Not Celebrating Birthdays with Jane Austen

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November birthdays are very important in the Jeffers’ household: They include my mother, my son, and my grandson, and that is not counting extended family and friends. As I was out buying “How to Train Your Dragon” decorations and toys for the smallest of the birthday celebrants, I began thinking how Austen does not mention the celebrations of those in her novels. We in the U.S. “celebrate” EVERYTHING. For example, November is Aviation History Month, Child Safety Protection Month, International Drum Month, National Adoption Awareness Month, National Epilepsy Month, National Model Railroad Month, National Novel Writing Month, Native American Heritage Month, Peanut Butter Lovers Month, and Real Jewelry Month.

November hosts such holidays as
1 All Saint’s Day
1 Book Lovers Day – first Saturday of the month
2 All Soul’s Day
2 Deviled Egg Day
3 Housewife’s Day
3 Sandwich Day
4 King Tut Day
4 U.S. General Election Day – first Tuesday of the month
5 Gunpowder Day
5 Guy Fawkes Day
6 Marooned without a Compass Day
6 Saxophone Day
7 Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day
8 Cook Something Bold Day
8 Dunce Day
9 Chaos Never Dies Day
10 Forget-Me-Not Day
10 USMC Day
11 Veteran’s Day
11 Young Readers Day – second Tuesday of month
12 Chicken Soup for the Soul Day
13 National Indian Pudding Day
13 Sadie Hawkins Day
13 World Kindness Day
14 Operating Room Nurse Day
14 World Diabetes Day
15 Clean Your Refrigerator Day
15 America Recycles Day
15 National Philanthropy Day
16 Button Day
16 Have a Party With Your Bear Day
17 Electronic Greeting Card Day
17 Homemade Bread Day
17 Take A Hike Day
17 World Peace Day
18 Occult Day
19 Have a Bad Day Day
20 Absurdity Day
21 False Confession Day
21 World Hello Day
22 Go For a Ride Day
23 Eat a Cranberry Day
23 National Cashew Day
25 National Parfait Day
26 Shopping Reminder Day
27 Pins and Needles Day
turkey0327 Thanksgiving – Eat, drink, and be thankful.
28 Black Friday – Friday after Thanksgiving
28 Buy Nothing Day – always the day after Thanksgiving…does anyone abide by it!?!
28 Red Planet Day
29 Square Dance Day
30 Stay At Home Because You Are Well Day

In truth, it is all a marketing scheme, but the human nature is to enjoy those moments of self-indulgence. It is quite disheartening to have others forget one’s birthday, but it was not so for Jane Austen and her family. We know Christmas had not the “glorious significance” as it does these days, but what of birthdays? Quite simply, as Anglicans, such humoring of a person, would have been frowned upon.

Sense-and-Sensibility-007Can you think of one person in Austen’s books who even mentions a birthday? The only one which springs to mind to me is Harriet Smith in “Emma.” Harriet speaks of hers and Robert Martin’s birthdays occurring within a fortnight, and those birthdays were separated only by one day.

As readers we know many of the characters’ ages. Lydia Bennet is but fifteen when we first meet her, but she is sixteen when she marries George Wickham. Marianne Dashwood is seventeen at the beginning of “Sense and Sensibility” and is nineteen when she marries Colonel Brandon. Fanny Price is a child when she first comes to Mansfield Park; yet, never once are her birthdays mentioned as a passing of time. Jane Fairfax is approaching one and twenty and the prospect of becoming a governess. Charlotte Lucas at seven and twenty has “become a burden to her family.” Elizabeth Elliot is nearly thirty and not married, and Anne Elliot is seven and twenty when Captain Wentworth returns to claim her. Catherine Morland turns eighteen just before Henry Tilney claims her as his wife. Even Elizabeth Bennet must have had a birthday somewhere in the year she had taken Mr. Darcy’s acquaintance. But when? There is no mention of her chronological aging, only her emotional aging. Is that true for all of Austen’s characters? Austen wrote from her life experiences. If she did not “celebrate” such milestones, why would her characters? Tell me what you think. Am I being bizarre or is there some truth in this assumption?

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in customs and tradiitons, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the UK, Pride and Prejudice, Regency era, Regency personalities, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Not Celebrating Birthdays with Jane Austen

  1. Reblogged this on britestarlites3's Blog and commented:
    Awww.. Toothless!

  2. Suzan says:

    I am imagining your assumption would be correct. We don’t celebrate birthdays and so our memories etc don’t just revolve around when it would be. If I understand what you are saying we keep track of things more by events in general. For example the Disneyland trip when you were in second grade. September always means a new start for something just because it’s habit. School starts in September and so new clothes for school, usually diet and exercise start then because the kids are gone again. Lol

    • Quite a unique way of looking at things, Suzan.
      I purchase little gifts all year long for those I love. I do not want the idea of a birthday being the only time I show my loved ones how much I cherish them. I suppose some of that comes from experiencing birthdays and Christmases where there was little to nothing to give or receive. A day on the calendar should not define our lives.

  3. I don’t think it means that birthdays were not celebrated during Jane Austen’s time, just that she didn’t see any need to use a birthday party in the plot of her stories. She also doesn’t really show us other holidays being celebrated, but I think that’s more because she was writing for her contemporary audience. Take for example modern chick lit, how often is a character’s birthday central to the plot or a major milestone? Not too often unless it’s a device for the meet-cute, or horrible consequences from celebrating a little too much. 🙂 200+ years from now, if only a handful of the most popular novels survive, readers might assume we didn’t celebrate birthdays, either, or that they were not that big of a deal.

    • I did not mean to imply Austen would not think of giving her dearest Cassandra a little something extra on her sister’s birthday, but as an Anglican, I believe Austen family would not be “self possessed” as are many of this modern era.

  4. junewilliams7 says:

    Lady Catherine asked Lizzy for her age. Mrs Bennet and Lydia were quite proud of Lydia being a bride at her age. I think Regency mothers were conscious of a daughter’s upcoming 18th birthday as that seemed to be when she had her first Season and was introduced at Court – but the Austens did not engage in that practice.

    I am guessing that Austens’ unwed ladies would mark their 30th birthday because that is when they went “on the shelf” – perhaps Miss Bingley might have been given control of her dowry if she were not married by then. Charlotte was 27 and probably not looking forward to her 30th. Elizabeth Elliot was oblivious to birthdays (and to reality!).

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