Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jane Austen and the way we communicate

A few weeks ago, Sarita and I had the opportunity to watch Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as interpreted by Jon Jory and presented onstage by the Denver Center Theatre Company.

In the program notes, I read a brief piece about “the fashions of the day” as interpreted by Austen in private letters to her sister. I was astonished by what I read.

“Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend,” Austen wrote in October 1798.

I thought: “You've got to be kidding! Her happiness depends on a hat? How shallow!”

A couple of months later, having changed the look of her hat, she writes with satisfaction concerning the effect: “I think it makes me look more like Lady Conyngham now than it did before, which is all that one lives for now.”


Besides her apparent shallowness, I was struck by Austen’s rapier and naughty wit . . . and I wondered what it is about phrases such as the following that makes them humorous? Why do we groan with bemused shock?

I don't think I've come up with an answer. Perhaps you can help?

I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me.

I do not want People to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

Mrs. Blount . . . appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck.

Even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.

Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. –I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

[We] met a Gentleman in a Buggy, who on a minute examination turned out to be Dr. Hall--& Dr. Hall in such very deep mourning that either his Mother, his Wife, or himself must be dead.

We plan having a steady cook, and a young giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children of course to be allowed on either side.

blog comments powered by Disqus