Happy Birthday Miss Austen! ~ 234 never looked so good!

[Posting this a day early – enjoy and celebrate tomorrow!]

You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago:  however last nightthe time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over.  We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion.  She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy.  Your sister thank God is pure well after it, and send her love to you and my brother, not forgetting James and Philly…

[Letter from Mr. Austen to his sister Philadelphia Walter, December 17, 1775, as quoted from Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen, A Family Record, Cambridge, 2004, p.27.]


JASNA-Vermont celebrated Jane Austen’s birthday last Sunday, December 6th,  with our annual Birthday Tea, an Austen Emporium of gifts and books, and a fabulous lecture by Professor Philip Baruth [of UVM] on “’Badly Done Indeed’: in which Austen’s Mr. Knightley is Revealed to be a Whimsical and Emotional Teen Basket-Case!”

Despite the what-now-seems-inevitable-computer-glitch, Dr. Baruth regaled us all with his take on Mr. Knightley’s not quite hidden jealousy of Frank Churchill, at least not hidden to the careful reader.  As his starting point, Baruth summarized the remonstrance scenes in three of the novels, what he calls “re-reading the remonstrance,” the point at which the characters reveal something of themselves and understand both themselves and another far better, as in Elizabeth Bennet’s off-quoted phrase “Till this moment I never knew myself.”  In Pride & Prejudice, it is Elizabeth’s “had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner” that sets Darcy on the road to understanding and redemption; in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney rebukes Catherine Morland for her gothic-like thoughts of his father as murderer: “the visions of romance were over, Catherine was completely awakened…”; and in Emma, the Box Hill scene, when Knightley defends Miss Bates against Emma’s sad joke: “She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and if she lives to old age must probably sink more.  Her situation should secure your compassion.  It was badly done indeed!…” and Emma’s response:  “Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life.  She was most forcibly struck…”

Baruth’s references to these three similar “variations on a theme” are central to the reader’s understanding of what makes a “great couple” in Austen – each must have equality, and he believes that Emma and Mr. Knightley are the most equal of all the couples – they may not appear so with the usual view that Mr. Knightley is so far superior to Emma, so mature, so above her with his ongoing corrections of her behavior.  But Baruth’s main point is that Knightley is really much more immature than appears on a first reading – he is jealous, childish, manipulative, angry and not above matchmaking a bit himself [by sending Mr. Martin off to London knowing full-well that he will see Harriet at his brother’s house].  There are a number of instances where all this is clear in the text, and Dr. Baruth pointed out several of them – his final statement that “there is no avoiding the horrible conclusion that at the precise midpoint of the novel, Knightley is actually less stable than Miss Bates!”  [HIS Miss Bates is more mature, has more penetration, and is indeed the true matchmaker of the piece!] 

So this is just a brief summation of some of Baruth’s thoughts – I have to believe that at least half of that room of over 75 people went right home to begin a re-read of Emma! – all the while looking for Austen’s hidden clues that Mr. Knightley is besotted and acting accordingly through most of the book – many of Emma’s readers have oft longed for a more romantic Knightley, and indeed I think he has been there all along!

[One funny aside of the “it was badly done indeed” quote from the book – Dr. Baruth pointed out that for some reason known only to the Hollywood crowd that this line in the movies has often been edited to “badly done, badly done indeed!”, which he thinks sounds more like what you might say to your dog after discovering a mess on the carpet!]

Anyway, lots of food for thought , especially the redemption of Miss Bates from a ridiculous chatter-box to town prophet – re-read your Emma and see what YOU find!

So now on to celebrating Jane’s 234th birthday, today, December 16, 2009.  One of the ideas I stole from the JASNA-New York Region was the composing of a birthday greeting to Jane from one of her characters, so I asked members to fire up their creative 18th-century imaginations and write a note to Jane.  Here is what we read to the crowd at the tea, all heartily received with wide laughter and applause [we also read the New York letters from their tea last year – these are on their chapter website here – scroll down to the end of the Spring 2009 newsletter for the letters.]

Birthday Greetings to Jane Austen on her 234th Birthday ~
From her devoted servants, December 6, 2009



 Dear Jane (if I may be so bold), 

Certainly those of us in the first ranks of society must take pains to do all that is right and proper, and with that in mind I am sending my very best wishes on the anniversary of your birth.  

To further celebrate the event, I would like to invite you to tea with myself and my caro sposo; it is to be a small affair, you know, with just the usual gathering of personages of good birth and breeding. I would gladly entertain you with various affecting piano pieces, which I used to play beautifully (just ask my caro sposo), but find that I am just so out of practice since becoming a married woman that no doubt you (being yet unspoken for, and so with vastly more time on your hands) would perform them far more admirably. Which puts me in mind of a jolly idea: would you like to play for us when you come? Say you will; it will be the talk of our society for ever! How clever I feel for having thought of it!

 I look forward to the honor of your acceptance of my gracious invitation. 

Yours most sincerely,
Mrs. (Augusta) Elton   

[a.k.a. Janeite Donna]


Ah, Ms. Barnum, So, very obliging of you.  Well, this is a brilliant tea party.  Oh, I declare, there’s Miss Austen,  Ah, Miss Austen, happy birthday, to be sure.  Did you ever see any thing?  Oh, look, there’s dear Ms. MacDonald.  I hope you are quite well.  So, obliged to you for the ride.  Most comfortable sedan.  Excellent time.  Never were such neighbours.  Dear Mr. Guerlain, upon my word, sir, this meeting quite in fairy-land.  Such a host of friends.  And Ms Hefferon, and Mrs. Bertolini.  How do you do?  Ah, Miss Austen’s birthday, must not forget.  Quite wonderful how she does her hair!  No hairdresser could.  Ah! Ms. Barnum, is it time for tea?

 Miss Bates babbling at the Tea
[from Janeite Marcia]


Be not alarmed, Madam, at receiving this letter, celebrating your natal day. I write without any intention of invading your privacy. However, my dearest wife has brought to my attention that without your most generous interference, she and I might never have met, might never have misunderstood and then understood each other, might never have fallen in love, and certainly might never have married. In this last point, I must disagree with my excellent wife, for once you had created Elizabeth Bennet and placed her before me, nothing (except perhaps my pride) could have kept me from loving and marrying my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. My wife now reminds me that I digress from the aim of my missive, which is to offer you our sincerest congratulations on this your 234th birthday.  You have forever blessed the Darcy family.  Not only have you left us with your six major novels, Lady Susan, two unfinished manuscripts, your Juvenilia, and many letters, but your work has spawned hundreds (perhaps thousands) of scholarly works, fan fictions, weblogs, and twitter comments. Although to say the truth, I’m not sure I approve of the inclusion of zombies and vampires. Nonetheless, I shall endeavor to find some opportunity to convey this message to you at the Jane Austen Society of North America in Vermont Birthday Tea on a date prior to your natal day in December.

I will only add, God bless you and Janeites Deb and Kelly, as well.

Your most grateful servants,
Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy

p.s. My brother and dear friend Bingley continues to torment me about my tendency to search for words of “more than three syllables.”  Could you perhaps alter the aspect of his character that compels him to tease me? As you well know, I receive sufficient teasing from my dear wife.

[Dictated to Janeite MaryEllen, December 3, 2009.]


Dear Miss Austen:  Yes, i know you have a sister, but am not sure which of you is the elder; therefore, you could be Miss Jane. Forgive me, if i have erred.  The fire needs replenishing.  I can’t tell you the satisfaction and pleasure that your unmarried state has given me.  First, my other daughter, now wallowing in young children and vapors; next, poor Emma’s governess (and to a neighbor and one i thought of as friend!), and now and , most importantly, my poor Emma herself. Forgive me, but my former friend and neighbor, Knightley, who dandled the infant Emma on his knee, has finally , after all these years, persuaded her to join him in the hateful condition of marriage.  The final and worst betrayal.   Again, dear Miss. A., why couldn’t they all follow your good example of productive spinsterhood?  There would be room by my fire.    

Yours faithfully,    Mr. Woodhouse   

[a.k.a. Janeite Ann]


My Dearest Jane,

 Oh! My heart is all a flutter that today is your birthday! – just think, you can celebrate with us and the four and twenty families I have invited for tea. I am so glad that Mr. Bennet took it upon himself to visit you … it is not often that he leaves his library. 

We are hoping that our new neighbor, Mr. Bingley [who has I hear 5000 pounds a year!] will come, and hopefully NOT bring his odious sisters [oh dear, that Mr. Hurst will surely get drunk and perhaps propose a duel with my Mr. Bennet!],  and certainly NOT bring that supposed friend of his, Mr. Darcy, who should really have stayed in Town! – even his 10,000 pounds a year cannot make me wish him for one of my daughters  [why ever dear Miss Austen did you make him so insufferably proud – it is after all hard to ignore that 10,000 pounds, not to mention his elegant looks – you must know how this Colin Firth has put your infamous “Mr. Darcy” into the heart of EVERY breathing female, and an icon with whom all the males in the land cannot possibly compete – whoever was the model for this fellow, we would all very much like to know, I can tell you that…]  Anyway, all is likely lost and Mr. Bingley will not come to tea, as Mr. Bennet has yet to make his acquaintance – he has perhaps used his time unwisely by visiting with you instead… 

But, oh, my nerves! [you did, Miss Austen, certainly saddle me with an abundance of the vapors!] – Mary is practicing the pianoforte just for your pleasure [but more importantly she will want to take you aside to discuss the finer points of one of Mr. Fordyce’s sermons that she is forever grappling with], and shopping-crazed Lydia has just bounded in with the most hideous bonnet imaginable; and to finish me off, Hill is calling – there is, it seems, a PIG in the parlor…. Oh my poor, poor nerves! 

Mrs. Bennet 

Oh, P.S. Happy Birthday…

 [a.k.a. Janeite Deb]


So we wish Jane a most Happy Birthday today!

Two questions:

  • Did you know that this is also the day that Charles Musgrove married Mary Eliot?  I wonder why Austen chose her own birthday for this? – any ideas??
  • And why of all the Austen children [James, George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Francis, Jane and Charles] is Jane the only one with no middle name?

[birthday cake image from Sweet Pea Bakery in Bozeman Montana]

[Posted by Deb]

6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Miss Austen! ~ 234 never looked so good!

  1. Greetings to you all.

    It is to me— just another living human standing here on Earth, talking to the sky, or rather, to the roof of my own house, at this moment in time— a great pleasure to read all your greetings to Jane. I have been deeply moved— not to tears, but moved, certainly—by such words, such accurate fantasy and expression of thought and feeling. What bliss must be for our Janie to read such compliments on her own birthday anniversary! (For she is certainly, from one place or other, witnessing all our blessings.)

    Being a passionate lover of her own writing and personally identified with her life story myself, I cannot but congratulate you all. I am no more than an outsider, accidentally intruding upon your site, and a budding writer as well, who can trace Austen’s fine style on the remarks and letters presented above.

    I should like to add—and with this leave you alone— that indeed this is quite the only Website which I have come across and in which you all greet her in her own writing style! What can be more amusing and personally fulfilling than that, I wonder?

    My sincere and humble congratulations on such creativity and effort. I feel most identified with it all.

    Argentina. Dec.16th.2009. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISS AUSTEN!


  2. Pingback: Whimsy! « Lovely Layer Cakes

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