Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Communications and a Visit to Highbury

A Visit to Highbury: Another View of Emma”, is an entertaining and well-written novel by Joan Austen-Leigh, the great-grand-daughter of Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. It takes the form of an exchange of letters between two sisters.

Mrs. Mary Goddard, the mistress of the girls’ school in Highbury, shares the local gossip about the beloved characters created by Jane Austen in “Emma”: Emma Woodhouse, Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax, Robert Martin, Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Knightly, among others. Mrs. Charlotte Pinkney, from her dark and gloomy house in London, speculates on the causes of their behavior and complains about her loneliness in her new marriage.

Although separated by a mere twelve miles, without a private carriage and the means to travel it is like an ocean between them. The last time they saw each other was seventeen years ago, when Charlotte went to help Mary grieve the loss of her children to scarlet fever. Writing almost every day in copious detail, they maintain their closeness and help to lend support and advice where needed. The title comes from the hopes Charlotte has of obtaining permission from her new husband to visit Mary.

Reading the letters made me think of the change communications has brought to us. Although my sister lives several hundred miles away in Tennessee, we are able to talk via telephone and e-mail. A car ride is only one full day away, and a plane ride about four hours.

The written letter has become quite rare and old-fashioned, something I now share only with older relatives who do not access e-mail. How much deeper the letters in this book go than the typical telephone conversation or e-mail! There may be a frequency and ease of contact, yet the depth is something that is often lost in the technology.

On the other hand, with much thoughtfulness we can use our modern gadgets to enhance our long-distance relationships. My grandmother, mother, sister, and I exchange e-mails several times per week. Several years ago my husband bought me a digital camera. I liberally send the photos to share my excitement in a memory made that day.

And my digital camcorder, another Christmas gift a few years later, I use to take home movies of every-day activities that my relatives must miss out on. Last Christmas I made copies of the movies and sent them as Christmas gifts to those who would most appreciate them. This year I will do the same, so they can share in Baby’s First Birthday, Baby’s First Steps, baseball games, and track meets.

Technological communications can distance us or make us closer. It is all in how we make use of it!

Additional Post-Notes:

I will try to get my hands on the sequel, “Later Days at Highbury”, and review it here.

My review should appear on in five to seven days.

Read my post on Austen’s Times.

Read my post on Northanger Abbey.

No comments: