I intended to have a perfect garden this year – as neat as Ted Webster’s or Maureen Gariano’s, as productive as Vettie and Jon Thomas’s, as colorful as Joan Dunphy’s. I intended to procure everyone’s good opinion. Jane Austen ruined it all.
If you’ve ever been an English teacher as I used to be, you know that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may be the most esteemed novel written in the English language. But it had never won me over until my daughter, Alice, loaned me her BBC/A&E, 1995 Pride and Prejudice DVD this spring. I was in love with Darcy. Besotted. On every page I yearned that Elizabeth and Darcy would get together.
From that day, an unabridged tome of Austen’s works has not left my bed or my pocket book. Alas, reading Austen, viewing the movie again and again and again were not enough. Nothing would do but to cross the Atlantic and promenade with hundreds of Austen fans in the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. And, yes, of course, we would dress for Jane Austen’s England, 200 years ago, empire-style gowns and bonnets.So while I sewed my Regency-Era gown and pelisse (jacket) to wear at the festival’s opening Promenade in Bath, thatches of cardinal vine wrapped themselves around yellow and orange marigolds I had planted to glorify the garden path at Crows Woods.
While Alice and I sewed stays into our undergarments to give our bosoms the desired 1815 “shelf” look, portulaca-like purslane weeds carpeted the straw I had put down to block such weeds. While I dreamed of dancing “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” an old country dance, with Darcy in Bath, my Brandywine and Ramapo tomatoes with their un-caged arms choked my okra. And while I imagined our dining in the Pump Room of the Roman Baths, so fabled in Austen’s novels, volunteer butternut squash vines throttled my cucumbers and my Carmen peppers then trespassed onto the garden path. Jane, Jane, I love you, but you have ruined my garden.
Mary T. Previte, with apologies to Beth Pattillo and her novel, Jane Austen Ruined My Life. Originally published in Crows Woods Community Gardens Newsletter, Haddonfield, NJ.