Tag Archives: pride and prejudice

Sense and Prejudice

Comes word that a scholar is pretty certain that she’s in possession of a contemporaneous portrait of Jane Austen, making it, apparently, only the second authenticated likeness of the writer, and compared to the grumpy-looking one that’s been knocking around for two centuries (there’s also one drawing with her back to us, but what good is that, exactly?), this is one that shows her seemingly confident and content. Still not exactly the girl you’d ask to the prom, but not one who would say no if you did, or glare at you, castratingly. There’s a bit of Elizabeth Bennet in this portrait; sad to say, also a bit of Tony Bennett.

What Austen looked like has been a topic of much interest among those who are interested in such things, a lot of Janeites among them. Was she pretty, but shy, and wrote out of unrequited crushes? Was she plain, but a dreamer? Was she, despite the biographical material, a painted-up girl who, between novels, liked to party hearty? Was she describing herself when she wrote about Miss Bennet? Was it an idealized version of herself? Or was it not her at all, physically – maybe she skewed closer to Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the Cute-o-Meter.

But who, besides academics and superficial fangirls, cares, really? There’s not a clue, except maybe the rumor of blindness, about what Homer may have looked like (if, in fact, there even was a historical Homer, one person who spun the Iliad and Odyssey tales). And the many “likenesses” of Shakespeare (another guy who is Existence Challenged) run the appearance spectrum between Johnny Depp and Clarabell.

Does anatomy determine destiny in the writing field? To a degree, it can – a true lack of physical beauty, coupled with a knowledge of it that cripples social intercourse, can lead  one to imprison oneself in a cloistered life in which writing is the escape/therapy. 

But, short of disinterment and forensic investigation, whether this current “portrait” of Jane Austen resembles Jane Austen is just a lot of twaddle. If you want to know, if you need to know, if you have even a smidgen of interest in knowing what Austen looked like, read her books. She’ll be in her characters, probably dispersed around, with a little bit of her in one character, a tad in another. But (and I can hear the Janeites keening on this one) don’t concentrate too much on the people in her books because, although they are the mechanisms that perform actions and have consequences and rewards bestowed on them because of their actions, they are a fairly similar and interchangeable lot living fairly similar plots, book to book. Rather, what Jane Austen looks like is in her places. More than in any other way in her writing does Austen reveal her true self, the most accurate reflection of her, than in her loving descriptions of the England she knew or imagined.

You want to know what Jane Austen looked like? She has the grandeur of Pemberley, the  warm plainness of the Bennet house, the unhappy harshness of Barton Cottage, the breathtaking sweep of Derbyshire and the Peak District, the classist Cinderella awkwardness created by being in Mansfield Park … you get the picture. Placeness as art, art in placeness, self-image as place.

What did Jane Austen look like? Just read. You’ll see her. And the portrait comes in a very nice frame.


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A Year in the Life

We humans like to mark events, to placemark something meaning-filled in our circular, and sometimes repetitive, lives, giving significance to moments along the continuum. Much as a dog “scents” his physical surroundings, bipeds have a need to mark their territory in a conceptual way by choosing a date and re-acknowledging it every year; literally re-turning. We call this an anniversary. These yearly events – whether birthday, death day, the founding of an institution, the reenactment of an historic celebration or battle, or a marriage ceremony – remind us and reinforce in us a feeling of continuity and specialness in an otherwise chaotic world.

Four such anniversaries have converged this year and this month for arslocii. One is birth related, a second is relationship-based, a third is site-specific and the fourth concerns an institution’s creation. All are meaningful to us in different and yet similar ways: pairings that are related to and responsible for the raison d’etre and concept for this blog (for those astrologers amongst us, the fact that June is associated with the Twins, the constellation of Gemini, is an interesting coincidence although a loud “whoa” is not necessarily warranted here). We at arslocii are always trying to achieve perfect pairings, in an attempt to make connections between art and site. Over the year and a half that we have been writing here, we have explored many aspects of the concept, far more ideas than we originally could have fathomed. So here we go again.

Quickly, the birthday anniversary this month (a nice round year) was observed in a lovely place that had an unearthly number of constellations visible – we know Castor and Pollux were in there somewhere – so that it couldn’t have had more placeness anywhere else. That is the first instance.

The third instance (if you are counting, I skipped the second) is that the home of arslocii, the shelter that keeps our writing paper dry and our bank accounts empty, was discovered and made ours exactly 25 years ago. This anniversary reminds us of the road traveled but, mostly, of the weighted anchor that home ownership is – both the associated successes and failures – and of what these walls could tell you in the quarter century that we have been holed-up in this, our version of the American Dream. It is our relationship to this behemoth structure and the life-altering interactions with it that have paired us in eternal DNA linkage, bone to mortar.

A fourth anniversary is a 50-year one, of the founding of Storm King Art Center. This may not appear to be a personal milestone but it is. Storm King, named for the mountain that presides over it, is the most excellent of sculpture parks. The park’s very existence, as well as its presentation, is the underlying inspiration for arslocii because it “gets it” about pairings. And it made us “get it,” too, because its original concept of matching sculpture and site is a definer for placeness. It has caused us to be put into a position of trying to explain the inexplicable. Storm King illustrates, so seemingly naturally, what we seek out. We realize that their result took incredible foresight and planning, not to mention vision, to achieve it. Its magic is in the way it looks as if it had happened spontaneously, as in a random toss of pick-up sticks or, perhaps, emerging as Athena full blown from the head of Zeus.

“Nature and culture in harmony, you see, Lizzy,” Mr. Gardiner observes from his carriage tour in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, speaking to his niece about the landscape of Derbyshire that they are traveling through. “Wildness and artifice, and all in the one perfect county.” “Storm King” could easily be substituted for “county.”

The second and final anniversary (and these are not in any kind of hierarchical order) is the one that caused the most significant pairing – the meeting and marriage of the authors. On the very same date that they met, four years later, they were wed. So, depending on which anniversary is being counted, the numbers are 34 or 30, but it is always both for us. Arslocii. This particular advantageous connection is the underpinning for much love, oodles of discussion and experience, a few disagreements and some creative output. However, this placeness relationship is slightly out of the ordinary: not just art and site, but heart and sight. We just hope it lasts, since there is way more to be discovered and learned, and we were dumb as mud when we commenced this journey. Luckily, we still find placeness in each other, together.

Happy anniversaries.

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