We live in times of great angst, and so we turn to to the past to calm ourselves within our uneasy present. Yoga. Meditation. Abstinence. Worthy pursuits, if you so insist, but hardly within the English tradition. We at The Fence wish to turn our plough over those undulating fields of dearest Albion. As such, we have employed novelist Jane Austen as our resident agony aunt. Herewith, a selection of her correspondences.
I've been seeing a guy from Tinder for six months now. On our last date last week he said he thought we might be soulmates, but I haven’t had any texts from him since. Am I being ghosted?
My dear Libby,
I must make bold to enquire of you as to further details of this spectral visitation.
You suggest that you first caught sight of the strange gentleman’s countenance beside a hearth of some kind. I venture to suppose that this was your own library’s fireside, and perhaps mistook the lineaments of some well-disposed older friend, conjured up a wild fancy from the pages of a novel, or, worst of all, surrendered yourself to the frenzy of a poetical narrative.
Half a year is too long to contemplate a creature of the ether. Do not permit it to further plague your otherwise industrious days.
Your sincere, if unacquainted correspondent, Jane Austen
I'm really worried about my housemates – they keep winding me up on our WhatsApp group. Just little digs here and there. My mum tells me I need to stand up for myself, but I don't want to alienate myself from the group. What shall I do?
I must confess that I find this an excessively trivial complaint.
What would you have these friends do? Would you have them share a critique of Sir Walter Scott? Compile a history of Buonaparte? Or perhaps to take turns in declaring passages from The Corsair?
You must endeavour, dear Amelia, to comport yourself with a consistency of amiability, and do not forget the indelicate truth: for what do we live – but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn.
Your Humble Servant, Jane Austen
I need your help! I let my boyfriend take my iPhone to the Genius store but I’ve just realised it has loads of texts from an ex I met up with by accident last weekend! What would you do?
Anonymous in Panic, SW1
I hardly think the indelicacies which you delineate would be likely to arise in my own case. If your beau – a destestable term, I own, but I employ it in a case hardly to me less repellent, seems upon his return from these thinking-machine scholars to be either unpercipient or indifferent to what has lately transpired, then he is beyond question deserving of your lifelong company.
Your servant perforce, Jane Austen
I identify as trans, but my (Q) girlfriend says I must be cis-male because I don’t get the jokes in your books. Could you explain some of them to me so I can persuasively identify as my real self?
You ask of me a profoundly delicate but astute question. For what could be more fleeting, more fragile, more vulnerable, more I may so put it, ambivalent, than the nature of a particular humourism? So apt to pass on with the unforgiving celerity of time itself; so gossamer to handle, so liable to prejudice and misconstruction.
The reader, the listener, who once declares themselves (am I not an apt pupil, dear Charli, of contemporary mores?) to have understood any witticism has invariably already lost grasp of it.
Continue then, if it pleases you, in your most refreshing aversion to the definite and the dictated. Be mindful only that if we accept any portraits of ourselves whatsoever to be a real one, we are more liable to become the object rather than the exponent of our acquaintances’ sallies.
Your intrigued friend, Jane Austen
I teach what we are still, for the present, obliged to call ‘history’ at a pioneering independent school. I wondered if you would like to make a modest beginning in atoning for the economic and sexual hierarchies you have so long bolstered, by sharing some thoughts with my pupils on the subject of decolonising the curriculum.
Looking forward to hearing from you, Polly Potterhurst
Dear Miss Potterhurst,
While I cannot claim to any such learning or capacity as you evidently command, I have addressed myself in a modest way to these subjects, especially in the study of the Bertram family, now mainly remembered for its subsequent cinematic association with the late Sir Harold Pinter. My intention was to carry off a light illustration of a family’s high opinion of its own virtue, frowing upon theatrical entertainments, while at the same time subsisting upon the traffic of human cargo.
Yet all too few of my readers have considered the relation of that work to the excellent denunciations of the slave trade thundered forth by the great Doctor Johnson. At present I can only content myself by warning that too much pride in our own conduct may still deflect us from suffering not so long ago, but rather still close at hand.
Respectfully yours, Jane Austen
I'm thinking of starting an independent magazine, focused on life in London, loaded with a cool satirical edge, yet with all the writers operating under pseudonyms, as kind of a counterblast to the whole byline-driven journalism you get in media today. What do you reckon Jane?
My own first thoughts – moulded to some small extent by Mr Murray’s businesslike counsels – proceeded upon similar lines in the earliest part of my career. But I was to learn through the progress of my slender oeuvre that modesty is a virtue too often tardily recompensed.
I remain, yours faithfully and entirely, J. Austen
So I've had some big news: I’ve got a second round of VC funding for my tech start-up. We are making moves! Now that my future’s secure, I’d like to get out of the city to make a traditional style home for my family in the English countryside. Where do you think I should be looking in terms of locations? A lot of my friends tell me that the Cotwolds are so over.
I do not claim to be well acquainted with high academical matters, so may only humbly content myself with congratulating you upon this vice-cancellarial emolument.
As to your question, were it not that you specify England I should have thought perhaps the Isles of Shetland best suited to your preferred mode of conversation.
At your service, Jane Austen
Your books are always being adapted by filmmakers. Which one’s been your favourite?
Moved as I am by my followers in cinematography, I am always especially charmed by those rare souls who endeavour to make of me no auteur but an author proper. I refer you to the absorbing volumes of Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Madam James and that gentleman whose name sadly has eluded me, but who nevertheless identified my most celebrated novel’s keen if implicit absorption in the paranormal as ‘Pride, Prejudice & Zombies’.
I have much enjoyed this line of discussion and would happily prolong it at your leisure, were it not for my own dearth of the same.
Affectionately yours, Jane
Illustration by Olga Prader