Catherine Morland

Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Jane Austen wrote but it was only published in 1817,  after her death,  by her brother Henry . Though still amusing today, would have been amusing in a rather different way to its first readers, because it was written as a deliberate parody of the very popular “horrid” novels of the period – what we now call “thrillers” – some of which Isabella Thorpe has listed in her pocket – book and recommends to Catherine Morland: The Italian,The Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, The Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, Horrid Mysteries. Under Isabella’s guidance, Catherine starts by reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, and later on she begins to imagine that General Tilney is just such a wife- murderer as the sinister Signor Montoni in that story.
The juxtaposition of fiction to reality will provoke her distorted vision of people and facts, her incapacity to judge them properly, her blunders and several misunderstandings.

Jane Austen’s portrayal of Catherine is humorous and ironic, Catherine is realistically portrayed as deficient in experience and perception, unlike the heroines of Gothic and romance novels. All the heroines of this kind of novel are of high birth, angelic beauty, extreme virtue and sensibility, and although usually orphaned and invariably growing up in poverty on some lonely foreign mountainside, nevertheless are so naturally gifted as to possess all the female accomplishments without ever having any formal tuition.
Catherine, instead, was plain, had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without much colour, dark lank hair and strong features; she was noisy and wild, hates confinement and cleanliness, enjoys boys’ pastimes...
Catherine fails to recognize the obvious developing relationship between her brother James and her friend Isabella; she fails to recognize Isabella's true nature until long after it has hurt her brother; she accidentally leads John Thorpe into thinking she loves him; and most significantly, she embarrasses herself in front of Henry Tilney when he finds out she suspects his father of murder. While Catherine is an avid reader of novels, she is inexperienced at reading people, and this is what causes many of the problems she encounters. By the end of the novel, she has become a much better judge of character, having learned from her mistakes with Isabella and General Tilney. She is also, perhaps, a bit more cynical about people, as Henry is. Ultimately, it is her integrity and caring nature that win Henry's heart and bring her happiness.

Would you have ever said that she had an ancient, noble, world-wide famous ancestor from Spain? Do you remember him? He too was an avid reader of tales and he too confused reality and the images in his mind, those heroic images taken from the wonderful romances he had read in great quantitities. YES!
Don Quixote de la Mancha !
Don Quixote ( 1605 ) is a parody of the romances of Cervantes's time. Don Quixote rides out like any other knight-errant, searching for the same principles and goals and engaging in similar battles. During these battles, he invokes chivalric ideals, regardless of how ridiculous his adventures may be. On another level, however, the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the novel's First Part attempt to describe a code of honour that could serve as an example for a Spain that was confused by war and by its own technological and social successes. Cervantes applies this code of values to a world in which such values are out of date.
Don Quixote is a gaunt, middle-aged gentleman who, having gone mad from reading too many books about chivalrous knights, determines to set off on a great adventure to win honor and glory in the name of his invented ladylove, Dulcinea. Don Quixote longs for a sense of purpose and beauty—two things he believes the world lacks—and hopes to bring order to a tumultuous world by reinstating the chivalric code of the knights-errant. Initially, Don Quixote's good intentions do only harm to those he meets.

Well, Catherine has also got a fascinating French lady among her descendants. Any idea? Not a clue? Ok. I’ll help you: Emma, better known as MADAME BOVARY (1857).
Like Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey parodies Gothic heroines, in Emma Bovary Flaubert uses irony to criticize romanticism and to investigate the relation of beauty to corruption and of fate to free will. Emma embarks directly down a path to moral and financial ruin over the course of the novel. She is very beautiful, as we can tell by the way several men fall in love with her, but she is morally corrupt and unable to accept and appreciate the realities of her life. Since her girlhood in a convent, she has read romantic novels that feed her discontent with her ordinary life. She dreams of the purest, most impossible forms of love and wealth, ignoring whatever beauty is present in the world around her. Flaubert once said, “Madame Bovary is me,” and many scholars believe that he was referring to a weakness he shared with his character for romance, sentimental flights of fancy, and melancholy. Flaubert, however, approaches romanticism with self-conscious irony, pointing out its flaws even as he is tempted by it. Emma, on the other hand, never recognizes that her desires are unreasonable. She rails emotionally against the society that, from her perspective, makes them impossible for her to achieve.
She starts mixing fiction to reality and to wish her life to be just as it is in the novels she loves reading …She doesn’t go crazy like don Quixote, but, even worse, she dies.

So among the three characters Catherine’s fate is the luckiest and happiest
. Do you remember what happens to her at the end of Northanger Abbey?

What could the end of my post be? A suggestion not to read too much because it might become dangerous? Not at all. It's an invitation to read more and more, enjoy reading and meet amusing, moving or fascinating characters like THESE.
Have a nice relaxing weekend.



Among the most fascinating male characters in fiction of all times, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice) and John Thornton ( Elizabeth Gaskell’s  North and South ) have been very often compared to and associated with one another. Do you think they share much or very little? This is what I’m going to write about today leafing through two of my favourite novels.


Mr Darcy 
Here is how he is introduced by Jane Austen on his first appearance at the Meryton Assembly:
“Mr Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike;… but his friend Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr Bingley,…”

Mr Thornton
The first physical description of John is given by Elizabeth Gaskell through Margaret’s eyes. The two had already met for about half an hour but the girl prejudices against northern people and their habits had made her blind to what Mr Thornton looked like. Now he was visiting their house for tea and she noticed how handsome he was for the first time. The first thing she noticed was that he had a “tall, massive frame” which contrasted with her father’s slight figure.
“Now, in Mr Thornton’s face the straight brows fell low over the clear, deep-set earnest eyes, which without being unpleasantly sharp, seemed intent enough to penetrate into the very heart and core of what he was looking at. The lines in the face were few but firm, as if they were carved in marble, and lay principally about the lips, which were slightly compressed over a set of teeth so faultless and beautiful as to give the effect of sudden sunlight when the rare bright smile, coming in an instant and shining out of the eyes, changed the whole look from the severe and resolved expression of a man ready to do and dare anything, to the keen honest enjoyment of the moment, …”


Mr Darcy’s temperament is analysed in comparison to Mr Bingley’s. This is how he is seen at the beginning of the novel .
“Between him and Darcy there was a very steady friendship, in spite of a great opposition of character. Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy’s regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and on his judgement the highest opinion. In understanding Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, abd fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offence”.His strong temper, his self- confidence, his contempt for inferior social ranks are the result of his upbringing. (But we know he will change in the end!)

Mr Thornton’s behaviour in society is totally different from Darcy’s. This is how Margaret sees him as her host at the dinner at Marlborough:
“… his whole manner, as master of the house, and entertainer of his friends, was so straightforward, yet simple and modest, as to be thouroughly dignified. Margaret thought she had never seen him to so much advantage. When he had come to their house, there had been always something, either of over-eagerness or of that kind of vexed annoyance which seemed ready to presuppose that he was unjustly judged, and yet felt too proud to try and make himself understood. But now, among his fellows, there was no uncertainty as to his position. He was regarded by them as a man of great force of character; of power in many ways. There was no need to struggle for their respect. He had it, and he knew it; and the security of this gave a fine grand quietness to his voice and ways, which Margaret had missed before”.
His strong – willed temper, his pragmatic outlook on life, his brooding mood are the result of his need to grow-up as soon as he could and to face the troubles his father had left them all in. He is very proud of his self-made success, of the high position he has got to in society. But he is also a hard-worker, he over-works and fights for his mill and his workers.


Mr Darcy
He has inherited his great estates five years before the story begins, at his father’s death. His patrimony amounts to ten thousand a year. He is of noble rank, since he is the grandson of an earl.

Mr Thornton
John comes from a middle – class family. Since his father committed suicide in a moment of financial difficulty, young Thornton has had to work hard to pay back his father’s debts and to provide for his mother and sister. He is a successful self – made man and he is proud of his accession in society. Now he runs a cotton mill, Marlborough Mill. in Milton and he is also the magistrate of the city.


Mr Darcy lives at Pemberley, his magnificent residence with a huge park in Derbyshire, with his beloved younger sister, Georgiana. He is kind and protective to her, especially, since her great disappointment with Mr Wickham (do you remember? She was going to elope with him but her brother stopped her just in time!) Looking at his tender affection to sweet Georgiana, Elizabeth starts changing her mind on Darcy (or was it because of  Pemberley?)
Mr Thornton lives in a big house attached to the mill with his spoilt shallow sister, Fanny, and his strong-willed mother, to whom he is deeply attached. He has taken care of the two of them since his father’s death.


Mr Darcy denies even to himself that he is attracted by Eliza Bennet and these are the first words referring to her he utters at Meryton, when asked by his friend Mr Bingley to dance with her: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men…” . Elizabeth and Mr Darcy meet again at Netherfield, at Longbourn and at Rosings but nothing make her - or the reader - suspect he is in love. So his marriage proposal comes utterly unexpected and is definitely rejected. Elizabeth is offended by his words regarding her social inferiority and inadequacy. So , infuriated, she accuses Darcy of being the cause of her sister’s and her new friend Wickham’s unhappiness and refuses him as the last man on Earth she would ever accept to marry. Well, these are not exactly the words she uses…Why don’t you have a look at this clip? (from Pride and Prejudice, BBC, 1995)

Mr Thornton is immediately attracted by Margaret. She comes from the South and is strongly prejudiced against the people in Milton. “I do think Mr Thornton a remarkable man; but personally I don’t like him at all”, she says to her father. The man, instead, though he finds the girl “proud and disagreable”, can’t avoid being charmed by her beauty. Their meetings, too, are nothing “courtshiplike” and Mr Thornton first marriage proposal comes rather unexpected to an even offended Margaret.
The day before a crowd of desperate starving strikers had attacked Marlborough Mill and Mr Thornton. Margaret was there by chance. She urged Thornton to face the crowd, to talk to them, but when she realized she had put his life at risk, she protected him from a blow with her own body and was hit.
Thornton and his family misunderstood her gesture and he couldn't resist the idea of thanking her for saving his life with a marriage proposal. Here is the film version of Thornton’s first proposal (from BBC North and South, 2004).


Mr Darcy reveals himself generous, tender, honest, trustful and, little by little, Elizabeth comes to love him. Her “conversion” from contempt to love starts with the reading of Darcy’s letter revealing the truth about Wickham. Then, it goes on at Pemberley when she listens to Mrs Reynolds’s – the housekeeper – appreciating words for her kind master and especially after seeing his transformation into a loving caring brother to Georgiana. After discovering his involvement in the happy finale of her sister’s elopment with Wickham … she’s terribly ashamed for her wrong first impressions. Fortunately, there will be a greatly welcome second proposal… Here is  the final happy ending  in the 2005 romantic version.

Mr Thornton will prove himself generous and loyal to Margaret and her family. As a magistrate, he will close the investigations on a case of murder in which the girl might be involved. Margaret starts appreciating him just when his good opinion of her is completely lost: he has seen her at night in the company of a mysterious man – her brother, indeed – who might be a murderer but she firmly denies. In the end , Mr Thornton will discover the truth and the two will find a compromise, a good agreement between North and South… The second proposal is lovely both in the book and in the TV adaptation, though in a very different setting in the two cases: Margaret’s cousin’s house in London in the book and a busy Victorian railway station halfway between Milton and Helstone (Margaret’s home in the South) in the TV series...

Do you think Darcy and Thornton have been correctly associated as similar characters? Or do you think they are rather different? Very different? I’d like to know your opinion on them. Which of the two is your favourite?
Difficult choice, isn’t it?


WOMAN IN LOVE (There's an interesting part about Mr Darcy attitude to love)



I'm glad I was tagged by you, lunarossa. I didn't know about tagging, either, so your "invitation" came to me rather unexpectedly these days. But it was a nice surprise and I think it is a pleasant way to know people in the Net. I'm terribly busy at the moment so I did everything in the bits of spare time I've had today.

As a "young" blogger I don't have many friends online so I hope the few I'm going to tag will respond.

Here are my answers and the new questions.

What are your current obsessions?
Do I have to be truthful? Please, may I tell you a white lie? Don’t know, something like … My current obsession is losing weight (I should do it, at least 4 kilos!), to get an appointment with a plastic surgeon (not interested at all!) or avoiding mirrors (I’ve always been distracted by the many things to do,I always forget to look at myself in the mirror even while putting on make-up!) ???
No? You want the truth? I’ll confess, then. RICHARD ARMITAGE. A lovely, charming, good – looking obsession! Since I saw him last summer in 2004 BBC “NORTH AND SOUTH”(one of my DVDs) , I have looked for, got and seen anything he has done so far ( Sparkhouse, Robin Hood, The Golden Hour, The Impressionists, Between the sheets, The Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special, any interview or clip I found on line, etc.,) . This handsome northern British actor has unexpectedly turned me into a … fan. I’ve never been a fan of anyone, neither when I was a teenager! I’ve heard there is an “Armitage Army” on line, but I’ve resisted the temptation to enlist … due to my convinced pacifist faith. Will I have the strength to go on resisting? Well, but, of course, what I appreciate most in him are his undoubted acting skills!

What’s for dinner tonight?
Fish & chips, for my boys (husband and sons); salad and salmon for me. It doesn’t sound typically Italian, does it? But they love fish and chips and we usually eat fish on Friday evenings. Then, I always say “I’ve ‘landed’ in Italy by mistake”

What’s the last thing you bought?
Small additions to my collections , just arrived today from Amazon by mail :
1. Audio-book The Witchfinders from Robin Hood read by …. Richard Armitage
2. Book Jane Austen, Sanditon
3. Book R. L. Stevenson , The Suicide Club

What are you currently listening to?
Coldplay, The Script; my favourite song at the moment is Malika Ayane, “Come foglie”(“Like leaves”)

What are your favourite holiday spots?
For a relaxing, defatiguing holiday I prefer Sardinia, Puglia, Calabria … any beautiful seaside resort in Italy. Then I love London, of course, but not to relax!

What are you reading now?

Lots of tests, essays, reports by my students. But also the last pages of Deirdre Le Faye, THE WORLD OF JANE AUSTEN. Hope to finish it soon. It’s quite a bit it ihas been in my bag or on my bedside table!
Use 4 words to describe yourself
I hate describing myself. (They are 4, aren’t they)

What is your guilty pleasure?
When I’m exhausted, to leave my husband do the washing –up after dinner and go to bed very early. Turn the lights off, put on one of my favourite DVDs and relax. (What a selfish woman!)

What is your favourite film?
I love costume drama, have a look at my blog and you’ll see it is true! My favourite one is NORTH AND SOUTH (BBC 2004) based on Elizabeth Gaskell novel and not only because my favourite actor stars in it. It IS one of the best adaptations of a classic I’ve ever seen. Have you seen it? Give it a try! (IF YOU'RE INTERESTED, HAVE A LOOK AT MY POST ABOUT IT. HERE)

What part of your body do you hate? (this is the question I replaced, well, I changed it a bit)
My hands, I’ve always hated them and tried to hide them ( but where!?!). Perhaps this is why I always notice other people’s hands, especially if they are beautiful.

What is your dream in the drawer? (This is my new question)
I don’t know if you say it in English. I just literally translated from Italian. Anyhow, my dream is to run a small beautiful old-fashioned bookshop but I am sure I couldn’t live on it. Have you seen the film “You’ve got mail” with Tom Hanks and … Meg Ryan.Was it she?
What do you fear the most?
To go crazy, to lose the control of my mind and my body (degenerative deseases).

What’s on your bedside table?
Some of my favourite books, some DVDs, a notebook with quotations I like to write down, pens and pencils.

What’s the best thing you ate or drank recently?
A good red wine and a tasty Italian dinner I had the last time my husband and I had dinner out, just last April. At the restaurant, the two of us, sons on a school trip , both at the same time though in different places… Perhaps it wasn’t the wine or the dinner I liked so much…

What would you like to be when you grow up?
A kind old lady with very few regrets, lots of good memories and … still interested in life.


The "rules" are as follows. Respond and rework. Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Tag 8 people.
I'm tagging :
1. ELVIRA at FLORES Y PALABRAS (you can do it in spanish in your blog)
2. MARIANNA alias HANDBAGLADY (in Italian of course!)

Dear Ladies, apologies if you've been tagged before and if you don't feel like doing it or you don't have the time, dont' worry I won't be offended ( Sorry Antonella : I copied it from your post!)



Well, it's not that I love using oxymoron, but it's Wednesday (my sacred day off!) and, instead, I'm just back from school (it's 5.50 p.m!) . I feel sick and tired: I hate working when I'm supposed to be off duty, but I couldn't avoid it. Anybody needs some spare time from time to time. I don't feel like cooking or coping with the housework now. I'd go for a walk but I can't, it's almost dinner time so ... I'll try to relieve my stress writing a little about the things I love.
For example, LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD. Yesterday I finished watching series 2, twelve delightful episodes ( it took me some weeks, though!). I had watched series 1 on DVD in December ( my post on blogspot is dated April 'cause I imported it from my older blog learnonline) and soon ordered the new one which was broadcast from December to March.

You can find lots of information about the cast, the production and the 12 episodes HERE.

My favourite characters are Dorcas Lane, the post - office lady, (played by Julia Sawalha) and James Dowland (Jason Merrels), the handsome stranger who landed in Candleford this year. It has been described as the “perfect Sunday night winter warmer”, “an antidote to the winter blues”, and the BBC has confirmed a third series of this Sunday night drama which is Bill Gallagher’s adaptation of Flora Thompson’s magical memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood.
The feel-good stories star Julia Sawalha, Olivia Hallinan, Jason Merrells, Brendan Coyle, Olivia Grant, Mark Heap and Ruby Bentall. All the 12 episodes have as their main narrator Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) and see burgeoning romances blossom and falter amongst the two communities, as well as social and financial pressures take their toll in a series that chronicles the day-to-day life of two communities at the end of the 19th century.
It is , in fact, set in the small hamlet of Lark Rise and the wealthier neighbouring market town, Candleford, at the end of the 19th century, the series chronicles the daily lives of farm workers, craftsmen and gentry, observing characters in loving, boisterous and competing communities of families, rivals, friends and neighbours.

My favourite episodes in the second series were the Christmas Special, the 8th and the 9th. Here's a clip from series 2. I adore the two of them !

This kind of costume drama is something I really admire in the BBC production but they are also very good in modern drama. You've certainly noticed my fondness for the spy drama SPOOKS but I've read very good reviews about a new series they're broadcasting just in these days, MOVING ON. They've had the courage to give young unknown writers the possibility of seeing their scripts interpreted by all-star casts. Each episode tells a different story and deals with a different theme.

I must confess I've happened to hear about it, following the career of my favourite actor, Richard Armitage, who stars in the third episode DROWNING NOT WAVING as John Mulligan, but it seems a very original contemporary series which I absolutely want to see. It is possible to pre-order the DVD at Amazon.UK . Meanwhile, I've found this beautiful trailer with the 5 episodes and I could see Richard is as lovely as ever. What I love most in him, apart from his skillful acting, is his voice, his blue eyes and his hands.
As Dorcas Lane, the protagonist of LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD, would say: Richard is ... my one weakness (!!!)
OK. My blue mood has...vanished. Writing this post has worked as an anti-stress therapy.





Well, it has been a different Saturday night, moving and amusing at the same time.
You must know I love music, classical music, opera, poliphony as well as Brit pop or good Italian music. I studied singing for many years and I used to sing in a choir with whom I toured all over the world. Just wonderful memories now: when I had my first child I stopped, cause it was too complicated to cope with my job (teaching), my family ( husband and a baby son), my house and my beautiful but "time wasting" hobby. So I had to give up. Anyhow, any time they organize concerts or cultural events I'm invited to take part in ... the audience. So they invited me for this evening at 7 p.m. telling me that three young people from L'Aquila would perform in a melodrama show based on fables. One of them is one of my best friend's daughter, the other two friends of hers.

I went, entered the big hall with a bit of nostalgia, sat among the crowd of familiar faces - colleagues, ex-colleagues, some students of mine, my ex-singing mates- and waited for the beginning of the show reading the leaflet with the curricula of MIRIAM, DIEGO and VALENTINA. What extraordinary young people! They've really achieved a lot in their young lives: diplomas, degrees, drama courses and so on. What a pity that on 6th of April the earthquake shattered down their houses and greatly complicated their lives and their expectations. What luck they are still here safe and sound. Valentina did her latest exam at University just few days ago among several difficulties. Miriam had to come back and live in our small town in Lazio -100 km from L'Aquila- and commutes whenever she needs to by car. Diego has been living in a small house in the countryside with the rest of his family since then.
The lights turned off and Miriam led us, with her beautiful persuasive voice, into the fantasy worlds of Babar the elephant and the little Paddington Bear. Yes, she told us good fables, and first Valentina, then Diego, commented those stories at the piano with incredibly fit music by Francis Poulenc and Herbert Chappell. What was their message? The earthquake shattered their houses to pieces but NOT THEIR DREAMS. They are going to "become king" like Babar or to "sing their song at the Royal Albert Hall" like Paddington Bear. They want to make their dreams come true and don't want anybody or anything to stop them. I wish Miriam, Diego and Valentina success and happiness. May all their dreams come true, first of all that of going back living and working in L'Aquila with no more fear and, possibly, in a new house.

Miriam plays the flute, the piano, is a good actress and is the only one of the three to have stuff of hers in the Net. I've found this clip with her playing a melody at the piano by Giovanni Allevi.



As promised, here I am, sharing with you part of my current reading of Deirdre Le Faye's JANE AUSTEN.THE WORLD OF HER NOVELS .It's time to compare what being a woman at that time was like to what we discussed in my previous post, MEN AT JANE AUSTEN'S TIME.


The daughters of the landed gentry families would probably have had only the minimum of formal instruction before leaving home - in many cases while still in their teens, like Catherine Morland or Marianne Dashwood - to marry country gentlemen in their own rank of society. Until well into the 19th century education was not considered necessary for girls.
(If you're interested in the woman question in the Victorian Age CLICK HERE and HERE)
In fact, it was felt to be rather a hindrance to their settlement in life, as they wouldbe regarded with suspicion if thought clever or bookish. Jane Austen was well aware of this attitude, and wrote teasingly in Northanger Abbey: "Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can".
Most girls were educated at home, either by their parents or by governess with the assistance of visiting tutors, but the sum total was the same: needlework, both for necessity and for pleasure; simple arithmetic; fine hand writing, which was considered a very elegant accomplishment; enough music to be able to sing and play the piano or harpsichord for family entertainment; a little drawing; some French fables to recite; reading the Bible, Shakespeare, other poetry and sone respectable novels such as Sir Charles Grandison; and some very scrappy ideas of history and geography.
In Persuasion, Jane lists female occupations as the "common subjects of housekeeping, neighbours, dress, dancing and music".

Women's fashion changed radically during this period of George III's reign. In the second half of the 18th century dresses still had bunchy skirts, though no longer supported by hoops, and were made in softer fabrics rather than the stiff bracaded or embroidered silks.

In 1770s a fashion arose for building the hair up into a huge pile above the head, by means od a large triangular thing called a cushion to which the hair was frizzed up with three or four enormous curls on each side; the higher the pyramid of hair, feathers and other ornaments was carried the more fashionable it was thought. These heads were not opened for a week or more with horribly unhygienic results.

As men's clothes, female wear became simpler as the time passed, with soft cotton fabrics, especially white muslin and lawn, being made into less voluminous garments. The hair too changed and was no longer built up into a pyramid, but allowed to fall in loose curls and only powdered for formal occasions. This is the style that enables Willoughby to cut off a long lock of Marianne's hair, as it lies tumbled down her back. By the end of the century the fashion of the very short waist arrived from France, with a light sash or ribbon tied immediately under breasts, and remained popular for the next twenty years; dresses were now at their skimpiest, nearly always white, and made of the thinnest of fabrics, and hair styled to be short and curly.


As well as hairstyles, cosmetics are all part of female fashion, and here again the appearance of women's faces changed quite radically during Jane's lifetime. In the earlier part of the 18th century the fashion was for powdered hair, and a dead- white face with dark eyebrows, rouged cheeks and red lips. This style was achieved by using the proverbial "powder and paint". The powder itself could be more white lead, or kaolin clay or talc, all ground very fine. The eyebrows were trimmed and blackened or else disguised by gluing on false brows made of strips of mouse-skin. Black "patches"were also stuck on the face, either to provide a visual contrast against the white mask or more practically to cover up pimples; they were cut out of black velvet, taffeta or silk and were usually circular, but sometimes more elaborate shapes such as stars and crescents, or even birds and trees, were created. Patches continued to be used well into the 18th century.

By the 1780s the crude contrasts of "powder and paint" were going out of fashion, and cheeks were now simply dusted with talc and only lightly rouged, perhaps with a red leather imported from Brazil; the colour of the lips was strengthened with carmine or with lipsticks made from ground and coloured plaster of Paris. Even though powder and paint were no longer used, a pale complexion was still admired, hence Miss Bingley's sneer that Miss Eliza Bennet was grown so brown and coarse - to which Darcy chivalrously replies that he perceived no alteration than her being rather tanned, - no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer.

There is no evidence that either Jane or Cassandra Austen ever used such cosmetics and with her pink cheeks Jane would certainly never have needed rouge.


One of the girls' favourite social activity was dancing, for this was the chief way in which young people could become acquainted with each other in a respectable and carefully chaperoned environment. Modern readers are sometimes puzzled as to why dance scenes have so prominent a place in Jane Austen's novels; but in her lifetime the dance floor was the best, and indeed almost the only place, where marriage partners could be identified and courtship could flourish.
With or without dancing, music was an important part of entertainment in the evening and girls were usually taught to play the harpsicord, piano, harp or guitar.

Theatre-going was primarily an urban entertainment for the winter months.For more private entertainment there were always books which were expensive - Emma in 1816 cost a guinea which was the weekly salary upon which a poor curate might have to keep himself and his family. Novels, especially the romantic tales of mystery and horror that were so popular then - The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest, The Midnight Bell- were considered to be conducive to frivolity and immorality, especially among female readers - but the Austens were great novel-readers.

Letter-writing was an essential part of social life , both to maintain family connections and to act as mini-newspapers. Apart from letters, women but also men kept "pocket-books", very small printed diaries with room for just a few words on the page.

Drawing and painting were usually female pastimes as well as the various kinds of needlework popular at the period, fine sewing and embroidery.



Before flying to ... my night dreams I 'd like to share some beautiful lines with you. Among my favourite poems, one by PABLO NERUDA. It's titled "Muere lentamente" (Dies slowly)

Dies Slowly
he who becomes a slave of habit,
repeating same path every day,
he who never changes brands.
Who doesn't risk wearing a new colour
And doesn't speak to whom he doesn't know.

Dies Slowly
he who makes the television his guru.
he who avoids a passion,
he who prefers black on white
and dotted "i"s to a whirlwind of emotions,
precisely those that rescue the brilliance of one's eyes,
smiles from yawns,
hearts from disappointments and sorrows.
Dies Slowly
he who doesn't turn the table when he's unhappy at his job,
he who doesn't risk the certain for the uncertain to follow a dream,
he who doesn't permit himself at least once in his life,
to flee from sensible advice.

Dies Slowly
he who doesn't travel, he who doesn't read,
he who doesn't listen to music,
he who doesn't find humor in himself.

Dies Slowly
he who destroys his own love,
he who doesn't allow himself to help.
Dies Slowly
he who passes the days complaining of his bad luck
or of the incessant rain.

Dies Slowly
he who abandons a project before starting it,
not asking about an unfamiliar subjector
not answering when they inquire about something he knows.
We avoid death in soft quotes,
remembering that to be alive requiresan effort
much greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only with ardent patience will we conquer a splendid happiness.

But I must admit I like it better in its original version, that is to say in Spanish.

So, for those of you who can read Spanish, enjoy this:

Muere lentamente
quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito,
repitiendo todos los días los mismos trayectos,
quien no cambia de marca, no arriesga vestir un color nuevo
y no le habla a quien no conoce.

Muere lentamente
quien evita una pasión, quien prefiere el negro sobre blanco y los
puntos sobre las "íes" a un remolino de emociones, justamente las que
rescatan el brillo de los ojos, sonrisas de los bostezos
corazones a los tropiezos y sentimientos.

Muere lentamente
quien no voltea la mesa, cuando está infeliz en el trabajo,
quien no arriesga lo cierto por lo incierto para ir detrás de un sueño,
quien no se permite por lo menos una vez en la vida,
huir de los consejos sensatos.
Muere lentamente quien no viaja,
quien no lee, quien no oye música,
quien no encuentra gracia en sí mismo.
Muere lentamente
quien destruye su amor propio, quien no se deja ayudar.
Muere lentamente,
quien pasa los días quejándose de su mala suerte o de la lluvia incesante.
Muere lentamente,
quien abandona un proyecto antes de iniciarlo, no preguntando de un
asunto que desconoce o no respondiendo cuando le indagan sobre algo que sabe.
Evitemos la muerte en suaves cuotas, recordando siempre que estar vivo
exige un esfuerzo mucho mayor que el simple hecho de respirar.
Solamente la ardiente paciencia hará que conquistemos una espléndida felicidad.
P.S. Sweet dreams. Till very soon for what I promised, "Being a woman at Jane Austen's time".



In my little spare time, these days, I'm experiencing a total immersion in the world of Jane Austen and her novels. The enriching, masterful essay by Deirdre Le Faye has revealed itself an unexpectedly pleasant reading.
I've read through Part I: "The world of Jane Austen" and just finished the long chapter titled "England and the world". What I want to share with you is the detailed description Le Faye proposes of the differences between male and female education, career chances, occupations and pursuits.
I've always admired Jane Austen for her witty outlook, her intelligent irony, at dealing with these discriminating decisive differences in her novels; Deirdre Le Faye, instead, collected facts taken from documents and provides the modern readers an outline of that world, so that they can step through the looking glass and find themselves in the England of two centuries ago. They little by little discover what being a man or a woman might be like.
There are lots of important facts to be reported so I'm going to start with only men for now.


Most of the leading male characters in Jane Austen's novels are landed gentry, and in the Georgian period it was accepted that of the several sons a family the eldest son inherited the paternal estate intact and the second son could hope to inherit some land or money from his mother's side of the family. All other younger sons, and the second son if there was no inheritance, would have to make their own way in the world and wuld be expected to do so by entering the Navy or the Army, taking the Holy Orders or being called to the Bar. Gentlemen could become physicians or surgeons but apothecaries and attorneys were definitely lower class. To be a banker or rich merchant -say in the East India Company - was acceptable. The larger landowners would delegate the day-to-day business of farming and parish politics to a bailiff or steward but it was still incumbent upon them to give personal attention to the well-being of their dependants on the estate. Mr Darcy is said by his housekeeper Mrs Reynolds to be"the best landlord, and the best master that ever lived. Not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name".


During the 18th century the British Royal Navy had become the best in the world, and island's nation symbol of security and prosperity, and popularly regarded as invincible. Younger sons of the landed gentry seized the opportunities afforded by the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to join the Navy in the hope of gaining both honours and prize-money. The official arrangement was that any hostile ship which the Navy captured , together with cargo, was sold to the British Government, and the proceeds were divided amongst the victorious crew. Captains and admirals could certainly expect to become rich. In Persuasion Captain Wentworth, by 1814, has amassed prize money to the sum of £25,000 and so is able to contemplate buying his own landed property and living in married comfort thereafter. Did you know? Jane Austen's brothers Frank and Charles were away on active service for many years during wartime period,Frank in the Mediterranean and the Baltic and Charles first of all in home waters and then in the West Indies; and both in due course and long after her death, rose to become admirals.
The Army was not so highly regarded as a career as the Navy. Most of the officers were drawn from the younger sons of the local gentry and the colonel was usually some landowner of the country. It is the arrival of a militia regiment in Hertfordshire that starts to thicken the plot of Pride and Prejudice and no doubt Jane was aided in her composition of this novel by her brother Henry's tales of his service with the Oxfordshires.


In the 18th century there was no need for a young man to feel that he had a vocation for clerical life - to be a clergyman in the Church of England was viewed merely as a suitable profession for an educated gentleman, and the main problem was to find a parish rich enough to enable the parson to live like any other country landowner. At that time there were no fixed salaries for the clergy, whose income had instead tiìo be made up from several sources - mainly from tithe payments (the right of the parson to receive one-tenth of the annual gross product of all cultivated land in the parish) and the produce of farming their own glebe land with surplice fees (customary payments for baptisms, marriages and burials) in addition. A clergyman was not expected to devote himself full-time to his duties, as the basic requirements were only that he should attend his church on Sundays to take morning and evening service, with or without preaching a sermon, and that he should hold Holy Communion services at least three times a year.


The boys who would grow up to follow these gentlemanly careers received by our standards a very narrow education. Small boys were taught reading, writing and elementary arithmetic by their parents or by a governess; some might then be tutored in a private household, like Jane's father's pupils at Steventon rectory;others might be sent to board at a preparatory school from about eight to thirteen, followed by five years at a public school, and university thereafter. The curriculum was still very limited, consisting mainly of Latin and Greek classical texts
in prose and verse, with some modern history leading on from that of the ancient world; geography (use of the globes), French and Italian were usually taught as extras, along with handwriting, dancing, drawing and miscellaneous lectures on scientific topics. Conditions in the old-established public schools were invariably spartan, discipline was ferocious, for most headmaster still held to Dr Johnson's view of children that "not being reasonable, can only be governed by fear", and flogged their pupils as a matter of fact.


The fashion in masculine clothes changed only slowly during Jane Austen's lifetime, but in the end there were considerable differences in appearance between the boys and men of 1760 and 1820. In the earlier years of the century the basic male suit consisted of a knee-length coat with long and bulky skirts, a long waistcoat, and close-fitting knee-breeches worn with stockings and buckled shoes. The coat gradually evolved by alterations in its cuts, removing the skirts in front and dividing those at the back into two tails that would fall more conveniently when the wearer was on horseback, and likewise diminishing baggy sleeves and wide cuffs to a far neater outline. The waistcoat dwindle accordingly to fit inside a smaller coat. In 1790s the breeches lengthened to become tight pantaloons worn tucked into short boots, and in the early 19th century the pantaloons became looser and evolved into trousers worn with shoes.
Young men started to wear their hair cut short in the 1790s. In Jane Austen's early novels, most of the gentlemen would have had long hair, powdered and tied back in a queue with a large bow of black ribbon.

Well, it's all for now. Till very soon to compare what men's lives were like to women's. If you're interested in getting this precious book you can buy it online at Amazon . CLICK HERE



My day off. Relax and free time are the most directly connected ideas in an ordinary mind. But, well, no, not if it is MY day off. The awful truth is that I've been writing tests, correcting and assessing tests, writing mails, ordering photocopies and preparing the Trinity College Spoken Examinations timetable for our centre. Unbelievable, my work never actually ends. Even when I read something is more often for my classes than for pleasure. And do you know what? Many people I know think that to be a teacher is one of the best jobs since you only work 18 hours a week... 18 hours a week???
Boring stuff, you're right.

I need a break. I need ... not to think about scholastic duties in order to avoid getting too depressed so ... I turn the TV on, just to listen to some English ( but it is the subject I teach!) I've been lucky! There's JANE EYRE on BBC PRIME, the first episode. My beloved BBC Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre have just met each other. The dark atmosphere at Thornfield is enlighted by their blossoming romance. I love this story.

But to ... FLY HIGH I need something more. Usually poetry helps me much (FOR EXAMPLE...) I mean optimistic lirical poetry. Leopardi must be avoided when you are already in a bad mood. So I've taken WALT WHITMAN's LEAVES OF GRASS from my bookshelf. I've opened the book searching for my favourite underlined passages and ... here is one for you (meanwhile Rochester and Jane are sitting by a stream and talking about the past)

"(...)You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
you shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
you shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
I believe in you my soul"

Yes, we have to count on ourselves.We have to listen and read respectfully but, in the end, we must form our opinions counting on our judgement and sensitivity. Self - assertion and self -confidence. Walt Whitman believed in mankind and in their right to freely follow the path of ... life. His lesson is great optimism and trust in human beings.

This remind me of one of the most beautiful movies in my DVD collection, a film in which Whitman's poetry is part of the script and his teachings are part of the morale of the story:


It is definitely one of my favourite movies and I can't see the final scene without being moved to tears each time. Here it is. To understand the pathos of this scene,anyway, you must know about or see the rest of the story.

Have you noticed? They are in a classroom...I'm really never totally off duty!
School is even part of this splendid final scene, one of the best ever!
So I've flown high for a while but landed back to my ...working place.
I'll give up! I'll prepare my lessons for tomorrow.



When I started blogging I actually didn't imagine I would like it so much. My "adventure" on line started with LEARN ON LINE on 23rd November 2008. The blog was meant to help my students and motivate them studying English Literature. But since it was also MY blog I started writing about my favourite books, my DVD collection, my impressions on readings and movies but...I wasn't convinced it was correct to mingle my personal stuff with the materials for my students. So I decided to start with a personal blog, this FLY HIGH!

Now what I'm trying to do, from time to time, is to remove the personal stuff from LEARN ON LINE and post it on FLY HIGH. This is what I'm doing tonight ... If any of you has already read the following reviews, I beg your pardon, but I'm just re-ordering my posts. I'm sorry I'm going to lose the comments I got but I'm a Virgo -it's my sign!- and I tend to be rational and extremely tidy... If,instead, you haven't read this posts before, enjoy them. They are about one of the best movies I've recently seen (from my DVD collection) and one of my best readings of the last months.

FROZEN (2005)

It's a movie, a DVD a bought two months ago, that has been waiting for my attention - kept in my precious "yet to be seen" red box - till last Friday night. No papers to be corrected, no lessons to be prepared, husband out with friends, sons engaged with their computer or videogames ... nobody would disturb me for a while. The fact is that I felt it was a movie deserving proper attention, careful watching (I had seen just a trailer but got it right!) so I wanted to choose the right moment for it. At about 10 last Friday night I put the DVD in my laptop, turned the light off and, warm in my bed, I started a stunning journey in Kath's disquieting world.

The film is set 2 years after the disappearance of Kath Swarbrick's older sister, Annie. Kath (Sherley Henderson) is haunted by Annie's disappearance and continues to investigate herself. When she steals a security camera videotape from the police that captures Annie’s last moments, Kath believes she finds a mysterious image on it. As she retraces Annie’s last steps, she has recurring visions of Annie in an otherworldly landscape and she appears to lose her grip on reality. Friends and colleagues are concerned for her sanity and beg her to stop. She begins to wonder if this is a clue, a warning, or a glimpse into the afterlife. The pain in her heart doesn’t stop and she grows more and more disturbed while everybody tries to convince her that time will heal her wound. She finds help in a parish priest, Noyen Roy (interpreted by an excellent Roshan Seth), who seems to understand her and to care for her very much.
I don't want to tell more ... this film really deserves to be seen ...What I really want to tell you about is ...How astonished I was once I got to the end. By what? By the numerous emotional shifts I had gone through. I had been so absorbed in the amazingly good photography and by the extraordinarily gifted acting of Sherley Henderson that ... it took me time to "land back" in my bed.

But here I am now ...still unable to give a precise shape to my extremely positive response. Even now, after 2 days, I'm trying hard to find the right words . I'll try with a list of the features which moved me most.


I had already seen her - among others - in "Bridget Jones" ," The way we live now" or in "The Taming of the Shrew" (BBC Shakespeare Retold) but in her first lead as Kath she is hauntingly good. Her childish voice is perfect here to convey Kath's loss of grip on reality and her desperate sorrow in her solitary quest for the truth of her sister's disappearance. Sherley is so convincing that you really breathe and feel her nostalgia for her childhood, her sufference, her desperation, her physical attraction to Noyen, her utter trembling fright when she thinks she has finally got to the truth.
Boundless grim mud flats, northern coastline, decaying industry
Study of a character? Ghost/mystery story? Murder mystery? Thriller?
All of them.

The hectic final 10 minutes are worth an entire movie. Incredible!

The viewers are called to give their own contribute to the completeness of the story.

Directed by Juliet MacKoen


  • Shirley Henderson - Kath Swarbrick

  • Roshan Seth - Noyen Roy

  • Ger Ryan - Elsie

  • Richard Armitage - Steven
  • Sean Harris - Hurrican Frank


    “For those of us in professional despair about the future of British cinema, there was precious little to gripe about. Juliet McKoen’s ghost story, Frozen, is a brave choice. It gives Shirley Henderson, so often the viola player in a string quartet, the chance to show how haunting she can be as a lead. In McKoen’s subtle hands Frozen becomes a poem about the limbo of not-knowing; of not being able to grieve for a loved one who keeps calling in dreams; and how this appalling ache reshapes the place where you live and the people you grow up with. It is also an exceedingly topical film about how horror is becalmed.”(The Times, November 2004)

    A surreal and evocative tale… Shirley Henderson's acting is excellent. From childlike to erotic, from sad to simply fucked up, she has a ageless quality about her that immediately garners sympathy from the audience. While Frozen may not be the fast-paced thriller that resolves all of the lingering questions in an easy manner, it is a surreal meditation on grief and death.” (Anji Milanovic, Plume Noir)


    And now from a good film to a good book!

    “It was snowing again, soft flakes drifting down out of the blackness…”

    I finished Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD (Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2007) last night and I must admit that, even though it is NOT the kind of novel I usually read, I really really enjoyed it. Touching and horrific at the same time, a rare combination…I bought it a couple of months ago but didn’t have the time to open it. It has been patiently waiting on my bedside-table till last week when I started it, at last . Now it’ll stay on there for some more time before I start I new book because I like re-reading the passages I usually underline while reading something for the first time.
    So where can I start from?
    1. How I came to read it.
    I was watching a programme about books on TV (Rai 3) and they read some pages from it … the passage was touching. It was lyrical, estremely simple but heartbreaking at the same time.

    2. The story.
    A father and his son, a young boy, survived a nuclear explosion, and are on the road, bound to the coast, searching safety and especially food in an appalling waste land totally covered of ashes where the few survivors have become cannibals. Everything is grey and terribly cold. When darkness comes it is like being blind. But in this terrifying setting the relationship between the two unnamed protagonists gives the reader the most moving involving moments I’ve recently found in a book.

    3. An excerpt.
    Here is an example of their conversation and relationship…

    “No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.

    When he got back the boy was awake. I’m sorry, he said.

    It’s okay.

    Go to sleep.

    I wish I was with mom.

    He didnt answer. He sat beside the small figure wrapped in the quilts and blankets. After awhile he said: You mean you wish that you were dead.


    You mustnt say that.

    But I do.

    Dont say it. It’s a bad thing to say.

    I cant help it.

    I know. But you have to.

    How do I do it?

    I dont know.”

    (from pp. 56-57)

    4. Reflections
    Reading this story I went on recalling the book I read during Christmas holidays, David Grossman’s UNTIL THE END OF THE LAND, which was, instead, about the tragic situation of a mother escaping from any bad news from the war-front which might be delivered to her: her beloved son was fighting in a very dangerous war action and he could die in it. So she starts a sort of escape-pilgrimage during which she re-lives the best and the worst moments of the bonds between her and all the people she loves, especially the one that links her to her son at war.

    My constant thoughts were “How painful can it be for a father like this to watch his son starve, to know their situation is helpless and still to have to comfort and to give hope? How painful can it be for that mother to wait for her son’s return knowing that many soldiers are going to die and that, anyhow, there will always be mothers grieving ?”

    Awful situations, touching and heartbreaking as I said. Now to start a new story I need to “digest” this one first. I’m not a book eater. I prefer to give a novel the time to enter my mind slowly and to stay there alone for a while. Especially if I like it.
    5. Some reviews
    “One of the most shocking and harrowing but ultimately redemptive books I have read. It is an intensely intimate story. It is also a warning” (Kirsty Wark, The Observer)

    “A work of such terrible beauty that you will struggle to look away. It will knock the breath from your lungs.” (Tom Gatti, The Times)

    “You will read on, absolutely convinced, thrilled, mesmerized. All the modern novel can do is done here”. (Alan Warner, The Guardian)

    6. From the book to the movie

    As it usually happens, this book has been adapted for the screen. It has been classified as a horror movie which I NEVER want to see. I couldn’t bear it. One thing is reading such a story, one is to see it with your own eyes.

    To know more about the upcoming film