I still haven't read Persuasion by Jane Austen.
There, I thought I'd just get that out there and 'said' before we have a little meander through some Jane Austen-themed thoughts today.
We had a lovely trip, at the beginning of September to visit Helen Rappaport in her gorgeous new home in Dorset. It is village life to perfection after the hustle and bustle of life in Oxford, and Helen is in her element: the church tower peeking over the garden wall, the clock chiming the hour...
We christened the new garden tools and had a little rootle around, making some hooray plant discoveries before Bookhound and I departed for home.
En route for home we passed the sign to Lyme Regis...
'I've never been there,' I declared as we sailed on past, 'Bet the fish and chips are good...'
The car was turned around on a sixpence and heading for Lyme before you could blink, and indeed the fish and chips were very good, but first we had to walk the Cob.
The Cob has to be on of the most famous landmarks in any Jane Austen novel... Persuasion, the one I hadn't read, so I didn't really know much more than someone fell over/off the edge maybe. I was expecting a bit of a romantic landmark, sort of genteel and quaint...
As we walked it I started to worry...if someone actually fell off the Cob then this would be quite a big incident...on the seaward side and I think the lifeboat would be called for...off the landward side and you'd be lucky not to break every bone and need the air ambulance for sure.
I don't mind heights that much, maybe it's the edges that scare me, because frankly the Cob felt quite terrifying...
It is high and has a camber which, as you walk, tips you towards the seaward edge. I was far too scared to go anywhere near to look over, and could only begin to imagine the terror of taking three small children up there back in the day.
When it came to descending we arrived at a set of unguarded steps so narrow and vertical that I froze momentarily, looking for the long way around and down, and was very grateful that Bookhound went ahead and provided a sort of human shield for me creeping down behind. I gather these steps, known as Granny's Teeth, are where Louisa Musgrove's Persuasion tumble is thought to have happened, and I wish I had taken some pictures now, but I was a bit too keen to get down and off the Cob to hang about.
We arrived home to the most magnificent volcanic sunset marking a perfect end to a lovely day.
I didn't immediately read the relevant passage in Persuasion because, as through last winter with Emma, it will be my very long slow read now the clocks have gone back, and I won't have much to say about it until they go forward again, but I am really looking forward to it. I enjoyed that slow read of Jane Austen so much last winter and I fully expect this to be just as enjoyable.
On a happier Jane Austen note, and for any die-hard fans out there, you might want to keep an eye out for Jane Austen - Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels by Janet Todd. Now being very honest about it, giant format books like this (it is 12" x10" at least) with padded covers and facsimile inserts aren't usually my bag, but I was very interested to see this one.
The problem is they feel a bit gimmicky and remind me of children's adventure books...or maybe Janet and Allen Ahlberg's The Jolly Postman where perhaps it all began. The bigger the book the lesser the text I find too, it doesn't often live up to the look of the whole thing, but this one is by Janet Todd, it was bound to be different. Janet Todd is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Aberdeen University, an authority on women in literature and Jane Austen one of her specialities. The more I have looked at and read the book I have to say the more I have enjoyed it. As well as biographical chapters about Jane there are chapters about social context, homes and property, loves and life along with close analysis of the novels. And here's the picture therein of the infamous steps, looking, I must say, nothing like as vertiginous from the bottom as they do from up top and in real life.
The facsimiles are fascinating, letters, manuscripts, contemporaneous documents, plans of the city of Bath. It's quite nice to see and hold a page of Jane Austen's writing rather than staring at it behind glass too. I'll compare this page from Persuasion when I finally get there.
The chapter on Jane's final illness and eventual death is, as always, very moving...
'Sickness is a dangerous Indulgence at my time of life...'
Is the jury still out on what Jane may have died of ??
The last I heard it was Addison's Disease.
The final chapter looks at the legacy, the cult of Austen and I suspect I might be the only person who had not the first clue that Bridget Jones' Diary references Jane Austen most overtly and is considered a chick-lit version of Pride and Prejudice. I didn't even make the Colin Firth connection in both film versions...and he is even called Mark Darcy.
'Truly Jane Austen and her novels can be customized and delivered in whatever guise the consumer desires. As Sarah Ball wrote in Newsweek in 2010 : " In the economic doldrums, it is the entirely bankable Austen's blessing and curse to be constantly applied and mis-applied. Jane-anything sells out." Jane Austen has entered the global market and culture.'
And I suspect Janet Todd knew this too ...and Jane Austen now in the world of the giant padded book with inserts.