Saturday, January 12, 2013

And About Barton Cottage…

A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles.  A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind.  On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and behind them were the offices and the stairs.  Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house.  It had not been built many years and was in good repair.  In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed! but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy.  It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.
Sense And Sensibility – Chapter Six

Who wouldn’t want to live in Barton Cottage?  As a fervid Janeite I want to understand the dismay with which Elinor, her sisters and her mother feel on moving into their small (for them) new abode - but I confess that I can’t.

I would relish the process of returning home by entering a small green courtyard through a neat wicket gate. A tiled roof, shuttered windows, cozy sitting rooms and a passage leading into a garden behind the cottage with high hills behind and lofty green downs nearby to walk and dream upon….  It all sounds blissful. Now these ladies were in a serious downsizing situation and it is true that none of us want to leave a beloved home – yet I find myself envying this set of Dashwoods.

But what’s this about the cottage being defective because the shutters weren’t green? And not only were the outside walls sadly honeysuckle-free, but the building was regular and the roof was only… well… tiled?    From William Wordsworth’s descriptions of moss-grown huts and Keats’ autumn cottages whose thatched eves were covered with fruited vines, it’s easy to see that Romanticism had leant a yearning for the rustic, the picturesque and the irregular.

Jane Austen wrote during the time of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron, and many of this Regency work’s characters and their reactions strongly echo the period’s Sensibility Movement.  The Regency Era (1811-1820) fell directly in the middle of what is considered The Romantic Period (1800-1840) and its literature reflected the thoughts and emotions of the time.  This reading of Sense And Sensibility has awakened me to a fresh realization of how much the Romantic Movement is reflected in Marianne Dashwood with her love of beauty, her pride in unbridled emotions and her admiration of passionate hearts.  

"It was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell."
Sense And Sensibility – Chapter 21

Next weekend we will meet to discuss Jane Austen’s first published work – Sense And Sensibility - over perfectly brewed tea, fruit, pastries and savories.  

Read on!

 "Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over."
William Cowper

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