Your Sunday Austen Meditation


church_of_austenologyWe were reminded recently that we all can use some inspiration from the pen of Herself. We have been meaning to resurrect the Sunday Austen Meditation feature on this blog, and will endeavor to post weekly. 

Today’s lesson comes from Emma, as we have been thinking a great deal about this novel lately, and also about Janeites enjoying modern technology. While many think that social media is a 21st-century phenomenon, the idea behind it–sharing thoughts with friends–is far from new. In the Editrix’s long-ago girlhood, we wrote in our friends’ autograph albums and school yearbooks, even as Harriet Smith collects charades in her album. From Volume I, Chapter IX (9):

Her views of improving her little friend’s mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet’s fortune, than to be labouring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts; and the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with ciphers and trophies.

In this age of literature, such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Nash, head-teacher at Mrs. Goddard’s, had written out at least three hundred; and Harriet, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped, with Miss Woodhouse’s help, to get a great many more. Emma assisted with her invention, memory and taste; and as Harriet wrote a very pretty hand, it was likely to be an arrangement of the first order, in form as well as quantity.

Mr. Woodhouse was almost as much interested in the business as the girls, and tried very often to recollect something worth their putting in. “So many clever riddles as there used to be when he was young—he wondered he could not remember them! but he hoped he should in time.” And it always ended in “Kitty, a fair but frozen maid.”

His good friend Perry, too, whom he had spoken to on the subject, did not at present recollect any thing of the riddle kind; but he had desired Perry to be upon the watch, and as he went about so much, something, he thought, might come from that quarter.

So as you see, Gentle Readers, even in Jane Austen’s time, there was social media of a sort. Two hundred years ago, the excitement over an album of charades was similar to the excitement over the latest social media app. Once again we see the genius of Jane Austen, who tapped into the universal zeitgeist of humanity that never really changes. Here endeth the lesson.