Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Father Quotes Jane Austen

With the exception of my stories, my dad doesn't read. He's a geotechnical engineer, so he has more of the mathematical and scientific bent. He didn't grow up in a reading family, and his school experiences didn't encourage him.  (The small number and unappealing variety of the assigned school reading he's told me about make me so glad I was homeschooled.) I did convince him to read Cards On the Table by Agatha Christie once. But by and large, he doesn't read. The book habit came to me from my mom, who read mysteries under the covers with a flashlight as a little girl. As a matter of fact, she says she read anything she could get her hands on that had words on it. Her father was a security guard at a shopping mall, and whenever she finished a book she would ask him to bring her home another one (or two) from one of the bookstores there.

Anyway, over the years Dad has cultivated a literary sensibility second-hand, through Mom's reading aloud to us, film adaptations of the classics, and our enthusiastic suppertime discussions of characters and plots. In fact, he's graduated to the point where he will independently quote from Jane Austen in the middle of a conversation. That just absolutely delights the literature buff in me. Dad's favorite Austen hero is probably Colonel Brandon, though one of his favorite lines is Mr. Knightley's "Badly done indeed!"

Yesterday, my three younger siblings spent part of the afternoon pretending to be Charles Dickens and a selection of his characters from Martin Chuzzlewit while playing out on the neighbor's snowbank. Later on I caught a glimpse of them parading past the window wearing sprays of pine stuck in their ski hats in imitation of Miss Pole's feathered bonnet in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. Earlier this week my youngest sister called me into our bedroom and showed me a line of stuffed animals dressed up with doll clothes and hair-ribbons as the characters from Cranford, and made me guess which one was who. Those are the two BBC miniseries that our whole family loves - we usually watch them a couple of times apiece every year. The excellent 1994 version of Martin Chuzzlewit, which seems greatly underappreciated among the BBC lineup, is probably the film that can be heard quoted around our house most often (with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre running second, I think). Hardly a day goes by without someone lamenting "I lost me glasses!" or remarking airily, "Ah, lunch!" I haven't been able to convince any of the kids to read the book version of Chuzzlewit all the way through yet - but both my brother and my almost-thirteen-year-old sister have already read Cranford.

Another favorite pastime is imitating the voices of the Cranford characters while discussing everyday matters. You should hear Miss Deborah hold forth on the subject of football.

My siblings do know how to drive me to the brink of distraction on occasion, but I am tremendously proud of their literary knowledge, and the fact that they have so much fun with it. It is fun, isn't it? Why say "Hurry up" or "Get out of here" when you can say "Make haste!" or "Begone!" (The latter has the greatest effect when accompanied by an appropriately Pecksniffian gesture, as seen above.)


Ron Scheer said...

Enjoyed this, thanks. Maybe the most frequent literary quote in our house is me sighing, "Where will it all end?" (Hunter Thompson)

Marian said...

"Ah, lunch!"
I LOVE that line.

And I agree, Martin Chuzzlewit's very underrated, but one of our family's favourites, too. :) We quote a lot of costume dramas at our house...everything from Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice to Lord of the Rings and Westerns. :D I'll even occasionally do it while at the grocery store, lol.

Mom said...

Loved this post, Elisabeth!

It was so funny to see the kids run past the window with those pine branches sticking out of their hats yesterday. I had to laugh when I found out what they were up to.

Ron Scheer, I couldn't help chuckling at your literary quote. I think we can all relate to that one.

Another of our favorite movie quotes around here is from the 1951 version of Charles Dickens'
"A Christmas Carol" starring Alistair Sim. It comes in handy when everything seems to be going haywire -- "I must stand on my head!"

I Just Know Everything said...

Haha, this post cracks me up. Reminds me of my famly of theater-folk who often sit around have have discussions in accents or as specific characters. I'd love to be sitting around listening to you guys talk like this. I'd probably join right in if I knew how.

Elisabeth said...

Ron - I've never heard that one, but I can certainly picture situations where we might use it too. :)

Marian - I've quoted Chuzzlewit in the grocery store too. Come to think of it, our quotation habits are pretty broad too; we come out with all kinds of film quotes.

Mom - After I took a second look at the picture of Miss Pole in this post, I realized just how good the pine-branch imitations were!

I Just Know Everything - Yes, that sounds familiar! We do it all the time.