This was meant to be entirely another post, but I got inspired, and so long as I manage to do as promised on social media, and clue you all in as to what my special project is by the end, I’ll have accomplished what I needed to!
I like to counterbalance my love of the Regency with a nice dose of science fiction, and my favorite dose is Doctor Who (which, if I must say, SHOULD go to the Regency at some point…certainly the BBC has enough spare costumes lying around!). The episode that sets up this post is the one featuring Vincent Van Gogh. SPOILER ALERT…
At the end of the episode, the Doctor and his companion at the time, Amy Pond, (spoiler AND tissue warning!) take Van Gogh to the Musée d’Orsay to see his work:
Total sobfest, amiright? I’m not even a huge Van Gogh fan and this makes me cry every time I see it. The notion of such an artist being able to see the impact of his work posthumously is just wonderfully poignant.
So what was it that reminded me of this lately? Well, here in the United States, we just celebrated the anniversary of our independence over the British. And in our particularly incongruous American manner, we particularly like to celebrate this holiday with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” a song written to celebrate the Russians turning out Napoleon in 1812. Why do we do this? Simply put, because it has cannons, and we cannot resist a song with cannons.
And for some reason this year, I started thinking, what if I had my own TARDIS (the time machine in Doctor Who), and could transport Mr. Tchaikovsky to the National Mall in Washington, DC, to listen to the National Symphony Orchestra, and watch the fireworks? I would, I presume, introduce Mr. Tchaikovsky to such modern contrivances as backpack chairs and food trucks while we waited on the National Mall for the start of the Fourth of July show, and then he would be required to wait through the buildup to the grand finale, which would, of course, be his song:
Somehow, I imagine Mr. Tchaikovsky as unimpressed by all of this:
Tchaikovsky: The timing is off, on the cannons.
Sophie: Yeah, sorry about that. But look at the spectacle surrounding your song!
Tchaikovsky: I am not impressed.
Sophie: Really, you should be. I mean, our country has a guy, John Philip Sousa, who pretty much devoted his entire repertoire to patriotic marches. And we still choose your song for the finale of our Independence Day.
Tchaikovsky: I have heard of this Philip Sousa person, but I have not heard his work. I would like to hear him, before you return me to my time.
Sophie: Sounds good. Maybe we’ll stop off at Glenn Miller before we get there, too.
While Tchaikovsky was by no means an unmitigated success, somehow my mind has continued on to consider what it would be like if I utilised my theoretical time machine with other historical figures. And thus, considering Tchaikovsky as the first, here are, in a somewhat logical order, ten more historical figures I would like to bring to other times and/or places, with my TARDIS:
2. Charlotte Brontë
Let’s start first with someone guaranteed to make me, at least, feel satisfied. Ms. Brontë would be brought into the future for a viewing of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries alongside Andrew Davies. When finally it is done, she would be thoroughly questioned as to how Mr. Davies could see the sex between the lines, and she could not, and there would be no answers forthcoming from Ms. Brontë. At the end, I presume she would ask if she could meet Colin Firth before returning to the Victorian age. I might be nice and let her watch a rendition of Jane Eyre or two before returning her, as well.
3. Antonio Vivaldi
So the whole Charlotte Brontë thing got way more awkward than I would have anticipated, what with the whole calling her out on saying Jane Austen had no passion when in truth she did, for those willing to see it. As a little breather, it would be nice to take Vivaldi on a tour of various performances of his masterpiece, “The Four Seasons,” to see how it’s held up in the modern era. We’d certainly drop in on one of Anne Akiko Meyers’a performances, but generally I’d want Vivaldi to understand how beloved and generally accessible his work remained to modern listeners:
Of course, someone would make that old joke, “if it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it,” because somebody ALWAYS makes that joke, and I’d have to explain it to him. Maybe before I took him back to his time, I’d pull up a variety of YouTube videos for him to see all the various other ways his masterpiece has been used, including in automobile advertisements.
4. JMW Turner (no relation, although I wish!)
There is only one artist in this world who could occupy such a place in history and yet be so far head of the impressionist/abstract movements that his work can be considered modern art. And thus, there is nothing else I could do but to take Mr. Turner to the Tate Britain, to see how his bequest of his work to the nation has turned out, and then get on a Tate to Tate boat with him and see that he is the only artist to achieve, due to his preternatural ability when it came to abstract painting, a placement within both Tates. He would see, I think, that his ridiculed, abstract late works were in fact far, far, ahead of their time, which is why he is the only artist that I know of, to hang at both Tates.
5. Abraham Lincoln
I would love for Lincoln to have a chance to see his own memorial. And perhaps at that memorial, to attend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, which showed the progress and yet the unfinished legacy of what Lincoln had begun. We would, I suppose, also have the opportunity to attend a play at the still-functioning Ford’s Theater, but somehow I think that should be avoided (spoilers, as they would say on Doctor Who).
6. George Frideric Handel
Handel, I think, I would take on a tour through time. We’d stop at Queen Victoria’s and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronations, so he could hear that “Zadok the Priest” continues to be performed at British coronations.
Then we’d come on into the modern era, and have a tour of his house, which is still open to the public. He’d probably get busted for trying to play one of the instruments and be like, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” To diffuse the situation I’d take him to a couple of the 6 zillion performances of his “Messiah” that are done around Christmastime.
7. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Possibly separately. I am ill-equipped to play marriage counselor to anyone, much less those two, and I feel like that’s what it would devolve into. And I’d like to keep my head.
But they’d both definitely be going forward to see Elizabeth I in action. Anne Boleyn I think I’d like to take forward just after she’d been condemned to death, so she could know that against all possible odds her daughter becomes queen, and such a queen! For Henry I’d probably pick a time when he is least likely to cut off my head for showing him that it wasn’t his son who became the great ruler.
8. Beau Brummel
After the Henry/Anne thing, I think I’d like to go with one that’s more fun, and somehow I think it would be totally fun to hang out with Brummel for a day in modern London. We’d go shopping in St. James’s, after he got over being scandalized that as a woman, I’m allowed to go shopping there now. Some of the shops are ones he would have known from his day, but I’d be more curious about what he thinks about being fitted for a modern suit on Saville Row.
We’d finish up with a late lunch in one of the old taverns around St. Michael’s alley in the city, since I don’t think he’d be recognized at White’s, anymore! Hopefully at no point would he hear a song by the Beau Brummels on the radio, because I’m not sure how I’d explain that.
9. Admiral Lord Nelson
We’d of course have to start off with a walk around Trafalgar Square. Nelson would be kind of distinctive, even outside of naval uniform, so I’d have to work out some sort of disguise. Then we’d head down to Waterloo Station to take a train down to Portsmouth. Unfortunately, he’d probably ask what “Waterloo” was, and I’d have to be like, “oh, nothing…don’t worry about it…just some little battle, not as big as Trafalgar.” Fortunately once we got to Portsmouth and he got to see HMS Victory, preserved as a museum, I expect he’d be distracted. As this sort of is his equivalent of Ford’s Theatre, however, I’d probably have to work out how to avoid spoilers here, too.
10. Jane Austen
Well of course you knew who would round out this list! I think out of everyone on it, Austen is the one I most think about when I wonder what it would be like, if she could understand just even an inkling of her legacy, of how very beloved her works are today. I imagine there would be incognito trips to both JASNA and Baths’ Jane Austen Festival. Perhaps we’d watch the miniseries, too. There’d be a trip to Lyme Regis, certainly, and I’d mostly let her enjoy the place she so clearly loved, although I’d probably quiz her about what steps were really the ones Louisa Musgrove fell from, on the Cobb.
And then, because I’ve probably already scrambled British and therefore probably world history with the whole Henry VIII thing, I might as well take her in for modern medical treatment, right?
Sigh. It’s my favorite fantasy, out of all of these fantasies. But unfortunately, this is not something any of us can do for Jane Austen. And that brings me to my special project.
What I did realize I could do for Jane Austen, on the 200th anniversary of her death, is to give her back her “own darling Child.” Because something I’ve become increasingly aware of, is that we have been losing Pride and Prejudice. OCR/scanned and typed digital copies make the book more accessible, but they have eroded the book. Grammar, spelling, punctuation and even outright words have shifted from what was published in 1813. Consider this example:
An online version:
“I knew,” said he, “that what I wrote must give you pain; but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part, especially the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me.”
As published by Egerton in 1813:
“I knew,” said he, “that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me.”
It is subtle, but these things add up over time, and they take the novel farther from what Austen intended, lessening the experience for readers. And so, over the last several months, I have been undertaking the “restoration” of Pride and Prejudice. This has involved a lot of quality time going line-by-line through scans of the 1813 Egerton first edition, and even, as shown in the picture, a visit to Goucher College to work with the real live thing. The purpose of this is to put out a quality digital copy of Pride and Prejudice, something I feel has been long missing, and to make it free on every distribution channel that will allow it, and the minimum price on those that will not.
There will be much more on this in my next post, as by then I hope to have the book out and available for download, but for now, you can head over to Just Jane 1813, and provide your vote on the cover for the new ebook.
Before you go vote, though, let me know in the comments who you would go time traveling with, if you had your own time machine!