’s nothing without Jane Austen. Yes, yes, I do get that that’s the point, but what I mean is the storyline of the movie itself is just nothing so special. I just couldn’t really care for the characters. And it isn’t really about anything. My favourite parts are when they’re talking about Jane and her books. This isn’t really a problem, per se, but it almost feels as though all the author/screenwriter wanted was to have characters discuss Jane Austen. And she wanted those characters to be similar to Jane’s heroines. And it’s a great idea. With loads of potential. I just don’t think it worked so well. There were too many characters, with too many problems and with some of them it was glaringly clear which characters they were like (especially because it’s spelled out for you) but with others you are (or at least I am) just so lost. Because a lot of the characters in this movie were similar to more than one of Jane’s characters. Which, again, in itself isn’t such a problem, it just felt as though it was trying to be deep and complex but was more just shallow and slightly confusing. Maybe if I watch it again it will be clearer, but I just don’t care to. Because it doesn’t seem like it’s confusing because it was done well and all the characters are just that complex, it seems like it’s confusing because it was just done sloppily.

You’ve Got Mail comes to mind for comparative purposes — although there’s really more of a contrast. It’s all about books and there are a whole bunch of really incredible Pride and Prejudice references. It’s done perfectly, because there aren’t so many references that Jane Austen is being shoved down your throat. Rather, P&P is a delightedly apt, not too overt (but not too subtle either) inter-text for that movie. Forgetting for just a second that P&P is my favourite book and these references are what make You’ve Got Mail my favourite movie, these references are completely vital. They develop Kathleen’s character and they develop her relationship with Joe. You see how she feels about Jane, you see how he feels about Jane, you see them discussing Jane. And, of course, they have this adorable hate-at-first-sight, Darcy-Lizzie relationship going on, that can’t help but end well.

Cover of "You've Got Mail"

Credit: Amazon

What works so well about the Austen references in You’ve Got Mail is that they come second. Yes, Kathleen is kind of like Elizabeth and Joe is kind of like Darcy, but that isn’t the entire point of the movie. It isn’t even most of the point of the movie. P&P got added in because it was relevant and it works to enhance (and add some depth and awesomeness) to the movie. Whereas in The Jane Austen Book Club, the Austen references are the movie, while the actual movie’s storyline and original characters come second. All the similarities between the characters in the movie and the characters in Jane’s novels seem contrived, and the entire point seems to be fitting this movie to Jane Austen, instead of fitting Jane to the movie.

Also, going back to over-analysis of themes, I know it isn’t a literary work, so applying what I know about the major literary movements is probably kind of moot, but I’m going to do it anyways. It kind of seems to be a clash between today’s postmodernism and Jane Austen’s “Jane-Austen-y-happily-ever-after-ism” (I can’t figure out which movement Jane belongs to — I refuse to believe it would be romanticism… would it?). It’s all about love and marriage and human connection in today’s society, where almost half of all marriages end in divorce. It’s about being alone versus being in a relationship. It seems to try so hard to be postmodern in its view of such things. But then it contrives the ending so that everyone ends up happily together with just the right person. It ties it all up just so neatly, which, — aside from being anything but postmodern, it is a rom-com after all — is ironic in light of a conversation earlier in the movie, where they contemplate the messiness of love.

Final thoughts? I don’t even know. It wasn’t really good. But, they talk about Jane Austen… How can I complain about a movie where the central focus is characters gathering around to talk about Jane, her life and her works? That’s probably why this subpar movie didn’t completely die upon arrival — we Janeites just can’t seem to help ourselves.

Have you ever seen it? What did you think? Are you an ardent lover of all things Jane? Do you think that has any impact on how you felt about this movie? (I’d love to hear what someone who isn’t in love with Austen thinks of this movie — but would any such people even bother watching it?)

Books, Books, and More Books (But Not eBooks)

I like books. Obviously. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t talk (write) about them so much. But I’m also really picky about my books. I REFUSE to read eBooks. I hate them. They’re awful. End of discussion. The other day took this online survey about teenagers’ reading habits. It wanted to know if I read eBooks. Then it wanted to know why not. I was allowed to click as many options as I wanted. In addition to “I don’t think I would like it” and “I prefer physical books”, I selected “other” and wrote “I don’t read eBooks because doing so is heresy”. This is something I stand by. I love technology (when I know how to use it) and I, like most teenagers, spend way too much time on my iPhone and Laptop. But when it  comes to reading, I like books. Real, live, honest to goodness books.

Cartoon Credit: cartoonstock.com

If I’m not reading a book in actual book format, it just doesn’t feel like reading. I love the feeling of accomplishment every time I turn a physical page. I love being able to see how close or far I am from the end. I love being able to highlight a good line and write all over the margins. I like the way books feel. I like the way books smell. I like the way books look.

But that brings me to another point. Not only am I picky in that I won’t read a book that isn’t in book format, but I kind of judge books by their covers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather read Pride and Prejudice with an ugly cover than Wuthering Heights with a beautiful cover, any hour of the day. Heck, I’d even read P&P on my iPhone, if Wuthering Heights was my only other option. But I’d really rather a physical book, with a pretty cover. 

And obviously what I’m reading matters. A lot. Because I’m also very picky (and probably a little snobby) about what I read. Which leads me to a confession. I, lover of books, a self-professed book nerd (or so my tagline says), do not own very many books. Oh, sure, I have plenty of books. Probably more than some people. And my relatively small collection is probably made up of “more quality than quantity”. But, still. At least a have a good excuse for it. Or at least a couple of not so great excuses.

Excuse Number One: The Literarily Deprived Childhood

Cartoon Credit: The New Yorker

Whenever I complain about anything, especially about to my perfect, easy childhood, my mother always apologizes with oodles of sarcasm. “I’m an awful mother,” she’ll say. “You are/were such a deprived child.” I really did read a lot when I was a kid. I loved going to the library. In fact, one of my favourite early childhood memories involves reading picture books at the library with my daddy, surrounded by piles and piles of books. It was awesome. And my parents totally encouraged me in reading. They loved reading. Reading was a very noble and smart activity. But while I read a lot, it was quantity over quality. I read loads of very forgettable books. And I read them somewhat quickly. So my Mom didn’t want to “waste money” on “mere books” that I breezed through and would likely never read again. And, I mean, she was probably right. Most of those books probably weren’t really worth buying. (Because my mother, awfully negligent as she was, never introduced me to incredibly, awesome classics or anything such. I didn’t even read Anne of Green Gables until I was 16. It had to be recommended by a teacher — although, at least it was a teacher who’s attained like-a-mother status. That recommendation is probably why.) So then I got into this habit of not buying books. Books were to be taken out of the library — why on earth would anyone do otherwise?

But then I read Pride and Prejudice (recommended by the same teacher — obviously). And that changed everything. Other than a handful of totally random books, it was the first book I ever actually owned.  I didn’t even buy it at first and when I did, I wasn’t even the one who purchased it. I took it out of the library, as I always did. What else would I have done? But, as I talk about in this post, I didn’t really understand it. I complained about this to my father, and he did something absurd. He went to the bookstore. And he bought me– Oh God. I can’t even say this. It feels so dirty. He bought me… SparkNotes. SparkNotes, for those of you who are lucky (or smart) enough to have never heard of such an atrocity, are study guides that summarize and analyze books so that (idiotic) students don’t have to bother reading the books they’re supposed to read for school. All I said to my dad was that I wished I could be learning the book in school, so I could understand it. I’ve never condescended to use a study guide for a book we’re learning in school (even before I decided that I was “passionate” about English) and I wasn’t about to start then — especially with a book that I was reading for pleasure. Then my dad did something smart. He bought me The Annotated P&P which I’ve mentioned a few times before. I really owe a lot of my understanding of Jane’s works to that book. But I was a little bit concerned. It wasn’t like I adored the book, based on the few chapters I’d already read — far from it. How did I know I’d even like it by the end? It’s not as though I’d ever reread it or anything. It would just sit around taking up space for all eternity. Or so I thought… (By now I’ve read it at least five times. In the past two years.)

Excuse Number Two: I Screen Books Before Buying Them

So Pride and Prejudice turned out to be a good buy. And, like I said, aside from books for English class, it was one of the first books I actually owned. (Also aside from picture books when I was little, I guess.) After that, I loved owning books. I also fell in love with rereading books. But, the problem remains that I’m very picky. And very skeptical of what I will or won’t like. So, a lot of the time, I still get a new book from the library, and then only after I’ve finished reading it will I actually purchase it, to showcase on my bookshelf (which is pretty much a shrine to awesome books). Because I don’t like having books I haven’t read sitting around. It makes me nervous.  And buying a book I’ve yet to read and don’t yet know I’ll like makes me nervous too. Because books take up valuable space and it’s not as though you can just  get rid of a book you don’t like. If you bought it, it’s yours forever.

Also, books are seductive. If I don’t exercise some form of self-control, I could seriously find five books to buy every time I step into a book store. And then I’d just have a panic attack from all the unread books. I wouldn’t know where to start, so I’d start them all. All at the same time. And then my brain would explode and I’d never make any progress through any of them. And then I’d probably deal with this situation by buying even more books.

So I try to test drive books from the library and I try to only buy a books when I’ve declared it to be my new favouritest book in the whole wide world.

Excuse Number 3: Back to Judging Books by Their Covers

I don’t like having ugly books on my shelf. And even more than that, I do like having pretty books on my shelves. Returning to my first encounter with (and purchasing of) Jane Austen, I made a mistake when I bought all of Jane’s works. I was still a very amateur book buyer. I had no clue what I was doing. I had my Annotated P&P, which had a lovely cover, but the next two books I read came from the library. I already knew that Jane was the most brilliant writer of all time, so I decided I needed to buy all six of her books. This wasn’t my mistake. My mistake was going to the bookstore with Daddy, deciding I needed to buy all her books at once, and letting him help me pick. I had NO clue what I was doing. The editions we got were hideous. Some of them were paperback Modern Library editions and the rest were paperback Penguin Classics. And not nice Penguin Classics, we’re talking about the ugliest, cheapest Penguin Classics you’ve ever seen. 

My bookshelf.

And then, later in life (about a year later) I discovered pretty books. Then I discovered hardcover books. Then I discovered Clothbound Penguin Classics. Books that I would be proud to house on my sacred bookshelf. Since then my collection has been growing considerably. And then when I was in England I went kind of crazy and bought a whole ton of books — most of which I had never read before. Of course, they were mostly poetry collections, which is my exception to the screening rule. Here’s a snapshot of my bookshelf on the left. I use the word snapshot because it is a picture of a fleeting moment in time — my bookshelf is constantly being added to and reorganized. I’m very proud of it. I recently reorganized it, which was the inspiration for this post. The top shelf is mostly poetry and/or new stuff from England. The second from the top is my shrine to Jane Austen — it’s overflowing, which is pretty strange as the woman only wrote six novels… It may have something to do with my three copies of Pride and Prejudice… The third from the top is mostly classics. The bottom shelf is mostly stuff I’ve read for school.

So, what’s on your bookshelf? A lot of so-so books? A few really great books? A lot of really great books? And where do you stand on eBooks? Am I the only one who refuses to move into the 21st century?

Running Around in the Rain

I should really be doing something else. That seems to be the most prevalent theme in my life. The constant internal conflict. I want to do this but I should be doing that. And then, as soon as I can do the thing I wanted to do, I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to do something else, and the previous want becomes the current should. During the school year, I want to be blogging or writing creatively or sitting around all day reading or even just finding some time to clean my room. What I should doing is homework. Of course, I procrastinate the homework, but feel that if I’m not doing homework, how dare I do anything else, so the things I want to do get procrastinated as well. I certainly have time to do both, but the things I enjoy always seem to take back seat.

So, I make all this wonderful resolutions. I decide that when the summer comes, I’ll do all those things I would love to be doing during the school year, but just can’t. I never plan to do very much in the summer, like get a job or go to camp, and I tell people that I don’t have plans aside from a week or so at the cottage and a week or so on vacation. But I do have plans. I plan to read — smart books, enjoyable books, any and all books — I plan to write — blog posts, short stories, a flipping novel — I plan to organize — my closet, my room, my life. In short, I plan to do everything that will make me happy, I plan to conquer the freaking world. But then, because I plan to do all these things and have the best summer I’ve ever had (and do all this because it’s what I want to do), all these wants become shoulds.

And it isn’t just that I should read, because I like reading, but then it’s about what I should read. I should read smart novels and stories and poems, that will expand my mind and make me seem smart, but then, I should also be enjoying what I’m reading. And so, if I decide that I’m going to spend this moment reading, and even if I’m not thinking of all the other things I should be enjoying, I worry that maybe I should be reading a different book. It’s the same with writing. Should I write on my blog now? In a journal? Should I instead be writing ficticiously? Should I be trying out a writing prompt? Maybe I should give my “novel” a go?

This moment, I’ve chosen writing on my blog. But now I feel that maybe I should abandon this post, because who wants to hear me complain about my pathetic problems? I should really be writing about the trip to England I just got back from. I should tell you about my visits to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born or to Bath, where Jane Austen once lived. I should review one of the three Shakespeare plays I saw. I should be writing about those experiences or any of the other very cool, very literary things I saw and did. But I just don’t feel like it. Probably only because that’s what I think I should be writing about.

One of the pictures I took in England that I feel like I SHOULD post. Taken at 4 Sydney Place in Bath — where Jane Austen once lived.

That’s really the problem with me. I never want to do anything if I actually can. If I should. Only if I can’t. I never feel as compelled to write as when I don’t have a pen and paper with me or as when I have stuff to do that I don’t feel like doing. I never feel as compelled to blog as when I don’t have internet access or my laptop handy. I was itching to post on my blog for the two first days of my trip when I still hadn’t gotten internet set up. Then, as soon as I did, I wrote this post, which didn’t have that much to do with the awesome things I was actually doing in England. The next day I wrote another post, also not really about what I had been doing and seeing. Neither were what I felt that I should be writing. After that, I had internet access the entire rest of the trip and we were back at the hotel fairly early a few nights. But because I knew I could blog, I didn’t really feel compelled to. I’m on vacation, I reasoned. I’ll post when I get home. Because that’s always how it is with me. I’ll do it later. I’ll do it at this or that future date. Then I’ll have the time. I’ll have the motivation. It’ll happen. Later. I hadn’t posted what (or as much as) I had wanted. I felt okay with my justifications and I had a marvellous trip, but I still l felt a little uneasy. I had all these nagging shoulds. I enjoyed everything I did, and everything I did was something I wanted to be doing, but I was in England, so they felt very much like wants I should have. And I still felt the compulsion to blog and write about it, but without the desire and drive to do so.

But then today I tried something different. My room is still in a messy state, as I started cleaning it a couple of weeks ago and decided to finish it later. Add all the stuff I brought back from England to that mess and it’s really not looking so good. So I have to deal with that. Then there’s the stuff I should be doing because I want to. The reading, the blogging, the writing. I was going to do all of this today. I was also going to go run some errands and then come home and sit out in the sun because it was beautiful outside today. The latter two items involve getting dressed (something I tend to avoid until I actually leave the house). So I woke up and spent a few hours taking a shower and eating breakfast and figuring out what to wear — because these are totally things that should take a person a few hours. I was all dressed and ready to leave the house and about to go out, when the clear, blue sky clouded over and began spewing drops of rain.

I was stuck. It was another should versus want to situation. You see, I love the rain. I love the sun even more, but when I have no need to remain dry and a warm towel is at the ready, nothing gives me more joy, nothing is more exhilarating, than running around in the rain. Not only was it something I desperately wanted to do, but it was the epitome of a should not. Who would go out and run around in the rain? What was I thinking? Surely I’d catch my death. Besides, I had just, finally figured out what to wear and gotten dressed. I had things to do, things that I should do.

So I did what any reasonable person would have done. I changed into something I didn’t mind getting wet and I went outside to run around in the rain. My sister refused to join me. Someone who was at my house laughed at me when I came inside with water streaming from my hair and clothes. My mother shook her head — I think ‘crazy’ was the word she used to describe me. But you know what? I didn’t catch my death. I felt as though I had caught my life. Sure, when I came inside I was dripping and shivering. But outside, despite the rain, it was warm, peaceful. I love the steady sound of rain, hitting the wooden deck. I love walking barefoot through warm puddles. I love the warm wind whipping around, throwing raindrops in my face. It feels so good to just let go sometimes. To forget what you should do, forget what other people think, forget how cold you’ll be the moment you come inside and get hit with the freezing air-conditioning.

And because let myself do that, I felt like I had accomplished something. I felt really good about myself, about my decisions, about my life. And now I’ve finally been able to just sit down to blog — something I should do — without feeling like I should be doing this or should be doing something else.

Of course there will always be things that should be done and have to done. Things I don’t want to do, but have to do anyways. But maybe sometimes it’s easier (and more enjoyable) to do those things, if I give myself permission to do something I want once in a while. To do something unreasonable and unnecessary and perhaps a little crazy. Just as long as there’s a dry towel waiting for me when I come inside.

What about you? Do you have a constant should versus want to debate inside your head? How do you reconcile with doing things you’d rather not? Do want to’s ever become shoulds for you?

For the Love of Jane

I first got acquainted with Jane Austen when I was in grade ten. It changed my life. Obviously. It was also the start of a delightful little obsession. An addiction you might even say. And then I kind of got over that. I really thought I was cured. Turns out I was just in remission, ’cause the sickness is back. Will it ever be gone for good? I sure hope not.

A modern imagination of Jane. Probably more accurate (and pretty) than the other “fake” pics floating around. If you’re as ardent (crazy) a fan as me, you know what I mean. If not, google it. There is more out in Jane’s corner of the web than you would ever care to know. Photo credit: pemberley.com

With the start of the summer (during which I planned on reading lots of new books) I find myself going back to Jane. Maybe it’s because with high school ending and The Rest of My Life starting (as if), it’s nice to have something consistent and familiar to go back to. To borrow a metaphor (actually a simile, but whatever) used a lot with regards to rereading, going back to Jane is like being re-acquainted with a dear old friend. Except, while the old familiarity, shared memories and old jokes are still around, when you meet up with someone from your past, you can’t expect that they’ll be exactly the same as they were when you were close. Which is okay, because you’ve also changed. While Jane’s words have remained the same since the last time I read them (and for the past two hundred years) I’ve certainly changed, so my reading and understanding of those words has too. We (the book and I — just in case I lost anyone there) have a different relationship now. It can’t be the same as it was before, but you know what? That’s okay.

Photo credit: goodreads.com

My very first impression of Jane Austen was (appropriately) based on Pride and Prejudice. For the first several pages, that impression was not a wholly positive one. A teacher (The English Teacher) recommended I read it and I was really excited to do so. Then I did and I thought that teacher was insane for suggesting it. It was just so prim and proper and old-fashioned-y. Although, I do have to admit that I didn’t really understand it at first. That’s probably an understatement. I thought Lady Catherine De Bourgh was Mr. Collins’ wife. That was not fabricated for your amusement, I could not make such ignorance up. And in my defence, how was I supposed to know WTF a “patroness” was? Why else he would need some woman’s permission to come visit his relatives, unless they were married? It’s a good thing I switched to The Annotated Pride and Prejudice before he started courting and proposing to half the girls in Hertfordshire, all because Lady C wants him ‘settled’. Then it would have gotten really confusing. And weird. And Mr. Collins is weird enough without my misunderstanding his relationship status with Lady C.

Once I actually understood P&P (or at the very least understood what was going on in it) I fell ardently in love with it for the same reasons I had initially disliked and misunderstood it. The primness. The propriety. The old-fashioned-y-ness. It also may have had something to do with Colin Firth in a wet shirt, but you know, whatever. Anyway, as the cliche goes, high school kind of sucks, and Jane was my escape. I could float away into the world she created with her well-chosen, beautiful worlds and forget about everything else. I’d live in ravishing country estates with my new best friends Lizzy, Emma, Catherine and Marianne; I would swoon over Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley and Henry Tilney, doodling their names all over my Science notebook, in my best, most Jane Austen-y cursive. I was more “well-adjusted” by the time I got to grade eleven and twelve, finally finding my place with a steady group of friends, but until then, I had Jane. She helped me so much during that awkward year and to her and her heroines (and we can’t forget those heros) I will always be grateful.

There is NO screenshot that can possibly do justice to this moment. Also, posting pictures such as this one is half the reason I started this blog. I’m being serious.

I read P&P literally about three or four consecutive times upon first meeting it (in addition to at least as many viewings of the five and half hour movie), so since then I’ve tried (at times in vain) to stay away from it. That’s because Jane’s words have become so engrained in my mind that they’ve begun to (dare I say) lose their power to excite and instil new ideas. I thought it would be best to wait for a little to reread it, so I can take new and more profound meaning from those beautiful words and see them with fresh eyes rather than just looking at them on a page and doing little more than skimming due to my over-familiarity. Actually, keeping with the friend metaphor, it’s much like the way we can’t (and often just don’t) always judge and assess our close friends  objectively (or always notice all their merits) because we’re so used to them and all their idiosyncrasies. I’ve also been keeping carefully away from Emma because I really adore that one and wouldn’t want this to happen with that.

Now I’m re-assessing Jane with my reread of Northanger Abbey and it’s a very interesting experience. For some reason, I thought that despite my love for Catherine and Henry Tilney, I never really read this book that much, so it was immune to this phenomenon. It became my go-to for when I needed a jolt of Jane’s humour. Or was just between books and needed something to fall back on. But it now occurs to me that I’ve read the book at least three, (but potentially closer to five) times, in addition to watching the movie just as much, in the past two years since I first read it. So it’s more familiar than I thought. Kind of like a friend you like, but only hang out with a lot because you have a bunch of mutual friends, and then you’re suddenly struck by how close the two of you have gotten. It’s sort of like that. Let’s say. (It’s really not like that. I love Northanger Abbey and always have. It would have been a more appropriate simile if I had been talking about Mansfield Park — we’re only friends because it happens to be written by Jane — but that would never happen. Neither Fanny or Edmund are people who I can relate to, be entertained by, aspire to be like or swoon over.)

But despite my newfound familiarity with Northanger Abbey, and every single exchange between Catherine and Henry, I’ve changed and learned and grown since last reading it (or any novel by Jane). So there’s this weird disparity. On the one side, I feel overly familiar with the plot and dialogues and phrasing but at the same time I am continually shocked by how much I seem to have missed or misinterpreted the first few times I read it. Despite all my ardent love and admiration (as well as how many times I have read and reread each of Jane’s novels) I’m beginning to realize that I didn’t understand her works as thoroughly as I thought I originally did. Yes, Jane’s novels are set in fancy country estates, where her characters’ interactions are ruled by a very official laws of etiquette, but it turns out that this by no means implies that her novels are prim, proper or flowery. It turns out (and I say this as the biggest complement I can think to bestow) that Jane Austen was an ironic, sarcastic, satirical bitch. There are lines in Northanger that I cannot believe are written before my eyes and I wonder how they could possibly escaped me the first several times I read the book.

A lot of the new insight I’m seeing comes from my deeper understanding of and appreciation for satire and irony. I’ve (almost) always understood that you can’t take everything Jane says or all of her character’s words and actions at face value. I seem to be one of the few people who truly understands that when Jane coined the phrase “a truth universally acknowledged”, she intended for the phrase to imply that the clause following it isn’t really a cold, hard fact, people just think it’s the truth. For example, it is a truth universally acknowledged that universally acknowledged truths are true — i.e., a lot of people think that universally acknowledged truths are true, but they’re not. But, I don’t think I really understood the extent to which you really can’t trust a single word that flowed from Jane’s pen. I have made some pretty major life decisions based on lines in Northanger Abbey only to realize later that the line I was basing my life around was meant ironically. (I can’t share what those “major life decisions” are or what lines they are based on, because these decisions will seem fairly minor to you. Also, my misinterpretations and consequent decisions make me feel — and would make me look — like quite a silly, ignorant, little teenager.)

But the really interesting thing that I’ve been wondering lately is about the nature of this growth and deeper understanding. I can obviously understand Jane’s works differently now that I’ve grown and internalized the idea of irony a little more. The question is, was that learning and growth independent of Jane and her works, or was it Jane who taught me about irony and satire, and now I’m finally able to (consciously) apply it back to the works that taught it to me in the first place? It’s kind of a circular argument and it’s probably a bit of both.

Have you been rereading much lately? Are you gaining new insight or is it more of just a trip down memory lane? What’s on your summer reading list?

Getting Back on the Horse

 

When I was small, I was literally almost thrown from a horse. Luckily the lady who worked at the horse riding place (would that be called a stable?) caught me, so no damage was done. This was before I had developed my fear of animals, so supposedly my response was something along the lines of, “next time, I’m riding a pony.” My mother, trying to avoid the development of an animal-phobia, insisted I get right back on the horse. So the story goes, I did and lived to tell the tale. Regardless, I somehow managed to develop that fear of animals. I have a few theories that explain this phenomenon, but those are for another time.

That’s always what I think of when I have to figuratively get back on the horse. Now, that horse is this blog. I fell off during the last couple weeks of school, so I could ‘focus on exams and final assignments’. I planned on writing far more frequently once school was over, when I would have ‘so much more time’. But then I felt stressed to write a really impressive, partially explanatory I’mmm Baa-ack post, which I ended up procrastinating for a while (a while being a week or so). Then, I decided to jump  into Camp NaNoWriMo, my post about which you can read over here. Since I was working towards a goal of about 2000 words per day on my ‘novel’, I felt that I could take another little break from blogging, posting less frequently, if at all.

And then, a few days ago, I decided that Camp NaNo wasn’t working for me. So I stopped. I don’t look at this as quitting, so much as making a decision to spend my time on other things which I’d rather be doing, like blogging. Since then, I’ve been trying to post something, anything, but it just isn’t working out so well. I tried writing one about my choice to duck out if Camp NaNo early, in attempt to justify this decision to myself and others. That post got abandoned after a few forced paragraphs, because I had already worked through those feelings in my head (and with my mommy) and had convinced myself that it was the right decision, so writing about it and thus analyzing my choice further just felt stale.

Then I tried to write a post about the fact that I’m re-reading Northanger Abbey  by Jane Austen, but I had too many things to say about Jane, her novels, irony and re-reading that the post was just a long, rambling, tangent-y mess. I felt the way I do when I start making an outline for an English essay: I had too many thoughts and I needed to work on streamlining them. However, writing blog posts should be more fun than writing essays for English class, so rather than bothering to streamline, I just saved it as a draft and left it alone.

But look at me!  I’m back on the horse! And it wasn’t that hard or that scary! Maybe tomorrow or the next day I’ll try riding it around a little. Perhaps I’ll even share my theories as to how my fear of animals developed (if I can make it entertaining enough — otherwise it’ll share the fate of the other two aforementioned posts). Or maybe I’ll streamline and publish that post on Northanger Abbey. Of course, by then I’ll probably have several thousand new ideas that need streamlining, but now that I’m back on the horse, hopefully I’ll stay up here for a while — there’s a great view.

Is anyone else in a beginning-of-summer blogging rut? How do you combat blogger’s block? How about you in the back? Any thoughts?

 

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