Archive for July 5th, 2010

Jane Austen’s writing desk, photograph from Chawton Cottage

Dear friends and readers,

Over on WWTTA a friend sent to the list the URL for a perceptive humane brief article by Claire Tomalin. It’s a meditation on Jane Austen’s writing space photographed above. Do peruse it.

Tomalin brings out how touching this little writing space is. The writing spaces we see for writers today are often a form of showing off too; is not Uglow’s that? The writer knows her room is going to be photographed. Over on WWTTA, I’ve made an album of such pictures. I’ve been guilty of this too, though out of an impulse to understand myself through examining, picturing the environment I make for myself. We also did this on Trollope19thCStudies once.

Still how beautiful Tomalin’s words. Just this piece shows how a writer can illuminate something and why Tomalin’s books are so good.

Compare Margaret Forster’s (whose books I can never resist) for example,

Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets just about prides itself as showing the roughness, hardship, hard work involved in Chawton cottage life, but if you look at the still of Olivia Williams as Austen writing at Chawton they have gussied it up with mahogany and all sorts of prestige items almost despite themselves.

If you reflect, just a little, especially after you have read Julianne Pidduck’s brilliant, Contemporary Costume Film, you can see that the space in which we allow our writing selves free play — either to act out invented selves or reflect our inmost hearts and minds — are places to be and become our selves in. “Discourses of interiority, of desire: she called them and connects the trope of letter writing, voice-overs, and epistolary scenes in costume dramas to such places: “these recurrent movement-images [of letter-writing, of reverie alone] highlight qulaities of deep feeling and creativity cherished.” Of course often these are anguished letters which are ignored, despised, or tell tales to harrow the soul. Say, for example, Letter from an Unknown Woman where the man has aged and changed and become and the woman stays frozen in time. “Moments of lost possibility continually revisited,” Pidduck says.

Curious these films, for the writing space is where the film script and idea is conceived, the dream book is written.

What are we to think of Austen’s space here, then? why did she not carve out an area for herself, that reflected her? I find myself remembering how she would get up so early in the morning to play the piano so as not to disturb anyone else. What was her life like within this family of women we are to think were supportive and nurturing. Again, Miss Austen Regrets makes us think twice about this, as does David Nokes and a recent issue of Persuasions (31:2010), with essay by John Mullen, “Sisterly Chat” (acid); Jan Fergus, “‘Rivalry, Treachery between Sisters!’ Tensions between Brothers and Sisters in Austen’s Novels”; Susan Allen Ford, “‘Exactly what a brother should be?'”: Failures of Brotherly Love,” to say nothing of what the underlying reality from which Mr and Mrs Bennet emerged.

Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) listening to her family talk (of money, of nobodies like the Wentworths) in the brilliant 1995 BBC Persuasion.

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