Jennifer's Journal


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reading Matters


There was a time when I cared not at all for biographies.  I was too busy leading my own life to be become involved in someone else’s, felt too removed in place and time to see life lessons in whatever may have happened to them.  Lately, however, I’ve been fascinated by the lives of several women from the 18th and early 19th centuries and the scandals that rocked their worlds.  “Unwise Passions, a True Story of a Remarkable Woman” by Alan Pell Crawford is the story of Nancy Randolph, a woman from an old aristocratic Virginia family with ties to Thomas Jefferson, who was tried on a charge of murdering her illegitimate child with the aid of its father who happened to be her sister’s husband.  “Mistress of the Elgin Marbles, A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin”, details the story of this lady, wealthy in her own right, who helped her diplomat husband rescue the so-called Elgin Marbles (friezes and other pieces of the disintegrating Parthenon and various other Greek historical sites) and bring them home to England during the Napoleonic Wars.  She gave birth to four living children and one who died in infancy, then separated from her husband after falling in love with his best friend.  The subsequent divorce action, argued before the parliaments of both Scotland and England in the required form of the day, was one of the most celebrated of the Regency period.  Then currently on my bedside table is “Victoria’s Daughters,” by Jerrold M. Packard, the remarkable stories of the five daughters of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, each of whom made a royal marriage with consequences which still affect the world.  One of the things that attract me to books of this sort now, I think, is the proof that, regardless of how futuristic our lives may become, human nature remains the same.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I sometimes think with a certain envy about the so called "lady scribblers" of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  These were women such as Fanny Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Jane Austen, George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), Louisa May Alcott and the Bronte sisters who penned their masterpieces by the dim glow of lamps during long winter evenings.  They often wrote in their parlors so as to enjoy the fire's warmth and company of others involved in their own quiet and private pursuits.  Untroubled by the noise of television, video games or stereo sound systems, they used the hours after dark to weave their tales of angst and fantasy, scratching away with the simplest of pen and ink and in perfect concentration.
This is how I imagine it, at least.
Maybe they didn't.  Maybe their parents, siblings or husbands drove them mad by banging away at a piano, declaiming poetry, reading needlework instructions aloud or quarreling over card games.  Maybe the crackling of the fire or tick of the mantel clock was too loud or the chill of their fingers too distracting.  Maybe they cursed, in lady-like phrases, pens that splattered ink or else the scarcity of paper which forced them to use tiny, cramped letters and both sides of the sheets.  It's just barely possible that finding the perfect time and conditions for the labor of creation has always been difficult.  Still, it makes me feel better to believe that it was--must have been!--easier once upon a time.     
Monday, November 14, 2005

Southern Heroine

You didn't see it on CNN, I know, but our local paper headlined a great story recently.  It seems a would-be robber walked into a convenience story in the sleepy little town not far from where I live, pulled a pistol on the clerk and demanded the money from the cash register.  The clerk, being a Southern lady to the core--which is to say, familiar from birth with the firearms used by all her male relatives for hunting and family protection--took a good look at the weapon.  Then she reached out and snatched it from the crook's hand and told him to get out of her store.  He was last seen high-tailing it out of town with the police on his trail.  The pistol was a toy, you see, and the lady clerk recognized it on sight.  Don't you love it when these things have a happy ending?