A Woman's Wit Among Other Things  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

Although I have complained about Jane Austen's happy endings in the past, she is, in fact, one of my most favorite authors and quite an inspiration to me. Her writing has transported me into other, more beautiful worlds and times. She was able to bring a smile to my face whenever I was feeling down, and there was something about her writing that always made me feel serene and at peace. In other words, I love and adore Jane Austen despite her happy endings.

The Morgan Library and Museum currently has an exhibition on Jane Austen titled A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy, open until March 14, 2010. It contains a collection of Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra on display (she must have written at least 3000 letters of which 160 survived) as well as part of her handwritten manuscript of Lady Susan, which is apparently the only surviving complete draft of any of her novels and can also be viewed here. There were also some earlier printed editions of her novels and a few framed illustrations by different artists based on her books. The exhibit also strives to give the viewer a better understanding of the author's life and influences, including books she read, authors she admired, and the general philosophies of the time. It gives people a glimpse into the life of one of the greatest female writers so we can better understand the themes in her novels and her goal in writing.

The part that I found most fascinating was looking at her letters and handwritten manuscripts. For a huge Jane Austen fan, getting to see up close and personal the actual pieces of paper on which she wrote in her own handwriting was pretty awesome. Paper was expensive so her handwriting was quite small and cramped at times. When she ran out of space, she would often write either in the margins or upside down between lines! So her sister would have to first read the letter through one way and then flip it upside down. Another thing Jane would do if she had more to say was write vertically over the horizontal lines of the letter, which you can see here.

Her letters offered us a more personal glimpse into her everyday life, as she described parties she attended and dances she participated in. In a letter from 1804 to her sister Cassandra, Jane wrote that she danced quite a bit and would have danced some more if she had wanted to with a certain gentleman or with "a new odd looking Man who had been eyeing me for some time & at last without any introduction asked me if I meant to dance again." I loved that bit. Things like that make me feel more connected to her as a person, because I can just imagine it with the help of my own personal experiences.

In a 1799 letter to Cassandra, Jane gushed about a new cloak. On the side, she sketched the lace pattern on the cloak in perfect detail. You can see this letter here.

In an 1811 letter from London, Jane mentioned some of the things she had done recently, which included attending two Shakespeare plays -- Hamlet and Macbeth. Seriously, I can completely imagine being friends with this girl.

Overall, I loved this exhibition, and I encourage all Jane Austen fans to check it out before it closes on March 14th, 2010. The Morgan is located on Madison Avenue and 36th, only a few blocks from Herald Square or Stern College. Check here for their exact address and hours. The admission is quite cheap -- $12 for adults and $8 for students with current IDs. This price gives you access to pretty much all of the exhibitions currently on display at The Morgan. Currently, those include one called Rome After Raphael, which is a collection of pen and ink or chalk sketches and drawings by artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Parmigianino, etc. There are also many illuminated manuscripts on display, most notably those from the era of Catherine of Cleves. Oh, and make sure to visit the gift shop! It is the most delightful place. They have a big collection of books on art and books containing reproductions of specific artists' works. I started browsing as they were about to close at 6 PM, but I would like to return some day and look through them more closely.

Some of The Morgan's future exhibitions include Albrecht Durer (starting May 18, 2010) and Degas (starting September 24, 2010). I am looking forward to those.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 21, 2010 at Sunday, February 21, 2010 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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