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Archive for May, 2007


Click here for some fabulous panoramic views of Bath as photographed by John Law.

When the site loads (be patient), double click on the image and wait for it to load. Move your cursor left or right. You can then see a 360 degree view of Bath Abbey, or gardens by Capability Brown in Bath Spa University, or the Royal Crescent, Bath.

It’s almost the next best thing to being there.

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Next month the Janeites on the James, a small group a friend and I formed, will meet again to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. In our short association we have run out of new novels to discuss. We are purists, and while we appreciate the Jane Austen spin-offs, they do not figure in our discussions. For this reason, we have had to be creative in choosing our topics.

We are to come prepared to discuss our favorite older female supporting character. Mrs. Bennett immediately springs to mind, of course. And who can forget Lady Catherine de Bourgh? However, I am presently settling on the meddling and mean-spirited Aunt Norris from Mansfield Park (first photo). Miss Taylor, Emma’s former governess, is too wishy washy for my tastes, although the generous (albeit vulgar) Mrs. Jennings in Sense and Sensibility (above) intrigues me, as does the ever proper but milquetoast Mrs. Dashwood (below).

As I search for a character to discuss with my group, I wonder: Do you know who your favorite older female character in a Jane Austen novel is, and why? I would love to bring your comments to the group.

The incomparable Judy Dench as haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

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Beau Brummell’s Gambling


Beau Brummel’s gambling addiction spelled his eventual downfall in Society. His passion for betting on everything under the sun was shared by his set, who in some instances gambled and lost fortunes overnight. One can still trace these bets, many of them personal, in the betting book at White’s, a gentleman’s club in London. In this book a gentleman recorded his private wagers, no doubt to aid his memory in case alcohol had befuddled his brain. Bets ranged from speculating on the date of a birth or death, the sex of an expected child, who would marry whom, appointments to a position, scandals, who murdered whom, and more. Here then, are a few of Mr. Brummel’s wagers:

Mr Brummel bets Mr. Irby one hundred guineas to ten that Buonaparte returns to Paris (Decr. 12th, 1812)

Mr. Brummel bets Mr. Methuen 200 gs to 20 gs that Buonaparte returns alive to Paris, (Decr. 12th, 1812)

A Capain Capel placed the following wager with Beau:

Capt. Capel bets Mr. Brummell 5 gs that Napoleon is not at the head of the French government in Paris within ten days from this day. March 15th, 1815

Even as Beau’s fortunes took a drastic turn for the worse, he managed to hide his indebtedness for a number of years. But he could not keep debt at bay forever, particularly not after his relationship with the Prince Regent soured. Eventually he was unable to pay off even the gentleman’s debts he had made. Beau’s final bet at White’s in March, 1815, “that the Bourbons are on the throne of France on May 1st next,” was marked “not paid, 20th January, 1816. (Donald A. Lowe, The Regency Underworld, p. 137.)

In 1816, Beau fled to Calais to escape his debtors. Donald A. Lowe writes,

As was customary in the period, an auction was held of the property of a ‘certain gentleman of fashion lately gone to the Continent’. Some came to watch, with no intention of buying, as is the way in every age. This marked the point of no return for Brummell, although he continued for many years to nurse false hopes of being restored to his old haunts and his former glory. In 1819 his star had sunk so low that a scion of the minor nobility at White’s – the very type of Englishman who had once treated him with such respect – wrote in the betting book,

Ld Yarmouth gives Lord Glengall five guineas to receive one hundred guineas if Mr. G. Brummell returns to London before Buonaparte returns to Paris.
To read more about Mr. Brummell on this blog, click here.

To read more about gaming houses and gentleman’s clubs, click here.

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During her life and shortly after her death, Jane Austen’s novels were not popularly known. Oh, she had her admirers, most notably the Prince Regent, to whom she dedicated Emma, and a few other distinguished personages, such as Lord Macaulay, Lord Byron’s wife, Ann, and writers Philip Sheridan and Robert Southey. But her works languished in relative obscurity until her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869. His book was well so well received that he quickly published a second edition in 1871 that expanded on the first one.

In the memoir, Edward’s recollections and those of his family, including Jane’s nieces and nephews, all of whom remembered their aunt fondly, made Jane accessible to a fresh, new audience. Along with these family recollections, are letters from Jane to various people outside her family. The one below is written to a Mr. J. S. Clarke, librarian, Carlton House in 1815, two years before her death:

Dec. 11. ‘Dear Sir,—My “Emma” is now so near publication that I feel it right to assure you of my not having forgotten your kind recommendation of an early copy for Carlton House, and that I have Mr. Murray’s promise of its being sent to His Royal Highness, under cover to you, three days previous to the work being really out. I must make use of this opportunity to thank you, dear Sir, for the very high praise you bestow on my other novels. I am too vain to wish to convince you that you have praised them beyond their merits. My greatest anxiety at present is that this fourth work should not disgrace what was good in the others. But on this point I will do myself the justice to declare that, whatever may be my wishes for its success, I am strongly haunted with the idea that to those readers who have preferred “Pride and Prejudice” it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred “Mansfield Park” inferior in good sense. Such as it is, however, I hope you will do me the favour of accepting a copy. Mr. Murray will have directions for sending one. I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of in your note of Nov. 16th. But I assure you I am not. The comic part of the character I might be equal to, but not the good, the enthusiastic, the literary. Such a man’s conversation must at times be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing; or at least be occasionally abundant in quotations and allusions which a woman who, like me, knows only her own mother tongue, and has read little in that, would be totally without the power of giving. A classical education, or at any rate a very extensive acquaintance with English literature, ancient and modern, appears to me quite indispensable for the person who would do any justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress. ‘Believe me, dear Sir, ‘Your obliged and faithful humbl Sert. ‘Jane Austen.’

As a result of Edward’s memoirs, the public embraced Jane Austen’s novels. Josephine Ross writes on page 3 in Jane Austen: A Companion, “Jane Austen had won the ‘admiration, even to fanaticism, of innumerable readers'; and in the years that followed, amid a surge of articles, essays, critical studies and reprints of her novels, the unmarried daughter of a Georgian vicar, who had feared to be made ‘a wild beast’ by her contemporaries, was to become one of the best-known authors in the English language.”

You can read Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoirs by clicking on this link to the Gutenberg Project. The link also sits permanently on the left column of this blog, under Original Sources.

You can also Trace Jane Austen’s Popularity, starting with the publication of this memoir, at this link. Click here.

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Louis Simonds continues to describe London townhouses in his book, An American in Regency England:
The plan of these houses is very simple, two rooms on each story; one in the front with two or three windows looking on the street, the other on a yard behind, often very small; the stairs generally taken out of the breadth of the backroom. The ground-floor is usually elevated a few feet above the level of the street, and separated from it by an area, a sort of ditch, a few feet wide, generally from three to eight, and six or eight feet deep, inclosed by an iron railing; the windows of the kitchen are in this area. A bridge of stone or brick leads to the door of the house.


The front of these houses is about twenty or twenty-five feet wide; they certainly have rather a paltry appearance – but you cannot pass the threshold without being struck with the look of order and neatness of the interior. Instead of the abominable filth of the common entrance and common stairs of of a French house, here you step from the very street on a neat floorcloth or carpet, the wall painted or papered, a lamp in its glass bell hanging from the ceiling, and every apartment in the same style – all is neat, compact, and independent, or, as it is best expressed here, snug and comfortable – a familiar expression, rather vulgar perhaps, from the thing itself being too common.

To read more about townhouses during this era, click on the following:

English Heritage Townhouses Selection Guide: Domestic Buildings

Here’s an interesting historical detail, as described in The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall:

…rooms had no fixed functions in European houses until the eighteenth century. Members of the family had no privacy as we know it today. There were no spaces that were sacred or specialized. Strangers came and went at will, while beds and tables were set up and taken down according to the moods and appetites of the occupants … In the eighteenth century, the house altered its form. In French, chambre was distinguished from salle. In English, the function of a room was indicated by its name – bedroom, living room, dining room. Rooms were arranged to open into a corridor or hall, like houses into a street. No longer did the occupants pass through one room into another. Relieved of the Grand Central Station atmosphere and protected by new spaces, the family pattern began to stabilize and was was expressed further in the form of the house. p.104

See the illustration of a Georgian terraced house below.

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London Houses in Jane Austen’s Day

Louis Simond was a French emigre who lived in America. He spent over 6 months in London in 1810, describing the customs and manners of the British in a book that is now entitled An American in Regency England.

During his tour of England, Louis met and talked to people from all walks of life. He observed every day and momentous events of that era, and visited the countryside, describing with a keen mind what he saw and ate and who he met.

If you read French, you can click here for a short description of his life.

Here is Louis’ description of a typical London Townhouse:

Each family occupy a whole house, unless very poor. There are advantages and disadvantages attending this custom. Among the first, the being more independent of the noise, the dirt, the contagious disorders, or the dangers of your neighbour’s fires, and having a more complete home. On the other hand, an apartment all on one floor, even of a few rooms only, looks much better, and is more convenient. These narrow houses, three or four stories high – one for eating, one for sleeping, a third for company, a fourth under ground for the kitchen, a fifth perhaps at top for the servants – and the agility, the ease, the quickness with which the individuals of the family run up and down, and perch on the different stories, give the idea of a cage with its sticks and birds.
Bow fronts, Palladian windows, symmetry, graceful linesand neoclassical touches were the hallmarks of the Regency town house as depicted in the two illustrations above.
In this image of a Georgian townhouse, you can easily see the four to five stories that Louis Simond described, with part of the basement evident from the street.

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The lady and the artist

For some reason, this breathtaking image of Mrs. Jens Wolff, 1803-1815, by Sir Thomas Lawrence has me mesmerized. It turns out, she and the artist’s sister were friends, and she corresponded regularly with Sir Thomas until her death in 1829. Find out more about her relationship with the artist in the Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, by D.E.Williams. The original text can be found on Google book search.

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