Sunday, October 27, 2019

It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged That Jane Austen Pairs Well With Tea

From NPR:
In an essay on Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf observed, "Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness." To that double-edged and astute assessment, one can add, she is also the most difficult to catch in the act of tea-time. This observation might seem irksomely contrarian to the legions of Janeites in hats and bonnets gathered around tea and scones to pay fealty to the novelist on the bicentenary of her death, which falls today. 
'Jane Austen and tea' is after all, a comely capitalist hustle that has spawned a cottage industry of crockery, tea towels, tea bags, tea rooms and boutique brews named Dashing Willoughby, Marianne's Wild Abandon and, in a nice comic touch, Compassion For Mrs. Bennet's Nerves. Austen would have been especially amused by the latter – her mother, a vigorous hypochondriac who lived to the ripe age of 88 and who almost certainly inspired the high-strung Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, was constantly sipping on dandelion tea to soothe her mysterious "bilious complaint." But to turn to Austen's novels to savor her much-paraded relationship with tea is to set oneself up for disappointment. Tea is mentioned frequently but never fully. The sampling of lines below, variations of which occur throughout her six novels, illustrates the brisk indifference with which Austen treats tea.

"The tea things were brought in" (Sense and Sensibility)
"When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed" (Pride and Prejudice)
"Dinner was soon followed by tea and coffee" (Mansfield Park)
"Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea; and when he had drank his tea he was quite ready to go home" (Emma)
"tea was over, and the instrument in preparation" (Emma)
"some of them did decide on going in quest of tea" (Persuasion)
"Mr. Tilney drank tea with us, and I always thought him a great addition" (Northanger Abbey)
Characters are always on their way to tea or from it and the tea things are either being brought in or cleared away. Tea serves as no more than a conjunction to join the two more significant parts of the evening: the dinner that precedes it and the recreation that follows it, involving a musical performance or card games like whist or quadrille. But of the ceremony of tea-drinking itself, there is precious little. There is no description of the kinds of tea being imbibed – whether oolong, hyson, congou, bohea or gunpowder; nothing on the elaborate equipage – the tea caddies, silver urns, flowered china, silver teaspoons, tea tables; and no acidic observations on the affectations and gossip associated with tea drinking. (Read more.)

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