Embrace Your Inner Nerd

I probably confuse people with the wide range of my interests. Sports. Cooking. The best TV series ever: Alias. History. Languages. And reading just about any genre that is available to read. My not-so-little secret: I love reading books by Jane Austen and watching the movie adaptations including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility (among others). Elizabeth, Emma and Eleanor are strong, independent female protagonists who eventually get the guy.

Several years ago I found out about the Jane Austen Festival that takes place each year in my city. Attendees are encouraged to dress in period attire. Until a friend, who also uses a chair, dressed up in Regency attire, I had been intimidated to dress up. But if she could do it, I could do it.

Two problems existed: 1) I needed some positive peer pressure to follow through on this plan, and 2) Getting on a full-length dress as a quad is difficult.

Problem #1 was solved when I saw a friend post on Facebook that she was sewing her dress for the upcoming event. I contacted her and we decided to meet there.

Problem #2: My mom is an excellent seamstress, so I began researching Regency gowns. The back of the gowns are so beautiful, but with me being seated, I felt I could go with a simple pattern. I needed the dress to be easy to get on and off and I found a pattern that uses elastic instead of string or buttons. Although not historically accurate, this was perfect for me. My mom did a beautiful job sewing the dress. For this year’s festival I added a straw bonnet to complete “the look.”

Finally, with my sense of humor in tow, I researched the history of wheelchairs and, lo and behold, I learned about the Bath wheelchair (Bath, England, was the home of Austen for a bit, as well as a place of interest in several of her books). I placed a sign on the back of my chair. It stated:

Use your imagination...I am in my "Bath chair," developed in Bath, England, in 1783 by John Dawson. The Bath wheelchair outsold all other wheelchairs throughout the early part of the 19th century.

I am officially a Janeite.

After seeing my pictures on Facebook, a friend commented, “You were born in the wrong century.”

Sadly, I disagree. You see, I wouldn’t have lived more than a few months – at best – after my injury in the 19th century. Until the early 20th century, spinal cord injuries were considered a fatal injury (Silver,2005). The British naval hero Lord Nelson, Austen’s contemporary, was injured at the Battle of Trafalgar when a bullet entered his spinal cord. The account of Lord Nelson is told here:

He was immediately taken below, and the ship's surgeon was summoned. Lord Nelson told the surgeon… “All power of motion and feeling below my chest are gone.” Mr. Beatty duly examined his patient, confirmed his SCI and then, no doubt with head bowed, said “My Lord, unhappily for our country, nothing can be done for you.” (Donovan, 2007)

Fortunately, I was born in the 20th century in the Western world and have access to modern medicine. Alas, my Mr. Knightley or Mr. Darcy has yet to arrive, but I think Jane would be proud of my tongue-in-cheek approach to “historical accuracy.”


To keep you informed of new stories from Jenny, please click on the link below to 'Join Our Community'. All we need is your name and email.

Donovan, William H. “Spinal Cord Injury: Past, Present and Future.” Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine. 30. 2. (2007): 85-100. PMC. Web. 19 July 2016.

Silver, J.R. “History of the treatment of spinal injuries.” Postgrad Med Journal. 81. (2005): 108-114. BMJ. Web. 19, July 2016.