In this world where sophistication and elegance are underrated, it is most refreshing to come upon a class that teaches those largely ignored qualities. I always enjoyed Jane Austen’s books before; the refinement was captivating; but I’ve now started to translate the refinement into my life.
One of the things that the class encouraged is doing away with all filler words, such as “yeah,” “like,” “um,” “crap,” “freak,” and “so.” Language precision is a virtue above all because if you can’t communicate intelligently with your fellow beings, why communicate at all? (Bless Collins’ and Miss Bates’ hearts.) I generally see myself as a well-educated individual; however, there are a few words that have crept into my vocabulary over the years that make me sound as moronic as any vapid teenage girl. One of my biggest shortcomings is starting every other sentence with “So, basically…” Picking up the metaphorical gauntlet thrown down at the beginning of the semester, I tried my absolute hardest to do away with that linguistic vice. It was far more difficult than I anticipated. One never realizes that the problem is quite so problematic until one tries to be rid of it! Despite the rocky path, I’m getting slowly better. By no means am I completely cured, but I’ve learned to start sentences right off with the thought or use the more refined-sounding “Thusly…” Perhaps someday I will be able to express myself as well as Miss Jane Austen.
If there is one thing I’m heartbroken about the American colonists doing away with, it is the tea service. It is a perfectly elegant way to become better acquainted with your compatriots, while enjoying the health benefits tea has to offer. Everything these days seems painfully fast. Wake up, inhale a quick (and rather unhealthy) breakfast, run to school where knowledge is crammed into your head at a dizzying speed, run to work, run to ballet, run to soccer practice, etc. Tea time is such a marvelous custom because everything about it is calming and slow, down to the very tea itself. The preparation is something that cannot be rushed. One has to let the water boil and the tea steep, cut the lemons with precision, and prepare the minute delicacies. The more time that is spent on a tea party, the more elegant it will become.
At my sister’s tea party last night, I was reminded how uneducated our society is in the art of taking tea in this day and age. I was shocked when I saw ladies crossing their legs and stirring their tea in circles. I was appalled when my younger cousin gulped down five cups of tea (each with three sugar cubes!) to the point of explosion. I nearly fainted when my sister looped her fingers through the handle of the tea cup instead of holding it gracefully on the side (with pinky out) as I had shown her. Her defense was that it was more comfortable the way she was doing it. More comfortable, yes, but she looked like a vulgar Yankee ready to eat a raw steak. True refinement, I found, is sadly lacking even in good families. Perhaps one day I shall have to hold a class on the art and culture that is drinking tea. If they had taken a Jane Austen course in their youth, perhaps I would not have teach such a class.
Miss Jane Austen has the enchanting gift of being able to capture human nature on the page. More than once I have had to remind myself that her characters are not real, despite the overwhelming feeling of kinship with some. Their mistakes become my mistakes, their triumphs my triumphs, and their shortcomings my shortcomings. Emma in particular causes me to reflect on my life in a more profound way. Miss Jane Austen once said that Emma is a character that no one besides herself would much like, but all her weaknesses make her more endearing to me. I, too, have the unfortunate tendency of thinking that I know what is best for all my friends. Seeing Emma’s disastrous results both comforts me and spurs me to change. I am comforted that I’m not the only control freak who has a desire to serve her friends in sometimes odd ways; inversely, I see what scrapes Emma gets into due to her meddling, and I start to hold my tongue in certain circumstances. Emma (and, by association, Miss Jane Austen) causes me to reflect on my actions and words before they are unleashed, thereby helping me circumvent most unnecessary problems.
When I first heard that I would be taking a Jane Austen course, my first thought was, “Dude! That is totally awesome! So, basically, I’m way psyched!” As the semester draws to a close, my thoughts have taken on a more Austen-esque spin. They sound somewhat like this; “This has been a most worthwhile experience. I am thoroughly glad that I took this course and knocked off some rough twenty-first century edges. The lessons in social graces and word precision are invaluable.”
To slightly misquote Miss Elizabeth Bennet, what are texting and TV to tea and refinement?