Halloween is weeks away, and we all know what that means.
Yep. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat (by the way, have you, or anyone you know, ever actually eaten a goose?), and the round of cocktail parties will find you out every night, giddily hobnobbing with all sorts of expensive, sequined people.
It makes no difference, your murmuring that you don’t attend cocktail parties, at Christmas or any other time, because I know this isn’t true. Every single year newspapers run long articles about holiday cocktail parties and how their readers can survive them. Obviously, these articles wouldn’t be written if cocktail parties weren’t a huge problem that needs to be addressed, and I’m going to get started early with the definitive, Jane Austen Survival Game to Surviving Holiday Cocktail Parties.
Any Jane Austen fan already knows how to play this game, because we do it all the time. In any random group of people – on the bus, at a business meeting, in church, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office – we surreptitiously look around and assign certain people to corresponding characters in Jane Austen novels; Pride and Prejudice is the standard reference, although Sense and Sensibility is popular with advanced beginners and intermediate Jane Austen fans. Truly advance Austenites know not only the characters, but the plot, of Lady Susan or Northanger Abbey.
You don’t have to be of this level, however. Just having watched a Pride and Prejudice movie is enough, although I find that people who watch these movies 1) watch all of them, 2) quote extensively from all of them, and 3) read Jane Austen, so I guess if you’ve watched even one of the movies you probably do know the plot to Lady Susan. Either that or you’re married to an Austen fan and you survived the cinematic experience because the room was dark and nobody noticed that your eyes were closed.
But enough of that – back to the game. Find a person; at a social event it’s usually the one who’s found you, backed you into a corner, and is telling you about the life cycle of aboriginal swamp rats, and think of which Jane Austen character this person reminds you of.
Yeah, I thought of Mr. Collins, too.
The woman laughing too loud and jiggling out of her dress is Mrs. Bennett. The quiet man in the opposite corner, drinking far too much and pretending that he doesn’t know the jiggling woman is Mr. Bennett.
The guy kissing up to the boss because he wants your job (God knows why) is Wickham. Mr. Bingley is always a challenge – you need someone wealthy and attractive but vaguely missing something, like brains, but when you find him it’s always a rush.
Mr. Darcy is really, really hard to find, as is Elizabeth Bennett, because perfection is elusive, but if you save them for last, you can spend an entire evening filling in the rest of the character roster. If you have an Austen-minded friend – a Charlotte, so to speak, to your own Elizabeth – you’ll find that cocktail parties, or any other compulsive group gathering – are something to actually look forward to, because you have a meaningful task to complete – finding a live person to correspond with every single character in each of Jane’s books.
Of course, if you’ve never read any of Jane’s books, then you’ve got some work ahead of you, but not to worry: it’s not even mid-October. Every library has a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and even though Jane’s writing gives the impression of employing the specious artifice of convolutedly byzantine circumlocution (admittedly, she does use big words, and it did take Elizabeth two paragraphs to say “No” to Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal), the story is a simple one – boy meets girl and boy marries girl 299 pages later.
At the very least, when you are pinned into the corner by Mr. Collins, you can riposte, spiritedly like Elizabeth Bennett, with quote after quote from your recent reading, until you drive him back, back, back into the opposite corner and leave him there, a quivering, quaking, shaking mass ineffectively sputtering on and on about the life cycle of aboriginal swamp rats.
More of me, and a little of Jane — The Jane Austen Driving School and Life Is a Gift — 30 Middle Aged Plague essays each neatly wrapped and tucked into e-book form, for a really, really reasonable price. Download me!