Categories for Miscellaneous

August 19, 2015

Last night I dreamed I went to Pemberley again  

I know. I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Today I read that a film company is planning to turn Jane Austen’s life story into a romantic comedy.

And I know Wikipedia has her down as a writer of romantic novels, but oh dear, oh dear. They were really so much more than that.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane is the romantic one – Elizabeth is made of rather sterner stuff. Consider this exchange between them towards the end of the novel.

“And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy! do anything rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?”

Elizabeth replies

“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

I know very many of my friends will recoil from this in horror and say that Elizabeth really loves Darcy, and I’m not really suggesting that she didn’t – just that there’s a hint of truth in her sardonic response. She couldn’t persuade herself to marry a Mr Collins for the sake of his inheritance of her father’s estate, but she was more a realist than a romantic. So did Austen identify with Jane, or Elizabeth? I suspect it was an argument she was constantly having with herself, as it turns up in one form or another in many of the the novels.

Think of the fun Austen made of the gothic romance, in Northanger Abbey. Consider Emma’s matchmaking for Harriet Smith, and the relationship between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Then there’s the love story of Anne Elliott in my favourite Austen novel, Persuasion, who in her youth was talked out of marrying the man she loved – a poor young naval lieutenant. His ineligibility disappears when he returns from the Napoleonic wars a captain and a rich man.

For a lady in Jane Austen’s time there was very little that was funny about romance. They had little agency – there were very few ways they could survive on their own. Like Fanny Price they could be the poor relation, the companion. The useful sister – as Anne Elliott was before she was rescued by the return of a rich Captain Wentworth. Like Charlotte Lucas, perhaps it was necessary to marry someone simply because he could provide a home – even if he was unlikeable.

Of course the choices for women who weren’t ladies, even impoverished ones, were even less appealing. If you can bear an even more cold-hearted view of Elizabeth, then read the brilliant novel Longbourn by Jo Baker,  and Imagine what it must have been like to be a servant whose job it was to wash the petticoats of the young ladies who romantically trailed through muddy fields without a second thought.

Jane Austen herself chose another option, of course. Yes, she did everything that was required of a woman of her standing in the family. If you go to Chawton, where she lived, you can see her piano, and the music she transcribed herself. She did hand sewing – there’s a beautiful quilt. And you can also see the tiny, dodecagonal table on which she wrote.

So was this life the stuff of romantic comedy?

We do know she had one proposal of marriage – which she initially accepted and then rejected the following day. In a letter to her niece, Fanny, years later she said this “having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.”  Clearly that’s a reflection of the choice she made in her life – the opposite of the choice her novels mostly seem to advocate.

That’s romantic, in its own bleak way, that a woman with such a sharp and satirical eye allowed her own heart to rule – even though the choice was to endure poverty rather than marry a man she could not love.

After the death of her father, along with her mother and her sister, she was dependent on the charity of her brothers, whose own financial lives were something of a rollercoaster. She continued to play the part of a dutiful daughter and family woman, and she wrote her novels, right up to the end, even through her last, lingering illness.

In 1817, at the age of 41, Jane Austen died. There are various theories about the nature of her illness – Hodgkins Lymphoma, perhaps. Wikipedia suggests Brill Zimmer disease – a form of typhus exacerbated by stress and malnutrition.

So all I’m left with is this final question. How? How is it possible to turn Jane Austen’s life story into a romantic comedy? Am I missing something here? Doesn’t a comedy have to be, you know, funny? Doesn’t a romance have to be romantic? Other than in the sense of dying young of tuberculosis, or whatever.

There just isn’t enough snark in the world.


Souce – The Guardian, Jane Austen’s life to be turned into a big screen romantic comedy

Wikipedia – Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s House Museum

August 10, 2015

Run a mock  

Eggcorns, and other language mishaps.

An eggcorn is a misheard word – eggcorn itself being a mishearing of the word acorn.

I saw a new one float past me on Facebook today – a captured tweet from someone who had enjoyed a “seizure salad”.

I’ve always enjoyed the misheard lyrics – from “Gladly the cross eyed bear” in my childhood sunday school days, to the more adult collection from Peter Kay which you can watch on YouTube.

But there’s something just a little bit scarier about eggcorns – at least for someone like me, who is very unlikely to inflict my singing on anyone other than Felix, our resident stray cat. He’s a stern critic.

I’ve worried about making mistakes ever since I was embarassed at school for my inability to correctly pronounce a certain word. Fortunately there isn’t much call for me to discuss those people who live in monasteries. No, not abbots.  It’s always awkward the first time you say aloud a word you’ve only ever read. Like the first time I said “awry” for instance.

My tutor at Liverpool University, many years ago now, used to tell the story of his own embarrasment. He went to Oxford, and his tutor at the time was editor of the Dictionary, CT Onions. (No, this is not the origin of the phrase, “Know your onions.” I looked it up). So he was dining at head table and he said a word out loud which he had previously only read. I wish my memory was good enough to recall what the word was! But he blushed when CT Onions asked him to repeat the word so he could make a note of it. My tutor blushed and apologised for his error, and explained that he’d never heard anyone say the word. And Onions shushed him, and made him repeat it. He took a note to include in the dictionary, as he explained that his job was to record usage, not to prescribe it.

Now that would be something – to make a mistake worthy of being recorded.

In her Guardian column Mariella Frostrup once referred to someone’s “cachet of eggs”.  That’s more of a malapropism than an eggcorn – a wrong word rather than the transcription of a misheard one. To be entirely fair, it could have been a typo, considering the publication.

Someone argued on Facebook the other day that “people are now using their critical factories rather than just regurgitating what they were taught in school.”

I was horrified to read that some gamergaters were expressing dysentry against Anita Sarkeesian. I presume they meant dissent – but with gamergate adherents it’s impossible to be sure.

“Run a mock” has to be my all time favourite though.

Unless you have a better one?


Sources –

See one of  my favourite blogs,  Language Log for more about Eggcorns.
And check out The Eggcorn Database for more examples

August 9, 2015

Hope on the horizon  

It’s been a tough year so far. I’ve had a long flare up of the lupus and have hardly been able to do anything and go anywhere. But in the last week I was able to do a couple of longer walks, all the way up to the top of Telscombe Tye. This view over Saltdean to the Channel was my reward.

Our very foolish stray cat walked up with us – howling all the way and pleading for us to come back home. We tried to pretend he wasn’t with us, but it’s not very convincing when he only stops howling when we stop walking.

Felix was named for his resemblance to the one in the cat food advert, by the boy who used to feed him before he moved house. He’s lodged with us for a few years now, although he still has a circuit of other places where he goes to eat, and only in the last year or so has he deigned to purr, or show any affection. He very occasionally cuddles up to me now, although if I’m daft enough to look at him and catch his eye he gets embarrassed and pulls away.

So he followed us all the way up on to the Tye – the hilly ridge that runs perpendicular to the sea, separating Saltdean and Telscombe. He crossed roads after us, slunk behind us up the twitten, followed us up the concrete steps and through the gate. Howling all the way.

Then the disaster that he foretold struck – a bumptious black labrador ran down the hill towards us, un-noticed by his human companion. Felix fled – under the fence, down the steps, out fo sight. He was gone. The dog sat at our feet and accepted some fuss for chasing the noisy cat away.

Back home there was no sight of Felix for hours. I called him. Put down fresh water. Opened canned food. Eventually he came in and deigned to eat, but ignored me completely.

I hoped when we went out for our walk today we would not be accompanied by the howling and wailing of one demented cat.

Silly me.

He’s even more determined to protect us from the dangerous world out there now. He didn’t even stay on the safe side of the gate, where dogs are mostly restrained on leashes, and he can glare and hiss at them in safety. No, he followed us all the way along the path on the Tye, although he did stay close to the fence and was unusually quiet for that part of the walk.

It was wonderful to get up there and see that horizon after so long hobbling around the block.  Fingers and toes all crossed that I’m finally on the turn…


July 31, 2015

First Post  

“Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” So says Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice – and it’s pretty much the only thing I have in common with her.

She also says, “I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good.” For some reason I always forget that part.

So this is my new blog. I’m still playing around with the settings so it may all change, but I reckon the only way to learn is by doing.

Actually, I’ve just completed a Coursera MOOC – “Learning how to learn” – and apparently the best way to learn is to do, and do over. And if you find something difficult don’t just keep banging your head against it – get up and go for a walk. So that’s good to know.

I’m at the beginning stages of working on a new novel, so one thing I learned on the course was very enlightening. The theory goes, there are two main kinds of thinking – focused and diffuse. This illuminated something for me – I love editing and rewriting, but always have difficulty with the blank page – the first draft. My dominant mode of thinking is focused -logical, analytical, and directed. The first draft requires diffuse thinking – this is the mode where ideas crash into each other and become more than the sum of their parts. It’s like dreaming while awake.  This is much harder for me – perhaps for most people. But again it can be accessed by switching off the focused mind. Going for a walk is good – there’s something about rhythmic activity that works. I used to find it happened when I was weaving. Some people find playing music helps, or doing yoga or T’ai Chi.

Come to think of it, I think there was an interesting quotation on exactly this in my Open University Creative Writing course, which was what set me off writing novels in the first place.

Ah yes, here’s the relevant quotation from the reflective commentary on the assignment which eventually became the prologue of the first novel I actually completed.

Fay Weldon says that ‘there have to be two personalities in every writer’: A, who produces the first drafts, has to be ‘creative, impetuous, wilful, emotional, sloppy’; B, who works on them, has to be ‘argumentative, self-righteous, cautious, rational, effective’

Considering how easily impetuous, wilful and sloppy comes to me, it’s surprising that first draft is always so hard.

So now I’m off now for a walk.


Many thanks to Blogmistress Babs Saul for giving the kickstart I needed and getting me up and….crawling…  If you need help find her here – I cannot recommend her highly enough.