When I first decided to participate in Advent with Austen my goal was to participate 3-4 points worth. I've since read and watched my way to the highest level (7+). I've never been good at doing things by halves and while I've tried to temper this over time, developing patience and a willingness to pursue my dreams in small pieces when I can't pursue them in any other way, that drive to do more is always there for me. Being willing to read in five-minute increments here and there got me started; wanting to keep a promise to myself kept me at it; and here I am, surpassing my original goal. It feels really good.
I needed that this month. It gave me something to think about other than being sick. I've had to stop doing so many things until my heart heals up from this last batch of episodes. It's discouraging, but by doing this challenge and signing up for the ones next year, it helps make this forced down time feel like an opportunity as well- a chance to expand my mind and my vision within the confines of my bed if necessary.
Marianne had been two or three days at home, before the weather was fine enough for an invalid like herself to venture out. But at last a soft, genial morning appeared- such as might tempt the daughter's wishes and the mother's confidence; and Marianne, leaning on Elinor's arm, was authorized to walk as long as she could without fatigue, in the lane before the house. (Sense and Sensibility, Chapter XLVI)This reminded me of the first time I was allowed to walk after my first heart surgery. The head nurse of the cardiac unit freaked out: "What are you doing?!" she called out as I was leaving my room. She reluctantly allowed me to walk a little after I told her that the doctor had told me to, with the stipulation that I was to "Walk close to the wall and stay where I can see you."
The sisters set out at a pace slow as the feebleness of Marianne in an exercise hitherto untried since her illness required...I can't tell you how comforting it is to read lines like that at a time when I've been needing help to walk, or how good it feels to exercise in any way (slow and feeble though I may be) after being in bed for so long. Jane Austen captured in a few lines what I experience whenever I'm recovering: "My illness has made me think- it has given me leisure and calmness for serious recollection. Long before I was enough recovered to talk, I was perfectly able to reflect." That is what I do.
This Austen challenge has given me a great deal to reflect on. Many of these reflections are difficult to express in words because they come from a place words don't touch... Words...
Something I enjoyed while reading Northanger Abbey was how words were used and misused by so many of the characters. The number of people who said what they didn't mean expecting to be understood or misunderstood as the case may be, stood out in bold contrast to Catherine who, unable to be anything but truthful and forthright herself, often missed the hidden meanings and insinuations of others.
So much of communication is separate from the words we use. In some respects that is likely a good thing, because deep emotions translated into words seldom come out right. It's like those signs in English I saw when I lived in China that were close enough to give tourists the general idea, but off enough to give me attacks of the giggles: "Please keep your articles from losing." and "Somking, which may cause fires, is forbidden." Ever wonder why Jane Austen didn't tend to write word-for-word proposal scenes? It might be in part for this reason, to protect the men and women she would have us admire and respect from mockery because, let's be honest, how many of these speeches, when totally sincere, actually come out right?
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXIV)We all know how well that one went over with Elizabeth.
Many of the villains of Jane Austen's stories are adept with words. Austen's characters (the noble ones), most often love each other not so much for what they say, though witty banter can be a part of their courtship, but ultimately for the actions they take that demonstrate the admirable qualities that are a vital part of who they really are. As Mr. Knightley says in his proposal to Emma, "I cannot make speeches, Emma... If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am." (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 13)
Even Henry Tilney, who is witty and quotable in almost everything he says, secures Catherine's affection and helps her to feel secure in his, not through the eloquence of his words, but through the eloquence of his actions:
Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry. It was not only with herself that she was sunk- but with Henry. Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him, and he must despise her forever... could he ever forgive it? The absurdity of her curiosity and her fears- could they ever be forgotten? She hated herself more than she could express. He had- she thought he had, once or twice before this fatal morning, shown something like affection for her. But now- in short, she made herself as miserable as possible for about half an hour, went down when the clock struck five, with a broken heart, and could scarcely give an intelligible answer to Eleanor's inquiry if she was well. The formidable Henry soon followed her into the room, and the only difference in his behaviour to her was that he paid her rather more attention than usual. Catherine had never wanted comfort more, and he looked as if he was aware of it. (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 25)I've found in my life that a good book leads to another. Each of Jane Austen's books that I have read this month have done that for me. I'm grateful for books, I'm grateful for writers, I'm grateful for libraries. This year I am also grateful for passionate bloggers who celebrate and promote reading and in the process, helped inspire me to read joyfully again. Jane Austen would be proud of all of us I think.
With sincerest regards and affection,
This post is part of Advent with Austen and the Sense and Sensibility Readalong.