Shed the mask, get a cold

Illinois lifted its mask mandate on February 28. On March 9 I came down with a cold.

Guess I’m being punished for support of lifting the mandate — although masks were intended as protection against COVID-19, not a cold. (A COVID test was negative.)

Although scientists have not come to a consensus about masks’ effectiveness against respiratory infections, there have been anecdotal reports of fewer colds and flu infections during the pandemic. Residents of Asian countries aren’t in doubt; they have worn masks as protection against illness for decades. 

I remember my late friend Leanne saying in 2020 that she intended to continue masking after COVID. Unlike Leanne, the pandemic didn’t make me want to permanently mask, but it did change my behavior during a cold. I haven’t been out except for a walk in the sunshine Sunday afternoon. A theater ushering gig, a dinner invitation, and church attendance were canceled.

In the past I usually didn’t disrupt my plans for “just a cold.” I’m now aware of how inconsiderate it is to spread germs around — especially when others might fear that the germs are a deadly disease. 



If you stop reading as soon as you see “Jane Austen,” know that I intend (but not guarantee) this to be my last discussion of Jane Austen.

There comes a time in the life of an Austen fanatic when she seeks out other writers because she has nearly memorized Austen’s novels from repeated reading.

Having recently finished my umpteenth dive into Austen’s six completed novels, I’ve been looking for other comedies of manners. To compile a reading list, I went back to posts I published a few years ago about authors considered Austen read-alikes by various critics. 

Mentioned were Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Brookner, Angela Thirkell, E. F. Benson, Georgette Heyer, Miss Read, Anthony Trollope, Marjorie Oliphant, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Here are more so-called Austen heirs. I’m mentioning their books that I’ve already read to explain their resemblance to Austen. I’ll be checking out other titles of theirs. 

In E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, a young woman brought up in staid Edwardian England learns to trust her own heart over propriety (just as Anne Elliot, in Austen’s Persuasion, “had been forced into prudence in her youth” and “learned romance as she grew older”). 

Nancy Mitford was the oldest of six sisters in an aristocratic English family whose romantic exploits between the world wars were notorious. In her semi-autobiographical The Pursuit of Love, the eccentric Mitford clan becomes the Radlett family. Linda Radlett’s marriages and love affairs are described with tongue in cheek by the narrator, her cousin.

Edith Wharton’s novels probe the psychological and social influences on her characters. My book group read The Age of Innocence, the story of a well-bred, late-19th-century New Yorker pulled between his engagement to a proper fiancée and attraction to her free-spirited cousin.

Henry James is like Austen in his focus on personal relations and his acute perceptiveness. My book group read Washington Square, about a daughter stunted by her father’s disappointment, and What Maisie Knew, about a child custody case seen through the child’s eyes. 

The least-known name on this list, Rose Macauley was a prolific British writer of fiction and nonfiction. In The Towers of Trebizond, considered her best novel, the narrator is estranged from religion because of an adulterous affair. Its droll tone and underlying seriousness are reminiscent of Austen.  

I remind myself not to be disappointed if a read-alike doesn’t delight me the way an Austen novel does. As I wrote before, “It appears that critics compare these novelists with Austen because of their wit, penetrating social observations, and the elegance of their prose, but none of them made me feel exhilarated, as I do when I finish an Austen novel.”

There is only one Jane Austen. Other writers are ironic, witty, perceptive, levelheaded, clever, or simultaneously humorous and serious, but I haven’t found any others who combine these characteristics so felicitously in fiction that sparkles so much.


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  • I'm sorry to learn about your experience. Considering my usual adventures with stuffy-headedness from my pollen allergy (or allergies), I may be a few weeks behind in shedding my own masks. I won't mind. I have found relaxation and interest, if not all-out joy, in discovering flower scents these past two springs because of the filtering properties of whatever masks I'm using. If I can walk around flowers and not get instantly clogged, I can enjoy them better.

  • Thanks, Margaret. Interesting comment about scents. I've never suffered from allergies myself so had never thought about that.

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