Literary Digression: Stumbling upon a friend’s book @ my town’s lovely bookstore and cafe.

So was out and about this morning, doing the usual errands, bank, dry cleaners and post office.  Thought I pop round the Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe, our local bookstore/cafe for a little gift shopping.  It’s a cozy little oasis with a nice selection of multicultural children’s books and other offerings, Y/A, fiction, nonfiction, and bestsellers, as well as local authors and what do I see on the shelf? My friend and indie author, Farha’s most recent book — Beauty Sleeping — a modern twist/mystical re-telling of the traditional story.  Which is a a fun and fascinating read, especially during the gray days we are dealing with in the middle of winter.  And if you are ever lost between East Boston and the airport, or severely delayed out of Boston’s Logan Airport, with some time to spare set your GPS  and please venture out and pay the Winthrop Book Depot a visit at 11 Somerset Ave. Winthrop, MA 02152.  The Winthrop Book Depot & Cafe is family run, with a menu of coffees, teas, baked goods and treats to enjoy, along with exhibits featuring the work of local artists, as well as special events including author readings and performances.



Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler

Sharing a wonderful Christmas present I received this year, the book Dinner with Mr. Darcy,  is an interesting compilation of modern adaptations of Regency-era recipes along side reprints of the originals from their sources all noted in the bibliography.

This book includes interesting anecdotes about the origins of some of the foods or recipes, as well as essays about the connections these foods have in Austen’s time period  as shown through her work via references to her novels and her personal letters.

Chapters are are largely and charmingly Austen-themed:

Breakfast with General Tilney — Northanger Abbey,

Mrs. Bennett’s Dinner to Impress — Pride and Prejudice,

Pork and Apples:  An Autumn Dinner with the Bateses — Emma,

Jane’s Family Favorites — Letters of Jane Austen,

The Picnic Parade — Emma,

Tea and Cake — Mansfield Park,

The Ball at Netherfield — Pride and Prejudice,

An Old-Fashioned Supper for Mr. Woodhouse and His Guests — Emma,

Christmas with the Musgroves and Other Celebrations — Persuasion, and

Gifts, Drinks, and Preserves for Friends and the Sick at Heart — Sense and Sensibility.

This is a lovely addition to my growing collection of Jane Austen books in my small home library.




Digression: Bookstore Memories — The White Rabbit.

The White Rabbit Bookstore, was one of the first proper bookstores, I visited as a child in the city.  To my memory it was long and a bit narrow.  There were wooden shelves of books, mid-low to the ground, so children had easy access.  Also dolls, stuffed animals and toys on display throughout perhaps on the higher shelves or on top of bookcases not so much for sale but as decorations.

Sometimes think it in a slight way was similar in concept to vision of writer/director Nora Ephron’s fictional store, “The Shop Around the Corner,” in the film: You’ve Got Mail.  Except not as airy or with such quaint displays.  Remember the walls were a pale green, sort of a light olive color and the lighting was warm but not natural.  There was an area, similar to a window seat, toward the back.  Can recall sitting down there for a bit and my mum coming to get me and I do remember buying one of the Little House books there.  I believe it was, Little House in the Big Woods, which I was surprised to find it was the first book in the series.  For I had read Little House on the Prairie first, ordered through one of the monthly Scholastic catalogs at school, and after reading the series always took issue with the television series and how the show really diverted from the books.

The White Rabbit, I’m presuming was named for the character in Alice in Wonderland. Over time my memories of it have become dimmer, because I was probably about seven or eight years old when I visited in the 1970’s.  Was located in the newly renovated and opened Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Not in Quincy Market’s main building which had been transformed from a food distribution center to a food court, with small stalls and pushcarts as part of urban renewal project, but either the North or South market buildings which featured retail and restaurants on the ground and first floors and offices upstairs.  These days, the North and South buildings remain but the upper/first floor small shops have pretty much been eliminated, either for retail of the ground floor tenants having additional space, or for offices.  As a local teen I set my sights on working in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, and I did — starting senior year  in high school and for a few years in college in South Market during summers and school breaks.

We may have made only one visit to The White Rabbit Bookstore, but it made a grand impression. Only other memory of that day, and visit to the marketplace with my mum, was eating lunch at the Magic Pan restaurant, located upstairs in the main Quincy Market building.  Apparently, as I have rechecked online, it was a small chain restaurant that served different kinds of crepes.  By the time I started working in the marketplace in the late 1980’s the Magic Pan was gone, replaced by another restaurant and comedy club, which faded away as well.

Not sure when The White Rabbit bookstore closed.  Again have tried searching online but The White Rabbit Bookstore, along with many of the other departed stores and restaurants, that I recall from over the years in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace seem to have just faded into the ether without a trace into the larger abyss of Lost Boston.


“And what is fifty miles of good road?”

Taking a little time here to follow up, examining the scene in Pride and Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy, quite unexpectedly visits Elizabeth in the parsonage.   Austen describes that Elizabeth happened to be alone and the conversation did not exactly flow.  Elizabeth first tries to make polite inquiries about Mr. Bingley and Netherfield — but sort of hits a wall with Mr. Darcy: “Elizabeth made no answer.  She was afraid of talking longer of his friend; and having, nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.”

Darcy though does pick up his end of the conversation, choosing to the discuss the parsonage and her cousin Mr. Collins.  “He took the hint, and soon began with, ‘This seems a very comfortable house.  Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.'”

And Elizabeth’s response — another line often tweaked for film or adaptations: “I believe she did — and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.”  Bit of Austen’s wicked wit here, as she is poking fund not just of her hapless and often sniveling cousin Mr. Collins but also of Lady Catherine to an extent with the choice of the word “kindness” owing again to Austen’s descriptions of Lady Catherine’s domineering personality.

Their talk then turns into the Collins marriage and the distance that Charlotte resides from her family, with Darcy commenting: “It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

Elizabeth shoots back: “An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

So Darcy sort of mansplains here: “And what is fifty miles of good road?  Little more than half a day’s journey.  Yes I call it a very easy distance.”  (Emphasis is Austen’s own.)

This exchange is interesting on a number of levels.  First, it shows perhaps the differences of opinion between a member of the social classes of the time nobility (Darcy) and the gentry (Elizabeth). As well as a marked difference between the genders, Darcy a man who sees little more than a half day of travel being no big deal, and Elizabeth as woman of the time period, who like her author, considers 50 miles to be a much longer distance because she  must take into account: scheduling, being escorted, time, and money — issues and concerns that don’t apply to Mr. Darcy.  As a gentleman he has the money, resources and male freedom to come and go as he pleases.

Interesting as the discussion continues because Darcy doesn’t back off from Elizabeth pushing back, rather he continues to fish for information, “It is proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire.  Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Darcy is trying to find out, in the wake of his interest for her and I presume in trying to form his upcoming proposal, how Elizabeth feels about the distance from the family home.  And, again that I will comment here that Mr. Firth, did a very fine and subtle portrayal in the BBC adaption, of Mr. Darcy in this particular scene: “As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered, ‘I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too hear her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances.'”

Per Austen, Elizabeth felt the smile was a reference back to her earlier questions about Mr. Bingley and in her sister Jane.  I’m not sure if Austen intended for the reader to really feel that Elizabeth missed this line of questioning by Darcy and/or his interest in her, and his trying to gauge perhaps worried that his Pemberley estate — would be too far and some sort of a deal breaker.

Sort of Shakespearian in nature, two people having a conversation and taking away different meanings as a result. Austen sort of sets it up, Elizabeth got a smile which was it seems a rarity for Darcy, and he turned his chair and gave her this directive — a little chiding in tone it seems was directed squarely at Elizabeth — she cannot have mistake it for a Jane/Bingley reference. “Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, ‘You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You cannot always have been at Longhorn.”

Jane Austen lets the reader fill in the blank or not.  She simply writes: “Elizabeth looked surprised.”

And I’m left to wonder — okay, how was she surprised? In the mind of Elizabeth Bennett was she asking herself: “why does he care?”  Or did it go completely over her head, which seems to be the latter.  Elizabeth seems to unintentionally to be missing all of Darcy’s clues of his apparent interest in her.

Austen then details how Elizabeth’s reaction impacts Darcy: “The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper form the table, and, glancing over it, said in a colder voice, ‘Are you pleased with Kent?'”  To sum up, there is something going on here, because Darcy turns his chair again, goes for a prop, the newspaper — and/or item of distraction/protection, and Austen notes his tone changes, specifically Austen writes he now has a “colder voice.”

Darcy is either frustrated, scared or both and he retreats into his usual short, clipped and disinterested stance.  He pretty much clams up.  The whole fishing for information, the intimacy or Darcy’s attempt at it was over, “A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensured, on either side calm and concise — and soon put to an end by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from their walk.”   Because immediately Darcy takes the opportunity to just get himself out of there.

Charlotte, for the rest of the visit seems more aware of Mr. Darcy’s possible interest in Elizabeth.  “She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea.”   From here it’s clear that Austen perhaps either intended for their to be a sort of mix up and misunderstanding from Darcy’s parsonage visit, or that Elizabeth just dismissed Darcy because of his personality.

And Charlotte, per Austen, did not want to raise Elizabeth’s hopes of marrying someone in nobility, “from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend’s dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power.”  Austen seems to be giving readers a little bit a preview or a clue — if Charlotte her dear friend could see it, then we all should right?

Austen continues really with a practical notation on women trying to plan for other women, for Charlotte is savvy enough to realize Colonel Fitzwilliam does not have as much money or connections, but Charlotte it seems, prefers Darcy’s cousin as a choice via the Regency marriage market, “In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam.  He was beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam certainly may have had some polite or overt interest in Elizabeth, that motivated his cousin to realize his attachment for Elizabeth was not fleeting, and perhaps that is what spurred Darcy’s visit to the parsonage but Austen does not detail that, she leaves it again to us, her readers to decide.

However, I do think this parsonage/visit scene was Austen’s way of showing another, softer side of Darcy that he was trying to convey, as well as his interest in Elizabeth. The very practical discussion of distance and settling near/far from your family, as well the details about his tone, smile, and moving his chair closer and then away.  Austen conveys through all of this — how Darcy was definitely interested in Elizabeth.  Austen also notes to her readers, that Elizabeth could not see it or understand it, but as an author she plants the idea for us by using the Charlotte character, Elizabeth’s friend, a married woman who sort of settled in her own life, and is a little more neutral and perceptible in these observations and interactions.

All cites to Penguin Classics, Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice, reprinted/ed. 1985.

















Letter to Cassandra Tues. 18 — Wed. 19, December 1798

Per the notes, this letter also follows several that are missing in Jane Austen’s correspondence time line.  Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra from their home in Steventon in the weeks before Christmas, and apparently Cassandra is away visiting their brother Edward at his large home Godmersham Park.  From the opening it sounds like Austen was missing Cassandra very much, “Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come, in which I think consult the ease of us both.”

The whole, making a rule reference — sounds like Austen is trying to assure her sister she is not hanging on her every letter, which sort of reflects both her missing Cassandra and confirming again to her older sister that she knows she is busy and doesn’t expect her to write all the time.

Next item up is a reference to some sort of legal business for Cassandra, per the notes perhaps the legacy (pension) left to Cassandra by her fiancé Tom Fowle who perished en route to a position in the West Indies, and then Austen goes right into planning for winter clothes and accessories, “I shall keep my ten pounds too to wrap myself up in next winter.” (Underline by Austen.) Per the notes, the ten pounds Austen cites here may either being their Christmas allowance from her father Mr. Austen, or a gift from Mrs. Knight — their extended family member, who adopted their brother Edward as her male heir.  Continues describing a black velvet bonnet in particular, and possible changes to it and other hats, and also she seems to be asking Cassandra for input on in trying to update a hat to one similar to one fashionable at that time, per the notes references a red poppy color, or perhaps otherwise try to save them and not replace them to avoid more expense.

Austen then talks about one of their seafaring brothers, Charles, “I am sorry that our dear Charles begins to feel the Dignity of Ill-usage. — My father will write to Admiral Gambier.”  Per the notes, it seems that Charles was trying to transfer to another post/larger ship.  Apparently there are some ideas being discussed to help Charles with his situation in the Navy, plus some scheduling plans, and apparently there was a bit of a glitch going on, “I cannot approve of your scheme of writing to him (which you communicated to [p.2] a few nights ago) to request him to come hoe & convey you to Steventon. — To do you justice however, You had some doubts of the propriety of such a measure yourself.” (Underline and page cite are Austen’s own.)

This letter then goes onto the topic of their nephew George (Edward’s son aka itty Dordy), who seems to be generally regularly discussed back and forth between the sisters in their letters.  Austen has routinely sent regards to her little nephew with comments that are sort of anxious that he will forget her. “I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his messages, for his Love at least; — his Duty I suppose was only in some consequence of some hint of my favourable intentions towards him from his Father or Mother,”  (Underlines are Austen’s own.)  Austen also includes a reference to the tradition of someone having a “dish of tea” on their birthday, and again per the notes, the saucers were so large during that time period, it was deemed socially fine to drink out of it — the idea of saying a “dish of tea” was a more popular expression than a “cup of tea.”  Wrapping up discussing their nephew little George, Austen adds, “Give my best Love to him.”  Before relaying news of a morning visit by neighborhoods to Steventon, by Mr. Holder and Mr. Harwood.

Austen then informs Cassandra she received a note about a circulating library from a Mrs. Martin, which was an invitation to subscribe to her collection, “which opens the 14th of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given.”  Circulating libraries were popular during Jane Austen’s time, and they cost money to be able to borrow the books or “subscribe.” Not sure about this, I’m wondering if Cassandra would be listed as a subscriber because she is an oldest sister, or simply because Jane Austen just could not afford her own library subscription at the time, but the notes do not offer a cite or any clarification here. Austen continues in this letter, “My Mother finds the Money — Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. — As an inducement to subscribe Mrs. Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of Novels, but of every kind of Literature &c &c — She might have spared this pretension to our family who are great Novel-readers & not ashamed of being so; — but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her Subscribers.”  (Underlines and &c are Austen’s own.)

Austen doesn’t seem to really have a great opinion of Mrs. Martin,  mostly for Mrs. Martin’s pitch that she was offering more than novels in this circulating library collection.  Chiefly because during that time period, novels were sort of looked down upon as sort of lighter or trash reading. To make a comparative popular culture reference today, I guess it would be a similar social-type stigma, if someone said they only watched reality/staged television shows and nothing else what so ever.  My take on this is: 1) on one Austen seems to be saying to Cassandra that she thinks Mrs. Martin is being pretentious in advertising the library will be more diverse with different types of books and that is fine, but Mrs. Martin could have spared this pitch to the Austens because they all as she said love to read novels and I guess everyone knows this about them, but 2) then Austen acknowledges to Cassandra, perhaps Mrs. Martin is just doing a much larger sales pitch to make other people happy and get more subscribers.

After the discussion of the subscription library, Austen returns to neighborhood and family news updates relaying them all to Cassandra, including nightly rituals at Steventon in comparison to a large house like Godmersham, “We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin — We drink tea at half after six.  I am afraid you will despise us.  — My Father reads Cowper to us in the evening, to which I listen when I can.”  Austen then sets down a series of questions to Cassandra asking her how they are passing the evenings at Godmersham, before going into an obligatory update about their mother, concerning Mrs. Austen’s health and ongoing issues.  Austen continues with updates with the Lefroy and Digweed families, close friends and neighbors, including James Digweed being kicked by a young horse and getting a nasty cut.

Then Austen circles back to her cap and situation with the current fashion with updates to hats and gowns, as well as more news and her frustration in making plans for her own travels and visits, “Perhaps I may stay at Manydown as long as Monday, but not longer.  — Martha sends me word that she is too busy to write to me now, & but for your letter, I should have supposed her deep in the study of Medicine preparatory to their removal from Ibthrop.”  Apparently having learned from Cassandra’s letter that Martha wrote to Cassandra and not here, claiming she was busy — Austen was perhaps annoyed that their dear friend Martha had not wrote back personally to her, and throws a bit of wicked slide at Martha’s being “too busy” as if Martha were a medical student — the idea and or concept which was nearly impossible during this time period.

Another visit seems to be in the works but Austen does not seem to be looking forward to it, “The letter to Gambier goes to day. — I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to but Catherine; for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there; Lucy is to go with Mr. Russell.”  Per the notes, most likely Jane Austen, referencing “Madame Lefroy,” her friend and mentor who died in a tragic riding accident which inspired Austen to write a memorial poem four years after her death.  Madame Lefroy was also married/a connection to Tom Lefroy, Austen’s “Irish Friend.” Per the notes, “the earliest English Lefroys were Huguenots (French Protestants cast out of France), who came to this country in the late sixteenth (16th) century and settled in Kent.” (Notes in parenthesis are my own.)

Continues to sort of lament different circumstances here to her older sister, venting a little bit perhaps about their economical situation and those of their friends in Steventon, “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. — Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there; — I must do similar justice however to the Windsor neighborhood.”

This is followed by telling Cassandra that two sheets of her drawing paper were given away, and Cassandra may want to restock on drawing paper when she goes to town.  Presuming here Austen means London.  Austen closes this letter by saying she has finally heard from Martha, not citing a letter and also their other Naval brother Frank, “all well, & nothing particular.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFay, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.