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A Letter to Jane Austen – Part Two

This is part two of a most interesting letter written by Hans van Leeuwen, a lovely Jane Austen fan from the Netherlands. (Part one can be found here)

Hans is hoping to receive remarks and tips for improvements from native speakers of English, preferably Jane Austen devotees, and the purpose of sharing the letter with us is so that some valuable feedback might be gained. 

We hope you might enjoy reading it as much as we did, and that you might share your thoughts in our comments section below.   

Jane austen biography

The half hour that succeeded this scene brought calm and tranquillity to the room and saw my father and myself settling down to reading and my mother to knitting. The faint sounds naturally attending these activities, the song of the fire and the occasional whining of the dogs when they were dreaming, produced an atmosphere no evilness could find fertile ground in. Since opening your book and immersing myself in it, I had been holding it flat in my lap, for a reason not needing to be explained, but the unnaturalness of having it this way could not fail to create such discomfort as was no longer to be borne. Relief came in a change quickly made, and while the cover was at risk of being seen as a consequence, my eyesight was out of danger of being destroyed. After convincing myself of my parents’ being as perfectly engrossed in their respective employments as before, I felt safe enough to direct my eyes down again, and within the space of two paragraphs your book had me transported back to Northanger Abbey again and the exciting events within its walls.

The next half hour was spent in equal harmony. It was disturbed, however, by my father, who had stirred on perceiving that the fire was dying and needed attending to. This must have caused my mother to look up and about her, to try and discover what or who had had the nerve to rouse her from the delicious reverie the rhythm of her work had helped her slip into, and her eye must have met the cover of the book in the process, for what else could explain what happened next.

” My word! ”, cried she, ” Can it be true? It is almost past belief. Northanger Abbey it says again! Good heaven! What little common sense she had left completely gone! ”

Looking up in fright, I noticed that my father had likewise started at the outburst, but his whole attention being with the fire, only sounds and no purport seemed to have reached him, for he retorted that had the fire been left to her care, some limbs would have grown black from frostbite by now. My mother’s countenance stiffened with indignation, and provoked into retaliation, in an apparent attempt not to allow him to escape his fair share of ill-treatment, she cried:

” As deaf as a doorknob! The head of the house on a certain path to deafness, I was never so sure of anything! The disgrace that will befall us! Suspicions from all quarters will be growing into certainty within a fortnight, probably sooner, and where we once walked through the door amidst bows and civilities we will no longer be admitted entrance to. ” She continued in the same style for while until she seemed to have vented enough of her ire to be tolerably comfortable again in silence.

My father saw amusement where pain was intended, and the bleak prophecies only served to give him the pleasure of being in playful dispute with his spouse.

” There has been an unfortunate misunderstanding, ” said he. ” Giving offence where none is intended is a deplorable thing, but supposing oneself to be addressed while one is busily engaged is something no man is always capable of remaining calm under. I nevertheless regret to have allowed myself to become so easily annoyed, and to be now most probably under the suspicion of having an uncertain temper and unhusbandlike tendencies. As for my hearing, I dare say the truth was knowingly bent to fit your purpose of revenge, but if it is of real concern to you, let me observe that it has never been complained about by anyone but you, nor have I ever had any reason to be concerned about it myself. I do not expect deafness to be knocking on the door anytime soon, but will not feel much affliction if it does. There are things far worse to be dreading the visit of and to be shedding tears over. I class it among the minorest impairments man can be affected by, and have seen many instances of its bringing out the best in our fellow-creatures, fostering helpfulness in the young and sympathy in the old. ”

I dare say we all three felt here that the digression had continued long enough, and although I had most to fear from the end of it, I resigned myself to the inevitability that the exclamations that had given rise to it must now be reverted to and be explained by one at the request of the other. The request was duly made, and most readily complied with.

” A book must be written by Jane Austen or our daughter will not open it, ” said my mother. ” This was the complaint I tried in vain to draw your attention to. The titles vary, the authoress does not. Reading the same book I know not how many times she seems to have no qualms about whatsoever. Young minds should be stimulated by variety rather than destroyed by sameness, I have told her so many a time. “

The appeal this speech implied could not fail to be understood by my father. He must be sensible of his now being expected to speak and give his opinion, but he was not a man to form hasty opinions or to speak on important matters without reflection. His re-liting his pipe and severely looking ahead of him for a while confirmed that he was just such a man, but, at length, he expressed himself.

” The peace and calm we were luxuriating in not ten minutes ago, must not be allowed to be ruined over a trifle. Preferring one writer to another is too common and too harmless a thing to be worrying about. It reminds me of what Admiral Van Houten related to me some two and a half weeks ago. He had condescended to pay me a surprise visit on purpose to revive an acquaintance duty had forced him to neglect. Some errand or other had taken the mistress of the house out of doors, she will remember, will she not? [My mother nodded in acknowledgement, without looking up] The Admiral turned out to have just returned from a weary campaign in the Atlantic, and his still being unsure on his feet, even after a fortnight ashore, spoke of long lengths of time spent in treacherous seas. But the discomfort had not prevented him from finding his son sitting poring over naval maps for days together while taking notes and making calculations. Happy for his return his son had hardly been, for, without lifting his eyes from the maps, a mere ” hullo “ had passed his lips when he walked through the door for the first time after an absence of many months. The Admiral wanted my counsel on the matter, whether it should be stopped or not, manu militari or otherwise, to which I replied in the negative. I pointed out that to take away the maps was to take away his sense of purpose, that man ought not to be prevented from going whither passion wants to take him. “

Here, the knitting, which had been resumed, was interrupted for a brief moment.

” Left undisturbed, your son might one day lead our best ships along routes most suitable for outflanking the enemy or luring them onto the rocks, and calculate the best angles for our mighty barrels to be tilted to. Throughout my argumentation, the Admiral had been nodding in agreement, with increasing fervour towards the end of it. Now, it would be a very strange thing and a severe inconsistency if I were to turn a deaf ear to my own advice by ordering our daughter to throw her book aside and to take up another by a different hand. This I shall therefore not do. There cannot be another house in the whole of Gelderlandshire where the matter would be talked about at all, let alone disapproved of. But Marianne, you have been sitting there so quietly without uttering a syllable. Pray speak and share your thoughts and feelings with us. “

To be continued…

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