Ever since I first read the English author Jane Austen when I was a girl, I’ve been in love with her and everything she wrote. I’ve reread all of her novels periodically over the years. Winston Churchill read Jane (her devotees tend to call her by her first name, a practice she herself would have despised) at night in the bomb shelters during World War II for solace and equanimity. At difficult points in my own life, I’ve done the same.
And yet, despite my reverence and respect and adoration, there’s always been one single note in her work that’s rung untrue for me. It’s an episode in arguably her greatest novel, and certainly my favorite, Pride and Prejudice.
The older sister, Jane, of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet, has gone to visit new neighbors (with a most attractive and eligible son). Their mother has insisted that Jane go on horseback, even though it looks like rain. Mrs. Bennet’s hope is that it WILL rain, and Jane will be caught in it, and therefore have to be asked to spend the night. All of which happens. Even more to Mrs. Bennet’s delight, Jane — having been soaked on the ride over — catches a violent cold. So alarmed is everyone by Jane’s terrible cold that the doctor is sent for, and she ends up spending a week with the Bingleys. Because of everyone’s alarm and concern, Elizabeth Bennet walks over (yes, all three miles) on the second day, and she stays on as well to help attend to her sister.
For plot purposes, this all works brilliantly. Mr. Darcy, the friend of the attractive and eligible Bingley, comes more and more to be attracted (much against his conscious will) by the vivacious and clever Elizabeth. What does NOT work, from my point of view, is Jane’s cold.
I mean, really! Everyone is so concerned that Jane is kept in bed and then remains delicately convalescing for an entire week? Hey, people, it’s just a cold! Jane Austen might have figured out an episode a little more convincing.
Yet here I am, just beginning to recover — after SIX WEEKS — from a cold that has laid me so low that this is my first post since Christmas!
And yes, it’s been just a cold. Not the flu, not bronchitis, not pneumonia. A cold. With a cough sounding like whooping cough for weeks and weeks, and not 100% gone even now. An overwhelming drain of energy, and an oppression, even depression, clinically worthy of the flu. I began to despair of ever feeling better. I even went to the doctor to make sure; I couldn’t believe that it was simply a cold that had laid me so low. But that’s what it was.
Well, it comes belatedly, after many many years, but my very dear Jane Austen, I humbly apologize. Not only was your little plot episode with Jane Bennet’s cold dramatically effective — it was also accurate to a degree I never credited, but should have. I should never have broken faith with you, Jane.
(P.S. At one point, perhaps after a month or so, I managed to think of the blog, and I took a selfie to show you why I was being so neglectful. But when I looked at it, I realized that there is NO ONE in the world upon whom I could inflict such an ordeal, and I trashed it. So there’s no photo accompanying this post. Let your worst imaginings fill the gap, and that’s it!)