Chances are that, wherever you are in the world, you are experiencing at least some limitations to your daily life. We are living through strange times, to say the least, and some of us are finding them harder than others.
In my case, I have turned to Jane Austen for consolation, and she has not disappointed me.
The lockdown is helping us appreciate our home comforts more than ever, but would Austen approve of the long days spent indoors? Perhaps you recognise this famous Austen quote:
Ah! There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.
Chapter XIV, Emma
The person who makes this heart-felt declaration is silly Mrs. Elton. (In the same paragraph she goes on to mention dear Selina, of course).
This makes me think that Jane Austen would have not necessarily taken much pleasure in being forced to stay at home. By the sound of things, she was more likely to muddy her petticoats in a long walk, à la Lizzie Bennet, than to sleep on the sofa, Lady Bertram-style.
Industry and Patience
At the same time, I dare say Jane Austen would have taken the restrictions in her stride and spent much of her lockdown time devoting herself to her writing. She would have read a lot, as well. The Austens were a family of bookworms and Jane was a keen user of subscription libraries, and she loved books.
I also think the Austen sisters would have busied herself with domestic matters. I can see her and Cassandra undergoing a thorough spring clean, or sewing face-masks for everybody in the neighbourhood. Jane was a very practical, charitable woman, so it sounds like the perfect occupation for her.
An Unlikely Inspiration
I am convinced that Jane Austen would have been an example of fortitude. She would have embraced the best traits of her characters, such as Fanny Price’s restraint and Anne Elliot’s composure.
There is another one of her characters who has become quite a revelation to me in the times we are living: Emma’s Mrs. Bates.
One of only a handful of grandmother figures in Austen’s works, Mrs. Bates is elderly and “past everything but tea and quadrille”. Quiet, patient, and industrious, Mrs. Bates seems to have much in common my own grandmother, who sadly passed a decade ago. Both ladies have been much on my mind of late.
Just like Mrs. Bates, my grandmother loved knitting. When lockdown began, the first thing I did was order a pair of knitting needles and some wool. I had not knitted in ages, but everything she taught me as a child came back the minute I held the soft merino yarn in my hands. I have since knitted two scarves and I’m now attempting a blanket! Knitting gives me peace and contentment, and I am delighted to have it back in my life.
Mrs. Bates also has a sweet tooth. She likes her cakes, as did my grandmother, who was an excellent baker. Perhaps it comes as no surprise than in the last month, I have used some of her old recipes to sweeten the long days. Is there anything more comforting than the smell of a chocolate sponge cooking in a hot oven?
We are living through an exceptional period. Many of us are experiencing an emotional roller-coaster, and need to find comfort where we can. Now more than ever, we need to look after ourselves and trust that all will be well in the end.
In my case, two little old ladies (one real, another fictional) have helped me find some calm. Where have you found yours?
I would love to know more about how you are living through the lockdown. Have you spent more time than usual doing certain things? Perhaps you have taken up an old hobby? Do you take any comfort in Austen, and if so, which of her novels if your go-to book in a crisis?