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Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Concerns of a Crazy Janeite, from author Alexa Adams

"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always contrive to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life."

Having just celebrated my sixth anniversary, I think I am finally developing some sympathy with Charlotte Lucas' perspective. For despite having dated my husband for six years prior to marriage, I now realize that he was sadly deceived in me. Neither of us could predict at the time we wed the mania that would so soon overtake my life: that marriage to me would mean constant subordination of all interests to one, solitary, all-consuming obsession. Yet here we are, and this is our life together - James, Jane, and me. The problem is that the riot is all in my own brain, while he gets to stand by, quite in the manner of a Mr. Tilney or Mr. Bennet, and be amused by my antics. Fortunately, we enjoy an abundance of happiness and are almost never vexed with each other, now. But as Emma so astutely says, "What is passable in youth is detestable in later age," and as each progressing day finds me more and more a crazy Janeite, I cannot help but fear for our future. 

You see, while some people find religion, I found Jane Austen. She was always there, as I have been reading her novels since my very early teens, but it wasn't until I went to college that her role in my life began to explode. I remember when it started - we were reading Persuasion in a Romantic Literature class, and as I walked across my college campus I began to envision Anne Elliot beside me. Yes, I have a very active imagination, but it was not as if I thought she was really there, and her observations on our modern world were so very highly entertaining that the daydream became a favorite, growing with time. I began to think of Lizzy next to me in the car and hear her comments on the scantily clad tweens loitering on the corner, or Emma's advice on hosting a dinner party while I was at the grocery store, weighing the merits of asparagus versus zucchini. Such fanciful imaginings abated a bit after I graduated, but freed for the first time in years to read whatever I wanted, I began to read Austen, and almost only Austen, all the time. Though Anne might admonish me for indulging too much in one subject, though prose be safer than poetry, I simply could not help myself.

Let's put this in context. I graduated college in August 2001 and thanked my lucky stars I found a job, if a mediocre one, before September 11th, when the economy that had been flourishing throughout my entire college career imploded. Life was scary, the future uncertain, and Jane brought me comfort. This was the time when I learned to fully appreciate the escape Austen provides. I felt safe on the streets of Highbury or Meryton, where no greater danger lurks than mischievous children and idle soldiers. Simultaneously, I began spending less time envisioning conversations with Austen's heroines, focusing instead on the lessons to be derived from those precious books, allowing them to make me a better person. Austen became, for me, far more than an escape from reality: she became my shepherd, and never since have I been in want.

Have you ever read Wilkie Collins' magnificent book The Moonstone? Though the narrative of the story has absolutely no relevance to this conversation, I think one character from it does. His name is Gabriel Betteredge, a loyal House-Steward, and he has a very special relationship with Robinson Crusoe, written by yet another, seemingly irrelevant author. For Betteredge, Robinson Crusoe is his bible: it is the only book he reads, he looks to it for guidance in times of trouble, and it provides him solace. He says:
I applied the remedy which I have never yet found to fail me in cases of doubt and emergency. I smoked a pipe and took a turn at Robinson Crusoe. Before I had occupied myself with that extraordinary book five minutes, I came on a comforting bit (page one hundred and fifty-eight), as follows: "To-day we love, what to-morrow we hate." I saw my way clear directly.

Like Betteredge, I have a literary guide on whom I depend when in need of direction, the way others rely on religious texts. When in doubt I turn to six, fairly slim volumes, penned 170 years before my birth. In them I find morality, permission to laugh at myself, and inspiration to become a better person. His affinity for Robinson Crusoe is the only parallel I can find for my own treatment of Austen. Both Betteredge and I would be entirely lost without our literary pilots. Robinson Crusoe defines who he is, just like Jane Austen has made me who I am: the person my husband loves, in spite of myself.

My faults are many, but I have been fortunate enough to have chosen several poorly, rendering them easy to laugh at. I am terribly vain, but when I find myself checking my appearance in a mirror too often, I think of Sir Walter and remember to turn away. I am also extremely talkative (once I overcome an initial shyness), but Miss Bates reminds me to confine myself to only "three things, very dull indeed" before shutting my trap. Other faults are more complex. I have a terrible propensity to stick my foot in my mouth, like Emma, for which there is no cure but to feel sorry and make amends, vowing to act with greater discretion in the future. I also think I know what is best for others, having been known to try and impose my superior understanding on them, abominably like Lady Catherine. The kicker there is that I am so often proved correct, I feel justified in my interference. Can you hear the pride and vanity creeping in to this confession? Well I know that even when there is real superiority of mind (see Jane smirk?), pride is not always under good regulation. Who better than Austen to teach me to mind my failings? At least I've chosen my compulsions well.

But where will all this end? Will I one day find a new obsession and leave Austen behind? Can Betteredge put aside Robinson Crusoe, never to pursue its lines again? I don't think so. Life without Jane is unimaginable. No, my husband surely had no notion what he was getting into when he slid that ring on my finger - could not know how Lydia and Lucy flashed through my mind, hanging their bedecked hands out of carriage windows for the locals to behold. I had not yet confessed that I think he has a look of Colin Firth about him, and as neither of us had ever even heard of JAFF or Georgette Heyer at that time, he could not know the hours I would make him spend reading both aloud to me. He has excellent delivery, especially for a member of our modern society, so little concerned with elocution as it is. Poor man! With such abilities, does he not deserve better than a raving Austen fan for a wife?

Now settling into to our beautiful new house, the first one truly ours, I am convinced we should paint Jane Austen quotes on our walls. Do you not feel for my long suffering husband? But then again, would not The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid look fine upon my library wall? 

~ Alexa


  1. Alexa, what a wonderful post! I absolutely loved reading it. I can relate to it way too much!

    Thank you :)

  2. Kals - it is the knowledge that I am not alone that keeps me from checking myself into an institution. Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. We Janeites rock! :) * Hugs *

  4. You have beautifully stated what Austen means in your life. I, too, started reading her before I was in high school in the early 1960s. Her writing took my breath away! Her characters, as well, are all too human, so different than the characters in the later gothic romances of the Brontes. Keep on with your obsession!

  5. It was wonderful to read what Jane Austen means to you, Alexa! We are both so lucky to have such obliging an understanding husbands, aren't we? I love the idea of that NA quote painted on your wall! Brilliant!

  6. Thank you for sharing what Jane Austen means to you, I love how you wrote it! I find I do quite a few of the same things myself. :)

  7. Hi Katherine, Meredith, and Julia! I am rather a lost cause, aren't I? But if one must be obsessed with something, crazy Janeites at least have the benefit of being in very good company. Excuse me, I mean the best, according to Mr. Elliot's definition.

  8. Alexa, I can sympathize. I didn't find Jane until 2 yrs ago and I can't stop reading and rereading. I'm just a little more obssessed. While I read almost all her works I have keyed on P&P. I believe I've read everything out there and some twice. (BTY loved your book) Wish there was more. Anyway my family is concerned and I think they may put me in counciling. I just don't know how I missed reading Jane all these years. She is truly incredible. BTY love derbyshire writers guild web site. So now my family knows when they can't find me I'm lost on your reads or on DWG reading. Anyway I thought you might want to know there are others like you. Charlene


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