Summertime Diversions

  • The book sale is over. We’ve packed up the unsold volumes. And we’re ready to begin buying again! Two members of the family are off to the local second-hand book room this very afternoon. There’s a nifty set of Susan Cooper’s fantasies for children, The Dark is Rising. Boxed. In good condition. There’s a set of stories about King Arthur by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Three volumes. Good condition. Every household should have them and I’m sure ours once did.
  • Two new books have arrived from Key Porter, via Amazon. One is by Barry Cooper. Brian Lee Crowley’s book about Canada is out. It’s called, Fearful Symmetry. The gall of the man! You need a lot of chutspah to use that title! And where I may ask is Janet’s copy! Promised, but not yet here.
  • We watch the television series Lost in Austen. It’s grand. It’s so clever. We had a video and could see all the episodes in an evening. We’ll watch it again. Elizabeth Bennett and Amanda Price swap places. Price is a young woman from 2009 who has been reading Pride and Prejudice since she was fourteen. (I’m not going to give the story away but wait till you see Mr. Darcy in twenty-first century London!
  • Political philosophy alert: The script is larded with references to Jean Jacques Rousseau. Did Austen read Rousseau? Yes. Google assures me that Rousseau’s Emile, and La Nouvelle Héloise were read, sometimes in French, often in translation, by all the young ladies of Austen’s period who had literary pretensions.
  • Now think of two aging professors watching this delicious show. What’s going through their minds? Course outlines, book lists, essay questions. Is it a one-term course? The central question is this: does reading fiction fit a person for the moral life? Or does it pervert you by inculcating impossibly utopian ideas about society and man? In the Emile, Sophie, the darling and carefully reared young woman intended for Emile, is forbidden to read novels. But she does. Ha! Ha! She reads Bishop Fénelon’s Télémaque and falls in love with the young hero; no modern man can compare. Her soul swells with longing. Who would have thought that a bishop could write a corrupting novel? (It’s about the adventures of Odyssey’s son, searching for his father in the company of his tutor, the goddess Athena in disguise).
  • We’re like elderly battle-trained horses that hear the war trumpets. We’ll teach the Emile, certainly. Book V, at any rate. Mary Wollstonecraft’s defence of Rousseau in The Rights of Women? Fénelon on women’s education? In alternate years, perhaps. Pride and Prejudice. Lost in Austen. The Télémaque, of course. But then I remember that I put my copy of Télémaque, en français, in the book sale. And it sold.
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