Jane Austen Haunts Montauk

Written By: Nanci  LaGarenne

I have a bit of an obsession with Jane Austen. More of a love/ hate relationship really. We have nothing in common, except we both loved to read and write and that in one sentence is a bit presumptuous on my part. I live in a fishing and farming community at the end of an island, called East Hampton. Jane lived in a quaint village called Hampshire in England. We both love romance, and marriage fascinates us. Jane never took the plunge, jumped the broom, got hand fasted, or smashed a glass under a chuppa. I have been married for more years than half my age. Jane would have married for practical reasons; I married for love. Jane did not engage in premarital shenanigans. I grew up in the 70’s and my Summer of Love happened in Montauk. Jane attended properly chaperoned dances in 1893 while I tried to recreate Woodstock, a century later. I read all Jane’s books and the thing that bothers me is the simplicity of her happy endings. A big clue she never married, right there. I want to know what happened after the weddings. What became of the Darcys, Willoghbys and Bransons?

This came to me when a friend visiting from England brought me a book called “What Would Jane Do?” We had a good chuckle, as this friend knows me too well. It got me thinking. What if Jane herself had come over with my friend? A Jane haunting. And that’s what started our conversation over coffee on my porch in Freetown and later at dinner at The 1770 House in East Hampton, after a stroll around Town Pond to see the swans. A very Jane thing to do, we thought. As we shared a profiterole dessert, Baroque music playing in the background, my friend asked how things were out in Montauk. “We’ll go there tomorrow and you can see for yourself what’s changed and what remains. The Shagwong has been sold but the Mudslides at Liars are still decadent.” My friend smiled. I know my audience, and my friends. “Jane will love the moors out there,” she said. I laughed. We had already decided Jane would be with us wherever we roamed.

My friend was jet lagged so we turned in early, but I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of Jane in Montauk kept popping into my head. Things she would have

done there in her time and fashion. Gone to the ocean, properly attired of course, no tight buns exposed in a thong at Ditch for her. She could walk along the shore at Culloden, play a round of golf at The Downs, all the while thinking what a curious game, but then isn’t Cricket? At night there would be a show at The Montauk Playhouse, maybe a bit of dancing to follow. Jane would be chaperoned, of course. She might stop in at The Lake Club and enjoy a spot of tea or a Sherry in a cozy room with a view of Lake Montauk and Long Island Sound.

The next day we found ourselves at our former stomping ground, Sunrise, now called The Sloppy Tuna. Jane did not understand. Maybe The Sail Inn would have been less shocking, quieter for sure. A nice Montauk Mary, a Bloody with a shrimp perched on the edge. A game of billiards perhaps. Later a walk on the moors, taking in the now for sale Any Warhol estate. “It’s not Permberly,” my friend said. “But it’s prime real estate, just the same,” I said. I would spare Jane the price tag. I didn’t know if a person could die twice. I remarked how it would be a lovely spot for a wedding. We all three agreed that to be a smashing idea.

In Jane’s day, they did not live on love alone. Mr. Darcy had an estate, Pemberly. But was Elizabeth Bennett Darcy happy? Was Fitzwilliam a generous lover? Did it last, the romance? Would he take that blue pill had it been invented? What of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood and their husbands? Marianne with her feeling of “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every way coincide with my own.” How did that work out? Was Marianne eventually enamored with starchy Colonel Brandon’s attention and true love instead of being formerly bewitched by the hot cad Willoughby? And did Elinor and Edward make passionate love as long as they were together on earth?

Some of us are not sticklers for a happy ending. We never bought the fairytales and ee had our hearts broken more than twice. As my friend and I eat our Buddaberry on a perfect Montauk afternoon with our feet dug into the sand on Gin Beach midweek, we wonder what’s all the rush and hype is to do this marital thing? It used to be land and property and status and procreation. Didn’t the princesses in our childhood stories all find a handsome and wealthy prince? No fairytale princess winds up alone. No woman wants to be a spinster. Even though the origin of spinster meant someone who supported herself by spinning. And I am not talking about Soul Cycle. There’s no show called The Spinster, you’ll notice. Bachelors though, are historically cool. They get neat pads. Groovy lamps and bars in their living rooms. And reality shows. Single women of a certain age are looked down upon as high maintenance or weird. Hoarders. Cat collectors.

Today marriage appears to be is strictly for love. Marriage is in. Now let’s throw one epic party. A fabulous destination could involve water, horses, ponds with Zen plantings and lotus blossoms, or vintage furniture and chamber music in a library. Before everyone changes into wetsuits, gets shuttled to the ocean and free dives with sharks. The bride may sport red cowboy boots. The groom could be wearing a duster over his Doc Holiday suit. Riding the range could be a destination wedding. Jackson Hole might be just what the couple ordered. A Choose Your own Adventure Wedding. Love on the Range.

Maybe a My Little Pony hen party. Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy and the gang get wild over Apple martinis and let their manes down before the big day. Pass the chocolate cake shots. Cue the fireman strippers. Now I see why marriage is in. Maybe we should have the parties without the actual vows. Now that a little sounds cynical, right? I’m sorry, we long marrieds and bitter divorces’ have some nerve ruining the fairytale. It’s just that we took off the rose colored glasses because they gave us pink eye. Right around the time we noticed the laundry was more tidy whiteys and sweat pants than Levis and chambray shirts, we felt a pang of disillusionment. Our personal space bubble had burst awhile ago and we were now on opposite sides of the couch or room or country or world, at times. How did this happen? Marriage is romantic. Like a permanent sleepover. Scrambling organic eggs in sexy jammies on Sunday morning, all tousled hair and sweet kisses over the coffeepot. Oh no, that’s a movie you’re watching because Honeypie is out doing a half-marathon for some cause. Or Sugarlips decided working Sundays is okay, even though it used to be your sacred day of not answering phones and staying in bed listening to the rain and making love more than once. Crap, that’s the movie again. It’s hard to know where life begins and fantasy ends. Why does it end?

Maybe boredom? We were not meant to mate for life, some anthropologists say. Could be. Over a pot of simmering lobsters at a dinner party in Montauk, I overheard a kitchen conversation. “I could rock your world, you have no idea how good I am,” a married person said to the married cook, not their partner, in front of the lobsters, which turned red, probably from the hot water, but I’m not sure. “ You like claws?” smiled the cook, nonplussed. Jane would be appalled. I really couldn’t blame her.