Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jane Austen’s Stuff, and What We Learn From It

by Amy Bloom

New York Times

July 12, 2017

“Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”
A letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra

“And a friend of mine, who visits her now says that … till ‘Pride and Prejudice’ showed us what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire screen.”
A letter from Mary Russell Mitford to Sir William Elford, April 13, 1815

Jane Austen at Home is more than just an account of pokers, fire screens, writing desks, Jane’s round spectacles, handsome carriage sweeps in front of handsome houses, some very good and some very disappointing apple pies, the elm-lined walks of the Steventon rectory and the flimsy doors and uneven stairs of a rented house in Bath. But it’s not a great biography, and if it hadn’t been described as one on the cover, I would find even more to praise in these pages.

It may not be possible to spend days reading Jane Austen and reading about Jane Austen without writing phrases like “I would find even more to praise in these pages.”

Lucy Worsley is a British historian the way Julia Child was an American cook. She is history on the BBC. She’s been popularizing innumerable aspects of it on British television, everything from “If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home,” “Dancing Through the Blitz,” “Empire of the Tsars” and “Mozart’s London Odyssey” to “Reins of Power: The Art of Horse Dancing.” This last program focuses on manège, the royal art of making horses dance, a subject she encountered while researching her Ph.D. thesis on William Cavendish. (The project is, in Worsley’s own words, “bonkers.”) She has done these shows with a bright, impish smile, a wealth of information and open delight in dressing up and re-enacting.


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