Literary Summer Camp

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is, quite frequently, on my mind. So, when I saw this “diary” in the Paris Review—a diary of Ted Scheinman’s time at “Jane Austen camp” (aka the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Jane Austen Summer Program—it sounded, well, pretty awesome.

After all, who wouldn’t want to go to lectures, drink tea, and attend the Meryton Assembly all in one fell swoop?

I certainly would.

The whole thing also got me thinking about other possible “camps” surrounding the work of other classic authors.

Dickens Camp: Everyone begins their time at camp in debtors’ prison, where they’re made to do hard labor in order to pay back their camp fees. If you’re lucky, a newly wealthy (former) convict will thrust you out of poverty and into a more respectable “sphere.” Moldy wedding cake is served each night.

Edith Wharton Camp: They say that the heart of fools resides in the house of mirth, but at this camp, parties abound and there’s an enviable amount of time spent at the opera. The downside? The camp rules are restrictive to the point of despair. Not for the faint at heart or determined nonconformists.

Tolkien Camp: All campers are divided up in groups of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits—the last of which is clearly preferable due the leisurely lifestyle and plentiful grub. Beware of anyone offering to play at riddles, and know that the theory of “finders, keepers”—especially when it comes to jewelry—is a dangerous one here.

E.M. Forster Camp: Country house or journey to Italy? Bohemian or aristocrat? The choices for campers are endless, but if any of the counselors offers you a tour of a cave—or indeed a delightful trip to India—do yourself a favor and politely decline.

Okay, so maybe these don’t sound incredibly appealing. But I’d still like to go to Jane Austen summer camp. Maybe—just maybe—my family will send me next year.

And now, inquiring minds want to know: what literary camps (classic, contemporary, or anything in between) would you love—or loathe—to be a part of?

Scent of a Story

I don’t ever wear perfume—it always feels heavy and strange to me—but I just discovered I Hate Perfume, the website of perfume designer Christopher Brosius, and now I am captivated.  He quotes Longfellow in his bio, he apparently used drive a cab, he’s happy to make you a personalized scent. Frankly, he had me at Longfellow, but it only gets better from there.

One of his perfumes is called A Room with View, which includes in it, among other things “a torrent of violets.” If you read on, you discover that the inspiration for the perfume is drawn from “one of my favorite E.M. Forster novels.” I love this man first for having more than one favorite E.M. Forster novel, and more still because the favorite named isn’t A Passage to India.

Brosius tries to capture in a perfume the scent of a Memory of Kindness from his childhood. Of a night in Winter 1972.

How do you capture the spirit of a winter night forty years ago in a perfume? How do you bottle “A field of untouched new fallen snow, hand knit woolen mittens covered with frost, a hint of frozen forest & sleeping earth?” I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to capture something like scent not in a bottle but on the page. How do you give a reader an experience that truly engages the senses using only words? For me, it doesn’t come all that easy, but I’m working on it. I admit that I’m much better on the visual and tactile than I am on things like smells and tastes—though I fear that this has as much to do with my lackluster sense of smell than anything else.

As with everything writing-related, it’s a work in progress. But I might order myself some Black March perfume (“A fresh clean scent composed of Rain Drops, Leaf Buds, Wet Twigs, Tree Sap, Bark, Mossy Earth and the faintest hint of Spring”)—inspired by the Stevie Smith poem by the same name—to get the creative juices flowing.