January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice is 200

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Pride and Prejudice begins with what has become one of the most recognized opening lines in literature.  My favorite book among those written by my favorite author, Pride and Prejudice celebrates the 200th anniversary of its publication today, January 28th.  What was happening in 1813 when this novel was published?  James Madison was president of the United States.  He was only the fourth president!  The U.S. was fighting the War of 1812 against the British.  Wait, what?  The War of 1812 went from 1812-1815?  What the hell?

Jane Austen
The above is one of the few recognized images of Jane Austen.  She was first published in 1811 (Sense and Sensibility) and died six years later in 1817.  Too young.  She left us with only six completed novels.  Her writing is witty, clever, and smart.  Calling Austen "chick-lit" is doing her a great disservice.  Also, let me state for the record that the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Don't bother with any other.  That one is perfect.

When I was in England so many years ago (okay, fifteen), I was lucky enough to be able to visit some Austen-related places.  I'll share some photos I took of the area.  They were scanned and don't look too hot, but they still relay the feel of the place.  First up was her cottage in Chawton.

This is a "cottage."
Austen lived in Chawton Cottage for the last eight years of her life.  Much of her writing was done here.  I walked through the garden imagining that Austen had done the same.  A few months before she died, Austen moved to a house in Winchester in order to be closer to her doctor.
Austen's Winchester home
The plaque above the door reads, "IN THIS HOUSE JANE AUSTEN LIVED HER LAST DAYS AND DIED 18TH JULY 1817."  I visited the house in which she died in Winchester, as well as Winchester Cathedral, where she is buried.

Winchester Cathedral
Austen is interred in the floor of the cathedral.

RIP Jane
I also went to Lyme Regis, a seaside town that plays an important role in her novel Persuasion.

Lyme Regis
Austen used to visit this hamlet with her family.  Lyme Regis has a scenic, rocky coastline.

Young Jen!
I don't usually post other people's photos on my blog, so I pixelated my friend's face.  I enjoyed Lyme Regis immensely.  I can see why it is so popular with Brits past and present.

Lyme Regis
Southern England is beautiful.  Look, sheep!

Is one of you named Shaun?
This has nothing to do with Jane Austen, but it was around the same area as the rest of these places, and it amuses me.  The Cerne Abbas Giant.

Naked guy carved in a hillside!
My friend and I came across this by chance while driving around southern England.  A 180-foot tall, naked chalk man tends to draw one's attention.

Alright, back to Jane.  I have tried to resist calling her Jane up to this point, but I have typed it several times and have had to go back and replace it with Austen.  Fans of Austen's work often refer to her as Jane.  Why?  Do we feel a greater sense of connection with her?  When I talk about Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood, it doesn't occur to me to refer to them by their first names.  Yet, I refer to Austen as Jane without a second thought.  Thanks, Jane.  Two hundred years ago you gave us a novel which continues to delight readers and which remains relevant even after two centuries.

January 18, 2013

New England is great

It has been brought to my attention that I should blog about going away last weekend.  I haven't been in a blogging mood lately, but I'll write a bit about my visit.  I love New England. I lived there for four years during college, and I used to go back all the time to visit.  A trip to New England was long overdue.  My friend Josh and I drove up together, and he posted his own account of the trip on his blog.  He dubbed this weekend Tim-a-palooza because we were each visiting a different friend named Tim.

Josh's Tim lives in NH, so that was the first stop.  (Interesting coincidence- my Tim also used to live in New Hampshire.)  I had dinner with the two of them, plus Tim's roommates, all really great people, and then I headed to Boston to see my Tim.  I had a fantastic time hanging out with Tim, his wife, and his young daughter.  We ate so much on Saturday that I think I'm still full.  Tim likes to cook and to bake, as I do, and he put both of those skills to use.  Pancakes from scratch and chocolate cake.  Yum.  What else did we eat on Saturday?  There was falafel, a cheesy pastry thing, copious amounts of Thai food, cinnamon bread, and earthquake cookies. We also had amazingly delicious wine and cheese from a shop around the corner from his place in Cambridge.  I could live off of wine and cheese.  The wine and cheese made me very happy.

Hanging out with Tim and his wife and daughter made me very happy, too.  I was thinking about how long I've known Tim.  It has been almost twenty years.  We met when we lived down the hall from each other during our freshman year of college.  I don't remember if I met Tim the first day, but it was certainly the first week.  He is like a brother to me.  Tim is the kind of friend who if we don't see or talk to each other for a little while, when we do, it's like no time has passed.  He married someone who is equally awesome, and his daughter is wonderful, too.

Tim's wife had to work on Sunday, so in the morning, the two of us went for a walk with his daughter around a lake near his place.  There I discovered that I need to start doing yoga again. Why?  Tim's daughter wanted me to carry her around the lake.  She barely weighs more than my beagle, but I was having a hard time after a while.  In the afternoon, Josh and Tim and one of Tim's roommates came to Boston, and we went to bookstores and a Japanese market and a Vietnamese restaurant.  (Another interesting coincidence- the first time I had pho was when I was visiting Tim when he lived in Los Angeles.)  I wish that my Tim could have come with us, but he had to stay home with his daughter.

It was a fun trip.  I always feel at home when I'm in New England.  I don't get to see Tim enough.  I hope he knows how much I treasure his friendship.  It was nice to meet Josh's Tim in person.  He is just as cool as Josh always says he is.  And of course it was nice to spend time with my friend Josh, who doesn't live nearby anymore.  It was an all-around excellent weekend.
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