Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jane IS obsessed with Jane

A good friend of mine - who didn't realise that I was predominantly blogging about Jane Austen - recently told me that she thought the title of my blog was profoundly narcissistic. "Jane Obsessed with Jane"? Oh, how I laughed. Before deleting her number from my phone.

But seriously, while the purpose of this blog is mainly to help me coordinate the research I'm doing on Jane Austen before writing my next novel, "According to Miss Austen", it is also to help me to chart my own progress while writing. You know, one has to "grow" as a writer, and that sort of thing. ;)

Anyway, I put a major growth spurt on today. The title of a blog post by @BubbleCow (read all the details on www.bubblecow.co.uk ) made me come over all peculiar. The post was on the subject of blogging every day if you want to really develop your "brand". As such, it is good advice, as is most of the advice from BubbleCow; but for me, it was the final straw.

I have, of late, missed much sleep and been plagued and vexed by a constant feeling that I've forgotten something - the feeling you get when you've left the iron on. It's been exhausting. Finally, today I realised where it was coming from - myself. I have been lapping up every piece of advice on writing I could find; when, where and what to write; when to blog, whether to tweet, how to network. The end result was guilt and inevitable failure and - you've guessed it - that "left the iron on" feeling.

Overnight, I have entered writing adolescence. F*** you, I won't do what you tell me - and all that. I have rebelled. No more will I slavishly attempt to follow every bit of advice out there, like a biddable eight-year-old. No, I have become that most loathsome of creatures, an adolescent writer! Sure, I'll make mistakes, but they'll be MY mistakes, Goddamnit.

Is this a stage every aspiring writer passes through? Oh boy, I hope so. Please don't let me be the only one - all teenagers might want to be rebels, but only if their friends are too...

With any luck this period of obnoxiousness will be brief, and will culminate in me turning into my mother, as it has in real life. Then I will counsel newbie writers with sage advice, and tut to myself when they don't follow it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ten Things You Don't Know About Me

Following @rebeccaebrown and @mruku, and in the manner of the petulant child who cries "Me too! Me too!", here are ten things you didn't know about me.

1. I am a notorious pedant. Oh, you knew that already? Misuse of language and ignorance of punctuation and grammar rile me intensely. I have been known to correct friends and family to their faces when they've committed a malapropism or other error. Come to think of it, it's rather miraculous that I actually still have any friends...

2. However, because I am complex, I also love malapropisms, mispronunciations and examples of redundant apostrophe 's! I delight in them in a horrible, "more grammatical than thou" way. Sometimes I save them and use them over and over again; thus, after more than twenty years, I still call Ferrero Rocher "Ferrickity Rockers" (overheard in a shop) and envelopes will always be "enveolopleves". (Yes, I did see that written down, exactly like that.)

3. I don't get music. Seriously. If there's such a things as musical dyslexia, then I have it. I cannot tell one note from another, nor can I distinguish between the sounds of different musical instruments. When I was in secondary school music was obligatory for the first year. I spent most of that year outside the door of the music room, because the music teacher was convinced that I was taking the piss, and that no-one could be such a complete musical ignoramus. Well, I wasn't and I am. I still don't really do music; I can listen to it for short bursts on a car journey, but at no other time. This is a source of great regret/bewildered bemusement to my very musically inclined, ukulele-playing husband.

4. I can't sing. At all. Probably related to No. 3. When I was five, I took part in a Tops of the Town-type thing, during which I was chosen to be the very special little girl who stood on stage pointing at the star during "Twinkle Twinkle", but who most definitely was not to actually sing. Thankfully, my daughter has a beautiful singing voice. So I'm told.

5. I also can't/don't/won't dance. Seeing a pattern?

6. I am an army brat. I lived in Israel for two years with my family, during a time of considerable unrest and shelling of Israel by the PLO. Being kids, my friends and I were largely oblivious. When a shell landed on the beach, 50 metres from a friend of mine who was launched into the air by the blast but was unhurt, we all thought it was cool. Once, my mother had to leave me at home, sick, while she ran to the shops. She got caught in some shelling and was forced by soldiers to take shelter. When she finally got home some hours later, she was nearly frantic, bursting into the bedroom to see if I was alright, or if I had been terrified. I was buried in a book and hadn't even noticed that she'd been gone.

7. Hmm. Running out of stuff to say. I was the one to propose to my now husband, will that do? At Dun Aonghus, on Inishmore (island off the west of Ireland, stunning cliffs), looking out over the Atlantic on a glorious day. He was silent for a few moments, gazing pensively over the waves; then turned to me and said, "I do." Poor sap. He still doesn't know what hit him.

8. I am a rabid, strident, card-carrying atheist. Oh, you knew that about me too? Don't care, still leaving it as number 8, cos I can't think of another one!

9. I have a Master's degree in Film Studies. The subject of my thesis was male-to-female cross-dressing in Hollywood comedies. I argued that men parodying "femininity" was actually a feminist act, by demonstrating what a contrived construct "femininity" actually is. Fascinating, huh? Got first class honours for it, too. As you can see, it has led me to make my fortune. Not.

10. I am socially phobic. Yes, really. I was formally diagnosed about four years ago. I know, you're all astounded, what with me being so outgoing and amusing and all. However, for years just leaving the house was a massive undertaking; getting on a bus or entering a building full of people caused anxiety attacks. Being able to put a name to my problem has been a massive help and has enabled me to figure out lots of coping mechanisms. That being said, I genuinely love people and am fond of a good natter; but it has to be on my terms or I just won't show up. You have been warned.

Right, there you go; the above is the mixed bag that is me. I'm probably going to regret this...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jane Austen and Sex before Marriage

I'd just like to share with you all a few thoughts I've been having on the subject of sex before or outside marriage in Regency times. Jane Austen's view of such indiscretions appears mixed, to say the least.

A couple of young female characters in Jane Austen's novels are, shall we say, a little indiscreet in their relationships, and certainly meet with the come-uppance a reader of the time would expect. Isabella Thorpe, disappointed by her fiance's comparative lack of fortune, allows herself to be wooed and seduced by Captain Frederick Tilney. In so doing, the full extent of her flawed character is revealed. She finds herself disgraced and abandoned by her more honourable fiance. What befalls her then we do not know. Is she pregnant? Will she ever find a husband? We are left to guess what her future might hold.

Maria Bertram commits a similar sin; having married for money, but without love, she cuckolds her husband with the dashing Henry Crawford. Here her punishment is clear; she is expelled from her marriage, banished from her family and has to suffer the companionship and "comfort" of her Aunt Norris for the remainder of her days. Hellish indeed.

Curiously, not all of Jane Austen's characters who commit similar indiscretions are so punished. Lydia Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, the most shameless and disgraceful flirt of all, has a veneer of respectability placed over her conduct by her family, and is welcomed back into the fold. Eliza Williams in Sense & Sensibility, the daughter of Colonel Brandon's ward who is seduced and left pregnant by John Willoughby, is merely pitied for her plight, though she too will be excluded from polite society.

The difference in treatment of these various characters by Jane Austen seems to depend not so much on the sin of having sexual relationships, but on whether or not those relationships were adulterous, or injurious to another person. Therefore, Lydia Bennet is forgiven, since she has not harmed another suitor, as is Eliza Williams. Maria Bertram and Isabella Thorpe have both wounded honest men, and cannot be forgiven.

This brings me to a final, rather thorny question; that of Marianne Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility. Marianne launches herself into a passionate, unreserved relationship with Mr John Willoughby. Marianne is reckless; open in her regard for Willoughby, driving around the countryside with him unchaperoned, and finally allowing him to bring her to visit his house, Combe Magna. They visit the house in secret and alone, when Willoughby has already hinted at his intentions towards Marianne.

Marianne goes on to marry Colonel Brandon, who has already shown himself to be compassionate and understanding in his manner of dealing with his ward, Eliza Williams, and her situation. I can't help wondering if he was also aware and accepting of the fact that his wife had committed the same transgression as that of his ward, and with the same man? If Marianne had done so, which would surely harm her other suitor Colonel Brandon, she should not have had such a happy ending according to Jane Austen's own self-imposed standard. Or was Marianne the exception which proves the rule?

Because my final question is, did Marianne have sex with Willoughby, or didn't she? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Th' Occasion of The Marriage of Miss Katie Price

The lovely Katie Price has tied the knot. Again. The blushing bride was demure and modest in an appropriate and tasteful white gown. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/michaeldeacon/100024856/katie-price-gets-married-her-statement-in-full/

My intention with this blog post was to write a review of one of the books I have been reading for research, and a great favourite of mine, Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, 1811 . The author of this work, "a Lady of Distinction", has amused the little cotton socks off me with many of the strict rules and regulations of dress which she has laid down for young ladies to follow.

However, simultaneously, I have been surprised and delighted to find that much of her advice would still translate perfectly in the twenty-first century; and I have to confess that the name of Jordan popped into my mind on more than one occasion when reading it! So I couldn't resist making the lovely Ms Katie Price the subject of this post. I would very much like to introduce her to the "Lady of Distinction".

The "Lady of Distinction" counsels strongly against the excessive use of cosmetics:

"...the occasional use of rouge may be tolerated, yet, my fair friends must understand that it is only tolerated... A violently rouged woman is one of the most disgusting objects to the eye... transforms the elegant lady of fashion into a vulgar harridan."

The author also advises against fighting one's own natural colouring, and altering hair colour, eyelashes, etc.

"For instance, a gold-tressed wig on the head of a brown woman, makes both ridiculous," (Yes, I know Katie is currently a brunette of sorts, but you'll have to allow me that one in memory of her past glories!) and

"Let every woman be content to leave her eyes as she found them... Let them speak this unsophisticated language, and beauty will beam from the orb which affectation would have rendered odious."

The "Lady of Distinction" goes on to advise about the importance of taste and elegance in dress.

"Elegant dressing is not found in expense; money without judgement may load, but never can adorn... it ought not to be very surprising, when opulence, vanity and bad taste meet, that we should find extravagance and tawdry profusion the fruits of the union."

The author further advises against over-exposure of the bosom, as well as moulding it into unnatural shapes;

"...the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a sort-of fleshy shelf, disgusting to the beholders, and certainly most incommodious to the bearer."

It must also be born in mind that Ms Price is not as young and fresh as once she was.

"Let the youthful female exhibit without shade as much of her bust as shall come within the limits of fashion, without infringing on the borders of immodesty. Let the fair of riper years appear less exposed."

In light of Ms Price's common modes of dress, one cannot help but wonder as to the character of her new husband, for

"No eye but that of a libertine can look upon so wanton a figure with any other sensations than those of disgust and contempt..."

Hmm. I think I might send my copy of The Mirror Of Graces to Ms Price as a wedding present. I've highlighted all the relevant passages, so that she needn't tax herself by reading too much. Plus, as she pointed out in relation to her own "biography", there are several pictures in it that you can look at, even if you don't read much.

Would she get the message then?