Thursday, December 3, 2009

overeverything; or, the side effects of reading Jane Austen (both dangerous and otherwise)

Now that I am fully engaged in re-reading Jane Austen, I am finding myself altered. The way that I speak, the way I see the world, the tenor of my cravings and desires: all are changed.

My sentences--spoken and written--are elongated and extended, they are longer and lusher; my words are enveloped in a slow languishing diction that rolls off my toungue like honey or molasses rather than my usual deluge pantingly spat out as quickly as linguistically possible. I choose words that are longer and more full: approbation, midsummer, unconcern, supplication. And, of course, everything is overthis-or-overthat. No, I do not mean that I am suffering from an onset of ennui or apathy. I am not as kids say "over it"  in the sense that I am over everything in that I no longer care; no, instead, I am overtired, overhungry, overexcited...overeverything. The five mile drive from my home to the college is no longer "too far," it is, "overfar."  The muffins I baked this morning are not "too moist," they are, "overmoist."  I cannot point to exact Austen phrases that encourages this linguistic shift, but, I do know that is an occaision which always coincides with reading of Austen. And really, while I do not mind this alteration in vocabulary, it must be noted that my students are not overjoyed.

Another, side effect is that I also find myself craving tea and scones; well, technically speaking I crave any and all hot drinks and baked goods really. As a woman who is constantly trying to eat healthier, the plus side to these particular Austenesque cravings is that I want to dress up in long white muslin empire waisted gowns and walk 2 miles to my neighbor's house to imbibe said tea and scones. The downside is that often these indulgences come sans said lush 2 mile walk and thus result in only a plus backside. I do have a walking trail near my house, but there is something delicious about the idea of the lush, green, grassy knolls in Austen books and films that I can't find anywhere near me. American gardens and lawns are considered to be impeccable only when trimmed neatly down to their nubs. Many more English gardens, especially those in the country, tend to be wilder, verdant, with grass grown long enough beneath your feet that it seems to undulate with your movements. Ah, the differences between what we want and what we settle for, now, that is something Austen knows very well.

But for me, there is a danger that goes beyond words and walks. While, the formality of Austen makes her seem quite safe, for a single woman in want of a life she can disrupt even the most steadfast. Her books are rife with calling cards, social visits, matchmaking, promises, and romance; even in the most satisfied of hearts this much society and romantic intrigue can stir longing for a passionate, if very polite, intrigue. Oh, damn you Jane Austen for making me crave the dangers of love again, after working so hard on recovering from my last  foray...Hmm, maybe I'll just settle for a very long walk and some very hot tea.

I am only on Sense and Sensibilty and there are many more Austen novels to go, so I'll read. I'll say my silly Austen words. I'll drink coffee and eat a muffin. I'll walk on the paved river trail next to a carefully manicured lawn while trying to think of ways to use approbation and disapprobation in a sentence. And, for now, that will have to be enough. For now.


  1. I understand the trasformation Austen causes on vocabulary, and even thinking. Do you find yourself gazing out windows and "pondering" things more often when reading Austen? A similar thing also happens to me when I read Louisa May Alcott.

    As for the other "side effects" of reading Austen, I have recently begun to worry about the opposite. Due to changes in my life, I decided to change what I want in life. I gave up the idea of (romantic) love. Very recently, though, I have wondered/worried if this is necessarily a good thing. I always wanted love and felt that it would always play a large part in my life, and since I have given up this view (I do have a number of reasons for this, many which others don't understand or agree with, but what can you do), I now wonder if this is settling, or if it's me realizing that my priorities and needs need to change...

  2. I give up on Romantic love all the time. Then I fall for somebody, then--at least so far--it doesn't work out, and then I give up on it again.

    One of my favorite things about Austen books is that everyone wants so desparately to be married, but everyone who IS married is miserable. It something to keep track of as I re-read, but I think there is like one example of happy marriage, not a happy match, I mean the ones that are already married when the book begins in all of Austen. I think there is one in Persuasion, and it's a sailor and his wife. And that's it. Now, that says something.

  3. Hmmm. I've watched Austen-based movies more recently than I have read the actual books, but I think you may be onto something. (I did read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a few weeks ago, if that counts for something. Ha.) I'm thinking primarily of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and also Mr. Collins and.... I'm thinking it's Charlotte, but I could be wrong here. Those are both terrible matches, but as the novel points out, marriage only works when, unlike the marriages we already see, the match is not for economic gain but for fulfillment. This gives an optimistic spin on the marriages we see at the end of the novel...

  4. And really, while I do not mind this alteration in vocabulary, it must be noted that my students are not overjoyed.


    As for happy marriages... it seems that Mrs. Dashwood and the late Mr. Dashwood were happy--of course, when the novel starts, he's dead and she's miserable, whatever we want to take from that. (Mrs. Jennings also seems to remember her husband (or at least his illnesses) fondly, but it is impossible to say how much of that is based on rose-colored nostalgia glasses. So, couples in which one spouse is dead seem to get along rather well in Austen. Depressing.)

    gunma-gal: But. Marianne. (since we are on Sense and Sensibility...)

    And maybe that's what will make the way things turned out for Marianne interesting to me; it's been difficult to get over the way she's almost literally awarded to Colonel Brandon. But their marriage doesn't fit the "fulfillment" paradigm, at least not on her side, and yet it is presented as successful in the closing lines of the novel. It makes me uneasy and doesn't seem to fit in. I don't quite know what to make of it.

    (Also, is it just me, or does Brandon come off as kind of condescending and unpleasant when he is talking about Eliza? Elinor doesn't seem to mind.)

    (Also also, you are correct, it is Charlotte.)