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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