Jersey Shore – A Jane Austen Review
My dear Cassandra –
It saddens me to write that the health of our dear Mother has suffered a decline due to an unfortunate encounter with the insipid Digweeds. If an excess of Idleness and Frivolity in an acquaintance were to be desired, the Misses Digweed would have been invaluable. As it is, I would rather not be sought out by young ladies whose evenings are spent at their Programmes, and whose company is devoted entirely to recounting them, to the exclusion of all Conversation.
Yesterday, the Digweeds called at Gray Street and, upon hearing our Mother remark that she had not found the climate and the waters of Bath to be as healthful as she had wished, they urged her to think of trying Jersey, and pronounced the wholesome atmosphere of its Seaside to be far superior to anything at Bath. This information does not come by way of their own experience of Jersey, but rather from another favourite Programme which, they assure us, gives a lively Representation of the particular advantages of Jersey. We declared that we were loath to remove to another location, and in their Campaign to persuade us, they insisted that we drink tea with them so that we might witness this charming Programme for ourselves.
This Programme is another of those Contrivances known as Reality Programmes. Here, eight Players were drawn from the great number of young Ladies and Gentlemen who, by way of Pleas and Stratagems, have secured their parents’ leave to pass the summer at Jersey. While their good parents are naturally uneasy at the prospect of many weeks’ Separation, they give their consent at last (supposing, perhaps, that their Children will never be easy until they have exposed themselves in some public place or other, and that no better Opportunity will ever present itself which gives so little Expense and Inconvenience to their families). The Farewells are particularly affecting, especially on the part of the young Ladies, whose tenderness extends even to their little pets, for while we saw none of these dear Creatures, the Ladies all spoke in such warm language of their Bitches – and a fondness for animals must always be the mark of an amiable heart.
The Ladies’ come to the seaside at Jersey in anticipation of meeting guignols who are juste and ton (their French is quite lacking and they speak it ill), but it is not only the prospect of Folly and Diversion that occupies them, but a wish to try Jersey for their health, for while none of them may be said to be wasted or frail, they all suffer from a common Malady which afflicts them with a chronic Fever – yet, they are such amiable Creatures that even in their Suffering, they are yet attentive to the Suffering of the others; the Ladies, in particular, while often declaring how very hot they are, will allow that the Gentlemen are hot as well – and when they do they speak of this Symptom, it is always with agreeable good humour, often making a Jest, and speaking of being very hot as it were something to be desired.
In their appearance, the Ladies are all so alike in their look and manner as to be taken for Sisters, and have been hot for so long that their Complexions have gone quite Orange. They have great mounds of Hair which they do not dress or pin up in the common Fashion, but allow it to drag about in a very untidy manner. The Gentlemen (who are also very like one another) are Orange as well, but they have taken the more Sensible course of having their hair shorn to offset the Effects of fever. They attempt to make a presentable Appearance by applying combs and pomades and glosses to what few locks remain and one of the Gentlemen, Pauly D__________ has taken to coaxing his hair straight upward in curious fashion, as this must have some cooling effect upon the Brain.
Despite the many Imperfections wrought by their common Malady, these amiable Companions have resolved not to be laid low by Infirmity, but, as far as they are able, to engage in Employment and to partake of Society. They have been engaged by a Purveyor of Shirts, which I must think is a very profitable Enterprise as the young Ladies’ frocks have got so shrunk and worn that they no longer do their office, and where the Gentlemen are often without any shirts at all, which exposes the sad effects of their Malady, for each has a Breast disfigured with lumps and indentations. Yet the Gentlemen are so uniformly good-natured that not even this Situation can oppress them – indeed, one of the Gentlemen has even taken to giving his name as The Situation, and is always ready to raise up his shirt and shew the effects of his unhappy State, and always with a remarkable good humour, which must invite a universal sympathy for his Plight.
For Diversion, these amiable people will often attend the local Assemblies, which are held almost nightly, and where the principle Occupation seems to be to be a sort of Dancing practiced in less polished Societies; they hop about with one partner or another, and sometimes all in a group with no partner at all, jumping and thrashing about and clubbing at the air with their fists (which must explain why they refer to this Activity as “clubbing”). Such exertion leaves them so overcome with Thirst that they are seldom without a glass, even when Clubbing. As the evening wears on, there is a pronounced decline in all Civility and Decorum as a result of their being in liquor and the young people will fall into Quarrels and even come to Blows with little Provocation beyond the Offense of one of them looking upon another. These Bouts are sometimes broke up by Constabulary, and the young people dispersed, much the worse for the effects of Exertion and Liquor, which has left them in such a state of Incapacity that they are left reeling and staggering and desirous of finding a Companion to support them lest they are injured in a fall. (This assistance is called “hooking up”, as it seems that fixing oneself to another who is more steady is the surest manner of avoiding injury). These amiable people are always pleased to hear that one of their Companions has hooked up, though the person who is to provide support often appears no more sober than the object, and they scarce make their way home before collapsing into the bedchambers of one another!
This confusion must be the result of the Chambers all being so like and in such a common state of disorder that it must be supposed that either the Ladies nor Gentlemen are obliged to do anything like housework at home, and they are all so cramped and cluttered that there is no place to bathe but upon the roof-top! Here, there is a great square tub and it seems that it is the custom at Jersey to keep this tub filled and for all of the young people to bathe together – such a sacrifice of modesty would be very shocking to me had I not seen some piece of it in The Bachelor Programme, but I confess that our Mother was quite taken aback by the Spectacle of young Ladies and Gentlemen wearing scarce anything at all sharing a bath-tub. I attempted to soothe her agitation by suggesting that their conduct must come from a prudent desire to save on water, and yet our Mother very reasonably wonders why they do not make use of the bathing Machines, where Ladies and Gentlemen may be kept to their separate spheres. Still, it is difficult to reproach these amiable young People, for, having been put in possession of such a great Tub, they are not so selfish to preserve it solely for their use, but whenever they strike up a new Acquaintance, will invite them to share the tub as well – and though the Ladies often express dismay at the number of Dirty Girls that the Gentlemen will bring, I cannot think that such an act of Charity is ever to one’s discredit.
However, a truth that must be universally acknowledged is that it may be too much to expect people who are amiable in themselves to always be compatible with each other, for, as the Season wears on, these young people will often fall into Rows and Disputes. These Differences often end with one party or another vowing to depart, yet they (or someone very like them) will inevitably return, and after affecting remorse and contrition, their conduct with fall back into what it had been.
Before the Programme had concluded – for we had watched as many Chapters as either of us could endure – our Mother insisted upon returning to Gray Street. As we could not find a Chair, my Mother was obliged to hook up with me, and by easy stages we made our way home, where she immediately took to her bed where it was necessary for her Laudanum to be dropped three times in the course of the evening for her to be made comfortable. At last, I had the pleasure of seeing her fall asleep, but not before she made me give a Vow never to go to the Jersey Shore, and when she next writes to you, I daresay she will extract the same promise as well.
Your devoted sister,