Jane Austen in my Christmas and New Year’s celebrations

It’s a brand new year, and Christmas was especially kind to me – with gifts coming from my girlfriend in the shape of a number of Jane Austen goodies. But the real treat was coming home for two weeks to Sydney, where my family, friends and partner live, and spending time with them. If there’s anything Jane Austen would want us to take from Pride and Prejudice (and you may have heard me harp on about it enough) it’s that family you have, and the family you also choose to make for yourself, is incredibly important.

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I got a number of gifts for Christmas from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and I’m very much in love with them. The one I want to talk about now is the 365 days of Jane diary, seen in the picture below. Before we go any further… let me SQUEE over this wrapping – how beautiful is it! The whole thing was in the blue Jane Austen Centre bag, but it was carefully wrapped in ‘Jane Austen’ wrapping paper (you can just see it peeking out there from underneath the beautiful matching silk ribbon – with her handwriting name and the floral pattern and cameo). And then I opened it to reveal a number of beautiful gifts.

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I had seen the diary before on another Austen bloggers’ site and coveted it very badly, so you can imagine how excited I was to end up with it. It’s a perfect handbag-sized hardback with gold edged pages, a ribbon to separate sections and beautiful cursive font throughout. The jewellery pot is absolutely gorgeous with a pearly inside, and I’ve been keeping my birthday Pandora jewellery inside it. I haven’t had a chance to do one of the puzzles from the other book yet, but it’ll be happening soon (I’ve decided to photocopy the puzzles as I don’t want to write in the book!).

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But back to the point of this post: family, and the holidays. I’ve just come back from a fantastic evening at my parents’ home where we laughed, drank wine, shared jokes and lewd stories, and ate dinner. It was fantastic, and I found myself smiling at the thought of how raucous and loud my relatives can be and how much fun it is. It was even more fantastic to consider that families have done this for centuries – including our very loud opening scene of Pride and Prejudice.

Marrying correctly, keeping a home and having a family are of great importance in Pride and Prejudice – with our examples of Mr and Mrs Bennet being unhappily wed along with many others to point out what happens when you get it wrong – and we see the strongest alliances made through partnering wisely and through the families you are born into. Despite Elizabeth deploring her younger sisters’ actions and character around men, and disliking the ridiculousness of Mary, she is still sensitive towards them and cares for them deeply. Similarly, her greatest bonds are with her sister and her father.

We also see the most exciting moments, and adventurous times, being provided by family connections – with trips to Derbyshire and London with uncles and aunts – as well as some of the greatest support being provided when times get tough (and when support is poorly provided, in the case of Mr Collins in light of Lydia’s actions, Austen is quick to point out the deficiency as wrong). Well-adjusted characters in her novels have strong family connections, and Jane Austen is right in saying that this is the best situation to have if at all possible. Darcy and Georgiana’s relationship is held up as an example, and we see that it’s about a compromise of individuals.

We see family dysfunction, but we also see the best moments of our favourite characters come out through this mess. Who can forget Mr Bennet’s saving of Lizzy with this particular phrase: “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. — Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

I know many people out there don’t have strong family ties, and I’m lucky that come what may I have managed to maintain mine and they have put up with me. For this reason, I’ve dedicated the first entry – on January 1st, 2014 – in my Jane Austen diary to a quote about families. For the families we make, with our partners, and the families we are born into.

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I wrote in, on the small space, a shortened version of the following quote. It works beautifully due to the fact that I head back to Melbourne in a few days time. “You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you” ― Frederick Buechner.

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I really recommend getting a copy of the diary if you can – you get to compare your responses to each day of the year for five years, and every day comes with a Jane Austen quote (it doesn’t get much better than this). And it has surprisingly fitting quotes already there. If you can’t see it clearly in the picture above, it’s a Northanger Abbey quote noting: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature.” It’s a quote I like excessively – there is no reason to love your family, partner or friends by halves and we could all do ourselves proud by remembering this into the new year.

Here’s to a great 2014! May yours be filled with much excitement, re-readings of Pride and Prejudice and some classical romantic feelings of happiness.

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