Slainte: Toasting Jane Austen

Wherein I reveal my love for all things Jane Austen…

OK so I might be stretching the conclusion of my celebration of  toasting and things Irish by bringing Jane Austen into the picture, but she did have Irish connections, in her books, in her family, and in her love life.

LIGHT O’ LOVE

One of the most provocative Irish connections for “Jane-ites” was Jane Austen’s youthful flirtation with Irish-born Thomas Lefroy, nephew-by-marriage of her close friend and neighbor Anne Lefroy. A couple of semi-sarcastic and giddy sentences in letters to her sister Cassandra from the winter of 1795-96 were eventually expanded into the fictionalized speculation of the 2007 movie, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as Jane and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy.

In this clip, the main characters explore the erotic power of words and banter about how Jane’s lack of experience of the world hampers her writing.

For a review of the film in the context with what we know about Jane Austen versus what we WANT to know, see this review by Dierdre Lynch for Slate.

OK one more picture of James McAvoy as Tom. Doesn’t he just rock that waistcoat and cravat?

…THE IRISH AND THOSE THAT WISH THEY WERE IRISH

For Jane’s Irish family connections, we have to look to a later generation. Author Sophia Hillan recently mined the lives and letters of Jane Austen’s nieces, Marianne, Louisa, and Cassandra, daughters of Jane’s brother Edward, who all ended up in Ireland during turbulent times. Here is the description of May, Lou, and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland from Amazon:

Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight – May, Lou and Cass – were Jane Austen’s nieces. Jane knew the girls well, reading and sewing with them as they grew up, and they were often the subjects of her witty letters.The Knight sisters went on to lead lives that bore a remarkable resemblance to the plots of their aunt’s famous novels. Handsome noblemen, dashing officers and penurious clergymen sought their hands in marriage, and just like Austen’s heroines, May, Lou and Cass experienced the pains of blighted love, the joy of patience rewarded and the sorrow of losing their childhood home.Yet even Jane Austen could not have imagined that her genteel nieces would find themselves in Ireland, a country riven with famine and land wars.

Drawing on diaries, manuscripts and letters, May, Lou & Cass tells for the first time the story of the Knight sisters and their extraordinary journey from the ordered world of Regency England to the turbulent upheaval of nineteenth-century Ireland.

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

In her works, Jane Austen mentions Ireland and the Irish, but in keeping with her general unwillingness to speculate about areas of life of which she had no direct knowledge (notice the point of view characters in all her novels are women), she does not expound. It is true we all have a certain image of Ireland in our heads that is so different from the image we have of England. A little wild and a little dangerous, Ireland. Perhaps Jane Austen thought so too.

“It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” ~Emma, Chapter 42

Contrast that idea with the Duke of Wellington’s (a contemporary of Jane Austen) retort when accused of being Irish: “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.” (Yes, but it might well make one a horse’s ass…) But we will allow Wellington the context of his times too.

For a thorough review of Jane’s references to Ireland and the Irish, including critical historical context, see “Ireland in the Time of Jane Austen” by Joan Duffy Ghariani.

DRINK JANE AUSTEN

Which brings us, at last, to a toast.

“His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment. And what will then be their acquaintance? The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney’s passion for a month.”
~Northanger Abbey

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England (to which I made a delightful visit in 2007!) has this to say about toasting in Jane’s time“Drinking a toast” to someone or something became immensely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the point of excess. When a gathering would run out of attendees to toast, it became custom to toast absent friends, thus prolonging the drinking.

Anything to prolong the drinking! One more toast:

Here’s to the land of the shamrock
Where Irish hearts are true
Here’s to our blessed Saint Patrick
But most of all, here’s to you!

Do you like to speculate on historical figures’ love lives? Several contemporaries of Jane Austen left few letters. Jane’s letters were largely destroyed after her death by her sister Cassandra, leaving us only speculation about many areas of her life. Martha Washington was one who destroyed all her own correspondence with her husband, George, and King George IV’s (better known as the Prince Regent and the man who gave his name to the Regency Period)  letters and memorabilia were consigned to the fire after the King’s death by none other than Wellington himself. A very different environment from the blogosphere…

Some of my Jane Austen sources:

English Verdure at Austenprose

Who was the real Thomas Lefroy? at Irish Identity

Irish, I Dare Say from The Jane Austen Centre

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22 thoughts on “Slainte: Toasting Jane Austen

  1. Great post, Kecia! And one one of my all-time favorite authors. I discovered Jane Austin in college and have read works of hers every year since. Yes, my copies of her works are all dog-eared and with well-cracked spines!

  2. Slainte to you, Kecia! It is remarkable how the women and girls of Jane’s time were able to put their times into a perspective that has become timeless. The gathering of women, the oldest bond in human relationships … not only sisters in blood, but sisters in heart and soul. Thanks for this beautiful glimpse at a time we will all continue to seek. Ah, the joy that are granddaughters will seek these powerful women 🙂

    • Kecia Adams says:

      What a wonderful sentiment! I do think the themes and details of Jane Austen’s stories are timeless and so relevant for women. And we want her to have fallen in love, but most of the authorities speculate that if she had married, we would have been without her wonderful novels. Thanks for stopping by, Florence!

  3. Being mostly Irish (with a bit of Scottish & Welsh thrown in for good measure) I thoroughly enjoyed this post. My maiden name was Grace and there are beaucoup Graces in County Tyrone. Although I have read many Austen novels, I didn’t know about the connection with Ireland. Thanks for informing my ignorance. Anne Grace Crowder

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Hi Anne! I actually was a bit surprised too. I had seen the movie, Becoming Jane, but was interested in the historical context. Ireland had been fairly peaceful for about 80 years and then everything seemed to come apart in 1798…fascinating times.

  4. Emma says:

    He does look handsome in that waistcoast 😉

  5. This post reminds me of my college roommate who had an intense girl-crush on Ms. Austen. 🙂 We used to chat about the literary goddess at length and I have to say, I enjoyed it.

  6. Debra Eve says:

    Loved this, Kecia and adored Becoming Jane. So wonderfully cast, especially James McAvoy :). I thought it was quite well done, even if mostly speculation. But then, I don’t go to the movies to learn history! Thanks for a great read.

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Hi, Debra! I know what you mean about not going to the movies to learn history. I love to see historically set movies to immerse myself in that world, but I have been known to cringe now and then at inaccuracies… 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Maura says:

    I love Jane Austen! Thank you for the blog!! I am currently reading The Jane Austen’s Guide to Happily Ever After. Such an icon!

  8. journalpulp says:

    In a surviving letter to Cassandra (dated October 17, 1815), Jane Austen admitted that apple pie was a significant part of her domestic happiness.

    Similarly, at about 3:00 A.M. the other night after getting off work, I went through the drive-thru of a 24-hour McDonald’s and ordered an apple pie. They were out. It was a rather serious blow to my domestic happiness.

    • Maura says:

      I hope you are writing McDonalds this instance for the slander they have caused against your domestic tranquility! 🙂

      Today at track, I felt the athletes wanting to say this, another quote from Jane: “Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” However, I replied, “Yes, yes you can, and you will (whip cracking in the background!)”

      • Kecia Adams says:

        LOL! You guys crack me up. 🙂 There is always an occasion for a JA quote…or maybe there is a JA quote for every occasion. Love McD’s apple pie, but I am truly partial to the cherry kind. Do they still have those?

  9. […] Challenge. If you have been reading along, you already know I am a Jane Austen fan! In fact, this post on Jane’s Irish connections apparently was my most viewed in […]

  10. journalpulp says:

    Kecia wrote: “Love McD’s apple pie, but I am truly partial to the cherry kind. Do they still have those?”

    They do now, baby! For a limited time only. Just had one last night after work. Get them while they’re hot.

  11. Hi, Thanks for for stopping by ritaLOVEStoWRITE and especially thanks for joining the fun by following! I made a little toast to Jane myself last night in honor of P&P. Cheers, Rita

  12. […] wrote/posted 28% fewer posts than in 2012 and garnered about 50% fewer views. My most popular post (Slainte: Toasting Jane Austen) was the same for 2013 as it was for 2012, possibly because of the search terms used to find it, […]

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