Monday, September 29, 2008

Notes From Underground

Increasingly it seems that things fall into only two categories: good for TJAP or bad for TJAP. For example, reading.

Good for TJAP:
Novels written (in English) before 1820 or dealing accurately with this period. Books somehow pertaining to Regency-era England.

Bad for TJAP: All other reading material.

Reading has, in fact, taken a hit over the past few weeks as I have made the astonishing discovery (at least, it astonished me) that it is actually possible to write in the subway. I used to consider this time useful only for reading. Now I can work on my draft. It's crucial, of course, to get a seat; I also do better if I have enough space to freely move my arm and am far enough away from my fellow passengers that I don't feel they are reading over my shoulder. (And wondering what kind of sad maniac they are sitting next to, who is earnestly writing in neat print in a marble notebook, phrases like "You should have him bled, Miss," she said.) But really, the main thing is getting a seat. I can write standing up on the platform, but not on a moving express train.

All I am really reading these days are the newspapers, fascinated as I am by the continuing slide of the world economy. It's like watching history being made before my eyes. Which has nothing to do with TJAP (therefore, bad for TJAP) I suppose. Though I do find myself thinking about the collapse of Henry Austen's bank in 1816, as well as wondering about the world of 2089 from which Rachel and Liam travel back from. I like to think that 2089 humanity would have solved the pesky problems that beset us now, like climate change, financial panic, war and religious intolerance. Though, from only the most cursory glance at history, I can't imagine why that would be the case. Inventing a time machine, which would involve only a major rewrite of the laws of physics, actually seems likelier than that.

I don't really dwell on the world that Rachel and Liam live in because that isn't what TJAP is about. But one must suppose that only a world in which people have solved most of the big problems would there be the luxury to worry about little ones, like, what was in all those letters Cassandra burned?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The End of the Affair

I have finished "Clarissa" and am now coming out, blinking,into the sunlight. It was summer when I started it and now it is fall, at least it feels like such at this latitude. Babies have been born; famous people have died; vice-presidential nominees have emerged onto the national stage and been made fun of.

In the end it does start to verge on self-parody: the relentless perfection of Clarissa begins to grate on one. It happens, in fact, at the point she dies, which is about 200 pages from the end. Once that inimitable voice is silenced, the myth-making takes over. But as long as she is alive, her perfection seems possible -- she is so clearly working on self-mastery, on trying to be the best version of herself within the dreadful situations she is faced with that it somehow seems heroic and fabled rather than melodramatic and absurd.

I seem to have wandered a long way from Jane Austen, though I can make the argument that reading a key work of the century to which Austen was born into is important to understanding what shaped her. (Even though "Sir Charles Grandison" was supposedly actually her favorite work by Richardson; it explores the idea of a perfectly virtuous male character and got terrible reviews from both Wikipedia and Samuel Johnson.)

I feel a bit bereft. I am not sure what to read next.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Good Lord

Going to renew "Clarissa" for the third time (which you can conveniently do online at the Brooklyn Public Library) I discover that I cannot renew it, because someone else has requested the book. This raises two immediate questions:

Can I finish the next 200 pages in two days, in time to avoid library fines? (I think yes, if I am willing to basically not do anything else.)

Who else in Brooklyn could possibly want to read "Clarissa"? It is a borough of 2.8 million people, but still. Come on. (I would like to think they have been reading TJAP blog, but that is even more unrealistic than that I can avoid library fines.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Worth Reading, If I Can Find Them

Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography
P.D. James
(this one I have actually read already, soon after it came out seven or eight years ago, before I became a Jane Austen fanatic and was merely a P.D. James fanatic. Apparently she talks about how "Emma" is like a detective story. I had forgotten that part.)

The British Housewife: or, the Cook, Housekeeper's and Gardener's Companion

By Martha Bradley. Prospect books, 1997.
309 pages. Paperback. $19.

Almost Another Sister: Fanny Knight, Jane Austen's Favourite Niece
By Margaret Wilson.
George Mann of Maidstone, 1998.
x + 175 pages. Illustrations. Paperback, $20.00.

Fanny, Fanny, Fanny. Author of that so-mean letter about Jane in your old age. What happened? I hope this book will explain.

Jane Austen’s “Outlandish Cousin”: The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide

By Deirdre Le Faye.
The British Library, 2002. 192 pages.
10 B/W illustrations. Hardcover. $35.00.

Many biographer see Eliza de Feuillide, whose second husband was none other than Henry Austen, as the fictional inspiration for Mary Crawford.