We’re in our 4th and final week of ‘Jane in January’ and hope you have enjoyed our special focus on “Pride and Prejudice.” The giveaways are being distributed through rafflecopter, so be sure to sign into it to be entered.
We will announce our final winners this Sunday.
As you know, the 28th January is the anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice, and I have been giving some thought as to how Jane Austen may have felt on that day. What did she do by way of celebration, if anything? What was passing through her mind, how was she feeling?
We are all familiar with her now famous words about this particular novel, referring to it in a letter as “my own darling Child”, but why did she feel so attached to this one? Is there any evidence she ever referred to Sense & Sensibility (her eldest ‘child’, after all) or any of her other novels in such a personal way?
With no answer for this, my thoughts turned then to where Jane was on that day in 1813. We know she was in Hampshire. Was she keeping herself busy somewhere at home or did the weather permit a walk? Was she pacing restlessly around the drawing room, wondering how her new story was being received by the reading public, or was she immersed in a book herself and refusing to think about it?
My mind drifted away to southern England, to the undulating countryside of Hampshire and to a large redbrick cottage in a charming village. Inside, I envisioned one particular room and specifically one place in that room, where a small wooden table and a rather spindly looking chair sit beside a window fronting onto what used to be the main coach road to Winchester.
This is the room in Chawton Cottage where Jane is alleged to have done most of her writing once she moved there in 1809. Many years ago, visitors could sit at the table but now there is a Perspex screen around it and usually something on the chair to stop you taking a seat whilst no one is looking, most likely a thistle with barbs at least as sharp as anything Miss Austen would say should she discover what you are about!
It occurred to me then how Jane may also have used the table to write her letters as well. Her actual writing desk (slope) resides in the British Library in London rather than in Chawton, but nonetheless one can picture her seated by the window, a quill in her hand, her gaze drifting now and again to the street outside or about the room, the corners of her mouth lifting as she would think of something amusing to report to her sister or one of her many other correspondents. Then, she might set to, dipping the quill in the ink and spilling her thoughts across the parchment, stopping now and again to refresh the pen, the words flowing faster through her mind than the implement could supply them to the page.
Realising I could find out more about what Jane was doing in January 1813 by perusing one or more of these letters, I then turned to my bookcase and grabbed the relevant book.
There is no entry for the 28th January, but the one she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, on the 29th contains possibly the most quoted lines from all of Jane’s letters.
“I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London; – on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3rd by the Coach to Godmersham.”
We must be forever thankful Cassandra was away visiting her brother, James, and his family at Steventon, at this time, for had she been in Chawton, we would not have this record of Pride & Prejudice’s arrival into the world! It seems the 28th passed without much note – or at least, there was nothing Jane felt worthy of sharing with her sister the following day when she sat down to write to her. Any references to the book’s publication indicate her own copy arrived the day prior, on Wednesday, 27th January and that evening was passed reading aloud to a Miss Benn who had no idea of the author’s identity but indicated an admiration for the character of Elizabeth Bennet.
Miss Benn was a neighbour and seems to have been a regular within Jane Austen’s circle at the time, being mentioned frequently, including in the letter previous to this one dated Sunday, 24th January, where it appears they dined in company with her on the Wednesday, and Jane writes of walking to Alton when she has finished her letter, adding, “I believe Miss Benn will go with me.” She then adds, “She spent yesterday evening with us.”
You can imagine, perhaps the scene at Chawton Cottage on that January evening. It was cold outside and darkness would have fallen some hours earlier. No doubt a fire crackled merrily in the grate in the drawing room, and once they had dined perhaps the small party of ladies gathered before its warmth and once settled upon their seats, in the gentle glow of the lamps, Jane and her mother began to read aloud from the book. She gives a brief account of it to Cassandra in the same letter:
“Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the evening we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her – prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out – I believe it passed with her unsuspected. She was amused, poor soul! That she could not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth.”
‘Two such people’ would have been Jane and Mrs Austen, and possibly the second most well-known quote from her letters follows this, where Jane writes:
“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”
It warms me on this bitterly cold, snowy day in January 2015, 202 years later, to know Jane passed such an enjoyable evening at home with her newborn child!
What are your thoughts? Are you as attached to the character of Elizabeth Bennet as Jane Austen was? Is she your favourite character from Pride & Prejudice? Or is it Mr Darcy? Perhaps you have another character in mind – Jane, for her sweetness or Bingley for his friendly manners; Mr Bennet for his dry wit or someone else entirely? Or is Pride & Prejudice not your favourite of Jane Austen’s wonderful works? We would love to know your thoughts, so do please have your say in the Comments!
Here are some of the prizes we are giving away in Jane in January:
Week Four Prizes:
From Alyssa – two paperback copies of “Austensibly Ordinary” (1 US and 1 int’l)
From Marilyn – a signed paperback copy of “Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match” (book 1, US) to one winner in the U.S. and an ebook copy of “Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet” (book 2) to one winner internationally.
From Mary – 1 signed paperback copy of “Another Place in Time” (US); 1 copy of “When They Fall in Love”(US), and 1 e-book copy of “Dying to Write”
From Shannon – 2 ebooks of “The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen” (Kindle, Nook, international).
From Evie Cotton – 2 bars of Readers’ Choice soap (US only)
Please remember to click into RaffleCopter and log in with your email address, stating that you commented on the blog post or YOU WILL NOT be entered for the giveaway! There are also two other ways to increase your chances to win. The winners will be selected through RaffleCopter only.
This week we have a new rafflecopter, so be sure to log in! The names from the previous weeks will not be included.