Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jane Austen and the New Media Self

The title page of the Richard Bentley edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the first illustrated edition.

"Though they had now been acquainted a month, she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character." Persuasion, Chapter 17

The exposition of character has always been central in Jane Austen's novels. But how do we reveal our character in the age of new media?

Courtesy of Pemberley Digital we have an interesting TEDx talk that addresses this question (hat tip to Sharon Cassidy for finding this). The speaker is Julie Salmon Kelleher, a critical and creative writer who asks how new forms of media will shape how we perceive ourselves and how we will relate to others.

To answer this question, she uses Pride and Prejudice and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, a written novel. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a series of video blogs presented on the Pemberley Digital website and onYouTube. Both tell essentially the same story of the struggle to comprehend human character.

Ms. Kelleher points out that the development of the printed word allowed the inclusion of much more individual detail than could be supplied in oral storytelling. Jane Austen took advantage of this to supply a highly detailed look into the thoughts of her characters. Her mechanism for doing this was free indirect discourse. If you have ever spent a sleepless night wondering what free indirect discourse is all about, then this video may be the answer, as Ms. Kelleher presents a succinct and clear explanation. In free indirect discourse we hear the thoughts of the character as they are occurring, narrated by a third person. Ms. Kelleher uses Elizabeth's reaction to Darcy's letter as an example.

"She perfectly remembered every thing that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself in their first evening at Mr. Philips's. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory. She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward as he had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct. She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear of seeing Mr. Darcy -- that Mr. Darcy might leave the country, but that he should stand his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball the very next week. She remembered also, that till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had told his story to no one but herself; but that after their removal, it had been every where discussed; that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking Mr. Darcy's character, though he had assured her that respect for the father would always prevent his exposing the son." Pride and Prejudice, Volume 2, Chapter 13.

To modern readers this does not appear as especially surprising or novel, but, as the speaker points out, such intimate thoughts were generally not presented in early novels. Access to a character's inner thoughts had to be obtained through diaries or letters. So, Jane Austen adopted and perfected a new technique to bring us into closer contact with her characters.

In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lizzie also receives a letter. In this modern adaptation the letter becomes an artifact from the past. It is "hand written...with a wax seal...in cursive". Lizzie is as suspicious of the letter as Elizabeth had been, but on reading it her reaction is to turn off the camera, thereby preserving the trust Darcy had placed in her. Elizabeth's private thoughts are immediately exposed to us in Pride and Prejudice but must be hidden in the online world of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Ms. Kelleher concludes that readers have loved Pride and Prejudice for two hundred years because it is a beautiful story of an individual wrestling with herself and her prejudices and winning. That this was made possible by the development of the written story does not mean that we should leave it behind as we enter an age of new media. Instead, we may need to learn to maintain those individual characteristics as we present ourselves to a wider world.

The video is only about 15 minutes long and well worth a view.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Is It White Soup Yet?

White soup at the Hosmer Inn
(All photos courtesy of Lisa Brown)

“…as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” 
Pride and Prejudice chapter 11

All Janeites are familiar with white soup, but it isn’t often that one has the opportunity to try white soup at a Regency dinner. Recently several of us from the Central and Western NY region had just that opportunity at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. The dinner was held at the Hosmer Inn which was originally built in 1818 near Avon NY and served customers traveling on the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike. It now serves traditional dinners at the Genesee Country Village and Museum.

We arrived at 6 for dinner and were greeted by Mrs. Hosmer. 

Mrs. Hosmer at the door to the inn

After the entire party was gathered, Mrs. Hosmer gave us tour of the house. Upstairs we found a delightful ballroom occupying the front of the inn. Since several of us are avid fans of English Country Dance and members of the Meryton Assembly Dancers, we decided that dinner had to be accompanied by a ball. We applied to Mrs. Hosmer and she very graciously agreed to let us perform a demonstration of dance for the other guests in between courses.

The Inn has two dining rooms.

We chose the room set for eight which fit our party perfectly.

We began, of course, with white soup (above) and bath buns. There were many delicious dishes. Among my favorites were the following.

Cornish Game Hen and Torta of Herbs (also called quiche, vaguely French sounding)


Wine roasted gammon carved with military precision.

We also enjoyed our salad. 

Salmagundi with colored eggs and edible flowers.

Between courses we retired to the upstairs ballroom where the Meryton Assembly Dance representatives performed Kelsterne Garden for the entire party. A link to a short video showing the dance can be found here .

Following our short ball we went for a tour of several houses at GCVM, including the opera house, which could also serve as a ballroom and which provided some beautiful sunset views.

After the tour, we returned to the Hosmer Inn for dessert and spruce beer.

"But all this," as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, "is flight and fancy, and nonsense, for my master has his great casks to mind and I have my little children." It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again; but my meaning really is, that I am extremely foolish in writing all this unnecessary stuff when I have so many matters to write about that my paper will hardly hold it all. Little matters they are, to be sure, but highly important. Jane Austen Dec. 1808, in Jane Austen's Letters, Deirdre Le Faye p.162

Following dessert and some fine conversation, we departed into the evening, delighted with our experience.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Meryton Assembly Dancers Dance

"Come, Darcy", said he, "I must have you dance"

Mr. Darcy refused to dance at the Meryton Assembly, but the Meryton Assembly Dancers can't stop dancing. As we reported earlier the Meryton Assembly Dancers recently had the opportunity to dance with the Cordancia Chamber Orchestra at the Cordancia Dances concert. 

Rarely do we have the chance to dance to a full orchestra and this occasion was glorious. The music was superb and the dancing elegant and graceful. But you can judge for yourself since there is video available.

Here the Meryton Assembly Dancers perform The Duke of Kent Waltz (1801).

And here we dance Mr. Beveridge's Maggot (originally published in Playford's 1695, well before Jane's time, but forever linked to Pride and Prejudice by the BBC production).

Or view the entire performance, including the procession done to Mr. Isaac's Maggot.

If you like what you see, please consider joining the Country Dancers of Rochester at their regular Sunday evening English Country Dance gatherings.

When: First four Sundays of each month, 6:30 - 9:30 with a break for delicious refreshments
Where: First Baptist Church, 175 Allens Creek Road, Rochester NY 14618
Dress: Comfortable everyday clothes
Website: www.cdrochester.org

Just can't resist adding one more video from one of their Jane Austen Balls. 2016 will mark the tenth anniversary of this event. Join in on Sundays and dance like Jane Austen.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

War and Peace at Genesee Country Village

War and peace at Genesee Country Village War of 1812, Jane Austen Weekend
(All photos courtesy of Lisa Brown)

Come and sample life in the earth nineteenth century as Genesee Country Village and Museum presents its War of 1812, Jane Austen Weekend. Soldiers from the war will populate the village and re-enact scenes from America's second war with Britain.

Along with the re-enactments you will have the opportunity to delve into life in Jane Austen's time period. Music, dance, costumes, and Regency vendors will all be present. On both Saturday and Sunday you can watch the Meryton Assembly Dancers perform period dances. Visitors will have the chance to join in and dance as Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennet would have danced.

Along with the activities there are all the beautiful homes from various time periods that can be seen at GCVM.

Livingston Backus House built 1827-1838

George Eastman's Boyhood Home 1840

Come and enjoy a weekend in the past and don't forget to bring a sturdy pair of shoes for dancing.