16 December 2011
Dearest Cousin Jane, our own Lady Williams,
Today has been the most glorious of days. Against the wishes of my dear family, I have, reluctantly, answered the prayers of a most amenable lady, Miss Regina Jeffers, who resides in the Americas to spend my 236th birthday with her. Miss Jeffers is a woman with a temper remarkably easy and is everything that is generous and considerate. However, fearing for my Christian soul and because of principle, as well as pride, our beloved Cassandra and my cousin Eliza have accompanied me.
The source of the family’s fears lay in the naming of the neighborhood in which Miss Jeffers resides: Indian Trail. Images of undraped painted savages fired our fears, but Miss Jeffers assured me prior to our visit, that although Amerinds do exist in 21st Century America, the “tribes,” as the kind lady terms them, act far differently from the hostile massacres reported in the Times in 1810. With a bit of biting humor, the lady added, “Unless one counts losing one’s fortune at a Cherokee casino table as a violent attack.” Miss Jeffers later explained that to survive in modern America, the Cherokees and several other tribes native to the continent have resorted to opening gambling halls to support their numbers. I have never known anyone who has peopled such an establishment, but Eliza assures me that Henry has been known to associate with several London toffs who frequent gaming hells. As we always say of our most mercurial brother, “Oh that, Henry!” I could quite imagine John Willoughby, Tom Bertram, or George Wickham, with their blunted delicacy, their perversions, their corrupted vitiated minds, and their cold-blooded vanities, would intimately know the insides of these infamous dens. I admit to finding Miss Jeffers’ use of the term Amerinds for what we have disdainfully voiced as American Indians intriguing. Miss Jeffers claims her society is much more politically correct than previous generations. I am not familiar with the term, but having known George IV’s influence, I can readily determine her meaning. The phrase, “to his Royal Highness, THE PRINCE REGENT, this work is, by His Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated, by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, THE AUTHOR” still haunts me.
Miss Jeffers lives on a quiet road in a radiantly beautiful community known as Lake Park. Eliza, Cassandra, and I arrived at Miss Jeffers’ stately home several days prior to the marking of my birthday celebration. According to the local weatherman, the temperature remained in the upper 60s. I am not certain what those words mean exactly; however, we have found the weather quite mild, and we have enjoyed several vigorous walks along the village streets, which sport a physician’s office, a school for small children, fashionable townhouses to rival many of London’s finest, and an excellent coffee shop – although I admit to having no taste for the bitter brew, the conversation and company were welcomed. I suppose that I should remark on the fact that in this day and age that a man might earn a living by predicting the weather. Although I have known several men who have held an interest in science, I had never thought that studying the weather might be a source of income. My hostess assures me that these predictors are only correct 50% of the time. I think that is more remarkable than the fact that a man might feed his family from such an occupation. This is definitely a very forward-thinking and ridiculous time. Thankfully, Miss Jeffers, my new BFF, prefers brewing her tea from loose leaves to imbibing in this American beverage. BFF, my most adored cousin, represents the words Best Friends Forever. It seems that not only the Americans, but the world, have turned its back on the King’s English. Everything in this contemporary world is abbreviated for some odious form of communication called text messaging. Miss Jeffers is fond of LOL, which means laugh out loud. People in this time use this acronym to indicate what they have just offered an offense but did so with irony. Humor is the only socially accepted form of criticism, and the modern world has used this slight as common behavior. Our hostess has even described something called Twitter where people communicate with a total of 140 letters and spaces combined. How pitiful the depths of conversation has sunk! And to think I once had my dearest Anne Elliot say, “My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.” Miss Jeffers has explained that she and her friends on Twitter “tweet” about me so I suppose that I must withdraw any objections I might have of this newfound form of elucidation.
I am in awe that Miss Jeffers lives in this modest home alone, with scarcely any private fortune. In my time, it would have never been possible. Yet, I have found great satisfaction in the main among my new acquaintance. It is a two-story dwelling surrounded by several stately trees and a small rose garden. What most amazed both Eliza and I were three rooms devoted to nothing but bathing and ones personal needs. With just the twist of a knob, hot and cold water are delivered upon a whim. No servants to tote the water nor the need for chamberpots. The early tales of water closets have miraculously developed into a system that whisks away one’s unmentionables with the touch of a lever.
Over the past few days, Miss Jeffers has graciously given me a personal “tour” of what she calls my influence on the literary canon. On her floor to ceiling shelves, the lady sports some 150 books based upon my six simple novels. We have traveled in a modern day carriage that Regina calls a Buick LaCrosse (a coach with all forward facing seats and no horses) to the bookstore closest to the lady’s home to marvel at the number of books available that are based on my writings. My own titles still thrive on the shelves after more than 200 years. The thought of such accolades has brought me to happy tears. I am attempting to be sensible about my uncommon good fortune, but I admit that vanity was in such good order that a bit of burlesque crept into my bearing.
Our hostess has also introduced our party to a plethora of “films” that tout my novels as great works of literature. “Films” is the term Miss Jeffers uses. To describe these advancements, I would say that someone has captured the images of stage actors with scenery in a constantly moving format, which can be viewed multiple times. It seems there are various adaptations of my books. That sounds odd for me to say without sounding of conceit. It is not something I can easily accept, but accept them I will. I watched Sense and Sensibility with a wish that I had given the good Colonel Brandon as much depth as did the person who rewrote it for this play. Despite having the advantage in every feature, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park have received less attention than my other works. I do not censure Miss Jeffers remarks, but there certainly is impropriety in making them public. I have been set to wondering what makes those two pieces less acceptable to the reading public, but my disapprobation is one of a great defect of temper, made worst by a very faulty habit of self-indulgence. LOL! I did adore one particular version of Persuasion. I have always held a fondness for Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Despite not following my story line completely, the characters were captured beautifully by the actors. One British group has taken my beloved Pride and Prejudice and produced a performance that totals some six hours. It was fairly displayed, and I was quite pleased with it. A two-hour version of my favorite tale was less true to the actual story, but was equally as amiable.
Miss Jeffers also showed me other items bearing my name and likeness that she termed as collectibles: a trivia game, paper dolls, chess pieces, a necklace, a door marker, greeting cards, and even a doll created in my image. In viewing these items, I considered how much revenues from such items could have benefited my dear family, and I am grieved by the knowledge of how my mother, Cassandra, and I had to live after the passing of Reverend Austen. Cassandra, however, saw Miss Jeffers’s revelations as a bold statement of what she claims she had always known. My darling Cassandra speaks of my genius as if I might rival the world’s greatest thinkers. I am humbled by her praise. If I were a woman given to conceit, all this attention would lead me to shout for joy from the windows of the highest drying rooms of Chatsworth House.
Speaking of the great house leads me to share news of my actual birthday celebration. Although Miss Jeffers readily confirmed the numerous marvels that she could show me, my hostess had chosen a simpler celebration. We rose early, but I must say that the metropolitan concept of “early” is greatly in arrears of a new day’s start in the country. We breakfasted at the lady’s home. Our hostess kindly served a full breakfast with eggs, Cumberland sausages, bacon, potatoes, grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, and toast with clotted cream. As a vegetarian, Miss Jeffers has gone to great lengths to share what she believes would remind our party of our happier times. With such warm feelings and lively spirits, it is difficult for me to do justice to her affection.
After breakfast, we departed the lady’s home for a leisurely driven journey to a place north of Charlotte. We marveled at the beauty of the countryside, a piedmont between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. I must say that if English roads had been so well maintained, Mr. Darcy’s journey from Pemberley to Longbourn would have have been but a matter of hours rather than days. Our destination was a place called Biltmore House, a 250-room French chateau in the mountain town of Asheville. It dates to 1895 and was built by George Vanderbuilt. I have enclosed a rendering of the house, which sports fabulous gardens, its own village, and a winery. One could spend days exploring this estate. The estate could easily contend as a model of my fictionalized Pemberley.
Leaving this magnificent house behind, we enjoyed an afternoon tea at a local tea shop called SweetTea’s Bakery and Tea Room. Miss Jeffers explained that in the South (of the American continent) that people prefer their tea cold and very very sweet, and that concept was the impetus for choosing the name for the tea room. Today, the proprietress was serving cream teas, each of us choosing our own flavors. A pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream and raspberry preserves brought a renewal of our energies.
Returning to Charlotte, we took an early supper at Big Ben’s British Pub. According to Miss Jeffers, Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north end of London’s Palace of Westminster. Over 150 years old, it is the largest four-face chiming clock in the world. I am sorry not to have known of this historic landmark until today. The pub is owned by two former Englishmen, and it strives to bring a taste of my home to these shores. Cassandra chose a shepherd’s pie with ground lamb; Eliza selected a steak and kidney pie; whereas, I chose the lord’s lamb roast with potatoes, several vegetables, and a Yorkshire pudding. We began our meal with a ploughman’s platter, a selection of fine cheese and crusty bread with a relish and a wally. We finished the meal with a sticky toffee pudding.
Exhausted by the day, we returned to Miss Jeffers’s home to watch two more of the moving pictures that she has shared with us this week. Surprisingly, although the wonderment remains, the stupefaction has lessened. Tonight we watched Miss Austen Regrets, and I found myself quite maudlin until Miss Jeffers chose a less effusively sentimental display in the fictionalize biography entitled Becoming Jane. Some day, my dear cousin, I shall describe a delicious scene in this story where our always demure Cassandra hid her eyes, while Eliza and I looked on in wry amusement at the actions of our Henry and Mr. LeFroy. Eliza always led me to think more boldly than I should, but I adore her for bringing the world to our little part of Hampshire.
This has been an accounting of my time in the Americas. I had held great trepidation at looking into the future, but Miss Jeffers has the advantage in every feature, and I have experienced a more cordial pleasure in the connection than I thought possible.
Your cousin Jane
For further opportunities to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday and to be involved in the one and thirty other giveaways as part of this blog tour, please see the links and information found in the “Giveaway” post below.