July 8th, 2010


Thoughts over an afternoon cup of tea

Update on the beginning of the end of the Jane Project

Remember that poem I was maundering about yesterday? Well, I just may have completed it today. It's "only" taken 6 writing sessions, and a total of about 20 hours, to get it done. Weirdly, the first hour got me four lines, and then I flailed about in the land of false starts for a while, and somewhere about the 10th hour, I wrote another four lines. And then I resumed the floundering/flailing mode, starting and deleting repeatedly, until today, when, in about an hour and a half, I wrote the remaining fourteen lines. And now the left-hand side of the poem says "EMMAWOODHOUSEKNIGHTLEY" (Emma Woodhouse Knightley), and it is essentially an extended Shakespearean sonnet, with 5 cross-rhymed quatrains (instead of the usual three) in iambic pentameter followed by a rhymed couplet.

This means I have only six poems that I definitely need to write before I can consider the Jane Project done. Three and a half years of research and writing, and the end is indeed near to this long, long project. Long enough that between starting and ending, I not only found out the Jane Austen Society of North America existed, but also joined as a member, got elected to be regional coordinator for the Eastern PA Region and finished out my two-year term. And here I am, still not quite done.

It's been long enough that I have read (and re-read) all six of the completed novels at least twice (for a minimum total of three times through each), to say nothing of a great deal of the Juvenilia and of Lady Susan. I've read all (or most) of the more than 140 books, booklets and pamphlets related to Austen that now comprise my personal library, as well as 7 fat binders of printed/copied material, plus enough unfiled material to fill a full file drawer. To say nothing of things like correspondence with lovely curators in England to find out details about paintings I can't go see, or whether particular ghost stories are attached to Reading Abbey (where Austen attended school for a short time - answer: nope), or what sort of prescription is in Austen's spectacles (nobody'd thought to ask that question before, but they can't answer because they'd have to send the glasses out to an optometrist, and there are costly insurance issues that preclude it).

I knew my crazy idea - a biography of Jane Austen in verse using period forms - was going to require lots of time. There were days I couldn't wait to get to work on the project and days I couldn't stand the thought of working on it. And I'd always aimed for August 2010 as my completion date. And now, it's less than a month away, and I look to be able to make my own internal target.

I'd expected to feel triumphant once I hit the home stretch - exultant, jubilant, a bird in free flight. Instead, I find myself feeling . . . conflicted.

For the longest time, the idea of being "finished" was a "someday" event. So far off that it wasn't worth pondering. I mean, some of these poems took a really long time to right. The ~20 hour range of Emma is only a moderately long time. Take the lunacy that made me opt to write the complete plot of Pride & Prejudice as a double sestina, which took approximately 200 hours spent off and on over several months. Definitely the lengthiest poem (time-wise) in the project. (Funny story: depending on what happens, that double sestina might not make the final book, assuming there is one.)

Anyway, now that completion is no longer a "someday" thing, but an around-the-corner thing, I've noticed that part of me is, well, SAD. Turns out I really do love this project, and knowing that it's winding down, I can't help but feel that it's over. Although, really, if I've done anything right here, it is just time for a new beginning for this project - a beginning that involves finding (hopefully) an agent and (hopefully) an editor and all that those steps entail. But I digress.

My creation time with the Jane Project is growing short, and I suppose, as with any other child, I'm loath to let her go out on her own into the Big Wide World. But you know what? I will. And she will stand or fall on her own, and I will be there to offer support and encouragement and to hope for all good things to come her way. And yes, I'm crazily personifying my own manuscript - what of it?

I expect that when I get these final SIX poems written and take a step back to assess the work, I will continue to feel this bittersweet undercurrent. But I hope and expect it will underlie a profound sense of accomplishment. Because even if Jane doesn't fly, it's one hell of a thing I've done, if I do say so myself.

Besides, I've got my eye on Louisa May Alcott. She looks sassy.

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