Mary Beth Writes

I'm working on some big projects lately, so here are some small thoughts along the way. 

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Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s weirdest novel. Jane-Readers love Jane because her best characters are bright women stuck in situations too small for them. Their observations are bitingly perceptive; you see their inner spirit and you identify, identify, identify.

I’m amazed at critics who think that those of us who love Jane Austen are not-quite-evolved humans; how can we love a book about a girl in a big dress catching her man?

Duh, it’s not about the man.  It’s about what happens to a women who wants to become herself.  There’s a Quaker saying I’m admiring a lot lately. “Proceed as the Way Opens.” Austin characters are awake, even when they don’t know where they are going or how they are going to get there.  It’s that awake and paying attention spirit that is so appealing.  

We root for Jane’s girls because being a big spirit locked in a cramped situation is pretty much half the human experience.  Wittiness, meeting new people, and making-do – these are the reward of being too bright for your pants.

And yet … Mansfield Park! Our girl Fanny is an obedient, small, anxious, risk-averse wimp.  Where did she come from?  What’s the deal? Where is bright-eyed, knife-tongued Lizzie or determined Eleanor or “I’m seventeen and I live for Art!” Marianne?

We’ve got Fanny who demurs. Who says, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that!” and “Sir Thomas wouldn’t like us to do that!” and “Oh please let me just cater to lazy, possibly opium addicted Lady Bertram all day and all night. I’m so grateful to be Mansfield Park’s resident mensch.”

If you want to know the plot, read the book - or read this plot summary: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/mansfield-park/summary

So here’s my take.  Jane Austen uses men as plot devices. Some of her male characters are awesome guys, some are pathetic, and some are cads, rogues, and roués. (I need to write a country western song with the line 'cads, rogues, and roués')  But they are always pitfalls to be avoided or goals towards which to go. They are NOT the action and the plot.

The cool dynamic in an Austen novel is women who talk to each other, need each other, lean on each other, and find a path ahead together. 

Fanny is stuck in anxiety the six years she lives with the Bertram family at Mansfield Park. She experiences a lot, she receives the same education as her rich cousins, she discovers that poetry exists in the world and it moves her heart. She sees art, eats delicious food, figures out which people around her she can trust and which ones to stay clear of. 

And then she gets sent back to her poor, chaotic family in Portsmouth. It’s not an easy transition. Days and weeks go by. She becomes close with her younger sister Susan. She tells Susan about Mansfield Park. Fanny misses books so she uses her own modest money to join a lending library; now she reads some of her favorite poetry and stories to her sister. Susan askes questions about the people Fanny met and how they acted.

For months Fanny and Susan do chores and talk.

At which point Mansfield Park has a bunch of privilege-related crises. They call for Fanny. Fanny returns to them with her sister. They all live happily ever after.

Because a woman’s life doesn’t really start until she has another respectful and empathetic woman who listens to her, asks questions, and together they talk about their lives. 

That’s my take, anyway.

'Homecoming'

Len and I watched ‘Homecoming’ (streaming). Julia Roberts in dull brown wigs, stars in this drama about returning soldiers at a debriefing center.

The best line in the show was not in the show. Len described the mystery of the story this way.

“It’s not the killer around the corner; it’s what the hell is going on.”

I love shows where one doesn’t know what’s happening. In my personal life I seldom have to chase a specific bad guy with a gun. 

But this?  There’s an effort going on, there are a bunch of people, there’s money, unexpected closeness to some characters, and unexpected aversion to others. What do you think they are doing and how am I supposed to be involved?  

Oh yeah.

Last year I made a resolution to be more stubborn. This made a difference to me. I’d bump into a situation where I didn’t know exactly how to proceed; where it would be pretty easy to turn around and give up – and I went ahead because I knew that was the deal I made with myself.  I had given myself permission to try instead of to succeed. There’s a difference there.

This year I don’t have a resolution. I have a refrain.   

It’s simple.

“Morning is my friend.”

Being a logical person, I find the world intimidating in the morning.

I don’t mind waking up. I just don’t like the part where one has to get up and take a shower and eat breakfast and shove off the shore into the Sea of This Day with all the things in it that are in it.

So I decided a few weeks ago that I would remind myself that Morning is My Friend.  It is not a dare to accomplish. It isn’t a list of things to get done.  It’s just morning.  Morning is our friend.

2019 is going to be a challenging year.

“Proceed as the Way Opens.”

Good Luck in your New Year, too. 

Comments

Mornings are my friend. I love them. I often just have to get up because the day is waiting for me and I’m ready for it to begin. Now evenings - maybe I should make evenings my friend, cause by the time I get there - I’m done for. Proceed as the way Opens. I’m ready, I think

MB, love, love, love what you wrote here about Jane's message. You are right on point! It is our fellowship that makes us aware and stronger. We ask the important questions, we share, & we learn from each other. I read many of the books written by Jane at a "feminist" reading group...go figure!!! Best to you & yes, "Proceed as the Way Opens".

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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'

4/1/2024

The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders

3/12/2024

This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)

3/7/2024

Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

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