Sunday, June 17, 2018

The House of Jane--Part One

The House of Jane

Part One

Who's House? Jane's House!

The train to Alton takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. When that train is delayed it takes about ninety minutes. When one is caught in London traffic on their way to Waterloo station, then it takes about two hours. As I boarded the train to Alton, I had this silly feeling. I felt that if my teenage self could have been here, he would scarcely believe that he was finally going to Chawton. I could scarcely believe it as an adult.

It’s evident why people travel to Alton. The banner with a well-known silhouette and the dates 1775-1817, and the words, “This way to Jane Austen’s house!” are a complete give away. Though one is encouraged to literally follow in her footsteps and walk the forty-odd minutes to her cottage, I decided to take a cab. Luckily there’s a cab stand in front of the train station. Clearly someone was enterprising enough to consider flatfoot travelers from across the globe.

A short cab ride through the Hampshire country side, and the cabbie said to me, “That’s her house on the left.”

I thanked him, and then exited.

What stood in front of me was a Tudor era house. The red brick walls were both practical and charming. Two plaques out front told made it very clear whose house this was.

            I took a deep breath, put my hand on the wall to the front door, and then closed my eyes. There was a warmth and a vibrancy that I felt. It was as if the house itself was living; as if it had absorbed the love and care that goes into keeping it standing all these centuries. As I stepped inside, I thought, “I can’t believe I’m here.”

            There are no guided tours of Jane Austen’s house, which is a good thing. Instead, there is an attendant that answers questions, and gives a brief overview of Jane’s life. I liked that I was free to roam about the house unfettered. I have a feeling that the people who run the house and museum know why the visitors come here, and so little guidance is needed.

            I stepped into the front parlor and saw the piano (similar to the one that Jane herself played). Sheet music from the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility sat at the ready, along with scores from Playel, and other composers Jane would have enjoyed.  I then turned to my right and saw what I’d travelled thousands of miles to see with my own eyes.

            Jane’s writing table.

            It has been said that when people see it they begin to cry. I was no exception. I didn’t weep, but tears began to form. I felt my pulse quicken, and a rush inside my chest. I was alone in the room with the table, and so I had it all to myself, so to speak. I began to smile, and imagined her slender frame sitting at that table. It was just as slight as her, with the table top just barely above the level of my knees. Only that top, smooth, with two deep pockmarks, is original. The pedestal it sits on was 20th century in origin, as the original was damaged some time ago. There’s a small Perspex wall that prevents one from sitting at the table. But thankfully, the table isn’t encased in glass like some other museum. Instead it is allowed to breath. There is a note that says, “Please do not touch,” which is respected. Just to be in the room with it, and to see it…it’s like you’re seeing the cradle of a proud mother’s children. Jane didn’t just write, she birthed her works on that table. From there the lives of many were forever changed.

            “I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child.”—Jane to her sister, Cassandra. 1811.

            Reverend Austen’s desk, with its attached bookshelf, was on display as well. It also looked frozen in time. I perused the spines of the age-old volumes through the doors of the glass cabinet. Many of the authors and poets that were referenced in her novels were on display. It was here that her father wrote his sermons, along with family letters.  

Also, on display was the tea cabinet, which Jane herself held the key to, as tea was expensive back then. I was happy to report that she too was an avid customer of Twinning and was known to frequent their shop (still in it’s original location) in The Strand. Silver tea services with the Austen family crest, the stag and crown, were prominently on display.

I took a turn upstairs, and made certain to the touch the railing, which I know Jane’s own hands would have trailed along. Up those narrow stairs one can reach a small room with creaking floorboards; Jane’s bedroom. She would have shared it with her sister, Cassandra, as it was the custom back then. I took small pleasure in that the floorboard creaked at every step and gave me the feeling that I was standing on the original wood. The wallpaper was a repro of the original wallpaper she would have seen every day; with a small exposed section to show you the wood bracing inside the walls.

Again, the other visitors stepped out, and I was alone in the room.

The thought of, “I’m alone in Jane’s bedroom,” came to mind. I laughed inwardly, and then thought, “It’s taking every ounce of energy not to dance about the room.”

I was glad I had those few moments alone. I could feel a sort of presence there. Nothing supernatural, as I don’t believe in ghosts. But was a sense of, “This is where she lived, where she slept, where she thought. Her voice, and that of her sister, would have echoed off these walls.” I took in a deep breath, and the wonderful wooded aroma of the room filled me. I breathed the same air, the same scents, and trod the same boards as she did.  

The water closet, complete with chamber pot was on display as well. I blushed a little, and then thought, “You know, the loo in my flat is off my bedroom as well. Some things never change.”

In another room, more of an alcove, I saw something I hadn’t before; a copy of Jane’s will. She didn’t leave a large estate, only about £860.00. In today’s money that would be £49,677.30 (approximate). Not bad for her time period, but not wealthy. Considering that £10,000 was the benchmark for prosperity in the Regency (that would net you about £465,252.00). That’s how much Mr. Darcy was set to make per annum! The little that remained of Jane’s estate was portioned out to family and friends; with a few pounds going to a woman who’d lost money in her brother Henry’s bank.

"I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other."--This quote is inscribed on the bench you see here. It was Jane's response to Mr. Clarke, The Prince of Wales' librarian, when he suggested she write a tatty romance novel. Letter dated April 1st, 1816. Jane knew how to throw shade...hence why the bench is in shade. 

After I stepped out of the cottage, I took a good look at it. It had low ceilings, and narrow stair cases; which was normal for when it was built (about 300 years before Jane was born). I observed the shingles, the bricks, the windows, and then thought, “That really is a nice house. By today’s standards that wouldn’t be a cottage at all. It’d be nice-sized family home.” But, considering that Jane, her sister, her mother, Martha Lloyd (later to become Lady Austen, when she married Jane’s brother, Francis) all occupied the same house…it must have been a bit crowded. Oh, and let’s not forget the servants as well!

These days the cottage is attended by both museum workers and volunteers. I sat in the garden, on the stone bench inscribed with one of Jane’s wittiest quotes. I took in the air and felt a sense of calm. The garden at the cottage is one of the most peaceful places I’ve experienced. I think the other visitors must have seen the ear-to-ear grin on my face, as I still couldn’t believe I was finally there.

For sale are various plants grown in the soil. I was tempted to take some home but knew that getting them through customs would be a bother. Still, I want a Jane Austen rose to plant and grow…eventually.

There is one other thing before I close this entry.

On the second floor is a glass case with several very special objects inside. I was reluctant to take photos of them, as I feel they should be seen in person; though fellow Janeites know what these objects are. The first is Jane’s shawl, made of muslin, and reportedly embroidered by her own hand. It’s shear, with little cross patterns. One could picture the fine, white fabric wrapped about her shoulders. Next to it is the beaded bracelet, with it’s white and sky-blue beads. It looks so modern and would have complemented the other notable pieces of jewelry on display; namely the topaz crosses (the rounded one was probably Jane’s, while the rectangular one was probably Cassandra’s cross). But the most obvious piece that stands out is Jane’s little ring.

The ring is a much-cherished artifact to Janeites. Reproductions of it, along with the bracelet, are readily available from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. It features a simple design with a turquoise stone, which would have matched her hazel eyes. We’re not sure how Jane came to possess the ring. It’s believed it may have been a gift from one of her seafaring brothers, or possibly a minor indulgence Jane gave herself.

What we do know is that Cassandra held onto it after Jane’s death. It even comes with a letter from her big sister, which details the provenance of the ring. It was passed along to various Austen family members, until it came up for auction in 2012. Pop star Kelly Clarkson tried to buy it at auction but was prevented from doing so. An export ban was placed on the ring, as it was felt that too many national treasures were being sold and take away from Britain’s history. The museum was able to purchase the ring with funds from donations. I’m glad of that, as it does belong with its rightful owner in her own home. Such things should be on display for the world, and not hidden from public view. To allow such a lovely reminder of Jane to be on display is a credit to the museum, and her fandom. To have it locked away for no one to ever see again would be a tragedy.

The ring gives us an idea of the woman who wore it. Her tiny fingers that held quill and ink to paper. The same fingers that stitched the quilt that hangs nearby. Those slender fingers that made so many notes from the pianoforte fill the air of the cottage. The same fingers that gave us Emma Woodhouse, The Dashwood Sisters, Lizzie Bennet and her sisters, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Miss Catherine Moreland, Anne Elliot, Capt. Wentworth, and countless letters to family and friends.  

Text and photos copyright Riley Joyce 2018.

This bronze was formerly installed in Winchester Cathedral for the 200th anniversary of Jane's death. It was sculpted and cast by the highly skilled Robert Truscott.

A note on the photos. I took all the photos you see here. The house and museum does allow you to take pictures, but they prefer you do it discreetly, and at a minimum. For images of Jane’s ring, shawl, and other artifacts I recommend you either visit the house (if you happen to be in the neighborhood) or, check out their website, which I’ve furnished a link to below. They have far better photos of the objects on display than I could have taken in minimal light, with limited access. The photo of the writing table was taken with a canon powershot camera. The outside/exterior shots were taken with my mobile phone. Please note that use of mobiles is not permitted inside the house and museum—for good reason. You don’t want some Candy Crush zombie leaning on the piano!    

Links and Sources

Jane Austen's House and Museum

Currency Converter: 1270-2017

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

39 Orbits...

I never pictured how I'd feel at different ages. I remember once my mother said to me, “You’ll be twenty in the year 2000.” I turned twenty-one that year, and it didn’t feel any different than the year before. I feel like the most recent birthday that felt any different to me was last year when I visited Winchester Cathedral and the Mary Rose. Prior to that my birthdays from age twelve to the present were largely unremarkable. I want them to be remarkable, but I think that once you get to a certain age they cease to feel special. Maybe it’s the lack of presents, or the lack of fanfare. For me, birthdays are difficult. I’m often reminded of what I’ve lost or speculate on what could have been.

            I’ll turn forty next year, which scares the hell out of me. I feel like I haven’t done much in the decades I’ve been alive. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I felt like I started to do much of anything. I’ve always written but have yet to publish anything. I’ve tried on so many different hats and so many different interests, that I sometimes don’t know where to turn. There’s never been any “one thing” that I’ve always been fixated on doing. Outside of writing there’s so many interests that I don’t always have the time for them. I started taking up chess again, and already feel the pull of other interests. I don’t think it’s from restlessness. It’s more a sense of wanting to know and experience as much as I can while I can. It’s not just mortality, it’s also money, time, patience, and wanting to know that it wasn’t all wasted. These are all factors as to which time-consuming interest I pursue next. God knows there’s never enough time.

            I saw an interview once with Chevy Chase (it was on the Tavis Smiley Show). He was asked about leaving SNL, and how moving to L.A. affected his career. He said, “You will lose perspective at some point. What you lose in perspective you’ll gain later in retrospective.”

            I saw that as a cautionary tale, and thought, “Well, I’d best not lose perspective.”

            I listened to Mr. Griswold but didn’t really heed his advice. He was right, I lost perspective in my twenties. I’ve been piecing together information from retrospective since then. I think that’s something that some people are fortunate enough to do. There are others who are not so fortunate, and they just sort of stumble through life in a fog. They don’t think beyond the next millisecond, and don’t seem to realize how important everything they say and do really is.

            I’m reminded of another quote. “Do you see that man who has just skipped out of the way of the tram? Consider, if he had been run over, how significant every act of his would at once become. I don’t mean for the police inspector. I mean for anybody who knew him. And his thoughts, for anybody that could know them…”--James Joyce.

            Every second counts because you may not have very many seconds left. I try to make every second count. Sometimes I fail at that. Sometimes I say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. Sometimes I lead with my heart and not my head. Then I try my best to fix everything because I fear time will run out. I don’t want to lay on my deathbed, and think, “I really should have done this or that.” I want to live a thousand lives and outlast the clock.

            I could go on and be existential about it. As if I already haven’t. The point is…A lot has happened in the past ten years. Some of which I wish hadn’t happened. There are some things I regret. Some things that could have been handled better. Some decisions that weren’t as well thought out, or that blew up in my face later. Like any of us I’m flying blind most of the time, and hoping I land in Shangri-La. If I had to do it all over again there are some things I would have done differently. There were some things that couldn’t be avoided. There are still other things that could have easily been avoided. I’m still learning. I’m still breaking free from bad habits that were acquired in the past.

            There is still much to learn. I’m not done yet.

            Copyright Riley Joyce 2018.
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Monday, May 28, 2018

Meditation on London 2

Westminster Bridge, just before I walked across it. 

The first time I met her I didn’t know what to think. She was loud. She was scented by petrol fumes. There were people clamoring all around her. Everyone wanted to either be with her, be in the same picture with her, or at least have a weekend fling with her. She’s been the mistress of kings and queens. The muse of authors, artists, filmmakers, rock musicians, and fashion icons. The streets that course through her are like veins that carry her lifeblood; her people. It’s the Thames that gives her those curves, as it caresses her sides, and holds her together. It’s like the laces of a corset that zig-zag across her back.

            Her name is London.

            I can’t help but feel a little smitten with her. I’m in love with Bath. I find Stratford-Upon-Avon charming. Manchester feeling like a hometown. But London is like that wild girl you see across the dance floor in a nightclub; as the violet lights pulse in sync with the bassline from the D.J. booth. She always wears a red dress with lipstick that matches. Her hair rests on her shoulders, and curls just a bit. She looks at you, winks, and then dares you to follow her.

            You might need a cold shower after those above paragraphs. If so, my work here is done! If not, then keep on reading.

            My first time in London was in 2016, just a month after my mother died. I stayed in the Midlands, but thought I’d at least see London once. I went to Westminster Abbey and then went looking for Sherlock Holmes’ office (You can read about that in an earlier entry—linked here). This time I went to the National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery across the street, and St. Martin in the Fields. I also stayed in Chelsea for a few days. I must admit, it’s not what I expected. It exceeded my expectations.

Restoration work on Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben and Parliament. 
They look so different with that scaffolding. 

            London is a hard sell for some. I think that’s because of the crowds, the petrol fumes, and the loudness of the place. London is VERY loud like a rock concert. But not all of it is loud either. Despite traffic swirling round you there are quiet areas of the city; like St. James Park, Hyde Park, and surprisingly Trafalgar Square wasn’t too loud. Alright, so that Hip-Hop trio across the way was a bit loud, but they weren’t bad at all. That guitar player busking and singing Pink Floyd covers was alright. I’m sure Admiral Nelson atop his column would have broken rank to breakdance, though having a missing arm means he’s off balance. The lions at his feet seemed okay with it.

            London is one of those places that never looks the same twice. For that matter, no two neighborhoods in London look the same. It reminds me that every town, city, village I visit in the U.K. has its own look. London has about five-hundred looks. She changes her hair color, wardrove, and even makeup every other year. Though I recognized where I was in Westminster, and had no trouble finding Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and associated landmarks again, it still all looked different and yet familiar. There’s Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, Gothic, and Aldous Huxley all in one city. I see the Shard among buildings like St. Paul’s Cathedral and I think of Brave New World. Piccadilly Circus once had its own version of the “feelies,” but that’s another story. The point is that London looks like the future and the past together. I get that same feeling in most cities in England—some more so than others. Just as each city has its own look they also have their own personality. London has plenty of that.

            I had a conversation recently in which I said, “They say New York is ‘the city that never sleeps.’ London is the city that never stops moving.”

            You can quote me on that. But if anyone puts it on a t-shirt I want a cut of that. Some of us have to make a living as well, you know.

            London is constantly in motion because the people who make her are constantly in motion. Without her people you don’t have London. It’s a symbiosis between the two. During my visits there I see that it’s a city where so many diverse groups of people come together. It’s then that I realize that London is a living city. It’s not a museum piece. Among the large Victorian structures like the Naval Arch and Elizabeth Tower there are people who live there, who call it home.

My first time there I felt a little intimidated. So, I just pretended I was one of the locals, and tried my best not to look lost. I got lost, but never asked for directions. Thank God for the miracle of GPS on your mobile. This time around I wasn’t intimidated. London was there where I left her. She was waiting for me to drop in and become better acquainted with her.

            I found more to like this second time around. Though I’d prefer to live in a place a bit quieter, I can’t help but flirt with London just a little bit. She has expensive tastes, but she’s a lot of fun. She’s loud, but you learn to accept that. She inspires and dominates. But she can’t help it. She’s that untamed woman that can’t be broken. I admire that about her. All the strife and changes that she’s seen and she’s still herself. The people may change. New buildings may arise. But London will always be London. There’s a sense of comfort in that while she undergoes changes she’s always in the same spot. She’s not going away, ever.

Text and Photos Copyright Riley Joyce 2018             
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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Video Games There Never Were: History Edition Part One!

I sometimes have a heart for nostalgia. That can mean revisiting old music, movies, or even old video games. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the mood these revisits generate. One could either lament the past (the very definition of nostalgia) or one could be refreshed by rediscovering a childhood interest.

One of those interests is the pixellated world of the classic 80’s video game. Whether Atari or old school Nintendo these were the games that challenged our patience, and our parents’ pocketbooks!
I present to you a list of games that I would like to have seen…but that never were.  

Tudors and Towers: Henry VIII Edition

Play as Henry VIII (or, Henry of Eight, as Philomena Cunk calls him). Feel the pressure to expand your kingdom, and your family, as you quest for a male heir. Dump the Pope, start your own church, and go on a mad quest for the perfect wife! You’ll get married not once, not twice, but six times!
Join Henry as women lose their heads over his charms (and other sharp objects).

You can play as Henry in one-player mode. Or, play as anyone of his wives in two-player mode. Evade the scaffold by producing children that live! Keep that saucy tongue in check, or it might land you in the Tower!

Tudors and Towers! The game where Catherine Parr wins!
Followed by the sequel Tudors and Towers: Elizabeth I Edition. (A.K.A. That’s Queen Bess to You!)

Jane Austen’s Proposals and Persuasions

Play as Emma Woodhouse, The Bennet Sisters, the Dashwood Sisters, Anne Eliot, or Fanny Price as you quest for the squire with the most of everything! Be an obstinate, head-strong girl in this game of wit, satire, and love.

Levels include: Dance at Netherfield
            Find the suitor: Who is the most agreeable?  
            Proposals: Yay, or nay?
            Nurse Louisa Musgrave: She lives or dies based on your choices.
            Box Hill Battle: Verbal rebuke with Miss Bates, or war of words with Mr. Knightley?
With over 1775 outcomes this game will have you on pins and quills!
For play with one or two players.

Sequel: Jane Austen’s Gentleman’s Club. The same game, just with the men pursuing the women.

Super Brothel Bros!

Avoid getting the clap in this historic game of unhygienic proportions! Imagine intimate relations in a time before birth control. Armed with only your sheep skin you’ll go on a quest to find which cat house is the cleanest. Picking up powerups along the way you’ll dodge dodgy pimps, negotiate with ladies of the night, and avoid getting nicked by the Old Bill. It’s a carnal caper you can play with a partner or play with yourself!
For use with the joystick or the paddles, which ever turns you on the most.
This game will have you asking, "Was it good for you?"

Train on the Brain

Will the trains run on time? Not if privatization has anything to say about it! Decipher confusing schedules in military time. Book passage before peak times for low prices, and high scores! Avoid delays and long waits on the platform in this game of locomotive lunacy.

Levels include
            Tea trolley service.
            Reserve a seat.
            Mind the elbow, lad!
            This is a quiet car, please!

Players: As many as you can jam in during peak time!

Text copyright Riley Joyce. 2018. 

Blogger’s note: I admire the train system in Britain. In fact, I envy it. I wish we had something like it in The States. I hear Britons bulk at delays and lack of tea service, but it beats what we have, which is bupkis! Your trains are clean. They ran fast. They also have tea and crisps! We have creepy old guy, uptight commuters, people screaming into their mobiles…and…the crème of commuter society, that guy that won’t stop looking at you! You don’t want to know what he’s thinking.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Go Fund Me!

I've started a Go Fund Me campaign to help pay for my university education. Sad to say, but if this campaign fails then I will have to drop out. I'd hate for six years to go down the drain. Even worse, I'd hate for a promise I made to my mother go unfulfilled. 

Help me so that I can help others. 

I'm offering up some very creative rewards for those who donate. 

Part of the reason I haven't updated lately is because of how busy I've been with my schooling. 

Also, this blog will be undergoing some changes; visual updates, and more diverse content. It isn't going away. It's going to be better. Stick around. You'll like what you see. 

Below is the link to my Go Fund Me. 

If you'd be kind and donate, pass the link on as well.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I Survived the American Arctic...

I Survived the American Artic, and All I Got Was This Lousy Frostbite

            Living in a building from 1910 has its advantages. You get to experience what life was like about 108 years ago. That is also one of the disadvantages of living in such a house. It’s poorly insulated, lacks central heat, and seems to be a sponge for humidity. With ice on the windowpanes (indoors) and on the front living room wall (also indoors), I realized I may soon part ways with the swinging bachelor pad. For in truth, no swinging has taken place here. Jane Austen would be bored, and Austen Powers would be disappointed.

            You may ask yourself, “Just how cold was it?”

            Well, over this past week, we experienced in the Northeastern U.S., what I call Polar Vortex II: Ice Cold Boogaloo. This is a reference to the literal arctic temps we experienced about three years ago. It was then colder in Mars, Pennsylvania, than it was on the surface of the planet Mars. Or, at least, parts of Canada turned into the Great White North for real. This past week, we had a return to the polar regions. It was so cold, John Carpenter called, and asked if he could make a sequel to The Thing in my kitchen. I even had the Kurt Russell beard for a few days. It was an attempted to literally save my skin from the crackling cold.

            Other evidence of such temperatures involved the portrait of Jane Austen that hangs above my bed. I thought to myself, “It’s far too cold for a short-sleeved dress in this weather.” I felt I should have put a scarf around the frame. 
     I slept in my bathrobe, as it added extra warmth. I was able to imagine a Regency winter, and how a real fire place, versus the gas-powered one I have, would have kept this place warmer…albeit smokier.

            The next best thing was using three space heaters to try and evaporate the fine sheen of ice that formed on that front living room wall. It worked, but I will pay a heavy price for it. I saw the utility bill, and discovered it was the gross domestic product of Bhutan. Those monks and their extravagance!

            I felt the cold in my fingers as I read about Henry VIII, and his six wives. I wondered if Hampton Court would be cozy this time of year. Then I thought of all those layers His Majesty and his lovely brides had worn. Even with a scowl on his face, King Hal looked more robust than I felt. I wanted to feast to the sound of lutes, rackets, and bawdy maids on the dance floor. Such pleasures are not to be found on Ice Mountain. No, sir. Instead, I entertained myself by toggling between BBC 2, and 6. This was pretty close to what I had in mind.

            Wardrobe is a big thing in temperatures like this. I wore snow trousers, a parka, and my new Chelsea boots. I certainly hoped Chelsea didn’t mind. She’s a generous girl, and the loan of her footwear was no…small feat. After, an entire part of London is named for her. She must be a popular girl.

            I thought of how much colder it was here, than it was in London. -11 centigrade over here. 15 degrees centigrade is a heatwave. 15 degrees Fahrenheit is five degrees below freezing. On the last night of the deep freeze, the temperatures lowered to -5F. The mild weather we have now, in the 30’s feels like a defrosting by comparison.

            Not to sound like an old man, but the winters in my youth were snow-filled, but not as cold. Sure, we had the occasional six degree day. But it was rare that we had a week-long ice age, followed by autumnal temperatures. These past seven years, we’ve had mild Decembers, followed by snow in January, and then a quick warm up. If you think global warming is a myth, I’ll bet you my electric bill that it isn’t. You lose, you pay it. That’s a bet I’m willing to take.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2018
Imagine: public domain snowflakes. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Jane Meets World

Jane Meets World  

            It was on this day, in 1775, that the Reverend George Austen, and his wife Cassandra welcomed their second daughter into this world. She was nicknamed “Jenny” at first, but was baptized a day later as Jane.

            Social satirist, novelist, romantic, feminist icon whatever you call her, Jane Austen means so many things to so many people. There’s no one word that describes her, or her writing. From a small cradle in Hampshire came a literary giant. To paraphrase Northanger Abbey, “No one that saw Jane Austen as a child would know she’d grow up to become a heroine.” Indeed, no one in her family would know that, and yet she still is an inspiring figure. Her words flow like the rivers of the Avon and Thames; timeless, and ceaseless. Despite 2017 being the 200th anniversary of her passing, it feels as if she never left us. Every drop of ink has inspired us to think, to grow, and to love. She knew the contours of the human heart before psychology existed. I suspect that while theories of the psyche come and go, her words will remain.

            242 years have passed since her birth. It was a cold December evening when Jane entered this world. She gave to it a tremendous series of gifts; her novels. To read them is to know her. One can’t help but be taken away to a time and place not so distant, and not so unlike our own. Jane presented an entire world that would not only be satirized by her work, but in a strange way, preserved by it. I experienced that when I first read her. I knew nothing of the Regency when I was 17, and she opened my eyes to it. I have since learned that one could spend a life time studying her work, and still not know everything about her, or her time. That doesn’t stop me, or others from trying. If anything, it is more of an encouragement, rather than a deterrent. For that matter, the closest I’ve gotten to time travel was visiting Bath this past summer. I could imagine her on the pavement, as she walked down Milsom Street, on her way to a dance of course.  

What more can I say? Even today, when I read her work, I still hear it in her voice (of what I imagine her voice would sound like). At age 17 I imagined what it would have been like to have met her, and experienced such a reading. At age 38, as I stood at the foot of her grave, I came as close as I could to that experience. Part of me will always be there in Winchester Cathedral. But as for Jane, all one has to do is open one of her books, and she speaks to you through the centuries. I can’t think of many authors who come alive in that way. Nor, can I predict who will in the future

The happiest of birthdays to a woman who continues to inspire, and be ageless in my sight.  

Copyright, Riley Joyce 2017

Top photo: Wax figure of Jane, located at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. Photo by author. 

The middle engraving is a color version of the black and white portrait, based on the sketch made by Cassandra, seen above.