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Winter 2023 Birthday Toast

Jane Austen Birthday Toast – December 2, 2023

Carl E Johnson  

A few months ago, I was watching a movie made in 1957 called Peyton Place.   The movie is based on the best-selling novel of the same title by author Grace Metalious.  The film and the novel tell the story of life in a small New England town and of the scandalous goings on behind its placid façade.  Both the novel and the film were somewhat controversial when they were released.  The film is over-the-top, hard to believe in places, and somewhat trashy.  But it’s very well-done trash.  So well done, in fact, that it was nominated for 9 academy awards, including best picture and best actress for the film’s star Lana Turner. 

Despite the film’s lurid content, there is a touching scene in the early part of it that made me think of Jane Austen.  The graduating senior class of Peyton Place High School give their teacher the gift of a dictionary.  They tell their teacher that they did not have the words to express how much she has meant to them.  And so, they gave her a dictionary that has all those words in it.   

As I watched the scene, I asked myself, “Is there such a thing as a Jane Austen dictionary?”  I Googled my question and discovered that there is such a thing as a Jane Austen Dictionary!  I purchased it and quickly read through its pages.  The dictionary contains 158 words from Austen’s 6 completed novels. A definition is given for each word and there are quote(s) from the novels where the words are used.     

I conducted some limited research to find out what other authors have their own dictionary.  Shakespeare has a dictionary.  There is a book called a Charles Dickens dictionary, but it is more a listing of the characters and plots in his novels, not a standard dictionary.  Beyond that, I could not find any other authors who have their own dictionary.

What makes Jane Austen so special that she would be in company with William Shakespeare in having her own dictionary?  There are two possible reasons.  First, we Janeites are a special group of people.  Who else but one of us would think of creating a Jane Austen dictionary?  We are committed to making sure that she retains her place in history as one of the world’s great writers.   Second, Austen’s extraordinary use of the English language is the other reason why this dictionary exists.       

I reviewed the 158 words in the dictionary.  I selected 13 of them as my very favorites and, because I’m superstitious, added one of my favorite Austen words that is not in the dictionary.  I then used these 14 words to write a paragraph to get us to the place in this toast where we lift our glasses to Jane Austen.     

Here are the words I chose. 

  • Contrariety
  • Prodigious
  • Beneficence
  • Amiable
  • Approbation
  • Dilatory
  • Ductility
  • Alacrity
  • Assiduousness
  • Panegyric
  • Expeditious
  •  Ebullition
  • Unexampled
  •  Ardent

I will use these favorite words to write the toast paragraph in the order in which they are written.  In case you are wondering, the very last word in this list, “ardent,” is one of my favorite Austen words that is not in the dictionary.  Here goes. 

I experience a contrariety of emotions as I set myself to the prodigious task of delivering a toast to one of the world’s great authors.  Be that as it may, I take some comfort in the beneficence of this occasion, your amiability, and my belief that my remarks, however hackneyed they may be, will nevertheless receive the approbation of this gathering of Janeites. 

But alas!  I am a dilatory fellow with a ductile temperament who is loath to tackle such a task as this with the alacrity and assiduousness that it deserves.  Nevertheless, I will throw myself into a panegyric on the many virtues of Ms. Austen and do so in as expeditious a manner as possible.  This ebullition of thoughts and emotions that springs forth from me now has emboldened me to request that everyone now, please lift your glass, and toast this unexampled writer to express how ardently we all admire and love her.

Happy birthday, Jane!