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Archive for June, 2008

Fans of Jane Austen’s novels and the regency period are generally aware of the restrictions society imposed on women, especially on those who publicly pursued careers. During her lifetime, Jane Austen’s novels were attributed to “a lady” to hide her identity as an author. Female painters who attended art academies were banned from attending life drawing classes, which placed them at a distinct disadvantage when painting or drawing human figures, and explained why so many female painters concentrated on still-lifes and landscapes. Ladies who supported themselves through their talents were thought to be immodest; worse, popular and academic opinions decreed that their skills and aesthetic understanding would always be inferior to a man’s

In her critical essay, “Poet and Lyricist Anne Hunter: More than “Haydn’s Muse””, Joy M. Currie writes: “Expectations for British women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries included what Mary Poovey calls ‘the paradoxical commands of propriety-that desire express itself through modesty, that power be deflected into influence, that fulfillment be won through meekness’. These expectations were particularly significant for women writers who wanted to publish what they wrote, since to write and publish inherently meant challenging accepted standards of propriety.”

In a recent post on 18th Century Worlds, Ellen Moody made a few observations about the poet, Anne Hunter (1742-1821). On her separation from her grown daughter, Anne wrote the following poem (1802) :

To my daughter On Being Separated from Her on Marriage

Dear to my heart as life’s warm stream
Which animates this mortal clay,
For thee I court the waking dream,
And deck with smiles the future day;
And thus beguile the present pain
With hopes that we shall meet again.

Yet, will it be as when the past
Twined every joy, and care, and thought,
And o’er our minds one mantle cast
Of kind affections finely wrought?
Ah no? the groundless hope were vain,
For so we ne’er can meet again.

May he who claims thy tender heart
Deserve its love, as I have done.
For, kind and gentle as thou art,
If so beloved, thou art fairly won.
Bright may the sacred torch remain,
And cheer thee till we meet again.

As Ellen Moody explained:

It would have been harder for Anne Hunter to be separated from her married daughter than women today as she was not allowed an occupation outside the home. While she ran parties and socialized (being married to the famous surgeon, John Hunter, and living in London and helping him with his career),she also spent much of her life in impoverished circumstances, some of it in Scotland. So the loss of a daughter would be keenly felt – as there were no trains, and no phones.

Her poem is sentimental and pious in the way of earlier poetry when it comes to families, but note the phrase “as I have done.” Hunter’s daughter would also experience a profound change of life. You didn’t need wedding ceremonies in the 18th century to show that getting married for a woman changed her life. Her daughter might end up pregnant continually, and in those days “pregnancy was life-threatening. And the mores of her era decreed that her daughter should be under her husband’s control.

Anne Hunter’s poem does not make it into Lonsdale’s book of 18th century women poets nor any poems like the above one. The imagined community of poetry for this period was widening to include figures like Anna Barbauld and Joanne Baillie, partly because their progressive stance was one which did not threaten the essential patriarchal or capitalist-militarist social order. Minor women who were said to be “bought back” included two Annes: Anne Grant and Anne Hunter. Grant’s and Hunter’s poetry hark back to 18th century modes with a new spirit in them too – of emotion, landscape, about bonds.

Anne Hunter was the daughter of Robert Home, a surgeon in the military; and it was said his father was forced into this position because he displeased his family by marrying imprudently. (I don’t put scare quotes around these words but hope people know I wouldn’t share the attitudes which would utter them.) When still young, Anne began to publish poetry in the vein of Jane Elliot (lyrical, nature poetry, landscape).

After a long engagement she married a now well-known and important figure in history: John Hunter, the famous surgeon in London (1728-93). Among other things (I came across this in another study) he tried to help women who were accused of murdering their babies when the neonate died. The law said that a woman accused of infanticide had to prove the baby had not been alive when born. The law was used against women who had children out of wedlock: a huge percentage of accusations were against women who had illegitimate children, and they generally were servants or agricultural workers.

Anne’s brother became her husband’s pupil and himself became a well-known surgeon. She had 4 children in 5 years; 2 survived infancy. She did become involved with fashionable circles in London (as the wife of this man she could and might), but her friendships with Elizabeth Montagu,”Elizabeth Carter, Mary Delany, and “Horace Walpole and Hester Thrale did not exactly (it is said) please her husband.

He is presented as this taciturn, obsessively hard-working man as a personality. She presented herself as modest and unassuming and so went over well in the public media of the period.

Then her husband after quarreling with colleagues, had a heart attack and died, and left such a complicated will (he did not trust her), that she was ejected from their house and only survived with a pension from the Queen (so, appearing conventional and having women friends with connections helped). Eventually Anne got some of the proceeds of the estate, and then when Parliament voted to establish a Hunter Museum and established it for the Royal College of Surgeons. She got a tidy sum and with the pension, lived comfortably thereafter. Then she collected her poems and published them; they are dedicated to her son, a Captain.

Lonsdale reprints Hunter’s “North American Death Song” where she imitates the death chants as she imagines them of an Indian. This was much admired – to me it’s not half-erotic enough and Elizabeth Tollett’s “Winter Song” is much better. Anne Hunter also published a volume inspired (she said) by the drawings of Susan Macdonald who died at age 21 in 1803. Her daughter was a widow by the time Anne Hunter died so maybe she and said daughter did meet and live together once again.

There is a good book on Anne’s husband: John Kobler’s The Reluctant Surgeon: A Biography of John Hunter. The Akadine Press (1988), 1st printing (1999). The 18th century is a very interesting period to study in the area of medicine. Did you know the first attempts at
modern dentistry
(painful and also shocking) involved servants and slaves and poor people who gave up their teeth for the rich to have rammed into their mouths) There was an article in Eighteenth Century Life about this.” Ellen

I’d like to add some additional thoughts to Ellen’s excellent summation of Anne Hunter’s life. While it is true that Anne was better known as Mrs. John Hunter and hostess of a weekly salon than as a poet and lyricist, her poems and song lyrics were widely distributed during her lifetime. When the famous composer Franz Joseph Haydn moved to London in 1791, he settled near the Hunters in a house on Great Pultney Street. A friendship developed between the composer and Anne, which led to Haydn’s composing English songs using Anne’s lyrics. As you can see from the samples below, Anne’s words were quite ladylike and proper. According to the Cambridge Companion to Haydn, “Without Anne Hunter’s influence and poetic inspiration, it is unlikely Haydn would have tried his hand at composing English songs. Indeed, circumstances suggest that Anne Hunter passed on to Haydn all her verses during the first London sojourn.” Anne published two volumes of poetry, Poems (1802) and The Sports of the Genii (1804). They were so well received that it was said that Robert Burns copied several into his Commonplace Book.

The mermaid’s song

Lyrics: Anne Hunter; Music: (Franz) Josef Haydn (1732-1809)

Now the dancing sunbeams play
On the green and glassy sea,
Come, and I will lead the way
Where the pearly treasures be.

Come with me, and we will go
Where the rocks of coral grow.
Follow, follow, follow me.

Come, behold what treasures lie
Far below the rolling waves,
Riches, hid from human eye,
Dimly shine in ocean’s caves.
Ebbing tides bear no delay,
Stormy winds are far away.

Come with me, and we will go
Where the rocks of coral grow.
Follow, follow, follow me.

Song

SPRING returns, the flowrets blow;
Will hope return? ah, no! ah, no!
With the dreams of youth she flies,
And like the rose, her emblem, dies.
Fancy droops beneath the shade,
And all the gay delights are fled.
Spring returns, the flowrets blow;
Will hope return? ah, no! ah, no!
Poems, Anne Home Hunter

My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair

My mother bids me bind my hair
With bands of rosy hue;
Tie up my sleeves with ribbons rare,
And lace my bodice blue!

“For why,” she cries, “sit still and weep,
While others dance and play?”
Alas! I scarce can go, or creep,
While Lubin is away!

‘Tis sad to think the days are gone
When those we love were near!
I sit upon this mossy stone,
And sigh when none can hear:

And while I spin my flaxen thread,
And sing my simple lay,
The village seems asleep, or dead,
Now Lubin is away!

Anne Hunter [1742-1821]

Audio version: http://www.eaglesweb.com/Sub_Pages/hunter_poems.htm

Learn more about Anne in these links:

Links to Ellen Moody’s other posts and sites below:

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Ah, BBC. It seems that this august station has been running a series of historical food shows called The Supersizers Go. Giles Coren stars with Sue Perkins in this funny, and informative BBC Two show, which ran for six weeks in Britain starting May 20. Click here to see the first YouTube video, which will lead you to the others. Giles wrote the following in a recent Times Online article:

The Regency

Ah, the era of Jane Austen, of balls and dresses and, ah, balls and, um, dresses. They don’t really eat in the books, do they? That’s why they all look so good in frock coats and riding breeches. And I make a pretty awesome Mr Darcy, too. Sue can hardly keep her hands off.

I spend much of the time wearing a corset (as Beau Brummel often did, and no doubt Mr Darcy too, the old queen) and so cannot really force down much of the food – which in this period is a combination of patriotic roast beef eaten in defiance of the perfidious French and, conversely, poncy, heavily sauced French food, of the kind cooked for aristocrats by top chefs fleeing France as their noble patrons were beheaded.

I visit a Dr Petty in Harley Street, who predicts great digestive discomfort and an attack of gout from the purine in all the port I’ll be drinking: during the Napoleonic wars claret was not available, so we got stinko on the sticky stuff instead, imported from our old allies, Portugal.

But I have the time of my life. Determined to keep looking rakishly handsome in my fine clothes, I burn up thousands of calories stalking my estate with a blunderbuss, firing at poachers robbing my rabbits in defiance of the Enclosures Act.

Breakfast having just been invented, I make that my main meal. But it is so recently invented that it comprises only bread, so I don’t eat much of it.

Pineapples are newly available too but, you know, who gives?

As for lunch, that doesn’t seem to have been invented either. But they do have a thing called “nuncheon”, which is most often cheese served deliberately with the maggots who live in it. I dine only on the occasional sandwich at the casino tables

(invented by the Earl of Sandwich for that very purpose) and so go to bed reasonably hungry – a good way to stay slim.

At the end of this immersion I do, in fact, have dangerously high uric acid, indicating the imminence of an outbreak of gout. But I am in terrific shape on the surface.

One Times Oline critic wasn’t all that crazy about Giles’ antics with his costar, but he did concede the the show was full of interesting historical tidbits, such as the following:

Wartime Britain went hungry between 1789 and 1821 but it was also the age of excess. The average weight of an ox went from 370lb to 800lb (186kg to 363kg) and the Army swelled from a force of 39,000 in 1793 to 264,000 by 1815. The cartoonists who used the Regent’s corpulence as a metaphor for his kingdom’s corruption clearly got it right.

A detailed review of the Regency Supersizers Go show sits on Just Hungry, a great site which had the good taste to feature this blog. In its post find a detailed description of the meal. For more information about the gastronomic delights of the era, click on the links below:

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At first I was skeptical of the new Oxford World’s Classics reissues of Jane Austen’s famous novels. After all, didn’t I own a slew of editions from various well-known publishers already? And how different could each be from the other? The central core of these novels – Jane’s words – remains essentially unchanged, although a few of my books are illustrated, and one is the estimable Annoted Pride and Prejudice edited by David M. Shapard. So I asked myself: Why would Oxford University Press spend so much money and effort reissuing classics that it had first published in paperback form in 1980, and brought back in 1998, 2004, and now again this year?

Then I received my package of books from Oxford University Press. First, the cover illustrations are luscious. Pride and Prejudice’s jacket boasts a detail of a Sir Thomas Lawrence portrait of Mrs. Edward John Littleton. And second, this book contains the sort of information that rounds out the reading experience for both the experienced and novice reader.

I read recently that a reissue is only as good as its introduction. Written by scholars and authorities on the topic, a book’s introduction should add to our understanding of the work. Fiona Stafford, a Reader in English at the University of Oxford, does just that. Her essay discusses how Jane engages the reader with the text, and how she invites our speculations about the characters.

Part of [the novel's] satisfaction, perhaps, is the persistent involvement of the reader in the narrative. Again and again, we are led into mild questioning about what has taken place, and thus encouraged to come up with a workable solution. Conversations between Jane and Elizabeth frequently offer alternative explanations for conduct or character and, in so doing, engage the reader in the debate. Is Mr. Bingley in love with Jane? Can Mr. Wickham be believed? How can Charlotte Lucas be engaged to Mr. Collins? – p. xix

Ms. Stafford also discusses the history of the epistolary novel and its influence on this book. In an age of strict conventions, letters allowed people to write down their emotions and show their true character. Think of the tone of Lydia’s careless letters after she elopes with Mr. Wickham, or the impact that Mr. Darcy’s impassioned letter of explanation had on Elizabeth. This is the first time in the novel that we are treated exclusively to his voice and point of view, and her reaction (and the reader’s) is a powerful one.

This Pride and Prejudice reissue is full of features that teachers and students of fine literature will especially love. They are:

  • A Chronology of Jane Austen, which lists important events in Jane’s life against an historical backdrop.
  • A select bibliography. Thanks to Google reader, many of these references can be found online.
  • Two appendixes: One titled “Rank and Social Status”, the other simply titled “Dancing.”
  • Textual notes, which compare various printed editions
  • Explanatory notes. These annotations, though not as extensive as David Shapard’s, help to explain obscure customs and terms from days gone by.

The Jane Austen reissues by Oxford World’s Classics came out on June 15th. As far as my thrifty pocketbook is concerned, the price of this quality trade paperback novel is just right.

Click here for my review of Lady Susan:A vicious Jewel

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These days, a new cookbook seems to be published every day. Over 100 years ago Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management reigned supreme in England. Preceding her by well over a hundred years was Hannah Glasse, the author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. In a 2007 Journal Live article, which includes a biographical sketch of Hannah, Jane Hall writes:

She was not a professional cook, however, her expertise lying in dressmaking. Yet when The Art of Cookery was published it was an instant success. Equally popular with ladies of the house and domestic cooks and servants, it would go on to be reprinted in no less than 26 editions – and is still available today.

The book was intended as an instruction manual for servants: “the lower sort,” as she called them.

During the 1700s there was a fashion for books of this kind, which were designed to save the lady of the house from the tedious duty of instructing her kitchen maids. As Hannah said, the book should “improve the Servants and save the Ladies a great deal of Trouble.”

As with some predominant attitudes of today, women cooks were considered to be vastly inferior to male chefs:

In male-dominated Georgian England, it was assumed a woman couldn’t have written such an eloquent and well-organised work. Leading literary figure Dr Samuel Johnson famously said of Hannah’s effort: “Women can spin very well; but they cannot make a good book of cookery.” He promised to write the best collection of recipes ever; he never got around to it.

The following is a list of Hannah’s food for this month – June: The products of the kitchen and fruit garden

ASPARAGUS, garden beans and pease, kidney beans, cauliflowers, artichokes, Battersea and Dutch cabbage, melons on the first ridges, young onions, carrots and parsnips sown in February, purslain, burrage,burnet, the flowers of nasturtian, the Dutch brown, the imperial, the royal, the Silesia and cofs lettuces, some blanched endive and cucumbers. and all sorts of pot herbs.

Green gooseberries, strawberries, some raspberries, currants, white and black duke cherries, red harts, the Flemish and carnation cherries, codlings, jannatings, and the masculine apricot And in the forcing frames all the forward kind of grapes The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published … By Hannah Glasse

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Register Office for the Hiring of Servants, Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1800-05

Contrary to the image of a faithful servant who spends the better part of his life in service to his master, the domestic trade was in reality a transitory one. Servants could be hired and asked to start within a day. They could also be fired on the spot without references.

Servants came and went at a great rate; in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, ‘most men had left service before they were forty. This was partly because employers did not want middle -aged footmen or valets, but also because servants themselves tended to see the work as part of the life-cycle rather than a career for life.’ – *Below Stairs, p 95

In Memoirs of an Eighteenth-Century Footman, John MacDonald writes: “When I had been a week in London, I met the Irish Chairman that carried Mr Hamilton and Major Joass when in London. I said to him, ‘Do you hear of any place for me?’ ‘By G-d, Johnny, I do; go to Major Libbelier; he lodges at a hair-dresser’s in Lower Grosvenor Street; go to him, Johnny, early tomorrow morning.’ I went – the maid told him I was below. ‘Call him up.’ ‘Well, sir, what are your commands?’ ‘Where you ever in Ireland?’ ‘Look to my recommendations.’ ‘I know Colonel Skeene, and Major Joass in particular. Then you have been through Ireland?’ ‘I have, sir.’ ‘Very well, I’ll give you fourteen shillings a week; and if I go to Ireland, I’ll give you sixpence more a day on the road.’ I dressed him and he was pleased.”

The best way to hire a servant was to find one through an advertisement. A personal character, reference, testimonial or note written by a former employer was essential before taking someone on.

It is not a safe plan to go to a Registry unless you know all about it first, though there are some which are really trustworthy. But a servant who once finds his or her way to a Registry Office is almost always unsettled, and no sooner in a place than looking out for another. The average London wages may be set down as: Butlers, £40 to £100; Footmen, £20 to £40; Pages, £8 to £15; Cooks, £18 to £50; House. maids, £10 to £25; Parlour-maids. £12 to £30; “General Servants,” Anglice Maids of all Work, £6 to £15. [Note: these are 1840's wages.] A month’s notice required before leaving or dismissing; but in the latter case a month’s wages (and board wages if demanded) will suffice. For serious misconduct a servant can be discharged without notice. When left in town, additional board wages will be required at the rate of about 10s. per week. Victorian London – Dickens

Read about the working conditions of servants in my previous posts. Click here

*Source: Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servants’ Portraits, Giles Waterfield, anne French, with matthew Craske, Foreword by Julian Fellowes, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2003.

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No, this anime is not Jane Austen’s Emma. This Emma, or a series of Japanese cartoons, depicts the story of a Victorian maid who falls in love with a member of the gentry. These cartoons are subtitled in English, and it is best to view them with the sound turned low. (Unless you understand Japanese!)
As you can see, the drawings are remarkable. Click on the link above to see a YouTube version of the series.

Click here for a review of these animes.

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The popularity of the high-waisted regency gown is due to both to French influence in fashion and the Neoclassical rage that swept Europe during the 18th Century. Marie Antoinette is said to have inspired the round gown of the 1790′s, which is essentially a dress and robe joined together and tied in the front (view a rotating video of an early example at the V&A Museum or click on this link to view a typical round gown of the era). Later, Josephine Bonaparte who reigned supreme in her position as a fashion icon, influenced the slim, high-waisted, gossamer thin chemise dress of the early 19th Century.

The round gown, a precursor of the Empire gown, had a soft, round silhouette, with full gatherings and a train, and straight, elbow-length sleeves. These gowns were in stark contrast to the stiff, brocaded or rigid silk dresses of the roccoco period. The round gown’s train, which was common for a short time for day wear and lasted until 1805-06 for the evening, would be pinned up for the dance, as Katherine and Isabella did for each other in Northanger Abbey. One must question how practical these long white muslin dresses with their trailing trains were in England, a country renowned for wet weather and muddy roads.

In England especially, daytime dresses were more modest than their evening counterparts. A few French images depict young ladies wearing day gowns with plunging decolletes, but this was not generally the case, and it is a point that cinema costume makers frequently miss. Until 1810, a fichu or chemisette would fill in the neckline. At first, embroideries on hems and borders were influenced by classical Greek patterns. After Napoleon’s return from Egypt in 1804, decorative patterns began to reflect an eastern influence as well.

Around 1808, the soft gathered gowns gave way to a slimmer and sleeker silhouette. Darted bodices began to appear and hemlines started to rise. Long sleeves and high necklines were worn during the day, while short sleeves and bare necklines were reserved for evening gowns. The sleeves were puffy and gathered, but the overall silhouette remained sleek, with the shoulders narrow. The shape of the corset changed to reflect the looser, draped, shorter waisted style.

Due to the war between England and France, and the restrictions of travel to the Continent, the designs of English gowns began to take on a character of their own, as French influence waned. Between 1808 and 1814, English waistlines lengthened and decorations were influenced by the Romantic movement and British culture. Dresses began to exhibit decorations that echoed the Gothic, Renaissance, Tudor, and Elizabethan periods. Ruffled edges, Van Dyk lace points, rows of tucks on hems and bodices, and slash puffed sleeves made their appearance. The length of the gown was raised off the ground, so that dainty kid slippers became quite visible.

After the 1814 peace treaty, English visitors to France began to realize just exactly how much British fashion had split from its French counterpart. Parisian waists had remained higher, and skirt hems were wider and trimmed with padded decorations, resulting in a cone-shaped look. English fashion quickly realigned itself with the French, and the silhouette changed yet again.

Dresses now boasted long sleeves, high necks, and a very high waist, The simple classical silhouette was replaced by a fussier look. Ruffles appeared everywhere, on hems, sleeves, bodices, and even bonnets. In 1816-1817, the waistline fell just under a woman’s breasts, and could go no higher. There was only one way that waistlines could go, and by 1818, they began to drop by about an inch a year.

By 1820 the simple classic lines of the chemise dress had disappeared and completely given way to a stiffer, wider silhouette with a quite short hem. New corsets were designed to accommodated the longer waistline. Remarkably, Anglomania hit France, and the French began to copy the English fashion.

The rows of ruffles, pleats, appliques, and horsehair-padded decorations stiffened the skirt into a conical shape, creating a puffy silhouette. Big hats were worn to counterbalance the broad shoulders, much as big hair balanced wide shoulder pads during the 1980′s. By 1825 the waist had reached a woman’s natural waistline in fashion plates, but according to evidence in museums it would take another five years before this fashion caught up with the general public.

Leg of lamb sleeves (gigot sleeves) appeared, and dress decorations became intricate and theatrical.

By 1820 the basic lines were almost submerged in ornamentation. The romantic past held a treasure trove of ideas for adorning a lady’s costume. From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came puffs bursting through slashed and the revival of the Spanish ruff. collars and cuffs developed points a la Van Dyke and sleeves could be a la Babrielle (after Garielle d’Estrees, mistress of Henry IV of France). Skirts were festooned with roses or made more flaring with crokscrew rolls … Fantasy seemed to now no bounds. (Ackermann’s Costume Plates, Stella Blum, page vi)

Read more about regency fashion trends in the links below:

Kathy Decker’s Regency Style, year by year

Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

The Regency Fashion Page

1800s-1820s: Thumbnails

Ackermann’s Costume Plates

Regency Open Robe: 1795

Fashion Prints: Walking Dresses, 1806-1810

Museum Links to Clothing Images

Two Dresses, 1810, French

Images:

First image: Round gown, 1798, Metropolitan Museum

Second image: Round gowns, Heideloff Gallery of Fashion, 1794

Third image: Ackermann plate of a walking dress, 1818

Fourth image: Ackermann plate of an evening dress, 1820

Fifth image: Ackerman plate of a ball dress and young lady’s dress, 1826

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Father’s Day is a perfect time to describe George Austen (1731-1805 ) through his daughter’s biographers. By all accounts he married for love, adored his family, and was so handsome even in old age that he turned strangers’ heads as he walked the streets of Bath. (Click here to read my 2007 post about him.)

Here then, are some quotes about George Austen’s life by authors who wrote about the Austen family. The quotes are about the Reverend’s early life when he was a student, and later the young and vigorous father of a growing family. I will reserve the story of his later life and the circumstances of his death for another post.

Little George Austen lost both his parents at the tender age of six, and...

…all that we know of his childhood is that his uncle Francis befriended him, and sent him to Tonbridge School, and that from Tonbridge he obtained a Scholarship (and subsequently a Fellowship) at St. John’s College, Oxford–the College at which, later on, through George’s own marriage, his descendants were to be ‘founder’s kin.’ He returned to teach at his old school, occupying the post of second master there in 1758, and in the next year he was again in residence at Oxford, where his good looks gained for him the name of ‘the handsome proctor.’ In 1760 he took Orders, and in 1761 was presented by Mr. Knight of Godmersham–who had married a descendant of his great-aunt, Jane Stringer–to the living of Steventon, near Overton in Hampshire. It was a time of laxity in the Church, and George Austen (though he afterwards became an excellent parish-priest) does not seem to have resided or done duty at Steventon before the year 1764, when his marriage to Cassandra Leigh must have made the rectory appear a desirable home to which to bring his bride.
Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters: A Family Record, Chapter I, William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (Portrait above is of George as a young man)

George was orphaned young, but luckily had Austen uncles and aunts who brought him up…He was tall, thin, scholarly and good-looking with chestnut-brown hair that turned silvery white in later life, and peculiarly bright hazel eyes. A distant cousin of George’s, Mr. Thomas Brodnax May Knight of Godmersham Park in Kent, also owned two estates in Hamphire, Chawton and Steventon, and so was able to present his young kinsman to the living of this latter small rural parish, which would provide an income just about sufficient to support a family. The World of Jane Austen, Deirdre Le Faye, p 11-12

The Reverend George Austen was a very handsome man with bright hazel eyes and finely curling hair, prematurely, white; he was a distinguished classical scholar, and he was also acutely sensitive to the construction of the English sentence. He taught all his own children in their early years, and one of his sons till the later became of university age, and he augmented his income by taking pupils in to the house, three and four at a time until his own family grew too large for them to be accommodated. Jane Austen, Elizabeth Jenkins, p 6.

George found a position as Second Master at his old school. It gave him a house, and he was able to supplement his earnings by lodging some of the boys, as his grandmother had done; but it was not enough to launch him on a properly independent life. During the school holidays he sensibly returned to Oxford to keep up his contacts, and when after three years his college invited him to be assistant chaplain, he want back gladly. He took another degree in divinity. He was well liked, and was soon appointed Proctor, in charge of discipline among the undergraduates, and known as “the handsome Proctor” for his bright eyes and good looks. By now he had certainly met the niece of the Master of Balliol, Miss Cassandra Leigh, and may have begun to think the life of a bachelor Fellow, however comfortable, had its drawbacks. (Image: Interior at Dean Cottage) Jane Austen, Claire Tomalin. P 21

George and Casandra married on 26 April 1764 at Walcot church in Bath, where her family had been living since her father’s retirement. She wore a smart and sensible red woollen dress that would serve her for several years to come…The newly-weds left immediately for Hampshire, where George took up his position as rector of Steventon. Steventon parsonage was in a state of disrepair and not habitable, so George rented Deane parsonage, a couple of miles from Steventon. He only had an income of 100 pounds a year and whatever the farm attached to the Steventon living yielded, but Cassandra’s father had died a month before she married, and her mother soon came to live at Deane, where she no doubt made a substantial contribution to the household expenses. Becoming Jane Austen, Jon Spence, p15-16

The Austens first settled in Deane, accompanied by Cassandra’s mother and the motherless seven-year-old son of Warren Hastings, future governor-general of India. After being in the Austen’s care for three years, young Warren, a sickly child, died, “which caused Mrs. Austen as much grief as if he had been her own child – the Austen’s kind affection was long after remembered with gratitude by the boy’s father.” Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style, Susan Watkins, p11.

In his study [George] kept his rows and rows of books; one of his bookcases covered sixty-four square feet of wall, and he was always collecting more, not just the classics but new ones, from which he read aloud. He also knew enough science to show [his children] the worlds in miniature revealed by his microscope…But Mr. Austen’s world was as much about the farm as about the study. The children often saw him riding about on his horse, and conferring with his bailiff John Bond. …There was his parish business to attend to, and his Sunday services. Jane Austen, Claire Tomalin, P 30-31

“Traditionally, land known as glebe was attached to most parsonage houses for the cultivation of food. At Steventon the glebe amounted to three acres, but Mr. Austen also rented the 200-acre Cheesedown Farm from Thomas Knight. Though he employed a bailiff, John Bond, Mr. Austen took an active role in the management of the farm, which produced all the family’s meat as well as wheat, barley, oats and hops. Surplus produce was sold to bring in extra income”. Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane, P 25

There were eight Austen children: James born 1765, Edward born 1767, Henry born 1771, Cassandra born 1771, Francis born 1774, Jane born 1775, Charles born 1776. [George, born 1766, lived away from the family.] George Austen was fond of all his children and so was Mrs. Austen. They enjoyed their company, took pains with their education, interested themselves in their careers, delighted in their successes. These were frequent. To judge by results, the Austens brought up their children extremely well. A Portrait of Jane Austen, David Cecil, P 28 – p 32

Read More About Reverend George Austen in these links:

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Jane Austen’s incomparable novels have inspired praise, sequels, movie adaptations, artwork, and poetry. Find a few samples of the latter below:

  • Thoughts Ungathered is a blog that features two poems inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Click on the link to read them.

Not to be outdone by her imitators, Jane wrote a few poems herself. This sampling attest why she is better known as a novelist! Click here to view 13 of Jane’s poems.

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At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the Brock Brothers, Charles Edmund and Henry Matthew, created the illustrations that we have come to associate with Jane Austen’s novels (C.E.) and other classics (H.M.). Find an excellent short description of the differences in the brothers’ styles in the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum link below.

Charles Brock (1870-1938), a skilled colourist who studied art briefly with sculptor Henry Wiles, is best known for his line work and delicate illustrations for Jane Austen’s novels. This PDF New York Times article from 1912, To Please the Eye, offers a contemporary and glowing review of one of his illustrated novels. Charles shared a studio with his younger brother Henry, who was born in 1875. Henry studied at the Cambridge School of Art and by the early 1900s was one of Britain’s most popular illustrators. The younger brother lived until the 1960′s, and some of his vintage illustrations are still quite fresh today

Learn more about the brothers in the links below:

  • Click here for more information and a contemporary assessment about the brothers in English Book-illustration of Today By Rose Esther Dorothea Sketchley, Alfred W. Pollard, 1903.

Illustration: C.E. Brock, Emma

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In Sense and Sensibility, a conversation between Marianne and Elinor during Edward Ferrars’ visit to Barton Cottage reveals how much income Marianne considers suitable for setting up house. The Dashwoods had been reduced to living on £500 per year, or around 17,000 pounds in today’s terms. Marianne mentions a sum of £1,800 – 2,000 pounds a year as being adequate in an age when male servants earned from £20 to £60 a year and a female servant from £5 to £15 pounds per year. While these incomes seem desperately low, room and board were usually included. Coal cost 50 pounds per year, and the rent of a medium sized house in London ranged from £12 to £25 per year.* If a family’s income was less than £100 for a single person or £200 for a couple, then the head of the house would probably have to work for a living.

“An income of two thousand pounds was considered quite comfortable, allowing people to maintain a large house, keep horses and a carriage, and employ eleven servants.” (Life in Regency England: More Than Games). Such an income would not have been enough to maintain Norland Park (below), but it would have been quite enough for Willoughby, who married an heiress with £50,000. The interest on that sum would have been £2,000 per year.

Edward: “As moderate as those of the rest of the world, I believe. I wish as well as every body else to be perfectly happy; but, like every body else it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so.”

“Strange that it would!” cried Marianne. “What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?”

“Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”

“Elinor, for shame!” said Marianne, “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.”

“Perhaps,” said Elinor, smiling, “we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?”

“About eighteen hundred or two thousand a-year; not more than that.”

Elinor laughed. “Two thousand a-year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.”

“And yet two thousand a-year is a very moderate income,” said Marianne.“A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.”

Elinor smiled again, to hear her sister describing so accurately their future expenses at Combe Magna.

“Hunters!” repeated Edward—“But why must you have hunters? Every body does not hunt.”

Marianne coloured as she replied, “But most people do.”

Knowing her situation and prospects, we see how far fetched Marianne’s statements must sound to Elinor and Edward. A woman without fortune needed luck on her side to snag a husband with such an income: she could not depend on looks alone, although great beauty, such as Lady Emma Hamilton possessed, helped a great deal. If a woman had only beauty, then an extravagant man like Willoughby, who could not live without his hunters, must look else where for a bride. As Stephanie Edelman writes in a JASNA Essay contest:

    Austen demonstrates throughout Sense and Sensibility just how much inheritance influences the marriage market. Willoughby, who “had always been expensive,” intended to “re‑establish [his] circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune”­–Miss Grey, with her “fifty thousand pounds” ‑‑despite his attraction to Marianne. His actions are not surprising, for even Mrs. Jennings explains that “when there is plenty of money on one side, and next to none on the other” romance can take a back seat to economics. Beauty sometimes compensates for a lack of fortune, as Mrs. Jennings hopes when she claims that Marianne would be perfect for Colonel Brandon, “for he was rich and she was handsome”, but a loss of beauty lowers one in the marriage market. Because Marianne worries herself sick over Willoughby and, in John Dashwood’s opinion, “destroys the bloom forever”, he “question[s] whether Marianne now, will marry a man worth more than five or six hundred a‑year, at the utmost”. Thus we see families being formed, not on the basis of love and respect, but on inheritances, yearly incomes, and how much one is willing to pay for beauty. – The Family of Dashwood by Stephanie Edelman

For a fuller explanation of incomes during the Regency era and their relative value today, click on my other post, Pride and Prejudice Economics.

More links on the topic:

*The Period House: Style, Detail, and Decoration: 1774 – 1914, Richard Russell Lawrence and Teresa Chris, Phoenix Illustrated, 1996, 192 pages

Images: 1st – Sense and Sensibility 2007; 2nd – Sense and Sensibility 1996.

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Want a sense of what the London riverscape once looked like? London’s Lost Rivers offers a map of rivers that once ran above ground, but are now directed under streets through culverts. Click here to view the map, and read a description of the rivers.

“Dead Hogges, Dogges, Cats, and well flayd carryon horse, their noysom corpes soyld the water courses; Both swines and stable dunge, beasts guts and garbage, street durt, with gardners weeds and rotten herbage. And from those waters filthy putrifaction, our meat and drinke were made, which bred infection.”

This description of the rivers in Oxford in 1644, from John Taylor’s “Mad Verse”, gives an idea of how the Thames had long been used as an open sewer. In London, the originally beautiful river Fleet, which fed into the Thames, was one of the first to be railed off as a health hazard. - Thames Pilot: The River Environment

The Fleet River was also know as The River of Wells. Click on previous link and the links below to learn more about this fascinating topic. Find amazing photos of the Fleet sewer in Undercity.

“In the “Dunciad,” Pope, lashing the poorer of his enemies, drives them headlong past Bridewell to the mud-pools of the Fleet”— (From The Fleet River and the Fleet Ditch)

To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The king of dykes! than whom no slice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.

‘Here strip, my children! here at once leap in,
Here prove who best can dash thro’ thick and thin,
And who the most in love of dirt excel,
Or dark dexterity of groping well.

Who flings most filth and wide pollutes around
The stream, be his the Weekly Journals bound;
A pig of lead to him who dives the best;
A peck of coals a-piece shall glad the rest.’
In naked majesty, Oldmixon stands,
And, Milo-like, surveys his arms and hands;
Then sighing, thus, ‘And am I now threescore?
Ah, why, ye gods! should two and two make four?’
He said, and climb’d a stranded lighter’s height,
Shot to the black abyss, and plung’d downright.
The Senior’s judgment all the crowd admire,
Who but to sink the deeper, rose the higher.
Next Smedley div’d; low circles dimpled o’er
The quaking mud, that clos’d, and op’d no more.
All look, all sigh, and call on Smedley lost;
Smedley, in vain, resounds thro’ all the coast.

Image at top from: The River Runs Deep (see link above)

Google map with superimposed Image of the River Fleet at bottom from: Fluffhouse.org. (In this image, the underground Fleet flows from Regent’s Park to the Thames River. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

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