Posts Tagged ‘embarking on a Course of Study’

Gentle Readers, Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has often contributed posts to this blog. She will be visiting England soon. Lucky Chris! Before leaving, she asks you a question, a quite interesting one:

Next month I’m heading to England for a visit to London, which includes a too-brief pilgrimage to places associated with Jane Austen, including the Jane Austen House Museum, where I’ll be taking a writing class after I tour the house. The JAHM has a blog that you can follow and in catching up on the posts, I read one from April that talks about how much making a pilgrimage to Jane’s house means to most people who visit (myself included; I can’t wait!). One very special surprise, is that some visitors leave a gift or message for Jane that the staff finds later.

“It seems that for many people being in her home is part of an ongoing relationship that they develop with her as not only an author of their favourite books but also as a woman. Recently Isabel and I have found a few gifts and offerings to Jane and the house. I found a carefully made fan of hearts hung on a door handle in The Austen Family room. Each heart has a name of a character from Sense and Sensibility and they rotate to align with different people.”

Isn’t that wonderful? For pictures of the gifts and letters they’ve found, and to leave a comment about what you would leave in Jane’s house were you to visit (and find out what I’ll be leaving – you know I’m going to do it, it’s such a great idea!), go to my blog: Embarking on a Course of Study http://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com

Chris Stewart
Get to the Heart of Your Writing
Mentoring, Workshops, Editing, Critique: http://www.therealwriter.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChrisStewartTheRealWriter
Poets & Writers Profile: http://www.pw.org/content/christine_stewart

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Juliette Wells (L) and Christine Stewart (R)

Gentle Readers: Chris Stewart has contributed her recent thoughts to my blog. She has Embarked on A Course of Study regarding Jane Austen, a most fascinating journey that has her interviewing Janeites, dancing country dances, studying Jane Austen’s life and novels, and interviewing Jane Austen Scholars like Juliette Wells. Here then is Christine’s most recent contribution:

(A post in which I complain about everything I’m reading.)

Sometimes I really love my job. And sometimes it sucks the life out of my life. Between it and the fact that more furloughs are on the way so I’ve decided to rent out my house, move in with my sister, and save money (travel to the UK is also on the agenda), my focus has been elsewhere. There’s work to do on the house, documents to file with the property manager, packing. I just haven’t felt like reading anything taxing. I wanted book candy, so I reread Shannon Hales’ Austenland. Which is just as fabulous as I remember. See? I am committed – even my fluff reading is Austen-related.

So back to why I love my job. Stick with me, I do have sort of a theme going here. I’m the program director for literary arts with my state’s arts council and that meant, last month, I was able to make a site visit to Frederick to hear Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) speak. It was hosted by an organization that may apply for funding and I needed to attend an event, get a feel for what type of events they present, what type of audience attends, etc.

Before I go further, let me say that I think I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t fall for Eat, Pray, Love. It was just too ‘precious’ a story and didn’t have enough grit. It was all just too perfect for me. And the book/trip was planned. It didn’t just happen. That takes the magic out of it.

It made me think that maybe the pilgrimage thing is now officially ‘done.’ I mean, there’s EG’s book, and there’s Lori Smith’s book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Thankfully, though, after reading Lori smith’s book, I realize it’s not ‘done’ when it comes to Austen.

I really wanted to like the book. Lori and I see things similarly sometimes; I often found myself thinking she was going to say something and she then said it. I think that’s good. Or it might be predictable. I can’t decide. I was leaning on the side of trying to connect with her as a good reader should.

But there’s very little joy in the book. Most of it is either about God (there’s A LOT of Christianity in this book), or regurgitating Jane Austen info that we can find anywhere, or dissecting a non-existent relationship with a guy named Jack, that she meets at the start of the trip. None of these are positive musings, except the Jane part, as we love Jane, but I would have preferred less rehashing of known info.

And there’s very little in the way of a sense of humor in this book – a ‘make the best of it, find the humor in it’ mentality. I mean, she’s in freakin’ England visiting Austen sites. What is there not to be happy about??? She has an ongoing illness, which I am sorry about, but if it was going to drag her down as much as it does physically, mentally, emotionally (and us with her), then maybe she shouldn’t have gone.

Tina Fey

She also makes a huge error in judgment in the beginning of the book with a man she meets, inexcusable in one who is supposedly so well versed in Austen’s novels, which I go into more detail about in my post.

I don’t really have a connection to Tina Fey here, except that she strikes me as a 21st century Austen in her medium – television. She’s the edgy, sarcastic, funny, sometimes bitter side of all of us. As Elizabeth Gilbert is the open, loving, spiritual, innocent side. I think we should do justice to both. Plus, my best friend swears Tina Fey reminds her of me. I’m taking that as a compliment.

Evelina by Frances Burney

I haven’t just been completely idle; I have started Evelina by Fanny Burney and have decided two things.

You’ll have to go to the website to find out what they are: Embarking on a Course of Study

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fifth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. Herewith are her impressions of Country Dancing, her interview with Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at the Jane Austen House Museum, and her chat with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College

I’m officially six months in to this project and, lately, many things have happened to move me forward, as well as set me back due to my own occasional tendency towards doubt that got the best of me!

The most exciting was a correspondence with Rebecca Smith, writer-in-residence at the Jane Austen House Museum. Ms. Smith is the great, great, great, great, great niece of Jane Austen and is installed there for six months (until May 2010) working on a novel (she has already written two, which can be found on Amazon).

In response to my question, “How has being in Jane Austen’s house affected your writing and your feelings about yourself as a writer?” Ms. Smith writes:

“Well, I think the first thing I have noticed is how 200 years now seems to be such a short time, and I think this has changed the way I feel about everything.
If 200 years isn’t so long, the past and its people are more present, and less seems to be lost. I find this comforting. One of the odd and lovely things about being here is that some of the objects in the Museum are things that were once owned by my great aunts. For instance, a box that was carved by Jane’s brother, Francis, was, until not that long ago, something that my Aunt Diana kept cereal box and cracker toys in for the amusement of visiting children; and some of the smaller portraits I recognize as having once hung on their walls. I only had vague ideas of who these various Austens were when I was growing up – I probably wasn’t paying attention – but here they are now. It is as though I am following them round and we have all ended up where we should be. I do have this feeling – probably quite misplaced – of coming home. And this is ridiculous – why should I pay more attention to this branch of my family tree than any others? I have some really interesting Scottish ancestors too, including a captain who was shipwrecked on an island and was rescued to tell the tale. I had an Indian grandmother who died when my father was tiny – we know close to nothing about her. These stories are what I’m interested in writing about at the moment. It will be fiction, but the novel I’m trying to finish follows the story of five generations of a family from Hampshire to Canada and India and back again. I’m only going as far back as the Edwardians and the novel isn’t to do with Jane Austen.
I’m interested in ideas about home and belonging (and not belonging). But I can see that it is rather convenient of me to feel the pull of Jane Austen’s cottage in Chawton, which happens to be gorgeous and only 27 miles from where I live, rather than the houses in Scotland or India or Canada or the north of England where other ancestors dwelt.”

The title of the novel she is working on is tentatively called The Home Museum, which sounds welcoming and intriguing all at the same time. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to write in the same house in which one’s ancestor wrote so brilliantly. There’s a longer answer to other questions on my website.

I also hosted an English Country Dancing lesson that took place at the end of January in the ballroom of the Baltimore Hostel, a renovated 19th Century home in downtown Baltimore. There are pictures on my website of the room and the dance in progress. We had a wonderful professional, English, caller, Mr. Michael Barrelclough, who taught us five dances. We had eighteen people and by the end of the second dance, I could look down the set and see everyone becoming more comfortable and familiar with the style of English Country Dancing and the steps.

English Country Dancing, Emma with Kate Beckinsale

We still stumbled and Michael led us through some sections several times until we got it, and we laughed and laughed. It was one of the happiest evenings, and I felt so much more confident about my ability to remember steps and understand the calls. I worried less about messing up and just had a marvelous time. There’s something about these dances that is both down-to-earth and elegant and you feel both giddy and graceful at the same time. Everyone wants to have another dance so, we shall!

I’d like to say I’ve made progress on the dating ‘the Jane Austen way,’ but I have not. December – February is my busiest time of year at the arts council and I’m barely keeping my head above water – or should I say snow? The back-to-back snowstorms in the last few weeks set me back quite a bit and rescheduling meetings and Poetry Out Loud competitions completely took over.

There’s also the cost. I’m a state employee and due to our mess of a budget, state employees are required to take 8 furlough days, which is shredding my paycheck. I can’t afford a $30 or more fee for online dating services every month. Maybe in a few months, once the fiscal year ends and we, hopefully, have a balanced budget (or I have a decent tax return!).

In the meantime, I will do what practicing I can at any events I attend, of which there are many when one works in the arts!

Most recently I sat down with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College this year. Dr. Wells teaches at Manhattanville College in New York and was here for a week to give a talk, meet with faculty and students, and do research in Goucher’s Austen collection, donated in 1975 by alum Alberta Hirshheimer Burke (1928) at the time of her death. This nationally-recognized collection consists of Austen first editions, rare period publications related to the life and landscape of rural England, and Alberta Burke’s own notebooks of Austen-related memorabilia and correspondence with Austen collectors and scholars. The Burkes also donated letters to The Morgan Library in New York, where the current Austen exhbit is taking place.

A little trivia: apparently, her husband, Henry Burke, cofounded JASNA with Joan Austen-Leigh and J. David Gray just a few years later in 1979, so the first 25 years of JASNA’s archives are also housed at Goucher.

Dr. Wells was interested in, and supportive of, the project, and I’ll be posting more info about our meeting soon, along with a picture and a podcast of her talk at Goucher. She is writing a book called Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, and is exploring how Austen has been appropriated and absorbed by popular culture through film, television, and books. She completed a fellowship at the Chawton House Library last summer.

You can read one of her articles in Persuasion at this link.

and find a link to an interview on Penguin Classics On Air at my website. She was the editor of the recent electronic version of Pride and Prejudice published by Penguin Classics, that includes all sorts of wonderful extras about fashion, architecture, dancing, and etiquette.

You can also read about the mini-crisis I had about this project, mostly because people began asking me about whether or not I wanted a book deal and if so, what was the purpose of the project, and I realized I didn’t have a thesis and did I want a book deal like Lori Smith was angling for when she had her blog that turned into A Walk With Jane Austen ?!?!?!

Deep breath!

So then I became very overwhelmed and lost sight of the joys and the basics of what I was doing. I realized I did need to figure out the purpose of the project for myself, and let the rest fall where it may.

This led me to an examination of character through the unlikely source of Pamela Aidan’s trilogy Fitzwilliam Darcy, A Gentleman which was the only reading I could manage during the storms. It’s both cozy and anxiety-provoking to be caught in snowstorms, knowing you’re missing all your commitments and how much catch up there will be….Plus I had a dead battery and every day I left the car at the dealership they seemed to find something else wrong with the it!

But back to my crisis. Did I figure out that darned purpose? I did, with Dr. Wells’ indirect help.

Next weekend I’m off to NYC to visit The Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit.” Some friends are going and we’re taking a video camera, so watch out!

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fourth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. During the recent snow storm on the East Coast, she made good use of her time by completing 100 pages of The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Okay, here’s my clever (I hope) new idea for the new year: dating a la Jane Austen via match.com.

What better way to test out the preferred behavior, character, and values of our favorite heroines (for me: Lizzy, Elinor, and Anne) that captivated their men? And what better arena than one of (or the) largest dating site on the Internet – arguably the biggest ballroom in the world?!

Let’s look at the necessary criteria:

  • I’m single and available – check.
  • I’m armed with an arsenal of advice Jane Austen style (see book list on my site) – check.
  • I’ve got a healthy sense of humor – check.
  • I’m willing to make a fool of myself – check.
  • I’m willing to learn something – check, check, check!

That’s what this blog is all about!

Though I consider myself a great catch, I’m an interesting (odd?) mix of come hither and cautious, which makes for some contradiction. I can flirt, but at heart I want someone grounded, centered, not necessarily old-fashioned, but someone with integrity and good manners to go along with his rockin’ sense of humor, his smarts, creativity, good heart, and sex appeal. I’ve really misjudged men in the past and accepted less than I deserved, sometimes ignoring my intuition, which was yelling Run! in favor of being with someone rather than being alone. Settling for Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right Always. Good grief – who hasn’t, right? It’s all part of growing up.
But still – ouch.

I took a break for a few years – focused on career and writing, friends, buying a house, and now this blog, but this is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
If you’d like to hear more and see the books I’m using (and take this challenge along with me), go to my site, Embarking on a Course of Study.

In a previous post a week or so ago, you can find a  link to listen to and/or download the entire ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho.’ Some readers of the sections are better than others. But it’s a delicious treat regardless.

I’m still doing my regular course of reading per Marianne Dashwood’s possible list. It’s sometimes slow going as there’s so much (!), but worth it.

Happy New Year!

Chris Stewart
(A Sense and Sensibility inspired project)

Christine’s other posts for this blog:

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Inquiring readers: This is the third guest post by Christine Stewart, who has embarked on the year-long Sense and Sensibility inspired project on her blog, Embarking of a Course of Study.  Read her biography on Poets and Writers. Enjoy!

Let’s just say how much I am enjoying rereading Northanger Abbey. The first few times I read it, I think it was right after reading P&P or S&S and I was still steeped in all the (I was going to say romance, but Austen doesn’t really do romance) push and pull, hopes and dreams, of the characters’ road to marriage (let’s go with that), so I was frustrated with the satire and play and narrator’s voice in the book at times – because I wanted it to be another P&P or S&S or Persuasion.

Well, it’s a rollicking good time now and I can appreciate it for all its charms and cleverness. It’s the one book where Jane’s voice speaks to you directly and it’s a fun dialogue. Her wit is beyond compare! She really goes full force, no holds barred. Awesome.

It’s gotten me thinking how much of her characters’ character, and whether they take the high road or low and end up where they want to go, is tied to books. Books have power – whether read or written (women created some measure of independence – money – through writing) – and they make or break the character and her future. The wrong ones give you the wrong ideas and make you the wrong fit (and wrong-headed) for the partner who could have been right otherwise. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. The heroines who do well are the ones with self-command, self-awareness, and the power of self-examination. The ones that follow (to the greater degree) the rules of propriety, and who have a handle on their emotions, go the furthest.

This is something many women may not be taught today, as young girls. Yes, as children, we knew about behaving at the dinner table and in malls, etc., but I’m pretty sure my friends and I never heard word one about dealing with/managing our emotions (fears, worries, even joys), so they didn’t rule us. And self-examination? What??? Who heard of that as a teenager or young adult, when you needed it most?

With all the silly (ok – STUPID) magazines we read – Tiger Beat, Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Cosmo – that were all about dressing and making oneself up for a man and making him feel important, forgetting about what was inside us and making ourselves feel good first, we didn’t stand a chance. And then it became all about career – women ‘having it all.’ Always looking outside, not inside for ways to manage our lives. Media in general was not (and still isn’t) responsible in how it communicates with young women. And most of our parents didn’t know how to help themselves let alone us.

There’s been a big resurgence of self-help books, classes, and videos geared towards teaching women how to relate to men, how to get what they want from men, how to meet the right one and marry him. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary. But it’s even larger now. Being 43 and single, I get targeted for these kinds of ads/info on the Internet. There’s a huge industry with audio, video, books, teleconferences, soulmate kits, vedic astrology readings, and more. Who knew?

It’s really boomed since The Secret came out and the masses learned about The Law of Attraction on Oprah. It’s a new (and very commercial – because that’s what we Americans do best) version of the ‘how tos’ that Austen’s characters (the sensible ones) demonstrate for us.

And guess what? It’s all about self-examination, self-awareness, and self-command. That’s the good news. It’s still about reading the right books, which is still a minefield experience. That’s the bad.

Let me ‘share’ that about 13 years ago I had an anxiety disorder that lasted for several years (panic attacks and everything, good times), and that taught me those three skills. It forced me, more like, but I hadn’t known or seen their necessity in my life to that point, so that’s what it took for me to wake up, apparently! I’m grateful that it happened as it was a major turning point in my life and a constant reminder to keep up those practices. It’s not an experience you forget. Still, would have been easier to have had good examples in life and books instead….

So what do you think? How were you raised? Who were your examples/models of womanhood? Do you regularly take stock of your feelings and behavior and adjust where needed? Do you put yourself first (not thinking selfish here, there’s a difference), take care of yourself? Make hard choices/decisions? I’d love to hear.

Stop by the website and comment, and check out a video of Jane Austen’s House (12/11 post), and a link to The Gentlewoman’s Companion, or A Guide to the Female Sex (11/30 post). Let’s read along together!

Enjoy Jane’s birthday!

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