Friday, January 22, 2016

Graceful Words: Inspired by Jane & Judy

With 2016 arrived #ClassicsChallenge2016. Thanks to Ron Bernas once again for tossing out the gauntlet. But this year's challenge began with a gentler tone, an aspect I seek to incorporate into myself in an effort to settle an intense spirit and become just a bit more graceful and quiet.

Many years ago, I opened the pages of my first classic novel at the behest of one Judy Lebryk of Valparaiso High School. I was a Junior at the time and Ms. Lebryk was the terror of many an English student for her fierce love of classic literature and her intolerance of grammatical ignorance.

In Judy Lebryk's class, two or more spelling or grammar errors on a paper would result in an F. At that time in our education in this Honors English curriculum, we were to know our stuff ... or else.

While some may have cursed Ms. Lebryk's adherence to these exceptionally high standards, I feel nothing but gratitude for her work in assuring I knew HOW to articulate my written thoughts well. And I credit her for guiding me to a passion for Classic Literature.

I also credit her for my introduction to the works of Jane Austen, a simple woman who penned stories in bound notebooks and nurtured a deep desire to write all her life. And her gift with dialect, word choice and descriptive elements was artful and remains enjoyable to read to this day.

Now, I didn't begin as many do, with the popular and much dramatized Pride & Prejudice. Oh, I've read that book many, many times. However, it wasn't my first Austen. My first Austen was the more critically reviewed Mansfield Park. And the first heroine I came to admire was Fanny Price.

Oh, I'm probably more an Elizabeth Bennett from P & P. Independent. Content on my own. Quick to feel -- and perhaps too quick to judge. Romantic. Intense and outspoken for my station. Restless and passionate. Impatient at times. Intolerant when people are careless with the feelings of others. Protective of those I love. Like Elizabeth, I enter a room with a vibrant rush of energy and spirit. Yes, Elizabeth and I are alike in our passionate natures. Our intensity.

Perhaps that is why I admire Fanny Price so much. Such a quiet, gentle spirit was Fanny. Perhaps that is why when Ron directed me to re-read a classic from high school, I immediately sought Mansfield Park and re-acquainted myself with Fanny. Perhaps Fanny could fix, help or inspire a transformation in me.

Mansfield Park introduces us to three sisters. One marries above her station to a wealthy baronet named Thomas Bertram and has four children. One (the busybody, childless aunt) marries a clergyman named Norris. And the last, Fanny's mother, marries a naval lieutenant named Price who gets injured and is useless. This sister pops out children with abandon and can't handle the burden. That said, the novel commences with busybody Aunt Norris urging the wealthy family to foster the oldest daughter ... Fanny. And mom is thrilled to get rid of one kid. Pretty sad but there you have it.

Fanny is raised by the Bertrams, but always reminded by her Aunt Norris and her class-conscious cousins Maria and Julie that she is beneath them. She finds a friend though in her cousin Edmund, They are much alike and it is Edmund who Fanny cares most for. He is her closest friend and her confidant ... in all but one thing. (Guess what that is?)

A few years pass. Fanny is 17 and (drum roll, please) Enter the protagonists ... Henry Crawford and his sister Mary. Henry is a careless flirt, vain and arrogant but charming in his manners and style. Mary is pretty and captivating but her character is shallow and mercenary, inconsistent and self-absorbed. Henry hatches a plot to make Fanny fall in love with him, after toying with both her cousins' emotions. But Henry is foiled in that Fanny sees through him. And, when he realizes he is genuinely falling for Fanny, she rejects his proposal -- despite all who try to force them together.

Fanny is a complex personality but she's criticized often by readers for her meekness. Consider this though, she's alone and thrust into a world that constantly reminds her that she doesn't belong, yet she maintains her ideals and kindness. She is shy and sensitive, yet intelligent with good sense and perception. And she is strong enough to reject obedience in favor of following her instincts and conscience.

Many have a love/hate relationship with this character. But I admire how Fanny loves, how she lives gently, and how she is willing to let go of things that don't belong to her. In short, I wish I was less of an Elizabeth and more of a Fanny. But, at least she and I are long-time friends.

Perhaps someday her gentle spirit will soften my passionate nature and I will learn to adjust more gracefully to life as it happens. I certainly learned from Ms. Lebryk how to write eloquent papers and express my ideas without grammatical or spelling issues.

So, perhaps there is hope for me ...
                                                                                         -- Jenni