Sunday, March 4, 2018

All the Single Ladies

- Suzanne Collins 

Good Sunday evening.

I left you last with news of February's imminent book club meeting, which went off without a hitch last Monday evening. We met to discuss Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman, a book I will, at long last, discuss in more detail momentarily. The book club has discussed it, my mom has finished reading it, however, on Friday a student relayed to me that her mom wanted a book recommendation, & so I of course recommended Cancel the Wedding . . . so fair warning: there will be a few spoilers.

As a prelude to the spoilers, let me apprise you of what is new in our world. I was recently reminded of a dissertation I wrote not too long ago in which I justify spending a lot of money on boots.

For years I have talked myself out of buying a pair of Hunter rain boots. I told myself I'd rarely wear them, but that excuse has become implausible lately as I find myself routinely heading to school in the black rain boots I bought from Target a year or so ago. My closet is lined with expensive shoes I don't wear nearly as often as I've needed my rain boots lately, & so when the sole of one of my Target boots became separated from the rest of the boot one recent rainy morning, I knew what had to happen. My wet sock reminded me all day of what had to happen. My new Hunter rain boots were delivered to our front door yesterday, & the forecast indicates I'll get to wear them at least once this week. 

The rain boots were the least expensive item shipped to me last week. Reagan's new pump arrived Tuesday. Enjoy the photos, & then I have a little disclaimer to share:

So. To answer your question, no, she is not wearing the new pump yet, & there are a variety of reasons for this. First, I have jury duty tomorrow. What this means is that tomorrow & possibly beyond tomorrow, I won't be at school when Reagan eats lunch, nor will I be able to abdicate my civic duty to drive to school when she eats lunch. My mom will be on lunch duty, & I don't want to switch things up & have her try & give Reagan medicine using an unfamiliar pump when I won't be around to help if needed. So, there's that. I hope neither the prosecuting attorney nor the defense attorney find me remotely desirable as a jurist & release me from jury duty asap. We shall see. 

A couple of other technical issues stand between giving Reagan the green light on her new pump (she takes it out of the box & looks at it every day). The meter that pairs with the new pump requires different meter strips than her current meter that pairs with her Animus pump. I need to have her doctor call in a Rx for the new strips. There are a few more kinks to be worked out, but I suspect you either won't understand &/or are quickly losing interest, so just trust me that we are slowly getting our ducks in a row & plan to make the transition soon. I do so hope it is a seamless transition. She'll wear the pump for a few weeks in manual mode (meaning I control everything),  & then we'll meet with a trainer who will review all the data & work with us on transitioning to auto mode, meaning the pump will function sort of like a pancreas. Sort of. More on all this later when I see it in action & better understand it. 

So, if you're paying attention, you've realized in one week I attended book club, received my new Hunter rain boots, & received Reagan's new pump. Not too shabby for a random week in February, right? It gets better. 

Last week, as a way to wrap up the Romanic Period in British Literature, I showed students Sense and Sensibility — THE Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, & Hugh Grant. I have read Sense and Sensibility; I truly believe Emma Thompson's Oscar-winning screenplay, along with the entire cast's brilliant acting, is as good as (or perhaps even better than) the novel. I don't think any screenwriter before or since Ms. Thompson has so fully understood the nuances of the characters in an original text & so beautifully adapted the written word for the screen. 

Anyway, after discussing Cancel the Wedding with my book club lovelies Monday night & watching Sense & Sensibility all week, I have had a bit of an epiphany. Essentially the epiphany is this: I did not realize the full extent of Jane Austen's influence until very recently (recently as in, like, last Thursday). Naturally I feel shame, but I am seeking to rectify this travesty by sharing with you, reader, what has only recently dawned on me.

It is common knowledge that all romance leads to Austen. Whether in novel or film, your basic romance plots are a variation of something Austen wrote. She crafted the mold from which every leading man since has been cast. The aloof know-it-all you hate until you love him? Mr. Darcy. The awkward shy guy whose manners are so perfect you want to slap him until he curses? Edward Ferrars.

The novel itself owes a great deal to Jane Austen, as she championed this form at a time when few others did, preferring instead to write poetry or essays espousing their political / religious / philosophical beliefs. Austen chose the novel as her preferred form of expression, & if you read novels or enjoy films adapted from novels, you owe Ms. Austen a note of thanks. As she states in Northanger Abbey:

It is only a novel . . . or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

That Austen propelled the novel to its deserved place in literature is not news to me. That she put romance on the map forevermore is also not news to me. What has only recently occurred to me is what she did for what is today referred to as Women's fiction. Women's fiction is basically fiction about & for women that doesn't exclusively or heavily feature romance. Most of what Kristin Hannah writes is categorized as Women's fiction. I tend to not love Women's fiction. It is not my go-to when I want fiction. Women's fiction often focuses on the relationships between women — mothers & daughters, sisters, friends.

I say I don't care for Women's fiction, but I think what I dislike is this label. I suppose because so many women read romance novels publishers felt the need to make the distinction, but it's an example of how far writing & publishing have strayed from the purity of an Austen novel. You know whose relationship is my favorite in Sense and Sensibility? Elinor & Marianne's. The best lines are spoken between these two sisters. Elinor — stoic, sensible Elinor — first breaks down not over Edward, but when she believes she will lose Marianne. If you've not seen Emma Thompson & Kate Winslet bring these sisters to life, well, you should do that.

Sense and Sensibility might, today, be classified as Women's fiction. But yet, it contains this gem from Edward to Elinor:

I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be . . . yours.

I love Elinor Dashwood so much. She is fascinating & admirable to me separate & apart from Edward. I see a little of myself in Elizabeth Bennet; I see more of what I ought to be in Elinor (as does Marianne).

I've only recently realized I see Elinor everywhere, the sensible daughter who leads with her head rather than her heart, who parents her sibling(s) out of love & necessity due to an absent or emotionally scattered parent. I see her in Katniss Everdeen & her relationship with Prim. I see her in Elsa & her relationship with Ana. I see glimpses of her in Tatiana, my beloved protagonist in The Bronze Horseman who steadfastly refuses the Russian soldier she loves because it will break her sister's heart.

I see Elinor and Marianne's relationship mirrored in the lives of the sisters whose story is told in Cancel the Wedding. I think Cancel the Wedding is wonderful for the same reason Sense and Sensibility is wonderful: neither can be easily pigeonholed into a category. Both novels feature a pair of sisters who are struggling to make sense of life after burying a parent. The elder sister is pure sense, while the younger indulges her romantic, emotional sensibilities.

Olivia, the protagonist in Cancel the Wedding, decides on a whim to drive down to Georgia to learn more about her mother's burial instructions. Olivia & her older sister, Georgia, have always known their mother grew up in rural Georgia, but their mother shared few details about her early years with them.

Olivia, with her teenage niece as her sidekick, extends her stay in Georgia as the mystery of her mother's past deepens . . . & as she finds herself drawn to a local man, Elliott, who runs the town paper & is eager to help Olivia unravel the secrets of her mother's past. It is a fantastic read in my opinion. The writing is not in Austen's league (whose is?), but the story is compelling. There's a little romance, a little mystery, & a poignant exploration of the ties that bind generations of women.

I have several things I need to be doing right now as I attempt to wrap this up, so I am going to be brief. Here's what I want to say, to anyone reading, but specifically to young ladies who read their English teacher's blog: These women I have mentioned — Elinor Dashwood, Katniss Everdeen, Olivia — they are fascinating characters, fascinating women, just as we find them, before Edward, before Peeta, before Elliott. They love their sisters so fiercely & are largely defined by their relationships with the women in their lives. Be an Elinor; don't be a Fanny Dashwood. Be a force for good in the lives of other women. Don't exploit their insecurities. Be genuinely happy for them when they are happy. Laugh & cry together, & remind each other that you are fine just as you are. Remember that one of the best love stories Austen tells is that of Elinor & Marianne Dashwood, two very single sisters who balance each other quite well.


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