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Roots, Shoots, and Blooms: an Austen Herbal

May 01, 2021 01:10AM
The story of Rapunzel as told by Jane Austen's characters and a helping touch of botanical lore.



Wormwood Tastes of Woe and Spite (Emma)

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"How can you dare," said the enchantress, "descend into my garden and steal my rampion? You must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world; it shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother."

Captain Weston was a thief, pure and simple. Nothing would ever convince Mr. Churchill or his wife otherwise; for why would a sweet girl like their sister ever throw herself away on such a man, except by trickery?

"He has as good as killed her too, the way she is wasting away," Mrs. Churchill muttered with bitter loathing, but her husband did not go that far. He could not like his sister's husband, but it was an honest aversion. He would only hate the man for crimes committed, not suspected.

It was agreed even before Mrs. Weston's death that her baby should not remain with his father, although the Churchills waited until the actual event to inform the man of their plans. In their minds it was only just, even charitable; where Miss Churchill's life had been cut short, they would plant the seed of a better one for her only child.



'Ware Mistletoe, a Parasite (Lady Susan)

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When Rapunzel was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her into a tower which had neither stairs nor door; when the enchantress wanted to go in, she cried: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair to me."

"It is a very fine school, Frederica, with masters on all subjects becoming a young lady. You will make many a fine connection there."

Her mother might as well have said, "It is a very good prison, with jailers tutored in all the latest tortures, and many other nobles entombed with you." To lose her father after years of his patient, kind instruction was difficult enough. But to be banished from anyone she knew or cared for was a circumstance so terrifying Frederica almost wished her mother would scold her again for refusing to marry. She was used to maternal censure; tenderness was a singular, and thus far troubling, experience.

"But what if I should need you?" she asked, fingering her long girlish braids, as always put to shame by the other's savoir faire: like a gangly vine clinging to the lush Lady Susan.

Her mother shrugged, already directing the maids to pack their trunks. "You know your uncle's address I hope: a letter will be sure to reach me there. He is certainly rich enough to frank them."



Carnal Suit is by Carnations Sign'd (Pride and Prejudice)

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The king’s son wanted to climb up to her, but no door of the tower was to be found. The singing had so deeply touched his heart that every day he went out into the forest and listened to it.

"Is your horse lame?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked one afternoon over the billiard table.

"No. Why?" Three balls sunk at once into the pocket, like petals plucked and tossed with ease.

"It seems you are always out walking now; I had thought such a separation must be forced upon you." He eyed the shot his cousin was sighting. "Are you sure you can make that one?"

A quick flash of the other man's cue answered. "It is all a matter of geometry, and proximity: one need only calculate the best route to success. And I may have found better company."

"Different company, I grant, but none better than we entertained at Easter; certainly not as musically satisfying. Though as it can not suit a lady like Miss Bennet to remain locked away in that parsonage, I fear the pleasure of her company at Rosings will not be a perennial one."

The eight ball landed with a flourish, and Darcy contemplated the foregone conclusion of his victory. "Perhaps." It was impossible to say if his tone spoke agreement or no.



For Hurts and Pangs a Peony Find (Persuasion)

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"Ah! you wicked child," cried the enchantress. In her anger she clutched Rapunzel’s beautiful tresses, seized a pair of scissors, and snip, snap, they were cut off.

Screams followed Louisa into the void. Yet she awoke to an overloud quiet, a vague condemnation settling over her as the memory of recent events rose like a tide. Her distress grew upon hearing Mary's shrieks, Charles's exclamations, and assorted sharp mutters all about her. She felt a little girl again, caught messing her mother's garden, not a brave lady at all. But she could not even mourn disappointing Captain Wentworth; she could only focus on finding relief from her painful misery.

Mrs. Harville was a comfort, even if she lacked the florid tenderness Louisa craved from her own family: her's was a bracing brine meant to scour any wound. "Don't fret, Miss Louisa, it was only a bit of hair lost, and much gained by the surgeon's knife. Why, I once had my whole head shaved from ship's lice, me and the purser's wife, though we bore it better than some sailors who lost their queues."

Louisa smiled but could not laugh. She was not yet fond of considering any suffering but her own.



Stings be Borne in Wretch's Rue (Sense and Sensibility)

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The king’s son was beside himself with pain, and in his despair he leapt down from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell pierced his eyes.

A certain poetic justice had sprung up in the life of Edwards Ferrars: a mordant harvest both sown and reaped. He fell into an engagement as much to thwart his mother's ambition as adolescent infatuation. Now that lady's rebellion against his plans distressed his avowed bride as much as Ferrars himself. At least this guilt was leavened with some hope of redemption by clerical study and employment.

But his moral courage faltered during his interview with Miss Dashwood. At first he was ashamed to see her at all. Then he was shamed again by her kindness. But worst of all was discovering the germ of his salvation: the care and condescension of a richer, wiser, altogether better man, "a friend of mine."

Ferrars murmured his gratitude as they parted, and barely kept himself from leaping down the stairs to flee the house. His fate no longer felt poetic or even just, but darkly tragic. Like Oedipus, he longed to shield his eyes from the truth but could not. He must take this budding chance, for Lucy's sake, and so would be required to not only watch but perhaps participate in the binding of Elinor to another.



Love with Roses is Proved True (Northanger Abbey)

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When he approached, two of her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again. He led her to his kingdom and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.

There were many spectacular ways a novel might draw to close, and in the thorny months spent waiting for her wedding Catherine Morland considered them all. She was not alone in this endeavour, for Henry Tilney was as happy to speculate on the perfect ending of a story, especially to one who did him the courtesy of actually reading every word he wrote and responding point for point to every line.

The scene of their eventual reunion was utterly unremarkable: no frights or screams, only a few tears of joy on the lady's side and a wide smile from the gentleman, all under the approving eyes of her parents. It remained for a brief tête-à-tête in the frosty air outside to paint their cheeks a more fitting colour.

A miracle unfolded all the same, more verdant than the blossoms nurtured in Mrs. Allen's hot-house; for their feelings had flowered and matured in opposition to the season. As Henry explained later, "Any previous suppositions of their present happiness had been mere weeds in comparison." Each delighted in their mutual cheerful society rather than be forced, by pages of prose, to imagine it.
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Roots, Shoots, and Blooms: an Austen Herbal

MichelleRWMay 01, 2021 01:10AM

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Lucy J.May 15, 2021 05:49PM

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MichelleRWMay 17, 2021 03:26AM

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Shannon KMay 04, 2021 04:29AM

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MichelleRWMay 08, 2021 02:08PM

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