Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jane Austen Fans--A Holiday Gift

On a bitter cold day, I walked from Grand Central down Madison Avenue to The Morgan Library & Museum. I used to live in the neighborhood and would visit The Morgan on a routine basis. It is a marvelous place and I am especially drawn to it these days as The Morgan family figures prominently in the research that I am doing for a new project, hopefully to be a book.

Three Morgan brothers came from Wales in the 17th century--Miles, James, and John. The first two settled in Connecticut and their families are quite extraordinary. Of course, one of Miles's descendants, John Pierpont Morgan, is the most remembered. It is his fortune and imagination that has given us The Library. It is the descendants of James that I am most involved with--they were the men who brought us our insurance industry during the Gilded Age.

On this cold December day, I met my dear friend, Margaret (affectionately called "Tuny") at The Morgan for tea and then a delicious tour of the discrete Jane Austen exhibit. This event was our Christmas gift to each other. We decided a few years ago that to spend time with each other doing things we love was the best way of gifting for us. Tuny traveled down from Boston this year; I have made the reverse commute in times past.

You can go online to see many of the items in the exhibit (what a joy!) and there is also a film online you can spend a few minutes with. I didn't love the film because the people they asked to comment on Austen seemed a bit out of character to me, with several exceptions. But all of them reminded us again and again why we love Jane Austen so much. If I had to sum, I think it would be that she was able to see and understand the drop of water in the ocean. She dealt with a world close at hand, but it reflected the whole wide world in an incredible way that has never gone out of style. Times change--human hearts don't seem to. (Foolish people remain so, too.)

I was also intrigued by her letters--written both vertically and horizontally. I struggled with this practice in the Civil War letters I have been working with. Paper was precious in both these time periods. And I almost want to write all my own correspondence with brown ink on cream paper--so lovely. Of course, I do not have that restrained penmanship that makes Jane Austen's writing so appealing. I suspect if she wrote a laundry list we would all be in awe.

So, it's a gift to view the exhibit--and if you plan to go, do the homework on the site first. It will be so much more informative and thus enjoyable.

For a lovely biography of Jane Austen, I recommend Carol Shields Jane Austen: a Life. We lost Carol's voice far too early, but her writing is not unlike Austen's in the sense of her delft touch. She must have really enjoyed doing this book. I gave this as a Christmas gift to another friend a few years ago.

Tuny hurried off in a cab to escape the wind, and I wandered back toward the train station, still basking in the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen.


  1. No other female author has had such an influence in our lives. There have been many of them but no-one to beat Austen. What is it that we find so entrancing about her work. For me I just think it is the romance and the idea that in those days people had time for other people. The world was not in the rush that it is today. It was a gentler time and Jane's stories allow us all a glimpse into that time.

  2. Over the years, my daughter and I have shared a fascination and love for the works of Jane Austin. It has been one of those inexplicable pleasures that has created an unique bond between the two of us. After reading "Northanger Abby", we searched out all the Gothic novels referenced and read those as well. Although the novels were not great literature, it was a lot of fun to read some of the influences of the time. Jane Austin had the ability to communicate the folly and beauty of human nature. I constantly point out "Austin" themes in movies to my husband. Thank you for suggesting the biography, I have read "Jane Austin and Her Times" by G.E. Mitton, but would really enjoy another perspective.

  3. Nancy - thanks for sharing with us your excursion to visit Jane at the Morgan Library. What a delightful afternoon. I have long admired Jane Austen and fondly remember the edition of Victoria that featured her. I still have it, and every other issue while you were editor. What a treasure. I look forward to following your journal.

    Fondest regards, Laurel Nattress

  4. I love the idea of giving the gift of shared time for Christmas. What a special gift. Thanks for sharing your day with Tunny at the Morgan Library.

  5. After meeting over 500 "Janeites" at the national convention this past October, I can saw, without qualification, that those who love Jane are unfailingly funny, smart, wise, joyful, insightful, well-traveled, devoted to art, and love a good laugh! Re-reading Jane is always an exercise in reminding oneself of the graciousness of life and the timeless struggle to find and embrace love. I'm currently re-reading Persuasion, her last completed work, and there are always new treasures to unearth.
    Warmly, Karen Marline (still looking for Mr. Darcy!)

  6. I so enjoyed the Ric Burns documentary on New York which I watched not too long ago, on loan from our library. Your comments about the Morgans, the library, and the museum brought that magnificent series back to mind. (I would like to re-watch it, so that I can absorb what I wasn't able to the first time around.) How fortunate for you that you have lived close to these treasures and can get there when they have something as special as a Jane Austen exhibit. I wish I lived close enough to get there, but can't wait to have the time to really check the links you have left us here (thanks for that Christmas gift to us.) And how sweet that you and your friend give one another the gift of time for Christmas. I was reading something from another friend and Victoria 'kindred spirit' not long ago where she told that in lieu of Christmas gifts, she and her husband give one another the gift of time... being together, watching favorite movies together, drinking tea, talking (and listening!), and things that so often get pushed aside this time of year. I thought that was so special and so rare in this day and time. Your post hit me just the same way... there is such wisdom in giving time, as relationships are the one thing on earth that really matter. Thanks for sharing this.

    Merry Christmas,

  7. I picked up that same Carol Shields' Jane Austen biography when I was visiting Austen's house at Chawton last summer. Not being any kind of authority on Jane, I found it very informative. I'm so glad you approve of it!