Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 9 (Chapter 27)

Emma did not repent her condescension in going to the Coles.

A quick reminder that "condescension" means only "courteous disregard of the inferiority of rank", and that it's supposed to be a good thing, as we discussed in Chapter 29 of Pride & Prejudice. Emma is feeling tickled pink over her acceptance of the invitation - she had a good time, she actually likes the Coles, and, as it turns out, they were so thrilled to have her that she was feeling very much fussed over.

Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common; and there were two points on which she was not quite easy.

Emma's two points of uneasiness are (1) Jane Fairfax and (2) Jane Fairfax. In the first instance, she feels bad about having voiced her suspicions about a romance between Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon to Frank Churchill - and so she ought to be, since she essentially slandered Jane Fairfax there. In the second instance, she regrets that her talent in playing the pianoforte and singing is nowhere near as great as Jane Fairfax's. Harriet's inability to tell Emma's passable talent apart from Jane's superior talent actually infuriates Emma, in a way - and is a further example of how little actual taste Harriet herself has. I so love Emma's riposte: "Don't class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like her's, than a lamp is like sunshine."

Harriet needs to grow a spine.

That point comes across loud and clear as we observe Harriet's inability to select a muslin or a ribbon or to decide where to have her parcel sent (as a gentlewoman was not expected to carry her own packages - heaven forbid!).

Of course, having made that point so clearly, we can almost be certain that Harriet will indeed start to show some spine - and that the consequences thereof aren't necessarily good. No spoilers, but . . . I'm just putting that out there.

The other thing we learn about Harriet is that she is still hung up on Robert Martin - and now she's jealous, concerned that one of the Cox sisters will snap him up.

What is Frank Churchill playing at?

He has obviously manipulated Mrs Weston into calling on the Bateses so as to hear the new pianoforte, yet he starts to try to weasel out of going to the Bateses' house himself - except that something about his manner leads me to believe that he actually wants to be forced into going. It's all reminiscent of his first day in town, when he says he has to call on Jane Fairfax, then manages things so that he's talked into doing just that.

And then, when he and Mrs Weston call on the Bateses and Jane Fairfax, he insists that Emma should be fetched, but gets himself tied up in repairing Mrs Bates's spectacles so as to necessitate Mrs Weston going with Miss Bates to fetch Emma and Harriet in to hear the pianoforte. (Hmm . . . I feel constrained to point out that this means Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are home with only deaf Mrs Bates as a chaperon.)

In the midst of Miss Bates's rambling . . .

. . . come important nuggets of information. See how cleverly Austen "hides" things in plain sight, as it were? It's a very good use of mystery-writing techniques, such as red herrings, and burying your clues.

1. Frank's repair of the eyeglasses and manipulation of that situation
2. The Bateses have a servant, Patty, who does their cooking for them. This is helpful to know (from Miss Bates's first ramble) so as to understand how she learns the next bit of information.
3. Mr Knightley sends the Bateses apples every year - but on finding out that the Bateses are nearly done with their supply, and that Jane particularly likes them, he sends another bushel - thereby completely depleting his own stock.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

Today, one of the best-known war poems of all time. It's also the best-known rondeau in the English language. And although it is Memorial Day in the United States today and this post bears the image of an American flag, this poem was written by a Canadian poet.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Discussion of the poem:

As already mentioned, it's a rondeau. The "chorus" line of the poem is, in this case, derived from the first three words of the poem: "In Flanders fields". Apart from that line, the poem is written in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with end-rhyme options of "I" or "O". The first stanza has five lines, the second four, and the last stanza has six lines. The rhyme scheme is: AABBA AABX AABBAX (with X representing the shorter refrain "In Flanders fields", which is not rhymed to any other line).

This is one of the most famous of the War Poems from the First World War. It is frequently misprinted (including at The Academy of American Poets) using "grow" in the first line, but "blow" is actually correct. Flanders is, for those who aren't aware, an older name for the Flemish or Dutch-speaking portion of what is now called Belgium.

About John McCrae: McCrae was a Canadian who trained as a doctor. He trained two of the first female doctors in Canada prior to enlisting in the military. He served in battle, and was none-too-happy when he was diverted from the field and sent to organize a medical unit. In fact, he is quoted as having said, "[A]ll the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men." His poem, "In Flanders Field", became internationally famous during his lifetime, and he regarded its success with detached amusement, although he was pleased that it was used to remind young men "where their duty lay". The first stanza of the poem is on the reverse side of the Canadian $10 bill. Because so many folks substitute "grow" for "blow" in the first line (in error), rumors abounded that the Bank of Canada got it wrong and was recalling the $10 bills. As Snopes.com pointed out, the first stanza of the poem is, in fact, correct, and any rumors of a recall are false.

McCrae died of pneumonia while working at a war hospital in Boulogne, and is buried in France. Below is an image of the poem in his own writing after it was published in Punch in 1915. (McCrae initially threw it out, but a fellow soldier named Edward Morrison salvaged it and submit it to Punch magazine. It initially appeared anonymously, but was rapidly identified as McCrae's work.)

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 8 (Chapter 26)

"[S]illy things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way."

Frank Churchill returns from London with a grin and a new haircut, and Emma is struck by his charm and refusal to be apologetic or boastful about his trip. Goodness, but I love the quote that I used to label this section of the post - don't you?

And I think that it's one of those moments in Austen's books that illustrates why her novels are still so popular two centuries after publication (this year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Sense & Sensibility): Austen is so very good at depicting and/or describing human nature, and that's what readers continue to respond to. Despite the changes in society and manners over the years, her keen observation of human behavior still rings true. It's certainly the case in this scene, where we see that Frank Churchill has done something terribly frivolous, but he refuses to be abashed about it. Neither does he run about trumpeting what he's done - instead, he's willing to laugh at himself when teased about it, but he refuses to apologize or to feel badly about his choice to go to London, and suddenly, something that was decidedly uncool is actually cool. It's a trope we see again and again in modern entertainment, where someone (or something) that is uncool is made to seem cool again. Heck, not long ago I rewatched Easy A, and the way that Emma Stone's character moves from mocking the card her grandmother sends her with a clip from Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocketful of Sunshine" to fully embracing the tune (to the point of quoting lyrics in conversation) shows how this can happen. Or perhaps Cameron Diaz's dance moves in Charlie's Angels.

The party at the Coles' house

So many little scenes in this one party scene. First, there's Emma's exchange with Mr Knightley on arrival. He has actually come by carriage, you see, which is unlike him. Although he has a carriage, he doesn't keep a team of horses for that purpose, and he seldom bothers to use his carriage - instead, he walks, or arrives on horseback.

Eventually, we learn that he has pulled his carriage out so as to have it available to pick up and return Miss Bates and Miss Jane Fairfax, who are invited to join the company for tea (after dinner).

Then there's the pianoforte that has mysteriously arrived from London as a gift for Jane Fairfax. It is a large Broadwood square piano - not nearly as expensive as a Broadwood square grand piano (such as was used by Beethoven), which had inlays and a variety of polished woods, but still considered quite an elegant instrument in its day. (Broadwood was an English manufacturer of early pianofortes, and those instruments were considered quite fine in their day.) It has arrived without any indication as to who sent it. It is widely assumed to have been a surprise sent by the Campbells - in which case the present is proper, even if the undesignated delivery is a puzzlement.

Emma, however, speculates that it might be from the Dixons. If it is from Mrs. Dixon (the former Miss Campbell, who is Jane Fairfax's closest friend) or from both of the Dixons, it is also not inappropriate, even if its method of delivery is still odd. If, however, it is "a gift of love" from Mr Dixon alone - or, indeed, from any gentleman - it is entirely improper, since it was simply not done for unengaged or unmarried men to send valuable gifts to unmarried women. (You may recall this same sort of discussion about Willoughby's gift of a horse to Marianne in Sense & Sensibility.) Emma discloses to Frank Churchill her suspicion that Mr Dixon is rather attached to Jane, despite having married her best friend, because he saved her life and because he is known to have preferred Jane's piano-playing to that of his spouse. Frank indicates during that conversation that he's pretty familiar with the Dixons and was present when Jane was saved, but Emma will not be dissuaded from her conclusion, and Frank Churchill ultimately says that he agrees that the piano is, indeed, "a gift of love" for Jane Fairfax. Emma decides that must mean he agrees with her that Mr Dixon sent the pianoforte to Jane, although careful parsing of this passage will make plain it's all Emma's inference, and not actually Mr Churchill's implication.

Frank Churchill does make a plain statement about Jane Fairfax to Emma that is entirely inappropriate. When Emma catches him staring at Jane Fairfax, he explains that he was struck by how odd and outré Jane Fairfax's hair looks - quite an impolite thing to say. He then vows to go tease Jane Fairfax about it and ask if it is "an Irish fashion" - here a dual reference to the Dixons (who live in Ireland) and a nasty ethnic joke - it was common during that era to make jokes at the expense of the Irish, who were considered stupid and backwards.

Mrs Weston's theory about Mr Knightley and Emma's response

Mrs Weston is quite struck by the fact that Mr Knightley has made his carriage available to Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax. She decides, in fact, that it must mean that Mr Knightley has a thing for Jane Fairfax, and she goes so far as to speculate that perhaps it was Mr Knightley who sent the pianoforte to Jane. Emma's comments about Mr Knightley's benevolence show that she holds him in high regard:

I know no man more likely than Mr Knightley to do the sort of thing--to do any thing really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent. He is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one; and this, considering Jane Fairfax's ill-health, would appear a case of humanity to him;--and for an act of unostentatious kindness, there is nobody whom I would fix on more than on Mr Knightley.
Emma is outraged, however, by Mrs Weston's suggestion of a romance between Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax - in part because she wants her nephew, Henry, to inherit Donwell Abbey, but mostly because she believes the marriage would not suit Mr Knightley - and she means specifically his marriage to Jane Fairfax, although she obviously believes he should avoid marriage in general - our first hint that perhaps she has some sort of proprietary feelings for him, although she does not seem to notice it at the time:

"But Mr Knightley does not want to marry. I am sure he has not the least idea of it. Do not put it into his head. Why should he marry?--He is as happy as possible by himself; with his farm, and his sheep, and his library, and all the parish to manage; and he is extremely fond of his brother's children. He has no occasion to marry, either to fill up his time or his heart."
You'll notice that her reasons for Mr Knightley not marrying are largely the same as her reasons she gave Harriet for why it is that she doesn't wish to marry - a rather clear case of projecting, perhaps, but also (given what we know of Mr Knightley) a rather clear assessment of his inclinations.

I am rather inclined to believe Emma is better in tune with Mr Knightley than is Mrs Weston in this scene (pun there intended). She says that if Mr Knightley had sent the pianoforte to Jane Fairfax, he would have first given Miss Fairfax notice that it was coming; then later, when the topic comes up between Emma and Mr Knightley, he says "[The Campbells] would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Colonel Campbell."

Here's the last chapter and the start of this one, from the 2009 BBC production:

And here's the rest of the party scene (Stop at 3:26 if you don't wish to see more.)

But, I must say, I absolutely love Jeremy Northam's performance in this chapter/scene, which follows in two parts

Start the first one at about the 4:18 mark to begin when Emma frets over an invitation. (And I do so love the song that Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor sing together here, which is called "Silent Worship" by G.F. Handel - you can hear a great solo recording by Kenneth McKellar here):

And stop the second at the 1:57 mark if you wish to avoid moving ahead:

One last word in parting - note how Mr Knightley grows angry over the way Frank Churchill pushes Jane Fairfax to sing a third song. It could just be me, but I don't believe his anger is entirely based on concern for Jane, although I think that's part of it - I think some of it has to do with his inherent dislike for Frank Churchill based on Frank's attentions to Emma. What say you?

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Some quotes that particularly struck me recently - most of which have to do with the writerly life. The first is taken from Neil Gaiman's blog post about the 8in8 project, in which he and his wife, Amanda Palmer, collaborated with Ben Folds and Damian Kulash to write songs in a finite period of time.

"[C]reativity isn't always a matter of magic and inspiration. Mostly it's a matter of work. Of doing it."

Being somewhat voyeuristic in nature, I am always interested in seeing the spaces in which authors work. Which is why I was pleased to learn about Erin Bow's office, located in a poledancing studio (no lie), and to see in this blog post where it is that Erin works. And when one sits down in that chair to do the work, sometimes it can be helpful to have some rituals. I especially liked what Erin Bow had to say about inspiration and the use of what she calls "ritual objects and relics" in one's writing space. Isn't this quote of Erin's beautiful?

"I often find one needs to coax oneself closer to inspiration, the way a church coaxes one closer to God. So my office is furnished with ritual objects and relics."

And finally, some wise words from Jennifer R. Hubbard, who was guest-blogging at Natalie Whipple's blog, on the creative person's desire for approval and on staying inspired through the clever use of "celebratory files":

True happiness only comes from within, and it doesn’t depend on external success, and nothing outside ourselves can give us a sense of wholeness...

All true. But that doesn’t mean we don’t crave a pat on the back sometimes, an acknowledgment that what we put out into the world is appreciated by someone, somewhere. This is especially true for writers. In part, we write for ourselves; there is joy in the very act of wordsmithing. But in another way, we write for an audience. We hope to connect with others through words, and when it happens, it’s very special.

For that reason, I’ve created celebratory files.
I hope one or more of these three quotes speak to you as well.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Research for my YA romance

We all know how to do research, right? You sit down with a computer or with a book and you read and take notes.

Of course that's only one kind of research. Last night, I engaged in another kind - the more experiential sort of research. At the end of it, my ears were ringing a bit, but it was totally worth it. Plus I got to support local artists, including one of S's friends, and I got to hang out with Intrepid Friend Lisa and her wonderful husband.

Allow me to explain:

I raced home from tai chi class yesterday evening in order to change clothes so that I could accompany Lisa and Elliot to the Trocadero (a concert venue in Philadelphia, where I recently saw The Airborne Toxic Event). Their son, Ethan, is one of the members of SexOffice, a local fusion/progressive band that was part of a lineup of unsigned local acts. (They are highly skilled musicians, which comes across loud and clear, and in some of their best pieces they kind of remind me of Spyro Gyra, but I'm not a huge fan of jam-style music, preferring more conventional song structure when I go to concerts.)

See, there happens to be an unsigned rock band in my work in progress (WIP) - a young adult contemporary romance based on an Austen novel - and there's a concert scene as well, and going to see Ethan's band allowed me to take notes on important things - like what people are wearing (both the guys in the bands (no girls, oddly enough) and the people in the audience), as well as observing behavior and body language as well as eavesdropping (when possible - man, it was LOUD in there!) on conversations.

Plus, I got to hear a variety of new music, including Bizarre Silence (we heard two songs, both excellent) and Stone Head (headbanging hard rock - not usually my thing - but really very good and they're the whole package - they look the part, know how to work the crowd, etc.) and a bit of the headliner, Sixkill, along with SexOffice's set. Not all of it was to my taste, but some of it was really enjoyable, so it's a win-win situation.

And now, it's back to work on Chapter 17B. Yes, 17B. Perversely, I refuse to renumber my chapters until I hit The End of the book as outline, so I've added a Chapter 17B to allow for a place where my characters decided to go off the course I'd mapped for them. (There's also a Chapter 10B and a 10C as well, for the same reason.)

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 7 (Chapter 25)

Frank Churchill goes to London.

For a haircut. Sixteen miles' travel each way. How very shallow of him.

Everyone in town is willing to cut him some slack, except for Mr Knightley.

Emma wants an invitation to the Coles' party.

So she can reject it. How very petty of her.

Only then she decides to get her friends to talk her into going. And her father obsesses over it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 6 (Chapter 24)

Mrs Weston and Frank Churchill are getting along like gangbusters. I am trying hard not to spoil things for those of you who are reading Emma for the first time, so I will simply remark how clever Austen is at putting things plainly under the reader's nose, only to divert or misdirect the reader in the next instance. Such is the case at the start of this chapter, when Frank is asked to choose the direction of the day's walk, whereupon he chooses "Highbury, that airy, cheerful, happy-looking Highbury, would be his constant attraction." For Mrs Weston, Highbury (the town) and Hartfield (Emma's home) are synonymous, and so to Hartfield they go. Well-played, Miss Austen, say I.

Mrs Weston and Frank Churchill spend the whole of the morning with Emma - first at Hartfield, and later in Highbury, where Frank is quite interested in seeing the whole town. While in town, Frank declares an interest in dancing and in holding a ball, and then makes fun of Miss Bates for talking so much, moving on to criticize Jane Fairfax's appearance, which puts Emma in the position of having to defend her.

Frank says that an average-looking woman with a good complexion is made more attractive, then fails to complete his comment about the effect of a good complexion on an attractive woman.

Well," said Emma, "there is no disputing about taste.--At least you admire her except her complexion."

He shook his head and laughed.--"I cannot separate Miss Fairfax and her complexion."

"Did you see her often at Weymouth? Were you often in the same society?"
This question that Emma poses is similar to what she asked Jane Fairfax about Frank Churchill before he arrived so suddenly in Highbury. Whereas Jane Fairfax answered the direct inquiries with scant information, Frank initially dodges the question entirely, then answers by deferring to whatever Jane must already have said. Which is when Emma starts to gather further information about Jane Fairfax from Frank Churchill - and, being Emma, she jumps to some deductions about relationships, including the relationship between Jane Fairfax and Mr Dixon and, quite possibly, to the relationship forming between herself and Frank Churchill.

Emma is, in fact, overly familiar in her conversation with Frank Churchill, essentially trash-talking about Jane Fairfax's reserved character and pointing out that Emma resents Jane for being so talented and so highly praised. Emma and Mrs Weston then laugh at Frank when he defends Mr Elton's house :

No, he could not believe it a bad house; not such a house as a man was to be pitied for having. If it were to be shared with the woman he loved, he could not think any man to be pitied for having that house. There must be ample room in it for every real comfort. The man must be a blockhead who wanted more.
Those of you who are reading this for the second time (or more) will appreciate how Austen skillfully manages Frank Churchill's conversation in this chapter. He seeks out Emma's opinion on Jane Fairfax, speaks of Jane himself, and refuses to bash Mr Elton's abode. Emma concludes that his opinion of Mr Elton's house shows an inclination on Frank's part to marry soon. It's fascinating to watch Austen lay true and false trails throughout this chapter, once you know how things turn out later. She does it all quite cleverly, conveying by the opinions of other characters what things the reader should pay most attention to - even if not everything that is highlighted is the most important (or truest) thing. It's brilliantly done.

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The moral of JULIUS CAESAR

M has been reading Julius Caesar in class, and she has a test on Acts I, II & III tomorrow. She's been ranting for days about how Caesar should have listened to his wife, Calpurnia, when she warned him that she had a dream that he'd be killed on the Ides of March.

Tonight, she and a friend are studying via instant message.

M just informed me that "the moral of Julius Caesar is 'always listen to your woman'."

Gosh, I love teens.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 5 (Chapter 23)

Oh, Emma!

Emma's self-absorption here at the start of the chapter is sickening, yes? She deliberately sets out to restrict Harriet from reattaching herself to the Martin family - even to the mother and sisters - and while we are given to understand that the Martins feel snubbed by the shortness of the visit and Harriet feels sad that it was cut off, the narrator focuses on Emma's feelings: how Emma feels badly for what she's doing here, behaving as a sort of puppet-master toward Harriet, who continues to dance to Emma's tune.

Enter Frank Churchill, Stage Left Even

It's wonderful to see how news about Frank Churchill's imminent arrival travels. Emma calls at Randalls to find the Westons are from home, only to meet them in the lane - they're returning from Hartfield, where they've told Mr Woodhouse their news: Frank is coming for a two-week stay. Mr Weston, ever the optimist, is thrilled, since a fortnight is much longer than the two or three days they might have gotten from Frank at Christmas. Even Mrs Weston seems convinced that Frank will actually arrive tomorrow.

Only as it turns out, Frank arrived that very day - something Emma learnt by stepping into the parlour at Hartfield the next day around noon, only to find Mr Weston and Frank Churchill were already there, calling on her father. It's obvious to everyone that Frank Churchill was extremely anxious to get to Highbury after all.

The Frank Churchill so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before her--he was presented to her, and she did not think too much had been said in his praise; he was a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father's; he looked quick and sensible. She felt immediately that she should like him; and there was a well-bred ease of manner, and a readiness to talk, which convinced her that he came intending to be acquainted with her, and that acquainted they soon must be.
Frank immediately ingratiates himself with Emma by praising Mrs Weston in eloquent terms and in expressing happiness over his father's marriage. And while he acknowledges that he knows Mrs Weston used to be Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, he never speaks of her as if she were anything less than a wonderful gentlewoman. I put this here now because I intend to contrast it later with Mrs Elton's words on the same topic:

He got as near as he could to thanking her for Miss Taylor's merits, without seeming quite to forget that in the common course of things it was to be rather supposed that Miss Taylor had formed Miss Woodhouse's character, than Miss Woodhouse Miss Taylor's. And at last, as if resolved to qualify his opinion completely for travelling round to its object, he wound it all up with astonishment at the youth and beauty of her person.

"Elegant, agreeable manners, I was prepared for," said he; "but I confess that, considering every thing, I had not expected more than a very tolerably well-looking woman of a certain age; I did not know that I was to find a pretty young woman in Mrs Weston."

"You cannot see too much perfection in Mrs Weston for my feelings," said Emma; "were you to guess her to be eighteen, I should listen with pleasure; but she would be ready to quarrel with you for using such words. Don't let her imagine that you have spoken of her as a pretty young woman."

"I hope I should know better," he replied; "no, depend upon it, (with a gallant bow,) that in addressing Mrs Weston I should understand whom I might praise without any danger of being thought extravagant in my terms."
Frank's closing line indicates that Mrs Weston is only too happy to hear praise of Emma, and reminds her of her suspicion that the Westons would like to see a match between her and Frank. (And, of course, that is precisely the case, as we've been aware since Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston discussed Emma early on in the book.) Emma believes Frank is aware of their intention as well, and wonders whether he acquiesces in that wish or not. Interestingly, Emma does not at that moment examine her own feelings to determine whether she likes the idea or not; instead, she's aware that Mr Weston is watching, and thankful that her father is oblivious, and that's pretty much it.

When Mr Weston rises to go, he drops a hint that Frank ought to stay, but Frank joins him in departing, saying that he must make a call on Jane Fairfax, whom he has met in Weymouth. After asserting that he must make the call and getting his father involved in discussing Miss Bates, he immediately backs off and says it could wait for another time. I very much love Mr Weston's reply, which is a quote I sometimes use in my daily life:

"What is right to be done cannot be done too soon."

Ain't that the truth? Mr Weston continues on to say that Frank must call at once, explaining the change in Jane's social standing. When Frank met her before, she was his social equal, in the company of the Campbells. Now she is inferior, being the poor relation of poor gentlewomen. Mr Weston is quick to point out that Frank must pay Jane additional attention because of that, so as not to be seen to slight her for having fallen in social status. In that, he is far kinder than Emma was at the start of the chapter when dealing with Harriet and Emma's perception of Harriet's status.

Clever Jane Austen, bookending your chapter in that manner. To say nothing of putting the better advice in the mouth of the kind, but bordering on comical, Mr Weston, rather than in the mouth of the main character, who is seeking to justify snubbing people who are entirely nice and deserving of being treated well.

Mr Woodhouse really is good-hearted, if misguided.

I have to laugh at Mr Woodhouse's solicitousness. He's ready to send a servant with Frank to show him how to get to the Bates's house, since Mr Weston is going to stop across the street from it. And how can one not laugh at Mr Weston's practical rejoinder? "My good friend, this is quite unnecessary; Frank knows a puddle of water when he sees it, and as to Mrs Bates's, he may get there from the Crown in a hop, step, and jump."

With so much going on - Mr Elton off to be married, Jane Fairfax and now Frank Churchill come to Highbury - one gets the sense that things are being shaken up quite nicely. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 4 (Chapter 22)

Mr Elton's wedding plans

Mr Elton returns to visit everyone and be smug about his conquest - a woman with 10,000 pounds to her name, who is more than happy to marry him and move to Highbury. He pays no attention to Emma and is obnoxious to Harriet, and then leaves to get married.

Emma begins to question what she ever found pleasing about him, and on learning more about his intended spouse - a Miss Augusta Hawkins - she believes that Harriet is inferior to Miss Hawkins only in lacking money. (We shall soon have a chance to see whether Emma proves right on that count.) Turns out Miss Hawkins's father was in trade as a merchant, her uncle is an attorney, and her sister is married to a guy who owns two carriages, and that's pretty much it for her backstory. (I can't help but notice that her background is not too different from some Austen characters we already know - the Bennet sisters had an uncle in trade and another that was an attorney, after all; but they were the daughters of a gentleman, and Miss Hawkins is not.)

Poor Harriet!

Could she but have given Harriet her feelings about it all! She had talked her into love; but, alas! she was not so easily to be talked out of it. The charm of an object to occupy the many vacancies of Harriet's mind was not to be talked away. He might be superseded by another; he certainly would indeed; nothing could be clearer; even a Robert Martin would have been sufficient; but nothing else, she feared, would cure her. Harriet was one of those, who, having once begun, would be always in love.
LOL! The narrator's points here are hilarious, telling us much about Harriet - and, in fact, largely nailing Harriet's character with that final observation: Harriet "would be always in love" is a fine bit of foreshadowing, whether Emma realizes it or not.

Emma continues to meddle

Harriet has been invited to call on Elizabeth Martin, and Emma is scheming as to how to have Harriet call without the possibility of Harriet spending too much time with the Martins. She doesn't really want Harriet to renew her acquaintance with the Martins, even though she understands the necessity of Harriet paying the call, because she believes Harriet will renew her feelings for Mr Robert Martin, marry him, and then Emma would be "forced" to cut off the relationship.

Mind you, the only person who would force her to cut off that relationship is Emma herself, but she doesn't seem to pay much attention to that.

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The Town That Fooled the British by Lisa & Robert Papp

With Memorial Day coming up, it seemed a fitting time to post my review of this book that commemorates a real event that happened during one of our often-overlooked national conflicts, the War of 1812. My thanks to the good folks at Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a review copy of The Town That Fooled the British: A War of 1812 Story by Lisa Papp, illustrated by Robert Papp, which tells a slightly fictionalized by truly fascinating story of how the town of St. Michaels, Maryland, avoided obliteration at the hands of the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812.

Lisa Papp has invented a young boy named Henry Middle, who gets himself right into the middle of the action. He is the reader's proxy, a way of seeing and being invested in this true story of how a small shipbuilding town along the Chesapeake River managed to avoid destruction through the clever use of lanterns. It turns out that when the British sailed up the river, intent on wiping out the source of so many of the Baltimore clippers that were giving the Royal Navy so much trouble, they were fortunate to be shrouded in darkness and fog. It turns out that the elements that assisted them in what they thought was a sneak attack also worked against them, as they collected as many lanterns as they could and hung them in the trees outside of town. The British shelled the heck out of those trees, but the town and its ships were all safe.

The title of the book is drawn from the motto of the Town of St. Michaels, which I believe I now have to visit, as it's been well-preserved in its colonial splendor. Below is the art from the first spread of the book.

You can see much of the rest of the artwork at Robert Papp's online gallery for this book; just click on the boxes to embiggen the picture and see the whole thing. (Is it terribly wrong to say that I think fictional Henry Middle's fictional father is hot? Probably, but it's still true.)

I very much enjoyed learning about the history of the Town of St. Michaels, and I appreciate the Papps' decision to highlight this event from the War of 1812. As the note at the back of the book points out, that particular war was important not only for preserving the United States' independence from England, but also for the creation of iconic symbols like Uncle Sam, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the name for the White House. A must-read for kids who are interested in history, and a great follow-up for afficianados of the Revolutionary War. Because it contains a fictionalized main character, I suppose the book may be characterized by some as historical fiction, but given its high content of historical fact, I'm willing to consider it creative nonfiction. (YMMV.)

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 3 (Chapter 21)

Mr Knightley has come over for a chat - he's got business with Mr Woodhouse, and he wants to talk to Emma. First, he wants to find out how she liked Jane Fairfax - and he's disappointed that she's not happier with Jane, whom he defends as being reserved or diffident (a word he's using in the sense of being slow to talk). Notice how he moves chairs to be closer to Emma? (I sure did!)

Mr Elton is to be married

Of course, Mr Knightley wants to tell Emma a piece of gossip that he's heard in town, only he gets scooped by Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax. Of course, Miss Bates manages to hold two conversations simultaneously - one on the haunch of pork that Emma sent to them, interspersed with information about Mr Elton and inquiries as to how Mr Knightley knew about Elton's pending marriage.

Mr Knightley, who was smart enough to figure out what Emma was up to, cannot help giving a bit of detail to Emma as a way of tweaking her:

"It was short--merely to announce--but cheerful, exulting, of course."--Here was a sly glance at Emma. "He had been so fortunate as to--I forget the precise words--one has no business to remember them. The information was, as you state, that he was going to be married to a Miss Hawkins. By his style, I should imagine it just settled."
Everyone in the neighborhood knew Mr Elton had a thing for Emma

It becomes quite clear from Miss Bates's comments that the entire town gossiped about how Mr Elton aspired to marry Emma.

"--A Miss Hawkins!--Well, I had always rather fancied it would be some young lady hereabouts; not that I ever--Mrs Cole once whispered to me--but I immediately said, 'No, Mr Elton is a most worthy young man--but'--In short, I do not think I am particularly quick at those sort of discoveries. I do not pretend to it. What is before me, I see. At the same time, nobody could wonder if Mr Elton should have aspired--Miss Woodhouse lets me chatter on, so good-humouredly. She knows I would not offend for the world."
Harriet's news, and her reaction to Mr Elton's marriage

When Harriet comes busting into Hartfield with news, Emma is certain that Harriet has already learned of Mr Elton's plans, but no: Harriet's news is that she ran into Robert Martin in Highbury as she took shelter from the rain inside Ford's (a local emporium). In fact, he came in with his sister, Elizabeth, who was perfectly ready and willing to ignore Harriet, but Robert Martin talks his sister into saying hello to Harriet, then does the same himself - and then runs after her to warn her not to take a certain route to Hartfield because he was sure it was flooded. What a nice man! Emma - you idiot - he's such a great guy, and based on his conduct, so much kinder and better mannered than Mr Elton - and I say that based on Mr Elton's conduct thus far, and without reference to what is to come!

Even Emma realizes that the Martins have acted really well, and that their behaviour is that of people with genuine feelings for Harriet. Of course, Emma talks herself out of pitying them overly much, based on her conviction that they have disappointed hopes and ambitions, because in delusional Emma-land, she thinks the Martin family hoped to elevate themselves by their association with Harriet. (Only Emma would - or does - think that the Martins were "lower" than her friend Harriet on the social hierarchy.)

In the end, Emma cuts Harriet off by springing the Elton news on her - and Harriet initially takes the news far better than Emma had anticipated, because she's still so twitterpated about having run into the Martins.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 2 (Chapter 20)

More about Jane Fairfax

Earlier today, I summed up what we need to know about Jane Fairfax - and it still holds. This chapter is where Austen gives us most of Jane Fairfax's backstory, which includes the fact that the Campbells (her foster family) can't afford to support her forever, so she's been trained to be a governess.

As was implied by Emma in Chapter 19, Jane is far better-looking than Miss Campbell, and Austen domments that the Campbells all must really like her, since they keep her around despite that. Now, however, Jane Fairfax's friend is married, and Jane is 21 - the age at which she planned on starting her teaching career.

[S]he had now reached the age which her own judgment had fixed on for beginning. She had long resolved that one-and-twenty should be the period. With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice, and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope, to penance and mortification for ever.
Austen's narrator tells us how loath Jane Fairfax is to actually start her career as a governess. And no wonder - she has to stop being treated as a gentlewoman in society and become an employee. Even though she's still the same person with the same experience, she will step down in the social hierarchy once she starts to work for her living, and she knows it. The narrator assures us that Jane Fairfax has told her aunt the truth behind her deicision not to go to Ireland (although she was invited), but she's also withheld some truths. It'll be a while until we find out what those are.

Emma doesn't like Jane Fairfax

Emma was sorry;--to have to pay civilities to a person she did not like through three long months!--to be always doing more than she wished, and less than she ought! Why she did not like Jane Fairfax might be a difficult question to answer; Mr Knightley had once told her it was because she saw in her the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself; and though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her. But "she could never get acquainted with her: she did not know how it was, but there was such coldness and reserve--such apparent indifference whether she pleased or not--and then, her aunt was such an eternal talker!--and she was made such a fuss with by every body!--and it had been always imagined that they were to be so intimate--because their ages were the same, every body had supposed they must be so fond of each other." These were her reasons--she had no better.
When Emma sees Jane, she realizes that Jane is extremely elegant and pretty and all the things that Emma actually admires. She resolves to stop disliking her, at the same time creating an imaginary life for Jane Fairfax that doesn't really exist - she imagines that Jane was in love with Mr Dixon herself, and is avoiding Ireland in an attempt to get over him.

After an evening together, Emma quickly forgets that she's decided not to dislike Jane Fairfax - Miss Bates makes her nuts and Jane Fairfax proves to be so superior to Emma when playing the piano and - worst of all - Jane Fairfax is reserved and doesn't dish about the Dixons or - worse still - about Frank Churchill, whom she has actually met at Weymouth.

"Emma could not forgive her." LOL!

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Emma, Volume II, Chapter 1 (Chapter 19)

We have moved into the second volume of Emma. Those of you with a book that does not follow the Volume/Chapter numbering system can rely on the parenthetical designation to keep track of where we are.

In this chapter, Emma is so very sick of hearing about Mr Elton from Harriet that, in desperation, she is quite willing to visit the Bateses. She knows it is something she should do more often, but she can't usually be bothered.

She had had many a hint from Mr Knightley and some from her own heart, as to her deficiency--but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable,--a waste of time--tiresome women--and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second-rate and third-rate of Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them. But now she made the sudden resolution of not passing their door without going in--observing, as she proposed it to Harriet, that, as well as she could calculate, they were just now quite safe from any letter from Jane Fairfax.
Mrs Bates is the widow of a vicar, and her unmarried daughter, Miss Bates, resides with her. Over the years, the Bateses have fallen on rather hard times. They live on a fixed income that will never go up, and as prices rise, they will end up worse off. (This point will be forcefully made by Mr Knightley in Volume III of the book.) Miss Bates, although good-natured, is a chatterbox, as Austen makes plain not only by telling us what Emma thinks of her, but also by showing us some of Miss Bates's conversation.

A crossed letter

Miss Bates moves from discussing the Coles to Mr Elton to Jane Fairfax in rapid order. Her mention of Jane's letter - and of what a typical letter from Jane involves - includes a reference to the letter being crossed and to "checkerwork". Below is an example of a "crossed" or "checkerwork" letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra, who was at the time staying at Godmersham Park with their brother Edward Austen Knight's family:

You can see the neat lines of Austen's handwriting, and how they start to tighten up as she nears the end of the page, as well as seeing the "crossed" lines created when she turned the paper ninety degrees to the left and started writing additional lines crossing the original ones she put down.

Jane Fairfax, the Campbells and the Dixons

Jane Fairfax was the companion of Miss Campbell - now Mrs Dixon - and often served as her chaperon when Miss Campbell and Mr Dixon were courting. Colonel and Mrs Campbell paid for Jane's education, the colonel being a friend of Jane's deceased father's. The Dixons, now married, have gone to Ireland on their honeymoon, leaving Jane with the Campbells, who pretty much raised her and are akin to foster parents. The Campbells are going to Ireland to visit the Dixons, and Jane has been invited to join them, but has chosen instead to come stay with her aunt and grandmother in Highbury. Meanwhile, Miss Bates relates an incident that happened when Jane was in Weymouth, when Mr Dixon kept her from falling out of a boat. We are told as well that Jane Fairfax caught a cold back on November 7th, which she is using has her excuse to come to Highbury and to avoid the trip to Ireland.

If you've already sorted all that out, then I apologize, but I have to tell you that Miss Bates's manner of chattering about these things - and the way Austen stretches out her narrative about Jane Fairfax, so that some of this information isn't in this chapter - can make it hard to figure.

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Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson, illus by Pamela Dalton

I begin this review by stating that I am not now nor have I ever been Roman Catholic. Still, I have quite a soft spot for Saint Francis of Assisi, whom I'm used to seeing in statue forms in gardens. I've read a few of his prayers before, and find them to be the sort of thing I can get behind - a call for respect for all living creatures and peaceful coexistence with our natural world.

It was with complete delight that I opened a package that arrived yesterday from the kind folks at Chronicle Books to find a copy of the new picture book (which has been marked one of Kirkus Review's "Top 26 Books at BEA", along with my friend Linda Urban's forthcoming novel, Hound Dog True, which I can assure you is spectacular. But I digress.).

Saint Francis lived at the turn of the 13th century (1181-1226), and some of his writings include pieces written in Umbrian (a dialect related to Italian) rather than in church Latin, since Francis of Assisi wanted his words to be understood by everyone, not just the educated members of society who could parse Latin. One of those pieces, written during the final two years of his life, was his Laudes Creaturarum, or "Praise Song of the Creatures", which has become known over the centuries as The Canticle of the Sun.

Award-winning author Katherine Paterson has taken the text of The Canticle of the Sun and recast the words slightly in what is billed as a "reimagination" of Saint Francis's text. The whole of Saint Francis's prayer is included near the end of the book, in a translation done from the Umbrian text into English by Bill Barrett. Barrett's translation of the stanzas relating to "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon" reads:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day: and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars: in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Katherine Paterson has streamlined some of the language and elaborated on other parts:

We praise you for our Brother Sun,
who in his radiant dawning
every day reminds us that it was
you who brought forth light.

We praise you for Sister Moon and all
our Sister Stars, who clothe the night
with their beauty and, like you,
watch over us while we sleep.
Each of the stanzas has a double spread within the book, and is accompanied by incredible painted, cut-paper illustrations created by Pamela Dalton using the German "Scherenschnitte" technique. Most of the pages contain the sort of colors seen on the cover, with the exception of the spread devoted to "Sister Moon":

Is that not gorgeous?

The book is a work of art throughout, with its black backgrounds to showcase the cut-paper artwork, it's use of color and imagery, and, of course, the beautiful language of Paterson's interpretation of Saint Francis's words. I am especially glad for the full interpretation of The Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi, as translated by Bill Barrett, and for the notes by Paterson and Dalton about their process and their feelings about working on this project.

I highly recommend this book for parents interested in exploring issues of faith and/or interconnectedness with their children (or for adult readers interested in this prayer and/or Saint Francis), for libraries, and for fans of cut-paper illustrations and/or Paterson's works. Truly one of the loveliest picture books I've seen so far this year.

If you'd like to see some more of the interior spreads AND learn how Pamela Dalton went about creating the art, I encourage you to watch this video:

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 18

Mr Frank Churchill is not coming after all.

Roll call of reactions

Mr Weston: Half an hour of disappointment, followed by a cup more than half full of optimism that his eventual visit will be at a much better time, etc.

Mrs Weston: Far deeper disappointment, since she now anticipates that Frank will continue to bait and switch as to the time of his visit.

Emma: Her real reaction is "Who cares if he comes or not?", but, wanting to appear as usual, she feigns disappointment equal to that of Mrs Weston's.

Mr Knightley: Oh, Mr Knightley. Do you understand your own reaction yourself, sir? I rather think you may not, and that were you speaking with anyone but Emma, you might not have gotten quite as riled up. But I digress.

Whatever the reason, Mr Knightley is inclined to be really, truly put out with Mr Churchill.

"The Churchills are very likely in fault," said Mr Knightley, coolly; "but I dare say he might come if he would."

"I do not know why you should say so. He wishes exceedingly to come; but his uncle and aunt will not spare him."

"I cannot believe that he has not the power of coming, if he made a point of it. It is too unlikely, for me to believe it without proof."

"How odd you are! What has Mr Frank Churchill done, to make you suppose him such an unnatural creature?"

"I am not supposing him at all an unnatural creature, in suspecting that he may have learnt to be above his connexions, and to care very little for any thing but his own pleasure, from living with those who have always set him the example of it. It is a great deal more natural than one could wish, that a young man, brought up by those who are proud, luxurious, and selfish, should be proud, luxurious, and selfish too. If Frank Churchill had wanted to see his father, he would have contrived it between September and January. A man at his age--what is he?--three or four-and-twenty--cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible."

"That's easily said, and easily felt by you, who have always been your own master. You are the worst judge in the world, Mr Knightley, of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage."

"It is not to be conceived that a man of three or four-and-twenty should not have liberty of mind or limb to that amount. He cannot want money--he cannot want leisure. We know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both, that he is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom. We hear of him for ever at some watering-place or other. A little while ago, he was at Weymouth. This proves that he can leave the Churchills."

"Yes, sometimes he can."

"And those times are whenever he thinks it worth his while; whenever there is any temptation of pleasure."

"It is very unfair to judge of any body's conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. We ought to be acquainted with Enscombe, and with Mrs Churchill's temper, before we pretend to decide upon what her nephew can do. He may, at times, be able to do a great deal more than he can at others."

"There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is, his duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Frank Churchill's duty to pay this attention to his father. He knows it to be so, by his promises and messages; but if he wished to do it, it might be done. A man who felt rightly would say at once, simply and resolutely, to Mrs Churchill--'Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off to-morrow.'--If he would say so to her at once, in the tone of decision becoming a man, there would be no opposition made to his going."
Their argument continues in this vein a while longer, then shifts a bit as Mr Knightley begins to become still more critical of Frank Churchill's manners and conduct. And, in doing so, he invokes something I mentioned back in Chapter 2 about Frank's association with the French. First, there's the association of the word "Frank" with "French", but here Mr Knightley, one of the finest models in all of Austen of what a proper English gentleman is or should be, uses a French word to disparage Frank Churchill:
"No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very 'aimable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him."
Mr Knightley is likely using the now-archaic meaning of the word, which is "admirable" (given the context); he is contrasting it to the French word aimable, meaning likeable or affable. He claims that Frank Churchill may fit the French term - meaning that he's agreeable and well-liked - but that he does not merit the English word, which makes him an admirable person who is actually courteous and kind to others. This drawing of a distinction between English and French is not the last we shall see of a French-related analysis of Frank Churchill's character, nor of Mr Knightley's (dare I say knight-like?) championship of all things English.

Austen leaves us with this somewhat curious conclusion to the conversation - nay, argument - between Emma and Mr Knightley:

"I will say no more about him," cried Emma, "you turn every thing to evil. We are both prejudiced; you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here."

"Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced."

"But I am very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for Mr and Mrs Weston gives me a decided prejudice in his favour."

"He is a person I never think of from one month's end to another," said Mr Knightley, with a degree of vexation, which made Emma immediately talk of something else, though she could not comprehend why he should be angry.

To take a dislike to a young man, only because he appeared to be of a different disposition from himself, was unworthy the real liberality of mind which she was always used to acknowledge in him; for with all the high opinion of himself, which she had often laid to his charge, she had never before for a moment supposed it could make him unjust to the merit of another.
I believe that Emma is onto something here: Mr Knightley is acting a bit out of character in this instance: he has formed an ill opinion of Frank Churchill for his refusal to come and visit the Westons, especially because Mr Knightley sees it as a slap in the face for Mrs Weston - arguing, as he does, that were she a woman of consequence (and not a former governess), Frank Churchill would've gotten his tail over to Randalls for a visit much sooner. He believes Frank will be a bit of a coxcomb and that he is spoiled and rather inclined to be the center of attention. (We shall have the opportunity to find out whether Mr Knightley's assessment is correct or not, of course.)

However, there's something a bit more going on here, too, because Mr Knightley is disingenuous in saying that he does not think of Frank Churchill. After all, he's just spent nearly an entire chapter of the book arguing about Frank Churchill with Emma - and taking an increasingly negative viewpoint in the argument as Emma comes to the young man's defense. Part of his annoyance comes directly from Emma's desire to approve of Frank Churchill, and many readers, myself included, see this as evidence that Mr Knightley is a bit jealous in this instance, and that (moreover) his ire and irritation increase the more Emma defends Frank Churchill.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

My poetry reading on Monday night

On Monday night, I was the featured reader at Poetry in the Round, a monthly poetry group that meets at the Barnes & Noble in Marlton, NJ. Next month's featured reader is my friend Bruce Niedt, and I encourage those of you who live near enough to make it to the meeting on June 20th to come on out for it - Bruce is an extremely talented and prolific poet who has studied with some really exceptional poets, and his work is really moving into a whole new level. I'd say I'm digressing, but really, "go see Bruce Niedt" is probably the most important take-away from this post.

Back to Monday . . .

I was delighted to have a fairly large crowd at the reading. Some of my fellow poets were there, as well as my wonderful mother-in-law and one of her friends. I was tickled pink that Chris (who just got his master's in English and was my favorite barrista at Borders before it closed) turned up with his girlfriend, and Angela not only came, but also brought M, her older son, along. He liked a couple of my poems, but he was rolling at several of the ones Bruce Niedt read during the open reading that followed my reading. (Further support for my assertion that you will love Bruce's work.)

I read an assortment of poems, including "Troubled Water" and "Socratic Method", both of which can be found over at Chantarelle's Notebook, where I am (for the moment) still the featured poet. "Troubled Water" appears in Breaking Waves: An Anthology for Gulf Coast Relief, an ebook that is still available for purchase at Book View Cafe as well as in a Kindle edition at Amazon.com for a mere $4.99. All proceeds benefit ongoing Gulf Coast cleanup efforts. And yes, I gave that same infomercial during my reading - lest we all forget how we humans came close to breaking the ocean only last year.

I read quite a lot of poems, actually, including some that I wrote as writing exercises with Angela, and a couple that I wrote early last month in response to the prompts given by Robert Lee Brewer over at his Poetic Asides blog for Writer's Digest. Some of the poems you may have seen here or elsewhere on the web - such as "Shelling Peas" and "Us"; some are so new that, prior to Monday, nobody had seen or heard them but me.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who showed up on Monday, and to Barney Oldfield, the wonderful poet who runs the Poetry in the Round group for inviting me to read. And now, I'm looking forward to June 20th, when Bruce Niedt will be reading at 7:30. I'll probably remind you about it when the date gets closer - just in case any of you can come meet me and hang out!

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some takeaways from the 2011 NESCBWI Conference

These are generally in order of my attendance at things, since I'm skimming my notes in order to prepare this particular post (goodness, but that was alliterative!). Also, my notes only cover speeches and breakout sessions, so while I had a blast at dinner on Friday and Saturday evening, at lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and hanging out in the lobby with friends (at various times), I shan't try to summarize what happened then

Jane Yolen is a goddess.

That is a remark that would have been made about her by someone else, but that someone else didn't get to make it, so Jane shared it herself, to many laughs. It was repeated more than once during the conference, and seems as good a place as any to start, since Jane was the first keynote speaker. Her speech was about figuring out how to read rejection letters, and it was witty and wise. What really stuck with me was something she mentioned almost in passing: that in the year in which she first got serious about submitting her poetry, she received 113 rejections. My reaction to this was immediate, and goes like this: "Holy shit! I'm not submitting enough!" I am quite possibly singular in that response, since the intended takeaway, which I also appreciate, is that one must keep going in the face of rejection. Still, I'm going to up my submissions significantly.

Loree Griffin Burns on getting dirty.

Loree's workshop was on research for nonfiction writing, and she was quick to note that there's no one "right" way to research nonfiction projects. She talked about finding sources and such, but I especially liked her advice about getting dirty - a phrase she uses to describe doing the fieldwork when it's possible. Here's a quote from Dinty W. Moore that she shared that really resonated with me: "If you are writing about the world of whitewater rafting, you should probably get into a raft." Ain't that the truth?

J.L. Bell is a savvy plotter.

The handout John gave us contained what appeared at first blush to be the world's most confusing flow chart, but which proved to be readily understandable once he talked us through it. I have a sort of teacher-crush on John, who breaks things down and explains them extraordinarily well (and rather in the manner I'd do it myself, which is probably why I get so much out of his sessions). He quoted from Aristotle's Poetics and from Alan Moore (creator of the Watchmen comics), and I found gobs of things to help me (a) write my own novel and (b) critique for friends. I cannot pull a particular quote out for you, but man, what a useful session!

Tomie de Paola is a genius.

A genius is "someone who comes up with something unique and special and memorable". I can't remember if that's something Tomie said, or something that was said about him, but either way, it fits. I enjoyed listening to his keynote, which told how he got involved in illustrating. Like so many illustrators I've met, he's known he wanted to be (or was) an artist since the age of four. In response to the question, "what comes first, the image or the words?", Tomie said, "The words, the words, always the words."

Lin Oliver's keynote was fabulous.

I chose the adjective purposefully, since Lin presented us with a series of ten "fables" - each of which was a true story of an SCBWI author's journey to publication. She would first read a letter from the artist, then provide us with morals for each story. Most (but not all, although I think it's because she decided to stop repeating herself, and not because it didn't apply) had the first moral of "Do the work." Isn't that the truth? Other morals had to do with toughing out rejection, not worrying about how long it takes, and keeping going. It was inspirational and motivational and more, and I really wanted to give her a hug afterwards, but alas, it will have to wait until next time.

Sarah Aronson helped me with my sagging middle.

I took Sarah's workshop on subplots and found it extraordinarily useful. It overlapped slightly with John Bell's plot seminar earlier in the day, building on what had already been discussed. Not that they planned it that way. Heck, not that I planned it that way - I took John's workshop because I'll take anything he teaches, and I took Sarah's because of the topic. (They fit nicely with the final workshop I took, Erin Dionne's, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) I look forward to using what I learned in my own writing and in critiques, and to doing some of the exercises Sarah suggested.

Steven Mooser is tech savvy.

I really appreciated Steve's take on literacy in America. Where some people bemoan the death of reading, he sees plenty of hope: kids who are texting so much are learning to read, the same as kids who play computer games and more. He also spoke about the future of the publishing industry, using a rap group called Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All as a model for what's needed for success - talent, hard work, and a commitment to all aspects of their intellectual property.

Stacy Whitman knows how to build a world.

And she's not afraid to share what she knows. Her world-building workshop was a double session, and a fine way to spend a Sunday morning. Stacy maintains (rightly, I think) that world-building supports characterization, and not the other way around, and that it's important to focus on world-building as it touches our characters. There were some interesting exercises and I've got plenty to think about one of these days when my big Fantasy Novel Idea turns up. For now, I've got nothing.

Harold Underdown has a split personality.

Not. But he pretended to for purposes of his keynote speech about the state of the market for children's books and the world of e-books. Now, I have to confess to having heard a slightly earlier version of this same speech at the Eastern PA Fall Philly last September, so I didn't take nearly as many notes this time around. However, I applaud (and am therefore repeating) his closing exhortation to all of us to talk about the importance of stories and reading with everyone we can - friends, family, schools, states, Congress . . . you get the picture. He said we have a duty to CREATE and to ADVOCATE. Amen, Brother Harold.

Erin Dionne put the spotlight on minor characters.

I have a confession to make - I took Erin's workshop on humor last year, so when I saw the official title of her workshop this year (something about Frankenstein's Dog), I signed on up. I believe I was under the impression that it was about humor. *hangs head* Instead, it turned out to be about creating memorable minor characters - some of what she said overlapped a bit with what Sarah Aronson had taught, but most of it carried forward. Erin reminded us all that "minor characters are only minor in the context of this story - they are the stars in their own stories", and she passed out an exceedingly helpful worksheet that asked questions to help you figure out whether you really knew your minor characters or not. Again, I found it 100% applicable to my YA romance novel project, and to critiquing the work of friends. And I'm so pleased I got to attend it, even if my reason for being there in the first place was flawed. (My fault, not Erin's!)

I feel really fortunate with my workshop choices, since they were all good, but I totally lucked into a really useful primer on plot and characterization with the Bell/Aronson/Dionne trifecta. Those three workshops alone justified the cost of the conference, and that's before all the benefits I got from my other two breakout workshops and all the inspiration I derived from the keynotes, to say nothing of the fabulous conversation with other writers, agents, and editors. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every conversation I had while there.

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My plans for catching up

I still have to do a post with some take-aways from the NESCBWI Conference.
And one on my poetry reading on Monday.
And I'm still three days behind on Emma posts.
And I have other things to post about - books and thoughts and such. But they can mostly wait.

Here's the plan:

Tonight, the NESCBWI post.
Tomorrow, the poetry reading post (for Poetry Friday, because, after all, why not?) as well as at least one chapter of Emma.
Over the next several days, I will double up Emma posts over the next few days to get us caught back up to the chapter-a-day place, and we'll go from there.

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Emma, Volume I, Chapter 16

Here, finally, in Chapter 16 of Emma is where I first start to really, truly like Emma Woodhouse as a person. (Er, make that "as a character".) I mean, I've been enjoying the book from its start, and I found things to admire in Emma's character - she's high-spirited and extremely intelligent, and I know she's well-meaning - but there were always "buts". But she's so meddlesome. So high-handed. So certain she's right that she won't listen to others. (And so many of those "buts" are the sorts of flaws I possess myself, if I'm being honest, although hopefully not to Emma's degree. *cringes*)

The start of this chapter, however, reveals to us that Emma possesses true depth of feeling, and that her affection runs deep and her intentions truly were good, if misguided. Because while Emma is mortified over the way Mr Elton behaved in the carriage - taking her hand, speaking familiarly and declaring his (most unwelcome and unsought) love for her - she would readily accept far worse mortification and deal with far more presumption on Mr Elton's part if only she weren't hurting Harriet.

Emma sat down to think and be miserable.—It was a wretched business indeed!—Such an overthrow of every thing she had been wishing for!—Such a development of every thing most unwelcome!—Such a blow for Harriet! —that was the worst of all. Every part of it brought pain and humiliation, of some sort or other; but, compared with the evil to Harriet, all was light; and she would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken—more in error—more disgraced by mis-judgment, than she actually was, could the effects of her blunders have been confined to herself.

"If I had not persuaded Harriet into liking the man, I could have borne any thing. He might have doubled his presumption to me—but poor Harriet!"
Emma thinks things over

Emma replays arrives at the correct conclusion up front - "She had taken up the idea, she supposed, and made every thing bend to it." But then she replays things in her mind to try to figure out whether she should have realized what Mr Elton was up to.

I will say that not only the Knightley brothers, but most readers, figure out what Mr Elton is up to, and that Emma's failure to realize his attentions are the result of her inexperience in dealing with flirtation and her active disinterest in the idea of romance at the start of the novel. Harriet, who is only 17 to Emma's 21, has more actual experience with men (in that respect) than does Emma, since Harriet has been in love with Mr Robert Martin and now with Mr Elton already, whereas Emma professes her disinterest in love. Perhaps it is because she is inexperienced that she did not recognize Elton's behavior. Or perhaps she has willfully turned a blind eye to it. Or it could be related to her final determination: that Mr Elton is NOT, in fact, in love with her, but was seeking a wealthy marriage partner and therefore turned his eyes toward her.

I rather suspect that the root of Emma's problems here is a mix of all three of the above possibilities, but I do want to point out some of Emma's conclusions in this scene:

1. In thinking of Mr Elton's riddle, she observes that "ready wit" seems to describe her, but that "soft eyes" does not - it suits Harriet. His charade actually suits neither of the ladies, when taken as a whole. I like Emma's honest assessment of things - her willingness to disclaim the softness that Mr Elton wanted to attribute to her shows that she sees herself clearly. She is too sharp to be soft, and she knows it.

2. She thought his unnecessarily gallant manners were the result of his less-than-stellar upbringing and pedigree, and she found them off-putting, but she just assumed it was him trying too hard to please her as Harriet's friend. She is mixing two things up here - his obsequiousness and her own naiveté - but it's worth mentioning that she really didn't see this coming.

3. The Knightley brothers are both credited for their penetration. John Knightley spotted Mr Elton's interest in Emma and warned her of it, and Mr Knightley had cautioned her that Elton would never marry someone like Harriet, but aspired to marry someone rich and with status.

4. Emma is embarrassed to learn that Mr Knightley was right, and she was wrong, yet she doesn't flinch from admitting that's the case.

5. Emma thinks less of Mr Elton now than she did before (when she thought him okay, in an "okay for my friend" sort of way). She has realized that he is not modest, but proud and conceited. Not kind and caring, but greedy and unconcerned with the feelings of others. She goes so far as to be "insulted by his hopes." While he was insulted by the thought of marrying someone as low in society as Harriet, Mr Elton is not in the same category on the hierarchy as Emma is, and in aspiring to marry her, he is trying to move up a couple of notches - and she can't believe his nerve.

He wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her, pretended to be in love; but she was perfectly easy as to his not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for. There had been no real affection either in his language or manners. Sighs and fine words had been given in abundance; but she could hardly devise any set of expressions, or fancy any tone of voice, less allied with real love. She need not trouble herself to pity him. He only wanted to aggrandise and enrich himself; and if Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, the heiress of thirty thousand pounds, were not quite so easily obtained as he had fancied, he would soon try for Miss Somebody else with twenty, or with ten.
Emma's consideration of Elton indirectly implicates Mr Knightley

6. Emma owns up to having inadvertently led Mr Elton on. She is rational enough to objectively assess her behavior towards him from his point of view, knowing what his wishes were, and she realizes that she probably encouraged him (unknowingly) and gave him the impression that she liked him.

Emma was obliged in common honesty to stop and admit that her own behaviour to him had been so complaisant and obliging, so full of courtesy and attention, as (supposing her real motive unperceived) might warrant a man of ordinary observation and delicacy, like Mr Elton, in fancying himself a very decided favourite. If she had so misinterpreted his feelings, she had little right to wonder that he, with self-interest to blind him, should have mistaken hers.
7. Emma resolves to give up match-making, realizing that's the source of the current situation.

8. She is really pulled up short by this turn of events, and is extremely remorseful, although her nature being what it is, she wakes up far more optimistic than she went to bed.

The distressing explanation she had to make to Harriet, and all that poor Harriet would be suffering, with the awkwardness of future meetings, the difficulties of continuing or discontinuing the acquaintance, of subduing feelings, concealing resentment, and avoiding eclat, were enough to occupy her in most unmirthful reflections some time longer, and she went to bed at last with nothing settled but the conviction of her having blundered most dreadfully.

To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma's, though under temporary gloom at night, the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits. The youth and cheerfulness of morning are in happy analogy, and of powerful operation; and if the distress be not poignant enough to keep the eyes unclosed, they will be sure to open to sensations of softened pain and brighter hope.

Emma got up on the morrow more disposed for comfort than she had gone to bed, more ready to see alleviations of the evil before her, and to depend on getting tolerably out of it.
The weather precludes Emma from attending church on Christmas Day (a church-going event in Regency times) or on Sunday, so she needn't run into Mr Elton, and with the weather as bad as it is, she can't get to Harriet (and vice-versa). Mr Knightley, however, is a Man of Action, and therefore still manages to get around despite the weather.

Speaking of Mr Knightley . . .

In assessing Mr Elton's inferiority - coming from a family of nobodies, etc. - the narrator makes clear that Emma's family's estate extends back generations. And frequent mention is made of Donwell Abbey, the home of Mr Knightley. "The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but their fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself, in every other kind of consequence[.]" The estates adjoin, with Hartfield being the smaller piece nestled against Mr Knightley's property, but in fortune the Woodhouses are pretty much Mr Knightley's equals. Clever Jane Austen, foreshadowing using real estate!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 15

Mr Elton's presumption

Mr Elton presumes quite a bit in the course of this chapter, but for now, I'm talking about his conduct during the party at Randalls.

We are to understand that after dinner, Mr Woodhouse has immediately joined the ladies - cigars and port are not his cup of, er, tea, which is what he's imbibing in the parlor with the ladies. Mr Weston is quite happy to be entertaining the Knightley brothers and Mr Elton, so he's in no rush to rejoin the others; it is Mr Elton who turns up first, proceeding to sit between Emma and Mrs Weston, who had been having a bit of a tête-à-tête on a sofa.

Emma, who (Austen reminds us) has been thinking of Frank Churchill, has pretty much forgiven Mr Elton for being cavalier about Harriet's health earlier in the day - especially since he opens conversation by expressing concern for Harriet.

Emma's shock and indignation when it becomes clear that his mention of Harriet is merely a means of raising the issue of Emma's health is palpable. While endeavoring to claim some sort of right to guide her conduct, Elton is also (a) snubbing Harriet; (b) implicitly criticizing Emma for having visited her; (c) staking a claim to Emma - and doing so publicly by involving Mrs Weston in the conversation; (d) offering unsolicited (and unwelcome) advice. If you answered (e) ALL OF THE ABOVE, then award yourself a gold star.

A bit of etymology

We are told that Emma "had difficulty in behaving with temper", a word which here is used to mean "calmness of mind" or "a suitable balance or proportion of qualities". These days, we might say she is struggling to remain even-tempered, which is close to the meaning of temper as it existed in Austen's day. (To lose one's temper meant to lose one's cool (or evenness of mind), then as now; the word "temper" was not in and of itself a synonym for anger, as it is often used today - e.g., "She's got quite a temper.")

Mr Knightley, Man of Action

Now, those of you who remember my discussions of other Austen novels may realize that I've used the phrase "man of action" to describe Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility, Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Know what they all have in common? That's right - they are all heroes within their books. (Sorry, but Edward Ferrars does not cut it as a man of action, which pretty much suits Elinor just fine. And Lord knows that Edmund Bertram isn't a man of action either, although both of the Eds are also heroes; they also tend to come in last in polls of popular Austen heroes, with some of the "villains" faring better. But I digress.)

Mr Knightley, in the fine tradition of sexy Austen heroes (*wonders if Austen would cringe at that appellation*), is a man of action. Upon hearing that it is snowing outside, he (like everyone else) realizes that Mr Woodhouse and Isabella are likely to panic. While others fret and opine, he walks out the door and all the way down the "sweep" (a curved driveway in front of the house) to the Highbury road to determine how much snow is already on the ground. And he makes observations about how much snow is falling, and whether it looks to continue, and he talks with both of the coachmen to garner their opinions as well.

Mr Knightley's being a man of action bodes well for him as the likely successful love interest in this book. Mr Elton's continued presence on the couch does not.

When he comes in, Mr Knightley recommends that Emma and the rest of her party leave to go back to Hartfield, to which she agrees, and he then rings for the coaches. It shows (a) that he is thinking of what is best for not only Mr Woodhouse, but for Emma, who has to deal with her father's concerns and (b) that he is sensitive to others as well as full of good sense in general and (c) that he is, as we've already established, a man of action.

The Uncomfortable Coach Ride Home

In their haste to be gone, Mr Woodhouse and Isabella take Mr John Knightley with them, leaving Emma in the somewhat untenable position of being unchaperoned with Mr Elton inside a closed carriage. You will note that there's no mention of her being compromised as a result, although not for Mr Elton's lack of trying. [N.B. When Mr Elton is "actually making violent love to her", it means that he is declaring his love for her, accompanied by some hand-holding, and nothing more.]

Mr Elton: *does his best impression of Gene Kelly in the historical film nested in Singing in the Rain and/or of Gomez Addams* I love you, I love you, I love you.

Emma: O_o Are you off your rocker? You love Harriet, not me.

Mr Elton: WHAT? No effing way. It is you that I have the hots for, you whose dowry I want in whom I am interested. Only you.

Emma: O_o Are you off your rocker? I'm sure you love Harriet, not me.

Mr Elton: Um, NO. As if. I only ever thought of her as your friend. I have been assiduously courting you for weeks, AND YOU HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGING ME!

Emma: Yeah, well I only ever thought of you as Harriet's possible husband. Sheesh.

Mr Elton: Me? Marry Miss Smith? Are you off your rocker? I can do much better than a Miss Smith. She seems nice enough and I wish her well. I'm sure there are some mean who don't mind that . . . well, "Every body has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance, as to be addressing myself to Miss Smith!" And you most certainly did encourage me.

Emma: Did not.

Mr Elton: Did too. *seethes*

Emma: Ah. Here we are at the vicarage. Don't let the carriage door hit you in the ass on the way out. Goodnight, Mr Elton.

Mr Elton: *growls at her*

When Emma gets home, she finds that things there have sorted themselves out:

Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill-humour, was now all kindness and attention; and so particularly solicitous for the comfort of her father, as to seem — if not quite ready to join him in a basin of gruel — perfectly sensible of its being exceedingly wholesome; and the day was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, except herself. —But her mind had never been in such perturbation; and it needed a very strong effort to appear attentive and cheerful till the usual hour of separating allowed her the relief of quiet reflection.
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