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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’s birthday’

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

In honour of Jane’s Birthday on 16th December, the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation are offering donors the chance to write in Jane’s birthday card.  Simply make a donation through the form, and you can write in Jane’s ‘virtual’ birthday card, which is published on the website.  

Founded by Caroline Jane Knight, the last descendant of Jane Austen’s family to have been raised in Jane’s beloved Chawton, The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation works to effect positive and significant change to global literacy rates.

End poverty

It’s estimated that if every child in developing and low-income nations acquired basic reading skills, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty.

Equality

Girls and boys deserve equal access to reading, writing and numeracy. “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society” — Sonia Sotomayor

Empowerment

Reading and writing are essential skills for those who want to understand, enjoy and influence the world around them

Education

Education is the key to self-improvement and unlocking potential. “Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” — Kofi Annan

Enjoyment

The simple pleasure of reading a book is universal.…”I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading” — Jane Austen

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Jane Austen was born on this day, 16th December in 1775.

The little imagining that follows is a picture, a glimpse into life at Steventon, written from Jane’s point of view as she remembers carefree, summer days and a birthday with her cousin, Eliza de Feuillide.

It is the smells and sounds of Steventon that I most recall, the particular fragrances and resonances peculiar to my beloved home of twenty-five years. Returning home from time away with my sister I recall the glow I felt at the familiar scene as the coach swept through the carriage drive to halt before the red-roofed Rectory surrounded by sloping meadows sprinkled with elm trees. Passing under rose-covered trellis into the hall, the sound of noisy, clattering boys and raucous laughter deliciously combine into a pot-pourri of memories sharper now than ever. The joy of coming home again to see my father running out into the hall to greet us surrounded by clamouring pupils, his beautiful hair as white as a silver fox and those soft, hazel eyes expressing the love he always bore for us is a picture that immediately springs to mind. My mother’s welcome is a brisker affair when she chooses to make an appearance at last, yet loving nevertheless, as she enquires after our relatives.

I’m running upstairs at the first opportunity. I’m not really at home until I’m back in the rooms that we share, Cass and I. Oh, such delights await me, my pens and paper on my desk, my pianoforte and the painted press with my books above. Striped curtains at the windows match the summer sky outside and the papered walls within. The wonder of lying on my bed, blue-checked curtains drawn about me to keep out the draughts and those I do not wish to find me. Hidden under the bed is my box of delights, all my writing to date. I fetch it out hauling it onto the coverlet disturbing the dust lurking below to sparkle in sunlit clouds like powdered diamonds. Opening the heavy lid with impatient fingers I can’t wait to fetch my scribblings out, to glance through the familiar pages. I enjoy a feeling of greeting old friends as I stroke the papers one by one, stopping to read a draft, laughing at another or exclaiming over something that needs to be written again is a pleasure as satisfying as any worldly sensation and surpasses any other amusement. Am I a little vain to think they are diverting? But, truly, I am convinced of being quite a comic genius and of their merit!

CASSANDRA was the Daughter & the only Daughter of a celebrated Millener in Bond Street. Her father was of noble Birth, being the near relation of the Dutchess of —-‘s Butler.

How I long to write something more substantial, a full-length novel with a little more shade like those from the circulating library or in my father’s bureau. Well, I am determined to do so some day soon.
The sun feels warm. It is good to be home for the summer with the thought of long days bright with light and heat. To run wild, play cricket, and roll down the slope at the back of the house without a care. The garden is my retreat, the arbour my refuge – a heavenly place for private moments and for sharing intimate conversations. To spend time with my darling Henry, my dearest brother of all my sweet brothers, I have looked forward to above everything else.
The garden in June calls me and so I float as in a dream back downstairs past my father’s study and the back kitchen to the sunny side of the house and run down through the strawberry beds to the sundial. I turn to wave at my father framed in the window as he sits at his table, and see him look up with a smile pleased to be distracted from the corrections of the last Latin lessons of young boys.

My sister Cassandra is sitting in the garden with a visitor, Mr Thomas Fowle, who is an old friend and past scholar of the Steventon school that my father and mother supervise between them. Cassie, at fourteen, is already something of a beauty and I suspect young Tom’s calling is not only to pay his respects to my parents and brothers. His admiring glances directed at my sister are amusing for me to watch. He makes a comment about the coral necklace at Cassie’s throat. Her fingers fly to her neck. Stroking the beads she is all too aware of his lingering expression, her discomposure flooding her cheeks in carmine blushes to match the wild strawberries snug in the flowerbeds. At twenty two Mr Fowle cuts a dashing figure, one that my young brother Charles clearly admires. He is pulling at Tom’s arm demanding yet another piggy-back by his hero who does not seem to notice so engrossed is he in my sister’s conversation and her modest looks.
I wander along further away from the house. Birds chatter and chirp in the branches above hidden amongst the foaming elder flowers, pungent and intoxicating. Spruce firs in the avenue scent the air with pine recalling Cowper’s words to my mind –

‘…the stock-dove unalarm’d,
Sits cooing in the pine-tree nor suspends
His long love-ditty for my near approach.

Shaded under their outstretched arms, the giant guardians of the Rectory form a cool colonnade to the terrace walk and the gate beyond. Sitting down upon the bench I give in to the pleasure of listening to the swinging scrape of the weathercock high on the end of a long, white pole, as it moves to and fro in the warm breeze and watch the faded ribbons Cassandra plaited at its base snap and flutter.

What shall I write of next – comedy or tragedy, of love or poetry? The possibilities flow along in my mind like the hedgerows winding and curling along the edge of the rolling meadows. Within their secret lanes of copse-wood and timber those who wish to steal from view may walk and talk, whisper and converse without the world knowing of their existence. My near presence is not observed on the other side and it is here that I sometimes snatch parts of the most interesting conversations, not that I care to eavesdrop, you understand. Henry and my cousin Eliza choose to walk this way sometimes skirting the fields quite alone. I watch them disappear arm in arm through the gate to the Wood Walk overhung by tall, magnificent elms knowing that my company will not be required. They whisper and laugh, their heads bent toward the other, enraptured.

My earliest recollection of Eliza is at Steventon in the best parlour decorated in gleaming winter greenery of laurel and holly, a perfect foil to her slender, white arms lit by candlelight as her fingers fly over the keys of a borrowed pianoforte; her voice sweet and lively as she sings. My sophisticated French cousin was a revelation – French by her marriage to Count de Feuillide and French in the adoption of that country’s ways from spending much time at the Court – she captivated and entranced us all.

I was just eleven; Christmas was almost upon us when Betsy (as my father called her) arrived fluttering into our lives like an exotic, bejewelled bird along with her small boy, Hastings, and her mother, my Aunt Hancock. Presents for everyone, extravagant treats were lavished upon us along with Betsy’s exuberant embraces to bring a blush to my brother Henry’s cheeks. A wonderful set of books written in the French tongue bought especially for my birthday made my heart sing – leather bound; white paper, crisp and uncut, lay within!

Eliza’s upbringing, a cosmopolitan concoction of growing up in India, France and London was of endless fascination to me and she readily satisfied all my curiosities and questions about her time spent in such different surroundings to mine. India was a land of exquisite spices, textures and fragrances – curry leaves, coriander and cumin, sandalwood, jasmine, and attar of roses. Parcels of scented, flowered chintz, white muslin and brocaded silks made my mother gasp with admiration and my father shake his white head in wonder. France was described in terms of fairy tale imaginings, of far away princesses and chateaux – silver gauze, white lilac, feathers and ribbons gleaming in diamond-sprinkled tresses tall as the towers of the petit Trianon.
Eliza’s portrait describes a young woman at ease in the French court at this time showing her delicate features, an elfin beauty with large, dark eyes. Dressed in white, trimmed with ribbon, she is the epitome of fashion with her cascade of hair caught by a loop of the same blue ribbon on top of her head. But her serious expression does not convey the Eliza I remember, a girl who laughed at life with a perpetual twinkle in her eye! I loved Eliza, indeed, we all fell under her charms! My brothers were all captivated by her charisma, her flirtatious manners, and other worldliness. James and Henry, in particular, were mesmerised, quite entranced by the faerie enchantment that cast its spell during the following winter of 1787.

I seem to remember that it was James’s idea to put on a play, though I am certain that Eliza put forward the first suggestions for particular choices. ‘The Wonder’ was decided upon after much debate and long after my father’s tithe barn had already been fitted up with wooden flats, a green baize curtain and a row of candle footlights.
I watched my brothers court Eliza in turn.

Copyright Jane Odiwe 2009
Illustrations:
Jane Austen’s birth – Jane Odiwe
Miniature Eliza de Feuillide
Blindman’s Buff- Jane Odiwe
Jane Austen – Jane Odiwe

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