Persuasions #12, 1990 Pages 8-9
Juliet’s Own Darling Child
Department of English, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB
Only Jane Austen could claim Pride and Prejudice as her “own darling child.” But I, Juliet, by attending this year’s JASNA meetings, had the chance to be reunited with my own darling child too; though one who falls, alas, far short of Jane’s in beauty. He is a gargoyle on Washington Cathedral.
He is an indiscretion, a love-child if you will, that dates back to my wild student days at Mt. Holyoke College in 1960. There I heard that the national cathedral was willing to consider designs for gargoyles submitted by the general public. And there I followed specifications sufficiently complex, as to the shape of the moulding that the gargoyle was to fit on, the size of the pipe that went through his intestines and oesophagus, and the total dimensions from nose to toenail. I modelled him in clay and cast him in plaster, and sent him forth into the world – to Washington D.C. at least – to compete in the cutthroat ratrace among the gargoyles. And he made good. He was accepted, and in due course the cathedral masons carved him in situ. So far as I remember, the gestation period, from conception to his bursting in stone upon the astonished world, was some three years.
The JASNA meeting in Washington provided a chance for me to visit my stony son. Ours was a touching reunion. We could not embrace, but we communicated from afar through a telephoto lens. You see the result in the accompanying photograph and sketch. I found him on the south wall, just outside the cathedral gift shop, and one niche over from the alligator that is gnashing its teeth.
I wonder what relation is my gargoyle to another own darling child, one that I share with Jane (I am the stepmother, perhaps?) – the Beautifull Cassandra (yes, spelled that way). Some JASNA members will remember that I have created illustrations for Jane Austen’s little story, “The Beautiful Cassandra: a Novel in Twelve Chapters,” which she probably wrote when she was twelve. This project for a picture book for children has been generously awarded a grant in aid of publication by JASNA’s Board of Directors. I have hopes that the illustrated Cassandra, like her grotesque step-brother, may also burst upon the astonished world one day.