Monday, November 15, 2010

'Pride and Prejudice' Preview from Ross Valley Players


The Ross Valley Players have posted a video preview of their upcoming production of 'Pride & Prejudice' which has made me quite excited about going to see a performance! The costumes look very well done -- especially Mr. Darcy's, which makes him look quite the Regency gentleman.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain!"


I've decided to post this little ode to the sweet and refreshing rain that I woke up to this morning:

"With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate.
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A view we had from a Derbyshire moor.

But when I came alas to wive,
By swaggering could I never thrive.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
The toss-pots still had drunken heads.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago, the world began,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our song is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day."
-- Attributed to William Shakespeare                

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sacramento's JA Book Club: Week 5



Ah, Emma! Jane called her the heroine "whom none but myself will much like." Although I, for one, am actually fond of Miss Emma Woodhouse and before you question my judgment of character, I call upon the excellent judgment of Mr. Knightley (who was quite fond of her) as my defense! She certainly has her flaws and I believe much of my fondness comes from my having many of the same. And she did catch a man like Mr. Knightley, which is no small feat. Anyway, enough of my opinions on Emma.

We began with a book introduction by Dr. Bell which was very enlightening. He first cleared up the issue of volumes. Which I was excited about! None of the editions of my Jane Austen novels is divided into volumes as the originals were, and as some editions now are. Emma contains three volumes: Volume I is chapters 1-18, Volume II is chapters 19-35 and Volume III is chapters 36-55. Each volume represents a section of the plot, beginning with a shift in the storyline, "dramatic divides," they could be called. Volume I ends with the overthrow of all of Emma's plans for Harriet and with Mr. Elton heading off to Bath in a huff. Volume II begins with Jane Fairfax's, and thus Frank Churchill's, arrival at Highbury and ends with Mrs. Elton's settling into the vicarage. Volume III begins with Frank Churchill's return to Highbury, the ball ensuing, and of course the happy ending of Emma's and Mr. Knightley's union!

Just as the volumes are dividing points in the story, Emma is a dividing point in Jane Austen's writing. Emma was a product of her more mature writing period at Chawton, when she was settled back in her beloved Hampshire countryside. Emma is also thought to be her most complete novel in terms of plot and character development. Dr. Bell brought up the widespread wonder at how the authoress of Pride & Prejudice could turn around and write a novel in the style of Mansfield Park, then immediately after that write a novel such as Emma! (Technically MP was written years after P&P, as many of you know.) But that was how Jane Austen was as a writer; she was always experimenting with her stories. All of her stories are different -- different in style, plot, mood and point. All three of those aspects are different in P&P, MP, and  Emma. It is quite apparent that she was born to write Pride & Prejudice! Yet each of her other novels is brilliant in its own way. I believe that's one reason why her writing is still so well-loved. Some people claim that all her plots are the same (none of said people has read any of the novels, of course) that each is merely a romance novel with people sitting around drinking tea and talking, talking, talking. In truth, the only similarities are that each contains a heroine (or two), a hero (or two) who are united in the end! They all also take place during the same historical period.

The second half of the lecture focused exclusively on Emma. What do you think dominates this novel? Well...

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
    She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.
    Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgement, but directed chiefly by her own.
    The real evils indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened to alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her."

The very first words are Emma Woodhouse, and from then on the story is dominated by her consciousness! Jane even titled the book Emma! And it's the only one of her novels that is titled after its heroine. Emma is dominated by Emma! She is infused into its every aspect; its narrative, its opinions, its observations are all her's. And they are all right -- until Emma herself finds out differently. We experience the whole story through Emma's eyes. It's dominated not only by her opinions and observations, but by her social status. She is at the top of Highbury's and Donwell's social scale, the lady of the parishes at twenty years old! Being independently wealthy, with a fortune of thirty thousand pounds (fifteen hundred a year) helps secure Emma her current position. So, in light of Emma's dominance, evaluating her character is absolutely necessary before any discussion of the novel can take place.

The last point brought forward by Dr. Bell was what P.D. James, the well-known author of detective fiction, said about writing your own novel, specifically mysteries. Although I don't remember the precise words, the gist of it was this: When constructing a plot, consult Jane Austen's novels -- particularly Emma.

Dr. Bell then turned the podium over to Vima de Marchi Micheli who is a true expert in the area of historic textiles, especially lace, which was the focus of her presentation to us that day. She was introduced by Stephenee Borelli, our gracious hostess and a librarian for the Sacramento Library system who faithfully gives us introductions and announcements at every meeting, and keeps the website updated. Stephenee gave us quotes from Jane's novels that refer to lace; she also read passages from the novels referring to a variety of refined accomplishments displayed by her gentlewomen characters (other than lace making). Fineness of one's lace, or indeed the very presence or lack of, gave some indication of one's social status, and, as Jane so superbly and satirically points out, one's aspirations to appear to belong to a higher one. The ladies noticed for their lace are Mrs. Hurst, the "pretty, silly, expensive" Mrs. Wallis and the unforgettable Mrs. Elton, "as fine as lace and pearls could make her."

Vima de Marchi Micheli

Now, if you want all the excellent details of Vima de Marchi Micheli's expert presentation, I very highly recommend listening to the podcast of this week's meeting on the Library website, here. My notes are rather sketchy, and my reporting of the event will not be nearly comprehensive of what we actually heard! (And saw!) That is my disclaimer!

Mrs. Micheli brought many beautiful examples of antique needle lace, bobbin lace, battenburg lace, crochet work, tatting and netting. The amount of skill needed for the more complex of these methods, namely needle lace, is enormous! It is so exquisitely detailed. It cannot be exactly reproduced today because the needles and very fine thread are not manufactured anywhere; sadly there is not enough of a market for them anymore.

She informed us that they used the same stitches that are used today, such as the closed buttonhole stitch. That surprised me! White was the most common color used, which is called "white work." I think all of her lovely worked pieces were examples of white work; however, color was used occasionally.

Modern lacework was begun in the mid-15th century in Europe. The "needle lace" or embroidery with needles, and the "bobbin lace" or weaving the threads around pins in a special sort of pillow techniques began at that time. Also for most of lace-making history the netting that the lace was embroidered on was hand-made also!

Other popular, and less difficult, techniques included Renaissance or Battenburg lace, crochet work (which was used in less wealthy homes and looks much like needle and bobbin lace), and tatting (which has more limited shapes). Below are a few examples of some of the different techniques.

White work

Battenburg lace
Bobbin lace
Needle lace
So exquisite! So much skill and training was needed to produce these beautiful patterns and stitches. Girls learning needle or bobbin lace would spend an entire year just perfecting one pattern! A piece of lace a little larger than a foot square would take any lace-maker about a year to complete by hand! It's no wonder that lace was considered a symbol of wealth. It wasn't something that one could just run down to the nearest Joann's and buy a yard of!

All fine lace was made exclusively by trained lace-makers but the well-born of Jane Austen's time did contribute to their families' fine apparel by making all the shirts and cravats for the men and all the nightdresses. As we see in Mansfield Park, while Fanny is in Portsmouth helping her brother Sam get ready to go to sea:

"Fanny was very anxious to be useful... and therefore set about working for Sam immediately, and by working early and late, with perseverance and great dispatch, did so much that the boy was shipped off at last with more than half his linen ready."

As for dresses, coats and breeches, they were handed over to the skill of seamstresses and tailors (for the most part).

In the next book club post: the mystery in Emma!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jane Austen and Our Election


Since today is Election Day in the U.S. I got to wondering which of Jane's heroes would be the best candidate to vote for in an important election (such as, in California's case, for governor). What do you think?

Who would be the best candidate in an important election?
Mr. Knightley, with his experience as a magistrate
Capt. Wentworth, with his experience in being captain of a ship
Mr. Darcy, in caring for such a large estate with many tenants
Col. Brandon, in being an officer over many men
Mr. Tilney, with his ability to think clearly, wisely and quickly
Edmund Bertram, in taking his responsibility of leading people's souls seriously free polls