Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Bilbo's second birthday gift for Jane Austen

~This is the second of two parts of Bilbo’s birthday presents for dearest Jane Austen. Thanks a lot, Bilbo!~

The second item I wish to submit for Jane's birthday is a little panegyric about my favorite Austen 'extension', Sanditon, Jane Austen's Last Novel Completed, by 'Jane Austen and "Another Lady"'. It was copyrighted in 1975 by a Marie Dobbs (apparently aka Anne Telscombe), but has been reprinted since several times, I believe. Of all the many books purported to reproduce the experience of Jane Austen's fictional creations, this one comes by far the closest in my humble opinion. The story reasonably supposes Carlotte Heywood to be Jane's intended heroine and Sidney Parker the hero. Unlike in many extensions, the characters speak and act naturally, much as they would if Jane had written it herself. Although obviously no one really knows how Jane intended the story to play out, the happenings here are highly akin to her other novels in feel, dwelling on the doings over a limited period of time of, if I remember the phrase properly, "3 or 4 families in a country village". The gentle satire is there, and the comical characters are fully developed, but the main focus is on the internal feelings of the heroine.

Here is one of my favorite passages near the middle of the book:
…. She went on happily talking about her exotic shells till they were interrupted again by Sidney, this time calling them across to admire a particularly tasteless shell box his sisters had just bought. It was entirely covered with what Miss Lambe had just described as clumsy and common shells and had ‘Brinshore’ inscribed on the lid in tiny pebbles. While Sir Edward talked of its ‘frangible appearance’ masking an ‘adamantine construction’ and racked his brains for a suitable quotation about shells, Sidney silently passed the box around for inspection. The Miss Beauforts agreed it was exquisite; Miss Denham thought their own villagers should be encouraged to produce similar boxes with ‘Sanditon’ on the lid. Miss Brereton allowed it to be pretty; Miss Lambe faltered and, whispering it was ‘very interesting’, retreated into her usual silence. Charlotte, rejoicing in having avoided all comment on the box when it was dutifully praised by everyone else, realised rather too late that Sidney had not drawn Miss Lambe and herself into the group from motives of consideration alone. ‘I do not think we have yet heard Miss Heywood’s opinion,’ he said with a polite bow in her direction which informed her he had let her off over seaweed pictures merely to trap her more entertainingly over shell-work boxes. Charlotte now heartily regretted she had missed the opportunity of emulating Miss Lambe’s almost inaudible ‘very interesting’. She began stammering that she was naturally that of course she had given her opinion — but found she could no longer avoid doing so, Sidney having produced a lull in the general conversation by advancing towards her and holding out the box. She took a fleeting glance up at him, saw the gleam of amusement in his eyes and said with dignity, ‘It is extremely pretty.’ ‘You would not call it an — ah — unnecessary object?’ ‘Not at all, in this case,’ she replied, biting her lip to refrain from laughing. She was willing to concede Sidney had outwitted her; but she refused to look up at him in open acknowledgement of the victory. She kept her own eyes very firmly on the box, determined to reserve her right to that measure of independence at least. But Sidney, equally determined to impose his will on anyone with whom he chose to exert himself, continued to stand in front of her till in sudden embarrassment that everyone must be watching them — in a rush of confusion she was unable to control — Charlotte weakened and glanced up again. She had frequently found the teasing expression of Sidney’s eyes to be exasperating, and had every intention of meeting it with a blank look of innocent gravity. But before she could check herself, she discovered she was smiling back at him involuntarily and admitting that, exasperating or not, Sidney’s teasing gleam had quite become irresistible to her. In that moment, as they stood smiling at one another, Charlotte was conscious of several contradictory sensations, of which the chief were these: annoyance with herself for being incapable of governing her own actions, satisfaction that Sidney had won this very minor victory over her, amusement, embarrassment — an odd something between perturbation and pleasure — and, above all else, a flutter of joyful spirits which made her feel she had strayed somehow into a most unfamiliar world.

And this from the next chapter:
He held out the small parcel, carefully wrappcd and tied, and accompanied by a letter thrust under the string. There could be no doubt of his burning curiosity with regard to the contents. Even Mrs Parker, in quieter fashion, appeared wary and worried over this impulsive gesture of her brother-in-law in sending a letter and a gift to their young guest. Very conscious of their intent observation, Charlotte accepted the parcel, laid it aside, extracted the letter and opened it. Knowing she would have to read it aloud to satisfy Mr Parker, she had some misgivings herself; and from her still imperfect knowledge of Sidney’s character, was dreading what it might prove to contain. She glanced over it. Dear Miss Heywood, Forgive this hurried note. I could not resist buying the accompanying gift in Brinshore yesterday. I believe I intended it at the time as a present for my brother, but on reflection, have decided he might not appreciate it, and will have to content himself with the ‘Guide to Watering Places’ which I had already purchased for him. Moreover, as I was indeed lucky enough to find an exact replica of the object my sisters bought, it now occurs to me that my own family are well provided with mementoes of Brinshore. Your own admiration was so dearly expressed that I feel I can do no better than bestow my rash purchase on you. I cannot, in any case, take it to London, as it is too fragile for me to pack And you, I am sure, will agree such an ‘extremely pretty’ and ‘necessary’ box deserves better than to be broken. Yours etc. Sidney Parker. Suppressing a smile, Charlotte handed the letter to Mrs. Parker, and cautiously unwrapping the layers of paper, revealed the small box, labelled ‘Brinshore’. ‘What’s this? What’s this?’ cried Mr Parker. ‘A box all covered with shells? And why does it have Brinshore on it in those little coloured pebbles? What does one do with it? And what can Sidney mean sending such a thing to Miss Heywood?’ ‘Sidney says he meant to give it to you,’ said Mrs Parker, looking up from the letter. ‘It is clear enough what his intentions were. So exactly his sense of humour! He thinks it would have been very amusing to give you a box with Brinshore written on it. She handed the letter to her husband. ‘It is one of his jokes.’ ‘Then why did he give it to Miss Heywood?’ demanded Mr Parker in bewilderment. ‘Would you like it?’ offered Charlotte a little fearfully. Quite suddenly she found she had become very possessive over the ugly little box.

‘Me? Like a useless box labelled Brinshore? No, no. Sidney is quite in the right there. “On reflection, I have decided he might not appreciate it.” Very proper. But let me see it. So this is the type of thing Brinshore goes in for! Do they think that will attract visitors? Yes, yes, I see it is one of Sidney’s jokes, as Mary says. But good Lord! I would not have such a thing in the house. Ah! So Susan and Diana bought one too — precisely what they would do, of course. My sisters are very worthy women, Miss Heywood, but without a scrap of taste to share between them. You should see some of the knick-knacks they keep about their house — tables crammed with ornamental pill-boxes and extravagant gewgaws. It does not surprise me in the least to find them adding to the number. Well, it is funny, I suppose. “Too fragile for him to pack.” And did you really call it an “extremely pretty box”?’
‘I believe I did say so,’ admitted Charlotte. ‘Your sisters had already bought one and the Miss Beauforts were admiring it — and Sir Edward — in short, I remember saying something of the sort.’ ‘Ha! I see how it all was. Many a time have I been forced to admire some hideous thing Diana has bought and Sidney has teased me about it afterwards. He can never resist these little attempts to be humorous at other people’s expense.’ The Parkers had decided to laugh at Sidney’s unexpected letter to Miss Heywood; and the box was now firmly established as one of Sidney’s jokes, to be looked at and smiled at over their breakfast, but not given another thought. And Charlotte, who also smiled at it, was not really surprised to discover it meant far more than a joke to her. She was grateful the box had been presented in such a way that she could keep it without arousing anybody’s suspicions.

From later that chapter:
But when she picked up her own box and carefully carried it off to her room — not forgetting the accompanying letter — it never occurred to her that she, too, might be doing something which Sidney intended. A young lady’s exact estimate of her own charms would be a difficult matter to determine but Charlotte certainly never estimated hers as meriting the full treatment of one of Sidney’s intricate little plots. If she could have brought herself to believe he had purchased the box especially for her, and devoted a great deal of thought to composing a seemingly hasty letter which made it possible for her to accept it, she would have valued the gift even more.

And, finally, from a later chapter:
Charlotte had her own suspicions that Sidney may have realised by then that the prudence and common sense he teased her about were no longer sufficient barriers to her falling in love if he persisted in his attentions. Perhaps he had guessed it even earlier in the tea rooms? But his kindness, frankness and cheerfulness towards her had never varied. Beyond paying her a few charming compliments and amusing her with gay conversation, had he done anything at all to try and gain her affection? He had, Charlotte remembered rather wryly, done nothing except — in a burst of typical high spirits — bought and bestowed on her a hideous little shell box, which she would keep as a treasured memento. And she smiled to herself a little sadly when she reflected that this — her most precious souvenir of Sanditon — was, in fact, labelled Brinshore.

As I noted, these are from near the middle of the book, so a great deal more is yet to happen to our heroine. I believe Jane would be amused. Happy birthday, Jane!

Pic 1: The completed 'Sanditon', by Jane Austen and 'another lady', from Jane Austen Centre, UK
Pic 2: Pine Cove Cottage by Thomas Kinkade. (Icha: I wonder if the house in Sanditon looked a bit like this...)
Pic 3: Sea shell, from the Seashellmotel


Anonymous said...

Very lovely

Anonymous said...

i randomly decided to watch "Becoming Jane" today, imagine my surprise when i looked her up on wikipedia and found it's her birthday today!! (and also came across this amazing site) That's irony...

Icha said...

That's not irony, dearest Lavya, for it brings you to us :-) It's serendipity, instead. A beautiful serendipity.

Join the club with Jane and all!