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Archive for April, 2008

In Miss Austen Regrets, Olivia Williams as Jane Austen was shown sipping wine in a number of scenes. This scenario was not unrealistic. Jane wrote to Cassandra about making Spruce Beer, and the topic of wine appeared in a number of her letters:

I want to hear of your gathering strawberries; we have had them three times here. I suppose you have been obliged to have in some white wine, and must visit the store closet a little oftener than when you were quite by yourselves.”

“The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy.”

“I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error.”

Alcoholic consumption was quite common in the days of yore. Water obtained from a public source was unsanitary if not lethal, and hundreds of millions of people died over the ages in cholera and typhoid epidemics, diseases caused by contaminated water. Unless one happened to live near an unpolluted water source, it was wise to refrain from drinking fresh water altogether. In towns and cities, garbage collection was unknown or not practiced. People would toss refuse from doorways and windows, and tradesmen, such as butchers and fishmongers, would throw their wastes and rotting offal into the street, assuming that roaming animals would eat the remnants. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Waste and fecal matter still found their way into public streams, rivers, and water supplies. Worse, many of the roaming animals died, their carcasses polluting the very streets they were supposed to sanitize.

Observant individuals noticed that people who drank untreated water – generally the poor – lived shorter lives than people who drank safer forms of liquids. Those who could afford it drank ale, beer, wine, or a fermented drink, since the fermentation process killed almost all bacteria. Until the 16th century, the most common choice of drink was ale. By the end of the century, beer had replaced ale in popularity. Housewives and cooks gathered their own recipes for making beer, wine, cordials, possets, punch, spirit waters, and other distilled spirits, although these drinks could also be bought commercially. Fermented beverages were stored in containers similar to those in the photo above. Hops were added to beer to make the beverage last longer in storage. Interestingly, hops acted as antibacterial agents, making the beverage safe. In addition, real ale, or un-pasteurized beer, rich in nutrients, vitamin Bs, and minerals, was as nutritious as food.

In Britain people drank ale at breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, these beers and wines were watered down substantially and were much weaker than their counterparts today. Small beer, a term used to describe a weaker second beer, averaged an alcoholic content of only 0.8%. This concoction was obtained after the first brewing had used up almost all the alcohol from the grain. The product from the second brewing was 99.2% water and tasted nothing like our beer today. Small beer was consumed by people of all ages and strata in society, even children. Recipes for stronger drinks existed but they were too expensive for ordinary people, taking twice as much grain to produce.

For medicinal purposes, weak beers were less effective in fighting off disease, (A Brief History of Drinks). People were quite aware of the benefits of a strong alcoholic drink, as the verse (below) from a tombstone in 1764 attests. The 26-year-old deceased had drunk cold small beer before he died. The verse’s implication is clear: had the poor fellow imbibed regular beer, its alcoholic content might have prevented his deadly and “violent fever. So, when you’re hot, or feverish, drink strong beer or none at all!

“In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia,

who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764.

Aged 26 Years…

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,

Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”

Click here to see the picture of the Hampshire Grenadier tombstone

All through the 19th century, alcoholic consumption among all ages and social strata was not only widespread, it was generally accepted and acknowledged. In Great Expectations, Estella gives ten-year-old Pip bread, meat, cheese, and beer on his first visit to Miss Havisham’s. Charlotte Bronte wrote about Belgian schoolgirls being given weissbier and sweet wine as a treat.

During the 17th century, enterprising traders brought back spices, foods and drinks from exotic locations, resulting in a wider choice of safe beverages for consumption. Coffee, tea, and chocolate began to compete with ale, wine, and beer as the drinks of choice. Boiled water poured over precious tea leaves provided a safe albeit expensive drink alternative. “The antiseptic properties of tannin, the active ingredient in tea and of hops in beer – plus the fact both are made with boiled water – allowed urban communities to flourish at close quarters without succumbing to waterborne diseases such as dysentery.” (Did Tea and Beer Make Britain Great?)

Tea became fashionable after 1662 when King Charles II’s Portugese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. In those days the beverage was thought to possess medicinal qualities, and Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house in 1657 with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des The)

Only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Several centuries later, Mrs. Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management:

The beverage called tea has now become almost a necessary of life. Previous to the middle of the 17th century it was not used in England, and it was wholly unknown to the Greeks and Romans. Pepys says, in his Diary,—“September 25th, 1661.—I sent for a cup of tea (a China drink), of which I had never drunk before.” Two years later it was so rare a commodity in England, that the English East–India Company bought 2 lbs. 2 oz. of it, as a present for his majesty. In 1666 it was sold in London for sixty shillings a pound. From that date the consumption has gone on increasing from 5,000 lbs. to 50,000,000 lbs.

At the same time that tea gained popularity with the masses, coffee also became an increasingly common and popular drink. Men would congregate in coffee houses, drinking the hot bitter brew, discussing politics or trade, or reading newspapers. One reasons for coffee’s popularity was that caffeine improved concentration and enhanced wakefulness, and did not dull the senses as alcohol did. At this time, chocolate, another popular drink, was only drunk not eaten. Carbonated water, consisting of water impregnated with carbonic acid gas and invented by Joseph Priestley, made its first appearance in 1772.

A breakthrough in water hygiene occured in the summer of 1854 when Dr. John Snow made a connection between a deadly outbreak of cholera in his London neighborhood and public drinking water. Dr. Snow traced the epidemic to a contaminated pump on Broad Street. It did not surprise him that around 70 workers in a brewery nearby remained healthy due to their daily allotment of free beer. By the end of the 19th century, piped-in treated water made drinking from public pumps and fountains safe for the first time in England.

Small Beer Recipe

Take a large Sifter full of Bran

Hops to your Taste — Boil these

3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall.

into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons

Molasses while the Beer is

scalding hot or rather drain the

molasses into the Cooler. Strain

the Beer on it while boiling hot

let this stand til it is little more

than Blood warm. Then put in

a quart of Yeast if the weather is

very cold cover it over with a Blanket.

Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours

then put it into the Cask. leave

the Bung open til it is almost done

working — Bottle it that day Week

it was Brewed.

George Washington. “To Make Small Beer.”

From his 1757 notebook.

Read my other posts on this topic:

Other links:

Image of stoneware bottles and vessels, including a beer bottle and gin bottle.

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The Yorkshire Post wrote a review of Miss Austen Regrets four days ago. In it, script writer Gwynneth Hughes, who was interviewed for the article, traces the film from conception to realization. This is one of the best reviews of the film I have read, in part because so much of the material comes straight from Ms. Hughes, who provides her rationale for choosing specific scenes and themes. The review ends with this paragraph: “Ms Hughes has no regrets about her portrayal of JA. “People will find my Jane (and Olivia’s) surprising, maybe, but I stand by everything I wrote. It’s my account of how she might have been, and I don’t think she would have been any gentler or sweeter. She was no shy spinster.””

I’m glad Ms. Hughes made it clear that her account of Jane’s life is her own and therefore subject to interpretation. I also give her great credit for not making much ado of Jane’s short youthful fling with Tom Lefroy, and for writing such an intelligent script.

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Jane takes care of henryThe script from Miss Austen Regrets uses language from Jane’s letters and writing, and scenes from events that actually occurred in her life. For these reasons, the film is worth watching and rewatching – in addition to Olivia Williams’ complex and mature performance. I wish the tone of the movie had been less somber (read my review here), and had concentrated more on Jane’s sparkling wit and amazing publishing success, but many months after viewing the film, I am still left with a strong and positive impression.

One of the film’s historically significant scenes shows Jane’s meeting at Carlton House in 1815 with Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian. Jane’s favorite brother, Henry (right in movie), lived in London at the time, where he worked as a banker and acted as Jane’s agent. At this prolific juncture of her life, Jane’s writing career had taken off and her books were selling well. Several of the Austen brothers were experiencing financial setbacks, and Jane’s added income must have relieved them from no small amount of anxiety.During Jane’s visits to London in 1815 to revise proof-sheets (of Emma, one supposes), Henry fell seriously ill and Jane spent her time nursing him (Top left). The doctor who attended Henry was also one of the Prince Regent’s physicians. Edward Austen-Leigh writes about his encounter with Jane in A Memoir of Jane Austen:

In the autumn of 1815 [Jane] nursed her brother Henry through a dangerous fever and slow convalescence at his house in Hans Place. He was attended by one of the Prince Regent’s physicians. All attempts to keep her name secret had at this time ceased, and though it had never appeared on a title-page, all who cared to know might easily learn it: and the friendly physician was aware that his patient’s nurse was the author of `Pride and Prejudice.‘ Accordingly he informed her one day that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he read them often, and kept a set in every one of his residences; that he himself therefore had thought it right to inform his Royal Highness that Miss Austen was staying in London, and that the Prince had desired Mr. Clarke, the librarian of Carlton House, to wait upon her. The next day Mr. Clarke made his appearance, and invited her to Carlton House, saying that he had the Prince’s instructions to show her the library and other apartments, and to pay her every possible attention.

In the film, Jane is shown as feeling some apprehension and awkwardness as she walks through the grand house accompanied by footmen in livery to meet Rev. James Stanier Clarke (left in movie). Although no record Watercolour of Jane Austen (?)of the meeting survives, Jane’s correspondence with Mr. Clarke is well known. Jospehine Ross reveals in Jane Austen: A Companion that Mr. Clarke was slightly smitten with the author (p 38). A recent exciting find of Mr. Clarke’s Friendship Book contains a small watercolour likeness of a woman that many experts believe to be one of Jane. (See image at right.)

During this meeting, Mr. Clarke revealed the Prince Regent’s request to have her next novel dedicated to him. The prince was a great admirer of Jane’s novels and he kept editions of her works in all his houses. The “honour” of the Prince’s request might have induced mixed feelings in Jane, who reveals in this letter:

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband…” – February 16, 1813

After Jane returned to Hans Place, she was not quite sure of the exact nature of Mr. Clarke’s request, and wrote this letter to clarify her confusion:

Sir, I must take the liberty of asking you a question. Among the many flattering attentions which I received from you at Carlton House on Monday last was the information of my being at liberty to dedicate any future work to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, without the necessity of any solicitation on my part. Such, at least, I believed to be your words; but as I am very anxious to be quite certain of what was intended, I entreat you to have the goodness to inform me how such a permission is to be understood, and whether it is incumbent on me to show my sense of the honour by inscribing the work now in the press to His Royal Highness; I should be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or ungrateful. – November 15, 1815

When Emma was printed in March of 1816, Jane wrote this dedication to the Prince:

TO
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL
AND OBEDIENT
HUMBLE SERVANT,
THE AUTHOR

Read more on this topic at these links:

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One of the reasons I love the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is the way it ended so romantically with the wedding of Marianne and Colonel Brandon. The scene began with children waving colorful ribbons on sticks following a man to church carrying a two- or three-tiered cake on a pole. How did this tradition start, I wondered? And why did the celebrants follow it?
First, let’s address the tiered wedding cake, whose origin lies in a romantic, though unsubstantiated tale:

Thomas Rich “was a young man apprenticed to a baker near Ludgate. He fell in love with his master’s daughter and, at the end of his apprenticeship when he set up his own business, asked for her hand in marriage. The proposal was given her father’s approval. As a baker, Rich wished to create a spectacular cake for the wedding feast, but was unsure of how to create something completely new for his betrothed…until, one day, inspiration hit him. A cake in layers tiered, diminishing as it rose. And thus began, according to the story, the tradition of the tiered wedding cake, based on Wren’s steeple for St. Brides. – City of London Churches, by Mark McManus


The origin of the wedding procession is steeped in history, tradition, and superstition. The custom began in the days of the Romans as a morning offering to the gods and an evening filled with song. Symbolically the bride was transferred from her home to that of the groom, who now assumed guardianship of his wife. While symbolism remained – wheat stood for ‘plenty’, for example – singers and musicians began to accompany the procession, adding an especially festive touch.

In medieval times, the processional was especially colourful. Gaily dressed minstrels sang and piped at the head of the procession. Next came a young man bearing the bride-cup, which was a chalice or vase of silver or silver-gilt, decorated with gilt, rosemary and ribbons. Then the bride walked, attended by two bachelors, and a dozen or so knights and pages. Next came maidens carrying bride cake, followed by girls with garlands of wheat. The bridegroom then appeared, led by two maidens, and walked in the midst of his close friends, including his “best man.” The relatives walked after him, and these were followed by less intimate friends. Finally, at some distance and appearing to have no concern in the festivities, or ceremony, appeared the bride’s father! – The Origins of the Members of the Bridal Party


As time progressed, the whole affair could become so noisy and disorderly that complaints were made by the town council. Should the groom elect not to walk with the procession, he would meet his bride at the door of the church or at the altar.

Ancient superstitions were attached to the wedding procession, many having to do with the success of the marriage and the couple’s happiness. One English custom said that the guest who found a ring in their slice of wedding place would be assured of happiness during the coming year. The ring would have been placed deliberately inside the cake before it was baked. In Yorkshire, if a plate holding wedding cake broke when it was thrown out of the window as the bride returned to her parents home after the ceremony, then the couple’s future would be happy. (From Wedding Superstitions)

Bonus Question: What role did Edward Ferrars play on the day Marianne and Colonel Brandon were married?

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Jane fans are familiar with images of her distinctive profile (left), and her sister Cassandra’s silhouette (right.) In the 18th and 19th centuries the silhouette was a popular form of portraiture with families and individuals who could not afford a more formal and expensive mode of having their likenesses made. Oil paintings required several sittings, and even pastels or watercolours took time. Silhouettes were created in one quick sitting, and were therefore affordable.

A complicated silhouette with painted touches, such as Cassandra’s, would take a skilled artist like John Miers a reputed three minutes to produce. With such speed, a silhouettist working in a crowded area could create enough portraits to make a decent living at a penny a likeness.

Silhouettes were so easy to trace with tracing machines or by hand that amateurs could also make them. In Sense and Sensibility 1995, Willoughby is shown sitting for his portrait. Marianne, who was no professed artist, laboriously drew Willoughby’s profile using two sets of grids, one for Willoughby’s screen and one for her drawing pad, and well-placed candles that cast his profile against the screen. (See image at top of page in this link.)

Unfortunately Willoughby grew impatient (or amorous), and he peeked around the screen to flirt with Marianne. When he returned to his seat, his profile had shifted on the grid (see first and last image.) For an amateur, such a shift would have been disastrous. A skillful silhouettist would have been finished before Willoughby moved.

Most silhouette artists were itinerants who worked their magic in popular tourist spots, such as Brighton or Bath, or at public fairs, where people were apt to buy souvenirs. They either traced profiles by hand and painted them in, or skillfully snipped away at the paper with sharp scissors. With an experienced artist, the second method would have been fast and accurate.

Some silhouettes, such as this example of the Austen family on the JASNA site could be fairly complicated. Still others, such as those set in the rings and brooches on the Wigs on the Green website, were extremely small. The title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer, since both the rich and poor were enamored with these portraits, but while the rich could afford to commission sumptuous paintings in addition to these shades, a silhouette likeness was all a poor person could afford.

John Miers is considered the premier silhouette artist of the 18th century. His skillful shades (and those of his followers) are represented in the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria And Albert Museum. Collectors prefer Miers’ earlier likenesses, which showed a delicacy of touch and painting that are unequaled. The artist, who lived in Edinburgh, also snipped John Burns’s profile. Click here to view: Robert Burns’s Appearance.

To learn more about silhouettes, click on the following links:

  • Silhouette History: Includes a fascinating tale of Etienne de Silhouette, Finance Minister of France, who liked to cut paper silhouettes but who ignored the plight of the poor.

This three-minute YouTube clip of a silhouette artist demonstrates how quickly silhouettes are made. It also includes a short history of silhouette making.

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Cast of My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack will be shown on PBS tonight at 9 pm. Click here to read my review of this powerful movie (Warning: spoilers) and here for Laurel Ann’s post on Carrie Mulligan, who played Elsie Kipling. Both posts also solicit your knowledge about movies in Six Degrees of Austen Adaptation Separation. Rudyard Kipling’s connection to Jane Austen is his powerful short story, “The Janeites,” which popularized the term, and his well-publicized admiration for the author.

Jane SmilesMiss Austen Regrets

Miss Austen Regrets.com offers a variety of current posts and photos of the film, to be shown on BBC on April 27th. Click here to see the stills I pulled from the film, and here for my review, Miss Austen Regrets Perhaps a Bit Too Much For My Taste. Learn more about Olivia Williams on this PBS press site.

Andrew DaviesAndrew Davies

In a recent interview with the Birminham Post, Andrew Davies shares his well-known insights on sexing up the classics for film adaptations. In a slightly older interview with CNN, Mr. Davies continues to expound on his script writing philosophy.

Best Quote Seen Over the Ether:

It was very entertaining, but shouldn’t have been called Mansfield Park.”

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It’s spring, and the Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre recommends some drinks with the author in his blog: gin with Fitzgerald, tea with Dr. Johnson, and madeira with Jane Austen. He chose madeira for Jane because it is “a little sweeter and lighter than sherry, which would also be suitable.” Other popular fortified wines of the time were sherry and port. Only gentleman drank the latter, as well as claret, an expensive French bordeaux.

The patronesses of Almack’s served orgeat and ratafia, two sugary sweet drinks. Refreshments at this tony establishment were supposed to be insipid, but both drinks have strong flavors.

Orgeat syrup, made with almond extract, sugar, and orange flower water, was (and still is) added as a flavoring to punch, hot chocolate, coffee, sparking water, or cocktails. This thick, sticky, and opaque milky liquid would have been considered too sweet by itself, and a small amount went a long way. A non-alcoholic orgeat lemonade would have consisted of orgeat syrup, lemonade, and soda water, and might well have been the sort of drink served at an Assembly.

Ratafia, which denotes almost any alcoholic or flavored water, could be made in several ways – distilled or with an infusion of fruits and spices. Ratafia’s alcoholic base would have consisted of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape. The length of time for fermentation for this drink varies. A liquer made in mid-December, for example, could be ready to serve two months later on Valentine’s Day. One recipe for dark brown ratafia suggested that it be stored in an oak barrel for at least two years.

Capillaire, another drink of that era, seems similar to ratafia in that it is described as any simple syrup flavored with orange flowers. I was not able to find out more about this drink, other than as a vague reference.

As mentioned above, Mr. McIntyre chose madeira for Jane. This sweet, fortified wine was hugely popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in Colonial America. Brandy was added to the wine to stop the conversion of alcohol from the sugars in the grapes.

British laws prohibited the exportation of wines to the colonies except for Madeira. This brandy-laced wine became so popular in colonial America that nearly 25% of all Madeira wine was shipped there. An interesting chemical reaction occurred inside the casks during the long, hot, and rocky sea voyage across the ocean – the wine improved vastly in flavor. “Why these wines, exposed to constant rocking, extreme heat, and the barrels often found soaking in bilge water, were not ruined, is a mystery.” (Into Wine) It was popularly thought at the time that for Madeira to age well, the wine had to cross the equator in order to heat up sufficiently. In those days, as now, the wine was offered as an aparatif, or with cheese or desserts after dinner.

Cordial waters or Liquers d’Italien had enjoyed a long reputation as wholesome, medicinal drinks, and personal recipes abounded. One 1820 recipe for Yellow Escubac included adding the following ingredients:

One ounce of saffron, one ounce of Damascus raisins, one ounce of cinnamon, three pounds of sugar, one ounce of liquorice, one ounce of corianders, three pints of brandy, two pints of water. Pound these ingredients, and dissolve the sugar in two pints of water; put the whole in ajar to infuse for a month, taking care to stir it up every second day, or third at farthest. – From: G.A. Jarrin, The Italian Confectioner (London: 1820)

Unlike Mr. McIntyre, I would have chosen a slightly different drink for Jane, a French wine perhaps, or, as Jane wrote to Cassandra, the orange wine, which would want “our care soon.” Whatever her choice of drink, a lady was not supposed to get drunk or tipsy, but as Dr. Jennifer Kloester allows, in an age that was generous in serving drink, sobriety would not have been easy state to maintain:

In general, upper-class women did not get drunk, although the prevalence of alcohol in society sometimes made this difficult. The arrack-punch served at Vauxhall Gardens was drunk by both men and women, despite a reputation for potency. It was said to have been made from the grains of the Benjamin flower mixed with rum and was freely imbibed on gala nights. Some men preferred to mix their own punch as Freddy did in Cotillion and rum punch (rum, lemon, arrack and sugar), Regent’s punch (various fruits, rum, brandy, hock, Curaçao, Madeira and champagne) and Negus (port, lemon, sugar and spices) were popular brews. Fortified wines such as Madeira and sherry were also popular with men and some women during the Regency but red wines such as claret, burgundy and port tended to be the more exclusive province of male drinkers. Brandy, gin and rum were drunk by upper-class men, although they often chose to drink the rougher forms of these spirits in the less salubrious surroundings of the inns and taverns of the poorer quarters of London. – Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

Learn more about Madeira and other alcoholic drinks that could be served to ladies of the Regency era in these links:

Dance image from Wikimedia Commons.

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Antiques and Vintage Dress Gallery features beautiful close up photographs of a riding costume designed for Mansfield Park, 1999. “The jumper gown can be worn buttoned up at the sides as you see, or just unbutton to wear straight. The jacket has violet-blue velvet collar, cuffs and buttons”. Francis O’Connor, who played Fanny Price, did not wear this costume. Click on the link to see 15 images of the gown.

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Robert Adam, one of the premier architects, furniture designers, and interior designers of his age, was commissioned in 1768 to refurbish part of Saltram House in Devon. He created a suite of rooms in the Neo-classical style to update the house. Click here to view the Robert Adam interior in this silent 3-minute video from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Learn more about Robert Adam here:

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Laurie Viera Rigler will be giving away a paperback copy of the Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. All you need to do is make a comment on her guest post on Jane Austen Today. Click here to read her post, Ten Ways to Cope Without the Complete Jane Austen Series. Your suggestion might just be the winner!

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Shall I ever forget the sensations I experienced upon slowly descending the hills, and crossing the bridge over the Tiber; when I entered an avenue between terraces and ornamented gates of villas, which leads to the Porto del Popolo, and beheld the square, the domes, the obelisk, the long perspective of streets and palaces opening beyond, all glowing with the vivid red of sunset? - William Beckford describing his Grand Tour in a letter, 1780

When Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen-Knight returned from his grand tour, he brought back as one of his souvenirs the solemn portrait that we have come to associate with his image. Since the 17th century, it was de rigeur for young English gentleman of privileged background to embark on a 2-4 year trip to see the historic and cultural places of Europe with their tutors.

Ideally, a young man sent on the Grand Tour would return home not just with souvenir portraits painted against a backdrop of Roman monuments, but with new maturity, improved taste, an understanding of foreign cultures, and a fresh appreciation of the benefits of being born British. - Norton Anthology of English Literature

There was a marked difference between a gentleman who had gone on such a life-altering excursion and one who hadn’t, a certain polish, if you will, and knowledge of the world that distinguished such a person. Armed with letters of introduction and letters of credit, the young gentleman would set off by boat and cross the channel, landing in Calais. This crossing was fraught with danger. Sea sickness was not uncommon, and ships were known to capsize during heavy storms. Once the pair landed on the continent, they would visit a number of popular Grand Tour sites: Paris, Rome, the Netherlands, Germany, Venice, Florence and Naples were popular destinations.

The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend weeks in smaller cities and up to several months in the three key cities. Paris was definitely the most popular city as French was the most common second language of the British elite, the roads to Paris were excellent, and Paris was a most impressive city to the English…Other locations included as part of some Grand Tours included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic. However, these other spots lacked the interest and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and had substandard roads that made travel much more difficult so they remained off most itineraries. Click here to take an interactive Grand Tour online.

Such a protracted trip came with a hefty price: during the 18th century, a grand tour of three years could cost as much as 5,000 pounds to visit these “museums of history, civility, and culture.”* Many young men, such as Edward Austen-Knight, returned with portraits painted of themselves; others returned with entire collections, influencing the styles at home. It was no coincidence that Neo-classicism and the Palladian ideal were popularized during this era. “In high society, milord anglais on this Grand Tour pillaged the Continent for old Masters (genuine, fake or retouched), took an artist or two in tow, and built and embellished at every opportunity.” (Porter, p 243).

Grand Tours did not always turn out for the best. Some young men, rather than taking the opportunity to acquire as much cultural knowledge and polish as possible, gambled away fortunes, formed mesalliances, or contracted venereal disease during their sexual exploits. Tutors were also known as bearleaders, a title that hints at the unruly behavior of their charges. (Norton Anthology) Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his natural son, who was on the Grand Tour, sought to remind him of how a gentleman ought to conduct himself at all times. After their tour was over, a number of young men in the latter half of the 18th century, continued to copy the tastes and styles of continental society. Marked by their dress and behavior, these dandies were known as macaronis (see image).

Colston Pyranees Mountain View

The Grand Tour was momentarily suspended during the Napoleonic wars, but was quickly revived once the conflict was over. Young ladies, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Wollstonecraft, for instance, would also embark on these journeys with their companions, however these tours were not expected to round out her education or develop her character in the same manner as a man’s. Princess Caroline, who died in childbirth in 1817, had gone on a Grand Tour after the Napoleonic Wars ended, and was romantically involved with an Italian courtier, Bartolomeo Pergami. During the Edwardian era, it was common for a young lady to travel abroad on a relatively short trip with a companion. Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With a View (click here to read my review of the 2007 movie) was one such girl. Jo March from Little Women had hoped to accompany her Aunt Carol to Europe, but it was her sister Amy who was invited along instead.

Update: View Edward Austen Knight’s full painting here and learn about his Grand Tour journals here.

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Click here for my review of A Room With a View, 2007. What did you think of the new Andrew Davies adaptation that just aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic? Did it compare to Merchant and Ivory’s 1985 cinematic gem? Did you think the ending make sense? To my way of thinking, it was completely wrong. E.M. Forster mentioned 50 years later that George would return to Florence, not die on the battlefield.

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