This is one of my favorite pictures of Lydia, taken when she was nine. The day of her birth ranks as one of the happiest days of my life.
She is beautiful, inside and out, kind-hearted and wise.
On this day, 195 years ago, Jane Austen died. She was 41.
I don’t know how old I was the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, maybe twelve, thirteen at the most. Too young, I , gulped the book skimming for dialogue. When I tackled Emma I actually heard Jane Austen’s voice. I think it was a comment about Mrs. Elton and it made me sit up literally and literarily. Austen’s ability to say so much with such an economy of words and in direct contradiction to what her character was speaking astonished me and I’ve never fully recovered.
I do not call her Jane.
I consider all books which are sequels of sorts, abominations but enjoyed both Bridget Jones and Clueless which were loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Emma, respectively.
Ironically, reading Jane Austen’s novels nearly cost me my husband. Short story: Paul and I started dating when we were children and no man should be compared to Mr. Darcy, let alone a sixteen year old boy.
I almost didn’t name our older daughter, Lydia, for obvious reasons, but Lydia Hodgson is no Lydia Bennett. If you had to peg her for a Bennett sister, she’s probably a mashup of Elizabeth and Jane.
Mansfield Park is the only title I don’t read habitually, though I’ve read it several times.
My friend, Jamie Chavez recently blogged about the “controversy” over the extent of editing Austen received. She is a fine editor herself and considers it a tempest in a teapot. I agree.
I’ve known since I first read Pride and Prejudice and the introduction by her nephew that she died young. Although 41 sounded pretty old to me then.
Last week I turned 42 and I remembered her age at death, not realizing the anniversary was so close to that of my birth.
There is no point in comparing oneself to Jane Austen although she could have made good work of my love story.
I’m so thankful she “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” In the early days after someone burned my house down I turned to the Bible, P.G. Wodehouse and her.
I am glad she sat in her little chair and wrote and wrote until the very end of her days.
Although Lydia and I were the ones who spotted the mouse, hobbling around the pool area, it was Eden and then Christopher who rushed to his aid. Lydia and I were both seized by a mixture of empathy and fear. It was clear from the way he was moving that there was something not right with the little thing – that he was practically newborn didn’t occur to me. When I see something or someone hurt, my stomach hurts.
This sort of empathy is great, to a point. If you’re having a medical emergency and you need prayer; I’m you’re girl. And I will certainly be Johnny on the spot if you want a moving description of your pain. If it’s first aid you’re looking for then – sorry – I can’t help unless you’re one of my children and I’ll probably be gagging while I administer it.
Lydia seems to be cut out of a similar cloth.
When Eden found out about the mouse she rushed to his side, assessed the situation, got Christopher to help and then came to stir me into action. Armed with my kitchen gloves she was a pint-sized Florence Nightingale. Lydia eventually warmed up and helped try to feed him. Later she even held him a while. But it was Eden who set the therapy ball in motion.
At dinner when she suggested naming him Sparkie or Scout Lydia rolled her eyes. I told Eden she could name him whatever she wanted. Scout was one of the names I had proposed when naming Jack and Eden was my only ally. Since then it has been her go to for stuffed animals, toads and frogs.
Later she, Lydia and I were all on my bed and she called the naming committee to order.
“We’ll go around and each make a suggestion, then we’ll vote on it. You first Mama.”
“I vote for Sparkie.” I was researching something and maybe wasn’t totally investing in naming the mouse.
“No, you have to come up with your own name.”
“Oh. OK.” I had been reading the Economist earlier and trying to think of a male (we all sensed the mouse was a boy) name, Milton Friedman popped into my head.
Eden wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like that.”
Lydia sat up, “Milton, I kind of like that. He was a poet…who was blind. I like it.”
American economist, English metaphysical poet; it’s all good.
“Lydia, you need to make your own suggestion,” The Enforcer reminded.
“I don’t have one. I vote for Milton.”
“You can’t until we all make suggestions!”
“Eden, what do you want to name him.” I stepped in.
She thought for a minute, “I’m thinking about Winkie…”
“Ooooh, I like it.” I said.
Lydia snorted. “Winkie! You want to name him Winkie!”
“Is it time to vote, Eden?”
“Yes. If you want Milton say ‘aye'”.
Lydia raised her hand.
“Say ‘aye'”. Eden prompted.
“Aye!” Lydia obeyed and then noticed that I was silent. “You’re going to vote for Winkie!”
I raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
“If you want Winkie say ‘aye'”.
Eden and I both raised our hands and said aye.
There was a protracted argument, but we finally settled (after some diversions: another round of forced suggestions and subsequent vote) on Winkie Milton H_______.
We think it has a certain ring.
Eden is nursing a baby mouse back to health, at least that’s what she thinks. In truth she’s probably keeping vigil over, even hastening, its death, but do you have to be so judgey?
Per her direction I called our local nature center. I subtlely made it clear that the Young Naturalist was at my elbow and that I was merely her mouthpiece. She had been gunning for giving the mouse a bath because it had rolled into its urine. I discouraged this, but she was concerned about hygeine. I mentioned this to the woman at the nature center who confirmed that it was better off staying as dry as possible.
“What can we do?” I asked. “We REALLY want to do SOMETHING.”
The woman laughed, “I was the same way when I was a kid.”
And then she said we could try to give it a little food and water and place it in a sheltered spot to protect from predators.
Christopher had picked it up off the pavement and put it in one of gardens. He came inside to wash his hands.
“Poor little thing, it’s probably going to die.” His voice broke at the last and tears sprung into his eyes. “Nature can be so cruel.”
The three kids gathered around it and tried to feed it a bit of warmed milk. Earlier it had opened its little mouth, but now the milk just dripped down its face. When I came out to check on them they had given up.
“We decided to stop because we were concerned that the milk would block its nasal passages.” Lydia informed me.
Eden has tucked the mouse into the nest they made with some clean rags in a box. The box is safely closed in her playhouse.
Earlier today I was in the poolshed and took note of the liberal covering of mouse poop over the shelves I purchased and organized last summer. My thoughts were murderous and there is always a mousetrap set with peanut butter under our sink and yet I find myself wanting to dash out to the playhouse to check on our little patient, hoping to find its tiny heart still beating.