Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: Classic Literature

5 Best Elizabeth Bennet Zingers

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I love a good zinger, don’t you?

Not too long ago, my husband’s theater group, Goose Creek Players, rehearsed their upcoming performance of Pride and Prejudice in our home. I giggled along with the cast at the witty retorts of Jane Austen’s heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. I can really relate to Elizabeth and her “sass” as my children say of my own temperment.

In fact, Jane herself held a fond affection for her heroine. In a 1813 letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen wrote: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a character 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”.

So in honor of my favorite Jane Austen character, here are my top five Elizabeth Bennet quips:

5 . Lizzy Bennet to Mr. Darcy on discussion of his weaknesses:

D: “But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”

E: “Such as vanity and pride.”

In the 80’s we’d have said, “BURN!”

4. Lizzy to Lady Catherine on whether or not she’ll marry Mr. Darcy.

LC: “You are then resolved to have him?”

E: “I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

Yep, Lizzy calls ’em as she sees ’em.

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Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) confronts Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice

3. Lizzy and Darcy on Lady Catherine’s influence on their love:

D: “I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.”

E: “Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations.”

Makes me giggle every time.

2. Lizzy to her trampy little sister Lydia on finding a spouse:

L: “And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over.”

E: “I thank you for my share of the favour,” said Elizabeth; “but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”

Oh, snap! I just love, Lizzy!

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Darcy’s (Colin Firth) misguided proposal to Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice

And my favorite of all Elizabeth Bennett’s zingers (I think I actually knew the first time I heard this line that I was Lizzy and she was me)!

1.Lizzy on Darcy’s horrific proposal:

D: “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?—to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

E: “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”

Dang! You got game, girl!

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen zinger you’d like to share?

5 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice has been on my mind a great deal lately. I received this great sweatshirt for Christmas this year. AND, my husband has started a local theater company, and without any nudging from me (honestly), Goose Creek Players will perform Pride and Prejudice this spring. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan and well Pride and Prejudice is the crown jewel of her achievements.

Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.

Here’s 5 facts you may or may not know about the novel.

1. Mr. Darcy was the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt of his day

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but what does that mean in today’s market? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—”How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!” Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt.

2. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of the Regency era

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In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes to Scotland with that scoundrel George Wickham. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be wed via a “marriage by declaration.” The photo above is that of the famous blacksmith shop in Gretna Green that also had a marriage parlor to capitalize on the profits a young newlywed couple such as Lydia and Wickham could bestow.

3. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it

Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had “a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney’s Evelina.” He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. It wasn’t until the success of Sense and Sensibility, 14 years later, that Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old.

4. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously

Related imageAusten didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public.

5. Austen underestimated the popularity of her novel

Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since.

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In the 200+ years since Pride and Prejudice was published, there have been at least 11 film and TV adaptations of Austen’s novel. My personal favorite is the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy … sigh … but I digress.

What is your favorite adaptation? The Colin Firth version or the one with Keira Knightley? Or perhaps something different altogether?

Swooning, A Victorian Fad?

“Beware of fainting-fits… though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet believe me: they will, in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your constitution.”

~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

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As a lover of all things classic and bookish, I find it fascinating that women in 19th century novels were commonly portrayed fainting. They faint when anything scary, shocking or surprising happens. They faint at moments of emotional intensity. They faint whenever they try any hard physical work.

In Dickens’ Pickwick Papers female characters swoon repeatedly. And who can forget Jane Austen’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (you knew I’d work that one in if I could) keeping to her rooms for fear of fainting under the stress of her daughter’s elopement with the dastardly Mr. Wickham.

Some historians suggest that fashion may have played a part.

child-corsetCorsets were very common among the upper classes. Worn around the torso, corsets were made of a durable tightly woven fabric or leather, fashioned with channels running throughout them in which vertical ribs were inserted, called boning because they were often made with whale bone. The entire device was held together, and tightened, sometimes to extremes, by a system of lacing. Girls were started in corsets at a very young age and, for them and ladies after childbirth, waist training, to shrink the side of the waist, via super tight lacing, was common. Over time, corset-wearers’ bodies changed—their ribs were displaced, their lungs were squashed, some organs were compressed against the spine and others were shoved down into the lower abdomen. In addition to making it hard to breathe, hearts struggled to pump and, stomachs struggled to digest what little food they could get down. As one Victorian lady reported, “I had only eaten two bites of my biscuit there was no room beneath my corset for a third.”

Another fashion-based theory is that a well dressed woman of this era wore an enormous amount of clothing. In addition to her corset, such a lady would undergarments, a bustle pad, a full skirt supported by crinoline petticoats, sometimes lined with steel hoops, and a bonnet. Some may have fainted from overheating, while others may have collapsed under the sheer weight of their garments and their tightly cinched corsets.

Another possible explanation for some of the swooning could have been chronic poisoning. During the 19th century, while people knew that arsenic was poisonous, they didn’t understand that external exposure from its fumes could also be harmful. The toxin was widely used in the manufacture of everything from fabrics to paints to the paper in which food was wrapped; in fact, by the end of the 1800s, 80% of all wallpaper was arsenic-laced. Arsenic poisoning has a variety of symptoms including headaches, cold sweats, and fainting.

In addition, arsenic, along with lead, mercury and other such toxic substances, were commonly found in makeup during the Victorian era. Lead was also a common ingredient in hair dyes and was frequently found in wine, along with arsenic and copper. Together, these toxins contributed to more wealthy Victorians suffering from seizures, and theoretically swooning, when compared with their poorer neighbors who couldn’t afford such luxuries.

Was Swooning a Fad?

Even more curious is that the phenomenon appeared to be more common among middle and upper class women, or so literature would have you believe. Upper-class women, especially young women, were expected to be more delicate, more emotional, and more easily distressed as opposed to women of the working classes. Leaving many social historians to believe that all swooning was nothing more than a put on. Besides potential side effects from tightly laced corsets or the exposure to toxins, fainting became expected and downright ladylike. Women of particularly of high station were expected to act the role of a delicate flower, while men were expected to be hard as nails. Swooning was simply one method for a woman to demonstrate her femininity. Well-to-do women often had something called a “fainting room,” a special location where she could recover a fainting spell in private.

In Bleak House, Dickens’ character, Lady Dedlock, swoons at the first hint her hidden past, a secret affair and child, may be revealed. Dickens also ridicules characters who swoon as part of a social performance. Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit is portrayed as manipulating those around her by “wilting on demand.”

Lady Revivers

Smelling salts, also known as “lady revivers,” were the most common method used for rousing a fainting damsel. However there is no salt in smelling salts at all. The active ingredient is ammonium carbonate, a solid compound that when mixed with water releases an ammonia gas that irritates the lining of the nose and the windpipe, heightening a person’s alertness.

While fashionable Victorian ladies might have a “fainting room” inside in case a sudden fit befell them, if a woman was overcome while out and about the situation might prove more perilous. Police constables of the era were equipped with small vials of smelling salts to assist afflicted women in the streets.

So what do you think? Was the sudden surge in fainting spells among Victorian upper-class women a result of tight corsets and arsenic-laced cosmetics, or was it a social fad, a way to prove your delicate femininity?

 

Storytellers Extraordinaire

National Tell a Fairy Tale was February 26th. In order to commemorate this auspicious day, I thought maybe remembering the lives of some of the most well-known storytellers of all time would be in order–The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in an 1843 drawing by their younger brother Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began their careers studying law. Privately their fascination with the myths and legends surrounding local folklore led them to begin researching these tales in earnest.

Here’s 4 interesting facts you may not know about the the Grimm brothers:

 

The Grimm Brothers didn’t write any of the fairy tales associated with them.

Although stories like Snow White and Rapunzel have become synonymous with their name,  none of the tales included in their first anthology, Nursery and Household Tales, was written by either Jacob or Wilhelm Grimm. Most of the stories existed long before the brothers were born in the mid-1780s. The tales were actually a collection of rich oral traditions passed from generation to generation. When the brothers discovered there was not one written collection of the stories, the began a quest to interview friends and relatives to capture the folklore before they became extinct and took great care to preserve the tales as they were told by peasants and villagers.

Cover of the 1819 edition of Nursery and Household Tales illustrated by Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Their collection of stories were not originally intended for children.

The original 1812 edition of Nursery and Household Tales contained sex, violence, and extensive footnotes regarding the variances in the folklore from region to region. And it contained no illustrations. The original version of Cinderella had the evil stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels in an effort to squeeze their appendage into the infamous glass slipper. Not to be out done, the first edition of Rapunzel had the girl with child following a casual affair with the prince.

The Grimm Brothers were a publishing success story.

By Wilhelm’s death in 1859, what we now know as Grimm’s Fairy Tales was in its 7th edition and the anthology had grown to include 211 stories. The collection now featured intricate drawings as well. Today Grimm’s Fairy Tales is available in over 100 languages and have been adapted for stage and screen by Walt Disney and Lotte Reineger.

Illustration of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” from the Grimm’s collection of German legends. Illustration by Kate Greenaway

The Grimm Brothers wrote more than Fairy Tales

Following the success of Nursery and Household Tales, the brothers also published two volumes of German folk legends which include stories such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin. In addition they wrote several books on mythology, linguistics and medieval history. In their later years, the brothers took a teaching position at Gottingen University as professors of Germanic studies and began a massive project to write a dictionary of the German language. They both died before the enormous undertaking was complete having only reached the letter F and the word frucht, meaning fruit.

Fairy Tales continue to capture the imagination of the public around the world and with the growing popularity of movies like Into the Woods and television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time it’s as clear as Cinderella’s glass slipper that even grown-ups love a good fairy tale.

Share your favorite fairy tale in the comments below.

Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”  ~The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Perhaps one of the most recognized characters in all of literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has captured the imagination of generations around the world. Doyle’s brilliant private detective became known for his signature prowess at using logic and his keen powers of observation to solve cases. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Almost all were narrated by Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson. Doyle’s work gained popularity as serialized stories published in The Strand Magazine over a period of forty years.

No doubt Holmes is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and most universally recognizable literary character, but did you know that Doyle based the his famous character on real people?

Dr. Joseph Bell, photo courtesy of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate

Joseph Bell (1837–1911) was a professor at the University of Edinburgh in 1877 where the young Doyle enrolled in medical school. Bell captivated Doyle and his classmates with his amazing deductive skills and often immediate conclusions regarding patient diagnoses, occupation and other personal details just by studying their appearance and mannerisms. In addition to taking Bell’s classes, Doyle served for a time as his clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he got a further look at the older man’s diagnostic methods. In addition to using his deductive powers to diagnose diseases, he occasionally assisted the police as a forensic doctor.

Years later, Conan Doyle wrote to Bell: “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions, I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the outpatient ward.”

Henry Littlejohn – Photo courtesy of
Edinburgh University Library

Henry Littlejohn (1826-1914)  Joseph Bell was not the sole inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle also credits famed Scottish forensic scientist, public health inspector, and dissector of human bodies, Henry Littlejohn, for giving Holmes some of his personality. Part of Littlejohn’s job as Surgeon of Police and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh was to consult with police when they needed medical expertise. Littlejohn investigated accidents, tragic deaths, or murders that took place in the city. He revolutionized the way cases were solved at the same time as Doyle was writing his master slueth’s adventures. Littlejohn is credited with pioneering the use of fingerprinting and photographic evidence in criminal investigations.

During the time Doyle was writing “The Final Problem” in 1893, Littlejohn was called as an expert witness in the trial of Alfred John Monson who had been accused of shooting his twenty year old student, Cecil Hambrough, during a hunting trip. The defense claimed that Hambrough had “accidentally” shot himself in the head. According to the Edinburgh News, Littlejohn testified that the position of the wound, the scorch marks from the bullet, the damage to the victim’s skull, and even the smell of the victim indicated that the victim had been murdered.

William Gillette portraying Sherlock Holmes

William Gillette (1853–1937) This one is a bit of a stretch. Although William Gillette wasn’t an inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character, as one of the first actors to portray Holmes (which Gillette did more than 1,000 times), he has influenced the development of the Holmes character tremendously to the public. Gillette was the first to wear Holmes’s signature deerstalker hat, the first to replace Holmes’s straight pipe with a curved one, and the first (while helping Conan Doyle to write the first official Sherlock Holmes stage play) to pen the line, “elementary, my dear fellow,” which would eventually be turned by later writers into, “elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette had his own Homes-like qualities. He was an inventor, earning patents for a variety of items including a timestamp device and a system for making more realistic sound effects on stage.

Tidbits & Trivia

  • The name “Sherlock Holmes” is believed to have been taken from two sources–“Sherlock” from Doyle’s favorite musician, Alfred Sherlock, and “Holmes” from the prominent, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • By the late 1890s, Dr. Bell had earned quite a reputation as an investigator. So much so, in fact, that when a series of murders of “ladies of the night” went down, the police called in Bell to help. This became the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
  • Doyle continued to write adventures for Sherlock Holmes until 1927 and would pass away from a heart attack in 1930.

Which is your favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery?

 

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