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Archive for December, 2007

New Year’s Customs

The following selection of quotes come from Yule Tides in Many Lands, Mary P. Pringle and Clara A. Urann, Boston, 1916, Project Gutenberg, pages 50-51.

“England of all countries has probably known the merriest of Yule-tides, certainly the merriest during those centuries when the mummers of yore bade to each and all

“A merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Your pockets full of money and your cellar full of beer.”

There seems always to have been more or less anxiety felt regarding New Year’s Day in England, for “If the morning be red and dusky it denotes a year of robberies and strife.”

“If the grass grows in Janivear
It grows the worse for ‘t all the year.”

It was very desirable to obtain the “cream of the year” from the nearest[51] spring, and maidens sat up till after midnight to obtain the first pitcherful of water, supposed to possess remarkable virtues. Modern plumbing and city water-pipes have done away with the observance of the “cream of the year,” although the custom still prevails of sitting up to see the Old Year out and the New Year in.
There was also keen anxiety felt as to how the wind blew on New Year’s Eve, for

“If New Year’s Eve night wind blow South,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If West, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If North, much cold and storm there will be;
If East, the trees will bear much fruit;
If Northeast, flee it man and brute.””

Celebrating New Year’s  on Martha Stewart’s site discusses the origins of ringing in the new year with a toast.

The custom of toasting, as we know it today, originated in medieval England. Back then, the clinking of glasses was accompanied by the exclamation “Waes haeil,” Middle English for “Be well.” The word toast, in this context, came along in the seventeenth century, when pieces of spiced, toasted bread were placed in drinks, perhaps to enhance their flavor. Today, people throughout the world toast the New Year, but without the croutons of times past.

  • Click here for another New Year’s post on this site.

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My book group, Janeites on the James, will be revisiting Pride & Prejudice in January. It will be the 21st or 22nd time I have read it, a bit often, I know, but at each stage of my life the story of Darcy and Elizabeth takes on new meaning. These days I pay more attention to secondary characters, like Charlotte Lucas and Lydia Bennet, to whom I gave short shrift in earlier readings. In fact I shall read Charlotte’s story with more interest, knowing that with her limited options and beauty, she seized on her one opportunity to snare a husband. I will pay particular attention to her resourcefulness in finding some peace and quiet from Mr. Collins in her private area in the back parlor.

The most comprehensive site online about Pride & Prejudice is the one developed by The Republic of Pemberley, an encyclopedic site about all things Jane Austen.

Also of vast interest is the Annotated Pride and Prejudice by David Shapard, which is both entertaining and informative. As one reads the book, the left side is devoted to novel, and the right side contains his annotations. Here is what David Shapard wrote in a discussion board about discovering Jane Austen’s work:

I only altered that intention years later when, unexpectedly, several historical or philosophical books I read included admiring comments on her, and of the profound thought in her books. This made me undertake a complete reading of her works, and I was entranced, so much so that it was not long before I began rereading the novels, an unusual step for me. My entrancement even posed dangers for my work. While scrambling to finish my dissertation, on the French Enlightenment, I had picked up a battered paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice at a book sale, and found myself frequently taking time off from my writing to read it again and again, finding new brilliant subtleties every time I looked. More than once I admonished myself that this was foolish—after all, I had a looming deadline for my dissertation and needed to get back to work. But my admonishments did not always succeed, so captivated was I by the novel. Little did I imagine then that an annotated version of Pride and Prejudice, rather than an expanded version of that same dissertation, was to be my first published book.

  • In this link find a series of images I found on the 1940 movie version of Pride & Prejudice, in which the film’s creator’s revamped the plot and costumes (Civil War era), and in which the two stars are much too old to play Lizzie and Mr. Darcy.

Images source: 1940 Film of Pride & Prejudice

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This illustration was made over 80 years after Jane Austen died, but there’s a “Regency feeling” about the dresses, hairstyles, and interior. Read more about Christmas of old in these links, and in the post below.

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“I remember we had a discussion that time as to what was the great point and crowning glory of Christmas. Many were for mince-pie; some for the beef and plum-pudding; more for the wassail-bowl; a maiden lady timidly said the mistletoe; but we agreed at last, that although all these were prodigious, and some of them exclusively belonging to the season, the fire was the great indispensable. Upon which we all turned our faces towards it, and began warming our already scorched hands. A great blazing fire, too big, is the visible heart and soul of Christmas. You may do without beef and plum-pudding; even the absence of mince-pie may be tolerated; there must be a bowl, poetically speaking, but it need not be absolutely wassail. The bowl may give place to the bottle. But a huge, heaped-up, over heaped-up, all-attracting fire, with a semicircle of faces about it, is not to be denied us. It is the lar and genius of the meeting; the proof positive of the season; the representative of all our warm emotions and bright thoughts; the glorious eye of the room; the inciter to mirth, yet the retainer of order; the amalgamater of the age and sex; the universal relish. Tastes may differ even on a mince-pie; but who gainsays a fire? The absence of other luxuries still leaves you in possession of that; but

‘Who can hold a fire in his hand With thinking on the frostiest twelfth-cake?’
– a contributor to the New Monthly Magazine, December 1, 1825

Bringing in the Yule Log, Fronticepiece

More traditions:

“At Ripon, on Christmas Eve, the grocers, send each of their customers a pound or half of currants and raisins to make a Christmas pudding. The chandlers also send large mould candles, and the coopers logs of wood, generally called Yule clogs, which are always used on Christmas Eve; but should it be so large as not to be all burnt that night, which is frequently the case, the remains are kept till old Christmas Eve.”

In Sinclair’s Account of Scotland, parish of Kirkden, county of Angus (1792), Christmas is said to be held as a great festival in the neighbourhood. “The servant is free from his master, and goes about visiting his friends and acquaintance. The poorest must have beef or mutton on the table, and what they call a dinner with their friends. Many amuse themselves with various diversions, particularly with shooting for prizes, called here wad-shooting; and many do but little business all the Christmas week; the evening of almost every day being spent in amusement.” And in the account of Keith, in Banffshire, the inhabitants are said to “have no pastimes or holidays, except dancing on Christmas and New Year’s Day.”

Illustration of a Christmas Scene from The Republic of Pemberley
Yorkshire

A writer in “Time’s Telescope” (1822) states that in Yorkshire at eight o’clock on Christmas Eve the bells greet “Old Father Christmas” with a merry peal, the children parade the streets with drums, trumpets, bells, or perhaps, in their absence, with the poker and shovel, taken from their humble cottage fire; the yule candle is lighted, and—

“High on the cheerful fire Is blazing seen th’ enormous Christmas brand.”

Supper is served, of which one dish, from the lordly mansion to the humblest shed, is invariably furmety; yule cake, one of which is always made for each individual in the family, and other more substantial viands are also added.

This information is excerpted from Christmas: It’s Origins and Associations, William Francis Dawson, 1902, Project Gutenberg, Chapter XI, p 251-252. Fronticepiece comes from this volume as well.

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    I am a Mary Crawford fan. This likable, complex woman with malleable ethics, who attracted then repelled the staid and rather wooden Edmund Bertram, is more interesting to me than Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine. Of all the scenes in Mansfield Park, I am particularly drawn to this one from Volume 3, Chapter 16. In it, Edmund Bertram is speaking to Fanny Price, relating the conversation he had with Mary Crawford, in which his eyes to her true character were opened:

    He had seen Miss Crawford. He had been invited to see her. He had received a note from Lady Stornaway to beg him to call; and regarding it as what was meant to be the last, last interview of friendship, and investing her with all the feelings of shame and wretchedness which Crawford’s sister ought to have known, he had gone to her in such a state of mind, so softened, so devoted, as made it for a few moments impossible to Fanny’s fears, that it should be the last. But as he proceeded in his story, these fears were over. She had met him, he said, with a serious—certainly a serious—even an agitated air; but before he had been able to speak one intelligible sentence, she had introduced the subject in a manner which he owned had shocked him. “‘I heard you were in town,’ said she—’I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sad business. What can equal the folly of our two relations?’—I could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she then added—’I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister’s expence.’ So she began—but how she went on, Fanny, is not fit—is hardly fit to be repeated to you. I cannot recall all her words. I would not dwell upon them if I could. Their substance was great anger at the folly of each. She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of—poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom—no harsher name than folly given!—So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it!—No reluctance, no horror, no feminine—shall I say? no modest loathings!—This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed?—Spoilt, spoilt!—”

    After a little reflection, he went on with a sort of desperate calmness—”I will tell you every thing, and then have done for ever. She saw it only as folly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want of common discretion, of caution— his going down to Richmond for the whole time of her being at Twickenham—her putting herself in the power of a servant;—it was the detection in short—Oh! Fanny, it was the detection, not the offence which she reprobated. It was the imprudence which had brought things to extremity, and obliged her brother to give up every dearer plan, in order to fly with her.”

    He stopt.—”And what,” said Fanny, (believing herself required to speak), “what could you say?”

    “Nothing, nothing to be understood. I was like a man stunned. She went on, began to talk of you;—yes, then she began to talk of you, regretting, as well she might, the loss of such a——. There she spoke very rationally. But she has always done justice to you. ‘He has thrown away,’ said she, ‘such a woman as he will never see again. She would have fixed him, she would have made him happy for ever.’—My dearest Fanny, I am giving you I hope more pleasure than pain by this retrospect of what might have been—but what never can be now. You do not wish me to be silent?—if you do, give me but a look, a word, and I have done.”

    No look or word was given.

    “Thank God!” said he. “We were all disposed to wonder—but it seems to have been the merciful appointment of Providence that the heart which knew no guile should not suffer. She spoke of you with high praise and warm affection; yet, even here, there was alloy, a dash of evil—for in the midst of it she could exclaim ‘Why, would not she have him? It is all her fault. Simple girl!—I shall never forgive her. Had she accepted him as she ought, they might now have been on the point of marriage, and Henry would have been too happy and too busy to want any other object. He would have taken no pains to be on terms with Mrs. Rushworth again. It would have all ended in a regular standing flirtation, in yearly meetings at Sotherton and Everingham.’ Could you have believed it possible?—But the charm is broken. My eyes are opened.”

    “Cruel!” said Fanny—”quite cruel. At such a moment to give way to gaiety, to speak with lightness, and to you!—Absolute cruelty.”

    “Cruelty, do you call it?—We differ there. No, her’s is not a cruel nature. I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evil lies yet deeper; in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did. She was speaking only, as she had been used to hear others speak, as she imagined every body else would speak. Her’s are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would—Her’s are faults of principle, Fanny, of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me—since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so.”

    “Did you?”

    “Yes, when I left her I told her so.”

    “How long were you together?”

    “Five and twenty minutes. Well, she went on to say, that what remained now to be done, was to bring about a marriage between them. She spoke of it, Fanny, with a steadier voice than I can.” He was obliged to pause more than once as he continued. “‘We must persuade Henry to marry her,’ said she, ‘and what with honour, and the certainty of having shut himself out for ever from Fanny, I do not despair of it. Fanny he must give up. I do not think that even he could now hope to succeed with one of her stamp, and therefore I hope we may find no insuperable difficulty. My influence, which is not small, shall all go that way; and, when once married, and properly supported by her own family, people of respectability as they are, she may recover her footing in society to a certain degree. In some circles, we know, she would never be admitted, but with good dinners, and large parties, there will always be those who will be glad of her acquaintance; and there is, undoubtedly, more liberality and candour on those points than formerly. What I advise is, that your father be quiet. Do not let him injure his own cause by interference. Persuade him to let things take their course. If by any officious exertions of his, she is induced to leave Henry’s protection, there will be much less chance of his marrying her, than if she remain with him. I know how he is likely to be influenced. Let Sir Thomas trust to his honour and compassion, and it may all end well; but if he get his daughter away, it will be destroying the chief hold.'”

    After repeating this, Edmund was so much affected, that Fanny, watching him with silent, but most tender concern, was almost sorry that the subject had been entered on at all. It was long before he could speak again. At last, “Now, Fanny,” said he, “I shall soon have done. I have told you the substance of all that she said. As soon as I could speak, I replied that I had not supposed it possible, coming in such a state of mind into that house, as I had done, that any thing could occur to make me suffer more, but that she had been inflicting deeper wounds in almost every sentence. That, though I had, in the course of our acquaintance, been often sensible of some difference in our opinions, on points too, of some moment, it had not entered my imagination to conceive the difference could be such as she had now proved it. That the manner in which she treated the dreadful crime committed by her brother and my sister—(with whom lay the greater seduction I pretended not to say)—but the manner in which she spoke of the crime itself, giving it every reproach but the right, considering its ill consequences only as they were to be braved or overborne by a defiance of decency and impudence in wrong; and, last of all, and above all, recommending to us a compliance, a compromise, an acquiescence in the continuance of the sin, on the chance of a marriage which, thinking as I now thought of her brother, should rather be prevented than sought—all this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less to regret in sacrificing a friendship—feelings—hopes which must, at any rate, have been torn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confess, that, could I have restored her to what she had appeared to me before, I would infinitely prefer any increase of the pain of parting, for the sake of carrying with me the right of tenderness and esteem. This is what I said—the purport of it—but, as you may imagine, not spoken so collectedly or methodically as I have repeated it to you. She was astonished, exceedingly astonished—more than astonished. I saw her change countenance. She turned extremely red. I imagined I saw a mixture of many feelings—a great, though short struggle—half a wish of yielding to truths, half a sense of shame—but habit, habit carried it. She would have laughed if she could. It was a sort of laugh, as she answered, ‘A pretty good lecture upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate, you will soon reform every body at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.’ She tried to speak carelessly; but she was not so careless as she wanted to appear. I only said in reply, that from my heart I wished her well, and earnestly hoped that she might soon learn to think more justly, and not owe the most valuable knowledge we could any of us acquire—the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to the lessons of affliction—and immediately left the room. I had gone a few steps, Fanny, when I heard the door open behind me. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she. I looked back. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she, with a smile—but it was a smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite, in order to subdue me; at least, it appeared so to me. I resisted; it was the impulse of the moment to resist, and still walked on. I have since—sometimes—for a moment—regretted that I did not go back; but I know I was right, and such has been the end of our acquaintance! And what an acquaintance has it been! How have I been deceived! Equally in brother and sister deceived! I thank you for your patience, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief, and now we will have done.”

    • Fanny’s Excellence, by Carolyn Duncan, and the JASNA 2006 Essay Winner, discusses this scene and its meaning in quite some detail.
    • In this passage, “God made the country, man made the town’ or the ‘Active’ Rich Lady and Her Harp,” Ellen Moody discusses Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram in terms of city values (Mary) versus country values (Edmund.)

    In Free Will to Pervert Goodness, Edea A. Baldwin writes that all is not lost for Mary, and that Jane Austen leaves the door open a crack for her future happiness.

    Mary wants to do good, but her actions are often twisted into evil. In trying to help her brother win the heart of Fanny Price, Mary tricks Fanny into accepting a necklace that Henry bought, telling her that it was a gift from herself. Really believing that she did the right thing, she later tells Fanny, “I was delighted to act on his proposal, for both your sakes.” Fanny, however, cries, “Oh! Miss Crawford, that was not fair . . . had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace.”[36] In spite of Mary’s past and her twisted attempts to do the right thing, Austen never lets the reader forget that Mary’s unhappy end comes as a result of her own choices. There is no hint of determinism or fate. Mary provides a bit of sad foreshadowing during a card game when she exclaims, “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me . . . If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”[37]

    Mary Crawford walks away from Mansfield Park as a tragic character, but Austen’s final words about Mary keep the door open for future happiness. Readers who sympathize with her may well hope that she will eventually choose goodness over the bitter cynicism that corrupts her judgment: Mary . . . was long in finding . . . any one who could satisfy the better taste she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and manners could authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learnt to estimate.

    Learn More About Mansfield Park in these links:

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    A Frivolous Distinction: Fashions and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen by Penelope Byrde is not a new publication. In fact, I bought its forerunner, a booklet, over 14 years ago in Bath. The short reference book, only 42 pages long, is rich in Jane lore, and filled with interesting information about clothes, shopping, and needlework. Find a fascinating description of the longer book published four years ago in JASNA. In her review, Marsha Huff describes her quest to find a more detailed description of the Mamalouc cap Jane Austen mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1799, and which she wore to the Kempshott ball:

    I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night. after all; I am to wear a mamalone cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now; worn at the opera, and by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like. I have got over the dreadful epocha of mantua-making much better than I expected. My gown is made very much like my blue one, which you always told me sat very well, with only these variations: the sleeves are short, the wrap fuller, the apron comes over it, and a band of the same completes the whole.

    Ms. Huff attempted to find out more about Jane’s Mamalouc cap and what it looked like. The closest description I found (through Deidre Le Faye) was one from Constance Hill:

    The battle of the Nile, fought in the preceding August, had set the fashion in ladies’ dress for everything suggestive of Egypt and of the hero of Aboukir. In the fashion-plates of the day we find Mamalouc cloaks and Mamalouc robes of flowing red cloth. Ladies wear toupées, somewhat resembling a fez, which we recognise as the “Mamalouc cap.” Their hats are adorned with the “Nelson rose feather,” and their dainty feet encased in “green morocco slippers bound with yellow and laced with crocodile-coloured ribbon.”

    Click on this link to the Gallery of Fashion, 1799 to view illustrations of fashions and feathered headdresses of this period. And then click on the following links to view a regency era sewing box, and to learn more about bonnets and needlework of the period.

    • Hygra Antiques: See an example of an exquisite Regency sewing box in this link
    • Although the writing is breezy, 21st century, and American in tone, this 14 page PDF document, Back Stitch to the Future, discusses the history of needlework from Paleolithic times to the present.

    Make this needle case made by Jane for her “neice”, Louise, and featured in A Frivolous Distinction. Instructions are courtesy of the Jane Austen Centre.

    Illustrations from A Frivolous Distinction booklet, ISBN 0 901303 09 7

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    “Who you callin’ a silly bub, and what’s that you’re offering me?”- Mentioned on three occasions in Samuel Pepys’ diary — in 1662, 1663 and 1668

    When we think of Christmases past, including the traditions and foods that Jane Austen and her kin would have enjoyed, we think of yule logs, kissing boughs, and festive drinks, such as apple toddy, milk punch, and syllabub, a less potent alcoholic and cream mixture than eggnog.

    Over time, the precise recipes have changed. According to British Culture, British Customs, and British Traditions, “In the seventeenth century, a milkmaid would send a stream of new, warm milk directly from a cow into a bowl of spiced cider or ale. A light curd would form on top with a lovely whey underneath. This, according to Elizabeth David, was the original syllabub. Today’s syllabub is more solid (its origins can also be traced to the seventeenth century, albeit to the upper classes) and mixes sherry and/or brandy, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and double cream into a custard-like dessert or an eggnog-like beverage, depending upon the cook.”

    “In the hour or two that the syllabub was set aside, a curd formed over the ale. With the possible addition of a layer of cream on top, the syllabub was ready to drink. The solids that formed on top of a syllabub were eaten with a spoon, the wine at the bottom drunk.”* Historic Food offers another detailed account of the history and making of this fascinating drink. I’ve also found a stanza from a traditional song that includes drinking syllabub under a cow, which sits below.

    You hawk, you hunt, you lie upon pallets,
    You eat, you drink (the Lord knows how !);We sit upon hillocks, and pick up our sallets, And drink up a syllabub under a cow.

    With a fading.

    In The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper, John Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, the Principal Cooks at The Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand in the late 18th century, offer precisely such a recipe for syllabub. One supposes that these instructions might be difficult to follow today except for the most determined country person:

    A Syllabub Under a Cow

    Having put a bottle of red or white wine, ale or cyder, into a China bowl, sweeten it with sugar, and grate in some nutmeg. Then hold it under the cow, and milk into it until it has a fine froth on the top. Strew over it a handful of currants cleaned, washed, and picked, and plumbed before the fire.

    Over half a century later, Mrs. Beeton includes this syllabub recipe in her historic and groundbreaking cookery and household management book:

    To Make Syllabub

    900ml (1½ pints) Milk
    600ml (1 pint) Sherry or White Wine
    ½ Grated Nutmeg
    Sugar, to taste

    Put the wine into a bowl, with the grated nutmeg and plenty of caster sugar add the milk and whisk.
    Clotted cream may be laid on the top, with ground cinnamon or nutmeg and sugar.
    A little brandy may be added to the wine before the milk is put in.
    In some counties, cider is substituted for the wine, when this is used, brandy must always be added.
    Warm milk may be poured on from a spouted jug or teapot, but it must be held very high.

    Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
    Seasonable at any time.

    Find more information about syllabub in these links:

    Click here for my other holiday posts.

    Image from Historic Foods

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