I had an email this morning from a new friend in Oxford, telling me that there was a special one-day exhibit at the Bodleian Library, open from ten to five. It’s Monday with all the Monday things to do, I am two-ish weeks from Baby Day and walking is a serious challenge, I woke up with a head cold and sore throat, and I didn’t want to spend the bus fare into the city. Yet by 10:30 I was pushing Norah into the library courtyard.
The exhibit? First editions of Jane Austen’s novels, and the original manuscript of her earliest writings. The exhibit occupied two small glass cases at the Divinity School of the Bodleian (below). It took rather a short time to study–but I confess I lingered a bit. I especially loved seeing her even, perfect writing occasionally broken up with little insertions or corrections. There was a little placard printed with a quote from Jane Austen’s niece about how she remembered Jane sewing by the fire, then suddenly laughing out loud and running over to the desk in the corner to scribble something down. Then she’d come back to her sewing. I’m so glad I read that. That’s how I picture her.
The first time I read Austen’s six main novels I was a freshman in college, looking for a reason not to study for finals. It worked. I started dubiously in on Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife…”) and read all six in a week.
I prize her wit and her keen ability to humorously portray both the worthy and sensible and the prideful in human behavior. (“I know there is no better creature in all the world, but you must admit there are equal amounts of the good and the ridiculous in her,” as Emma famously says of Miss Bates.)
Also I love happy endings.