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Jane Austen wrote an unpublished manuscript around 1795-ish (about the same time as Sense and Sensibility) called Lady Susan. For a description of the original story, you can read my post, Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

In 2005, Jane Rubino and her daughter, Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, rewrote this story as a novel and called it Lady Vernon and Her Daughter. As Lady Susan had been written in a very 18th Century manner, these authors attempted to update the story as Jane Austen may have done if she had revisited it in her lifetime. That is, they tried to make it more like a Regency romance, rather than an 18th Century moralist tale.

In order to do this, the story has been changed quite remarkably from its original, making use of the idea that the way people present themselves to others is not always an accurate representation of who they really are.

Lady Susan was originally portrayed by Jane Austen as a manipulative, controlling and seductive woman, willing to use other people ruthlessly to obtain her own ends. In contrast, Lady Vernon is portrayed as a misunderstood woman who is fiercely maligned and gossiped about by her so-called friends and family.

So, what Jane Austen represented as fact in her story, these authors have represented as hearsay. Lady Vernon still has a reputation as a manipulative controlling person, but those closest to her – like her daughter, Frederica, and her childhood friend, Sir James – know that this is not really her.

There is something really wrong – in my mind – about changing the plots of historical literature! In fact, I even struggle watching movie adaptations of historical literature because of the changes that are made to the story line. When I first began reading this book, I really hated the way the plot had been changed. It was really difficult for me to like Lady Vernon as a character – as the authors evidently wanted me to do -, especially because Jane Austen had originally not intended this character to be liked.

That being said, once I had struggled epically through half of the book (trying not to lose the motivation to finish reading it!), I began to appreciate the clever twist to the original story.

As Lady Susan was originally a epistolary novel (a novel made up of largely of letters to and from each of the characters), it is quite plausible that the characters may not have represented the truth to each other. It is even plausible that Susan may not have represented her own motives or personality accurately in her own letters. It is this plausibility that Lady Vernon and her Daughter hinges on, using it to twist the original story. So, the motives and personalities of each of the main characters are inverted. Good becomes bad, and bad becomes good. Close friendships become distant, and distant acquaintances become best friends.  Those who were deceived are now in possession of the whole truth, and vice versa.

One of my main criticisms of this book (aside from the unsettling changes to the original plot) is the level of character development. I got quite lost at the beginning of the story, finding it quite difficult to understand the different characters and how they differed from each other. This was probably exacerbated because of the plot changes. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I really settled into the story and felt I knew the characters well.

To anyone thinking of reading this book, I would recommend to also read Lady Susan (either before or afterwards), as it does make the appreciation of the book richer.

Have you read this novel? What did you think of it? How does it compare to Lady Susan?

Related Posts

Lady Susan: An eighteenth century epistolary novella

Sources and Relevant Links

Lady Vernon and her Daughter (2005), by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – buy online

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen – read online

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Powder and Patch (or The Transformation of Phillip Jettan), by Georgette Heyer, is my favourite book of all time. I obtained my first copy at an op-shop when I was a teenager and read and re-read it until it began to fall apart. It was actually the book that inspired me to begin making 18th century costumes, as well as influencing me to begin writing again.

The cover of my first copy of Powder and Patch, by Georgette Heyer (1923, this edition 1962)

The story is set in mid-18th century England, during the era of powdered wigs, sword duelling, tricorn hats and full-skirted coats. The plot centres around Mr Phillip Jettan, a young man living on his father’s country estate, who shows no inclination for the ways of Polite Society. His father desires him to “experience the pleasures and displeasures” of the world, thereby learning about himself and others around him, but Phillip refuses to be tempted, instead preferring to work on the estate.

“I am selfish, Father? Because I will not become the thing I despise?”
“And narrow, Phillip, to despise what you do not know.”

In the town of Little Fittledean there also lived Miss Cleone Charteris, a very pretty young woman with golden curls and eyes of cornflower blue. Mr Phillip Jettan has known Miss Cleone since they were children, but has fallen in love with her since her return from seminary school.

Upon the arrival in town of Mr Henry Bancroft – a fashionable, languid, charming, mincing, flattering fop – Phillip’s qualities are thrown into the shadows. He is clumsy with words and dresses for comfort rather than fashion. His nails are unpolished and he wears no jewels, and does not even have a wig! Cleone, attracted by the graceful homage and dainty complements of Mr Bancroft, responds with her youthful gaiety.

Phillip’s jealousy for Cleone’s attentions lead him challenge Mr Bancroft to a duel, in which he is easily worsted. He then proposes to Cleone, feeling certain that she would want “an honest man’s love” instead of a “painted puppy dog”, but is rejected. Whilst she loves him, he lacks the polish and finesse of a gentleman of the time and has a tendency to presume ownership of her, rather than pursuing a gallant courtship.

“Cleone,” blundered Phillip, “you – don’t want a – mincing, powdered – beau.”
“I do not want a – a – raw country-bumpkin,” she said cruelly.

Dismayed by his rejection and knowing that he wants her for his wife, Phillip decides to go to London and then France in order to learn the arts of coquetry and fashionable manners properly. After only six months he has made a huge impression in France: he fences, speaks French, dresses fashionably, writes poetry, attends balls, and phrases pretty compliments to women – all the necessary arts of a fashionable gentleman.

Mr Bancroft arrives in France, initially meeting Phillip at a rout in Paris. The tables have now been turned, as Phillip has many friends in Paris and is sought after at every fashionable gathering. He hears that Bancroft has been bandying his love’s name around and challenges him to another duel. This time he is successful, pinking Bancroft easily.

Once Phillips’s father and Cleone hear of his duel “over some French wench”, he returns from Paris to London, hearing that Cleone is not at all happy that he has been engaging the attentions of other women. Meeting her at a ball in London, he deliberately plays the part of a languid, mincing town-gallant that she bade him to become, showering her with all the insincere, flowery complements of a dandy. She is initially surprised and then angry, feeling hurt that his attentions to her are indifferent and blase. To cover her feelings, she begins to flirt and court the attentions of other gentlemen, treating them with the same indifference and triviality.

It all comes to a climax at a ball in London. Phillip takes a straightforward approach and proposes to Cleone again, to which she replies by elaborating on his encounters with women in Paris, accusing him of bringing her a tarnished reputation. He leaves her side, and James Winton – another friend from childhood – comes to sit beside her. Whilst she is thinking about her conversation with Phillip, she notices that James is earnestly entreating her to answer yes to his question. In impatience she replies in the affirmative, only to discover that he had been proposing to her. Once he leaves her side, a Sir Deryk Brenderby comes and takes her to a small withdrawing-room to cool herself down. Once they are there, Sir Deryk teaches her how to dice, wagering the rose at her breast. As he removes it, a locket is broken from her neck and rolls under the funriture. Upon retrieving it, Sir Deryk notices Cleone’s agitation that it be returned to her, and suggests a new wager. If she wins, she gets the locket back, and if she loses she needs to kiss him to obtain the locket. Reluctantly she agrees and promptly loses the wager. Just as she is kissing him, Phillip and James walk into the room.

In order to spare Cleone the shame of being discovered in a compromising position, Sir Deryk pretends they have just got engaged, to which James replies hotly that Cleone is engaged to himself. Phillip congratulates them all and departs.

“What’s this?” Sir Maurice [Phillip’s father] spoke with well-feigned astonishment. “Cleone, you are not betrothed, surely?”
“To two men,” nodded her aunt. “I have never been so amused in all my life. I always considered myself to be flighty, but I’ll swear I never was engaged to two men at one and the same time!”

In order to extricate her from two engagements, Phillip first fights a duel with Sir Deryk Brenderby and then uses his influence to persuade James to give up his suit. He then arrives at the door of Cleone’s lodgings and announces that she is free from her engagements. All that remains is for him to persuade her to marry him, which he does most masterfully.

This novel is a step away from Heyer’s favourite era – the Regency – and whilst it is a relatively simplistic storyline, it was my first introduction to the world of Heyer, and even history! For this reason it has obtained a special place on my shelf.

Georgette Heyer is a great writer, and I think she is especially so in her historical romances. I love her mix of historical accuracy, romance and wittiness, which have often caused me to laugh out loud as I read! In a phrase, she’s my cup of tea!

Relevant Links

Powder and Patch – read an excerpt of the fateful encounter in the withdrawing room!

Powder and Patch – buy through Amazon

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Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Oscar Wilde was a prolific writer at the turn of the nineteenth century, initially as a journalist and then as a playwright. His plays were witty and light-hearted, yet also revealed some underlying truths about the social times of London during the late 1800’s. For these reasons, many of his plays continue to be popular in modern times.

My favourite Oscar Wilde play is An Ideal Husband (1895).

The story centres on a couple, Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern, who are at the height of political acclaim in London society and who represent what is true and noble about British life. The scene opens at a political party given by the Chiltern’s at their Grosvenor Street home.

Julianne Moore as Mrs Cheveley

Mrs Cheveley, an old school acquaintance of Lady Chiltern’s, has lately arrived in London from Vienna with the specific purpose of being introduced to Sir Robert. At the party, she manages to have a private interview with him where she attempts to blackmail him with a secret from his past. She holds a letter that Sir Robert wrote when he was a secretary to a Minister of Parliament, in which he divulged a Cabinet secret to a stockbroker for money. In return for this letter, she hopes to get his public support in Parliament for a failing investment, namely her shares in the Argentine Canal scheme.

Gertrude Chiltern instinctively distrusts Mrs Cheveley and, not knowing her husbands past, she makes him refuse Mrs Cheveley’s demands in the form of a letter.

Sir Robert Chiltern: No one should be entirely judged by their past.
Lady Chiltern: One’s past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged.

Sir Robert, now placed between two implacable and immoveable women, unburdens himself to his closest friend, Lord Goring, telling him the whole story. Lord Goring, a rich aristocratic bachelor, advises him to tell his wife the truth at once, but Sir Robert is afraid that it would destroy her love for him. In an attempt to help the situation, Lord Goring tries to soften Gertrude towards her husband and his unknown blemishes, and ends by pledging his assistance to her should she ever be in need of it.

A sub-plot of the emerging relationship between Lord Goring and Sir Robert’s sister, Mabel Chiltern, occurs throughout the play. It is a light and playful contrast to the deepening drama occurring with the other characters.

Mrs Cheveley, having misplaced her diamond brooch, comes to visit Gertrude Chiltern to see if it has been found. She uses the opportunity to suggest that Gertrude should encourage Sir Robert to acquiesce to her demands, and reveals to her the origin of her husband’s wealth and career. Sir Robert enters the room during the conversation and is left no recourse but to admit the truth to his wife. Lady Chiltern is devastated.

Lady Chiltern: You were to me something apart from common life, a thing pure, noble, honest, without stain. The world seemed to me finer because you were in it, and goodness more real because you lived. And now – oh, when I think that I made of a man like you my ideal! The ideal of my life!

Lord Goring, at home in his stately apartments, receives an ambiguous letter from Lady Chiltern, imploring him for help and announcing her intention to visit him immediately. “I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you now. Gertrude.” What follows is a comedy of errors, where Lord Goring is visited by numerous people, beginning with his father, Lord Caversham. Whilst Lord Goring is being a dutiful son, Mrs Cheveley, who is mistaken by the servant as Lady Chiltern, is shown into the drawing room. To complete the picture, Sir Robert arrives as Lord Caversham departs, and Lord Goring, thinking it is Lady Chiltern concealed in the neighbouring room, begins to talk to Sir Robert about his wife in an attempt to reconcile them.

Upon discovering Mrs Cheveley listening to their conversation, Sir Robert leaves in disgust. Mrs Cheveley, who had once been engaged to Lord Goring, then announces her reason for visiting – that she desires to marry Lord Goring and will promise to give him Sir Robert’s letter in return for his self-sacrifice. Lord Goring refuses.

The conversation turns to the brooch she lost at the Chiltern’s party, which Lord Goring has found. He returns it to her, clasping it on her hand as a bracelet, and tells her that he knows who she stole it from. In a panic, she agrees to surrender Sir Robert’s letter to him, rather than being turned over to the police. However, as she leaves she steals Gertrude’s somewhat compromising letter from the desk, intending to use it to destroy the Chiltern’s marriage.

Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam as Lady and Sir Robert Chiltern

Lord Goring visits Lady Chiltern to apprise her of the danger she stands in, and suggests she tell her husband the situation immediately. Afraid of the consequences, she pretends that she had meant the letter to be for Sir Robert, and not Lord Goring. However, when Sir Robert refuses to allow Lord Goring to marry Mabel Chiltern because he believes him to be involved with Mrs Cheveley, Lady Chiltern has to admit writing the letter to Lord Goring in order to clear up the misunderstanding. In the end, Lord Goring and Mabel are happily engaged, Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern are happily reconciled, and Sir Robert has a new position in the Cabinet of the Government!

The play contrasts the notion of private moral integrity with public moral integrity, where private integrity is how you conduct yourself behind closed doors, and public integrity is how your conduct appears to others. Sir Robert Chiltern has exceptional public integrity and is celebrated for his appearance of upright character, yet his private decisions in his past demonstrate a moral code that has been unduly influenced by temptation.

Sir Robert Chiltern: …Gertrude, public and private life are different things. They have different laws, and move on different lines.
Lady Chiltern: They should both represent man at his highest. I see no difference between them.

Lord Goring, in contrast, has a solid private integrity, refusing to marry Mrs Cheveley even to save his friend. He even refuses to agree with Sir Robert’s reasons for making his disastrous choice, whilst still being sympathetic to his friend’s predicament. Yet his father, Lord Caversham, believes him to have very poor public integrity, comparing him negatively to Robert Chiltern on a number of occasions.

Lord Caversham: I wish you would go into Parliament.
Lord Goring: My dear father, only people who look dull ever get into the House of Commons, and only people who are dull ever suceed there.
Lord Caversham: Why don’t you try to do something useful in life?
Lord Goring: I am far too young.
Lord Caversham: I hate this affectation of youth, sir. It is a great deal too prevalent nowadays.
Lord Goring: Youth isn’t an affectation. Youth is an art.

This issue of dual areas of morality in character is not clearly resolved. Wilde instead presents them as both important, even though both are treated differently. In private life, it is the people you love who extend arms of forgiveness for moments of error. However, in public life there awaits scandal and humiliation that crush a man for his moments of error. These different consequences of essentially the same moral decisions means that the characters have to deal with them differently. It is therefore appropriate that Sir Robert confesses fully to his wife, but it is not appropriate that he confess to the public.

The title “An Ideal Husband”, represents two very different types of “ideal” in the play. Lady Chiltern makes an ideal of her husband, Sir Robert, putting him on a pedestal and worshiping his goodness. Unfortunately, this type of relationship allows no room for any imperfections and therefore there is no space for forgiveness. Lady Chiltern is required to change her view of “an ideal husband” in order to be reconciled to Sir Robert.

Lord Goring, as a rich and eligible bachelor, would make a very ideal husband and is even sought after by two of the principal characters, Miss Mabel and Mrs Cheveley. However, both Lord Goring and Mabel are well aware of each others faults and are happy to accept and live with them.

Lord Caversham: And if you don’t make this young lady an ideal husband, I’ll cut you off with a shilling.
Mabel Chiltern: An ideal husband! Oh, I don’t think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world.

Wilde seems to appreciate that life is not perfect. Problems arise in any relationship, but if love remains constant then forgiveness is always possible.

Related Posts

Lady Windermere’s Fan: Which character are you?

 

De Profundis: The Dark Side of Oscar Wilde

Relevant Links

Read “An Ideal Husband” online

“An Ideal Husband” – the movie (1999)

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Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert (1857), is a haunting tale of a young woman who, obsessed with her own happiness, eventually causes her family’s ruin.

The story opens with a young man, Charles Bovary, beginning his career as a country doctor. He meets a young girl, Emma, and falls madly in love with her and they marry. The book is principally about his new wife, and her misguided views of life.

Emma has always fantasized about all things romantic, and soon becomes disillusioned with her bourgeois life as the wife of a country doctor. She dislikes the monotony and dreams about having the “finer” things of life: wondrous passion, giddy romance, inordinate wealth, fantastic possessions, and delicious idleness.

…She could not think that the calm in which she lived was the happiness she had dreamed.

Initially, she keeps these desires inside her heart, under a thin layer of virtue, and appears to do the normal things – sewing, looking after servants, sending letters of account to patients, and keeping her house – but all the while she is feeding her dissatisfaction with ladies journals, by buying unnecessary trinkets, dreaming over books, and reminiscing of the ball she attended.

She confused in her desire the sensualities of luxury with the delights of the heart…

Eventually, after suffering an irritation of her nerves (really a result of the thwarting of her unrealistic desires), her husband leaves his blossoming practice to begin again in a new country town, so that the change may alleviate her suffering. Whilst this seems to address the problem, it merely avoids it.

Emma and Charles Bovary, an illustration for the book, by Alfred Richemont (1906).

In her new home, Emma tries keeping her irritations buried beneath her occupation as a wife and mother, always seesawing between her desires for pleasure and her “virtuous” – but proud and resentful – sacrifice to her duties. She oscillates between merely being annoyed with her boorish husband, to overtly despising him, from wanting to be a devoted mother, to outbursts of anger towards her child.

As the story moves on, she stops attempting to hide her feelings of dissatisfaction, and becomes overtly selfish. Emma searches for a way to quench the thirst of her romantic desires, first embroiling herself in one affair, and then another, while spending money far beyond her means. She takes money without her husband’s knowledge, and gets into large amounts of debt for non-essential items, without any concern for the welfare of her family. Emma progressively sinks, eventually having no regard for her reputation, for the happiness of her child, or for the love of the man she married. She believes that her happiness can only come by spending more money and having more passion; yet, the more she seeks this, the emptier it becomes. Then, to complete the cycle, she pines for the past, falsely believing that she used to be happy.

She was not happy – she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency in life – this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she lent?

The Death Bed of Madame Bovary, by Albert-Auguste Fourie.

Her debts build to a dramatic point, where foreclosures are issued for her household items. In this miserable state, she begs several men for money, prostituting herself, but is refused. Not being able to raise any money, and being desperate to hide the truth from her husband, she takes arsenic and dies.

Charles, having loved her to the last, is left heartbroken, and eventually dies of heartache. The book closes with the fate of her daughter, Berthe, now an orphan. She first lives briefly with her grandmother – until she dies – and then resides with a distant aunt, who sends her to work in a cotton mill.

This sad story was, in the beginning, quite fascinating, but in the end, quite melancholy. Emma’s selfishness, while initially not having a huge effect on her life, ends up destroying her. She steadily loses her battle with self-control, beginning with her daily daydreams and fantasies, then progressing on to the way she treats others, and the desires she chooses to satisfy without thinking of the people around her.

The part that I find the most distressing is that she fails to see that the ingredients for her happiness are right before her: her husband who loves her immensely despite her faults, a lovely healthy daughter, and the relatively successful doctors practice they could have.

I must admit I do not enjoy tragedy. At least in Romeo and Juliet, their families learnt from their mistakes after the couple’s tragic death! In Madame Bovary, the tragedy is limitless, touching everyone, even their innocent daughter. There is no bittersweet ending, only anguish. In fact, the only people who prosper in this story are those who use the Bovary’s, maliciously or otherwise, to get what they want!

In terms of literature, it is quite a masterpiece. Flaubert excels in providing minute detail about the setting of his characters, piling metaphors and similes in his writing, which gives the reader a very sensory and poetic experience of life in country France. He makes the reader swing from hating the characters, to being sympathetically understanding of them, to loving them, and then all the way back again.

Gustave Flaubert said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” [Madame Bovary, it is me], and I am sure we could all agree. What person does not have a selfish, vain, proud side to them? Whilst we may feel like this at times, what makes a difference in our lives is what we choose to do with this feeling. Emma cosseted it and fed it, and so it grew until it was an unsatiated, vicious, rampant desire that controlled her.

Happiness, to me, is primarily a decision. It is not our situation that defines it, it is about how we choose to respond to our situation that really determines our happiness.

Do you like stories with happy endings? Or do you prefer tragedies?

Sources and Relevant Links

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert – read online

Movie adaptation of Madame Bovary (1991)

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When my husband told me (with undisguised glee) that Pride and Prejudice was being re-written and re-sold as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, I honestly thought he was joking. I mean, who would believe a husband that thinks the movie “28 Days Later” is a romantic comedy? (For those who don’t know, this is the one where the Rage virus turns people into flesh-eating madmen and infects everyone in Great Britain. Charming, really.)

In order to relieve my apparent discomfort, he quickly did a search for the horrendous item on the internet, ordered it, paid for it, and it was delivered to me by a kindly, graying postman (who evidently knew nothing of the ghastly and obscene nature of the contents of that said parcel). I was horrified!

My husband finished the last chapter of the current book he was reading (as he believes it is a mortal sin to have two books on-the-go at once, whereas I have a teetering pile on my bedside table which is threatening to imminently collapse and kill any unsuspecting family member who might be sleeping on the bed), and promptly opened the new piece of blasphemy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

After a while I grew used to the terrifying image of grotesque-ness, staring at me from the front cover as I lay on my side of the bed, and I began to be interested in just how Seth Graham-Smith had changed this piece of prized literature, especially when I learned that 85% of the book had been untouched. But by the time my husband began reading aloud to me – “In vain I have struggled, it will not do” – I was sold! What a great book! It had transformed my science-fiction-loving, Star-Wars-nut of a husband into an Austen quoter! Miracle of miracles!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Illustration

"Elizabeth lifted her skirt, disregarding modesty, and delivered a swift kick to the creatures head."

So, despite my purist approach, I had to read it. I launched into the first page with anticipation, derived from the fact that my husband had actually enjoyed it (his exact words: “It was ok”). And then I realized this unmentionable volume – passing itself off as literature – was even complete with perverse illustrations! Fancy that!

I must admit, it was hard to read. To see my most treasured lines of literature warped into zombie-madness was difficult. What was slightly more unsettling was the minor alterations to the storyline. Whilst the plot was not materially changed, it was altered enough to discomfort a more traditional Austen reader.

This reader’s discomfort turned to disgust when Elizabeth handed Mr Darcy the ammunition for his musket and said, “Your balls, Mr Darcy”, to which he replied (with what is supposed to be handsome chivalry), “They belong to you, Miss Bennet.” Indeed, I am sure the bile would rise in any enamoured Austen-lover’s throat.

Now, some of you Austen enthusiasts may object to the poison injected into your favourite story, as I initially did. You may also echo my cry: “how could a mere man have the gall to put his name next to the immortal Jane Austen’s?” But, as I see it, there is an upside! Whilst I am still a little disturbed to read about my favourite heroine’s antics with a ninja knife, I am prepared to capitulate! Any book which gets my husband interested in anything RESEMBLING Pride and Prejudice, well, it’s my cup of tea!

Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith

In fact, it was so popular in our household that there will be several new additions to our family library soon. Some senseless person has made a prequel AND a sequel to this book: Dawn of the Dreadful, and Dreadfully Ever After!

Dreadfully Ever After, by Steve Hockensmith

Disturbing even-more-so, the zombie tide is taking no prisoners: the next one to infect Austen literature is Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

The next issue for contention: should my husband’s new irredeemable publications be shelved next to my own pure and refined volumes of time-honoured pride and joy?

Have you read any of these books? Were they your cup of tea?

Related Posts

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen – a review

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood

Lady Susan: an eighteenth century epistolary novella

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Mrs Erlynne: …You are devoted to your mother’s memory, Lady Windermere, your husband tells me.

Lady Windermere: We all have ideals in life. At least we all should have. Mine is my mother.

Mrs Erlynne: Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they’re better.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act 4, by Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde wrote a number of plays toward the end of the 19th century, many of them satires on the fashionable world in the ‘ton’ of London. “Lady Windermere’s Fan” is a satire about marriage in this setting.

Lady Windermere and her fan. From the movie, A Good Woman, starring Scarlett Johannsen

In this play there are many views presented on marriage, each from the different perspectives of the players. In this segment, the principal character, Lady Windermere, has just been saved from making a ruinous decision to run off with another man. This saviour was Mrs Erlynne. This excerpt of their conversation takes place the next morning, as Mrs Erlynne is about to bid farewell to the Windermere’s.

Unbeknownst to her, Lady Windermere is actually the daughter of Mrs Erlynne. Mrs Erlynne had run away and left her husband and daughter in order to pursue an affair with another man. Yet, Lady Windermere’s ” ideal” is her mother, because she believes her mother to have died soon after she was born. She believes that her mother would have been a good woman, and that her mother would have wanted her to be a good woman too. The notion of a “good woman” in the early 19th century revolves largely around being a good wife: submissive, malleable, one who relies on her husband.

Mrs Erlynne, in contrast, believes in “realities”. She thinks that, even though realities “wound”, they are still to be preferred than ideals. This difference in perspective may come from her different view of marriage. She has been once divorced, amidst scandal, and is now looking to be re-married. Her decision to leave her husband and daughter all those years ago had many repercussions for her in the 19th century world, and she has lost those ideals to which her daughter aspires. She prefers to work with what IS -with the reality in her world – rather than what COULD BE.

So, my question today is… Which is better?

Ideals push us to be better than we are, so we can aspire to greater things.

Reality helps us deal with where we are, so we can hopefully move on from there to improve ourselves.

Or is idealism merely the language of the young and inexperienced, and realism just becomes the vernacular of the old and embittered?

Which one are you?

Related Posts

An Ideal Husband: Is perfection best?

De Profundis: The Dark Side of Oscar Wilde

Relevant Links

Oscar Wilde’s play: Lady Windermere’s Fan to read online

A Good Woman: the movie (2004)

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When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys further on.

Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables (Megan Follows)

Anne of Green Gables has always been one of my favourite characters.

Anne inspires me. She is stoic in the face of adversity. She has courage to rise against any attempt at intimidation. She keeps hope alive down deep. She perseveres despite enormous hardship. She is true to herself, even when people don’t understand her.  And even when life around her changes – when there is a bend in the road – she is never shaken.

I have recently had an unexpected (and unwanted) bend in my own road. The sort of “bend” that makes you worry, cry, feel uncertain and really wish it would all go away.

We all have unwanted “bends” in our lives, and none of us knows what is on the other side of them. But can we say I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does? Can the bend hold a fascination for you, like it did for Anne? Can you wonder how the road beyond it goes? What new beauties and landscapes you will discover?

I guess it is all about choosing to live on the positive side of life!

Has your road got a bend in it?

Related Posts

Simple Pleasures of Life

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