And now for something completely different … here I am in chilly, cloudy Florida. I’ve rented my house in Toronto for a week to three couples who flew in for a local wedding, so here I am in my mother’s condo north of Sarasota, listening to people complain about the record cold. Indeed, crops have been damaged by frost. But to a Canadian in December, it’s still a steam-bath around here. About 15 degrees now, but it will go up to 20 tomorrow, they say. I enjoy the neon snowflakes and electric wreaths attached to the palm trees, the waterfront bungalows covered with sparkly lights and Santas. There was a picture in the local paper of a classic snowman, with button eyes and stick arms, made on the beach out of sand.
I came down to do some business for my mother, and for a reading week for myself. If you can believe it, I came down without any keys, a long story, so yesterday, my first full day here, I spent the morning trying to get my mother’s spare car key from the super. Then I was able to drive to Publix and get some groceries and to the Chamber of Commerce to email. (The super can pick up someone’s free wifi in the building, but I, for some reason, cannot.) I walked on the beach shivering in a hoodie.
And then I began to read “Pride and Prejudice,” which – a collective gasp of disbelief – I’ve never read. It’s true, I admit it shamefacedly. I’ve read “Emma,” and that’s it. Getting my English degree involved spending far too much time with gloomy Thomas Hardy and hardly any with sparkling Jane.
Once I’d started reading, I couldn’t stop, so that was it, my heavenly day in Florida, reading bundled up by the water, reading at the dinner table (I cobbled something together; I think it involved peanut butter), till finishing just before midnight – laughing out loud sometimes and talking to her as I read. “Oh Jane! How could you do that?” I groaned at the end, when Elizabeth and Darcy FINALLY confess their love, and the author discreetly moves back so, for a bit, we can’t hear what they’re saying to each other. But I understood – she was protecting them. It was a very private moment, after all.
What a fabulous book. Colin Firth’s stunning Mr. Darcy was in my mind, and many others of the perfect cast of the recent dramatization, though not their Elizabeth Bennett, who was lovely but just not right; I created my own, sharper, faster and leaner. There are many joys in the book missing in the film, of course, including the whole last bit where the engaged lovers lovingly review their foibles and mistakes. And mostly, what’s missing in the film is Jane Austen’s voice, the welcome intrusion of her sharp sense of humour and keen satirical eye. Here she writes of plain Charlotte Lucas, preparing to accept an offer of marriage from the bombastic, dreadful Mr. Collins.
Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meeting him accidentally in the lane … In as short a time as Mr. Collins’s long speeches would allow, every thing was settled between them to the satisfaction of them both; and as they entered the house, he earnestly entreated her to name the day that was to make him the happiest of men … The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature, must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.
In other words, I think, she will marry him for his house but, though she doesn’t want him courting forever, is in no hurry to get there. Here’s another fantastic passage, after Elizabeth and her aunt Mrs. Gardiner have visited Mr. Darcy (who we know is in love with Elizabeth, though she does not) at his mansion, setting off the jealousy of Miss Bingley, who wants Darcy for herself. She recalls how poorly Darcy once spoke of Elizabeth.
“But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time.”
“Yes,” replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, “but that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred, during their visit, as they returned, except what had particularly interested them both. The looks and behaviour of every body they had seen were discussed, except of the person who had mostly engaged their attention. They talked of his sister, his friends, his house, his fruit, of every thing but himself; yet Elizabeth was longing to know what Mrs. Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs. Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her niece’s beginning the subject.
End of chapter. It was their discussing of his fruit that made me laugh out loud. Those people were so bloody discreet, incomprehensible! Oh, it’s all delicious. I join the legions in love with this extraordinary writer.
So now I settle in to a quiet few days, more reading, editing and writing work, a bit of barefoot running on the beach. I’m posting now from an ice cream store at the nearby mall, watching the supersized and the elderly (and the supersized elderly) stroll past. At Publix, I loaded up with good cheese and extremely cheap good wine, and interesting things like sushi, edamame salad, noodles made from quinoa. But no bread – not a decent loaf of bread in the place.
The first night, I turned on the TV (just to make sure it works, you understand) and found the White House arts honourees on PBS. I watched a tribute to Merle Haggard, and then – just by chance – one to my very own Paul McCartney. What are the chances I’d turn on just in time for that? Didn’t even know it was happening. I have to tell you that though I adore the man’s music, he shouldn’t stand near President Obama, who is still, despite his travails, the handsomest man on the planet.
Last night, no TV, only Jane. Tonight: “The Rachel Maddow Show” which we don’t get, and a documentary about Jerusalem.
Unless I rustle up another great book. Who needs the sun when there’s Jane Austen?