Vaste bezoeker van deze website Hans van Leeuwen schreef onlangs een brief aan Jane Austen. De komende weken zullen wij deze brief in delen plaatsen. Vandaag deel 3. Deel 1 en 2 gemist? Je leest ze hier.


”The peace and calm we were luxuriating in not ten minutes ago, must not be allowed to be ruined over a trifle. Preferring one writer to another is too common and too harmless a thing to be worrying about. It reminds me of what Admiral Van Houten related to me some two and a half weeks ago. He had condescended to pay me a surprise visit on purpose to revive an acquaintance duty had forced him to neglect.

A mere ”hullo“ had passed his lips when he walked through the door.

Some errand or other had taken the mistress of the house out of doors, she will remember, will she not? (My mother nodded in acknowledgement, without looking up.) The Admiral turned out to have just returned from a weary campaign in the Atlantic, and his still being unsure on his feet, even after a fortnight ashore, spoke of long lengths of time spent in treacherous seas. But the discomfort had not prevented him from finding his son sitting poring over naval maps for days together while taking notes and making calculations. Happy for his return his son had hardly been, for, without lifting his eyes from the maps, a mere ”hullo“ had passed his lips when he walked through the door for the first time after an absence of many months. The Admiral wanted my counsel on the matter, whether it should be stopped or not, manu militari or otherwise, to which I replied in the negative. I pointed out that to take away the maps was to take away his sense of purpose, that man ought not to be prevented from going whither passion wants to take him.“

Pray speak and share your thoughts and feelings with us.

Here, the knitting, which had been resumed, was interrupted for a brief moment.
”Left undisturbed, your son might one day lead our best ships along routes most suitable for outflanking the enemy or luring them onto the rocks, and calculate the best angles for our mighty barrels to be tilted to. Throughout my argumentation, the Admiral had been nodding in agreement, with increasing fervour towards the end of it. Now, it would be a very strange thing and a severe inconsistency if I were to turn a deaf ear to my own advice by ordering our daughter to throw her book aside and to take up another by a different hand. This I shall therefore not do. There cannot be another house in the whole of Gelderlandshire where the matter would be talked about at all, let alone disapproved of. But Marianne, you have been sitting there so quietly without uttering a syllable. Pray speak and share your thoughts and feelings with us. “

Being obliged to speak when not wanting to, is just the sort of thing one would give one’s right arm for to be relieved of, but there was no escaping. I dared not look at either of my parents, fixing my eyes instead on the fire or one of the dogs, whichever afforded most comfort. The first words came out hesitantly, but as I progressed my confidence grew and eloquence improved:

”Dear father, dear mother, it is with great sorrow that the books by Jane Austen, one of which you see here in my hands, prove to be a source of such discord between my dear mother and myself. On several occasions I have talked to her about them, extolled their virtues to her, but the mere fact of my always reading them seems to have made her immune to their charms. I do try to bring variety in what I read but will not be bludgeoned into valuing anything against my taste and will not subject myself to the torture of reading recommended books when I can be certain to be entertained by Miss Austen’s. To destroy one’s mind, moreover, with books firmly established in the canon of English literature, I struggle to deem possible.”

Deel 4 (en tevens het laatste deel) van A Letter to Jane verschijnt op woensdag 11 januari.