Friday, October 15, 2010

Jane Austen and Her Mid-Century Fan Club.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of a university education must be in want of a job. Especially if that university education was in the liberal arts.

So it was, that Thursday morning found me whizzing down the A31 towards Alton, to the tiny village of Chawton and the Jane Austen's House Museum. First, let me say: this place is idyllic. It's beautiful, the village is tiny, there's a pub across the street next to the appropriately named 'Cassandra's Tea Rooms.' The house is gorgeous, and even though the wallpaper is not authentic, but is rather Laura Ashley that wishes it was authentic, it's the perfect place for a Regency Era junkie like myself.

My job involves going through the personal and business letters of the guy who founded the museum: Mr. T Edward Carpenter (how many times have I typed that in the past 48 hours?), who was the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees. It feels like there should be a rap lyric in that...

Anyway, Our good old Mr. Carpenter, Esq. had some interesting characters writing to him. My first favourite (from a palaeology standpoint) is Lt. Col. Satterthwaite. Forget everything else about this guy: talk about one heck of a last name! Satterthwaite. It sounds like the kindly but bumbling character, put in only to advance the hero's plot line in a Dickens novel. Also, the dear Colonel has [almost] the worst penmanship I've ever seen. Seriously; who taught this man to wield a pen!?

Next on my list is Col. Satterthwaite's fellow in the Jane Austen Society: Mrs. Dorothy Darnell. Her handwriting is almost as interesting as the Colonel's. Though her round, bubbly cursive reminds me quite a bit of my step-mom's handwriting, Mrs. Darnell either had a very leaky pen [that she presumably used on *every* Jane Austen-related letter for *years*] or she just liked putting useless dots all over the page. Seriously. When her loops and swirls degenerate from letters into something even the good Dr. Rorschach couldn't find meaning in, I'm hard pressed to decide if those dots are sitting on top of 'i's or are meant to cross 't's, or if they're just for artistic effect.

Dr. R.W. Chapman is another palaeographic wonder. *His* letters look like the heart beat monitor in a hospital room.

Then there's the entertaining Mrs. Purvis, who is in a league of her own. Apparently related to, or married to someone related to, Jane Austen, Mrs. Purvis is the sort of charming crazy person who (though probably long dead) makes my day so much more interesting. Let's forget, for the moment, the fact that given half the chance this woman would, I'm sure, build a shrine to Jane Austen like Queen Victoria did for Prince Albert. Mostly, I'm amused that she signed most of her letters: "Queen Mary Rose (Mrs. Purvis)". Wow! Option 1: her parents were really that loony and named their daughter "Queen." Talk about a diva complex. Option 2: Somewhere along her many years of privileged life (this was a woman who would afford to "send the car round" for visitors, implying not only a nice car, but a driver to go with it.) our lovely Mrs. Purvis decided that Queen Mary Rose was a much better alias than the common name with which she was saddled by uninspired parents. Whatever the "Roll of Fame" is, Mrs. Purvis wanted Jane Austen on it. Jane's works Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, were (according to her) deserving of the title "Immortal". Yes, all these words are capitalised...whether such capitalisation was necessary or not.

I think, for once, that Nicolas Cage summed it up best of all:
"Go one step short of crazy what do you get?"
"No; passionate."

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