Dining out alone is one of my favorite things to do. It gives me great pleasure to sit by myself, notebook near my plate, pretending to be a restaurant critic while studying the folks seated around me. I can almost hear you gasp at my confession—brazen lady! Most people would rather skip a meal than eat alone in a restaurant, but for me it is a practice that gives me both a feeling of peace and has provided some of my quirkiest writing material.
This fun scene with Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy calls up memories of my many dinners alone. https://youtu.be/kQ7CNUuoe3E
Recently while dining alone in an upscale restaurant I accidently overheard two young businessmen discuss a wide range of blushable topics from the best disposable diapers for their babies to unmentionable male adventures. I could not help but think that Jane Austen would have enjoyed the liberty of such solo outings. Picture her sitting alone at a table at the Clarendon, inkbottle and pen next to her plate as she jots down the highlights of conversations taking place nearby. It does paint an outlandish picture. 🙂
I have no doubt that in lieu of lone restaurant visits, Jane found a way to disappear into the woodwork while noting the tête-à-têtes going on in cozy parlors, ballrooms, and of course dining rooms.
One her most stellar scenes of accidental eavesdropping that became the pivot point for the Pride and Prejudice plot (don’t you just love alliterations?) must be when Elizabeth heard Darcy’s now classic insult thoughtlessly delivered close by: She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. That casual, but cruel remark draws us into the story for we are at once on Elizabeth’s side hoping to see her humble this proud man.
Of course the very thought of dining unaccompanied in public would have given Jane and her contemporaries a case of the vapors. But what further characters might she have discovered while seated alone at a table in a restaurant? As I listen to the two well-dressed young men chat on saucier subjects, I am curious as to how Jane complied her pitch-perfect studies of people. The limited social circle to which Regency era women were confined makes Jane Austen’s writings about human foibles all the more impressive.
Please know that I do enjoy the company of friends while dining, but there is much to recommend occasionally sitting alone in a fancy restaurant—just listening to the conversations of others. Not having to engage in chatter with a table partner leaves a writer free to observe the other people in the room as they expose their inner feelings by body language, facial expression, and the unspoken words.
You may see lovers who gaze into one another’s eyes as if peering into souls, the old married folks who barely need to converse, and the awkward first-time dates who struggle to impress with witty repartee, daring not to pause for fear they will lose their place and have to begin at the beginning of their rehearsed wit. You may wonder why I suggest lurking in fancy restaurants—they are usually much quieter and thus, all the better to hear, my dear.
With love & laughter,