Thursday, February 21, 2013

to him who knocks

When someone knocks on the door of our flat, we always sing out: Come in! 
Forgetting, of course, that our flat is locked, and whatever poor soul is waiting in the cold hallway outside can't come in.

How funny that our natural response to a knock is to say: 
the door is open, there is barely any effort needed on your end. 
Just simply knock, and you will receive.

We went to Jane Austen's house today, and I walked around the gardens, thrilling in the hedges and the trees, breathing in the same fresh country air that Jane breathed.
I took a turn around the yard, I wandered through the house, I stopped at her writing desk and thought:
this is where she wrote them.
This is where some of the most beautiful sentences in the English language were formed. How mind-boggling is that.
And how much more incredible it is that we care.
It is so marvelous to me that human beings accomplish such great deeds that generations later, seeing a lock of their hair can bring tears to someone's eyes, or that visitors to their house gawk at silver tea pots and small curio boxes.
Think of all the insignificant memorabilia in your life, and then imagine all that bric-a-brac suddenly transforming into significant little relics of your life.
Jane's letters--at least the ones that I have seen--are nothing more but delightful, gossipy epistles, recounting the ins and outs of daily life in a small village.
But, because of the greatness of her spirit, the enduring beauty of her work, those letters become a treasure.
"Such art as hers will never grow old,"
reads the inscription outside the house.
That in itself is quite the miracle.

Tucked away in the little corner of the house, there is a letter from Cassandra Austen to Jane's favorite niece Fanny. It is a poignant account of Jane's death, and a lasting testament to Casandra's ferocious love of her sister:

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well -- not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

And, two hundred years later, a steady stream of visitors flow through the small antechamber and their eyes brim with tears for a spinster woman who lived a sheltered and simple life in the English countryside, and died a quiet death two hundred years ago.
The good men do, quoth Shakespeare's Brutus, is oft interred with their bones.
I beg to differ.
Such art as theirs will never grow old.

No comments:

Post a Comment