Bear with me, gentle readers. I moved over the weekend, and the entire experience was not what I had planned. I’ve moved several times in recent years and this is certainly not the worse time but it was book ended with sick kids (entirely unrelated illnesses) including a ten hour trip to the emergency room and my husband had to go into work on his day off in the middle of it all. Combine that with everything I had been considering as a topic was brought up in similar recent posts, and I’m left with talking to you about moving.
What can this have to do with Austen? Lots! Many of Austen’s women experienced a very uprooting move of which they had no control over.
In 2009, on something barely more than a whim, my husband and I moved from Virginia to Alaska. He flew ahead to get a job and find housing while I sold and packed up our belongings and then drove with my youngest brother. That’s a tale for another time. We only stayed a year, and it wasn’t the winter that got to us, but rather; I was pregnant, and we thought we should be nearer family.
To spare you a sob fest of a story, we had a huge financial downturn shortly after returning to Virginia and just before my son’s first birthday foreclosed on our house and moved in with my father-in-law. He’s basically Sir Walter Elliot combined with Mr. Bennet’s laziness and financial negligence (despite his gigantic antique collection), and Mr. Woodhouse would be astonished at his health. Cookies have been his breakfast every day of his adult life. You can imagine he may not be my most favorite person in the world and difficult to live with when even in the best of situations it’s difficult to carve out a niche when you’re living with family. I can now sympathize with Elizabeth Bennet’s words that a lady may be settled too near her family.
This weekend’s move was momentous because I am able to transition to a career as a writer. It’s all thanks to you wonderful, wonderful readers! And as I go from a crowded room in a basement that I share with the furnace to a spacious yet affordable town home, I believe I must feel as Elizabeth Bennet did upon first seeing Darcy’s London house. (See Sharon Lathan’s blog post about Georgian townhouses.) Mine is certainly not as large and elegant as we would guess Darcy’s to be, but it is similar to the general 2-3 room layout common of the era. In reality though, I could probably sympathize with Austen’s other heroines and their feelings about moving better than I could Elizabeth’s.
We don’t see Catherine Morland change permanent residences, but she does get to visit the rather exotic location of Bath and then is invited to an abbey, one of her dreams come true! Instead, she feels humiliated over believing General Tilney killed his wife and is eventually cast out. Also while there the girl she believed was one of her dearest friends betrays her and her family. I think Catherine must have considered her time at Bath and Northanger Abbey with some bittersweet memories. My experience in Alaska has some similar aspects, which are too painful to consider and explain.
The Dashwood sisters leave their comfortable home in reduced circumstances due to the harshness of their brother and sister-in-law, who had been directed by their father to care for them and you would think the ladies could rely on assisting them. Part of our foreclosure was a result of our condo being terribly damaged by tenants while we lived in Alaska. We rented to them because they were our friends. The Dashwoods then moved near intrusive and silly relatives and neighbors. No matter how unstellar their accommodations were, they were forced to view it in a cheerful light, even as they were effectively a charity case. As I dwell on the peace and quiet I now have that my father-in-law is not suddenly disrupting the kids’ meal times with bringing them cookies, I think I can understand the move the Dashwood ladies experienced on many levels.
Anne Elliot’s removal to Bath was the direct result of her father’s mismanagement of funds and refusal to retrench. I entirely know what it’s like to leave your home and never know if you will return as a resident. I also know when it’s due to financial difficulties and to have little to no choice in how to handle the matter.
I consider, too, how Fanny Price must have felt being sent to the Bertrams as a child, with no input from her, and then later returning to her family. As much as I complain about father-in-law, when I see the other alternative would have been to live with my family, it’s a rude wake up call to be thankful for what I did have.
Indeed, I have been like Emma and, for a few months, lived with my only parent as a married adult. My mother also had financial difficulties at one point and, before buying our condo, my husband and I lived with her to help with rent. Ah, it seems my rather Darcy-like husband has some Knightley traits in him as well. Like Emma, I longed to both help my mother and to bring her comfort but desired some sense of adventure and independence. It should be no surprise then that we jumped at the chance to try out Alaska a year or two later, even if we no longer lived with relatives.
And now that I’ve considered all of them, I can remember the past only as it brings me pleasure. Surely I did at least have some control of my fate, whereas the women of Austen had their lives uprooted not by choice, as that was always the decision of the men in their lives. And, of course, I have some fond memories attached to each move and new situation. So now, as I finally get to feel a bit like Elizabeth Bennet in a move, wherein all relatives are over thirty miles away but still near enough for a surprise visit, my future is in my control. I’ve decided to take the leap of faith from hobby writer to career writer and am announcing my publication plans for the remainder of the year.
No Cause to Repine: novel, May 25, 2015 (Now available for pre-order on Amazon).
A Sense of Obligation: novel, August, 2015
A Winter Wonderland: short stories, November 2015
Now, to thank you all for your awesome support, and for making it through this long and probably convoluted post, I’m doing a giveaway for one ebook of Undone Business. Please comment below with your email address to be entered. Entries will close midnight EST Wednesday, April 8.