Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"...if they were all Sophys...": Admiral Croft on Ladies' Names

I recently encountered someone who read the following excerpt in a very different way than I always have. When Anne Elliot meets Admiral Croft in Milsom Street, I always concluded that he had forgotten her first name. It stuck me as emblematic of the Admiral's casual manners that he would find a backwards means of apologizing for the lapse, but the person who engaged me in debate on this topic insisted that if that was his intention, someone as perceptive as Anne would have found a means of politely enlightening him. I countered that she was too caught up in the importance of the news the Admiral conveyed to be responsive to his needs. What do you think? I'm not sure either reading fundamentally alters one's understanding of the book, but I do think it fun to delve into the subtleties of Austen's prose, don't you?
Anne was too much engaged with Lady Russell to be often walking herself; but it so happened that one morning, about a week or ten days after the Croft's arrival, it suited her best to leave her friend, or her friend's carriage, in the lower part of the town, and return alone to Camden Place, and in walking up Milsom Street she had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print, and she not only might have passed him unseen, but was obliged to touch as well as address him before she could catch his notice. When he did perceive and acknowledge her, however, it was done with all his usual frankness and good humour. "Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!" (laughing heartily); "I would not venture over a horsepond in it. Well," (turning away), "now, where are you bound? Can I go anywhere for you, or with you? Can I be of any use?"

"None, I thank you, unless you will give me the pleasure of your company the little way our road lies together. I am going home."

"That I will, with all my heart, and farther, too. Yes, yes we will have a snug walk together, and I have something to tell you as we go along. There, take my arm; that's right; I do not feel comfortable if I have not a woman there. Lord! what a boat it is!" taking a last look at the picture, as they began to be in motion.

"Did you say that you had something to tell me, sir?"

"Yes, I have, presently. But here comes a friend, Captain Brigden; I shall only say, `How d'ye do?' as we pass, however. I shall not stop. 'How d'ye do?' Brigden stares to see anybody with me but my wife. She, poor soul, is tied by the leg. She has a blister on one of her heels, as large as a three-shilling piece. If you look across the street, you will see Admiral Brand coming down and his brother. Shabby fellows, both of them! I am glad they are not on this side of the way. Sophy cannot bear them. They played me a pitiful trick once: got away with some of my best men. I will tell you the whole story another time. There comes old Sir Archibald Drew and his grandson. Look, he sees us; he kisses his hand to you; he takes you for my wife. Ah! the peace has come too soon for that younker. Poor old Sir Archibald! How do you like Bath, Miss Elliot? It suits us very well. We are always meeting with some old friend or other; the streets full of them every morning; sure to have plenty of chat; and then we get away from them all, and shut ourselves in our lodgings, and draw in our chairs, and are snug as if we were at Kellynch, ay, or as we used to be even at North Yarmouth and Deal. We do not like our lodgings here the worse, I can tell you, for putting us in mind of those we first had at North Yarmouth. The wind blows through one of the cupboards just in the same way."

When they were got a little farther, Anne ventured to press again for what he had to communicate. She hoped when clear of Milsom Street to have her curiosity gratified; but she was still obliged to wait, for the Admiral had made up his mind not to begin till they had gained the greater space and quiet of Belmont; and as she was not really Mrs. Croft, she must let him have his own way. As soon as they were fairly ascending Belmont, he began--

"Well, now you shall hear something that will surprise you. But first of all, you must tell me the name of the young lady I am going to talk about. That young lady, you know, that we have all been so concerned for. The Miss Musgrove, that all this has been happening to. Her Christian name: I always forget her Christian name."
Anne had been ashamed to appear to comprehend so soon as she really did; but now she could safely suggest the name of "Louisa."

"Ay, ay, Miss Louisa Musgrove, that is the name. I wish young ladies had not such a number of fine Christian names. I should never be out if they were all Sophys, or something of that sort."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"I must have my share in the conversation..."

I think my darling baby girl might be turning into Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catherine, we can safely assume, was a baby once, and while Lord and Lady Matlock, or whatever you prefer to call them, might not have been the type to loiter in the nursery, there was no doubt a hoard of nurses to dote on her every word. They might have been as entertained by her early, babbling dictates as my husband and I are by Eliza's. I swear, though it might have sounded to the untrained ear like "ahbah demay thooo", I clearly heard her say "I must have my share in the conversation", pronounced with as stately a mien as Lady Catherine herself might don. We are surely in for it. 

On another note, I feel like I have sick for a month. Ever since Eliza started school, it has been one wave of cold or viral infection after another. The good news is the the baby, other than a runny nose, has been pretty healthy. She's just a little germ carrier delivering her gifts to myself and, to a lesser extent, my husband. The one time she did have a fever, I learned to be extremely appreciative that at least she and I weren't both sick at the same time (so thankful!). Anyway, this is my explanation for why the blogging has fallen back off again, and just when I was starting to get some momentum going too! Janeicillin hasn't made any progress either. I'm going to try to pull it all back together again next week, health allowing. Thanks to you who have kept checking in!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Turning into Catherine Morland

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to -- Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. -- Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

Henry Tilney makes a good point, one that has often inspired me to disregard fears and paranoia in favor of reliance on my rational mind. But since I had my daughter, I find that I have more and more trouble not admitting such ideas into my rattled brain. Suddenly, every news story seems to portend the end of civilization as we know it, each person I pass on the street seems potentially maniacal, and I can barely sleep in the house alone without convincing myself that intruders are lurking just outside my door. It's like my brain has wandered out of control and no reasoned admonition can reign it back in.

Mr. Tilney laughs at my foolishness, and I of course agree that constant consideration of the worse case scenario is no way to live one's life, but the truth is that horrors do happen, atrocities are committed, and escaping them is purely a matter of luck. So am I falling victim to flights of fancy rivaling Mrs. Radcliffe's worst imaginings? Most certainly, but rather than continue to upbraid myself, I think I'll take these musings as a reminder to savor every blissful moment of security and happiness I am so privileged as to be able to enjoy. Oh, and I think I'll upgrade the home security system. Can't hurt, right?    

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

It has been a sick week in my house. First the baby had a fever, then a cold, and while I caught the fever, my husband caught the cold. We are very thankful to be able to share that burden rather than both suffering each ailment. The familial convalescence sent us scurrying for some light reading, and we ended up rereading Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. I enjoyed the book far more this second time around than on the first read, and so I guess it is fortunate I had not previously reviewed it.

Sprig Muslin follows a variety of traditional Heyer conventions; the action takes place in the country, primarily in a series of inns, and the Corinthian hero struggles to keep a volatile young lady in line while falling for a mature heroine. No one, least of all her father and his sister, understands why Sir Gareth Ludlow would propose to Lady Hester Theale, "A woman who has been on the shelf these nine years, and more, and never took, or had countenance, or the least degree of modishness". Even more puzzling is why she would refuse such a wonderful offer. When Lady Hester tells her father of this decision, I was reminded of Sir Thomas Bertram's interrogation of Fanny Price following her rejection of Henry Crawford, only here the effect is almost Kafkaesque in its absurdity:
"Well, I don't scruple to tell you that I never thought to see such a piece of good fortune befall you, Hester! To think that you should make a better match than any of your sisters, and at your age, too! It is beyond anything great!"

"Beyond anything - oh, beyond anything!" she said, in a queer voice. "And he is coming here, with your consent! Could you not have asked me first what my sentiments were? I do not wish for this splendid match, Papa."

He looked as though he could hardly credit his ears. "Don't you wish for it?" he repeated, in a stupefied tone. "You must be out of your senses!"

"Perhaps I am." The ghostly smile that was at once nervous and mischievous again flitted across her face. "You should have warned Sir Gareth of it, sir. I am persuaded he cannot wish to marry an idiot."

"If," said his lordship awfully, "you fancy that that is a funny thing to say, let me tell you that it is not!"

"No, Papa."

He eyed her in uncertainty, feeling that in some strange way she was eluding him. She had always been an obedient, even a meek, daughter, but he had several times suffered from the uncomfortable suspicion that behind the cloud of gentle compliance there existed a woman who was quite unknown to him. He saw that it behoved him to tread warily, so he curbed his exasperation, and said, with a very fair assumption of paternal solicitude: "Now, what maggot has got into your head, my dear? You won't tell me you don't wish to be married, for every female must wish that!"

"Yes, indeed!" she sighed.

"Can it be that you dislike Ludlow?"

"No, Papa."

"Well, I was sure of that! I daresay there isn't a better liked man in England, and as for you ladies - ! The caps that have been set at him1 You will be te envy of every unmarried woman in town!"

"Do you think so indeed, Papa? How delightful that would be! But perhaps I might feel strange, and unlike myself. It wouldn't be comfortable, not to be acquainted with myself."

This baffling and (he considered) very nonsensical observation threw him out of his stride, but he persevered, saying with as much patience as he could command: "Well, never mind that! To be sure, I never thought he was trying to fix your interest, but I am sure I have seen him stand up with you at balls a hundred times! Ay, and sit talking to you, when one might have supposed that he would have been making up to one of the beauties that have been hanging out lures to him for ever!"

"He is very civil," she agreed....

He began to feel uneasy. It was impossible to read her countenance. It was mournful, yet tranquil; but in the tone of her vice there was an alarming note which recalled to his mind her contumacious behavior when he had disclosed to her the only other offer he had ever received for her hand. He remembered how meekly she had borne every manifestation of his wrath, how dutifully she had begged his pardon for disobliging him. That had been five years ago, but here she was, still a spinster. After eyeing her for a moment or two, he said: "If you let this chance of achieving a respectable alliance slip, you are a bigger fool than I take you for, Hester!"

Her eyes came round to his face, a smile quivered for an instant on her lips. "No, how could that be, Papa?"
As Sir Gareth journeys to Hester's home in order to make his already rejected proposal, he comes across an obviously genteel and extremely beautiful young lady, of schoolroom age, attempting to obtain lodgings for the night. As Amanda is unaccompanied and carries nothing but two band boxes, the landlord attempts to reject her as undesirable, but then Sir Gareth steps in. Determined to return her to her family, whose name she will not reveal, Sir Gareth carries Amanda to Lady Hester, not willing to leave her unattended. Thus begins the great adventure that Amanda leads her two self-appointed protectors upon. It is a convoluted tale, chock full of improbable occurrences, that culminates in absolute hilarity. The last few chapters of the book are priceless. It was the perfect sickroom read.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lady Caroline Lamb: Fiction vs. History

The "three or four families in a country village" which Jane Austen chose to focus upon did not allow her scope to include the grand personages of her day. This, however, does not stop writers of Austenesque from including those larger than life personalities, the celebrities that determined the manner in which the Regency Era lives on in our imaginations, in their reworkings of Austen's novels. People like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Lord Byron, and Lady Jersey can all be found in the thousands of stories that Austen has inspired, both directly and indirectly, and I have recently been reflecting on the way in which fiction has determined my feelings about these people. The inspiration for this train of thought comes from Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England by Carolly Erickson, which I just read, and her depiction of Lady Caroline Lamb. She writes:
Caroline's fashionable circle dazzled Byron, but her explosively original personality dazzled him even more. "She possessed an infinite vivacity of mind," he wrote, and in truth her quicksilver facility with words and love of wordplay was like him own, though more heated.

"My most sanative elixir of Julep, my most precious cordial confection," she wrote, addressing her cousin Lord Hartington as if he were a medicine chest, "my most dilutable sal polychrist and marsh mallows paste, truly comfortable spirit of hartshorn tincture of rhubarb and purgative senna tea!" Her letters were a quirky, eccentric jumble of exclamations, playful archaisms, deft verbal dodges and feints, the whole working together to scan like poetry. Sometimes they were in poetry, or rather light verse. Her conversation, it is safe to suppose, was as brilliantly eccentric as her writing, intense and full of curiosity and wit, with abrupt changes of mood and subject that kept her listeners enthralled.
This image conflicts with the assumptions I had made about Lady Caroline, almost entirely based upon the fictional accounts of her I have come across in novels. Suddenly she seemed a brilliant woman trapped in a restrictive world, just like Austen. Though familiar with her basic biography (summarized quite nicely at, I had never taken any interest in her infamous novel, Glenarvon, and generally breezed over her role in history, content in my disinterest. Now I feel compelled to study her further, and I intend to read a biography of her (I'll let you know how that goes), and possibly peruse the suspicious novel. My prejudice towards Glenarvon is based almost solely upon the depiction Georgette Heyer supplies of both the novel and its author in Bath Tangle (which I reviewed here):
"Good God, no! It is the most absurd farrago of nonsense! But I prophesy it will run through a dozen editions, because none of us will be able to resist searching either for ourselves or our acquaintance in it. Could you have believed it? - Lady Caroline Lamb is the author? The Lambs are all in it, and Lady Holland-very well hit off, I imagine, from all i have ever heard of her, but Papa disliked that set, so that I was never at Holland House - and Lady Oxford, and Lady Jersey, and poor Mr. Rogers, whom she calls a yellow hyena? I must say, I think it unjust, don't you? Glenarvon, of course, is Byron, and the whole thing is designed as a sort of vengeance on him for having cried off from his affaire with her."

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "She must be mad to have done such a thing!"

"I think she is, poor soul! Never more so than when she tumbled head over ears in love with Byron! For my part, I was so unfashionable as to take him in instant aversion. How she could have borne with his insufferable conceit, and the airs he put on to be interesting, I know not - though I daresay if one could bear that dreadful Lamb laugh nothing would daunt one! Not but what I am extremely sorry for William Lamb, laugh as he may! If it is true that he stands by her, I do most sincerely honour him. I fancy she met to portray him in a kindly way, but some of the things she writes of him may well make him writhe. She is so very obliging as to favour the world with what one can only take to be a description of her own honeymoon - so warm as to make poor Fanny blush to the ears! It can't be pleasant for William Lamb, but it won't harm him. For she portrays herself, in the character of Calantha, as an innocent child quite dazzled by the world, quite ignorant, wholly trusting in the virtue of every soul she met! Pretty well for a girl brought up in Devonshire House!"
Needless to say, after reading the above, I felt I had knew enough of what sounds here like little more than a tabloid written by a spoiled girl in midst of a temper tantrum.

It is one of Heyer's great appeals to a Janeite that she ventures so far beyond the world of Austen. Pamela Aidan is another author to vividly portray the world of the ton in her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy. After Heyer, it is Aidan's representation of Lady Caroline Lamb in the first book, An Assembly Such as This, that has most determined my negligence of her, for here she is an object of Fitzwilliam Darcy's abhorrence (I shudder at the thought):
A private entrance to the room lay open to Darcy's left, and from its secrecy he saw emerge the tawny-crowned person of Lady Caroline Lamb on the arm of a gentleman quite unknown to him. From where he stood he could see only her face, her delicate chin raised high, her eyes glittering in amusement and daring. As she and her companion made their way through the throng, it parted before them, and Darcy noted more than a few faces of both ladies and gentlemen color and turn away from the procession.

Suddenly, an older woman sank in a faint, the gentlemen nearest to her crying out in dismay. Several young ladies followed her example, and soon the floor was littered here and there with insensible females being coaxed into consciousness by alarmed young men who, nevertheless, craned their necks to catch another glimpse of the source of the uproar. More than a few women were being propelled from the room by insistent husbands or fathers amid shouts for carriages and cloaks.

"What the devil is going on?" Darcy demanded of the chaos around him. Dy tugged at his sleeve and solemnly pointed back down the room to where Lady Caroline and her swain had finally broken free from her mother-in-law's guests. Darcy's draw dropped in disbelief while his own face flooded crimson.
I felt the need not to include more, so as to not ruin the story for those unfamiliar with it, but you can see from this excerpt how the lady could make a poor impression. On a side note, I just read Ms. Aidan's contribution to Jane Austen Made Me Do It, entitled "The Riding Habit", and enjoyed it very much.

So compelled by Erickson, I now feel the need admit my prejudices and, in atonement, to reevaluate Lady Caroline. If she continues to hold my interest, you will be sure to hear more of her soon.