Persuasions #11, 1989 Page 16-18
to Jane Austen
22, 1989 on the occasion of the (almost) 172nd anniversary of her death, at
JASNA-Illinois regional meeting.
This meeting was a lawn party at a member’s home in Lake Forest, with
participants asked to bring a box lunch and a “sit-upon.”
Lemonade and tea were provided.)
have heard of Miss Austen’s book, yes wasn’t Jane telling us of it just
yesterday or, stay, no it was the day before yesterday because that day it
rained and so hard that she could not take her walk or even go to Fords for the
length of worsted for my mother’s petticoat – for you know our petticoats
are very strong, as I was telling Mr. Frank Churchill – and last such a long
time but even we need a new one sometimes – but however Jane said oh it
doesn’t matter, I did get out early to get the mail and that will do as a walk
and I will just read a little of Miss Austen’s novel – Miss Woodhouse was so
kind as to lend it – and Jane reads so well – I don’t say she reads as
well as Miss Woodhouse but we love the way Jane reads, but however I didn’t
want her to tire herself – but she said she wasn’t tired, she enjoyed
reading Miss Austen’s novel – it was full of the most pleasant obliging
people and such surprising happenings, I was quite perplexed how it was going to
end – astonishing how anyone and such an agreeable lady too could find the
time to write it all down so regular and connected, and so many people as were
in it every one better than the next, but however to be sure there was some
wicked ones too, but I am thankful that I have never known any I have been blest
with the kindest neighbours in the world – but I was shocked – I think
everyone must be when they hear it – shocked at Elizabeth refusing Mr. Darcy
– I wanted to say Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet, what are you about – and the way
she talked to him – to be sure with great spirit but for a young lady – I
was quite frightened – our Jane would never talk that way – oh, you really
must go, and you won’t have another piece of cake? – well, Jane said Miss
Austen’s novel was just the thing for a wet July evening and my mother only
fell asleep after the third chapter.
I have been asked
to present a tribute to a young woman named “Jane Austen.”
I am grateful to my gracious hostess for this invitation. I am sure it is due to the profession of which I have the
honour to be a member. It is well
known that a clergyman is everywhere respected.
I am also most grateful to my gracious hostess for the delicious food of
which I have partaken. One moment
– my dear Charlotte has reminded me that our housekeeper prepared the luncheon
which we enjoyed so much. However,
she tells me that the delicious lemonade which we had the pleasure of drinking
was provided by our gracious hostess. I
also wish to take the opportunity to praise the beautiful gardens in which we
are sitting. They are full of lush
green grass and beautiful flowers, even though we had to bring our own chairs.
My dear Charlotte
has reminded me that I am to present a tribute to Miss Austen.
I do not understand what she has done to deserve any encomiums.
It has been said that she wrote very fine novels.
That is all very well, but I never read novels.
Young ladies are seldom interested in books of a serious stamp.
However, I will attempt to give some compliments with as unstudied an air
as possible. A better reason for praising her would be her strong devotion to
her family. Her father was a member
of the same profession to which I have the honour to belong.
She was also noted for playing the pianoforte, and for her love of
dancing. Dancing can be a most
respectable occupation, even for the daughter of a clergyman, and my love for
music is well known. If I were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I would have
obliged the company with a song myself.
It is indeed
unfortunate that Miss Austen never married.
The married state is recommended for everyone, and especially for a
well-educated young woman of small fortune.
It was her obligation to marry in order to support her dear mother and
her dear sister. She should not
have refused the offer of marriage that was made to her.
I feel sure that my noble patroness would agree with me.
My dear Charlotte
has reminded me that I must bring my remarks to a close, as there are many other
persons who have been asked to speak on this occasion.
I feel sure that none of them are clergymen who write their own sermons.
Remember that the clerical office is equal in point of dignity with the
highest rank in the kingdom – provided that a proper humility of behaviour is
at the same time maintained. I
thank you for your kind attention to my remarks, and I hope to see you at
morning service tomorrow.
Today, I have condescended to speak to all of you in order to eulogize a
woman, common though she may have been, who revealed some truly fascinating and
superior characteristics in her writing…especially in the one tome in which
the true distinctions between the social classes were shown, if unfortunately
not always maintained: that is, Pride and Prejudice.
I would like to advise you (and I am so very good at advising young
ladies…and some who are not so young, also) that regardless of what Miss
Austen wrote, I have not changed my mind about either having pride or being
She was a fine
writer (I myself would have excelled as an authoress, if only I had ever
actually written anything).
So here’s to
Miss Jane Austen, spinster, who fulfilled her talent insofar as her station in
life would allow. She was a good
middle class person, a fine writer, and most important of all, a sister to a
member of the peerage.
CATHERINE DE BOURGH