10 November 2011

when it turns cold, my thoughts turn to england

When the weather turns cold and damp—just as it's been this week—my thoughts naturally turn to England, and my reading choices soon follow.

My mind associates the wet cold with England because:
  • That's what it was like when I lived there. It was a semester abroad—the fall term—and while I'm sure there were sunny days, what I mostly remember is wet leaves, an ineffective umbrella, and slick steps outside the National Portrait Gallery, where I'd go to look at Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who caused a king to give up his throne. In her portrait, she almost smirks haughtily down at you as if she's in on a joke. {The punchline for that joke may be, “...and then I almost destroyed the monarchy!”}

    I was drawn to her portrait time and again, possibly because other wings of the National Portrait Gallery involved many, many oil paintings of people in lace collars who looked like they'd been eating lumpy porridge for every meal for 13 years.

    In Wallis' portrait, though, she has a sprig of flowers pinned to her blue shirtdress, and when I looked up at her, she seemed to be saying, “Oh, forget these British people. They're a tricky lot to figure out, so show them some American gumption, just like I did.”

    It seems silly to say now, especially after reading more of her story and seeing how she was portrayed in The King's Speech, but when I needed a boost on a foggy day in London-town, I'd go visit Wallis, my fellow American. She made the rain and cold and loneliness seem laughable, like a big joke that we were both in on.
  • of that scene in Sense and Sensibility when Marianne and Margaret Dashwood are on a rainy walk through the Devonshire countryside. “Is there a felicity in the world superior to this? Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours,” Marianne enthuses over the little bits of blue sky peeking through, as Jane Austen describes it, “a showery sky.”

    Don't say things like that, Marianne—that thing about felicity and walking. You are the personification of flights of fancy in Jane's world, and I think I should let you know: she's using you to teach a lesson about how impulsiveness and unguarded emotions lead to tumbles down rain-slicked hills overlooking the sea. Literally and metaphorically.

    Going on and on about blue sky and the animating gales of a southwesterly is not going to end well for you, Marianne, so you may as well come in from the rain and embroider something.

    I am so like Elinor. Thank heavens. But that also helps explain why rainy days make me want to stay inside with a book, preferably one set in England.

I went to the library recently with this goal in mind: get something set in England.

Having just re-read Persuasion and wanting to avoid appearing like a one-trick pony {not that I'm concerned about my personal brand, but I do think it should be more than "I am obsessed with Jane Austen"}, I decided to expand beyond Jane; I went for Elizabeth Gaskell.

That's Elizabeth Gaskell of Cranford, Wives and Daughters, and North and South.

The Elizabeth Gaskell who wrote in the mid-1800s and who has been so good to the BBC and its desire to make every book written in the 1800s into a period drama they can cheer the nation with on Sunday nights through the cold, damp England fall and winter.

I pulled Wives and Daughters off the shelf and then glanced to the right at the book right next to it. This is one of great pleasures of the library, by the way: going to a section where you need one book, and then taking a look around to see what else that section has to offer.

If I'm ever in a reading bind—and it does happen, especially when I have no seasonal promptings to read things set in England—I pick a letter and then go to that section of fiction. With my head tilted and my fingers tracing the spines, I don't let myself leave until I find a book or two, maybe even something out of my typical reading likes.

Right next to Wives and Daughters was a book by Whitney Gaskell. 'Maybe she's a great-great granddaughter!' I thought, nerdily excited by this idea of a modern-day Elizabeth Gaskell.

I stood on my tippy-toes to pull the book down and saw there was no way in heck I was checking this book out.

That is, until I read the back cover.


I'll tell you why soon, I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Kamiah, without flights of fancy and tumbling down hills, you'll never get to the next plot point!



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