How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Happy 200th Birthday, Pride & Prejudice

“I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London.”

In a letter dated Friday, January 29th, 1813, exactly 200 years ago, Jane Austen penned those words to her sister Cassandra. She was speaking, of course, of Pride and Prejudice, which had been published the day before. Jane was at Chawton and Cassandra was at Steventon with their oldest brother James. The rest of the letter was a jubilant commentary on the disposal of her author copies and some final thoughts on the reality she held in her hands … then she forced herself to write of “something else” -- mundane matters that serve to bring the Austen family and their friends to life.

But she would often come back to P & P in future letters: exulting over good reviews from family, friends, and critics and reflecting on the characters. One particularly delightful passage is in a May 24th letter from London:

“… Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased -- particularly (pray tell Fanny [niece]) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy; -- perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time …. Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in Yellow.”

                                                  (Portrait of a Lady by J. M. F. Huet-Villiers
                                                               A probable Jane Bingley)

What struck me was the way Jane Austen considered her characters to be living on after the events of the book. I usually view my characters as frozen within their stories, but to her, the Bennet sisters should no longer be thought of as the Bennets, but as the wives of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. We refer to “Elizabeth Bennet” in the present whenever we talk of Pride and Prejudice, but for her author, Elizabeth was real and was living beyond the story. Once we read the story, she is Elizabeth Darcy.

Pride and Prejudiceis a living book, and Elizabeth is a living character -- she does not die, but is recreated over and over again as each new generation reads her. Once we’ve closed the book, for the first, second, third time, she’s Mrs. Darcy. But then, when we open it, for the second, third, fourth time, she’s Miss Elizabeth Bennet again. Funny how that works.

By the way, have you ever heard Mary and Kitty Bennet’s fates? Jane Austen revealed that Mary married her father’s clerk and Kitty a clergyman near Pemberley.

I wonder if Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen’s favorite. She mentions it so many times in her letters, which must be just a smattering of what she spoke of in person. Granted, we don’t have all her letters, but still, she adored Elizabeth and the book seems to be very much in keeping with what we know of Miss Austen’s own character. If so, her preference rightly presaged the opinion of the world that loved her works after her.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Charades, Pt. 2

Sweetheart. That’s the answer to the charade in Part 1. And here is its accompanying picture:
Not very clear, but you get the visual.

And now for the others! We picked one word and each wrote a charade for it. Here is Laura’s:

Under a tree in a meadow

The sun is warm and breezes soft

My first reposes with light’s glow

And dwells with time, returning oft.

The second, in state of thinking deep,

I place myself beside another.

It comes to me in wake or sleep,

And of my life, becomes the author.

With both ideas joined, I find,

The desires of my heart come true.

While, though only certain in my mind,

My thoughts are never far from you.

And here’s mine:

My first is marked by the orbs of the sky

As they run in their appointed course.

My second is a flight of the mind;

Fanciful, but true life is its source.

My whole is a lovely painting

Of what I wish life could be;

A series of thoughts containing

Only two things, my love - you and me.

Can you guess the answer?

We each wrote a charade for our third word as well. Laura’s:

Sweet to taste, flavors baking;

Nature’s product -- Bees provide.

Bright at night, with shadows making;

Guiding many, over time.

Together both, their meanings find

A New Appointment -- joined by vow;

Two lovers’ wish, and of one mind

Will seek a time, together, now.

And mine:

Dripping sweetness, a small flower’s gift,

Can, by the light of the midnight king,

Tint all the world gold.

The colors of life begin this shift

‘Round when two lovers are promising

To have and to hold.

What do you think the answer to this pair of charades is?

At the back of our book, which we put together in a way where we could easily add more pages, we have an “answer key”:

The answers to each charade are within the hearts.

This Regency-inspired project of ours foreshadowed the idea to co-write a Regency novel, which broadsided us less than a year after we finished the Love Riddles book! And we’ve been busy ever since ….

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Charades, Pt. 1

My first, tho’ water, cures no thirst;

My next alone has soul,

And when he lives upon my first,

He then is called my whole.

Do you know the answer to this riddle? From Wikipedia: A charade was originally also used to indicate a riddle either in verse or prose, of which the listener must guess the meaning, often given syllable by syllable. So, find the one-syllable answer to the first line, and then to the second, and then put the two syllables together.

And you have: seaman. Pretty neat! I was introduced to these delightful little puzzles in Emma. Emma helps her friend Harriet Smith in “the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of her life … the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with ….” One sort of the “riddles of every sort” was the charade. This was a well-known example that the young ladies found:

My first doth affliction denote,

Which my second is destin’d to feel

And my whole is the best antidote

That affliction to soften and heal.

For the longest time I could not figure out the answer. I believe I finally found it online, somewhat disappointed that it came to that. But at least I’m not reading it over and over, replaying it in my mind, vainly trying to tug off my blindfold. I do dislike an unsolved riddle. Do you know the answer?

The young ladies asked Mr. Elton, the vicar, to write a charade himself. It was pointedly romantic:

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,

Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.

Another view of man, my second brings,

Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But, ah! united, what reverse we have!

Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;

Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,

And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,

May its approval beam in that soft eye!

I think we all remember that the answer is “courtship.”

Laura, my co-author of the Regency novel, The Wise- and Light-Hearted, hit upon the idea for the two of us to write our own “love riddles.” This predated our novel, but we included them within it as written by our characters, Lucia and Sophia. I can’t describe to you how fun that was! We made our own book and illustrated it:


This was our first charade, a combined effort:

My first describes the savor of orchards,

The scent and taste of its flowers and fruit;

But in man and beast my second can be heard

And felt; it is our life-blood’s sacred root.

Together they form something I can see:

A person whose sight is more than enough

To draw all my senses, ultimately

Creating within me the sense of love.

Take a guess! The answer, as well as our four other charades and more pictures, will be in my next post.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Evelina, Pt. 2

                                    Pinned Image
Continued from my last post:

The principal plot of Evelina is whether her family situation can be straightened out; but of more immediate importance is her love story. Every British heroine must end up with a hero, so whom shall it be in Evelina’s book?

Evelina meets Lord Orville at an Assembly ball in London. It soon becomes obvious that he is the hero. Evelina is instantly impressed with him, but it takes her forever to realize she’s in love. What can I say? She’s young and na├»ve. But she feels he is too far above her, and there are several other misunderstandings that contrive to keep them apart.

Then there is Sir Clement Willoughby, who calls her “an angel.” She meets him in London, too, and finds him disgustingly forward. But he wheedles his way into her society by making himself agreeable to everyone who has charge of her at one time or another: Captain Mirvan, Mrs. Selwyn, even Madame Duval.

These two men contrast greatly. Lord Orville is a pure gentleman, honorable, steady, and considerate. He may seem a little flat, however, to us readers -- maybe because he is too perfect and predictable? Fanny Burney was creating an idealized man and perhaps went too far. But, all the same, I didn’t feel he was unbelievable, just a little uninteresting to read about. He would be the man we security-craving girls would love to end up with. Evelina tells her guardian Rev. Villars that Lord Orville is much like him. That’s a hint of what Orville will become to her, for what girl, if she has a good father figure, will not desire a younger version for her husband?

Sir Clement Willoughby is flashy and unstable, albeit debonair; he constantly treads on Evelina’s sensibilities, caring nothing for her true feelings. But -- he is fascinating. Especially when his heart gets broken. I finally felt sorry for him at that point. All other times I just want to slap his mischief-causing self ….

Now I should comment about the tone of the book as a whole. The language was very formal; the more moral the characters, the more formal their dialogue. Check out this exchange between Evelina and Lord Orville:

“‘My Lord,’ cried I, ‘you must not judge hardly of me. I spoke inadvertently; but if you knew the painful suspense I suffer at this moment, you would not be surprised at what I have said.’

‘And would a meeting with Mr. Macartney relieve you from that suspense?’

‘Yes, my Lord, two words might be sufficient.’

‘Would to heaven,’ cried he, after a short pause, ‘that I were worthy to know their import!’

‘Worthy, my Lord! -- O, if that were all, your Lordship could ask nothing I should not be ready to answer! If I were but at liberty to speak, I should be proud of your Lordship’s enquiries; but indeed I am not, I have no right to communicate the affairs of Mr. Macartney, -- your Lordship cannot suppose I have.’”

The other characters each had their own form of dialogue (Fanny Burney specializes in that), including speech full of contractions and less-than-stellar grammar.

The characters were largely portraits, each greatly distinct from the others and exaggerated in one way or another. At times the tone of the narrative was almost melodramatic, especially when Evelina was writing. She fainted, or wished she could faint, at least one time that I can remember. She was a very sensitive girl. But what teenager doesn’t tend to feel that her experiences are the be-all, end-all of the world? Also, good appearances were absolutely vital in that day and age, especially for young women, so she was right to be so concerned about the misadventures her various companions caused.

Fanny Burney was dedicated to portraying reality. But reality differs somewhat with whomever is doing the portraying. Jane Austen is shown to be the superior artist, but I highly respect Fanny Burney, for she was superb in her own right, and had some talents that even went beyond Jane Austen’s.

I enjoyed this voyage into 18th century England and Jane Austen’s literary background very much; at some point I’ll have to do a post on Cecilia, Miss Burney’s second novel which I read first, because I haven’t nearly exhausted all the charms of her fiction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Evelina, Pt. 1


I’m not really taking a break from Jane Austen, because Evelina was, I believe, a favorite of hers, or at least one she knew well enough to allude to in a letter to Cassandra:

“What a Contretems! -- in the Language of France; What an unluckiness! In that of Mde Duval -- The Black Gentleman has certainly employed one of his menial imps to bring about this complete tho’ trifling mischief.” (Letter 50, February 1807)

Madame Duval is a memorable, comical character in Evelina, someone I’m sure Jane Austen would have held long in her mind. She is the grandmother of the title character.

Evelina is an epistolary novel written by Fanny Burney (1752-1840) that appeared on the London scene in 1778. She published it anonymously, but it shot into immediate popularity and set her writing career into motion. She wrote three more thick novels (each published in several volumes) -- Cecilia (1782); Camilla (1796); and The Wanderer (1814) -- as well as numerous plays, some produced, some un-produced.

The initial attribute that comes to my mind with Evelina is sweetness. It’s the first offering of a timid, talented young lady author -- who burned her true first novel because she wasn’t sure writing was a decent and ladylike pursuit. 16-year-old Evelina is likewise unsure of herself as she leaves the countryside where she grew up and discovers London with two sets of people -- first, with her dear friends, the upper-class Mirvans, and then with her lower-class grandmother, Madame Duval, and cousins, the Branghtons.

Evelina is good-hearted and sensible, full of country virtues. Her guardian is the old, kind, and wise Reverend Arthur Villars, who also took care of her now-deceased mother. Most of the book is letters written to him by Evelina, where she tells him all about her adventures. Their relationship is the best father-daughter relationship I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Rev. Villars is Evelina’s best friend, and she is the only one he wishes to live for; their relationship is built on love, openness, understanding, godly duty, and all those other good things that everyone truly craves for their relationships. (If only we’d admit it and make the effort!)

Evelina’s main mistakes are born of naivety, social faux pas that she would not wittingly commit. Rev. Villars suffers a lot of anxiety while she’s away from him, and his letters with the right advice are sometimes too late to help. But this is a coming-of-age story, and, through agonizing challenges to her character, Evelina proves herself to be strong in what is right and true to herself and her guardian. She has grown up knowing only the good, and so what else can she do but choose the good and eschew the evil, as represented by vulgar relatives and arrogant and immoral high-society?

Madame Duval is her maternal French grandmother who until recently didn’t know she existed. She would have nothing to do with her daughter Caroline Evelyn (who just so happened to be the protagonist of Burney’s first novel, the one that she unfortunately burned) when the young woman married without her permission. Sir John Belmont is Evelina’s father, but he will not acknowledge her, so Evelina is left a virtual orphan under Rev. Villars’s care. As is obvious from what I said before, that is the best possible case; but when Madame Duval finds Evelina in London, she gets it in her head to force Sir John Belmont to acknowledge his daughter and leave her a fortune. Madame Duval is volatile, ignorant, and speaks with entertainingly bad English-as-a-second-language grammar. She clashes countless times with the French-hating sailor Captain Mirvan, the father of Evelina’s best girlfriend Maria. (I got a little tired of their squabbles -- as did the people who had to hear them! -- but they were funny for the most part.)

Evelina is angelically beautiful. She attracts a lot of attention in London, so of course there are otherr men that I must include in my review of characters: principally Lord Orville and Sir Clement Willoughby. But … it’s late and this review is getting long enough, so I’ll leave them and my wrap-up for Friday!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jane Austen's Letters

                                                    Jane Austen's Letters

I am reading a delightful volume of the collected Jane Austen letters. It’s enlightening to hear from the artist as her real self, which she always was to her dear sister Cassandra, who is the recipient of most of these letters. It makes me shiver to know I’m privy to the sharpest, clearest revelation of Jane Austen’s person that anyone has today. I enjoy (mostly!) her wit, which is more acrid than in her novels. I enjoy her descriptions of people she’s met; the process is identical to the way she characterizes in her novels, proving that she made her characters as real as she perceived living people to be. I hunt for references to her stories, but so far I’ve only found two:

“I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago.” (Jane Austen’s Letters, Deirdre Le Faye; Letter 18, Jan 1799, to Cassandra. First Impressions was the working title of Pride and Prejudice.)

“I would not let Martha [Lloyd] read First Impressions again upon any account, & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. -- She is very cunning, but I see through her design; -- she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.” (Letter 21, Jun 1799, to Cassandra.)

Maybe the references will pick up once I reach 1811, the publication year of Sense and Sensibility.

I also like taking note of what she says about the books she’s read. Her literary opinions reveal her own masterful mind: she was a critic and beeps at flaws like a metal detector.

I’m anticipating the letters to one of her nieces that contain novel-writing advice.

Jane Austen’s letters are excellent Regency research. Expressions, idioms, prices, names, clothing, food, furniture, diseases, gardens … I get to learn these things myself from a primary source! For example, I discovered that “remedy” is a slang term from Winchester College for “holiday.” One of my own characters attends Winchester College, so that might very well pop up in one of his scenes. Jane Austen wasn’t all that descriptive in her letters … however, they tell me that I should try to find a volume of letters by someone else that do vividly depict the era. It’s fulfilling to write down what I learn in a notebook, and even better when I use that information in a scene. But the letters, and all period research, lavish on me more than tidbits of information; they immerse my mind in the culture and make me think like someone of that time, which is more valuable for historical fiction than an interesting “look what I know!” piece of trivia.

I may be referring to this substantial book of letters in another blog post. Till then, imagine me contentedly poring over the small print and thinking, Oh, Miss Jane, how I would have loved to have known you in person! (But, I also wonder, what would she say about me in one of her letters??)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lady Susan, The Watsons, & Sanditon

                                                  Lady Susan/The Watsons/ Sanditon

My Jane Austen literature purview became nearly complete when I read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon in one bound copy last year. It was wonderful to read something new from my favorite author -- you know the feeling, I’m sure!

I wasn’t completely satisfied, of course. It was not like reading an undiscovered novel. Lady Susan is a novella, written in the epistolary style (the story is told through letters that the characters write each other), and, frankly, I didn’t like the story. But I could see Jane Austen at work behind the funny prose and well-sketched characters. It was also interesting to read each person’s very different perspective and see how perceptions clash. It’s a very good exercise in putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes, especially when you see how disastrous it is when the characters are blind to all other character’s perspectives. Lady Susan was written possibly in 1794 but Jane Austen never submitted it for publication. She transcribed it in 1805, so she still had an interest in it, but it wasn’t published until 1871 in the second edition of A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh. (Curious about more details? Go to Austenprose.)

The Watsons starts out to be a most interesting story, but it reaches only 46 pages in my edition -- five chapters and less than 18,000 words. So sad. I think Emma Watson, the heroine, was going to be a delightful protagonist. Jane Austen wrote it around 1803-05 but never returned to it; it was published with Lady Susan in 1871. It would have been a full-length novel like her other works, but the story was already starting out to be a unique web of intriguing difficulties.

Sanditon was begun in 1817 but Jane Austen wrote only twelve chapters before she was forced to put it away because of her declining health. It was likewise published in A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1871. Miss Austen originally called it The Brothers (probably in reference to the very different Parker brothers) but her family renamed it after the seaside resort town that the story is set in. She established a large party of characters and a captivating setting, but this story featuring health and hypochondriacs was cut off in its prime, as was its author. Another pity.

I’ve read Sanditon by Jane Austen & Another Lady, and thought it quite good, though perhaps a bit lacking where the second author started in, such as in Miss Austen’s sharp, refined wit. The Other Lady sewed her words seamlessly in the language of the Regency, however, and, apart from the ending, I think I could have believed it to be wholly by Jane Austen if I hadn’t known better. (At least at that early stage in my Austen fervor. I’d have to read it again and analyze it more closely to see how well it stands up in my opinion now.) Bravo for Anne Telscombe/aka Marie Dobbs, the Other Lady. But -- later I had a distinct satisfaction in reading the pure Jane Austen fragment and leaving it at that. No one can write like Jane Austen.

Have you read these works? What do you think of them? Have you ever dipped into the Juvenilia (the next thing I’m curious about …)?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year!

Just like everyone else, I can’t get away from the idea of a special New Year’s post. So, here goes ….

2012 was a pretty great year. I turned 21 years old near the beginning of it. In May my family and I took a trip to the Four Corners area, so I saw more states (Arizona and Utah) that I hadn’t seen before. The Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Cliff Dwellings, the Red Buttes of Utah, the Rocky Mountains -- all that was food for my creative soul. I ate up the details and basked in the dramatic natural beauty that exists out there. (On a side note, after that trip I also learned the proper term for dramatic natural beauty: the Sublime. Anything in nature that is awe-inspiring, that makes one feel small.) We tied this trip to a beautiful women’s conference in New Mexico where I met Bodie Thoene, the author of my favorite series of historical novels, The Zion Chronicles. When my mom told her I was an aspiring novelist, she prayed for me! In June I went with friends to San Antonio, which I currently believe to be the most fascinating Texas city. In July I went as a junior counselor to Camp Yeshua in Oklahoma, the best youth camp ever! I got to be with dear friends and make new ones.

                                                        Grand Canyon, USA

In August, something that can only be explained as a spark from God jumpstarted my writing. Although I had been committed to writing long before I graduated high school, it seemed like I finally felt grown-up about my commitment: that this was my job and I needed serious training. I heard about the Christian Writers Guild Apprentice program, which basically works like a mentorship between seasoned professionals and those just starting out. I’m in love with the art of writing, but the business aspect of it has me stymied. I started the program in December, and so far it’s going well!

In September, after several conversations with my author-friend Sarah Scheele, who has been a great “advisor,” I started this blog so that I could get a presence on the web. I also have a fun new hobby: following and participating in other people’s blogs.

In October, my family went to the Ozarks where we joined a group celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (Lev. 23:34-43). The trip (not the feast) was a brand-new, rewarding experience.

At the end of 2012, I had a precious visit with my Wise- and Light-Hearted co-author, who lives out-of-state, and another great mutual friend of ours. The week before she came, however, my family went through the death of a dear, elderly friend, one cherished person who didn’t see 2013.

What a year! I learned so much, experienced much personal growth, expanded my heart to take in new friends, and fortunately didn’t make any mistakes that weren’t easy to clean up, praise God!

What will 2013 hold? I don’t know everything -- but one thing’s for sure: The Lord has it all planned out. I hope I’ll publish my first novel, finish my second, finish the one I’m co-authoring, and get started on a new project. I’ll complete the Apprentice program and maybe go on to the Journeyman Fiction program. There’ll be trips, too: My grandma’s 95th birthday is in June, so we’ll be visiting her to celebrate that; and then there’s Camp Yeshua in July; and there’ll probably be at least one more trip besides those.

So, to wrap up, I just want to say thank you to whoever’s reading this, because just by reading and commenting, you’ve blessed me. I hope I’ve blessed you. Here’s to Words That Give Life!

                                                       New Years card