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Archive for August, 2008

John Clubbe, the author of ‘Bend it Like Byron: The Sartorial Sublime’, an 18-page PDF document published by Erudit, starts off with some interesting insights about Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, and Napoleon Bonaparte, linking them sartorially during their time and with later dandies, like David Beckham:

Byron

Byron

Byron liked being linked with Brummell and Napoleon. In fact, along with Hazlitt and Thackeray he made the association himself. He told Brummell he regarded him “as one of the great men of the nineteenth century.” Evaluating his contemporaries, he placed “himself third, Napoleon second, and Brummell first.” The ranking would have pleased Brummell, but so generous an estimate by Byron of Brummell’s greatness — what can he mean? I have come to think Byron astonishingly prescient. He and Napoleon play leading roles in the Romantic Sublime, but if we ponder what I delight in calling the Sartorial Sublime we discover that Byron gauged well the contemporary fame — and even presaged the future significance — of George Bryan (“Beau”) Brummell.

Beau Brummell

Beau Brummell

While Brummell’s fame as a dandy is still widely known, many have forgotten Lord Byron’s obsession with dress and with the dandy’s attitude of studied boredom, indifference and disdain. His calculated approach to language and style placed him squarely in the pantheon of dandies.  J. B. Priestey wrote about dandyism, saying: “In its indifference to serious matters and its intense focus upon trivia, Regency dandyism was a half-defiant, half humorous way of life. There was in it a good deal of poker-faced impudence.” (The Prince of Pleasure and the Regency.) As Mr. Clubbe writes, “Brummell did not concern himself with vulgar politics or economic matters.” This attitude, along with his fastidiousness and obsession with detail in dress, set him apart from other men and drew the Prince Regent’s admiration.

Bonaparte, unfinished portrait by Jacques Louis David

Bonaparte, unfinished portrait by Jacques Louis David

According to Clubbe, Napoleon Bonaparte shrewdly used clothes and dress to stage his ambitions.  His private secretary wrote that the general was always impeccably dressed, even when marching. While Bonaparte was instantly recognizable by the simplicity of his attire, his use of clothes in ceremonial state of affairs was another matter. Bonaparte’s garments  of robes and ermine could “rival in opulent grandeur those of the Sun King himself.”

Dandyism in its varying forms survives intact today. Clubbe links David Beckham’s modern forays into fashion with Brummell’s, but that he has yet to achieve that seemingly effortless style and attitude towards fashion. This article is well worth reading for its insights and information. (See link below.) In addition I added more links about Beau Brummell and dandies of his age, and highly recommend a visit to Dandyism.net, which I regard the premier dandy web site.

Bend it Like Byron: The Sartorial Sublime of Byron, Bonaparte, and Brummel, With Glances at Their Modern Progeny, John Clubbe, Erudit, 2005.

More links about dandies:

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Les modes anglais, 1810

Les Modes Anglais, 1810

A woman of principle and prudence must be consistent in the style and quality of her attire; she must be careful that her expenditure does not exceed the limits of her allowance. She must be aware, that it is not the girl who lavishes the most money on her apparel, that is the best arrayed. Frequent instances have I known, where young women with a little good taste, ingenuity, and economy, have maintained a much better appearance than ladies of three times their fortune. No treasury is large enough to supply indiscriminate profusion; and scarcely any purse is too scanty for the uses of life; when managed by a careful hand. – by a Lady of Distinction, The Mirror of Graces, 1811, p 69 -70

Some things never change. A little further on the Lady writes:

Hence, we see, that hardly any woman, however related, can have a right to independent, uncontroled expenditure; and that, to do her duty in every sense of the word, she must learn to understand and exercise the graces of economy. This quality will be a gem in her husband’s eyes; for, though most of the money-getting sex like to see their wives well-dressed, yet, trust me, my fair friends, they would rather owe that pleasure to your taste than to their pockets! (p 70-71)

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Gentle readers,

Several people wanted to know about the china pattern used in the Longbourn diningroom scenes of P&P 95.  J.A.W. visitor Marcia Larson found the Cornelia Green pattern by Mottahedeh (See comment in this post). Examining the photos of the china in the dining scene with the pattern that Marcia found – look at the butterfly – I believe she is correct.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

The Bennets dining at Longbourn.

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green, Mottahedeh

Cornelia-green china plate

Cornelia-green china plate

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Gentle readers, One of my most popular posts is The Dummification of Mansfield Park, which I wrote in response to the 2007 ITV adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. In addition, Austenprose has been showcasing Mansfield Park during the last two weeks of this month, discussing the novel at length and giving away prizes. A few days ago, Professor Ellen Moody posted her thoughts on Eighteenth Century Worlds about script writer Maggie Wadey’s recent adaptation of Mansfield Park. Once again Ellen has graciously allowed me to post her thoughts, which add another dimension to the latest Jane Austen film adaptation.

Script Writer Maggie Wadey

Script Writer Maggie Wadey

I know everyone so inveighs against this 2007 Mansfield Park written by Maggie Wadey (in TV the writer is central) and it’s true the film can be seen as a crude outline of a book through hitched-together scenes. The people in charge of this production had not the time, money, nor inclination to begin to present a proper translation of the book. Against the 1983 Mansfield Park this latest adaptation is a laugh. It also (like the 2008 Sense and Sensibility vis-a-vis the 1995 film by Emma Thomspon) imitates the 1999 Mansfield Park: The presentation of Henry and Mary Crawford is simply modeled on the earlier film version – they suddenly appear as a couple, like a pair of witty dolls.

Because of our immediate (and negative) reaction we ignore what is interesting — at least to me. There is a continual atmosphere of menace. One person who commented several times on this film argued that this reaction responded to something going on in Britain right now: a dislike of hierarchy, of artifice, of the older culture of deference. He saw it as deliberately opting for the “natural” in the preference say for a picnic, the eschewing of formality. I can see this but think it’s counteracted by the intense anger that is on the edge of exploding all the time — from the father and the oldest son. The notion of a sensitive temperament unable and unwilling, too gifted and at the same time self-possessed – which partly is in Austen’s characterization of Fanny – is transferred to Edmund (played very well by Blake Ritson). Fanny is presented as subdued because it’s in her interest, not because it’s her nature, and not really because she has been so crushed by the poisonous Mrs Norris. We see her as a tomboy in the opening in a scene taken from Austen’s Northanger Abbey, one which Davies also makes much of in his 2007 Northanger Abbey (anything that can make a woman into a boy is just great; Fanny’s now a horsewoman too, instinctively, not something learned which is what happens in the book and in the 1983 film).

Our first sight of Henry Crawford, he looks out slightly menacing

Our first sight of Henry Crawford, he looks out slightly menacing

The scenes of the rehearsal are all dark lit, with a queasy masquerade feel

The scenes of the rehearsal are all dark lit, with a queasy masquerade feel

wary, and rightly so (for she is humiliated and marginalized, at the same time as at the center of what goes on)

A typical shot of Fanny during the time of the play: wary, and rightly so (for she is humiliated and marginalized, at the same time as at the center of what goes on)

An implied bullying is at the core of social life in this movie, which uses parties and little physical tussle games (Fanny with children) to provide momentary relief. Lady Bertram opts out but we are made to feel she could hold her own physically and mentally if she wanted to; that’s what I take is the point of making her say she knew all along that Fanny loved Edmund, bringing the happy ending about. (In the 1999 Mansfield Park the taboo is also slurred over, and Mary Crawford at least knows and repeats that Fanny loves Edmund.) I do think both enactments — a natural world against the formality and artifice of hierarchies and the continual bullying, menaces as central to experience — are in reaction to our time.

The proposal scene again has Henry aggressing on Fanny, and her backing away

The proposal scene again has Henry aggressing on Fanny, and her backing away

You must.

Sir Thomas's offer of a birthday celebration lacks his usual snarl, but he is saying with implied ability to punish: You must.

Similarly and this is a point brought out in many of the essays of the 1970s: this is a novel which distrusts social life, finds it hollow, treacherous, and seeks the retreat of long-known bonds, truthful affection, and yes quiet, stillness, companionship of hearts and minds.

In the original scene of star-gazing in the novel and in the 1983 MP, Fanny and Edmund are to the side of a social group who draw Edmund away:

In the 2007 MP Fanny and Edmund star-gaze to get away from the birthday celebration (which like quite a number of the social occasions in the 2005 P&P are events to escape from):

We have no trip to Portsmouth. Instead Fanny eats, dreams, walks in nature, writes (or tries to write, to communicate is difficult, something to be careful about); and Henry finds her at Mansfield. Here is a typical dialogue when Henry comes upon Fanny alone, looking depressed, but holding still and firm, struggling and enduring as the novel says:

Fanny: “You are tired Mr Crawford.”

Henry: “Oh, I have been too much in society …”

Any news from London she says. He replies “none, no excitement [no war, he likes excitement whatever it be and the list is not attractive), but then he condescends to talk of small matters like Maria and Julia “who are tireless followers of fashion,” “even Edmund is at times at Maria’s where you may know my sister is living at present. Mary’s appetite for society remains undimmed.” The implied outlook on this is scathing. But “Tom, on the other hand, is away from all.” Too away but understandably avoiding what Mary’s appetite seeks. He goes on: “Perhaps living there she is no longer alive to its beauty but to me on a day like this it is an uncommon sight.” She replies: “Oh I think so too I can imagine no where lovelier than Mansfield Park.” There is a feeling of menace when Henry asks her to save him from returning to London.

And then after Tom is brought home very ill, and Edmund and Fanny walk and talk,

Fanny to Henry: “You saw Miss Crawford.”

Henry: “Yes, but not once alone. She was in a pack all the time. She danced a great deal. She spoke a great deal but said nothing sensible or even kind. She was I suppose her London self. Like a stranger with whom I had to argue every little point.”

A still from afar:

The key phrase in the film is given to Edmund (Blake Ritson) when Mary reveals to him her mercenary hopes after Tom’s death and her comment society will “forgive” Maria if they accept her and give enough dinners. He is bitter response: “Society will forgive us. What do I care about society? … I’d have lost you a thousand times rather than see you for what you really are.” That too iss an Austen sentiment; it’s Marianne’s reaction over Willoughby

Edmund listening to Mary.

Edmund listening to Mary.

There is nothing more natural about the kind of personality Bille Piper projects (or Frances O’Connor in the 1999 MP) than there is in the kind of personality Sylvestra Le Touzel portrays (1983); that is, the person who is maimed and made nervous and in need of support and cannot endure to assert herself publicly, especially when she is asked to pretend to be someone or something she’s not is NOT UNNATURAL. It’s just as natural to be quiet, a reader, thoughtful, and perceptive and able to see the other side (which Fanny does) as it is to be noisy, active, not thoughtful, stubborn, and aggressive.

By contrast, The 2001 Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard based on Harriet O’Caroll’s screenplay buys into the sweetness of aristocratic life at the time; it celebrates the artifice and luxury as pleasurable (if overdone in the case of Charles James Fox’s childhood — he takes a bath in cream).

Caroline reading.

Aristocrats: Caroline reading.

We might say the animating force of The Aristocrats is the opposite to the animating force of the 2007 Mansfield Park: in the first we are led to value artifice, and much of the aesthetics of the upper class in the eighteenth century; and want to have the sweetness of their life (as by the way we are in the 1983 Mansfield Park, which has Chekhovian scenes):

We see the sweetness of life during this long lingering nuanced conversation.

In the second we are not permitted to see these as enjoyable, but only the bullying stance of those in charge. The 1999 Mansfield Park reveals to us the political outlook of these people (Sir Thomas is a conservative; Mrs Norris a sycophant) and how they prey on the powerless (on the slaves). The key character in the 1999 MP is Mrs Price who cannot escape Mr Price as she tells Fanny when they hear his harsh voice requiring her to join him in bed. She married for love.

She married for love.

She married for love.

Ellen

Additional links to other reviews of Mansfield Park 2007:

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I found the following tips in a 1919 book, Searchlight for Health. As far as I can tell, the etiquette of paying calls did not change significantly from Jane Austen’s time to the Edwardian era, or from having crossed an ocean. Here then, are the rules as outlined in this Project Gutenberg book:

Emma and Harriet visit Mrs. and Miss Bates

Emma and Harriet visit Mrs. and Miss Bates

In the matter of making calls it is the correct thing:

  • For the caller who arrived first to leave first.
  • To return a first call within a week and in person.
  • To call promptly and in person after a first invitation.
  • For the mother or chaperon to invite a gentleman to call.
  • To call within a week after any entertainment to which one has been invited.
  • You should call upon an acquaintance who has recently returned from a prolonged absence.
  • It as proper to make the first call upon people in a higher social position, if one is asked to do so.
  • It is proper to call, after an engagement has been announced, or a marriage has taken place, in the family.
  • For the older residents in the city or street to call upon the newcomers to their neighborhood is a long recognized custom.
  • It is proper, after a removal from one part of the city to another, to send out cards with one’s new address upon them.
  • To ascertain what are the prescribed hours for calling in the place where one is living, or making a visit, and to adhere to those hours is a duty that must not be overlooked.
  • A gentleman should ask for the lady of the house as well as the young ladies, and leave cards for her as well as for the head of the family.

Another book, Mrs. Astor’s New York by Eric Homberger (2004), gives a glimpse of what a call might look like for young ladies of quality in New York at the turn of the 20th century. (Edith Wharton does this so well.) The art of social climbing remained quite strict and, in fact, was probably stricter as a result of the Victorian era. Keep in mind that this book and the one above were written in the U. S. about Americans:

So simple a matter as paying a morning call was hedged around with complications. A male escort or female companion was not needed if a lady went in a carriage, but a gentleman was expected to accompany a lady walking on foot. It was permissible for two ladies walking together to make a call without male escort. When paying a call, female guests were expected to remain seated in chairs or benches lining the perimeter of the room, waiting for servants to pass refreshments in sequence. A hostess alone had the freedom to stand and cross the room. Larger social events, variously termed ‘routs,’ ‘conversaziones,’ and ‘squeezes,’ were less rigid in the assignation of gender roles, and the provisions of tables for chess and cards, or music for dancing, greatly increased the variety of entertainment.

For a truly comprehensive chapter on paying morning calls during the latter part of the 19th century, click on this link to read the chapter, Etiquette for the Caller, from The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, Florence Hartley, 1872. Again, this is an American etiquette book.

Click here to read my other post on etiquette:

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    First, please hop on over to Austenprose and join in the Mansfield Park Giveaway Fest! Laurel Ann is giving away 17 prizes over 17 days! In addition, learn to love this least beloved of Jane Austen’s novels.

    • Lady Jane’s Wardrobe discusses a different type of gown – a work gown Not everyone during the Regency wore fine muslins, lawn, or silks. Many women had to wear work clothes as they prepared food in the kitchens, or worked outside in their gardens. The image below shows Cassandra Austen and Mrs. Austen in Jane Austen Regrets wearing simple gowns and work aprons.

    Silver gilt filligree haircomb, early 19th c.

    Silver gilt filligree haircomb, early 19th c.

    • Annie Gracie’s Costume Page features a series of photos of exquisite Regency gowns that (I venture to say) are rarely exhibited. Click here to see them.
    Front fastening

    Front fastening

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    Catherine too made some purchases herself, and when all these matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the Upper Rooms. Her hair was cut and dressed by the best hand, her clothes put on with care, and both Mrs. Allen and her maid declared she looked quite as she should do. With such encouragement, Catherine hoped at least to pass uncensured through the crowd. As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it. – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

    Jane Austen fans are familiar with the assembly room scenes in Northanger Abbey, where Catherine Meets Mr. Tilney (1986 film). In the recent 2007 ITV NA production, Catherine and Mrs. Allen encounter a crush in the Upper Assembly Rooms, and they had to push through the throng to make it to the ballroom where Catherine had difficulty seeing the dancers. Although they were surrounded by people, no one talked to Catherine or Mrs. Allen because they had received no proper introductions. Henry Tilney fixed the problem by asking the Master of Ceremonies to formally introduce him to Catherine and her escort.
    The Upper Assembly Rooms (top) as Jane knew them remained essentially unchanged during Constance Hill’s day, but by the time she wrote her 1923 biography of Jane, the Lower Rooms no longer existed. Miss Hill wrote in Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends:

    The portion that remains of the lower rooms

    The old Assembly or Lower Rooms no longer exist, having been destroyed by fire many years ago. The author of a Bath Guide which appeared early in the century, speaks of them as situated “on the Walks leading from the Grove to the Parades,” and as containing “a ball-room ninety feet long, as well as two tea-rooms, a card-room,” and “an apartment devoted to the games of chess and backgammon”; and tells us that they were “superbly furnished with chandeliers, girandoles, &c.” – For Constance’s delightful description of a gathering in the Assembly Rooms, please click on this link.

    The Upper Assembly Rooms’ irreplaceable crystal chandeliers were taken down and kept in safe storage during World War II. This foresight paid off, for the rooms were bombed by the Germans in 1942. They were restored in 1988-1991, almost fifty years later, by R. Wilkinson & Sons of London. The process of lowering them and cleaning them is laborious and precise, as the photograph below attests.

    According to the Fashion Museum in Bath’s website, “The chandeliers in the three rooms are each an average height of eight feet and they are made of Whitefriars crystal from the Whitefriars Glassworks in London.” The  ballroom chandeliers were originally lit by forty candles each.

    For more information about the Assembly Rooms and their crystal chandeliers, click on the posts below:

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