The Confessions of an Austenite’s Enlightment

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, BBC, (1995)DISCERNMENT

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 36 

My planned preview to my favorite Jane Austen adaptation, Pride and Prejudice (1995), is a bit late in arriving; – sorely due to this blogmistress’ being a bit Austen fatigued after a month of running in high gear for The Complete Jane Austen series, and battling a putrid throat!

Illustration by Milo Winter, from The Tortoise and the Hare, Aespo’s Fable’s, (1919)The one (and only) writing attribute that I can claim to hold in common with Miss Austen is that I am a plodder. Slow as the turtle in the Aesop fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. What takes some writers a moment of inspiration, may take me an hour of contemplation and rumination.

Image of the cover of The Confesions of a Jane Austen AddictI once commiserated my plight with the talented Austenesque writer, Laurie Viera Rigler, author of that bright tome, The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Her generous response really bucked me up for the next round, and every time I feel drained or washed up I read it again. It is such a thoughtful and beautifully inspiring reply, that I felt selfish holding it my saved e-mail messages folder. I hope that she will not mind my sharing her sage and practical advice for the benefit and enjoyment of my readers.

“Okay, you asked for advice, and I’m going to give it. Well, you asked for thoughts, and here they are, plus advice, if I may be so bold. Please don’t feel pressured about your posts. Let me tell you, from both a reader’s and a writer’s perspective, that your posts are delightful.  I consider you to be just as much a professional writer as I am, and if you think writing is like rolling off a settee for me, you’re wrong! I go through just the same mental gyrations that you do (though of course I’m not clairvoyant and don’t know precisely what yours are).

But from what you’re telling me it sounds like a confidence issue, which all writers go through. If you find yourself plodding-and we all do-leave the desk and take a brain vacation. For me, that’s taking a drive, taking a shower, taking a walk, doing the dishes, anything mindless. Meditation helps, too. These activities free us from the effortful, analytical, grinding mind and allow the pure creative mind to flow.

Every time I worry I won’t know what to write, it is an unfounded worry. We humans just have a hard time being in the place of “I don’t know.” But the “not knowing” place is exactly where we need to be in order to produce our best work. I am starting to get used to the fact that I don’t know what I’m going to write, I don’t know what happens next in my story, I don’t know how I’m going to write the next blog post, but that it will come. And that’s where the best stuff comes from. That’s when we write from the heart, and when we write from the heart, someone is going to connect to it. And that’s when it starts to feel like rolling off a settee. If we could only just stop torturing ourselves with self-doubt, that is.”

Image of cover of Pride & Prejudice, Penguin ClassicsSigh! Well, I’m not quite to ‘rolling off the settee’ yet, but thanks to her encouragement, I did not give up. So today when I read Laurie’s lovely weekly contribution on-line to About.com’s Classic Literature, Pride and Prejudice: Once upon a time, before there was Colin Firth…, I was moved to tears. How lucky we are as Janeites to include her as a sister. As she had wisely advised me, – she truly wrote from the heart – and it shows.

“A discerning reader will find that this story is also a story of empowerment, of control over ones destiny, and of an emerging meritocracy. For the heroine of Pride and Prejudice and her hero, their rewards come not merely through any advantages of birth and inherited wealth, but rather through the hard work of self-examination, revelation, and voluntary shifts in attitudes and behavior. Imagine the appeal of such a story back in Austen’s class-stratified day. Consider its appeal today, in our world of make your own destiny, re-invent yourself, and hard work wins the day.”

Ok Laurie, I will admit having to look up the meaning of meritocracy (which was the perfect word by-the-way), but you just blew me away! One of those life moments when clarity descends, the birds sing, and your senses become intensified. An out of body moment that will stay with me forever. Thanks!

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