I find that my dearest of the Jane Austen novels remains Persuasion. Delicate and insightful, biting and awfully funny in a restrained way startling you with unexpected drama that arises naturally out of the characters and their flaws and strengths. But thinking of the beginning I find myself considering how it fits, as so often Austen does, into a commentary most current and urgent.
Anne Elliot the daughter, the Elliot family’s man of business and the nosy neighbor sit down with the man “of means” Sir Elliot, who needs for the first time in his life to live within those means. But it’s not simply that he needs to live a reformed life that fits his assets – he needs to live well below his old style, such that he can repay the debts he has incurred. He must retrench.
This is a reflection we might take for ourselves. We need to deal with retrenching in terms of our lives and our planet. We have so far overspent we need to seriously re-budget our lifestyles and expectations – well below what we now take as expected. This may be as unwelcome a thought to us as retrenching was to Sir Elliot, but if we wish to have our next two or perhaps more generations experience reasonable comfort, we must consider and act upon this unwelcome assessment.
I live in a small city so I take the bus instead of driving. Our family tries hard to do no more than one shopping run a week, to organize our needs so we aren’t dashing off for missing components of dinner or the screws to hang my next show of paintings. We grow a part of our food, probably not enough, and make efforts to conserve on our utilities and water. Yet my profile, trimmed back though it is, still would require many earths for everyone to live as I do. As I keep reminding myself… we only have one.