Halloween and... our last Pride and Prejudice question

Well, it's Hallowe'en, and apart from the spooky stuff, this is also the night when the barrier between the future and the present is at its thinnest, and you can try and divine who your future life partner will be. At the turn of the 19th century, there were many different traditions to determine this. Here's one of them, from Robert Burns' 1786 poem, Halloween. Jane Austen may well have read this poem, since we know she read Burns' poetry.

Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.-R.B.

The auld guid-wife's weel-hoordit nits
Are round an' round dividend
An' mony lad an' lasses' fates
Are there that night decided
Some kindle couthie side by side
And burn the gither trimly;
Some start awa wi' saucy pride,
An' jump out owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

The Jane Austen's Centre Online Magazine has a great article on All Hallow's Eve. Click here to view.

By the way, traditionally, turnips and not pumpkins were carved, but were quickly abandoned once people discovered how much easier it was (?) to carve pumpkins.

Once the candle is lit, the result is apparently much more eerie than a pumpkin

Pride and Prejudice Question 31

Jane Austen presented herself very modestly and famously as a miniature worker on her "bits of ivory".  Subsequent Victorian biographers entrenched her image very firmly as Auntie Jane, a secluded spinster who scribbled her little books on a little table and consequently was confined to writing about the domestic matters of women.

How would you account for Jane Austen's appeal today? Do you agree with this assessment of her as an author? Does the rise of Chick Lit (significantly, beginning with Bridget Jones' Diary) have anything to do with her current popularity?

How much of that image is true?

(PS You may rant and rave if you wish, it's your last chance!)


  1. Final exam time! Great question Monica!

    I'll start with how I feel about Austen's works. When I first attempted P & P, twenty years ago, I couldn't read it. I thought the language was too "fussy". It wasn't until I saw the 2005 version of P & P (yes, this was my first!) that I thought I would give her books a second try. And now I am hooked!

    She is very much "stuck" in her time period. None of her heroines were really able to break free of the restrictions that society placed on them. They were all looking for a good match. But, underneath, the themes of Austen's works are timeless. Not just finding your soulmate, but finding your true self. This is what all of her heroines and heroes are in the end about. They find themselves and their perfect mate.

    Most of us, in spite of our "modern" ways, are looking for just that. We want what Lizzie and Darcy want, a marriage of equals, a meeting of the minds and a good income! :) This makes her books relevant to any age.

    The Anglophiles among us, and the romantics, are drawn to the period: balls and evening dress and dashing young soldiers! Don't we all think it would be lovely to live like that? And then I think to myself: no indoor plumbing, a hard life if you were in the serving class, arranged marriages, dying in childbirth. But, it all does seem romantic, and must have even in Austen's time!

    As for the current popularity of Austen's books, I'm not sure. There has always been chick lit in some form. There have always been classics that we love to reread. Some books just stand the test of time because they are well written. Austen's books have such a true insight into the human heart -- they will always be loved and appreciated for that reason.

    So, yes, Jane was a secluded spinster scribbling away. But, she had such a clear vision of the human heart. She must have been an extraordinary young woman to have felt so much while experiencing so little in her own life.

  2. I loved the pictures Monica! I did not know that you could carve turnips! lol But, as the article says, the turnips they sell here in the US are not big enough to hollow out. I'm going to try this next year -- maybe I'll even grow my own turnips! Happy Halloween everyone!

  3. I don't know about there being a revival. Personally, I've never seen her books as "going out of fashion." --And, I read P&P for the first time in 1962!-- I never had a problem with her language. In addition, I like the fact that she leaves most of the descriptive elements open for the reader to imagine. I dislike music videos for the same reason that I dislike some modern fiction, which goes much too far with the description -- and the sex. Puleeze, leave most of that to our imaginations! Her characters are always vivid -- they are alive. Like the modern play by Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters In Search of an Author, I believe these characters have been "done right" by her. This is why other so-called Regency-genre novels don't come up to snuff, in my not so humble opinion. They have just become a "genre". ;-)

  4. Happy Halloween! I love the turnip pictures. We were carving pumpkins last night and my three-year old son is very excited about lighting the candles in them tonight.

    Jane has been very popular for the past fifteen years or so certainly with the movies, TV movies and mini-series, and spin-off novels. And I admit that I love them all!

    From personal experience, I first watched the P&P mini-series in 1995 when I was a junior in high school and LOVED it! I read the book around the same time. My sister and my best friends and I all loved the mini-series and book and we talked about it non-stop and so began our passion with Austen. This was before Bridget Jones and Chick Lit had entered our world. I had assumed Jane Austen had never gone out of style, but I don't know from personal experience before this point in time!

    How would I account for Austen's appeal today is that she wrote fantastic stories. Her stories in timeless in that many of the themes of the stories are themes that resonate through time and can be understood through the generations. Her characters are all very well written. I often laugh when I read her novels as some of her characters are people that I know or run into on a daily basis. Overall her writing is very, very witty. The language of it is beautiful, ironic, and funny. Truthfully other classic authors (such as the Brontes, Edith Wharton, etc) have one or a few classics, and the rest of their novels are rather disappointing. All six of Austen's novels are classics.

    I think people enjoy the timeless quality of her books, the wit, and characters today as they did in years gone by. I think we hear about her a lot today because their are so spin-offs, movies, etc. that she is able to gain new fans through all of the publicity.

    I think modern "chick lit" (which I enjoy) enjoys its popularity due to Austen. Many of the novels (including Bridget Jones diary) mention Austen or use her themes. Even Twilight mentions Pride and Prejudice!

    I think Austen did live a rather secluded life as a woman of her time, but is that a bad thing? Many people now (including much of my family) live in their small towns and don't venture out that far. Austen made the most of it. She did travel around her part of England and was able to observe and write wonderful novels through her observations.

    Although maybe Austen had a fiery personality or other things we just don't know about. She was a woman it did suite everyone's purpose to make her a sad shut-in. It's interesting to think about.

    Before I sign off - I just want to say that I have greatly enjoyed all of these questions. It has been great "chatting" with other Austen lovers on these very interesting questions. Thank-you Monica!!

  5. Ooooh, creepy turnips. They look like evil alien babies.

    How can that meek little spinster image be correct when said spinster created Elizabeth Bennet, or Marianne Dashwood, or Emma Woodhouse? Those were strong, intelligent, vivacious women ahead of their time in many ways, and to think that their creator was some prim and proper old maid is insulting! (There's a rant for you, Monica!) I think Cassandra's poor drawing of her sister didn't help matters much. It's so clear from Austen's letters that she was whipsmart and witty and independent--and not some pale and wan wallflower. It's sad that she didn't have her own happy ending in love, but what a triumph in that time to not that be the be all/end all of her existence.

    Her characters are, as Julia said, timeless. The astute observations about people and the often devastating mannerisms and personality traits she gives her characters are still just as devastating and true today. And, of course, P&P is just the quintessential love story of two strong, smart, formidable personalities and how their mutual dislike changes to love.

    I think chick lit owes a lot to Jane Austen, but she'd likely have poked fun at the early focus on shoes and designer labels. I agree with others--I didn't realize she'd become popular again, because I thought she always was. If there was a Jane Austen renaissance, I'd put it down to the BBC miniseries more than Bridget Jones. Although I do think we owe the popularity of Jane Austen updates and sequels to the fabulously funny Bridget Jones!


Post a comment