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"MADAM You are a Phoenix."

Jane Austen started writing stories at a very young age - at least as young as 8 or 9 - many of which she kept and copied into notebooks. Even though many of her "novels" contained in the juvenilia are extremely short (some only a few paragraphs in total), one can see her sense of fun and sense of humor coming through. She also loved to skewer the conventions of the time, taking widely-used story elements that one step further into absurdity.

Many of her novels are dedicated to family members, including "The Beautifull Cassandra", which was dedicated to Austen's sister, whose name was also Cassandra. I especially love the dedication she wrote to her sister:


You are a Phoenix. Your taste is refined, your Sentiments are noble, & your Virtues innumerable. Your Person is lovely, your Figure, elegant, & your Form, magestic. Your Manners, are polished, your Conversation is rational & your appearance singular. If therefore the following Tale will afford one moment's amusement to you, every wish will be gratified of

your most obedient
humble servant


Don't you love how saucy she is? And how she pretty much insults her sister's appearance in calling it "singular"? And how, at such a young age (probably age 12 or so), she was already referring to herself as "THE AUTHOR" in all capital letters? (Not "the authoress", you'll notice.)

Today's accompanying poem choice takes a bit more set-up, I'm afraid. "The Beautifull Cassandra" has 12 chapters, many of which are only one to two sentences in length. In it, Cassandra first steals a bonnet from her mother's millinery shop, then gets into all sorts of trouble, committing petty crimes, including the theft of ice cream and of a carriage ride. (On finding she had no money to pay for the ride she'd taken, she stuffs her stolen bonnet over the coachman's head and runs off.) The story ends with Cassandra saying "This was a day well spent."

I got to thinking about that bonnet, which is how I came to today's selection:

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes
by Billy Collins

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

Read the rest here.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 25th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
oh, that dedication was delightful! :)

the poem by collins made me squirm a bit- it was lovely, but i don't know, just something about emily being dis-robed... eep. emily's always been kind of... sacred... to me.

Apr. 25th, 2012 09:43 pm (UTC)
It really does challenge one's perceptions, doesn't it? And then the loveliness of that closing . . .
Apr. 25th, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Now I desperately want to read "The Beautifull Cassandra." I love Austen's juvenilia -- "Love and Freindship" is one of the funniest things I've ever read.
Apr. 25th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
"Love and Friendship" is indeed hilarious, and "The Beautifull Cassandra" is equally so, though it's from a slightly earlier age. There's a bit in it where Cassandra meets a girl she knows in the street and they both tremble and blush and whatnot, but walk off without a word - a predecessor of the melodrama found in "Love and Friendship" when the women "faint alternately on the sofa".

(I know that Austen mis-spelled friendship - she never did quite manage that "I before E" rule, and did it with words like "niece" as well, even into her adult years - but I'm pretty certain she would have wanted it to be correct, so I can't bring myself to perpetuate her typo!)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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