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Dust & Gossip: What would Elizabeth Von Arnim tell a moralizing busybody?

Tea: Peppermint Tea with Honey
Music: Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Dear Erica,

My husband’s widowed aunt is staying with us for the next two weeks, and she is driving me mad. Although she never had children of her own, she’s constantly commenting on my children’s terrible manners. And although she doesn’t cook, she can’t help but criticize my slightly browned (or burnt as she calls them) yorkshire puddings at the dinner table.  As you can tell, there is very little I do right in this woman’s eyes. I know I’m not perfect, but God help me, how am I going to bear her for the next fourteen days???

Best,

Exasperated in Essex

Dear Exasperated in Essex,

Your aunt reminds me of the meddlesome Mrs. Morrison in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight. She needs to learn how to mind her own business. Or as Elizabeth Von Arnim so eloquently puts it,

“There is a great virtue in sweeping out one’s own house and trimming its lamps before starting on the house and lamps of a neighbour; and since new dust settles every day, I know not when the truly tidy soul will have attained so perfect a spotlessness as to justify its issuing forth to attack the private dust of other people.”

You could try slipping a bookmarked copy of Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight in your aunt’s room to give her a hint. Or you can tell her she is “altogether impossible,” but as Priscilla found, that sort of honesty usually leads to more trouble than it’s worth. Unfortunately, I think your best bet is to grin and bear her as best you can. People like your aunt and Mrs. Morrison never change. Practice counting till ten, find yourself a good book, drink lots of tea, and soon the two weeks will be up, and you can enjoy your ill-mannered children and burnt yorkshire puds in peace.

Best,

Erica

May 18, 2012   No Comments

Will Passion or Prudence win out for Nervous in New York?

sense-and-sensibility

Tea: Green Tea with Lemon

Music: Wilco: Impossible Germany

Quote:  Elinor knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next and that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.
“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”
Marianne here burst forth with indignation,
“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise.” From Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Or for another, less erudite, perspective,
Never Regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience. Victoria Holt


Question:

Dear Erica,

I’ve been working and living in New York for the past few years and have just been accepted at business school at Stanford. Of course, now that I’m leaving New York, I finally got up the courage to flirt with my office crush, who to my complete surprise likes me back. Well, I’m tempted to date him, even though I’ll only be here for a few more months. What do you think? Is it worth it? Or am I likely to wind up more hurt?

Thanks,

Nervous in New York

My Response:

Dear Nervous in New York:

I think you should go for it, with the caveat that you need to think more like an Elinor and feel less like a Marianne if you want to avoid getting hurt. By Elinor and Marianne, I am referring to the very different Dashwood sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensiblity. Elinor handles her romantic troubles with a prudence and practicality that is completely missing in her passionate and dramatic sister. In exploring her feelings for Edward Ferrars, Elinor recognizes the difficulties their union faces and does not allow herself to run away with unrealistic expectations. Marianne, on the other hand, falls passionately in love with the selfish but charming Willoughby and her impetuous choices lead her into a near breakdown when Willoughby’s true colors are revealed.

Marianne calls her sister cold hearted, but I would say she’s really just practical. If you are able to look at the relationship as a pleasant fling, and let go a little bit(never easy for a woman, but it can be done), then you are set. But if you think you might develop deeper feelings, just be aware that long-distance and long-term relationships are never easy and be practical. That being said, you are more likely to regret not taking a chance than holding back. Though not one of the classic writers, I think Gothic Romance novelist, Victoria Holt, says it best, “Never Regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.

And who knows? Maybe it will work out! Edward and Elinor managed to overcome a number of obstacles, jealous ex-lovers, no money, disapproving relations, and find themselves very happy after a number of painful separations. And even if it winds up being a right mess, you are likely to learn from your mistakes. If Marianne had not had her tragic love-affair with the dastardly Willoughby, she might never have learned to appreciate and value the loyal and thoughtful Colonel Brandon with whom she lived happily ever after. Let us know whether passion or prudence wins out!

Best,

Erica

November 26, 2011   7 Comments