Musings + Essays

She Would Say What She Thought.

By: Jen Shoop

Did you read The Other Bennett Sister? This is one of the four books that eased me out of my reading rut earlier this fall. The novel imagines the untold story of Mary, sister of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, and, for obvious reasons, is a delicious escape for those of us who consider ourselves Austenites. The book has its flaws — I found the beginning terribly slow and the self-denigration of the protagonist heavy-handed to the point of irritating. I also found the novel’s initial asynchrony with contemporary mores startling. This is a book that attempts to fully occupy the mind of a Regency Era woman, with prudeness and temerity in spades, and not the faintest glimmer of modernity until perhaps the final fourth of the book, when we are led to believe that Mary suddenly discovers her sense of self, sexuality, etc. On the one hand, the arc is not atypical from a bildungsroman perspective, but it felt as though — overnight, while traveling to Scafell — Mary begins to flex muscles I did not even believe capable within the construct of the novel. That turbulence aside —

This book is a delight to be enjoyed hearthside this holiday week, should you find yourself with time on your hands. And there are lovely stretches of self-awareness that ring deeply true. Frankly, I needed to hear this passage, when a suitor asks Mary’s opinion on a subject in front of the bullying Miss Bingley:

“Mary considered. Whatever comment she made would provoke a sneer from Miss Bingley. She supposed she could say nothing at all, or confine herself to the blandest possible observations, hoping not to excite that lady’s contempt; but to her surprise, she felt herself disinclined to be cowed. She would say what she thought, and Miss Bingley could make of it what she liked.”

Last year, I began to accept the fact that I cannot control how other people react to situations. The notion unlocked something for me. While I continue to be (I hope!) a fairly deliberate person, considering how my behavior or comments might be perceived or might impact those around me, it has been freeing to realize that my efforts to accommodate others can only go so far. At the end of the day, I must let people be themselves. And I must also let myself be me. I do not want to play a dilute version of myself, dull as dishwater on account of agreeableness. This means accepting that my perspectives and objectives will not always dovetail with those of others.

My father recently forwarded me an email from an elegant friend of his who disagreed with him on a matter of military history (I guess this is the stuff of epistolarity between two highly educated men?) and, at the end of his polite rebuttal, added: “One aspect of civilized people is that we can agree to disagree.”

On the heels of that note, a friend of mine wrote me a very thoughtful analysis of Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You? in which he noted:

“There are numerous examples I could cite that are quite simply beautiful. But there are two images in particular that are burned into my memory. They are the image of loneliness as symbolized by “the single fork and plate on the draining board” after Simon has finished a meal alone in his apartment, versus the image of hope, companionship, and promise symbolized by the “two empty bowls [that] had been left in the sink, two spoons, an empty water glass with a faint print of clear lip balm on the rim” after he and Eileen have made love and subsequently enjoyed a bowl of ice cream. Is there a more poignant image of the young Millennial professional, who lives his/her life in quiet loneliness, than the “single fork and plate” left after a meal? The juxtaposition of a single utensil versus utensils in twos is both affecting and effective. I could also write a very, very long email–one that would put you to sleep!–about how beautifully she demonstrates the need for patience and humility when communicating with one another.”

There is I believe an important thread here, one that strings together primum non nocere (“do no harm”) on the one end and carpe diem (“seize the day”) on the other. I am chastened to remember, as my friend put it, “patience and humility when communicating with others” and emboldened to recall that, as my father’s friend put it, “one aspect of civilized people is that we can agree to disagree.” Now to find the right balance…


+On people pleasing.

+On being on my own side.

+On saying “the thing.”

+On selfhood.

+On epistolarity in female novels.

+ICYMI, I absolutely love Rooney. I am now realizing I am overdue for a review of her most recent novel but frankly my friend’s notes above far exceed my own analysis!

Shopping Break.

+On the recommendation of a new friend, I’m going to read Donna Tartt’s Secret History next. I know people love this author but have never read her work.

+I can’t stop thinking about two dresses: this Ulla and this HVN. Spectacular!!! The latter has been sitting in my cart since I first laid eyes on it last week and I keep thinking I need it for Christmas Eve? Even though I had a different outfit picked out? (I already ordered this plaid La Ligne, which is now sold out in the navy plaid, but OMG THE FIT OF THIS DRESS IS SO SO GOOD. I will for sure wear it somewhere else this season. We have a holiday brunch, a holiday tea, a holiday cocktail party already on the books so I’ll slot it in somewhere! Anyhow, frankly I would buy it in the black or gray plaid if you can find it in your size. The fit is so flattering and dramatic. Sometimes you can just tell the quality of the clothes by the fit and this feels like something tailored to my body!)

+If you like the La Ligne dress but not the price, check out this J. Crew.

+If it’s sequins we’re after: this Ann Taylor dress is drop-dead gorgeous (!!! and 30% off ATM) and I also think I need to have this $30 top.

+Obsessed (!!!) with this belted “coatigan.” I love it in the blue color but black is also versatile and why do I also think I need the red?

+I know many of you are Dudley Stephens lovers and just discovered that their entire site is 25% off with code GIVECOZY. I ordered one of their Park Slope fleeces over the summer when I found it on sale at Tuckernuck and I have to be honest: I like mine but don’t fully understand the hype? Like, it is a nice weight and very warm but I would not put above any of my other fleece/sweatshirt-type pieces? I think it’s possibly that it feels a bit more structured/elevated than your run-of-the-mill athleisure top and I get that appeal. But — just my two cents. I would not say it’s intrinsically superior to other items I own in that category, but I have reached for it, especially cold weekend mornings when walking Tilly. I like that it can layer beneath a puffer when really cold without being really bulky.

+This cardigan has been a best-seller all season and is now on sale!

+Just ordered one of these “heat tech” turtlenecks for layering — just a brilliant idea! Thin enough to layer under a nap dress but insulated!

+This blazer is haunting me, too. With black velvet trousers?! Or my black watch tartan high-waist trousers?! (Mine are sold out — past-season Ralph Lauren — but you can get a similar vibe with these or — not sure of quality but the cut looks chic — these. YOWZA.

+And speaking of tartan pants, Talbots generously sent me a pair of their Soho leggings in tartan and I can’t wait to pair them with my metallic Chanel captoes and a cape situation. (More tunics/capes/ponchos in this post.)

+I keep some “emergency” activities in my gift closet for slow weekends — just bought this “shrink art” kit, this felt ornament kit, and these holiday-themed puffy stickers to keep my little ones busy.

+These mini bottle brush trees would also be a fun sensory play add-on, especially with some of these arctic animals. More sensory play ideas here and more indoor activities for toddlers here.

+LOVE this necklace as a layering piece. More heart necklaces here, including this $35 statement necklace I’ve been layering with a lot of my ivory sweaters/blouses this winter. Currently 20% off with code BLACKFRIDAY20.

+I love this plaid throw blanket. It makes me want to curl up and read or do some Black Friday damage from my phone in front of a fireplace.

+This knit mini is so cute.

+This quilted floral puffer for a little one is so well-priced and so chic! More winter outerwear for toddlers here.

+How darling are these tin holiday mugs for children? Perfect for hot cocoa (and unbreakable!)

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13 thoughts on “She Would Say What She Thought.

  1. I don’t have a DS turtleneck but I have several from Uniqlo that are similar and also made of fleece but a more normal neckline that I love and wear often. They don’t look like athleisure which is nice. They look more like a regular top especially in the dark colors. Highly recommend.

  2. Oh, I cannot WAIT to hear your thoughts about The Secret History. I read it back in 2014ish (so, definitely due for a re-read, perhaps I’ll suggest it for my book club’s next pick!), and remember how deeply it struck a chord in me, as a student of Latin/the classics, with exposure to a menagerie of secretive, private school experiences. I remember recommending it to a senior colleague at the time – the sweetest, most brilliant, former humanities professor and being so delighted when he rushed into the office to discuss it on the day he finished the novel. Enjoy!!

  3. Oh my gosh, The Secret History is maybe my favorite novel of all time and probably the book I’ve written about most). I got halfway through and had NO idea where the next half would go, which is a rare thing! I also love it as we have a house nextdoor to Bennington, and it’s interesting to see the milieu through very different (haunted, elegiac) eyes. There’s a wonderful oral history of Bennington College on Vanity Fair (Tartt, Brett Easton Ellis, and Jonathan Lethem were classmates!). Anyways! Excited to read your thoughts on it!

  4. may i suggest listening to “the secret history” on audilble? donna tartt narrates the novel herself, and her mississippi drawl is delicious. i’ve both read and listened. while i’m partial to the written word, turning pages {feeling ladylike}, and wearing out the back of my 20+ year bookbinding; i still choose ms. tartt’s rendering as the best way to devour this beguiling classic.

    1. Ooo wow! I had no idea! Thank you for the rec — I do love an audiobook. I already rented the Kindle version but maybe I’ll switch over or listen after. I really love a good audiobook where the narration lends something to the text. xx

  5. Working in a nonprofit, and specifically a membership-based organization, I often remind myself “you can’t please everyone every time.” I was also reminded earlier this year that I can’t control others’ reactions, and it’s always good to see another reminder. As long as I conduct myself in a way of which I can be proud and true to myself, that needs to be enough. Another tangential reminder–one that I am reminded of every day, is my high school’s motto, “Truth Without Fear.” Not just telling the truth, and being honest, but I’m also reminded that I need to be true to myself in all aspects.

    Thank you as always for making me think this morning!

    1. Hi Sarah – Thanks for sharing these thoughts, and especially the note about “conducting myself in a way of which I can be proud and true to myself.” I think that’s the key — it has to be conduct that is gracious but also true-to-self. It can be easy to totter towards one extreme at the expense of the other. Thank you for chiming in!


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