The Letter P (A-to-Z Challenge)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I discovered Jane Austen by accident and held onto her out of desperation.

Within a period of twenty-six months during the late eighties I went from cocky brand new college graduate who knew more than anyone to snotty grad student surely about to rack up unprecedented academic honors to grad school dropout to minimum wage office gopher to new bride (one bright spot at least!) to different office gopher (just while my husband was in law school – then I’d go back to grad school*) to (Ack! Surprise!) new mom.  It reminded me of the time I had travelled from St. Petersburg, Russia (at that time Leningrad) to New England to California to far Northwestern Alaska (above the arctic circle) in the space of six days**  Both experiences left me dizzy and disoriented and, when looking at my watch, not entirely sure if it was 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

During the long days alone in a small apartment with Little Miss Sunshine,*** who I was slightly afraid of because I actually had never so much as held a baby before she was born, I discovered the delightful fact that as long as I would hold her in my arms she would sleep peacefully for hours.  I’m sure I’m not the first new mom who has perfected the art of gliding smoothly around the house cuddling the baby closely and securely with one’s right arm and upper left arm while using one’s left forearm to reach for things.  One day my left hand reached out, t-rex-like, and grabbed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and carried it over to the couch and Little Miss Sunshine and I sat down together – I to read and she to sleep – and that was the end of my getting anything else done for awhile.****

All six of Jane Austen’s books (second hand paperbacks, of course) were sitting unread in the living room bookcase.  I had acquired them months before during a weekend spree at Smith’s Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon and had brought them home and given them pride of place on a shelf right at eye level but had not yet taken any of them out to read.  I knew they were classics. Very intelligent and articulate friends of mine – English majors – raved about them.  The trouble was, I was slightly afraid I wouldn’t like them and that this would reflect badly on me.

Of course I needn’t have worried. Where I had gotten the idea that the books would be dry and hard to follow is beyond me. Everyone knows (at least everyone reading this knows) how engaging and insightful and appealing and timeless and generally wonderful the Austen books are so I won’t go into that here.  Instead, as I do increasingly, I’ll use Jane as a springboard to another and only tenuously related topic.

Jane Austen, who lived at home all her life and wrote her books in the parlor, is known to have covered up her work whenever anyone came into the room.  I find this so endearing of her to have done.  I understand it so well.  When I am writing anything – and I mean anything from my novel I’m supposedly working on to a blog entry to a nasty letter (a guilty hobby of mine) to a fb messenger conversation with one of the kids – and anyone happens to stroll into the room, I simply can’t continue.  If the Patient Man comes in and stands behind my chair and makes as if to look at the screen I have to close the screen. Goodness only knows what he must think I’ve been looking at.  But if Jane Austen didn’t want her own family catching a glimpse of such as Pride and Prejudice before she was ready to show it, how much more should I feel the need to shelter my poor scribbles?

Another really interesting thing I recently learned about Jane Austen was that, lacking google docs or wordperfect or even a typewriter and a bottle of white out, she made extensive revisions to her handwritten manuscripts by writing the new material on little pieces of paper and pinning them into the original with straight pins. I found this out by following a link an English teacher friend posted on facebook one time.  It was similar to this link which I found just now through google.

Isn’t that interesting?  This is what I miss about facebook.  I had so many friends there whom I don’t have access to in real life, and some of them put up really interesting things almost daily and I picked up so much esoterica by clicking on those links.  I miss that a lot.

I think I might have to go back.

Actually, I feel that I really owe it everyone involved to go back.

It’s not like I was providing educational or improving links that others were relying on.  No, I was mostly just doing the same thing I’m doing here, yakking on and on, arranging small words in such a way that I come out looking clever and funny and interesting without actually saying all that much. The real reason is that I’ve just switched over to posting everything on Instagram and ‘accidentally’ pressing ‘share on facebook’, which even I can’t pretend isn’t really just using facebook.  And if I’m going to do that, and with graduation and birthday and recital and vacation season coming up you can bet I’m going to continue doing that, it’s very rude of me to turn my face away while backhandedly slipping my own pictures right out there where everyone else has to look at them.  This is a behavior analogous to gathering up your winnings and leaving the game while you’re ahead (I infer this from fiction, as I don’t know how to play cards) or (this one is from my experience) to requesting that your own child play first on the program and then getting up and walking out of the recital without staying to listen to everyone else’s kids.

But as long as we were speaking of Jane Austen, let’s think about it.  Would not she herself have simply adored Facebook? What a rich addition to plot and characters.  What a goldmine of gossip dressed as photo captions and passive aggressive treachery lurking in perky comments followed by smiling emoji!  And how the characters could have revealed themselves through their facebook activity!

  • Mary Bennet would post links to reviews of learned books she hadn’t read.
  • Lydia and Kitty would giggle together and goad each other into inappropriately friend requesting young officers, and repeatedly infest their computer with viruses picked up from celebrity gossip pages.
  • Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst would take delight in posting unflattering pictures of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and then commenting on what perfect likenesses they were.
  • Mrs. Bennet would spend hours minutely analyzing the pages of all her women friends and then shredding their characters based on her findings, to Mr. Bennet, who would pretend not to listen.
  • Mr. Bennet wouldn’t have a facebook and would sneer at anyone who did.
  • Jane Bennet would move systematically and judiciously through her newsfeed each morning bestowing likes and comments equally on friend and foe.
  • And Elizabeth Bennet?  How I would love to know how Jane Austen would deal with Elizabeth’s facebook involvement. I have an idea she would have made her one of those people who will set up a page and then never use it because they aren’t actually all that interested in such trivia. If Elizabeth had had a page she would most certainly have deactivated it during the time Mr. Darcy was ignoring her.

Whatever your opinion of my speculations expressed above, I think we can all agree that facebook society is as rich in plot and drama as any Regency Period English village ever was. There’s just so much there! I ask myself, “What Would Jane Do?”

And I answer myself…

See you tomorrow for Letter Q, and quite possibly see you soon on facebook,


 *Nope.  Didn’t.  Too lazy.

**Look at a globe and count up how many time zones that trip covered.  I’ve never bothered to do so but I know it was several. I was a wreck all summer, and living in constant daylight above the arctic circle didn’t help.

***Little Miss Sunshine is herself all set to graduate from law school next month.

****I think I mentioned before that I can’t seem to get as much done as other people do.  One reason may be that I will always immediately drop anything to read a book.  This is not a virtue and I’m not presenting it as one.  When I told my mom that I had discovered a wonderful new author and was taking advantage of Little Miss Sunshine’s nap times to read (which I thought of as necessary refreshment for the frazzled spirit) she was horrified.  “I should think that you’d want to use the baby’s naptime to catch up on your housework,” she said reprovingly.  I don’t think she actually thought anything of the kind; she had known me quite well for twenty-four years and during all that time I’m pretty sure I never once willingly put down a book in order to do anything useful.


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