Three inches from Jane Austen’s writing table and I’ve got to be the one to touch it despite the fact that there’s a tour guide with her arms crossed standing three inches from it on the other side advising in very specific terms against this. She turns her back. My finger extends. It’s a small table, as big a round as a child’s arms in an embrace. It’s scratched in places but polished to a gleam. Poised on top – an ink well and a quill. Gah! To have to write like that, scrunched up to a tiny table with an implement that can only eek out a few words at a time in the light pushing through Coke-bottle windows like mud in a sieve. That’s what I’m thinking while I impress my fingerprint on the very edge of the table, hoping briefly for some transference of … is it creative genius? I’m not sure what to call Jane Austen or my fascination with her. She wrote basically the same story over and over, her characters exhibiting flashes of high-spiritedness only to settle into the status quo and a proper marriage. I asked a room full of young female students once how many of them would prefer to be Austen. Nearly all of them raised their hands. “Really?” I asked with snarling surprise. “You don’t want any rights? Or the opportunity to see your ambitions realized regardless of your gender? Or to hope for something in life besides a husband?” They just shrugged. I suppose there’s just something more alluring to Austen, her writing, and even her era. And three inches away, suddenly the mere fact that Austen wrote in a time in which women weren’t exactly welcome to is rebellion enough for me to stand in her drawing room in Chawton and angle to touch her writing table when no one else is looking. With a suspicious sniff the tour guide glances back over her shoulder just as my finger retreats with stealth-like speed and I become very, very engrossed with all the little buttons down my raincoat.

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