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Archive for October, 2007

The Historic Foods website offers a splendid Georgian recipe of gooseberries cut as hops and preserved in syrup.

The first printed version of this once popular recipe is found in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (London: 1727). The instructions seem complex, but the results, as you can see, are visually delightful. In earlier times gooseberries were dried and candied, or made into a sauce served with fish or goose meat.

For a detailed history of the gooseberry, click on the link above.

Watercolour of Gooseberries by Pamela Sweda

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March 15th – The seamstress came this morning to begin my wardrobe. We were with her for more than two hours and Mama ordered so many new gowns as that I am sure I shall never wear the half of them, but she insists that I must be properly dressed. – From The Journal of a Regency Lady 5

The above quote, though coming from a contemporary author, might well have been written during the regency era. Women’s clothes were made at home during this period by the ladies themselves, their servants, or a professional seamstress. A dressmaker (or mantua maker) would charge about 2 pounds per garment and come to the house for fittings, where she might be served tea. A successful mantua maker who had set up shop in the fashionable part of Town would also provide a pleasant environment in which a lady could relax, serving tea and refreshments to prolong the shopping experience.

In her letters, Jane Austen mentioned a Miss Burton, who made pelisses for her and Cassandra in 1811. The cost of cloth and labor were reasonable, she wrote, but the buttons seemed expensive. Fabrics, increasingly mass produced, became more affordable during the Industrial Revolution, and demand for clothes grew among the newly wealthy middle class women. Young girls who sought work in the cities became seamstresses in homes and sweat shops. A little over twenty years after Jane’s death, the poor working conditions described below were common for seamstresses.

1) EVIDENCE TAKEN BY Children’s Employment Commission, February 1841

Miss — has been for several years in the dress-making business…The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters; in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night. During the fashionable season, that is from April til the latter end of July, it frequently happens that the ordinary hours are greatly exceeded; if there is a drawing-room or grand fete, or mourning to be made, it often happens that the work goes on for 20 hours out of the 24, occasionally all night….The general result of the long hours and sedentary occupation is to impair seriously and very frequently to destroy the health of the young women. The digestion especially suffers, and also the lungs: pain to the side is very common, and the hands and feet die away from want of circulation and exercise, “never seeing the outside of the door from Sunday to Sunday.” [One cause] is the short time which is allowed by ladies to have their dresses made. Miss is sure that there are some thousands of young women employed in the business in London and in the country. If one vacancy were to occur now there would be 20 applicants for it. The wages generally are very low…Thinks that no men could endure the work enforced from the dress-makers.

[Source: Hellerstein, Hume & Offen, Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and the United States, Stanford University Press.]

For other sources on this topic, click on the links below.

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The Matrimonial Ladder, a visual satire, unfolds through a hand-tinted panorama of engravings with verse representing “Admiration,” “Flirtation,” “Approbation,” “Declaration,” “Hesitation,” “Agitation,” “Acceptation,””Solemnization,” “Possession,” “Rumination,””Alteration,” “Alteration,” “Irritation,” “Disputation,” “Desperation,” “Detestation,” “Separation,” and “Reconciliation.”

[PANORAMA]. E[GERTON], M., [Daniel Thomas]. Matrimonial Ladder! Or Such things are Drawn by M. E. Esqr. Engrav’d by G. Hunt. London: Thos. McLean, 26 Haymarket,1825. (Description and images from David Brass Rare Books, Inc. Please click on link above to enter this amazing rare book site.)


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And all the time in the dressing-room with its common-looking carpet, Jane’s piano, and the oval glass between the windows, [Jane] was hard at work on First Impressions, with Cassandra once more as critic and confidante. Their niece Anna, James’s daughter, who lived with them until her father’s remarriage, remembered later in life that she heard her two aunts reading the book aloud, with gales of laughter, and had threatened to betray the well-kept secret by picking up the names of the characters and repeating them downstairs.*

When Jane revealed First Impressions, the forerunner of Pride and Prejudice, to the Austen family, they greeted it with enthusiasm, reading it often alone and to each other. A proud papa tried to get his daughter’s three-volume novel published, but nothing came of that first effort, much to our benefit. Had First Impressions been accepted for publication at that time, we would not be reading the edited masterpiece that she eventually wrote. For another glimpse of Jane Austen at work, click here.

*Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, NY, 1972, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, Publishers,p. 49

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Helpful Readers,

Yesterday I received some extremely interesting questions from a reader about renting Kellynch Hall. Unfortunately, they came at a time when I am entertaining house guests. I cannot apply myself to the task until later this week, except to provide this link to Jane Austen’s Economics. Can anyone answer part or all of the questions below? Your comments are welcome and I thank you ahead of time for helping out.


If you cannot answer the questions but are interested in the topic, here are some links to online articles from the Jane Austen Society of Australia: One is about Kellynch Hall, which contains all the references to it in Persuasion, and one written by Jon Spence about Stoneleigh Abbey, the great house belonging to Mrs. Austen’s side of the family.

Click here for a fun trivia quiz about the Eliots of Kellynch Hall, and here for the website, Kellynch Hall.

Click here for my article, How Rich is Fitzwilliam Darcy? and some material supporting Brad de Long’s words.

Enough dithering, here are the questions:

  1. How much would it cost to live at Kellynch annually? Simply, that is, without sorbet and six liveried footmen–just the way Lady Eliot would have kept the place running in the black.
  2. Just how much rent did Admiral and Mrs. Croft pay for a furnished house of that consequence?
  3. Would the rent pay for building maintenance and upkeep or just the cost of running the house and keeping the servants?
  4. Would Sir Walter’s debts be whittled down by renting Kellynch? Is he making a small profit on the rental? Or just not losing money, treading water so to speak?
  5. It seems that the Crofts took over the charity obligations since Anne “was so sure” of the poor being relieved when the Eliots left for Bath. Was that usual for renters? Why did that duty not fall on the rector or the parish?

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Recently I’ve been struck by how much stock some people put into Jane Austen’s looks and how much a number of her fans (or critics) NEED her to be pretty. As if beauty would enhance her talent or add pathos to the fact that she never married. As if a plain Jane has somehow less cache than a beautiful spinster who chose independence over marriage.

I’ve said over and over again that I like Jane Austen just as she is, no more and no less. She does not need to have Anne Hathaway’s striking looks to make me appreciate her talent. Besides, beauty and attractiveness are influenced by a number of factors: Physique, facial features, liveliness of wit, excellence of mind, shiny hair, excellent skin and teeth, attractive voice and smile, personality, and the love and admiration of those closest to the individual.

Contemporary accounts of Jane vary according to the person describing her. Those who loved her, like Eliza de Feuillide, practically gushed over her looks. Others, like Philadelphia Walter, were not in the least complimentary. Here is her description of a thirteen-year-old Jane. She evidently preferred Cassandra, who she felt resembled her in feature:

Yesterday I began an acquaintance with my 2 female cousins, Austens. My uncle, aunt, Cassandra & Jane arrived at Mr. F. Austen’s the day before. We dined with them there. As it is pure Nature to love ourselves, I may be allowed to give the preference to the Eldest who is generally reckoned a most striking resemblance of me in features, complexion & manners…The youngest (Jane) is very like her brother Henry, not at all pretty & very prim, unlike a girl of twelve: but it is a hasty judgment which you will scold me for. My aunt has lost several fore-teeth which makes her look old: my uncle is quite white-haired, but looks vastly well: all in high spirits & disposed to be pleased with each other…Yesterday they all spent the day with us, & the more I see of Cassandra the more I admire [her] – Jane is whimsical and affected.*

While Philadelphia was less than complimentary to a young and budding Jane, her brother Henry wrote this touching description just months after Jane’s death:

Preface to Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, By Henry Austen

Her stature was that of true elegance. It could not have been increased without exceeding the middle height. Her carriage and deportment were quiet, yet graceful. Her features were separately good. Their assemblage produced an unrivaled expression of that cheerfulness, sensibility, and benevolence, which were her real characteristics. Her complexion was of the finest texture. It might with truth be said, that her eloquent blood spoke through her modest cheek. Her voice was extremely sweet. She delivered herself with fluency and precision. Indeed she was formed for elegant and rational society, excelling in conversation as much as in composition.

In old age, Egerton Brydges, Madame Lefroy’s brother, recorded his impression of Jane:

My eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight, and delicate but with cheeks a little too full.

By most accounts, Jane had a liveliness of expression and quickness of wit that attracted people to her. Yes, her cheeks might have been too round and she might not have been regarded a great beauty, but she attracted a number of suitors in her youth and was beloved and admired by her family and friends … and an untold number of readers several hundred years after her death.

*From: A Portrait of Jane Austen, David Cecil, 1978, ISBN 0-8090-7811-2

Image: Watercolour portrait of Jane by Cassandra

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Inquiring Readers:

Lori Smith has kindly offered to send the winner of my new icon contest a copy of her just released book: A Walk With Jane Austen: A Journey Into Adventure, Love, and Faith.

The contest will be open for two weeks, and it is simple: Just send me a copy of your favorite icon of a Jane Austen movie hero or heroine. I will choose the top five, from which you will get to vote for your favorite. Tell me the name of the actor or actress, and the movie. If you did not create the icon, please include the attribution.

My email address sits on the side bar. Or, you may include the icon in a comment. You may also enter as many times as you like.
Here’s a rather large icon I created: Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennett looking contemplative. The overall effect is soft, like a watercolour.

Ready? Set. Go! You have until Sunday, November 4th to send in your icons.

Update: Numerous entries are sitting on my other blog, Jane Austen Today. Click here and check them out. Better yet, send in your own entry!

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