Monday, 1 August 2011

A Jane Austen Education



I was on my way to bed when I noticed the older girls’ bedroom light was still on. As I stood outside the door I could hear Imogen’s voice. It sounded like she was reading out loud. Pushing open the door I saw both girls sprawled on their beds. Charlotte was listening enthralled as Imogen read from the book Pride and Prejudice. Both sisters were obviously having a wonderful time so I crept away and left them to it.
This was Charlotte’s introduction to Jane Austen. When Pride and Prejudice was finished, Imogen moved onto Sense and Sensibility. Then Charlotte found the rest of the Jane Austen books on the bookshelf and read the others herself.
We went shopping for birthday presents for Charlotte last year. Imogen: “I think I’ll buy Charlotte her very own copy of Pride and Prejudice.” And when Charlotte received the gift, she was absolutely delighted.
Felicity, our eldest daughter also loved Jane Austen. We bought her the BBC mini-series for Christmas one year. She watched it a dozen times. Imogen and Charlotte were pleased to discover that the DVD collection had been left behind when Felicity left home. They have watched the series much more than a dozen times. Now Sophie is asking, “Am I old enough for Jane Austen?” Obviously there is something very good about Jane Austen otherwise why would her sisters spend so much time reading the books and watching the DVDs. She is well on her way to becoming a Jane Austen girl herself.
We often talk Jane Austen around the lunch table.
“I don’t think Charlotte Lucas should have married Mr Collins.”
“But she wasn’t very pretty. She didn’t have much choice. She wanted a secure position as a wife. That was very important in those days. Perhaps she didn’t think anyone else would marry her.”
“Do you think she was happy?”
“Perhaps she wasn’t looking for love and happiness.”
“I think she should have practiced the piano more. There were two things a man looked for in a wife: beauty and musical ability. A man wanted his wife to be able to entertain his guests. If Charlotte had been able to play the piano better, perhaps another man might have considered marrying her.”
“The funny thing is that once a woman had captured her husband, she usually gave up her music. She wouldn’t have been much good at entertaining the guests after all. And the men never worked this out!”
“Mary should have been able to attract a good husband as she was a good musician…. But she had an awful manner about her. Mary might have made a good wife for Mr Collins.”
We visited the library the other day, and amongst the towering pile of books the girls came home with was one called The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan. I didn’t see Imogen and Charlotte for a long time. Then…
“You’re teaching us the wrong language, Mum. All young ladies should learn French. Latin is a boy’s language.”
“In Jane Austen’s day, girls learnt to read and write and do basic mathematics (so they could keep the household accounts). A little bit of geography and history maybe. And lots of music and embroidery and dancing. They had to learn all the things that were thought necessary to attract a good husband.”
“We’re not doing too well on languages and we do too much maths but we're learning plenty of music. Yes, all that music’s good. Perhaps we need some more embroidery...”
“It depends whether you want to attract a husband…”
Charlotte grimaced. “No!” She’ll change her mind, one day. But I guess she won’t need a Jane Austen education for that.
My girls have read all the Jane Austen novels (unlike me, I’m ashamed to say) and know them inside out. They are always discussing the themes, looking for books about Jane Austen and her writings, watching DVD versions and comparing them… They really are Jane Austen girls. But they’ve never written even one essay on any of the books. Does it matter?
I think back to my own school days. I read Pride and Prejudice and failed to see its value. It was just a book assigned to be read and I read it. I probably wrote a typical essay: “Analyse how Jane Austen depicts Mr Bennet. Is he a positive or negative character?” I bet I was bored. I bet I didn’t write that essay out of interest.
What is the big fuss over essay writing? Isn’t it just a form of writing that follows a set procedure? Can’t anyone learn to write an essay by following the rules? And really, I think Imogen and Charlotte already know a lot about essays. They’ve been dipping into quite a few recently. They’ve come across essays in their quest to find out more about Jane Austen and her novels.
Yes, I'm sure essay writing isn't going to be a problem. But will they be able to find opinions to fill an essay?
I ask the girls what they think about Mr Bennet while we are eating lunch, and opinions come flying back backed up with examples. And so I don’t think I’ll worry about analysing novels the school way. I think I will just let the girls enjoy the books.


Please share Charlotte's post "Jane Austen Girls" at her blog Charlotte's Web.

And Imogen's post Books After Bedtime at her blog Dancing with Dragonflies 

Jane Austen resources:
The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan
Presenting Miss Jane Austen by May Lamberton Becker
Pride and Prejudice – the BBC mini-series
Pride and Prejudice – the movie
Sense and Sensibility – the movie

18 comments:

  1. Oh joy! Oh rapture!
    What a lovely post with which to begin a Monday...And I get to be the first to say:

    Sue, don't be ashamed - we are all wishing we had un-read Janes left to read! You are the envy of your friends and daughters :)

    So just a few quick points - I don't want to keep you here reading me when you could be reading...well, I'll get to that in a minute...(see #6 below)

    1. Dh is reading Pride and Prejudice on his ereader while we vacation. He just finished Little Women (also on the nook) which he had never read. He loved it. Now he is back to P and P for the ?th time. He laughs and smiles and occasionally I see him wipe his eyes. Oh what a book! Perhaps my favorite...

    2. except for Persuasion...(which we were listening to recently on tape, read by Anna Massey for Cover to Cover audio - all of their Janes are fantastic)...

    3. ...or is Northanger Abbey my favorite? How to choose?

    4. Ah yes, essays and assigned reading...I had to quit a dear book group because even though we decided to read books I had previously wanted to read, once they were "assigned" I resented "having to" read them! And writing too - I love that I can write freely - and I think the assigning of writing can spoil that desire to share thoughts and opinions. So I say wonderful to your plan to do essays aloud over lunch :) The girls enjoy their writing already (as you've written for us here), so why not let it happen naturally?

    5. I too love Presenting Miss Austen. I'm not so good about reading biographies (although I love saint stories and conversion stories)...but I found this book so pleasant and easy to read.

    6. So dare I ask - dare you tell? Which are left? And will you start with Persuasion? Or Northanger Abbey? Oh I hope you have these on your unread list...so I can have a higher place in heaven for having "given" them to you - it must be a spiritual work of mercy to encourage a friend to read Persuasion for the first time!

    7. Thank you dear Sue for this blog. Your writing brings much joy and fun conversation. I just showed dh this post - meaning for him to only read the first paragraph (and what a glorious picture - your two daughters in their room with Pride and Prejudice), but he then had to read it all! You write so well, and with your dear Catholic unschooling family you certainly have plenty to write about. Thank you!

    with much love and laughter ,
    Suzie

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  2. I've only seen the movie, Sense & Sensibility... (which I cried like a baby at the end, and it's one of my favorite movies of all time!) Though I recently picked up "The Jane Austen Book Clue" at at thrift store for a quarter. Silly me, it's not by Jane Austen at all, but its about her books. I will be reading it, and getting her others to read too. So anyway, LOL no. You are not the only one who's lacking in the Reading of Jane Austen department. Though I do admit this with much shame. :) Hmm. come to think of it, I've neglected Charlotte Bronte too! I've only read Jane Eyre! Aaacckk!!

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  3. I haven't read any Jane Austen either but this blog post makes me want to! I am off to place a hold on one at my library, thanks! Oh so many books and so little time!!

    Sue

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  4. Suzie, as usual your comments leave me feeling so joyful. It's as if you've walked through the door. I am always so pleased to find you have visited my blog and shared with us.

    I just can't wait to start reading a Jane Austen novel. Yes, I am sure I have a lot of pleasureable hours ahead of me. Since writing this post yesterday I've been mulling over which novel to read first. I had decided on "Sense and Sensibility" but... I am going to read "Persuasion"!! You have been successful in your spiritual work of mercy!

    I really enjoyed seeing my daughters reading P&P together. It wasn't so much the book (which is excellent in itself) but the sharing. Aren't pleasures increased when shared? To have a favourite book and share it with someone else is so very special. It's so much fun to talk Jane Austen together. Better than reading alone and writing an essay!
    Didn't Anne of Green Gables and Diana read books out loud together? I can't quite remember.

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  5. Susan, I haven't watched the movie "Sense and Sensibility" even though we own a copy. Now I can't wait to see it. I cry over movies too. Now the big question is should I read the book first or watch the movie?

    I have (surprisingly!) read lots of Charlotte Bronte and the novels of her sisters. I had a Bronte period some time back and borrowed then from the library stacks - books no one had borrowed in years. When I read "Jane Eyre" as a child, I cried and cried. Oh how unjust. I felt so sorry for Jane and when her friend died...

    Thank you for your comment!

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  6. Sue, how lovely to see you here! Thank you for stopping and adding to our Jane Austen conversation.

    Let us know which novel you read first and how you enjoy it.

    I couldn't agree more - all those wonderful books to read and not enough time. Though I think Jane Austen sounds worthy enough to push to the top of the reading list!

    God bless!

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  7. My goodness - we are all a bunch of "Sue"s here so far :)

    As to book or movie first...I agree with Susan - what a wonderful movie! You will enjoy both so much it's hard to know which to look at first.

    I think I'd say read the book first, because then you will be able to appreciate how brilliant Emma Thompson was with the screenplay (which she wrote and for which she won an academy award I think). I just love how she adds a few things that are perfectly in accord with the book and work to strengthen the characters and portray the plot convincingly. Going from a perfect novel to a 2 hour movie is quite a challenge, but Emma does it splendidly. Oh and the actors, the scenery, the dialogue...so perfect.

    Hmmmm, I think I know what we'll be watching tonight! Now I feel bad for suggesting you wait on this movie, Sue. And I don't want you to rush through Persuasion, though I do want you to enjoy reading S & S too. Isn't that just our dilemma? Too many good things in which to delight! Can't revel in them all at once. I guess that's how we know this isn't Heaven.

    I hope we hear what books the other Sue and Susan choose...

    and Susan, I'd read the real Jane Austen first (before the Book Club book) - because life is so short and Jane is waiting for you :)

    Thanks for hosting us here, Sue E.
    Is it time for tea yet?
    with love,
    Suzie

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  8. Sue I half read your post yesterday before we drove off to enjoy poetry with another homeschooling family, I giggled.. then I re read it now.. A lot of the books on the literture for young ladies- elizabeth foss blog are Jane Austens. Brid is just beginning to discover the world of Jane Austen for herself.

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  9. Hi Suzie,
    Emma Thompson? I didn't know she is in the S&S movie. I love Emma Thompson! Did you see her in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"? Or in "Henry V" with Kenneth Branagh? I am going to have to write about our passion for Shakespeare! Do you love Shakespeare too?

    Now I don't know where to start: S&S, the book or movie or Persuasion? Persuasion first I think!

    So nice to share passions with you. God bless!

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  10. Hi Leanne,
    What poetry are you sharing at the moment?

    Brid might like to read Charlotte's blog post "The Jane Austen Girls".

    I will have to look at Elizabeth's blog and her book lists. Thank you for telling me about them.

    It is always nice to share with you. God bless!

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  11. It was a more of s theory behind poetry. Trope meters, styles etc. The girls got to write in style of a particulat meter etc. It was good, but technical. "The grammar of poetry: imitation in writing". It was a way of a connecting with another lovely homeschooling teen and her mum on a fortnightly basis. Locked in. It is finished now, We are heading to Shakespeare -and will start with a comedy.

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  12. What a lovely post. How wonderful that your daughters can experience the best of english literature without having it ruined by analysis. I just LOVE Jane Austin! I agree with Suzie that it must be a work of mercy to encourage someone to read Persusasion. Love it!

    I recently heard that a scholar had suggested that some of the characters might be on the autism spectrum, namely Darcy, Lady Catherine and perhaps Mr. Collins. I was once again reading P&P when I heard this, and I must say Darcy could be an aspie. Perhaps that's why I like him so much!

    I'm desperately hoping that my boys will love her works as much as me. Suzie's dh has given me hope!

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  13. Hi Tricia, thank you for stopping by! It is so nice to share good books.

    The other day I took my ereader with me when we went to the park. I was hoping to start "Persuasion" while the girls scooted. But there wasn't a copy on my ereader. I ended up reading Jane Austen's "Juvenilia" instead(perhaps I have got this title a bit wrong). It was so funny. Yesterday I download "Persuasion" from ManyBooks and I am anticipating a deightful read!

    What interesting thoughts about P&P and autism!

    My boys didn't show any interest in reading Jane Austen but I have caught them watching bits of the movies and mini series with the girls. They are quick with their opinions about the characters, and join in the discussions too.

    God bless you.

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  14. Hi Sue!
    I got such a lift from reading your account of a Jane Austen education. I have read all the books, but it was 30+ years ago. I'm going to take Suzie's advice and borrow Persuasion from the library. All I have are P & P and Northanger Abbey...but guess what! Persuasion is in the same volume! And I didn't even know it! I don't even have to get to the library.

    I love the old P & P movie with Laurence Olivier. Sigh. The costumes (dresses) were so incredible.

    I found another book, which sounds better than the one your girls got at the library. It's by Josephine Ross, Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders. There's a VERY thoughtful reviewer on Amazon who explains why it's good, and why she's not as fond of Sullivan's "Handbook", which she took to task for its sarcastic tone. (I found it online - haven't got it in my hand yet)

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  15. Hi Amy,

    It's lovely to share with another Jane Austen girl! Thank you for your book recommendation. I am off to Amazon to have a look. The girls will be delighted if I get my hands on another Jane Austen guide. The book you mentioned sounds wonderful. Always good to hear from you!

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  16. Hi Sue,
    I bought a shabby pb Persuasion to give my 20yo to bring back to college with her, and a somewhat less worn Charlotte Bronte's Villette for myself, today. (I read Villette for the first time kind of recently, and just loved loved loved it.)

    So now my daughter & I will be reading Persuasion together-ish.

    I'm finding it hard-going so far...I'm on page 16. The proud Baron or whatever is facing letting his house because of his debts.

    Is Anne the heroine of this story? If so, I'll have to try and get my Anne (who is 14) to give it a go, or at least talk to her about the book.

    Amy

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  17. Hi Amy,

    Apparently, Anne is the heroine of "Persuasion". I haven't read enough yet to really get into the book. Once I get going, the girls assure me I will enjoy the book immensely!

    My Charlotte is almost 14 and loves Jane Austen so maybe your Anne will like "Persuasion" too.

    I ordered the Josephine Ross book on Jane Austen you recommended. The girls can't wait for it to come. Thank you for telling us about it.

    God bless!

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  18. I always thought that Mary should have married Mr Collins too!

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