Friday, September 15, 2017

To Raise the Temeraire



To Raise the Temeraire

            I remember the first time I saw The Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner. It was on the cover of an anthology of literature book. It was a collegiate tome that my father had acquired, when he took business classes at a local community college (In America, this is a two-year university level program). He wasn’t much of a reader, but he held onto that book. One night, when I was about seven or eight, he read Hemingway’s The Undefeated to me from that book. It was an odd choice, as my mother loved Hemingway, and my father knew practically nothing about him. However, that book was to become influential in other ways.

            It was the first place I’d read James Joyce, as it reprinted The Dead, the final story from Dubliners. It was also where I read H.G. Wells’ Country of the Blind, and were I was first exposed to the name Oscar Wilde. Reprinted in those pages was The Picture of Dorian Gray.

            I still have that book, along with its dog-eared pages, and faded cover; decorated with the image of The Fighting Temeraire.

            As a child, I used to imagine what that painting depicted. I had a thing about ships, like a lot of children do, even these days. I was too young to know what the Temeraire was, so I assumed that it was the name of the river, and not the vessel. So, in my imagination, I made up a story as to what the painting was about.

            I pictured a sultry afternoon on a river. A steamship was heading into rough waters, as it pulled a damaged vessel behind it. It was headed, I presumed down River Temeraire, into some kind of delta country—similar to New Orleans. Images of riverboat gamblers, gunslingers, and corset-clad “painted ladies” filled my imagination. I imagined those where the people on that boat.

            In time, I was to discover that the Temeraire was the name of the vessel being towed. I was to also discover the name of the river on which it sailed.

            As a teenager, when I began to really read classic lit, I also discovered the works of classic artists. Sir Joshua Reynolds, John William Waterhouse, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner were to become familiar to be. So much so that I can pretty much tell who’s who by looking at their paintings. Many of their works adorned the covers of paperback editions of works by our good lady, Jane Austen, and the venerable Anthony Trollope, or Boz himself; Charles Dickens. I began to associate certain artists with certain authors as well. Though sometimes the subject didn’t always match the text, either in terms of time period, or even subject matter. I can’t tell you how many copies of Frankenstein feature a mundane looking man, as opposed to The Creature, or Gothic castle ruins. There are even some cover paintings that contradict the fashions depicted in said novels. But, that’s another discussion, perhaps even a nitpicky one.

            As for the truth about The Fighting Temeraire, it came to me in the form of a podcast.

            I had listened to the In Our Time podcast from the BBC. In that episode, the painting, and its subject were both discussed. By that point, I was well into my thirties, and knew that Turner was British, and not some American that traveled to Cajun country. I had already been exposed to more of his work in my twenties as well, so his style was firmly established to me. I learned The Temeraire was an English vessel, not a river. I was also to learn that the river that was depicted in the painting was the venerable Thames. Yes, the city to the right of the painting is lovely old London.

            As for The Temeraire…it’s story was more extraordinary than the one I’d concocted.



            At the Battle of Trafalgar, the Temeraire came to the aid of Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory. While mortally wounded, Nelson continued to command his men, until finally succumbing to his wounds. He had been shot through the chest by a sniper, and with the bullet firmly lodged in his lungs, it was only a matter of time. It took Nelson approximate three hours to die. But in that time, he fought for every last second of life—not for himself, but for his crew.  

            As Nelson lay dying, a French vessel, the Redoutable prepared to board the Victory. Captain Eliab Harvey, of the Temeraire wasn’t having any of that, and ordered his crew to fire a broadside directly at this adversary’s deck. He then ordered the Temeraire to ram the Redoutable, which it did! Captain Harvey then ordered his crew to lash the Temeraire to the Redoutable, and then fire its broadsides at close range. They gave the French crew a constant lead-injected bombardment.

HMS Victory in Portsmouth. 


Then, French ship, the Fougueux came alongside the Temeraire. It fired at her, and did some damage. To which the hard-gambling, hard-fighting Captain Harvey did something unexpected. He ordered his crew to wait until the Fougueux was in range. Then, the opposite side of the Temeraire opened fire on her. He then gave the order to lash her side as well.

            Pause for a moment, and think about that.

            Captain Harvey, and his crew, were fighting two ships at once! Where are the statues of that man? Not to sound crude, but his cajones were so big, it’s take all the brass in Britain just to make one statue of him. In American terms, he was, “One tough son of a bitch.” I mean that with affection.

            The Temeraire took some serious damage, including a deck fire, as did the Redoutable. Both crews lobbed grenades at one another, and suffered mass casualties. Meanwhile, the Victory had martialed its crew, and was firing at the Redoutable. Eventually, the French vessel was reduced to driftwood, after it received a two-sided pummeling.

            The Fougueux crew was decimated by a small arms gun fight with the Temeraire crew. Which must have looked like High Noon on the high seas. This was followed by First Lieutenant Thomas Kennedy, who lead a boarding party to the Fougueux. The beleaguered French vessel had lost its captain, and was surrendered by its first mate.

            This was to be the only major battle the Temeraire ever saw. But, if it were to be the only one, it may as well by the ultimate one.

Though Nelson won the day, and scuttled Napoleon’s navy, he paid the ultimate price.  

Lord Nelson gave his life in service to crown and country. His sacrifice, in a war against a tyrant, is still remembered to this day. If it were not for the Temeraire, and her can-do crew, history may have told a different story. Appropriately enough, the name “temeraire” means, “reckless” in French.

Though she became a legend, The Temeraire was eventually put out to pasture, so to speak. She became a prison ship, and was eventually decommissioned. The image we see in Turner’s painting is the Temeraire being taken to the scrapyard. The Fighting Temeraire is a both a tribute, and a requiem. It mourns the loss of such a national treasure for England, but also crystalizes the final moments of a nation’s forsaken hero.

The last time she fired her guns was not in war, but in celebration, at the coronation of Queen Victoria. Under the command of her former First-Lieutenant, now Captain Kennedy, she was to make her final voyage.

The Temeraire was sold at auction, and then taken up the Thames to be dismantled at Rotherhithe. Her wood was used to make souvenirs, and furniture. Some of her timbers can still be seen in various places in the U.K. Not the least of which is a gong stand in Balmoral Castle. It was a wedding present to George V, on his marriage to Mary of Teck.

Last year, I saw the Thames in person for the first time. It did not disappoint. As I tried to photograph that beautiful river, I tried to recreate the famous Thames Television logo. I found that was not only impossible, but also unnecessary. Nothing artificial could compare to the majesty of the Thames. Even the name itself carries strength.


As it was late afternoon, I tried to imagine the Temeraire. As I stood on Westminster Bridge, and took in a summer breeze, I believe I may have seen it. I knew where I was, and what I could have seen in Turner’s day. Though almost two centuries had passed, I still looked over the same river that inspired Turner. I saw the same sky, minus the coal fumes, but on the horizon…could it be a steamer? That golden vessel behind it looked spectral. As the sun set, it became transparent.

When I look at the painting, I not only see the Temeraire, I feel it. I feel that breeze again. I feel the receding warmth of an orange sunset. The salt air of the North Sea is in my nostrils. Finally, in my hand is the glass I raise to the crew of that golden vessel, and to J.M.W. Turner for doing what no adversary could ever do, he captured The Temeraire.

Text Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Images: The Fighting Temeraire 
             The Battle of Trafalgar. 
Both by J.M.W. Turner. 


Photos of The Palace of Westminster, and The Thames, and HMS Victory copyright Riley Joyce 2016.



              

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Time to be Born...A Time to Cook...



…A Time to be Born…A Time to Cook

            It was on this day, one year ago, that my mother’s funeral happened. I read a eulogy that I’d written, and was the only one to do so.

            I won’t recount that event here, as I’ve written about it before. Instead, I’m thinking about the strange parallels between that event, and today. For example, it rained the night before my mother’s funeral. It rained heavily last night. The morning started out cold, and then the day heated up. It did so again today. As I waited for some sign to emerge, I found it toward the end of my work day.

            As I waited for public transport, I heard the growl of a motorcycle down the street. The stereo onboard that hog blasted one of Prince’s songs, Kiss. Mom would have liked that. If it had been Diamonds and Pearls (my mother’s favorite) I may have started to cry where I stood.

            Last night, I drank tea out of a paisley cup I’d bought for my mother. It was a birthday gift for from a year before her death. I bought it for her, but she never drank from it, as it may have been too pretty to use. I decided to keep it, and found it’s one of the most elegant things in my kitchen cabinets. Not that the flour, spices, and tea bags aren’t lovely. For that matter, there’s nothing more lovely than well-brewed tea.

            Except when you have a really strong mojito made from fresh ingredients by a clever barmaid in Bath…but that’s another story. After one of those, everything looked lovely.
            I had a flash back today, to the first time I had tea.

            My mother was in her ceramic studio , working on a piece, when I sat next to her in my bathrobe and slippers. I was about eight years old at the time. She let me have some of her tea, which had gone lukewarm, and was inundated with sugar. From then on, I became an addict. I can’t live a single day without tea; by the cup, or the pot, I can’t live without it. It sustains me. Any time I’ve had blood taken, I’ve wondered why it’s not dark-brown, and scented like Earl Grey.

            I could barely eat the night that my mother died. I scarcely ate anything until after her funeral. Partly because I blamed myself for her death. But also, because I just couldn’t think about anything else. Tea and pizza was all I had for three days. On the one-year anniversary of her death, I made a meal she would have approved of; mashed potatoes, and a bacon-wrapped steak. It was cooked the way my mother would have liked it, medium-rare. I even used the leftover fluid from the pan as gravy on the mashed spuds. My mother always reused things like that, rather than throw them away. She used that southern method of cooking, where bacon grease was used in lieu of cooking oil; especially when making pancakes. Not the healthiest way to cook, but it was always tasty. I must confess, I did that recently when making sausages. I reused the grease for French toast.

            I was always the cook. Mom was the baker.

            The most I’ve baked has been recently, with the Bath Buns being the first major challenge. They were made from scratch by me, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the passing away of Jane Austen. She was fond of them, so I thought I’d have a go. I was happy to report they turned out brilliantly. I think my mother would have enjoyed them as well. Though, knowing my mother, she would have wanted to pack my sugar into the mix. She worshiped the white gold from the Caribbean, and put it in everything; even her marinara sauce. I sometimes wonder if that’ll be a lost art; the recipe given from mother to child. I have a fair bit of her recipe cards, so who knows?

            I use her cookware when I’m in the kitchen. Those are the only real heirlooms I have of her. From the wooden spoon that was used to stir ice tea in summer, to the neon-bright colanders and cutting boards. It’s as if the kitchen is the one room that reminds me the most of her.

            What would her thoughts me on how I make cornbread? Or, how I use silicon pinch bowls when measuring out seasonings by eye? I think she’d be impressed that I try to cook almost every night. I think more so, she’d be pleased I kept her cookware after she died. I might be putting the plates aside in favor of something else (We’ve had them since 1987. They are a bit dated) but everything else is intact.

             The night of her funeral, I strung up Christmas lights, so the place wouldn’t look so gloomy. Now, I find myself nothing doing that. Instead, I have a bedroom window open, to let in cool air, and the sound of crickets. Their chirps mingle with the vocals from the BBC proms on the radio. A lilac candle (her favorite scent) burns on the dining room table.

            There were no viceroys today. No dreams about her from the night before. Instead, I woke up, went to work, and counted the hours until I’d get back to the flat. I felt tired today, but thoughts of her funeral were not prevalent. I had to focus on other things throughout the day.

            Who knows what I’ll dream tonight. Or, when I’ll see the viceroys again. I still see the cardinals, like the ones in our old garden. They give me comfort enough.

            Another year has passed, and many more to come.

            To quote Linus Van Pelt, “The world didn’t end, Charlie Brown.”
           
Above photograph taken by the author at No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath, England. I toured the museum there; located in the former architect's residence. The kitchen was the most astounding room. 

            
Text copyright Riley Joyce 2017 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

One Year and One After Life



One Year and One After Life
            July 26th marks one year since the death of my mother. It feels like it just happened ten minutes ago.

            I don’t have any big celebrations planned, or any sort of memorial. Truth be told, I’m so busy with living now that I haven’t had the chance to process it. So, instead, I’m going to concentrate on where I’m at now in life.

            I can’t believe I’m 38 years old. June 6th was my first birthday without my mother. It’s also the second time I flew back from England, and she wasn’t there to ask me, “How was it? Did you meet the Queen? Is Duchess Kate just as pretty in real life?”

            The answers would be, “Extraordinary. No, I haven’t. You know she is!”

            Well, I haven’t met the Duchess either, but I think it’s a safe bet that she is just as stunning in real life.

            She would also ask, “How was the weather? How was the tea? Did you have a long flight?”

            “It rained for a little bit, but not much. No humidity or heat. The tea was amazing, as always. It was about nine hours, not bad.”

            She would ask, “When does school start?”

            “The end of August.” I’d answer.

            “Are you working part-time, or full-time?”

            “Full-time.” I’d say.
           

            My relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect. That’s just how things were with her. She was a difficult person at times, but she was still my mother. There were times last year when I could feel sad about her, or angry at her. Sometimes, I still have painful memories of her. Other times, I have pleasant memories. There were times when she wasn’t there for me. Then, there were times when she was. She was a complicated woman; one that was neither saint, nor villain. She was someone who had a life that went too fast, and very turbulent. It was always turbulent. Sometimes my mother was at the center of that turbulence, and sometimes she wasn’t. As I learned before, few things are seldom black and white.

            Now, one year after her death, her empty chair still sits next to the door. I survived with the seas around me no less tame, but a little calmer. I’ve been through so much since her death. It seemed like everything that was happening just wouldn’t let up, but eventually, it did. I know that in the future things will become unsettled again, but I want it to be on my own terms, in my own time.

How the hell I’m going to pay for school on my own, and rent, is beyond me. Still, I’m so close to graduating, that I’m not stopping this time. If I do, then I’m stuck in a place where I don’t belong. I always assumed the key was to get educated, and move onto something better. I realize now that is part of it, but not all of it. There’s also making sure that one has a future ahead of them, and to ensure the security of that future. I’m working on that. It’s not easy.

            There is the idea of the soldier fighting an endless war; one that either ends with the hero’s death, or with life returning to a state of peace. There is no surrender. Nor, is turning back an option. One can only move forward, and continue to fight.

            If there’s anything that I know would give my mother some comfort…it would be in knowing that I’m still here after she is gone.  

Stained glass in Bath Abbey. Photo taken by me as well.
Top photo: stained glass in St. Patrick's chapel, Glastonbury. 

To read the story of my mother's passing: Click this link here: My Mother's Passing

           

            Text and photos: Copyright Riley Joyce 2017 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Saddest of Days--A Eulogy for Jane Austen



The Saddest of Days
A Eulogy for Jane Austen

            July 18th is the saddest of days for Janeites. Yet it is also a time of celebration. While we collectively mourn the loss of someone so great to us, we also celebrate her life. Indeed, it is a time of both long-delayed tears, and joy.

            As General Patton once said, about the casualties under his command, “It is foolish to mourn the dead. Instead, we should thank God that such men lived.”

            I half-agree with the esteemed general. It is not foolish to mourn the dead; whether recent, or in the past. Though I agree, we should be thankful that such a woman lived. The daughter of a humble clergyman changed the world. She had lead no battlefield victories. Nor, did she run for office. Instead, she fought against convention. In a time when there were few opportunities for women, she created her own career path. In that respect, she did fight a battle, and won. She became not only an inspiration to women, but to men as well. Two-hundred years after her passing, her legacy continues.

            It is a rare thing for a novelist to impact the whole of society. It is even more rare for that novelist to endure. The words that flowed from her pen are fresh on the lips and hearts of all her admirers. Though written by her hand in another time, they still hold power today. Not only do we see ourselves in her characters, we see universal truths. Jane’s work is a microcosm; not just of Regency England, but of all human thought, and emotion. She knew human nature when psychology hadn’t been dreamed of yet. Her observations, and her good use of them, have shown readers a greater insight into the human condition than any college textbook.

            As we mourn the loss of one who has touched our lives, we also celebrate.

            Two-hundred years have passed since Jane Austen walked the stones of Bath. Her well-used writing table stands in Chawton, as if its mistress is about to use it again. Though her pen may lay idle, we feel she is with us. All one has to do is read her books, and instantly one is in communion with her.

            Two-hundred years, and her visage will grace the ten-pound note. Lovely statues of her will be erected in Basingstoke, and Winchester Cathedral. Her life will be celebrated with readings, costume balls, and (naturally) specially brews teas and ales. In a great way, those that love her are giving back to her by honoring her memory.

            Though it was two-hundred years since she was laid to rest, she lives. Millions of people, in various languages, will open any one of her books on any given day. They will read the thoughts of a woman who has inspired, and will continue to inspire for many more centuries to come. The costume balls will continue. The readings will never cease. The pianoforte will fill the air with the sounds of her time. Many a match will be made. Many a broken heart will be mended by her words.

            Two-hundred years, and she is still with us.

I will close with words from that distinguished lady herself.


"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!"
― Jane Austen, Persuasion 


Text copyright Riley Joyce

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Have You Met Jane?

Have You Met Jane?


 “Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” — Sense and Sensibility



            My pulse quickened as we approached Winchester Cathedral. We stood on the path that lead to it massive doors, and I paused. I imagined it’s what the entrance to heaven would look like; veiled by trees, with a grand edifice beyond that long walk.

            “You can’t see the cathedral through the trees.” I joked.

            It was a nervous joke, but also true. I could see old headstones in the churchyard, but not the cathedral itself. I took a photo, and thought, “This must be what it looks like to pass beyond the veil.”
 
            My friend, who served as tour guide, is a fellow Lindsey Stirling fan, so she will have got the reference.

            We continued our walk, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to meet Jane.”

            I dressed up for the occasion; navy blue trousers, and my “map shirt.” It depicts antique maps of the British and French coastlines, respectively. I once had a set of pens that matched it, now lost. I also wore the most paisley of ties, though it may have been a bit too loud for the occasion. Still, I wanted to look my best.

            We talked for a bit, and then became silent. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. It was more a sense of honor that I felt, rather than jitters. Still, I grew a bit excited as the cathedral loomed over us.

            It is massive.

            Much larger than I expected.

            The photo you see here shows the imposing stature of Winchester Cathedral. I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing it after all these years.

            We entered, and I immediately saw a display commemorating Jane Austen. There were banners all over Bath and Winchester; as this was the 200th anniversary of her passing. But our exploration did not begin with her grave. I wanted to save that for last. We started with various tombs of bishops, and even a crusading knight. The shrine of St. Swithin, patron saint of weather (and former bishop of Winchester) was on display. I took photos of that as well, and remarked, “The first time I’d heard of St. Swithin was in an episode of The Simpsons.” It’s the same one where Bart spoof’s the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. But, I came to associate St. Swithin with Winchester when I discovered Jane Austen. I’m thankful for that association as well.

            The legend that it will rain for forty nights if it rains on his feast day was recounted on his shrine. The first I’d heard of it was in Jane’s juvenile writings. Oddly enough his feast day is July 15th, just three days before Jane’s passing. She wrote a satirical poem about it; one in which the revered saint gets his revenge on the less pious residents, by making it rain during a horse race.

            “Shift your races as you will. it shall never be dry! The curse upon Venta is July in showers!”—When Winchester Races. Written on July 15th, 1817.     





    
Just a side note, King Canute and Queen Emma of Normandy were laid to rest here as well. Their bones lie in ossuaries which were placed on railings above a side chapel; the former site of Old Minster in Winchester. I knew what they boxes were without reading the signs. I’d seen photos of ossuaries before, but hadn’t seen one in person until now. Canute was the king that challenged the sea, and lost. He couldn’t stop the tide, no king can. William II was also laid to rest here. But it’s Emma of Normandy who I think garners the most interest. She was married to two kings of England; Aethelred the Unready, as well as Canute. She was also the mother of Edward the Confessor; whose tomb I visited in Westminster Abbey. He was crowned at Winchester over a thousand years ago.


This was also where Bloody Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain. But, her sister Elizabeth was much more charismatic, so, history doesn’t care much for the former. That, and Bess was much better looking. Her forehead wasn’t all high and boney like Mary. 

              After a sojourn to the crypt, we made our way to the tomb of someone very special to me, and millions of others. I felt it fitting that she should be laid to rest among kings, queens, and saints.

            “There’s where Jane Austen is buried.” My friend and guide Justine had said, as she pointed ahead. 

            I paused for a moment, and then approached her grave. There were some tourists nearby, and some docent at the cathedral was talking to them, but they didn’t tarry for long. I stepped up to her grave, and instantly had a flashback.

            I remembered the first time I’d read her epitaph. It was in a special Oxford edition of Persuasion, which I still have. Seeing her tombstone was very different from that. As a friend later remarked, “This made her real to you.”

            It did.

            I saw myself as a teenager again, reading her work for the first time. Emma was the first of her novels I’d read. I studied the annotations in the back of that book, and made a thorough reading of it, before I moved onto Pride and Prejudice. It was watching the adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth that first introduced me to her work. I looked her up on the then high-tech Encarta encyclopedia, and had printed out that famous portrait of her we’ve all seen, and kept it in my bedroom on my dresser.

            Most teenage guys had photos of pinups, or rock stars on their walls. I had Jane Austen. I guess my tastes were more refined, even back then. All joking aside, she was, and still is a different kind of celebrity crush. Intelligence, wit, talent, and charm go much further than glam. I firmly believe that smart is sexy. Nothing enchants me more than brilliance and sweetness combined. I think it’s for all these reasons that all Janeites love her so much. 200 years later, and she hasn’t lost any of her charm. That says something beyond words.

            I used to imagine what her voice sound like as I read her novels. I pictured her reading them aloud. I studied her words, and even made a glossary of them. It was then that I learned to study the language, as well as use it. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t know how to write at all, as she was the one that I turned to for English comp. Douglas Adams inspired me to become a writer. But it was Jane Austen that taught me how to write.

            The flashback ended, and I was in the present again.

            I couldn’t believe that after all this time I finally stood next to her. I imagined what she must look like, based on the portraits we have of her (more about that later). I then imagined what she must have looked like in her coffin, but not morbidly. I just pictured her asleep, not dead. I turned my thoughts away from that, because I wanted to picture her alive. I had read her works, and read so much about her. This was the closest I’d ever get to meeting her in this life. I felt I might cry a little, but held it in. Still, my eyes watered a little bit, and not just because I’d worn my contacts.





            Some German tourists formed a circle around her grave, and were given a brief presentation of Jane’s life. I took some photos, and then looked at the various items on display. I took a few snaps of the brass memorial plaque, which was installed by her family. I then noticed the ledge where one could lay flowers. I chastised myself a little bit over that. I’d wanted to lay flowers on her grave, but knew I couldn’t cover the tombstone. Still, one could (and did) lay a floral arrangement under the brass plaque. Next time, I will leave the brilliantly colored Jane Austen roses near her tomb.


            I saw first editions of Emma and Northanger Abbey. I then saw a poem Jane had written, mourning the loss of Mrs. Lefroy. It was an actual manuscript written by her! I could read her handwriting! It was the most beautiful script I’d ever seen. I also saw the burial registry for Winchester, with her name and age written in it. Though the date of her death was incorrect, as the description in the case made note. It also noted that burials in the cathedral ceased in the late 19th century. Well, there go my plans to get bricked up near her. That being said, her tombstone looked almost knew. It even sparkled. Not even the tombs in Westminster Abbey looked this good. I also noticed that no one stepped on her tomb, save for one person who wasn’t looking. I resisted the urge to say, “Show some respect!” It was as if everyone went out of their way to be respectful. I was thankful for that.

    


             Finally, after the tourists had walked away, I returned to her tomb. My friend stepped away for a little bit as well. I got to spend a few moments alone at the grave. I stood in quiet contemplation, and just let my emotions run through me. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I noticed there was a condolence/memory book nearby. In the words of Jane herself, “Sometimes it is better to write than to talk.” So, I found the words, and wrote them down. I won’t say what I wrote in that book, that’s for Jane to know. But what I did write was brief, yet profound. How do you encapsulate so many feelings into a few sentences? Jane Austen knew how to do that. Her, “little bits of ivory,” as she called them served as inspiration.



            Before we left, there was a moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester and London attacks. The Lord’s Prayer was recited, and I recited along with it. You don’t forget that sort of thing, but I wanted to make sure I got it right in the presence of a parson’s daughter. I’m sure she would have approved.

A first edition of Emma. Above; the mourning poem for Mrs. Lefroy. First editions of Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey. Emma was the first Jane Austen novel I'd read. 

            Justine then said to me, “I can show you a house Jane Austen lived in. But we can’t go inside. People live there.”

            Only the house in Chawton, where Jane completed her novels, is open to the public. That is the home of the Jane Austen museum. Several artifacts from her life, including her writing table are on display Though there is also a residence in Bath (I believe the one at Sydney Place) which is available as a holiday let.

            As for the yellow house on College Street…

            “There used to be a sign in front that said, ‘This is not a museum!’” Justine remarked.



            I read the blue plaque outside, which you can see in the photo below, which I snapped quickly. 

            It was the house where Jane died.


            I looked at the window (the bay one, on the left) where she saw her final sunrise.

            I’ll let her sister, Cassandra, tell the story.

            “I cannot say how soon afterwards she was seized again with the same faintness, which was followed by the sufferings she could not describe; but Mr. Lyford had been sent for, had applied something to give her ease, and she was in a state of quiet insensibility by seven o'clock at the latest. From that time till half-past four, when she ceased to breathe, she scarcely moved a limb, so that we have every reason to think, with gratitude to the Almighty, that her sufferings were over. A slight motion of the head with every breath remained till almost the last. I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours; fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J. A. for two hours and a-half, when I took it again, and in about an hour more she breathed her last.
I was able to close her eyes myself, and it was a great gratification to me to render her those last services. There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.”—A letter to Frances Knight, Jane Austen’s niece. Dated July 18, 1817.

            While watching Lucy Worsley’s excellent Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors documentary, I learned that Jane’s funeral procession headed down the same path we’d walked. It would make sense, as this would be the quickest way to arrive at Winchester cathedral. We’d walked the same stones that Jane herself had traversed in life, and in death.

            I had difficulty speaking afterwards, but managed to do something I’m normally not good at; making small talk. We then headed to Portsmouth, and the wreck of the Mary Rose.

            “Did you know Winchester was once the capitol of England, before London?” Justine remarked.

            “No,” I said. “I did not. Do you know the Latin for Winchester?”

            “No,” Justine replied.

            “Venta.” I said. “I learned that from verses that Jane Austen wrote.”      


    The burial registry with Jane's name and burial listed. 
           
So, you think the story ends here…

            It doesn’t.

            That’s how Jane was laid to rest. But what about how she lived?

            I booked my holiday in Bath specifically for that reason.



            When Jane’s father retired as rector of Steventon the Austen family moved to Bath. It was a fashionable resort town, even back then. Many traveled long distances to bath for its waters. Or, to attend the regular dances that were held in the Assembly Rooms. I’m happy to say that not much has changed since 1801. The town looks almost exactly as it did in Jane Austen’s time. She lived there for five years, and it’s easy to see why she loved it so much. I fell in love the second I exited the train. Those sand-colored Georgian buildings make one feel that they have stepped back in time. Sure, it’s a museum town, but people still live there! Even in the Royal Crescent there’s people living! Bath itself feels alive. I love that feeling.

            It’s believed that the good Reverend Austen, and his wife Cassandra, felt Bath would do their daughters good. They were both in their mid-twenties at the time, and still unmarried. Back then a woman was a considered a spinster if she’d not wed by age twenty-five. The Austen sisters found life in Bath enjoyable, but somewhat difficult. Though by modern standards they’d both be considered young, and about right for marriage, the local men may have thought differently.

Things became even more difficult for the two sisters after their father died. From that point on, they needed support from Jane’s older, and successful brothers. Her writing career hadn’t taken off yet, and so Jane wasn’t in the position yet to support herself, or her family. It was a time when there were few opportunities for women, and so monetary relief was scarce. There was a handsome pension that Rev. Austen drew. But his death meant that no further pension would be drawn.

           Of interest to fellow Austen fans is that her father is buried at St. Swithin’s Walcott. It was also the church where Jane’s parents were married. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the church on time. I secretly chided myself for this. However, it gives me a good excuse to return to Bath. There’s always much more to see.

            The Austen ladies moved from Sydney Street, to lodgings at No. 25 Gay Street (just a few doors down from the Jane Austen Centre at No. 40 Gay Street).

So that brings me to the Jane Austen Centre. It should also bring you to the Centre, as it’s absolutely charming.


Outside is a statue of a woman in Regency dress. She looks contemplative, and stares off into the distance. As I traveled uphill to Gay Street, I counted the door numbers, in search of No. 40. When I saw the women and men in Regency costume, I then realized that finding it wouldn’t be a problem.

No. 40 is a charming townhouse, similar to No.25, where Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen had once lived. Since No. 25 is a private residence, it’s off limits. However, the staff at the Jane Austen Centre chose their location well. It’s exactly to the same specifications as the former residence. Could you imagine living in any one of the houses where Jane and her family had lived? Every moment would feel as if you’d walked into a world gone by, and never left.

The charming young ladies that work at the Centre all wore Regency dresses. Each wore a name tag with a character name on it from Jane’s novels; for example, the young woman that guided my tour was dressed as Georgiana Darcy (sister of Mr. Darcy). I found this to be a brilliant idea, as it helped to bring Jane Austen’s world to life.

The talk she gave was in an upstairs room, decorated to mimic a school room. Myself, and the others in my group, sat on a bench in front (similar to a church pew), and listened to Miss Darcy’s presentation. Portraits of Jane and her family decorated the classroom wall, and we were taught a brief presentation on the life of Jane Austen. I found our presenter to be both personable, and knowledgeable. As you’ll see in a moment, there were things she knew that I hadn’t heard before.

After the biographical presentation, came a visit to the portrait gallery. It was here that we were shown the new ten pound note, featuring Jane’s likeness. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see that (it begins circulation in September. The release date is July 18th). The image on that note is based on the best-known portrait we have of Jane. As Miss Darcy had mentioned, this black and white portrait was painted fifty years after Jane’s passing. It was based on the sketch painted by Cassandra, which remained unfinished.



As our guide had said, “The original is about the size of a postcard. It’s in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Though it’s currently on display in Winchester Cathedral.”

How did I miss that?

“The sketch was unfinished.” She said. “Because her family saw it, and said, ‘This looks nothing like Jane!’ So, Cassandra became discouraged, and never finished it. I have to accept that these two portraits are the closest we’ll ever get to knowing what Jane Austen looked like. Though, we do have a realistic wax figure in the next room, which is based on descriptions of Jane, and these two portraits.”


We were encouraged to ask questions, and so I did. I stayed on after the rest of the group departed, and talked with Miss Darcy.

“I was wondering about this portrait. I’ve heard much about it in recent years.” I said.

I pointed to the portrait of an adorable young woman, possibly in her early teens. She’s clad in a white dress, and holding an umbrella. She’s smiling sweetly, and has a wind-swept and adventurous look about her.





“Oh, this is called The Rice Portrait.” She said. “It’s named for the family that owns the portrait. It’s believed to be Jane Austen as a child. Oh, forgive me. I should ask first, ‘What do you know about this portrait?’”

I then replied, “Well, all I know is that some Jane Austen fans believe it to be authentic, while others are not so sure. There’s a lot of controversy about it.”

“Yes, there are historians that say it may not be Jane; but that it may be one of her nieces, as she does resemble her. Historians say that because of the style of dress, it was current with the clothing Jane would have worn. The dress has the ‘empire’ line. The material appears to be muslin.” Miss Darcy said. “Have you heard of the actress Anna Chancellor?”

“Yes, I was just about to say…”

Anna Chancellor is a great-grand niece of Jane; being a descendant of her brother, Edward Austen-Knight. She’s also the daughter of famed broadcaster John Chancellor. Coincidentally, Ms. Chancellor is also related to the late Lord Asquith, and by extension Helena Bonham Carter. Imagine that family tree! A well-known character actress in her own right, Chancellor played Caroline Bingley in the best-known adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (the one with Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennett, and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Footnote: He became THE Mr. Darcy as a result of this. Portraits of him are prevalent at the Centre)

 “She looks like Francis, Jane’s brother.” Miss Darcy remarked.

“It’s like a mirror image. The first time I saw her, and then compared her to the portrait. She looks exactly like Jane; the dark eye-brows, the high cheekbones. The dark eyes.”

“She looks like people in her family.” She then added, “In the next room, we have the wax figure, have you seen it?”

“Not yet,” I said. “I’m eager to.”

I then told her about my visit to The Mary Rose, and the similar reconstructions of the sailors there.

“They are built like rugby players.” I said.

“They would be short, and squat.” She said. “Probably from being below decks.”

“Most of them had scurvy or rickets as well.” I said.

I then asked, “How tall was Jane Austen?”

“She was quite tall, especially for her era.” Miss Darcy said. “I’m 5’7,” Jane was about 5-foot-ten.” 

            “Really?” I remarked.

“Yes, the people in her family were known to be tall.”

“You’re the same height as me.” I remarked. “Napoleon was actually the same height. So, he really wasn’t short—just average height.”

Then I reminisced about Shakespeare’s birthplace, and the height of the ceiling. (see entry on Stratford-Upon-Avon for details of this).

“One could not build out back then. So, they built up to show their wealth. The higher the ceiling, the more money you had.”

“Ah!” She remarked. “I did not know that.”

She then asked, “Where are you from?”

“Pennsylvania, USA” I said.

“Oh, there’s a Pennsylvania here. It’s just outside of Bath.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” Miss Darcy said. “All I know about Pennsylvania is the song Pennsylvania 6500.

I briefly told her about the history of Pennsylvania; how William Penn’s father was owned money by King Charles II, but his majesty could not pay up. So, he was given land in America. Then Penn set sail to found a Quaker utopia. I did it all in less than two minutes! 

We made introductions, and talked for a bit. It turned out that her birthday was just three days before my own. She needed to return to work, and so I pressed on.

I saw the copies of shooting scripts for various adaptations of Jane Austen’s work; including one for Sense and Sensibility; which was accompanied by a nice tribute to the late Alan Rickman.



The next room I entered was made to look like Jane’s sitting room where she wrote. A writing desk similar to her own was on display. It sat on a recreation of the writing table Jane used. The actual one is at the house in Chawton.

Next to it was a rather tall, attractive woman. I nodded, and then smiled. I assumed it an actress in costume, and that she was about to deliver a reading of Jane’s work.

I thought to myself, “She really looks like Jane Austen.”

Yes, I was born yesterday. 38 years ago yesterday, to be exact. I realized I was looking at the wax figure. As you can see, it’s so lifelike, that you can easily mistake it for her the real Miss Austen.

  I admired the skill with which it was created. From her brunette hair, to the light freckles on her collarbones, I was astounded by the detail. I’d say more, but I’ll let the photos do the talking.



Just as Miss Darcy said, she is rather tall. To see Jane in real life, would have left quite an impression; both intellectually, and visually. 
The waxwork you see here was made by a forensic artist that has worked with the F.B.I. 





I mulled about the room, and examined curious pieces from the Regency period. Items such as daily utensils, and the like. Then I came to a writing desk, were one is allowed to use a quill and ink. It was a fun experience, one that I’d like to recreate. I’d even give it a go with Jane’s recipe for ink.

Yes, she made her own ink!

I met up again with Miss Darcy, who was kind enough to help me with the finer points of Regency men’s wardrobe.

As I put on the men’s shirt, I remarked, “It’s billowy!”

“It’s supposed to be.” She said.

It was surprisingly comfortable, and fit quite nicely. I had inquired what it would have been made of; the answer, linen.

“What else should you wear?” Miss Darcy pondered. “Ah, here we are.”

She then handed me a neckerchief, and instructed me on how to tie it. It’s not to be worn the way a modern tie is worn. Instead, it’s simply knotted. She helped me into a long coat, which was slightly large for me, but also comfortable. She then handed me a top hat, which I must admit, fit perfectly.

She scrutinized my look, and then added, “You need something else. Ah! A cane perhaps?”

She handed it to me, and then said, “Look at you! Perfect! You even wore the right color trousers! It's as if you knew you'd be here today.”

We had a bit of an impromptu fashion shoot, as she took my picture with my camera. She took three in all, and I struck different poses. This may sound weird, but I can’t tell you how appropriate it felt to wear that costume. As soon as I returned to my polo shirt and windbreaker I felt under-dressed. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but it felt like I was meant to wear that costume. It just felt right.





We chatted for a bit afterwards, then I departed.

But, before then, Miss Darcy had wished me a happy birthday. I did likewise for her, as her birthday had only been three days before my own.




I followed the map in the pamphlet I was given at the Centre. I used this to find my way to the Circus, and the Royal Crescent. Photos do it no justice. The Crescent is so large, that I could not fit it in a single frame of my camera. What astonished me even more is that people still live there! Yes, there is a museum attached to it, which I visited. But, The Crescent itself is still occupied. I was happy to see that. I was also happy to see that the Circus is still occupied by people. I marveled at the majestic Georgian structures, and thought to myself, “I can’t believe this place really exists. It does look like something from a novel, or a painting. But it’s all real.”






That night, I attended a play at the Theatre Royal. A lovely Georgian structure itself, it was built in 1805, a year before Jane left bath. It was rebuilt in 1863, and has been in use ever since.

The play that night was an adaptation of Emma. I was massively impressed with it. It made great use of a minimal set, with a circular platform around the center of the stage. The performance combined modern theater, with acting techniques that would have been familiar in Jane’s time. What impressed me most of the way in which dialogue from the novel was woven seamlessly into the dialogue the actors spoke. At some point, I need to write a complete review of it. It deserves its own entry. It only ran for a week, and I was lucky to get good seats on the spur of the moment.

That night, I returned to the B&B which I stayed at. I walked up the steps of the classic, Georgian building and to room number #11.

A simple Perspex plaque on the door read, Jane Austen.



I had no idea that was the room I’d be staying in while I visited Bath. I was grateful for it. While I had breakfast on the morning of my birthday, a familiar face greeted me, as her picture was placed on my table.

 “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you.”
Persuasion

I visited her grave on my birthday. Not out of some morbid curiosity, but out of love and admiration.

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Pride And Prejudice

    I spent my birth in the company of two fine ladies. A friend that I’d met through my fandom of Lindsey Stirling. And one who I know in spirit.

         From the moment I first read her work, I knew I had to see her England. I needed to see the places where she lived, and where she died. Granted, I haven’t seen the house at Chawton yet, and there’s still a few more places I need to visit. Bath, Winchester, and Portsmouth are a fine beginning.

Most of all, I needed to pay homage to a woman I admire, and adore. We all love Jane Austen for various reasons; her wit, her talent, her skills as a novelist. Mostly, we love her because we can relate to her. Men and women can relate to her intelligence, and her humor. She is just as much a part of Britain’s past, as she is a part of its present. She was a modern career woman, one who forged her own path. Yes, she wanted love and marriage. While the latter didn’t happen for her, in a weird way, it didn’t need to. She could never belong to just one person, because we all love her. We see ourselves in her characters, and come to know ourselves through her words. I dreamed of giving back to her in some way, and perhaps I have. Though next time, I’ll bring flowers.

Like all Janeites, our love and admiration for her has kept her alive. 200 years after her death, and we are still reading her words. Her voice is alive, and always will be.

Her body lies in Winchester, yes. But she is very much alive. All one needs to do is pick up any one of her books, and you will hear the voice of Jane. 

I’ll let a famous Janeite have the last word. I should point out that I also saw this person’s final resting place when I visited Westminster Abbey last year. He is an author that needs little introduction.

Mr. Kipling, lately of the colony of India, has the floor.

Jane lies in Winchester — blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made!
And while the stones of Winchester, or Milsom Street, remain,
Glory, love, and honour unto England’s Jane!
--Rudyard Kipling. Epigraph to “The Janeites.”


Text Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Photos taken by Riley Joyce in Bath, and in Winchester, England. 2017

Sources
Sense and Sensibility 
Persuasion 
Pride and Prejudice 
The Collected Letters of Jane Austen, edited by Deidre LeFaye. 

Sites of Interest

Author's Note: I have since learned that Jane Austen's height would have been about five-foot-six-inches. The waxwork is built to such specifications as her approximate height, and body measurements. This is taller than the average woman at the time, who would normally be about 5-foot-two-inches. I do recall that the wax figure was almost at eye level with me. 
The comment about Jane's statuesque height may have been my misunderstanding, rather than misinformation. The people at the Centre are incredibly well-versed in Jane's life and times. I take responsibility if this is was misinterpreted by me.  
A Fellow Janeite has informed me that Jane would have had a graceful frame (such as the waxwork) and would have been slightly thinner than supermodel Kate Moss. The wax figure was based on both the portraits, and detailed accounts we have of Jane's appearance. The waxwork is the closest we have to a realistic depiction of Jane's looks. 
I learned at the Mary Rose site, that forensic artists have a high degree of accuracy in their work. Often, people who may have known a victim of violent crime, for example, are able to identify the person based on forensic recreations. 
Updated July 2nd 2017