Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Foster the People

Last night, I went to a concert in Philadelphia with M and my intrepid friend, Lisa. We saw Foster the People in concert (high energy from start to finish, fantabulous music and stagecraft, and made of all-around win!) and their opening band, Gardens and Villa (whose album I will be purchasing when it goes on sale next week - they were also most excellent).

Foster the People is best known for its hit, "Pumped Up Kicks", which is a perky, happy sort of tune accompanying grim lyrics about shootings. I happen to be a huge fan of the band's, as well as being a fan of perky songs about serious and/or sad subjects (such as The Smith's "Girlfriend in a Coma", The Jam's "Smithers-Jones" or Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer").

The crowd was full of happy, dancing fans and the show was well worth it's extremely reasonable ticket price ($14, plus another $8 in fees - I KNOW!). See this tour if you possibly can!

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Song writing research

I spent some time over the weekend listening to the lyrics of 23 songs by the Plain White T's. See, they are one of the few bands I'm aware of who write a lot of happy love songs (as opposed to the disappointed love songs or lost love songs that are rather prevalent with some other bands). Out of the 23 songs I listened to, 16 of them involved love or romance and 12 of them were of the happy variety. That's a pretty high percentage.

If you are wondering why on earth I'd bother doing such a thing, then I can assure you that it is related to my work-in-process, a contemporary YA romance based on an Austen novel, which happens to involve an up-and-coming rock band. And I was trying to figure out what sort of repertoire they'd have, and since the main character has written three love- and/or romance-related songs already, I wondered if that was pushing it.

The answer is "nope - not necessarily." Thank you, Plain White T's.

Now for some cold medicine and tea before bed . . .

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 6 (Chapter 42)

It takes Mrs Elton's plans for Emma to realize that she's never seen Box Hill - so she and Mr Weston decide they'll have an outing. Only then Mr Weston goes and invites Mrs Elton along. This can only end in tears.

This particular chapter, though, is about a trip to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries, the joint trip to Box Hill having been put off due to an issue with a carriage horse. Mrs Elton tries hard to assume command and control of the party at Mr Knightley's house, but he refuses - to the point of risking offense to her, actually, although in the end she opts not to take it, even though she has actually been put off rather effectively:

"No,"--he calmly replied,--"there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is--"

"--Mrs Weston, I suppose," interrupted Mrs Elton, rather mortified.

"No--Mrs Knightley;--and till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself."
Mrs Elton's babbling about a gypsy party with big bonnets and baskets and riding on donkeys sounds a bit overblown and ridiculous to us now, and it probably did to a fair number of Regency readers as well . . . still, to some of them - notably members of the ton and the aristocracy - it sounded like one of their usual outings. It was quite popular for members of the ton to stage just the pretentious sort of outing that Mrs Elton is proposing - with themed "costumes", tables of food set up outside (all of which - tables and chairs and linens and food - had to be carted by servants), and even the riding of donkeys. Mrs Elton, who appears ridiculous to Emma and Mr Knightley (and to Jane Austen), is actually proposing quite a fashionable sort of outing, rather than the more staid and sensible one that Mr Knightley envisions. Austen is taking a bit of a swing at those who make far more work for their servants than necessary in order to amuse themselves in what she considered a frivolous manner, and, indeed, it's hard to read this chapter and the one that follows and come away with a positive view of Mrs Elton's proposed scheme. Still, I suppose there were those readers in Regency times who missed the irony and nodded along to the sound notion Mrs Elton was putting forth.

Mr Knightley's characteristics

They aren't quite enumerated in this chapter, but it's close. Let's look at them, shall we? Especially since he was one of Austen's two favorites of her own heroes (the other being Edmund Bertram - look, I don't know why, okay? Maybe because he demonstrates how a good guy with flaws can come out right in the end? But I am both digressing and getting ahead, since we haven't discussed Mansfield Park yet.) The following list is certainly not all of Mr Knightley's traits, but it's a good list to be going on with:

1. Kind - check out his guest list, which includes Harriet Smith and Miss Bates
2. Thoughtful - he makes careful preparations for Mr Woodhouse, and also makes sure his servants won't be overly put out
3. Conscientious - he checks up on all of his guests
4. Patient - he didn't flip his wig over Mrs Elton's numerous attempts to bully him
5. Decisive - he makes his plan and executes it
6. Gracious - even when he gets stuck with Frank Churchill as a guest thanks to Mr Weston
7. Polite - it goes beyond him doing what he's expected to do, since he also does what he wants to do, which is to invite whom he pleases and organize things how he wants - yet he manages not to actually give offense

Jane Fairfax

Jane Fairfax is at her rope's end when it comes to dealing with Mrs Elton, who has gone ahead and found a governess position for Jane, even though Jane asked her not to. Jane is so intent on getting away from Mrs Elton for a bit that she first convinces Mr Knightley to give everyone a tour of his gardens, and eventually she sneaks out to walk home - alone. A bold move indeed for a single young woman, especially one who is known to have a somewhat delicate constitution.

Jane explains to Emma that she is fatigued - not by the heat or by walking, but by having no time alone. Emma infers that Jane is referring to her aunt, Miss Bates, but I wish to point out that Jane could equally well be referring to Mrs Elton in this instance. And while Emma knows that Jane has this whole governess notion weighing on her mind, Jane never says that's what her issue is. I'm just . . . putting that out there. Those of you who are re-reading this book will understand immediately.

England v. France

England was at war with France for most of Austen's life. Austen, being a patriotic Tory, championed all things English, also had personal reasons for disliking the French: for one, she had two brothers in the Royal Navy, whose lives were at risk because of conflicts with the French and, for another, her cousin Eliza's first husband lost his head to Madame Guillotine during the Revolution.

In this chapter, the rather allegorically named Mr Knightley lives at the equally allegorically named Donwell Abbey (where everything is "done well" - Dear Miss Austen, I see what you did there), and we get this description from an enraptured Emma: "It was a sweet view--sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive." Austen treads perilously close to outright stating that Mr Knightley and his home are all that is right about England and its gentry.

In contrast, we have Frank Churchill - a man whose first name is a reference to France (as you may recall from Chapter Two) and who is operating under the cloak of an assumed last name - his birth name being Weston, not Churchill - whom Mr Knightley, that most English of Englishmen, assessed with a reference to a French word in Chapter 18. And when he eventually shows up in this chapter, Frank Churchill is not only cross with his present situation, but with all of England: he cannot wait to get out of England and go abroad, perhaps to Switzerland. While travel abroad was not uncommon among the wealthy, there is something decidedly off-putting about Frank's eagerness to dismiss the country of his birth and hurry off to other climes.

Mr Knightley and Harriet are getting along

Emma is so pleased. I'm sure you remember Mr Knightley's disapproval of Emma's plan to take Harriet under her wing and give her a bit of polish. Now he's quite pleased with her first-rate qualities (as he mentioned to Emma at the Crown) and taking her aside to show of his huge tracts of land and discuss his farming techniques with her. (Any dirtiness in that prior statement entirely intentional, I assure you.) And Harriet seems so over Robert Martin that she doesn't seem to pay much attention to the view of his house and land at all. Happy, happy Emma.

Somewhere, Austen is still cackling over this chapter.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tea with lemon and honey

It is delicious, which is a good thing, since I've been drinking buckets of it (almost literally) over the past few days to try to help my throat.

Although M rolled her eyes at me about it in that loud way that teens have, there are actual medicinal properties to the tea, honey and lemon, and they work well together to help your immune system and to soothe and heal the throat. And at the very least, they do no harm. In my case, it seems to be working!

I am back to being hoarse, rather than completely voiceless, and I am continuing to rest my voice as much as possible - not hard to do today when the kids are with their dad and I'm spending the day alone - but I rather expect it to prove a bit more of a challenge tonight, when I pick M up and take her to the Mat Kearney/Owl City concert in Philly.

Still, it'd be nice to have some sort of voice when I go to the tai chi club picnic tomorrow afternoon, so I will try to be monastically silent amid the crowd tonight, in hopes that it works out.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Day Three: The Silence Continues

Well, not so much silence as raspy whispering, but if I do that too much, I end up with a sore throat.

How on earth do people take a vow of silence? Do they simply not interact with others? Wave Wile E. Coyote signs about? Because I'm telling you, trying to go about your business without speaking is hard.

Then again, it's made for some interesting moments for me. Like yesterday, during yoga, when the woman next to me had no idea I had laryngitis and I told her it was National Whispering Day. Or today, when I ordered some hot water at Barnes & Noble so I could add lemon and honey to it, and the woman who worked there whispered back at me without giving it a thought.

I continue to hope for better days ahead. Meanwhile, perhaps I'll see whether Acme Manufacturing has a bunch of signs I could use . . .

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Well hello, Chapter 19!

You guys! Even though I am sick as a dog (whatever that means), I have managed to finish my first draft of Chapter 18. Which means that I am now on Chapter 19. Technically. I mean, I opened a new Scrivener file for the chapter and typed "CHAPTER NINETEEN" at the top of the page, so it means the chapter is underway, right?

I. Am. Excited! Let me count the ways:

1. I am within five chapters of "The End", since the outline goes to Chapter 23. (Immediate renumbering based on my own weird refusal to change the outline until the first draft is done will come in at Chapter 26, and splitting some of the way-too-long chapters will mean still more chapters exist, but I am pretending I can't hear that!)

2. The manuscript is currently just over 51,000 words. That is more than double the length of the longest thing I've written before now.

3. I am still in love with my characters - and becoming even more so as the book nears its conclusion.

4. The shit is about to hit the fan, y'all, and I CAN'T WAIT! *rubs hands in glee*

5. I might just have another song - or even two - to write. And I find I really enjoy writing songs. Songs that make people cry, even.

Tell me how your own writing or art is going.

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Emma, Volume III, Chapter 5 (Chapter 41)

Mr Knightley has a suspicious mind. True, he's never liked Frank Churchill before, but now it's growing worse. You see, he's noticed that Frank is not behaving as he ought if he's actually chasing after Emma, which absolutely everyone thinks is the case, based on Frank's attentions and hints from the Westons. Mr Knightley, though, thinks there's something going on between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax - something serious, even, as he believes they have a private understanding (which is to say, a secret engagement).

We are told up front that Mr Knightley's dislike of Frank is "for some reason best known to himself", and Austen does not (yet) tell us what it is, but that it is somehow related to Emma is quite clear from the remainder of Mr Knightley's thoughts and comments in this chapter.

By happenstance, Mr Knightley (walking with Emma and Harriet) bumps into the Westons (walking with Frank Churchill) and Miss Bates (walking with her niece) - the latter two parties having met up already by chance - or is it? But I digress. Frank Churchill asks a question about Mr Perry, the local apothecary, getting a carriage, claiming that Mrs Weston mentioned it in one of her letters. When Mrs Weston denies any such knowledge or occurrence, Frank laughs and calls it a dream . . . except that Miss Bates knows it to be true, as does Jane Fairfax, who now has her head down, fussing with her shawl, while trying to avoid catching Frank's eye.

Once again, games pop up in Emma

Once inside Hartfield for tea, Frank Churchill seizes on a box of "alphabets" - hand-written scraps with letters on them used to form words - rather like doing a word scramble while using Scrabble tiles (indeed, it's a fine use of Scrabble tiles - you pull out the letters for the word, then set the lot of them in front of someone else, who is to solve the puzzle). Frank's first word goes to Jane Fairfax, and is revealed to be "blunder". Mr Knightley is then certain that Frank is playing, in Austen's term, "a deeper game."

Jane is embarrassed when Frank creates the word "Dixon", showing it first to Emma and then to Jane, and she sweeps aside without reading another offering from Frank - but she does not refuse his assistance in helping her to find her shawl.

Misunderstanding between Emma and Mr Knightley

Mr Knightley asks about the word Frank showed to her, and she is so embarrassed that she doesn't want to talk about it - it's a reminder of her suspicions regarding Jane Fairfax having a fling with Mr Dixon, and she doesn't want Mr Knightley to know she thinks it possible. Mr Knightley, however, believes that she is flustered because her affections are attached to Frank Churchill.

Yet he would speak. He owed it to her, to risk any thing that might be involved in an unwelcome interference, rather than her welfare; to encounter any thing, rather than the remembrance of neglect in such a cause.

"My dear Emma," said he at last, with earnest kindness, "do you think you perfectly understand the degree of acquaintance between the gentleman and lady we have been speaking of?"

"Between Mr Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax? Oh! yes, perfectly.--Why do you make a doubt of it?"

"Have you never at any time had reason to think that he admired her, or that she admired him?"

"Never, never!" she cried with a most open eagerness--"Never, for the twentieth part of a moment, did such an idea occur to me. And how could it possibly come into your head?"

"I have lately imagined that I saw symptoms of attachment between them--certain expressive looks, which I did not believe meant to be public."

"Oh! you amuse me excessively. I am delighted to find that you can vouchsafe to let your imagination wander--but it will not do--very sorry to check you in your first essay--but indeed it will not do. There is no admiration between them, I do assure you; and the appearances which have caught you, have arisen from some peculiar circumstances--feelings rather of a totally different nature--it is impossible exactly to explain:--there is a good deal of nonsense in it--but the part which is capable of being communicated, which is sense, is, that they are as far from any attachment or admiration for one another, as any two beings in the world can be. That is, I presume it to be so on her side, and I can answer for its being so on his. I will answer for the gentleman's indifference."

She spoke with a confidence which staggered, with a satisfaction which silenced, Mr Knightley.
Poor Mr Knightley. Poor, hamstrung Mr Knightley, who believes that Emma and Frank are a couple. He will be laboring under this belief for many more chapters now, mistaken though we readers know it to be. And yet, the plot thickens very much upon us indeed.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 4 (Chapter 40)

Oh, Harriet!

A few days after Frank Churchill saved Harriet from the gypsies, Harriet shows up at Hartfield with a small parcel that she wishes to dispose of. She has taken bits of detritus from Mr Elton and squirreled them away as treasures: a piece of court-plaister (trust me, the link is fabulous) and the worthless butt end of a pencil.

She is SO over Mr Elton. And his little wife, too. Of course, being Harriet, she is on to the next one . . . but I get ahead of myself a bit.

In the middle of the chapter, which falls during Harriet's recitation of the fascinating origin of the useless pencil stub she's about to burn, we find Emma focusing on Mr Knightley - what he said, where he stood, etc. Harriet, who was at the time focused on Mr Elton exclusively, cannot say for certain where Mr Knightley stood, but Emma sure knows. (Yet I still don't get the sense that she realizes the emotional significance of her own memories.)

And then, at the end of the chapter, we find Harriet is in love. Again. She doesn't say with whom, and Emma doesn't ask - presuming that it is Frank Churchill, who gallantly rescued Harriet, after all. And when Emma makes reference to Harriet's rescue, Harriet indicates that the man she admires saved her from perfect misery, transporting her to perfect happiness.

On the one hand, I commend Emma for remaining circumspect and not pressing for details and confidences. On the other hand, we all know that Emma the imaginist sometimes jumps to incorrect conclusions.

I hate to be gloomy, but this can only end in tears.

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I have not been swallowing swords or fire or crushed glass, but my throat is acting very much as if I have. It appears that meeting a friend to chat about writing progress was not a good idea when I already had laryngitis.

And now I've had to cancel dinner plans. And I'm sitting here (completely silent now) wondering where the waitstaff is, and why no one is bringing me soup. Or tea. Or ice cream.

Back in just a bit with an Emma post.
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To quote Lemony Snicket,

"The world is quiet here." In large part because I woke up with laryngitis. Stupid cold.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3 (Chapter 39)

The chapter opens with Emma thinking about Mr Knightley, and how hot what a fine dancer he is, and how wonderful it is that they both agree that the Eltons are prats. She is pleased by the thought that Harriet is over Mr Elton and that Frank Churchill no longer seems hung up on Emma. She is also pleased that she won't have to see Frank today, but can spend all her time with her nephews, when what to her wondering eyes should appear but Frank Churchill, carting Harriet up the front path.

Long story short, Harriet and one of her friends were approached by gypsy children looking for a handout, the friend did a runner and Harriet . . . didn't. I confess that the Keystone Kops-like description of Harriet, trying to scramble up the bank but failing, cracks me up every single time I read it. But I digress.

What with Harriet being easy pickings, the gypsies went for the full-court press, begging for additional money past the shilling she handed over, and Frank arrived and chased them off. The story can be told with additional flourishes, as I'm certain Emma did for her nephews and absolutely everyone else in Highbury did as among themselves, but to cut to the chase, the chapter ends (more or less) with Emma (mentally) chanting "Frank and Harriet, sitting in a tree . . . "

I cannot let this chapter pass, however, without commenting on this particular line: "How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!--especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made."

To be an imaginist is quite a thing, don't you think? It's how Austen describes Emma here, which comports well with what we know of her. But the term applies equally well to authors in general, and to Austen in particular. Just as Emma seeks to create characters (by building Harriet Smith up, say) or to write stories (through match-making), so Austen creates characters and writes stories. No wonder Austen liked Emma so much - and worried that nobody else would do so.

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Monday, June 20, 2011


I am sorry not to be providing you with an Emma post today. It will have to wait until tomorrow. I have a cold, and am too muddled to manage. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

See that tea in the icon? The stuff in my mug has lemon, honey and bourbon in it. Gotta love a hot toddy. Hopefully I will not still sound like Kathleen Turner in the morning, although things could be far worse. After all, Kathleen Turner's voice is sexy!

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 2 (Chapter 38)

This chapter is really something - it's about the ball at the Crown. I shan't summarize the whole thing for you, but will instead pick out a few bits and pieces I feel like talking about, and then provide you with yummy video footage.

A number of privy councillors

Emma is flattered and delighted (at first) to be asked by Mr Weston to come early - but somewhat less so when it turns out that half the company has been asked to come early, and that Mr Weston isn't especially discriminating in bestowing his favor. It leads to an interesting bit of analysis, followed by a lovely bit of foreshadowing:

Emma perceived that her taste was not the only taste on which Mr Weston depended, and felt, that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in the scale of vanity. She liked his open manners, but a little less of open-heartedness would have made him a higher character.--General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be.--She could fancy such a man.
Frank is eager for the Eltons' carriage to arrive

Because he cannot wait to see Mrs Elton, he says. And then the Eltons, who were to have picked up Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates, arrive without having done so, and have to send off for them. Worried about the threat of rain, Frank rushes out with an umbrella to look after Miss Bates.

Mrs Elton is eager to discuss her carriage

Its acquisition was delayed, based on earlier remarks by her about the carriage. And truly, the care and keeping of a carriage was an expensive proposition, as I remarked upon in this post, which talks about Lady Catherine's carriages, when we read Pride & Prejudice. Mrs Elton now cannot stop herself from talking about their carriage, which is a true trapping of luxury.

Miss Bates is the comic relief

But there are facts and clues strewn throughout her babble, both times it occurs. Just so you know.

Mrs Elton is also eager to discuss what she's wearing

She corners Jane Fairfax immediately to discuss her own attire and to add to the comic relief in her way - pray, do not sing, because she probably thinks that song is about her. And while claiming not to pay attention to what people wear, she essentially makes a cutting remark about the other ladies in attendance:

"Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do--but upon such an occasion as this, when every body's eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons--who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour--I would not wish to be inferior to others. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine."
I wonder if she considers herself to be the pearls before the swine?

Emma notices Mr Knightley

And for once, she notices him in the way that a woman notices a man, and not as a mere friend or pseudo-family member, and she remains quite aware of him at all times - while she is dancing with Frank Churchill, no less:

She was more disturbed by Mr Knightley's not dancing than by any thing else.--There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing,--not classing himself with the husbands, and fathers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in the dance till their rubbers were made up,--so young as he looked!--He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, than where he had placed himself. His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body's eyes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him.--He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble.--Whenever she caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. She wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Frank Churchill better.--He seemed often observing her.
Mr Elton deliberately cuts Harriet

He ensures that his availability will be noticed during a dance for which Harriet has no partner, then evinces an interest in dancing with other women, then flat-out refuses to dance with Harriet based on his marital status. And then he and his horrible wife giggle about it as he makes his way over to converse with Mr Knightley, who, having seen what has transpired, walks away from Mr Elton and asks Harriet to dance, thereby impliedly cutting Mr Elton and instructing him on proper manners. In a public ballroom. *swoon*

Emma and Mr Knightley chat

I love this bit, and therefore share it with you in its entirety. It's notable for several points, including Mr Knightley's remarks about Harriet Smith and his willingness to dance with Emma.(And then the yummy video clips, in which we see sexy English country dancing!)

"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!"

"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself.--Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl--infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected."

Emma was extremely gratified.--They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.

"Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing?--Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!"

"I am ready," said Emma, "whenever I am wanted."

"Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Mr Knightley.

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me."

"Will you?" said he, offering his hand.

"Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."

"Brother and sister! no, indeed."

The song that Gwyneth's Emma and Jeremy's Mr Knightley are dancing to is called Mr Beveridge's Maggot. It has nothing to do with the life-cycle of a fly, but refers to a type of tune popular in the 1700s that is embellished by the players on each repetition. It is the same song to which Darcy & Elizabeth dance at Netherfield in the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, by the way.

The tune to which Romola's Emma and Jonny Lee's Mr Knightley are dancing here is an original composition for the score of the movie by Samuel Sim and is (I believe) called "The Last Dance" - the soundtrack is a delight to listen to, but is not put together in chronological order, so it's not always easy to tell what is what.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 1 (Chapter 37)

Remember how Emma thought she might be in love with Frank? Well, she realizes after hearing that he's coming back that she wasn't - nor does she want to be. She believes, however, that he is in love with her. And in a moment of clear foreshadowing (one of those things that some critics say Austen never does - I'm pretty sure it means they don't actually read her books?), we get this:

She wished she might be able to keep him from an absolute declaration. That would be so very painful a conclusion of their present acquaintance! and yet, she could not help rather anticipating something decisive. She felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.
Initially, I was going to post only the final sentence, but those of you who are re-reading will be quick to see how all of it foreshadows things that will come to pass ere we reach The End.

When Frank arrives in Highbury again, it is only for a few hours. He quickly calls at Hartfield to visit Emma, but he is distracted and eager to be gone to pay a call on some acquaintances in Highbury before returning to London, where he is tied up for the better part of ten days by his aunt, who is ill. Frank tells the Westons that he believes she's actually ill and not malingering - moreover, London is too noisy for her nerves, so the Churchills are to remove to Richmond, which is only nine miles from Highbury, for the months of May and June.

Given the circumstances, we are to have that ball at the Crown after all. You can feel that shoe being lifted somehow, can't you? - even if you cannot tell exactly how or when it will fall.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 18 (Chapter 36)

So . . . it's been a few days since the last Emma post. We were at Emma's dinner party, where Mrs Elton was being obnoxious about wanting to find a position as a governess for Jane Fairfax, and Jane was insisting she wanted to spend another three months in Highbury, and then Mr Weston turned up and said Frank was coming to town.

In this chapter, we eavesdrop on a lengthy conversation between Mr Weston and Mrs Elton. He wants to tell her about Frank and give us the backstory on his aunt (Mrs Churchill), and she wants to talk about herself, as well as her sister (Selina) and her brother-in-law, Mr Suckling. My favorite part of their conversation is when they get involved in a chess game or, if you prefer, into a Regency manners version of "anything you can do, I can do better", where Mr Weston is trying to impress Mrs Elton with how wealthy and demanding ladylike Mrs Churchill is, and Mrs Elton is countering with "my sister is every bit as wealthy/demanding ladylike", only at one point - wanting to seem modest - she disclaims something, and then is stuck with Mr Weston accepting her demurral at face value.

"Depend upon it, Mrs Churchill does every thing that any other fine lady ever did. Mrs Churchill will not be second to any lady in the land for"--

Mrs Elton eagerly interposed with, "Oh! Mr Weston, do not mistake me. Selina is no fine lady, I assure you. Do not run away with such an idea."

"Is not she? Then she is no rule for Mrs Churchill, who is as thorough a fine lady as any body ever beheld."
Checkmate, Mr Weston - well played!

Mr Weston makes clear that he believes Mrs Churchill to be using complaints about her health to manipulate people, stopping just barely short of calling her a faker outright. Being such a good-hearted soul, he later muses that he hopes that he hasn't done his sister-in-law an injustice by assuming she's not actually ill. We get the information that Mr Churchill isn't all that bad a sort, but that his wife rules the roost - and is the one to blame for the first Mrs Weston's being disowned, etc. And then we get this rather priceless assessment of Mrs Churchill, which I find especially hilarious since nearly all of it applies equally to Mrs Elton. You can practically hear Jane Austen snickering as her quill scratched across the page:

". . . her pride is arrogance and insolence! And what inclines one less to bear, she has no fair pretence of family or blood. She was nobody when he married her, barely the daughter of a gentleman; but ever since her being turned into a Churchill she has out-Churchill'd them all in high and mighty claims: but in herself, I assure you, she is an upstart."
Mrs Elton's response seals the hilarity, as she expresses "a horror of upstarts", criticizing the Tupmans, who live near her own upstart brother-in-law. That Mr Suckling is himself an upstart is proved out by her own account of the purchase of Maple Grove, which she is almost sure was purchased before his father's death. And then we get this: "Mr Weston, having said all that he wanted, soon took the opportunity of walking away." LOL!

The end of the chapter is occupied by a conversation between the two Misters Knightley and Emma. John believes she might end up sending her nephews home early because they'll upset her father or cramp her style. He astonishes Emma by commenting on her increased social schedule - which has some basis in fact, since Mrs Weston now lives elsewhere, necessitating visits to Randalls, plus she dines with the Coles, and there's been discussion of a ball - and Emma is especially gobsmacked to find Mr Knightley offering to take his nephews on at Donwell Abbey if Emma gets too busy for them.

Emma cannot stop from expressing her astonishment, given that she's seldom gone from Hartfield for more than two hours at a time, whereas Mr Knightley is frequently occupied far longer. Moreover, he goes to all the parties she does, and then some!

Austen closes the chapter by taking one more swing at Mrs Elton:

"Mr Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs Elton's beginning to talk to him." (Emphasis mine.)

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Five Things on a Friday

1. S graduated from high school on Wednesday. I couldn't be prouder, nor could I be much happier for her.

2. In August, she starts at the College of Charleston. Again, I couldn't be prouder or happier for her. I could, however, be wealthier, since the loans are going to crush us, so if you happen to learn of a big pool of money lying about, let me know, won't you?

3. M is now officially finished with sophomore year in high school and will be starting her junior year in September.

4. My parents flew in from Arizona and spent the week with us. It was fabulous to see them for a bit!

5. It appears that I will be the featured poet at a July event hosted by the Quick & Dirty Poets in Mount Holly, NJ. Details to follow once the date is firmed up!

Either much later tonight or no later than tomorrow, we'll return to our regularly scheduled blog posts.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Graduation yesterday

Yesterday was S's high school graduation. I must confess that I am still waiting for the "bittersweet" part that everyone else seems to be talking about, because I'm finding the whole thing to be purely awesome.

Okay, that is an untruth, as you will see in a moment when you read a few of the letters below. But I mean that in the overall-emotional-tenor-of-the-event way, and not in the blow-by-blow of the graduation ceremony way.

I'm not writing a letter to S here, since hey - I've already told her in person how proud of and happy for her I am. However, I feel a need to say a few things to other people. The ceremony was held in a ginormous basketball stadium, and seating was first-come, first-served. (And yes, you had to have tickets to get into the venue - but they were free to family members.)

Dear People Sitting in Section 102 with me and my family:

I am really proud of us for being the section to start the standing ovation in honor of the kids who are going into military service. Especially in today's climate, with so many troops deployed on active duty, people willing to volunteer to defend and represent our country deserve our appreciation. And I'm not just saying that because my brother was career Air Force.

With appreciation,

Dear School Superintendent:

We all get it. You're retiring next month. But dude, you were only in our district for, like, 5 years. So why on earth you thought you should speak - at length - about YOURSELF and YOUR CAREER during a high school graduation ceremony is beyond me. Save it for your retirement and the people who, you know, CARE.

While I've got your attention, you ought to know that stringing together a bunch of uplifting adages and phrases (e.g., "reach for the stars", "a thousand points of light", "never, ever give in") does not mean that what you end up with will make any real sense, no matter how good those catchphrases sound. I'm just saying that those of us who bothered to pay attention noticed your lack of actual content.

Signed: A disgruntled parent

P.S. I've got another catchphrase for you. It's "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

Dear Other Dude Who Spoke for No Apparent Reason:

We all cheered loudly when you accepted the idea that the seniors should graduate. I take it you noticed the collective "Oh no!" and muttering that began as soon as you launched into your gratuitous speech about how you graduated from a DIFFERENT high school and then shared that ridiculously long story about how you had friends who sang in a musical there, and guess what, some of them got together recently and sang one of those songs again and wow, can you believe it's been 27 years, and how did we get so old.

Not only did you get old, you got tone-deaf, because you should never have given that speech. It was tedious, and gratuitous, and off-topic, and completely irrelevant to kids who are in or just now out of high school. It was also boring and annoying. And guess what? It was all those things to everyone else, too.

Signed: A disgruntled parent

Dear Valedictorian:

Your speech rocked. It was well-paced and well-measured and far more cogent and inspirational than anything those two administrators had to say. Your list of life lessons learned in high school and how they apply in the real world was terrific.

Signed: An impressed parent

P.S. If you do ever run for Senate in NJ, you have my vote.

Dear Girl Who Introduced the Superintendent:

Thank you very much for quoting "the noted philosopher, Albus Dumbledore". The Harry Potter reference made me happy, as did your choice of quote: "It is our choices [] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Signed: A fellow Harry fan

Dear Comic Relief:

You were loud when you started, and I expected you to be obnoxious, yet you totally made it work for you and were, in fact, hilarious. I am positive that your classmates loved your speech and will remember it long after the serious words are forgotten.

Signed: Love2Laugh

Dear Girl Who Spoke Last

When you say that you will be running for President of the United States in the 2040 election, I believe you. I will look for you, and if you are half as articulate by then as you were yesterday, it's likely I will vote for you. What really stuck with me was this phrase from somewhere near your closing, which I copied down at the time and have since copied into my commonplace book, with your name as attribution:

"It's great if you find success, but make your life's goal significance."

Signed: A very impressed parent

And there you have it, in a nutshell.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Well that was unexpected

My parents are in town for S's graduation tomorrow, so this evening I played the three songs I've written (thus far) for my character in my YA romance novel so my mother could hear them.

She liked the first one. Loved the second (and insisted it needed to be recorded and "out there" in the wide world). And then she cried through the third one because, she says, it's so gorgeous.

Well that was unexpected.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

Today's post is a duplicate of the one I wrote for Guys Lit Wire. Because hey, why not?

Billy Collins has quite a reputation among U.S. readers of poetry as a somewhat folksy, wry sort of poet. He draws large crowds for his readings. He sells large numbers of his books. And all of it, I submit, is well-merited, since he has the knack, like Robert Frost before him, of speaking his poetic truth - however erudite or deep it happens to be - in such a way that most people can catch at least one meaning of the poem - the surface, at least, whether they choose to look into the depths or not.

Horoscopes for the Dead picks up with some of the same themes Collins's readers are used to seeing. There are some especially funny ones, such as "Hangover", which has nothing to do with the movies of the same name, but which finds a somewhat curmudgeonly (yet still funny) Collins suffering from a severe headache:

by Billy Collins

If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo-a long one with fine print-
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

after which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

It's kind of crappy audio quality, but you can hear Billy Collins read this poem here if you'd like.

There is another poem criticizing the imprecise use of language so prevalent in today's society - a somewhat popular theme with Billy Collins over the past few collections. (I feel constrained to mention that this poem is attributed to a female speaker, as several such past poems have been as well, and that perhaps a wee bit of sexism is creeping in there since imprecision in language is certainly not a gendered trait. But I digress.) Here, for a laugh, is the start of "What She Said":

What She Said
by Billy Collins

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break.

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

As I said, I was like give me a break.

I would love to tell you
how I was able to resemble give me a break
without actually being identical to give me a break,

but all I can say is that I sensed
a similarity between me and give me a break.

. . .
You can hear the rest of the poem in this reading, again with apologies for the poor sound quality.

Not all the poems are funny, of course. There is the hauntingly lovely "Genesis", which begins as a poem about the original couple and ends as a poem about a specific modern couple. Or his rumination, "Poem on the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Trinity School," which begins with him saying he's been asked to write such a poem, but cannot do so - only to find him wandering the land back through time, to that time three hundred years ago when the school was founded.

Highly recommended for fans of poetry, or for those of you wishing you like poetry a bit more. You are almost guaranteed to find something to your liking in this collection. I leave you with "The New Globe" - a poem that is, on its surface, about the obtaining of a globe, but is, underneath all that, about isolation and about feeling lost.

The New Globe
by Billy Collins

It was a birthday gift,
the kind that comes on a stand
and glows from within at night.

It's the size of a basketball
but much more interesting
with all its multicolored countries

and its blue pelagic expanses.
No matter how closely you look,
you will not see a seabird or a fellow sitting on a wall,

yet place a hand on its curvature
and you will feel the raised mountain ranges,
the bumpy Himalayas under your palm.

It shows little desire to join the solar system,
content to remain in this room
showing one side of itself at a time.

And it is a small thrill to gaze upon it
as if gazing through space
from another planet or a balcony of clouds.

You can spin it on its famous axis
and stop it with a thumb
to see where you might belong in the world.

Or you can pretend, as I did,
that your index finger
would go down as the first index finger

in history to circumnavigate the earth.
Just don't get lost like me,
lost as a baby dropped in an ocean.

Oh it's a good thing I was alone,
nobody there to hear me shouting
The Cape of Good Hope must be somewhere, but where?

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Life intervenes

Expect things to be erratic around here this week.

My S graduates on Wednesday, my folks are in town (from Arizona) and all bets are off.

So . . . possibly no Emma post today. And possibly nothing much more either.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 17 (Chapter 35)

It's still dinner at Emma's house, and the ladies have left the table to head to the parlor.

Most of the chapter goes like this:

Mrs Elton: I'm going to find you a job, Jane.

Jane Fairfax: Please don't. I don't want one yet. I really want to be here for the next few months.

And then the men turn up to going them - Mr Woodhouse first. You'll note that Mr Elton doesn't come scurrying in this time, like he did back in Chapter 15 - apparently he's in no rush to join the ladies, despite his bride being among them.

Just after the gentlemen join the ladies, Mr Weston turns up, to Mr John Knightley's complete bewilderment. Why on earth would anyone give up a quiet evening at home for a party, especially when they have an out?

Mr Weston has news: Frank Churchill is coming back to Highbury. His aunt and uncle are relocating to town (meaning London), and Frank will divide his time over the next few months between London and Highbury. Mr Weston's reference to "the black gentleman" is a reference to the devil - he claims that Mrs Churchill is as impatient as the devil to get to London, now that she's decided to go.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Technical difficulties

Due to something - solar flares? storms? gremlins? ghosts in the machine? - I've had the spottiest of internet connections all day.

Which means no blog post today.

(We'll pretend this isn't one, okay?)

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Letter to Georgia

After seeing The Airborne Toxic Event in concert last fall as part of their acoustic tour (with the Calder Quartet backing them), this was my theme song for a while, and even now, when I get to this track on their live CD from their concert at Disney Hall, I have a tendency to hit repeat - again and again and again. That the entire song is about 2:45 on the recording (and a mere 2:33 below) is probably part of it, but so is the spooling feeling that it has, the gorgeous melodic and lyrical lines and, well, here:

This doubles as a Poetry Friday entry for me because of the lyrics, which work well as a poem. I'm especially fond of the final stanza, which is a litany of fears - all of which are pairs of opposites. The lyrics are written using rhyming couplets, with the occasional slant rhyme and one major exception in the first stanza. I haven't seen them written out in any document that comes from Mikel Jollett, the lead singer and song writer, or from The Airborne Toxic Event in general, so I've set it up in four stanzas with a wee coda, especially since the lyrics have a fluid way of flowing into one another. It's for that reason that I haven't really bothered with much in the way of punctuation - it's hard to know precisely where the author wanted it to fall.

A Letter to Georgia
by Mikel Jollett

How can I explain to you
the picture of this avenue
the rain falls on the street outside
my window on this Tuesday afternoon
I sit alone and sigh
the same four walls I've lived inside
so many lives I've lived and died
but none so much as the one I lived with you

I see you on the highway
a thousand miles away
rain falls through your hair and cheeks
your tears and mascara streaks
your face reflected in the glass
the lines on the pavement go past
just like the lines around your eyes
they held the weight of all these sad goodbyes

Everybody that I know
tells me just to let it go
You run from everything they say
you hurt the ones you love, like me
But here I sit and picture you
your fingers worn, your shirt torn through
Your heart so big and broken, too
your mind drifting through all you knew

Afraid to love, afraid to lose
afraid to stall, afraid to choose
afraid to live, afraid to die
afraid you'll let your day slip by
afraid you'll change or stay the same
afraid you'll lose yourself again
afraid of the truth: that love
can cause you so much pain

I've felt it too
I know, I know
Darlin' I wish it wasn't true

Seriously, is that not a gorgeous set of lyrics and, better still, a gorgeous song?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 16 (Chapter 34)

Emma throws a party

In honor of the Eltons, no less. Because it is expected of her. She invites the Westons and Mr Knightley, as well as Jane Fairfax, about whom she is feeling guilty after Mr Knightley's observations in the last chapter. (She first invites Harriet, hoping that Harriet will decline, which she does.)

Their party is increased by one Mr John Knightley, there to bring the two eldest of his boys for a visit, and decreased by one Mr Weston, who has business in London.

And we find out that Jane Fairfax makes a daily trip to the post office, and is quite adamant about going there, come hell or high water, and is equally adamant about not allowing anyone else to pick up her letters.

Curiouser and curiouser . . .

Meanwhile, Emma is a bit unhappy that Mr John Knightley is joining them. As her actual brother-in-law, he will take the seat at the bottom of the table (the opposite end from the top, of course, where Emma sits in her capacity as female head of household - Mr Woodhouse, we are told, doesn't like to have to preside over his own table). She would much prefer to look across the table at Mr Knightley.

Again, I say, "curiouser and curiouser . . . "

Let's talk about handwriting

What with that talk of letters, it's not unusual to mention handwriting. John Knightley says that Isabella's (his wife's) and Emma's is very much alike. Mr Knightley disagrees, saying that Emma's handwriting is stronger, with an implication that it is superior.

Emma mentions that Frank Churchill has nice handwriting (for a guy), and Mr Knightley decries it as small and feminine.

Is it just me, or is it possible to interpret Mr Knightley's comments about handwriting as interest in Emma and dislike for Frank?

Mrs Elton's notions of entertaining

Mrs Elton wants to make an impressive show with her entertaining. "Separate candles" means that she intends for each table to have its own candles, in addition to the sconces and any chandelier in the room - with candles being rather expensive, this is a form of display not usually bothered with. "Unbroken packs" is a reference to new packages of cards for each of the card tables - not necessary when people are playing parlor games for low stakes, although certainly common enough at high-stakes tables as a means of assuring that the deck has not been stacked.

Mrs Elton has come from Bath, which is a fairly busy metropolis, to Highbury, which is a small, rural town. Her shock at people not having ices (ice cream) at their parties, and her snootiness about the quality of the "rout-cakes" (small cakes served at evening entertainments), coupled with her being aghast that not everyone has two parlors, show that she is quite busy judging everyone - and generally finding them lacking.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 15 (Chapter 33)

About the Eltons

The narrator opens the chapter by explaining to us that Emma has judged Mrs Elton aright - and that Mr Elton seems quite proud of his obnoxious, ill-bred wife. Moreover, from Mrs Elton's coolness toward Emma and the scorn of both Eltons toward Harriet, it becomes clear that Mr Elton has told his wife what transpired - or at least the part where Emma tried to set him up with Harriet. They don't dare cut or snub Emma, since she's actually at the highest level of local society, but Harriet, being at or near the bottom rung, is evidently fair game.

Jane Fairfax's impression on Mrs Elton

Mrs Elton is quite taken with Jane Fairfax. QUITE taken. After all, Jane Fairfax is everything a young gentlewoman ought to be - articulate, talented, well-read, well-mannered; she is, in fact everything that Mrs Elton is not, but probably aspires to be. The other thing Jane Fairfax is is poor - as a result, she is actually slightly lower in society than Mrs Elton at this point in time, which leaves Mrs Elton feeling smug and powerful. Behind Jane Fairfax's back, she often speaks of taking Jane under her wing, etc. - and it seems that Miss Bates was only too happy to promote the initial acquaintance, and now Jane is rather stuck spending a lot of time with Mrs Elton.

Mr Knightley hints that if Jane Fairfax had better offers *cough*EMMA*cough*, she might not spend so much time with Mrs Elton. He further points out that when Mrs Elton is in Jane's company, she is a bit overawed by her, and therefore less likely to be quite as offensive in person as she is behind Jane's back.

Full many a flower . . .

Mrs Elton quotes lines from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which was first printed in 1751. It was at that time one of the best-known poems in the English language. The poem describes a poet wandering through a graveyard, observing the neglected condition of the graves. It is a rather meditative, yet political, sort of poem that is about the democracy of death, really: how, in the end, the differences between the various social classes don't mean all that much.

The poem was often quoted, and will be familiar to some modern readers for the words beginning the following stanza, which appears several stanzas after the one from which Mrs Elton draws:

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
  Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
  They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Mrs Elton has, of course, pulled lines out of context - the lines she quotes relate to the notion that some of the unremembered dead might have been as great as heroes, in their way, but never got the chance to reveal themselves that way - but she has not completely misquoted the poet, even though the poet was lamenting the death of people who had not reached their potential, whereas Mrs Elton applies them to a living person. The lines she pulls out support her proposition, which is that Jane needs to be praised or have some recognition sent her way.

I suggest, as well, that Austen gave these lines to Mrs Elton, who comes from the merchant class, as a way of saying that class distinctions don't matter all that much. And truly, that is one of the themes being explored in Emma - from Mr Weston having earned his wealth in trade to Emma's decision to take Harriet on as a friend, certain that her sweetness and good manners are the mark of her being born to gentlepeople, if not nobility, to her decision to separate Harriet from Mr Martin to her nonsensical take on the Coles to the introduction of the classless Mrs Elton, and through to some resolutions and remarks that I'll not share yet in the body of the post because they're spoilery, we see Austen examining whether distinctions of class and rank are important, and we're seeing how well-mannered, polite people are found to be acceptable no matter what stratum they come from, whereas boorish or crass ones are found to be unpleasant, again, no matter what rank they have.

This is not a new theme for Austen by any stretch, but can be seen clearly in Pride & Prejudice, where the highest-ranked person in the novel is one of the most boorish (Lady Catherine) and the Gardiners (who were of the merchant class) are genteel, or in Persuasion, where tremendous praise is heaped on the officers in the Royal Navy, part of the upwardly mobile middle class in Austen's day, whereas scorn falls on Sir Walter Elliot and his cousin, the Viscountess Dalrymple. Still, it bears mentioning that invoking this poem does more than offer a warning about the possibility of Jane Fairfax languishing in obscurity; it is also there as a commentary on the social structure of the time.

Jane Fairfax's decision to stay in Highbury

We learn that Jane Fairfax has been invited (again) to go to Ireland, and that she is being exhorted, in fact, to do so. Were she to go, she'd rejoin a higher level of society and get away from Miss Bates's and Mrs Elton's chatter, yet Jane refuses to leave town.

Such a decision is inexplicable to Emma, who rightly imagines that Jane must have a particular reason for not leaving town to join the Campbells. (Emma, having no other information on which to explain such an illogical choice to herself than her own speculation, decides that Jane must be desperate to avoid seeing Mr Dixon again.)

Mr Knightley's embarrassment

When Mr Knightley speaks up in Jane Fairfax's defense, he finds Mrs Weston and Emma looking askance at him. He quite literally blushes over it, and Emma, now curious to know whether he has the hots for Jane Fairfax, intimates that perhaps he doesn't know the extent of his own esteem for Jane. He tells Emma that she is late to this particular question, and that Mr Cole asked him about it six weeks ago, but that he does not have a thing for Jane Fairfax - she is not of an open enough temperament for him. He goes further and says that he doesn't believe Jane would have him if he asked her to marry him and that, moreover, he would never ask her.

"So you have been settling that I should marry Jane Fairfax?"

"No indeed I have not. You have scolded me too much for match-making, for me to presume to take such a liberty with you. What I said just now, meant nothing. One says those sort of things, of course, without any idea of a serious meaning. Oh! no, upon my word I have not the smallest wish for your marrying Jane Fairfax or Jane any body. You would not come in and sit with us in this comfortable way, if you were married."

Mr Knightley was thoughtful again. The result of his reverie was, "No, Emma, I do not think the extent of my admiration for her will ever take me by surprize.--I never had a thought of her in that way, I assure you." And soon afterwards, "Jane Fairfax is a very charming young woman--but not even Jane Fairfax is perfect. She has a fault. She has not the open temper which a man would wish for in a wife."

Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. "Well," said she, "and you soon silenced Mr Cole, I suppose?"

"Yes, very soon. He gave me a quiet hint; I told him he was mistaken; he asked my pardon and said no more. Cole does not want to be wiser or wittier than his neighbours."
Mrs Weston, of course, thinks that Mr Knightley's denials mean that he is interested in Jane Fairfax, but Emma will not believe it.

However, given the way he speaks, it sounds very much as if Mr Knightley has a young lady in mind, does it not?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Over the past six weeks, I've been dipping into the various stories and recipes inside A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table by Molly Wizenberg, and today I finally reached the end of the book. Which is not to say that I've put the book away for good, because I still intend to dip into the book for purposes of actually trying some of the recipes it contains.

This book is a truly interesting hybrid - it's part memoir, part cookbook. Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, shares personal stories about growing up, her father's death, her time in Paris, and meeting and marrying her husband, and each story comes with one or more recipes that are somehow related to the story she's just told. There are extremely simple recipes - such as "Bread and Chocolate" or "Radishes and Butter with Fleur de Sel" - and rather more involved ones - such as "Doron's Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro, and Golden Raisins" and "Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Crème Fraiche", although nothing in the book sounds extraordinarily tricky. The stories enhance the recipes and vice-versa, and if you go through the entire book, you find a variety of courses, from soups and salads to main courses, side dishes, and desserts.

More wistful and not as hilarious as Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, but with just as compelling an authorial voice, the memoir parts involving food really tugged at me. Reading about her father's illness and death was sad, but it made reading about her romance and marriage that much sweeter. Truly a good read even if you don't plan on cooking. But if you are, as I am, interested in food and in homecooking, then this book really, truly is for you. The recipes are well-written and the variety of items in the book is extremely promising.

I am especially looking forward to making "The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake" and the "Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde", although there are at least another ten or so recipes that I definitely plan on trying out, including ratatouille and chana masala. Even more, I'm looking forward to Wizenberg's second book, tentatively entitled Delancey, due out (most likely) in early 2013.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, June 06, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 14 (Chapter 32)

Well hello, Mrs Elton!

Emma pays her call on the early side, not because she's all that curious, but because propriety demands it. And she drags Harriet along too - under the theory that she wants to get it over with.

And does Emma like her?

She did not really like her. She would not be in a hurry to find fault, but she suspected that there was no elegance;--ease, but not elegance.--She was almost sure that for a young woman, a stranger, a bride, there was too much ease. Her person was rather good; her face not unpretty; but neither feature, nor air, nor voice, nor manner, were elegant. Emma thought at least it would turn out so.
Mr Elton, on the other hand, is not at all at ease - and who can blame him? Not Emma:

when she considered how peculiarly unlucky poor Mr. Elton was in being in the same room at once with the woman he had just married, the woman he had wanted to marry, and the woman whom he had been expected to marry, she must allow him to have the right to look as little wise, and to be as much affectedly, and as little really easy as could be.
Let's talk about Mrs Elton

Harriet: Isn't she charming?

Emma: Ummm . . . yes?

Harriet: I think she's very beautiful, don't you?

Emma: "Very nicely dressed, indeed; a remarkably elegant gown."

Harriet: No wonder he fell in love.

Emma: "Oh! no--there is nothing to surprize one at all.--A pretty fortune; and she came in his way."

Harriet: I'm sure she was very attracted to him.

Emma: Maybe, "but it is not every man's fate to marry the woman who loves him best. Miss Hawkins perhaps wanted a home, and thought this the best offer she was likely to have."

The return visit

The Eltons return Emma's call, and Emma gets to spend a full 15 minutes alone with Mrs Elton, during which she is able to more fully form her opinion, and it's not a good one:

Mrs Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr Elton no good.

Harriet would have been a better match.
After we hear Emma's summary opinion of Mrs Elton, Austen shows us that Emma is correct: She brags about her brother-in-law, Mr Suckling (a name that then, as now, was funny, and invokes the idea of a suckling pig), she makes incorrect statements (Somerset was known as the "garden of England", not Surry), she talks just to hear herself do so - often relating details that she believes will impress Emma, such as what sorts of carriages her brother-in-law drives, she offers unsolicited medical advice for Mr Woodhouse, and generally natters on almost as much as Miss Bates (although with a bit more focus), and with far more presumption to boot.

"[Bath] is so cheerful a place, that it could not fail of being of use to Mr Woodhouse's spirits, which, I understand, are sometimes much depressed. And as to its recommendations to you, I fancy I need not take much pains to dwell on them. The advantages of Bath to the young are pretty generally understood. It would be a charming introduction for you, who have lived so secluded a life; and I could immediately secure you some of the best society in the place. A line from me would bring you a little host of acquaintance; and my particular friend, Mrs Partridge, the lady I have always resided with when in Bath, would be most happy to shew you any attentions, and would be the very person for you to go into public with."
That's right, Mrs Elton - nearly a complete stranger - just insulted Mr Woodhouse by remarking on his moods and/or mental health, then followed up with insults to Emma - first remarking on her "secluded" life, which, though true, is inappropriate, and then saying that she'd secure her an introduction into Bath society. (Rather as unwelcome a suggestion to Emma as was Sir William Lucas's offer to introduce the Bingley sisters at court.)

The final nails in Mrs Elton's coffin

1. She confesses herself to be astonished to find that Mrs Weston is so lady-like and

2. She refers to Mr Knightley as simply "Knightley" - thereby exhibiting extreme overfamiliarity. In addressing him that way, Mrs Elton is using a manner of address typically reserved for extremely close acquaintances - and even Emma, who has known Mr Knightley her entire life, does not presume to call him simply by his surname and

3. She seems a bit surprised that Mr Knightley is so gentleman-like.

Truly, it's a wonder that Emma doesn't claw her eyes out at this point.

"Insufferable woman!" was her immediate exclamation. "Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley!--I could not have believed it. Knightley!--never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley!--and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr E., and her cara sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and underbred finery. Actually to discover that Mr Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. I could not have believed it! And to propose that she and I should unite to form a musical club! One would fancy we were bosom friends! And Mrs Weston!--Astonished that the person who had brought me up should be a gentlewoman! Worse and worse. I never met with her equal. Much beyond my hopes. Harriet is disgraced by any comparison.
Mrs Elton's use of the Italian term "cara sposo" (dear or beloved spouse) to refer to her husband is a demonstration of her pretension as well as of her ignorance - the proper Italian conjugation would be "caro sposo", but Mrs Elton has used a feminine adjective with her male noun. Her use of such a term - and her use of an extremely familiar manner of address for Mr Knightley as well as her abbreviation of her husband's name as "Mr E" plainly indicate to readers that she is not, in fact, particularly well-bred or well-mannered, and demonstrates what Emma meant at the start about her "ease" of manner.

Mr Woodhouse, who seldom says a bad word about anyone, mentions Mrs Elton's rapidity of speech and says that her voice "rather hurts the ear". His ensuing comment, "But I believe I am nice", is not a typo; he is using the traditional meaning of the word "nice", just as Henry Tilney did in Chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey: "Nice" meant "accurate, scrupulous, or delicate" – more to do with things being neat or tidy or precise or particular, and not at all to do with being pleasing or agreeable.

Here's how the return visit played out in the 2009 BBC production of Emma:

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Well, hello there!

Just a quick non-writing, non-reading sort of post at the moment - I'll get to today's chapter of Emma a bit later.

Here's what I've been (and will be) up to:

1. Yesterday, I went to the "summer" meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America's Eastern Pennsylvania region. It was fabitty fab. I got to sit next to Michael Gamer, a professor of English at Penn, during lunch. We discussed Romantic poets and my contemporary YA romance, which is an update of an Austen novel about which he knows gobs. And then I got to listen to Claudia L. Johnson, one of the foremost Austen scholars on the planet, talking about Austen's hold on readers. It was excellent - food, company, speaker, and all. Plus the nice bartender decided not to charge me for my Coke. A lovely day in and of itself, but afterwards, I picked M up at home and we spent some time in the park - me reading Kay Ryan's poems from her collection, Best of It, and starting a new poem of my own and M reading Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, with which M is now obsessed. And then last night M and I watched the MTV Movie Awards. Let me just say that Robert Pattinson made me LOL on more than one occasion - he's so deliciously awkward.

2. Today found me starting the cleaning process in advance of my parents' visit next week for S's graduation. And while I started the day in an okay mood, once I went to tai chi class and then enjoyed a frappuchino in the sun for about half an hour, I was positively happy.

3. I'm working on Chapter 18 of my YA romance project, and am quite happy with the continuing progress. Of course, I wish it were going faster than it is, but don't all writers want that for their work?

4. On Thursday, June 9th at 4 p.m., I'm going to be one of several members of the KidLit Authors Club speaking at the Barnes & Noble store in Moorestown, New Jersey. I hope that if you're around, you'll consider stopping by!

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 13 (Chapter 31)

On the one hand/on the other hand

Emma is having what I think of as a Tevyeh moment:

On the one hand, she's convinced she must be in love with Frank Churchill.
On the other hand, she's not sure how much, really.

On the one hand, she thinks about him, would like to hear news of him, and wonders if and when he's coming back.
On the other hand, she isn't really unhappy that he's gone.

On the one hand, she thinks well of him.
On the other hand, she plainly sees that he has faults.

On the one hand, she likes imagining various scenarios leading up to him proposing to her.
On the other hand, she always, always turns his imaginary proposals down.

On the one hand, she really sees him as a friend.
On the other hand . . . well, there is no other hand. "I do suspect that he is not really necessary to my happiness. So much the better."

She ends by deciding that if he returns to Highbury, she will not encourage him and will hope that he moves on without ever declaring himself to her. Still, she considers him inconstant and changeable, so perhaps he might not propose after all. I suppose time will tell.

Frank sends a letter to Mrs Weston

And Emma is of course allowed to read it. He says nice things about her, and asks to be remembered to her "little friend" - meaning Harriet.

Gratifying, however, and stimulative as was the letter in the material part, its sentiments, she yet found, when it was folded up and returned to Mrs Weston, that it had not added any lasting warmth, that she could still do without the writer, and that he must learn to do without her. Her intentions were unchanged. Her resolution of refusal only grew more interesting by the addition of a scheme for his subsequent consolation and happiness. His recollection of Harriet, and the words which clothed it, the "beautiful little friend," suggested to her the idea of Harriet's succeeding her in his affections. Was it impossible?--No.--Harriet undoubtedly was greatly his inferior in understanding; but he had been very much struck with the loveliness of her face and the warm simplicity of her manner; and all the probabilities of circumstance and connexion were in her favour.--For Harriet, it would be advantageous and delightful indeed.

"I must not dwell upon it," said she.--"I must not think of it. I know the danger of indulging such speculations. But stranger things have happened; and when we cease to care for each other as we do now, it will be the means of confirming us in that sort of true disinterested friendship which I can already look forward to with pleasure."
Emma can't stop wishing to be a matchmaker, even though she has given up on pursuing it in real life. Still, she has formed the idea that perhaps Harriet would make an excellent consolation prize prospect for Frank - once he's finished mourning the loss of Emma, naturally.

Mr Elton's marriage

Harriet is far from thinking of Frank Churchill - or possibly any other young man - at this time, as word of Mr Elton's pending nuptials is all that's being spoken of in town. Emma tries to comfort and distract Harriet to little avail - in the end, she resorts to a good old-fashioned scolding to try to budge Harriet off the topic. It goes a little something like this:

Every time you brood over Mr Elton, Harriet, you hurt my feelings by reminding me how I led you to fall for him in the first place.

When I tell you not to think or talk about him, Harriet, it's for your own good, not for my sake, no matter what I just said. And here are six excellent reasons for you to move on:

1. to develop your own self-control
2. because it is your duty (possibly to move on, possibly to be happy for the choice he's made?)
3. because propriety demands it
4. because you don't want to arouse suspicion in other people
5. to save your own health and social standing
6. to restore your own peace of mind

The fact that I will rest easier and suffer less pain if you stop fretting about Mr Elton is really secondary to all these excellent reasons, Harriet - the point is for you to stop feeling pain.
Of course, Harriet seizes on that much-less important reason and runs with it.

Emma's assessment of Harriet

I'm quoting the entire final paragraph of this chapter, in which Emma decides that Harriet may not be particularly intelligent, but she's got such a loving personality that she's sure to attract a guy. Emma (rightly) notes that she doesn't have that sort of warmth and tenderness, and closes with a nice bit of careful-what-you-wish-for foreshadowing:

"There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart," said she afterwards to herself. "There is nothing to be compared to it. Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction, I am sure it will. It is tenderness of heart which makes my dear father so generally beloved--which gives Isabella all her popularity.--I have it not--but I know how to prize and respect it.--Harriet is my superior in all the charm and all the felicity it gives. Dear Harriet!--I would not change you for the clearest-headed, longest-sighted, best-judging female breathing. Oh! the coldness of a Jane Fairfax!--Harriet is worth a hundred such--And for a wife--a sensible man's wife--it is invaluable. I mention no names; but happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet!"

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 12 (Chapter 30)

Once again, a chapter in which Austen hides her clues in plain sight. This is another of those chapters in which, to borrow a term from one of Jenn Hubbard's comments to an earlier post, we see Austen setting up all her dominoes.

About that ball

Emma first frets that Frank will not be given permission to stay, but it turns out that while his aunt at Enscombe is not happy about it, she allows it. Looking for something else to fret about, Emma decides to be put out at Mr Knightley's disinterest in the ball.

Mr Knightley: If the Westons want to have a ball, I'll go, but I'd much rather stay home and look over the accounts for my estate. *sings "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me"*

Meanwhile, it turns out that Jane Fairfax really LOVES the idea of the ball. Moreso than Emma. At least as much if not moreso than Frank Churchill. Quoth she, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, I hope nothing may happen to prevent the ball. What a disappointment it would be! I do look forward to it, I own, with very great pleasure." She is open and animated, even. What were the odds?

"The over-throw of everything"

Alas, a mere two days after Frank is given permission to stay, he is summoned home. Poor Mrs Churchill is ill. Only Frank knows that she's only ill when she wants something, so he isn't too concerned about it. Still, he must away. Emma is alerted about the situation by a note from Mrs Weston, who tells us that Frank has only enough time to take his leave of a few friends in Highbury, and then he'll probably stop at Hartfield, and then he must away.

Emma was ready for her visitor some time before he appeared; but if this reflected at all upon his impatience, his sorrowful look and total want of spirits when he did come might redeem him. He felt the going away almost too much to speak of it. His dejection was most evident. He sat really lost in thought for the first few minutes; and when rousing himself, it was only to say,

"Of all horrid things, leave-taking is the worst."

"But you will come again," said Emma. "This will not be your only visit to Randalls."

"Ah!--(shaking his head)--the uncertainty of when I may be able to return!--I shall try for it with a zeal!--It will be the object of all my thoughts and cares!
Emma is sorry the ball has been delayed, but gratified at having been right about it not happening. Still, she says, "I would much rather have been merry than wise."

Frank waxes quite rhapsodic about Highbury and the people who get to remain there, discussing how precious every moment of his visit was to him, and he starts to tell Emma something confidential, but she, suspecting he is going to speak words of love, puts him off. He sighs, obviously trying to make out her tone and meaning, and then his father appears, leaving Emma to think things through.

Listlessness = love

She has decided that Frank must be very much in love with her, and may have been on the brink of proposing prior to his father's arrival. Once he's gone, taking his newness and charm and enthusiasm with him, Emma feels let down - and surmises that perhaps she's a little in love with Frank Churchill after all. "This sensation of listlessness, weariness, stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling of every thing's being dull and insipid about the house!--I must be in love[.]" LOL!

Her thoughts immediately turn from the possibility of love with Frank Churchill to Mr Knightley, who must be happy that the ball has been cancelled. Mr Knightley does not triumph in it, however; he's sorry that Emma did not have an opportunity to dance. And poor Jane Fairfax has been so ill with headaches that Miss Bates figures she wouldn't have made it to the ball anyhow.

Those of you re-reading the book should feel free to post spoilers in the comments if you care to discuss them, but please mark them spoilery up front so first-time readers have the option of avoiding them.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Shelling Peas

The lovely and talented Jama Kim Rattigan has posted my poem, "Shelling Peas", on her blog today, along with a poem by fellow NJ poet Penny Harter (whom I've never met). Penny's poem is also entitled "Shelling Peas". What are the odds? And yet Jama found still more similarities between the poems.

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Emma, Volume II, Chapter 11 (Chapter 29)

Austen opens this chapter with something close to sarcasm. You can hear the dryness of her tone quite clearly, yes?

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind[.]
Turns out that Frank really wants to dance. Those two dances he danced with Emma have made him long for a ball, and he busily tries to work out how to have a dance so that Emma, Harriet, Jane and the two Cox girls can all dance at the same time. Alas, the Weston's parlors at Randalls are too small for five couples. And, come to think of it, five couples are too few for a ball. And Mrs Weston doesn't have enough room for dancing and supper, which is her main concern as a hostess.

Despite the obvious impediments to hosting a ball at Randalls, Frank Churchill refuses to let it die.

One really ought, I think, examine why this is so? Why is he in such a lather to have a ball at all? With whom is he so very eager to dance? Putting that aside, he (once again) insists that his concern is not really his - it's his father's, he says: Mr Weston liked the idea of a ball, and will be crushed if there cannot be one.

Emma thinks to ask some questions, although not the ones I listed - she is convinced that he is in a lather to dance with her, as a matter of course.

Emma perceived that the nature of his gallantry was a little self-willed, and that he would rather oppose than lose the pleasure of dancing with her; but she took the compliment, and forgave the rest. Had she intended ever to marry him, it might have been worth while to pause and consider, and try to understand the value of his preference, and the character of his temper; but for all the purposes of their acquaintance, he was quite amiable enough. [Emphasis added.]
The next day, Frank Churchill visits Emma at Hartfield to announce a new scheme - based on her strong desire to dance (again, he projects his own desires onto someone else): They are to have a ball at the Crown.

Emma savvily negotiates her father's approval of the scheme. It would be tempting to skip this portion of the chapter, but it is actually important for a couple of reasons:

1. We are shown for the first time how Mr Woodhouse responds to any new scheme - with alarm and a near-complete rejection.

2. We are shown how Emma manages to talk him around by proving (a) that there's no health risk, (b) that it's very convenient for him (and/or his horses) and (c) that the person in charge of the scheme is someone he already knows and trusts (here, Mrs Weston).

This pattern will repeat itself later in the novel when it comes to another sort of scheme entirely, and it's fun to watch Austen set up the pattern so that when we see it later, it feels vaguely familiar and is entirely in character for Mr Woodhouse and Emma.

The examination of the rooms at the Crown

In looking over the rooms at the Crown, there's some concern about where to eat - crowded in the small room adjoining the room where the dancing will take place, or down a hallway in another room, with a (probably unreasonable) fear of exposure to drafts in the hallway.

Frank immediately proposes securing another opinion, volunteering to go get the Coles - or, better yet, Miss Bates, since she lives so close by. Despite Emma pointing out that Miss Bates cannot be relied on for a useful opinion, Frank manages it so that Mr Weston directs him to bring not only Miss Bates, but also Jane Fairfax - whom he feigns not to have thought about. (Seriously, Frank, you've known her longer than you've known anybody in town except your father - and yet you didn't remember her? And yet, nobody calls bullshit on that.) And then he runs off to fetch the two ladies in question.

Our chapter ends with the news that Frank has sent to his aunt at Enscombe for permission to extend his stay a few days (so as to attend the ball), and has asked Emma to stand up with him for the first two dances, to the delight of both Westons.

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