Jane Austen & the bad girls

Midsummer | Leonie Adams

This starbreak is celestial air
Just silver; earthlight, dying amber.
Underneath an arch of pallor
Summer keeps her brightened chamber.

Bright beauty of the risen dust
And deep flood-mark of beauty pressed
Up from earth in lovely flower,
High against my lonely breast;

Only before the waters fall
Is Paradise shore for gaining now.
The grasses drink the berry-bright dew;
The small fruits jewel all the bough.

Heartbreaking summer beyond taste,
Ripeness and frost are soon to know;
But might such color hold the west,
And time, and time, be honey-slow!

It’s not midsummer anymore and I’m already beginning to see the traces of autumn in the trees, unfortunately, which is why the last line, begging time to move slowly, was in mind today. And also because I’m moving in a week and there still seems so much to do!

I’ve packed up most of my books (though I made the grave error of thinking I could do without Jane Austen and Harry Potter and other comfy favourites during this stressful time and had already boxed them up! Luckily I’d labeled the boxes when I needed to raid them… a move is never a good time to try Anna Karenina for a little light reading!) and today got about half (or a third, he has a real mountain of them, more than me) of my husband’s books packed up too. My husband can’t help with the move much at all, since he’s got an open wound in his stomach that we’re hoping will heal up soon or the doctor thinks he may need a skin graft… and I have an old foot injury that’s been hurting again. So I am panicking a bit, although hopefully everything goes smoothly.

I watched the Pride & Prejudice mini-series today and that was soothing while I packed. I’d been telling myself that Jane Austen is just moralizing wish-fulfillment for passive good girls (sanitized Regency-era Disney fairy tales) and that I ought to read other, more modern things, so last night I tried a few of Chuck Klosterman’s ‘low culture’ essays in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and while some of them were insightful — he writes about the concept of ‘fake love,’ where people get their ideas and expectations of love from movies and music and so are never satisfied when the real thing comes around — overall they were too cynical and just meaningless and left me in a grumpy mood. But sometimes, when the opening lines of Persuasion make you cheer up after other books just make you feel worse, then Jane Austen it is.

I began to think today that some of Austen’s scheming bad girls actually end up doing ok, especially the manipulative Lucy Steele in Sense & Sensibility who marries more money than the saintly Elinor in the end! Austen supposedly offers the reader two choices: Marianne’s doomed wild passion or Elinor’s dutiful, slightly dull common-sense. Both women marry respectable good men who can provide for them in the end, even if they too are a bit dull (although interestingly Marianne’s censured romantic and unconventional behaviour gets her the richer husband than her sister’s who always does the right thing and loses his inheritance over it). But there is a third marriage at the end of the book, a third young woman who’s been scheming for a husband and takes action to look after herself, although she’s poorer and less accomplished than either of the Dashwood girls. As a rector’s daughter Austen of course couldn’t officially condone such behaviour, but I’m sure she was highly amused while creating such outrageous strong-willed women like Caroline Bingley, Mrs. Elton, Isabella Thorpe, and Lucy Steele, who won’t take no for an answer!

Come to think of it, Jane Austen herself had to be rebellious enough to write and to believe in her writing enough to persevere to get it published and to reject a comfortable but loveless marriage. She valued her self-actualizing independent CAREER! She sought money for her work, something most respectable women (certainly not middle-class clergymen’s daughters hidden away in the country, famous women writers before her like Aphra Behn and Fanny Burney had exciting public lives, Behn as a government spy who also wrote a novel exposing slavery and Burney as a member of George III’s court and a friend of many famous writers, among other things!) didn’t do then. Even the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire dabbled in writing, but never pursued it single-mindedly as its own end. Most women with a talent in the arts only saw it as a hobby, a pretty little accomplishment to boost them up on the marriage market. (Austen makes fun of Mrs. Elton for saying she’ll give up music now that she’s married, now that its use is fulfilled.) She must have felt that entertaining herself and other women with her stories wasn’t just a cutesy grab a husband side-show, it had worth and meaning and serious artistic merit. Even if she didn’t have any famous male writers encouraging her or any other writer friends at all. She put value in what she accomplished with her brains, she wasn’t willing to be an unpaid slave wife and mother, forever pregnant like her own mother or diddling about with embroidery like empty-headed Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Even while living with her family who thought one of her brothers should be the famous writer. And her early teenaged writings are quite saucy and unconventional, even including an anti-heroine mother in Lady Susan… which I might have to read now!

Growing up with a mother who is obsessed with studying the bible, I inadvertently learned to read literature very closely, to read between the lines, to consider context, time period and the language it was first written in. I also inadvertently learned to study what I read for a useful moral lesson, a guide on how to live my life. I tend to pass judgment on books based on whether or not I approved of the ideas they seemed to promote, I find it hard to read something just to enjoy the story, language and characters alone. If a book is too dark (even if, my husband the horror fan points out, it also has its own dark morality), I tend to feel quite uncomfortable.

So for a long time, even since leaving chrisitianity, I have seen Jane Austen as my moral compass through life, reading her closely for instructions on how to be a good person and how to have good relationships with others. She’s especially good at the friendships between women, sisters, mothers and daughters, older women who mentor younger ones (or try to), friends, frenemies… there’s often an unequal balance, with one woman trying to exploit her superiority over the other. This fascinated me because I’ve often experienced it in my own life, starting with my mother and in the past moving on to some of my friendships. I’ve looked to Jane Austen to show the balance of how to mature in order to be a better friend, but also the signs to look for in who is a good friend to confide in.

That said, I don’t always want to be the good girl who only reads Jane Austen! I want to read a broader range of women and men to learn other perspectives about love and sex and relationships and life. Occasionally I want to feel liberated and read about bad girls who don’t do everything right and yet are still ok in the end. As mentioned in my last post, Colette is my newest discovery who is great at this. But there have to be more women writing about bad girls (who don’t die off or get punished either!) or just independent girls who don’t stay home and wait around for life to happen to them! Or women in healthy relationships who also manage to have an independent strong sense of self?? I love reading about love and romance and all that (I am married after all, I don’t demand that women must always shun men and go off on their own to be fully self-actualized), but I also need to know that it’s ok to not be perfect all the time. I have to know that my needs are important too, even if my husband is having three surgeries this summer. I can’t always live by the Jane Austen rules (I’m just not self-sacrificing Elinor Dashwood hiding my feelings to hold my family together!) — unless they are the Jane Austen writing rules of having faith in my words, my voice, my ideas, my sense of humour, my stories, even if they’re unconventional — I am my own person with my own story to live and my own stories to write.

So, recommendations for books about (non-self-destructive) bad girls? I just started thinking about Gone With the Wind‘s indomitable Scarlett O’Hara and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which I’ve heard is a great feminist teen book, and there’s Vanity Fair too with notorious social climber Becky Sharp. And funny girls too, why is it girls aren’t supposed to be as funny as boys? I certainly enjoy being funny and doing more than just listening to men tell jokes. Jane Austen embraced her sense of humour instead of hiding it and used it very pointedly. (I’m beginning to remember a previous rant about why aren’t there any books with adventurous girls too!) Perhaps I’ll be back at the library soon, even though I once had the silly idea of not reading much while I was busy moving… at any rate, getting a new library card in our new city will be a top priority!

Poems & Paris

Things | Jorge Juis Borges

My cane, my pocket change, this ring of keys,
The obedient lock, the belated notes
The few days left to me will not find time
To read, the deck of cards, the tabletop,
A book, and crushed in its pages the withered
Violet, monument to an afternoon
Undoubtedly unforgettable, now forgotten,
The mirror in the west where a red sunrise
Blazes its illusion. How many things,
Files, doorsills, atlases, wine glasses, nails,
Serve us like slaves who never say a word,
Blind and so mysteriously reserved.
They will endure beyond our vanishing;
And they will never know that we have gone.

I have been packing books and enjoying the end of summer. We’re moving now in a few weeks (hopefully — if my husband doesn’t have to have yet another surgery.) but I’ve managed to indulge in a few decadent French books lately, including Cheri and Gigi by Colette (the first but far from the last time I read her!) and Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Yum. Thank you Paris in July participants for inspiring me in that direction, I thoroughly enjoyed unofficially joining in. I’m thrilled to have discovered Colette, finally a female French writer who’s not afraid of her own sexuality! After seeing Midnight in Paris (which is wonderful), I was briefly on a 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald kick in an effort to get out of the creaky moralizing 19th century, but now I have been savouring some of my old friend Proust again.

I keep thinking up long and complicated things to write here, but then don’t have the time to anymore what with packing and a family wedding and reunion coming up (and hopefully I’ll be starting some courses in the fall, if my funding comes through and we’re able to move on time, so I will continue to be busy). Today I was packing up the poetry books, saw Borges and remembered this poem. In the past I’ve tried to keep poetry blogs, so I thought I would try a little more of that here and keep things short and sweet.

Prairie Summer

This is a quick check-in, what have I been up to in the two months I’ve been not posting sort of post! My husband has had two more stomach surgeries, an infection and changing treatments, but hopefully it will heal eventually.

I’ve been reading a lot of escapist teen fantasy (aka paranormal romance) novels while in hospitals and worrying over his care, you can see the full list of them on my reading sidebar if you’re really keen to know! (Or if you too are a closet fan of… well, I still feel too embarrassed to admit to it right here, which is part of the reason I stopped blogging!) The best books from my foray into this popular genre was the series Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, a refreshingly feminist take on fairies and always having a choice, even in difficult situations. The second book in the series, Ink Exchange, has an interesting metaphor for addiction that got me thinking. I’ve also read some of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan, a Harry Potter meets Greek mythology type series for kids. What I love about kids literature is that the relationship between girls and boys is still at a friendship only level, it’s refreshing to see what could eventually be something more start off as something innocent, where they discuss their interests and learn to work together instead of just staring and moaning over each other.

Oh and how could I forget, I also finally read Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire & Hemlock, after going out of my way to track down a copy. I was suitably impressed (but am having trouble thinking how to sum it up now — it’s about the power of imagination and friendship against the odds and just very satisfying) and even considered somehow conniving to keep a copy for myself, as it was from the library! I will find a way to reread it someday I’m sure. (Reprint it publishers!)

And as well as reading about fairies, Greek gods, vampires, werewolves, etc, I also officially joined team unicorn…! The amusing anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns helped me firm up my opinions on this important debate and had some very entertaining short stories. If you secretly or not so secretly dig that sort of thing.

I’ve also been keeping house while my parents were on holiday, redecorating (without permission but I’m the one with the good eye in the family, so my mom didn’t mind), hosting my in-laws for a weekend visit, taking care of the garden and even a little baking! This above is Spotted Dog Railway Bread, with raisins and baking soda instead of yeast so it was quite easy to make and a great tea time treat, and I found the recipe in one of my beloved Victoria magazines.

My enjoyment in simple things like gardening this summer has me longing for a small house and garden of my own (filled with sweet smelling flowers like my current favourite, lavender!) someday. In the meantime, I’ve returned to the world of adult books with Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, which I devoured yesterday — in the bathtub, waiting at a doctor’s clinic for my husband, sitting in Starbucks drinking black tea lemonade (oh so good) and then ending it right before bed. It’s a feel-good book about two sisters and how a magical garden helps them grow and learn to love and trust again. I enjoyed her book The Sugar Queen a few years ago and this one kept calling to me this summer until I finally gave in. Now I want to make some peach iced tea (and coconut pie, although that may be a little too ambitious just now!) and read more books set in a garden. The Secret Garden is the classic of course and The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys is one of my underappreciated favourites, any other recommendations?

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.

~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Miss Buncle Married & my new book toy

Eeee! Guess who just got a new Kindle?! My dad actually bought it for my husband and I (our third anniversary is in a week), since we were so enthralled with his Kindle. I thought I’d be sticking only with paper books forever, but the allure of being able to collect many old books in one portable place was very enticing. Awwww, thanks Dad. ­čÖé

Before I knew about that though (and that my two new Louisa May Alcott books are free on Project Gutenberg), my husband and I were off in Saskatchewan (the next prairie province east of Alberta), where it’s likely we’ll be moving this fall to take some college courses. I’m planning to study for medical transcriptionist and my husband for something similar, since the health care field will only be growing and even though both of us have bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, there’s not a lot we can do with them that doesn’t involve customer service (I was last working at a library and he managed a bookstore) and we’re really introverts who’d prefer to work alone and are too stressed and depressed by regular life to want very high powered or ambitious jobs. So it’s something we’ve been discussing for a few months now and it seems like a practical plan (especially since I still have a lot of student loans I need to pay off somehow) — typing is one of my few actually useful skills that I enjoy doing. (And I actually learned how as a teenager, on a real typewriter! It’s since proved very handy for all of my internet adventures.)

But I certainly don’t mind having paper copies of Alcott’s Eight Cousins and An Old-Fashioned Girl (which I had to get after hearing Claire rave about it!), since she was one of the authors I read in my teen years after I was mostly through L.M. Montgomery and I haven’t read much of her in decades. It’s delightful to explore good books from my childhood (though as much as I adored Nancy Drew back in the day, those books are really only fun to read as a kid, they’re too woodenly written to stand up to adult rereadings. Sigh. I of course have a copy of The Mystery at Lilac Inn though) and since my husband will want to also use the Kindle once in a while (he’s into classical mythology now, so I’ve already downloaded The Iliad and The Odyssey for him, in free translations by Alexander Pope, who knew?) so paper books are still mighty swell. I also finally got a copy of We Two: Victoria & Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill! I’ve been eyeing it for a while. It was so nice to explore good bookstores in both Saskatoon and Regina (the two main cities in Saskatchewan, we’ll be moving to one or the other of them) and I also spent a lot of time reading parts of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure, which is wonderful. I wasn’t as obsessed with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie growing up as the author is, but I could still laugh and relate to many of the things she mentions. I’ll have to get it from the library or something to finish it.

I’ve also been indulging in a bit of Miss Buncle loveliness — I reread (my very own new dove grey copy from the Persephone Secret Santa exchange, last time I only had it from interlibrary loan and then kept longing for it the rest of the year) Miss Buncle’s Book and then got the next one from the library, Miss Buncle Married, which has also just been published by Persephone! It’s really lovely too, in fact I may like it a teensy bit more than the first book. The reason is that Miss Barbara Buncle, now married (obviously), finds a home. (Having been parted from my childhood home on our farm at the age of ten, I love books about people finding a home. I love old houses too.) In the first book she sasses all the overbearing people who overlooked her all her life through writing a bestseller exposing all their faults, now in the second book she comes into her own, finding a town with neighbours she can mostly really like and feel part of a welcoming community:

It was a very satisfactory friendship, for Barbara profited by it too. Jerry enlarged Barbara enormously. In a new friend we start life anew, for we create a new edition of ourselves and so become, for the time being, a new creature. Barbara had never done this interesting thing before. She had lived all her life in Silverstream and her neighbours were people who had known her from childhood, and therefore had a preconceived idea of her, so engrained, that they never saw her at all, any more than they saw the sponge which accompanied them daily into their baths. In creating a new Barbara for Jerry Cobbe, Barbara created a new facet of herself and was enlarged by it. She had no idea she was doing anything of the sort, of course, she merely felt that life had become very interesting, and that she, herself, was more adequate to its demands.

┬áThere’s another sweet romance with her husband’s nephew too:

“And they’re frightfully devoted to each other,” continued Sam eagerly. “It’s rather nice, isn’t it?”

Jerry nodded. “It is, rather,” she agreed. “It makes a nice sort of atmosphere, doesn’t it? I don’t mean soppiness, of course — that sort of thing always gives me the creeps — but real friendly love.”

There was silence on that. “Real, friendly love,” Sam thought, that’s exactly what I feel for her.

Awww. One thing I loved about both books was that the romance wasn’t exaggerated, it felt natural. No one swooned with passion, they simply liked and felt comfortable and right with a certain person (Barbara’s husband greatly admires her ability to eat a great many hot buttered crumpets, for a refreshing change!). It’s not anti-romance at all, it’s just letting it be simple and normal instead of needing to blow it up into something overheated and ridiculously out of all proportion. I share a ‘real friendly love’ with my husband and was delighted to come upon the phrase and a refreshingly real and innocent portrayal of love. D.E. Stevenson’s prose may be slightly simplicistic, but her stories are always heartwarming and comforting.

Now do I keep downloading more free books onto my Kindle (whee!) or pick one to read — perhaps The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim? (It’s on Project Gutenberg, hoorah hooray and so on, I’ve been wanting to read it ever since discovering her other lovely books earlier this year!) I’ve been reading a beautiful new Oxford edition of Wilkie Collins’ No Name, which is actually quite good, but who knows. Perhaps I’ll e-read it instead.

Adorable Anne

For the first time in decades, I reread Anne of Green Gables. I just adored it, perhaps more now than I ever did as a girl. I devoured most of L.M. Montgomery’s books largely between the ages of 10 and 13, but I must admit that lately, I’ve looked down on them just the tiniest bit as being not the most literary thing I could have spent my time on. When I read Proust, I noticed that he and Montgomery both write very movingly of nature (which I’m sure helped to develop my life-long love of trees and flowers and all that), but of course I snobbily wished I had been reading Proust in my formative years instead of what I thought of as Montgomery’s overly sentimental stories. Now I see that while Proust is quite well and good and I think I’ve racked up enough snob points in just reading the whole thing, but L.M. Montgomery is home for me. And I do not say that lightly, as those of you who may remember me writing about how I longed for a sense of a literary home know. There just aren’t that many Canadian books that I really love, that capture my experiences of living in and loving my home country movingly and well, so I usually turn to British books instead. Now Prince Edward Island may be on the other side of Canada from Alberta (incidentally, both provinces are named for British royals though — Alberta for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise Caroline Alberta who later married a Governor General of Canada and P.E.I. for Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, fourth son of King George III), but that doesn’t matter. I spent my childhood reading about it, even though I’ve never been there and it reminds me so much of what I love about my country, the rural beauty, the kindness of the people, and my own growing up years (on a farm too) that this story of an overly imaginative orphan finding a home has jumped straight to the top of my list of favourite books. (You’ll see in the photo, that shelf of books is for my favourite authors!)

One of the many things I enjoyed about Anne is that she sees her imagination as a gift and is always insulting people who have no imagination and reveling in places that have ‘scope for the imagination.’ I also have a vivid imagination (as a child I would often daydream like Anne, the main difference between us being that she is a massive chatterbox and I was horribly shy as a child and am still quite an introvert), but as I grow up and try to navigate the difficulties of practical life, finding a job in a time when marriage and a magical outlook on life isn’t enough to keep a girl in books let alone clothes, I’ve come to undervalue my imagination and to wonder what’s the use of it. I turned to Anne when I was feeling very down and she did cheer me up and help me see the good in who I am. She made me long to daydream again, as I once used to do so innocently. And I smiled so often over how much Anne longs for romantic occasions — not the kind with men, but the kind inspired by poetry — beauty, emotion, something sublime and touching. I too have always secretly looked for moments like that. And I love the importance of friendship in the book, not just with Diana, but the growing relationship Anne has with Marilla, the much older woman who reluctantly adopts Anne. Marilla, with her sarcastic asides and hidden laughter at Anne, offered some much needed ballast to Anne’s airy flights of fantasy, and the slow opening of her heart to Anne was truly touching. I did indeed laugh and cry and feel a whole lot better in the process.

I also grew up watching the Anne miniseries (my dream wedding was one like Diana’s for years) and have begun watching it again with my mom. She’s become a more recent Anne devotee and even took a trip to P.E.I. a few years ago (bringing back the mug in the photo), so it’s fun to share that. I also bought a biography of L.M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings by Mary Henley Rubio), since I love the portrayal of late Victorian Canada in the books and miniseries. The clothes, the teas and picnics, the simpler kinder life… I know it’s nostalgia (and that real life wasn’t always as good, not even for Montgomery herself) but who cares when it’s this adorable. Hopefully I’ll get to P.E.I. one of these days! If anyone has recommendations for more books to read set at some cosy point of late 19th century Canadian history beyond Montgomery, I’d be thrilled.

Since odds are slim on that, I thought I might explore some late 19th century American authors and history too and settled on Edith Wharton’s biography by Hermoine Lee, of all things. Wharton’s claustrophobic and deadly correct high society New York is not nearly as simple and idyllic as Anne’s world, but does have its own glamorous allure and the book is very easy to get sucked into, despite how absolutely massive it is. I generally don’t like biographies that much since they start with all the boring bits of birth and parents, but Hermoine Lee does a great job with the beginning. I don’t know if I’ll finish it, since I’ve also just done one of my periodic reorganizing of my books and even packed a few (ok three boxes) up for temporary storage since I just have too many for such a tiny place and have now found about four other books I’m now interested in reading! And I’ve got a number of books on hold at my big city library too… (more lesser known Montgomery novels of course! My dad just downloaded The Blue Castle onto his brand-new Kindle for my mom and I, which used to be my favourite of her books, so we’ll see how Anne fares then. Of course, having a Kindle in the house is definitely inspiring a desire for one of my own, lost in daydreams of how easy it would be to read more George Eliot when I didn’t have to carry any heavy books around! My sister just read Middlemarch at long last on her e-reader, so…)

And at last, some descriptions of spring:

Spring had come once more to Green Gables — the beautiful, capricious, reluctant Canadian spring, lingering along through April and May in a succession of sweet, fresh, chilly days, with pink sunsets and miracles of resurrection and growth. The maples in Lover’s Lane were red-budded and little curly ferns pushed up around the Dryad’s Bubble. Away up in the barrens, behind Mr. Silas Sloane’s place, the Mayflowers blossomed out, pink and white stars of sweetness under their brown leaves. All the school girls and boys had one golden afternoon gathering them, coming home in the clear, echoing twilight with arms and baskets full of flowery spoil.

Spring certainly is slow here, with plenty of snow still hiding in the shadow of buildings, slowly slowly melting away. I did see the first grey soft pussy willows though, going for a walk down our country roads a few days ago and heard ducks and frogs in a nearby pond. And yesterday we had an Easter family get-together at my grandma’s, here are the three ladies in purple! (My adorable niece up to all kinds of mischief, as usual. No one in my family expected my youngest slacker brother to be the first to have a baby, but we’re all completely thrilled with her.)

A huge cherry-tree grew outside, so close that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thick-set with blossoms tat hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple trees and one of cherry trees, also showered over with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window in the morning wind.

It’s a sweet and simple enchantment that not even Proust can match.

you transfix me quite

I finally saw the new Jane Eyre movie last night and while I wasn’t quite swept away by it (the story is just a bit too sad and while everyone seems to like the changed around beginning, where Jane is running away from Thornfield first and then remembers her earlier life later, I found having the story folded in on itself like that didn’t allow the emotion of the narrative to develop as strongly) but it still is quite good. I didn’t think I would say it, but most of the actors are better in this version than in the 2006 Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson BBC miniseries. (Insert shock.)

Mia Wasikowska is the perfect ‘poor, plain and little’ Jane Eyre and she has a stillness, dignity and grace to her that is quite nice to watch. The girl who plays young Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson) also has these qualities too and is far better than Georgie Henley from the miniseries (she’s also played Lucy in the Narnia movies and is better there) in the role. Her scene with Aunt Reed (Sally Hawkins is quite chilling in this role, especially in contrast with her portrayal of Anne Elliott in Persuasion!), where she tells her that she’s treating Jane badly is so well done — contrary to the book and previous versions where she just gets mad at her, this young Jane actually seems to plead with her aunt for love, for compassion. She’s so delicate, her scene with John Reed and then in the red room, is very well done and heartrending. I wish the movie had begun with her and gone forward from there, it’s quite dramatic enough and would have built better emotionally by going straight forward instead of confusing viewers with so much back and forth, I think.

I also thought Judi Dench was good as Mrs. Fairfax — at first it seems, oh Judi again, just here to prop up yet another period drama (I didn’t really like her portrayal of Lady Catherine in Pride & Prejudice, it didn’t seem to add anything special), but near the end she tells Jane she would have cared for her and that was the only time I cried in the whole movie. Of course it’s not in the book, but it should have been! It shows her as this kind motherly figure that Jane’s never had. (And maybe I was partly touched because she reminded me a little of her role as Miss Matty in Cranford and I just adore Miss Matty. These simple sweet older women that people take for granted, but oh how I wish I had a grannie like that!) I also liked the young actress playing Adele — at first I thought they’d gotten the same girl who played the young Jane Eyre! Which would have added a whole other interesting layer, as to why Jane is so kind to Adele, although it is in the book that she pities her because of her own childhood. She’s also not as obnoxious as the miniseries Adele.

And finally Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I was a fan of Toby Stephens before he was in the miniseries, back when no one thought he’d make a good Rochester, so I did quite enjoy him in the role, but Michael Fassbender just seemed gentler and less arrogant than Toby’s Rochester. I know book Rochester is quite arrogant etc, but that is part of my problem with him! So I do like Fassbender in the role quite a lot too. I thought his sideburns looked unattractive in the pictures and that he was too skinny for the part (Rochester is described as rather deep chested or something like that, isn’t he?), but somehow it all worked. It was his eyes and sincerity that brought it all together and his final appearance as the ruined Rochester was quite tragic. I would definitely have liked more scenes with Jane and Rochester, the story seemed so taken up with checking off all the other plot boxes that there wasn’t nearly enough of them, especially for a story that’s supposed to be one of the great romances. Again, if there wasn’t so much time with the Rivers family in the movie there could have been more Rochester! (Although I’m rather glad there was less of the humiliating Blanche Ingram and basically no Grace Poole too, I’m always irritated with why she’s in the story, misleading Jane.)

I liked the atmosphere built in the movie, showing through the barren and lonely landscape how few options there are for Jane, trapped in these large country houses and schools out in the middle of nowhere. And I loved her speech where she says she longs to be a man to go further and see beyond the horizon of the hills that is all they can see from the windows of Thornfield. It shows a spirit in her that goes beyond the simple romance of the story and explains why she’s happy being a simple schoolteacher with the Rivers, having her own independence.

I saw the movie with my husband (he was actually more concerned with me getting to see it in the theatre than I was, since I haven’t been feeling in the mood for a depressing Victorian story lately, but this was the last week for seeing it in the closest movie theatre to us, about an hour away, so it ended up being good to go) and we had a great discussion about it in the car on the way home. He thinks we’re a bit like Jane and Rochester — I’m quiet and compassionate and was abused as a child, while he often feels quite cynical about life due to his own difficult past — aww. We also had an instant connection of understanding due to the things we’ve both been through, just like the two of them do. So I’m quite glad I got to see it with him (I’d wanted to see it with my sister since we both like the book, but it just didn’t work out.), even though when I got home, I looked at the book, found it too sad and intense and went back to the much happier Anne of Green Gables (both Anne and Jane are orphans with sad pasts though), which I’m loving immensely. I haven’t reread it in decades!

Harry Potter and my one year blogoversary

I’ve mentioned before that I only bake about once a year, well once a year has come! And I realized it’s also just over a year since I started blogging (admittedly at a few of my favourite books, but still), on April 11, here. So partly in honour of that and because I love lemons, I couldn’t resist buying some and then baking them into my only recipe for them — lemon blueberry cupcakes. I wish I could share them with you, along with a nice cup of tea! (Chamomile lemon is what I’ve got in the photo and most of the time in general.)

I also got the latest Harry Potter dvd on the very day it came out (that would be today, my husband, dear man, got it for me this morning), as you can see, and have already watched it. I love how the relationship between the three main characters is developed and tested. I’ve also got some Trollope there, since I’m wanting a bit of a break from Lauren Willig’s sugary spies. I do intend to finish the series, but spreading them out might be better. As much as I like things, I usually always have to take breaks from them. I loved seeing The Deathly Hallows in the theatre (twice), but since we were going to the theme park in February (hmm, maybe I’ll post a few pictures of that today?), I stopped watching the movies or reading the books for a bit, just so I didn’t get tired of them.

Right, so the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (it’s in the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida) pictures and a giveaway I just remembered I could do!

My first stop in the magical village of Hogsmeade was the Owl Post because I had a postcard to send to Rachel of Book Snob and I’d heard I could actually mail letters there. Yes, you can, but maybe bring your own stamps, because theirs are expensive! Or just get them to stamp a few postcards with a fancy Hogsmeade owl postmark thing. I did both, more on that in a bit…

We also went to Honeydukes and got some sherbert lemons, Bertie Bott’s every flavour jellybeans for my husband and a chocolate frog for me (complete with trading card! Of Salazar Slytherin.) Here’s the inside of the shop:

And Zonko’s joke shop is right next to it, full of remembralls and pygmy puffs.

There’s also the rides — Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride inside Hogwarts that digitially flies you around the Quidditch pitch and the castle grounds and seems very realistic, Harry, Ron and Hermoine fly with you too and when you land back at the castle, Dumbledore, the Weasley twins and everyone else clap for you, it was really fun (and slightly scary, there are spiders and Dementors too). The line up for this ride is great too, because it’s through Hogwarts, so there’s the talking portraits, Dumbledore’s study, the sorting hat, I only wish I could have spent more time there instead of being rushed through because the line was moving fast! Then there’s the Flight of the Hippogriff which we didn’t go on because we felt a little woozy, although it is for parents and kids, so ought to have been ok. Foolishly at the last minute we went on the much more frightening rollercoaster, the Dragon Challenge. Sigh. There are two rollercoasters, in red (Chinese Fireball) or blue (Hungarian Horntail) and they almost collide and do all kinds of stomach churning things besides, giving me a very bad headache. Or that may have been dehydration plus one too many butterbeers!

But all in all it was a fabulous day and I felt quite lucky to be able to be there. (Thanks to my in-laws for the trip to Florida and the tickets to the park!) We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, above, and below here are a few more pictures of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts:

So the giveaway is Harry Potter themed (perhaps that’s no surprise by now?) — I have five extra postcards from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (specially stamped and all) and if you’d like one, let me know. I’d prefer to give them to book bloggers or people who’ve commented on my blog in the past, but don’t mind mailing anywhere, and I’ll do a little draw thing say next week Friday, April 22 if more than five people want them. Sorry it’s not books or something, but I can’t really afford more than that! Thank you everyone who’s read my blog over the past year and took the time to comment, it’s been nice to get to know you all, and thanks for being supportive of my move to this new blog, I am enjoying myself more already and look forward to more fun blogging.

Time for a Change

So it looks like I have moved blogs, to lavender tisane on blogger. I didn’t really want to let everyone know until I felt more settled in and comfortable, but I think I do like blogger more than wordpress, which has always felt too formal and intimidating for me somehow. I’m still not blogging too often, but I thought I’d rather continue to share this sense of community and friendship with you all in a more comfortable way for me than go completely off on my own. I’ve already reviewed Evelina by Fanny Burney there, as well as the first two Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig, so please stop by for some lavender tea with me!

(By the way, what is the protocol or procedure on moving blogs, do people move all their old entries to the new site or just start over and tell people to refer back to the old one for previous reviews? Can you move comments over too? I don’t know if I’d want to move all my old entries, but I have a few favourites that I feel encapsulate the type of blogging I’d like to do going forward — more of a random hodge-podge of all my favourite things than anything too disciplined really — that I wouldn’t mind moving with me. Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog and hope to see you at the new one.)

Tea with Proust and the Pink Carnation

I know April is poetry month, but I want Proust instead. (He partly inspired my blog name, thanks to the following passage from Swann’s Way.)

… one day in winter, as I returned home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. I refused at first and then, I do not know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines that look as though look as though they have been molded in the grooved valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, oppressed by the gloomy day and the prospect of another sad day to follow, I carried to my lips a spoonful of tea in which I had let soften a bit of madeleine. But at the very instant wen the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening inside me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately rendered the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its diasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside me, it was me.

… suddenly the memory appeared. That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray… when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom.

And it is still wintery here (more snow, just when it had finally begun to melt! Yesterday I had even been able to walk across the lawn on mostly bare grass) and now I want a cup of chamomile lemon tea. (Err, here is the image credit for that lovely picture of tea cups which I now want to drink soothing liquids from!)

I finished Mansfield Park last week (one prefers never to desert Jane Austen) and still feel a bit sorry for Henry Crawford. Which I never did before and which I certainly don’t for Willoughby, let alone Wickham (John Thorpe is right beyond the pale, Frank Churchill doesn’t need my sympathy and well ok I like William Elliot a little, again because he genuinely appreciates Anne and was played by Sam West that once…) It’s possible he wouldn’t stop being naughty even with her, but at least he honestly loves her and actually sees her as a grown woman. Edmund seems such a passionateless creature in comparison, Fanny is only his consolation prize, even though even he hasn’t behaved considerately to her all the time either. In any events, it’s nice to refresh my memory of Jane Austen and not think I already know everything about her books from past rereadings.

I’ve also started reading the Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig. The adventure and romance hook me, although sometimes I’m a bit annoyed at her main mode of humour, which is exaggeration. This is mostly the case with her present day character, Eloise, who’s a history grad student in England to investigate a series of spies in the manner of the Scarlet Pimpernel who thwarted Napoleon from invading England. I certainly wouldn’t mind having her life, but the chick lit-esque sections of her parts of the book do grate a little so far, as Eloise overthinks every male encounter now or in the past five years and sometimes somehow thinks she ‘shouldn’t go out of the house without a muzzle on’ — what??! I don’t exactly find that type of self and women bashing humour funny… But the historical stories are enjoyable. There are various mysterious spies, good and bad, sneaking about to be discovered and/or rescued and lots of fun kissy bits too.

The first book (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) takes the characters to Paris, where they attend Josephine’s salon in the Tuileries, which I quite enjoyed (may have to read more about Josephine now). Amy, the heroine of the first book, is a bit too bouncy for me and wears too many smelly disguises (I love beautiful old clothes and want more descriptions of those instead), bouncing right on over into obnoxious from time to time. Luckily Henrietta in the second book (The Masque of the Black Tulip) is more sensible and can also sing beautifully and spends more time trying to escape from overly flirtatious gentlemen in black waistcoats with silver snakes embroidered on them (he even carries a silver snake headed cane and quotes Milton’s Satan!! I was definitely thinking of Lucius Malfoy.) and also endearingly falls for her brother’s oldest friend while trying to find a deadly French spy in London.

I’ve now got the third book lined up (The Deception of the Emerald Ring) but have to take a bit of a break between each book, as I tend to read them almost completely in one day, just racing through once I start. In between I’ve daudled through parts of the Marie Antoinette biography by Antonia Fraser (because I love the movie, but find the book likes to throw more foreshadowing about, which makes it more depressing, as well as all the confusing endless list of names and titles of royals and courtiers surrounding her. I tried to read it last year and didn’t finish either) and a little bit of The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, because I’ve found myself oddly longing for more Trollope after reading him for the first time last year. And the Victorians still hold a very dear little corner of my heart. (I’m currently debating if I ought to pull out some Dickens for the Classics Circuit Dueling Authors thingie, with Jane Austen vs. Charles Dickens. Of course I prefer Jane Austen, but I never finished Our Mutual Friend last year and A Tale of Two Cities, which I also never finished, would fit well with this late 18th/early 19th century frolic I am on. And of course I keep meaning to read more George Eliot too, and did start rereading Middlemarch earlier this year, I just got distracted. By spies and the 18th century and Napoleon and things.)

I’ve also requested a large pile of more historical fiction at my big city library (including the Josephine B. books by Sandra Gulland and some Regency and Victorian mysteries and romances mostly) and am thrilled to finally be reading and enjoying more of it again, after sort of looking down on it a bit for a few years. And last night I bought another Bloomsbury Group book, Mrs. Ames by E.F. Benson. I’ve only read one of the Bloomsbury books so far, Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys, which is an adorably funny look at WW2, but I can’t help collecting them, they are so pretty!

I was also thinking it could be fun to explore historical fiction actually written in the 19th century, like War & Peace or some Alexandre Dumas or A Tale of Two Cities, as mentioned above. I would just need a bit more time to do that and firmer dedication. In the meantime, I have plenty of books to choose from…

Evelina by Fanny Burney

O my dear Sir, in what raptures am I returned! Well may Mr. Garrick be so celebrated, so universally admired — I had not any idea of so great a performer.

Such ease! such vivacity in his manner! such grace in his motions! such fire and meaning in his eyes! — I could hardly believe he had studied a written part, for every word seemed spoke from the impulse of the moment.

His action — at once so graceful and so free! — his voice — so clear, so melodious, yet so wonderfully various in its tones — such animation! — every look speaks! (27-28)

I’ve been romping in the 18th century with Fanny Burney (who was a fan of David Garrick obviously). Evelina is her first novel, about a young girl off to London to hopefully find her real father and along the way running into a satire of the society of the times and a whole lotta unwelcome loving. Evelina is so gentle and kind and submissive and also excessively beautiful that any men, high, low and fop, who see her are suddenly obsessed with her and begin to call her ‘most charming of thy sex’ or just Angel. She has to fight them off repeatedly! And to keep reassuring the grave and gentlemanly Lord Orville that really, things aren’t everything they appear to be… She makes several beginner mistakes at dances, accepting a dance with Lord Perfect Orville there after already turning down a tiptoing negligently imperitnent young fop! Jane Austen has already taught me that just isn’t done, so I was wincing for our shy little country manners heroine in advance. She later claims to be already engaged to dance with Lord Orville in order to avoid another grabby young man, named Sir Clement Willoughby, who keeps showing up again and again to protest his love for Evelina and never stop grabbing her wrists.

But somehow I couldn’t stop reading this, even while rolling my eyes and protesting aloud. It has a cosy classic feel to it, that reminds me of other female authors I enjoy, like Jane Austen of course, who was influenced by Burney (although Austen allows her women to make up their own minds about marriage, instead of requiring elderly fussy old men to guide them) and also Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s not perfect, but I’m glad I read it and it gives a vivid picture of English society in 1778, from the high life in London to the shenanigans at a country home (a sea captain playfully abducts a Frenchwoman) and the placidity of the resort town of Bristol (which was only slightly less poplar than Bath at the time and also had hot springs and mineral waters I think).

We have been to the opera, and I am still more pleased than I was on Tuesday. I could have thought myself in paradise, but for the continual talking of the company around me. We sat in the pit, where every body was dressed in so high a style, that, if I had been less delighted with the performance, my eyes would have found me sufficient entertainment from looking at the ladies.

…When the opera was over, we went into a place called the coffee-room, where ladies as gentlemen assemble. There are all sorts of refreshments, and the company walk about, and chat, with the same ease and freedom as in a private room. (40)

I’ve since been skipping around Mansfield Park, happy to be reading Jane Austen again and the one novel of her’s which I’ve actually avoided for five years now. It is somber, but the writing style is more mature than her earlier books. I can relate to Fanny, being rather shy and sensitive myself (and very religious too, in my earlier years) and my heart sinks for her, even as I shake my head over her extreme earnestness. There’s no other word for it. The problem is, I now have a stack of library books from the big city and simply want to start devouring them! I’m at Henry Crawford’s proposal to Fanny and wishing that he was just a bit better of a person, since he does admire her for her, not just for her principles, as Edmund never fully seems to… Dilemmas!

(Also, yes I have blogged at a few of my favourite books, now I am going to try blogging here, because it feels more casual. I’m going to keep it more open here, blogging about books, but anything else that catches my fancy, so likely more of an inconsistent jumble of all my latest enthusiasms. Also the picture in this post is on the cover of my edition of Evelina, it’s an engraving of Vauxhall Gardens.)