‘Laughter, light, and beauty’; still thinking of Jane

vintage painting

William Henry Margetson (1861-1940)

Are you coming?

In anticipation of the ‘Invitation to Mansfield Park‘ celebration happening at the blog hosted by writer Sarah Emsley, and as I wrote about here and here; it seemed a good time to refresh my library of Jane Austen choices. If you could see my library, you would probably ask the same question my husband regularly asks: “Do I really need more books?”

This is not actually my library but more how my husband envisions it.

This is not actually my library but more how my husband envisions it.

Apparently so….I am ever so grateful to Vic of Jane Austen’s World for her lovely article describing the new Harvard University Press editions of Jane Austen’s works. While waiting anxiously for the Mansfield Park edition to be released, I did give myself a running start on eventually acquiring the complete collection.

Here you see Emma….these books are beautifully done, and well worth the modest cost.

The beautiful annotated edition from Harvard University Press

I can’t wait to sit at the fireside with old Mr. Woodhouse and go strawberry picking with Mrs. ‘E’ and her caro sposa in these lovely pages.

While waiting for the Harvard UP edition of Mansfield Park, one can read the brilliant article on other, older editions and the publishing history here. Deb at Jane Austen In Vermont hosts a wonderful blog on all topics related to Jane Austen, even spin-offs and adaptations, such as here:

A spin-off from the novel Mansfield Park

Another blog I’ve been enjoying recently is the Mansfield Park blog dedicated exclusively to the Austen novel of the same name. Recent posts have featured some exquisite examples of dialogue from favorite characters of the novel, including this gem from the selfish Mrs. Norris:

‘Mrs. Norris … consoled herself for the loss of her husband by considering that she could do very well without him.’ 

One of the things we love about Jane is her ability to sum up the essence of personality in a neat, concise statement. This quality is praised by Frank Swinnerton, in his review of her work:

‘But not alone are these novels memorable as works of art, as Henry James defined such things to be. They have other and more endearing characteristics which we should do ill to neglect. They have that beautiful whimsical irony which relates the author to Cervantes and to Shakespeare, and which makes “Don Quixote” and the Shakespearean comedies still so freshly charming—that detached and loving nonsense that gives them intimacy, and allow us to see deeper into the author’s heart than any other quality has ever done.

Her books, from “Northanger Abbey” to “Persuasion”, are full of friends, whom we judge as friends—some of whom, perhaps, as Mrs. Norris, or Mary Musgrove, or Mr. Woodhouse, we are inclined to judge as relatives—and the wiser we grow in the estimation of character the more we find that Jane Austen knew about character, so that she could actually, without caricature, present it as idiosyncrasy.

Like her own Nurse Rooke, “she is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman. Hers is a line for seeing human nature”; but she was also like her own charming Elizabeth, who said: “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”

That laughter is what brings light and beauty into the novels, and what makes them so agreeable at this time. Her books seem as natural as our own happy memories, as dry and convinced as our own private judgments, and as wise as oracles and unpretentious as simplicity itself. ‘

Well said, Mr. Swinnerton…even back in 1920 the reading public was sorely in need of ‘laughter, light, and beauty‘ …and it continues to be the reason why we love Jane Austen’s novels in 2014.

So…are you coming to Mansfield Park?

Soft Music of Shining Water

‘When wet it is like a nest of exquisite brocade,

Fragments of clouds on rich coifs of fairy hair.’

Sung Ch’i, Sung Dynasty

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There is beautiful gem in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. In a city that is known for being green, clean, and stylishly caffeinated, it should come as no surprise that there is a jewel of a green space enclosure right in the center of downtown. Tea is also served, exquisitely. (This may be the only city block in Portland where you cannot get a cup of coffee.)

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There are many portals for viewing provided; some you walk through, some you waft through.

The garden is Lan Su. Called ‘the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China’, it is worth every penny of the admission. An entire city block has been made into a walled enclosure, a secret retreat from normal space and time.

Famous plant collector, E.H. Wilson once referred to China as the “Mother of All Gardens.” (Note: In my post ‘Heart of a Gardener’, I wrote about famed British gardener Ellen Willmott, who sponsored E.H. Wilson on several expeditions China for plant exploration. Many of his discoveries he named for Ellen Willmott.)

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a Camellia from the curated collection

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The teahouse is in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, the two story building in the background

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Portland is also home to the justly famous Japanese Gardens, up in the west hills. Comparisons are inevitable, but certainly not necessary. Both gardens are tranquil and nourishing to the harassed heart. My one comment on style difference is only because I am such an enthusiast for any type of filigree, particularly that which is used in architecture. I noticed that the Chinese Garden has an abundance of gorgeous wood-carved filigrees and screens, as well as plaster filigrees.

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Many of the wood filigrees are carved from gingko

Really, really lovely. I found myself taking more pictures of the architecture in Lan Su garden than the plantings. Which I intend to go back and remedy, because, as the Lan Su website brings out…

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“Lan Su is home to more than fifty specimen trees, many rare and unusual shrubs and perennials, and curated collections of Magnolia, Peony, Camellia, Rhododendron, Osmanthus and bamboo.”

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There is poetry here at every step. Even the garden’s name—Lan Su— can also be interpreted poetically as ‘Garden of Awakening Orchids’.

‘In the deep forest it stands silent, guarding its chastity,
Trusting the light breezes to scatter its fragrance far and wide.
It does not refuse to bloom beside my mossy steps;
When plucked, it does not hanker for a vase of gold.
Singly superior, it may serve as company to a book of odes…’
(Liu K’ o-chuang, Sung Dynasty, Fragrance from a Chinese Garden)

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An unusual evergreen shrub (a type of juniper?) where the soft spring growing tips look like blossoms

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Walkways are of pebble mosaics, painstakingly placed, and made of softly rounded stones, so as to feel kindly therapeutic to bare feet

Besides tranquillity, fragrance, and the soft music of shining water, there is history. Where else can you stand in the figurative shadows of master curators who tend 1,000 year old camellias to guard their loveliness for future generations? Or master poets with their ‘books of odes’ in praise of peonies—‘the King of Flowers’—

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‘Embroidered curtains embrace the king of flowers,
Its gorgeous hues challenge the beauty of sunshine.
All its branches take color from the sun.
Every petal is filled with heavenly fragrance…’
Sui Shih, Ming Dynasty

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Occasionally, instead of reading the gardening and nature notes of others from two hundred years ago, I create a few notes of my own. Perhaps I was inspired by the fact that I was in a garden that took me back through centuries of gracious time. A place where beauty, eternity, and peace are not at all a far-fetched concept.

 

Virile Strokes of Ink

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‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’
Michelangelo

You’ve heard of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. You know who George Eliot really was. Likely you know about Shirley.

Do you know Charles Egbert Craddock?

‘ON March 4, 1885, the Boston Evening Transcript printed the following paragraph : “Last evening Dr. Holmes and Mr. Howells received a genuine surprise at the hands of the editor of the Atlantic. Mr. Aldrich invited these gentlemen to dine with him, to meet Charles Egbert Craddock, the author of ‘In the Tennessee Mountains,’ ….and the remarkable novel now publishing in the AtlanticThe Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains’. The surprise lay in the fact that Charles Egbert Craddock is a pseudonym which for the past six years has veiled the identity of a very brilliant woman…’

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Mary Noailles Murfree was the ‘very brilliant woman’ to whom they refer. Charles Egbert Craddock was the unlikely nom de plume of this petite young writer, who happened to enjoy writing gritty, masculine depictions of life in the Tennessee mountains. Though delicate in health, slightly crippled, her physical writing style was with a bold hand, using such virile strokes of ink that it was conjectured she went through a bottle of ink per page.

Hardly the usual mode for the cultivated lady novelist of the late nineteenth century.

Or was it? As I’m reading through the sometimes numbing dialogue of the rugged Tennessee mountaineer that Miss Mary Murfree has rendered so abundantly, I’m reminded of other such moments of difficulty; yet these are books I loved:
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Mary Barton; and That Lass O’Lowrie’s, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I could also mention Huckleberry Finn as having taxed my love for local dialect, but then Mark Twain might take it amiss if I included him in a discussion of ‘feminine authors’. (Huckleberry Finn was published the same year as Murfree’s In the Tennessee Mountains.)

Likely, Elizabeth Gaskell influenced younger writers such as Murfree and Burnett. In choosing to write of a rugged, dirty city setting rather than the pastoral countryside, and chronicling ordinary lives rather than romantic heroes and maidens, Gaskell expressed her motivations this way, in her prologue to Mary Barton:

‘Living in Manchester, but with a deep relish and fond admiration for the country, my first thought was to find a framework for my story in some rural scene….when I bethought me how deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided. I had always felt a deep sympathy with the care worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives…’

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Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in Manchester, England—the setting for Gaskell’s stories of working class characters. Burnett later moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1865, bringing her memories of the sights and sounds–as well as the pungent speech–of the English north country with her. Where she settled, and wrote her first novel of the Lancashire miners, was, by curious coincidence, not far from where Mary N. Murfree was writing her first stories of the rugged Tennessee mountain people.

That Lass O’ Lowrie’s won Burnett good reviews and a fan following. This novel would be a strange prelude to her later works The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, but Burnett was praised for her deft handling of the difficulties of a Lancashire dialect and sympathetic but not sentimental depiction of the care worn Lancashire miners.

What of Mary Noailles Murfree, with her ‘hard-headed and pure-hearted’ mountaineers? Did her characterizations fare as well in the backward glance through time? Did she receive any credit for ‘sympathetic but not sentimental’ depictions?

As with any writer of antiquity, Murfree arrives to our modern and ‘all-knowing’ age with a full complement of both adherents and detractors of her work. One complaint leveled at her work is that she glorified the landscape while trivializing its inhabitants as ignorant and uncouth.

The lyric scenes of mountain beauty are described as a lover might speak of his beloved, then, for many, once the characters open their mouths it breaks the spell.

Later writers and defenders of Appalachian life would complain that Murfree’s use of dialect was not authentic, and too ‘dense’.

‘For a northern audience unfamiliar with the actual dialect, Murfree’s technique may have contributed to a mistaken impression that her representation of speech was more realistic than it actually was. In any given passage of dialogue, Murfree used two or three times as many nonstandard features as writers who portrayed other regional dialects such as James Whitcomb Riley, Hamlin Garland, or Sarah Orne Jewett. Murfree used four to five times as many nonstandard features as Mark Twain did in Huckleberry Finn, published the same year as In the Tennessee Mountains.’

(Encyclopedia of Appalachia—Appalachian English in Literature)

Murfree had a keen, observant mind and a musician’s ear for capturing the unique patois of her mountain neighbors. There is a euphonious quality to their speech that is strangely haunting; she even describes it as ‘a slow, singing monotone’. It is a lyrical beauty that pairs well with her descriptions of ‘the vaporous shimmer of the distant mountain summits’ and ‘the sea of shining white mists in the valley’.

In this telling passage from her short story, The Star in the Valley, Chevis, in spite of himself, continues to find himself drawn to the lovely mountain girl, Clarie.

’Truly the ethereal woodland flower seemed strangely incongruous with the brutal and uncouth conditions of her life, as she stood at a little distance from this group, spinning at her wheel. Chevis felt a sudden sharp pang of pity for her when he glanced toward her; the next instant he had forgotten it in his interest in her work…’

This would seem to echo the sentiments of Elizabeth Gaskell, quoted earlier, who ‘felt a deep sympathy with the care worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives.’

Murfree does not flatter the Tennessee mountaineer by any means, but neither does she despise them. She describes them—as a class, or culture—as being ‘scrupulously clean’, honest, noble, and unfailingly hospitable. This is often in contrast with the city born outsider, who is cast in the role as the ‘superior [read: small-minded] observer’, to the quaint ways of the mountaineers. There are many instances throughout Murfree’s writing where it appears she is questioning her own ‘lofty’ viewpoint of culture and education. Thus, again in the words of her character Chevis, we sense her conflict:

‘Chevis flattered himself that he entertained a broader view. He had not even a subacute idea that he looked upon these people and their inner life only as picturesque bits of the mental and moral landscape; that it was an aesthetic and theoretical pleasure their contemplation afforded him; that he was as far as ever from the basis of common humanity.

And this curious comment from Murfree in The Romance of Sunrise Rock:

‘In this day of over-education, when every man is fitted for any noble sphere of intellectual achievement and only inborn talent survives, might it not be that he had mistaken a cultivated aspiration for latent power?…There is something so ludicrously contemptible in a great personal ambition and a puny capacity. Ambition is the only grand passion that does not ennoble. We do not care that a low thing should lift its eyes. And if it does, we laugh.’

Mary Noailles Murfrees admired this ‘latent power’ in the Tennessee mountaineer. Perhaps she, like Michelangelo, saw the angel in the marble.

The Charles Egbert Craddock stories endure, even if no one actually reads them today except as a social document. I cannot read them as a critic might. I find them fascinating, even poignant at times, because some of my ‘people’, shall we say, inhabited the land around Murfreesboro, and lived at the base of those very same mountains Murfree wrote of. I grew up on the West coast, but thanks to my grandparents, I heard a slow, deliberate, graceful pattern of speech that came from a similar world to the one immortalized in Murfree’s books. (My grandfather was born in Tennessee in 1872)

My wise and witty grandma Josie had many colorful expressions; it wasn’t until I read Murfree’s works that I actually saw them in print. This was strangely moving to me, to see my grandma’s odd little homey expressions in the pages of a book; spoken by a lithe,’slip o’ willow’ girl with large, dreamy eyes, all ‘wild and gentle’.

Little wonder then, when reading passages such as the following that I felt a sense of kinship, not only with the writer, but with the people she wrote about.

‘When Evander was half-way up the steep slope, he turned and looked down at the
embowered little house, that itself turned its face upward, looking as it were to the mountain’s summit. How it nestled there in the gorge! He had seen it often and often before, but whenever he thought of it afterward it was as it appeared to him now: the darkling valley below it, the mountains behind it, the sunset sky still flaring above it, though stars had blossomed out here and there, and the sweet June night seemed full of their fragrance. He could distinguish for a good while the gate, the rickety fence, the path beneath the trees. The vista ended in the open door, with the broad flare of the fire illumining the puncheon floor and the group of boisterous tow-headed children; in the midst was the girl, with her bright hair and light figure, with her round arms bare, and her deft hand stirring the batter for bread in a wooden bowl. She looked the very genius of home, and so he long remembered her.’

‘The vista ended in the open door’….and we long to enter. Here Murfree merges landscape, cabin, and inhabitants into one lyrical passage, into one moment in time; inviting us in to share the beauty of the ‘darkling valley, the sweet June night, and the girl with the bright hair’.

It is a beautiful piece of writing that resonates, in a particular way, with my own heart and heritage. Perhaps I shouldn’t try for eloquence but I can certainly tell you what my grandma would have said:

“It ‘peart me up quite considerable”.

Believe, Do, Repeat

quote-the-true-measure-of-a-man-is-how-he-treats-someone-who-can-do-him-absolutely-no-good-samuel-johnson-96044http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/daily-prompt-repetition/

Daily Blog, Groundhog Day ‘What day would you choose to repeat until you got it right? Do you think it’s ever possible to get life “right”? Photographers, artists, poets: show us REPETITION.’

The movie ‘Groundhog Day’ depicted the need for change in character. It was not so much in getting the day right, but in getting ‘the person inside’ right.

The character Bill Murray portrayed in the movie started out as a selfish, arrogant, crass individual; a thoroughly unlovable person. By the end of the movie he had changed into a thoughtful, articulate, caring, talented, warm and generous human being with many friends, and the girl of his dreams.

fantasy….

I did love this movie. I loved the idea that the writers of Groundhog Day took such a person and ran him through the mill, so to speak, until he changed to a better man. One who changed not just because he wanted to score with chicks, learn secrets to win unfair advantages from unsuspecting people, but one who changed for all the right reasons.

If I could change anything in my own life, it would not be just a day but a large chunk of my own adolescence. I wish I could go back and relive my teen years as a more thoughtful, caring, warm and generous human being.

I would be nicer to Ned Ryerson, for one thing.

fantasy…

The real change that counts, is in character. It is trying to live each day in such a way that we won’t look back with regrets. Be a little kinder, help another person carry a load, share a smile. Love someone unselfishly.

fantasy, you say?

It doesn’t have to be.

And Then It Happened!

A lovely charcoal drawing by Dawn Dale for the second edition of 'A Garden for Allegra'

A lovely charcoal drawing by Dawn Dale for the second edition of ‘A Garden for Allegra’

The title of this entry reflects two things:

1. So much has been happening
2. I can’t seem to write sensibly about any of it

It was in the third grade, with the pleasantly disinterested Mrs. ‘L’ at the helm, (all Kim Novak Vertigo hair and stale cigarette breath but a nice teacher) and I was a fledgling writer with a classroom of bored math students as a captive audience, when I first discovered the magic of that phrase: ‘And then it happened!’

I loved writing it in to my little stories, and it was fun to read aloud to a circle of wide-eyed classmates. It was a phrase highly suggestive of excitement, yet, now that I think about it, boys and girls, delivered more fizzle than sizzle. I didn’t know yet about ‘show, don’t tell’; I was just having too much fun writing stories. It seems I could never write the action down as spellbindingly as it existed in my mind.

Adventure stories were not my calling…..

A great deal of change has happened. But ‘here we are’, as the British like to say in classic understatement. What matters, in terms of this blog, and why you may be reading it, is that Allegra and Molly, with their two very different stories, are unchanged. They are still available on amazon.com (here!), and they are still attracting a modestly sized audience of enthusiastic readers.

Thank you, readers!
Is there a third book in the series in the works? Well, yes and no. But more on that later. ‘And Then It Happened’ isn’t quite happening.

Yet.

By the by, one of my all time favorite movies is ‘Stranger Than Fiction’. Do you love it?? I do. Brilliantly written by Zach Helm, brilliantly acted by Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Will Ferrell…the reason I bring this up is the use of the iconic phrase in literature ‘little did he know’. This is wonderfully referenced in the movie:

Dr. Jules Hilbert: I’ve written papers on “Little did he know.” I’ve taught classes on “Little did he know.” I once gave an entire seminar based upon “Little did he know.”

Dr. Jules Hilbert: Little did he know. That means there’s something he doesn’t know, which means there’s something you don’t know, did you know that?
Harold Crick: I may already be dead, just not typed.

I’m typing myself back in to the story.