Before the pandemic I loved going to meetings of my local branch of the Jane Austen Society. They were lovely places to meet like minded people for bookish chats, lunch and plenty of tea. Best of all were the talks we enjoyed – two at every meeting – and we had some great ones. My favourite is probably still the dramatic reading of extracts from Austen’s Juvenilia – it was hilarious – and I also remember one several years ago about William Beckford. I loved Amy Frost’s talk so much that I immediately went and borrowed every book by Beckford I could find in the library.
In fact, Amy Frost spoke at the last meeting I attended – in January last year – and gave another fascinating talk about what is wrong with location in Austen adaptations. Since then of course we have been kept at home. I have enjoyed several online events – including the literary festival hosted by Chawton House – but it has been a few months since the last one I saw. I was therefore delighted to be invited – along with the rest of my branch – to a Zoom meeting hosted by the Scottish branch of the society.
We were determined to do things properly so we set out a nice tea for ourselves and sat down to a talk on Jane Austen and the weather by Katie Halsey. I very much enjoyed listening to it and of course it made me long to read the novels again (it has been maybe two months since I read any Jane Austen – you wouldn’t think I would need more yet!). It was a thoroughly delightful way to spend the afternoon and I am definitely looking forward to the next opportunity to hear talks like this. They might not be quite the same as meeting in person but they are definitely filling an intellectual hole. If you know of any please do let me know!
When do normal people grow out of back to school fervour? It is some time since I graduated, yet every time September rolls around I am desperate to buy all the stationery. I want new pens, notebooks (the lure of a fresh exercise book is irresistible), planners, backpacks… I even crave a timetable I can colour code and hang over my desk.
So much so that I have been inspired to start designing my own stationery. I love sending letters and the lockdown gave me the time to create letter paper I will really love to use. Obviously I am back at work now but I am making the effort to try and paint at least a couple of times a week. It has been a lot of fun and I don’t want to lose that.
Most people set resolutions in January. I always want to study in the autumn. It might seem odd but I reason that I might as well make the most of the fact that right now all I want to do is learn. I even dragged out my university calculus textbook because I am all too aware that I have forgotten most of what I learnt.
My actual focus at the moment though is Latin. I wanted to learn Latin ever since I first read the Lord Peter Wimsey books as a teenager but it wasn’t offered at my school and by the time I took my A Levels my priorities were elsewhere. Since university though I have worked through one book by myself and taken two adult classes. I always get on very well to start with but get bogged down as the grammar becomes more complicated. I am one of the generation of schoolchildren for whom only basic grammar was considered necessary so when it comes to things like the subjunctive I struggle to define it in English, let alone in Latin. This time I am determined to crack it. I even have post it notes stuck up by my bathroom mirror.
Of course, Latin is not the most useful subject I could study. Yes I will (hopefully) learn more grammar than I did in English but I can hardly travel to Rome and have a conversation in Latin. I enjoy it though which is really the whole point. Besides, perhaps the apparent uselessness is part of the charm. There is no stress of a looming deadline, no practical situation where I will need to show my skill. I can just revel in the joy of learning for its own sake.