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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pride And Prejudice And Passion

A garden at Wychnor Hall in the English Midlands

In Mary Robinette Kowal’s Jane Austen-pastiche Shades of Milk and Honey, Miss Jane Ellsworth adores the family estate of Long Parkmead. She loves to wander through the maze of hedges, with the rose garden at the center, and looks forward to the grand strawberry-picking outing her parents have planned. She brings this love of nature into the house with her use of glamour, as well as her sketches and paintings. As her family and friends, including the handsome Mr. Dunkirk, complement her talents, she feels proud of her artistry. But when she sees the glamural Mr. Vincent created for Lady FitzCameron, it takes her breath away.

The fine furniture and architectural details of Banbree Manor pale before the moonlit glade nestled against one wall. Jane walks across soft grass, breathes in jasmine and the pleasant smell of loam, walks beside the babbling brook that flows through the wind-blown trees, and listens to sweet birdsong. The effort has cost Mr. Vincent however, and after his collapse, she visits him in his room. Bedridden, he presses a book into her hands. It is filled with his sketches, and his thoughts on glamour. While he compliments her efforts, he insists that she take his book and study it. He tells her:

“You are always so careful, so methodical in your thoughts and actions. I should like to know what levels of art you could reach if you relaxed your guard.”

When Jane reads his book at home, her eye is drawn to a seascape she painted in Lyme Regis. Previously, she gazed at this watercolor with pride. Now she feels disappointed.

“Though her colours were correct, and her use of light and shading exacting, the whole of it was lifeless and dull.”

A few nights later, Jane tosses and turns in bed, worried by the unwise choices of some family members and friends. Unable to help them, she summons a birch tree from the ether, and then adds a few more for good measure. The next morning, she realizes this woodland scene in her bedroom possesses more vitality than any glamural she has previously done.

“The level of detail she had employed was not what made the difference; it was the tension underlying the straight graceful boughs, as if they had yearned to uproot themselves and move, giving the whole scene life.”

Her devotion to art and glamour, as well as her impeccable manners, have won Jane the interest of Mr. Dunkirk. Now it would seem that Mr. Vincent respects her as well. Longpark Mead is entailed; she has no future there. Most men see her as plain, and she is twenty-eight, far older than most available young women. Worse, her inheritance amounts to little more than a pittance. But now she realizes that she can draw upon her passion, her fervor, to create compelling scenes of glamour. This feeling of empowerment means more to her than the idea of a man rescuing her from spinsterhood.

Jane now knows that it's not enough to study life, and follow the dictates of others. To follow her dreams, and live the life she desires, means pushing herself forward with all the passion she possesses. Only by doing so can she unleash the magic that makes her--and every person--unique.

Dragon Dave

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