Sometimes I go off the internet for a reason. Not that long ago, I gave it up for a week, just to see what happened. It turned out that I read a lot of books. This week, I just went away, for no special reason. There is quite a lot going on in my life, some of it quite tiring and complicated. The internet, which I adore and tend to see the best in, suddenly felt like a vast, shouty cocktail party, where many people were talking about subjects which did not mean anything to me. I no longer wanted to get into long discussions about rugging decisions which were raging on the some of the horse forums I follow, or look at a video of someone doing something amusing with a dog, or even read interesting articles from the Washington Post. I thought I’d let the gaudy carnival go on without me for a while. People really did not need my opinion on every single thing, or endless pictures of my red mare, or reports on the dour old Scottish weather.
It turned out that I read a lot of books.
I’ve nearly finished Middlemarch. I stopped reading it for a bit, because I can’t bear it to come to an end, so I’m saving up the last part like a child saves sweets. I’ve returned to another 19th century Beloved, Jane Austen. I really did think I knew Jane Austen by heart, but it’s probably fifteen years since I last read Sense and Sensibility and even long since I sat down with Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion. I think they are stitched into my heart, because I’ve read all of them more than once and because of all the films and television series, but there is so much that is forgotten.
Austen’s unbelievably naughty and piercing sense of humour still comes as a shock. She can thrust her gentle rapier right through the ribs, piercing pomposity and self-importance and indulgence. Silliness is perhaps the thing that drives her most demented, and she distributes silliness freely among her characters, men and women both, and then shatters it, almost as if she is shooting clay pigeons. It seems odd, across the long centuries and the shifting social mores and the cultural changes, that she can still make me laugh out loud. She surprises me into startled shouts of laughter, and I shake my head in awe and wonder. I love her.
I’ve also been looking at the grass and the trees and the hills. Even under a low cloud, they are still ravishing and real. The Younger Brother and I went for a walk in the rain last night. It was fine, soft rain, and we did not mind getting wet.
The online cocktail party swings on without me, and I am glad it is there. It’s considered rather clever to sneer at online life and the people who enjoy it – oh, the grumpy trolls and the keyboard warriors and the anonymous ranters – but I think that most of the time the internet uses its power for good rather than evil. Everybody, after all, needs a baby panda from time to time, or even an amusing dog.