Romance Books: Lockdown Hobbies & Harps
Updated: Mar 21
A world in lockdown has brought challenges, not just the struggle of home school and ensuring the toilet roll holder remains full, but the challenge of how to fill time we have unexpectedly gained. Used to time being filled by the grind of the daily commute, or filled more enjoyably catching up with friends over coffee, suddenly we find ourselves solidly in our own company.
For an ‘accomplished’ lady from an Austen romance novel, perhaps so much time in one’s own company wouldn’t be so daunting. Given the chance, I’m sure Mary Bennet would happily spend months playing (somewhat badly) her pianoforte, or reading sermons to her rather unimpressed sisters. But what about women in the twenty-first century? There is only so much time you can spend flicking through Instagram so how are we filling the unexpected hours of our enforced confinement?
One of my favourite scenes in Pride and Prejudice is the drawing room verbal sparring match between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, a rich moment for readers made all the more delicious because pompous Miss Bingley inadvertently caused it.
In that scene in chapter eight, the substance of a woman of accomplishment is discussed:
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure," said Miss Bingley.
"Then," observed Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman."
"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it."
"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."
"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."
"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."
Re-reading this scene recently made my lips quirk as I wondered whether this discussion might have played out rather differently post lockdown. In 2021, would Lizzie’s response have been different? Would every lady be more accomplished after the past twelve months?
A friend of mine recently told me that she’d bought a piano; another, told me she’d knitted her first scarf; my mother has been turning her hand to painting. All hobbies that would have elevated their standing within an Austen romance novel.
There is evidence to show that my friends and family are not alone. Many women are spending their time in national lockdown in a way that even stuffy Mrs Bingley would approve. Retailers report an increase in the sales of painting supplies, needlework kits and even musical instruments. In 2020 the sale of romance books also increased.
Clearly, I am not alone in filling my hours with “extensive reading”.
Turning my eye to non-fiction for a while rather than historical or paranormal romance, I stumbled upon a BBC news story about an aptly named (but very twenty-first century) Elinor Bennet, OBE, who is teaching the harp to students across the world online during lockdown.
I thought the fact that women across the globe were passing their time with Georgian style harpsicord lessons was wonderful and definitely proof that the accomplished ranks of Elizabeth Bennet’s world would definitely have swelled in lockdown.
So, with this is mind, maybe I need to order myself a harp to fill my time between reading and writing romance and contact Elinor Bennet for harp lessons?
After all, named Beth and a lover of all things romance, Austen or otherwise, it seems like an accomplished match made in heaven!
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