Enforced Quiet

I spent the last couple of days at the Monastery of the Holy Ascension.  Lots of trees, lots of quiet. Time to meditate, to read.  The monastery is in Resaca, Ga., north of Atlanta, south of Chattanooga.  (The abbot joked, when I asked him what ‘Resaca’ meant, that he was pretty sure it meant backwater in some language or another.)  I spent a the remains of last night, as it grew dark, reading Austen’s letters.  Somehow her brisk chatter with her sister, about buying muslin (what is that, exactly?) and about days spent over tea and in visiting, seemed fitting, even as cassocked monks moved quietly between the bookstore and the kitchen (prosphora was baking, filling the humid air with yeasty scent). Perhaps the reason Austen seemed fitting was because she has a way of writing, on display alike in her letters and her novels, that never uses a him or a her that is not destinate with a thou.  She (Austen) and him and her are always on their way to us.  Because of this, Austen writes even of strangers with a humorous largeness of spirit, a willingness to be pleased (to mention a notion of Samuel Johnson’s that clearly mattered to Austen:  it plays a crucial role in Persuasion), to be familiar.  Austen can see, see steadily and wholly, see what is, without succumbing to any need to stand over against who she sees.  Such seeing is a benediction, a blessing–a way of responding out of an abyss of respect:  for Austen there is always a real person behind the shifting facades, a real person to be seen even in the play of lights of social circumstance, beyond the affectation and hypocrisy, a real person to be seen, and, seen, blessed.

2 responses

  1. “She has a way of writing . . . that never uses a him or a her that is not destinate with a thou.”

    I take your intended meaning to be that Austen never writes about someone but in a way that could be addressed to that person within a dialogue. Still, I don’t understand this sentence. I looked up “destinate” in the OED (I could not find it in my Merriam-Webster), where I learned that it is an obsolete synonym of “destined” in its various senses. None of the glosses seem to me to make sense of this context.

    • I am not sure any of the glosses do make sense of this context. I am pushing the word around some. I could have used “destinate for a ‘thou'” and been closer to an established gloss, but I wanted a sense not just of something to come, but of something “already but not yet” present in Austen’s use of ‘him’ and ‘her’. The possibility of my use was suggested by a Henry Bugbee’s use of the term, although I doubt he is using it quite as I did. Although I am not too bad about neologisms, I am bad about neo-utilizations. I am bad too about (luciferous?) logolepsy.

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