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Archive for January, 2009

jane-austen-ruined-my-lifeJane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo is a surprisingly fast and fun read, and I found myself unable to put it down at times. The plot revolves around wishful thinking: WHAT IF Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra saved more of her letters than we know about? What if the missing correspondence is hidden somewhere protected from the public?

This knowledge has English professor and devoted Jane Austen scholar Emma Grant salivating. Her academic reputation is in tatters after her husband and his teaching assistant (and paramour) accuse her of plagiarism. Newly divorced and denied tenure, Dr. Grant travels to London hot on the trail of the rumored missing letters. There she meets up with Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot, a Formidable, who tantalizingly allows Emma to read a copied snippet of Jane’s missing letters. Scholar that she is, Emma immediately recognizes Jane’s handwriting and the (seeming) authenticity of the fragment. To be certain, she would have to read a copy of the original.

After extracting a promise of secrecy from Emma, Mrs. Parrot sends her on a series of tasks, in which Emma visits Steventon, Chawton Cottage, Bath … well, you get the drift … all the places that Jane Austen either lived in or traveled to. Emma’s motives for going through all this trouble are the possibilities of handling the actual letters and researching them. Her resulting book would salvage her academic reputation. Traveling with Emma is an old flame who, coincidentally, is staying in the same flat as Emma. Does he know of her secret or is he truly as interested in her as he claims? His presence adds to the mystery and suspense of the plot. The book is a fast read and I found it completely satisfying until the very end. While Emma finds her own definition of a happy ending (which, I will concede, made logical sense), I wanted to scream out “No!” and rewrite that ending. You see, romantic that I am, I do believe that people can have their cake and eat it too.

Beth Pattillo’s latest novel reads less like a Jane Austen sequel and more like a The Da Vinci Code offspring. Consequently it will appeal to a broader audience than most Austenesque books. Having said that, the plot is not wholly original . There are echoes of  Syrie James’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (in which Jane’s lost manuscript is uncovered and in which she describes a lost love) and Lori Smith’s A Walk With Jane Austen (in which Lori visits the places where Jane lived or traveled). The author, whose writing style is elegant and spare, has written eight other popular books, including the award winning Heavens to Betsy. You can visit her at http://www.bethpattillo.com for more information.

3-regency-fansJane Austen Ruined My life, a Guideposts Book, is slated to come out on February 3rd. 978-0-8249-4771-2, $14.99. Order a copy at this link.

I give it 3 regency fans out of 3.

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Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease, John Collet, 1770-1775

Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease, John Collet, 1770-1775

In this article, Erin McCafferty asked: What was life like for a lady living in the 18th century? Unwilling to speculate, Erin decided to follow the schedule of a rich Dublin socialite named Mary Granville Pendarvis (1700-1788), who married Patrick Delany in 1743 and who was known for throwing glamorous parties. Later in life, she became a particular friend of King George III and Queen Charlotte. The article is full of insights that remind me a wee bit of Bridget Jones’s Diary:

Venturing out in the city centre proves problematic. Narrow doorways were not made for these types of dresses and getting on the bus is a nightmare; I get stuck in the doorway and I can’t sit down so I have to stand up taking up far too much space at rush hour. Mental note to self: Don’t walk to work when wearing 18th-century gown.

Mary is famous today for her botanical collages, which she began to make at the age of 72, and for her autobiography and correspondence. This is her description of  Lord Hillsborough’s house party at his landed estate:

Lord Hillsborough is very well bred, sensible and entertaining, and nothing could be more polite that he was to all his company. Sally and I being the only women, we had the principal share of his address; he is handsome and genteel … we were twelve in company … Lord Hillsborough was very merry and said a great many lively and comical things … After the ladies had given their toasts they were desired to `command the house'; the hint was taken and I said I would upon that liberty go and prepare the tea-table for the gentlemen. Sally and I took a little step out into the garden to look at the prospect, but the weather soon drove us back. Candles lighted, tea-table and gentlemen soon came together. I made the tea. Cribbage was proposed, and I consented to be of the party, thinking it would be some relief to Lord Hillsborough; at ten we went to supper, at eleven to bed; met at nine the next morning at breakfast.

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Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs. Woffington is a fascinating blog that offers insights about the 18th century. The blog’s author, who lives in England, has been featuring Georgian Liverpool in a series of posts. Click on the following links to read:  Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Image of Georgian Doors (Rodney Street, Liverpool) courtesy Andy Marshall of Fotofacade

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parterre-kensington_palace_from_the_south_by_kip_1724Kensington Palace Parterre Gardens, From the South, 1724

The ornamental parterre gardens that we so frequently see on the grounds of great mansions and 18th Century gardens, and mentioned in historical novels, grew out of the knot garden. The knot garden was  a medieval form of symmetrical flower bed made up of hedges which separated various plants, such as flowers or herbs. Knot gardens have an intricate woven effect which is very labor intensive. Their hedges must be clipped and manicured daily to maintain their precise shape, thus the knot design grew out of favor. Parterres do not weave in and out and require slightly less trimming, though this is in relative terms. The modern gardener would still find this elaborate design labor intensive.

Wilton House Parterre Garden Design, 1645

Wilton House Parterre Garden Design, 1645

Parterres look their best when viewed from above, if even from a slight angle. The site must be level, in full sun, and visible from the house (preferably from the windows.)  The evergreen hedges, which outline the symmetrical shapes of the garden, look beautiful even in winter. In spring, summer, and fall, the hedges  frame the colorful plantings inside. These could consist of masses of annuals and perennials, or herbs and vegetables if the parterre also serves as a kitchen garden.

Parterre is a French term that describes elaborate gardens designed from engravings and other sources, such as the one on the left. The parterre garden design uses a strict traditional  layout, with a broad central gravel walk that divides paired plats, with each plat subdivided in four.

Parterre diagram

Parterres are created on flat ground and their pattern is very important. They are usually situated in front of the building. According to the design there are three types of parterres-cutwork parterre, embroidered parterre and English style parterres.

  • The first type is made of square or rectangular areas divided by paths in equal-sized flowerbeds. Usually in the center of these patterns there are some topiary elements or fountains.
  • There are also water cutwork parterres in which instead of flowerbeds the patterns are made of pools. According to their name these patterns resemble embroidery. This effect is obtained by using cut boxwood on the background of gravel or turf.
  • The third type (English style parterres) is created of turf. The grass might be formed in squares and in the center there is usually a statue. The other typical look of an English style parterre is created when a turf with elaborate shape is surrounded with gravel. – Thinkquest: According to Location and Position

A modern parterre garden

A modern parterre garden

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The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion, By John Nott, Published by Printed for C. Rivington at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1723

food-18thJohn Nott, the chef for the Duke of Bolton, who resided in St. Jamess’s Street, wrote this charming introduction to his cookbook, which was published in 1723 and is now in the public domain. A learned man, Nott’s French inspired recipes show that vegetables, such as carrots and new varieties of asparagus and spinach, which were brought from overseas, were becoming more plentiful on tables. He also makes frequent mention of marmalades, blanc-manges, creams, biscuits, and sweet cakes.* The cookbook includes two peacock recipes and a collection of 13 red currant recipes.

He seems to have been a fairly-read and intelligent man, and cites, in the course of his work, many celebrated names and receipts. Thus we have:—To brew ale Sir Jonas Moore’s way; to make Dr. Butler’s purging ale; ale of health and strength, by the Viscount St. Albans; almond butter the Cambridge way; to dress a leg of mutton à la Dauphine; to dress mutton the Turkish way; to stew a pike the City way. Dr. Twin’s, Dr. Blacksmith’s, and Dr. Atkin’s almond butter; an amber pudding, according to the Lord Conway’s receipt; the Countess of Rutland’s Banbury cake; to make Oxford cake; to make Portugal cakes; and so on.- Old Cookery Books, W. Carew Hazlitt, 1902

In regard to the cookbook’s title, it is interesting to note that an extravagant use of sugar in recipes was a sign of the wealth and status, as sugar remained a luxury item for most people until well into the 19th century.** Nott told hostesses who served desserts (there should be as many dishes of dessert as courses offered) to make the table arrangement perfectly symmetrical in design and color, and provided an illustration of the ideal dessert “pyramid”.

Nott included bills of fare for every month of the year. Below is the one he created for January. Note the absence of vegetables.


The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion By John Nott, cook John Nott

Nott’s 18th Century Recipe for Hot Milk Chocolate (said to be rich and delicious):

1 quart milk
4 ounces chocolate without sugar
1/8 ounce fine sugar
1/8 ounce flour or starch
Salt to taste

Mix, dissolve and bring to a boil before serving hot.

Nott’s recipe for a posset, the 18th century version of a nightcap:

“To make a posset: set a quart of milk on the fire; as soon as it boils, take it off, and set it to cool a little; then, having put four spoonfuls of sack [sherry] and eight of ale into a basin with a sufficient quantity of sugar, pour your milk to it; then set it before the fire and let it stand till you eat it.”

More links:

  • Find a recipe at this Historic Foods link for Nott’s lamb pasty and pasty crust. In this 1720’s recipe, the design for the crust was created by Edward Kidder.

*Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine By William Carew Hazlitt, p 49

**Savoring the Past, Shax Riegler


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Bill Nighy and Marc Warren

Bill Nighy and Marc Warren

Seen over the ether, this post on The official Bill Nighy Experience: The Official Website, offers a detailed explanation of what is in store for Little Green Street for the next two years if truck traffic is allowed unlimited access to a construction site. (Permission has been granted by the powers that be.)  Little Green Street is the only remaining all Georgian Street in London, with original houses and cobblestones. The road is quite narrow, and the street is used as a pass through by pedestrians and school children. Read my other post about the topic in this link.

Little Green Street is under 10 feet wide, as the photo below attests. How on earth lorries and trucks can rumble through continuously throughout the day without  damaging the street with its ancient architecture or affecting the lifestyles of its residents is the question that is being argued. View the rest of the photo set at Flickr.

Littel Green Street Protestors

Little Green Street Protestors

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vic222paivis-bagsJean Judy makes charm bracelets using images from Jane Austen’s novels.  She custom made the bracelet at left for me, using my favorite colors. These beautiful bracelets were also a hit at the last JASNA annual meeting, where Jean’s bracelets were worn by several members.  View her selection in her Picassa Photo Album and on her blog, where her contact information sits.

Click here to read Laurel Ann’s interview with Jean on Jane Austen Today.

We then travel to Finland, where Päivi’s  colorful folk bags remind me of reticules so popular in the 19th century. Stylish and beautiful, they would add to any modern wardrobe while evoking past times.

Visit Päivi’s Flickr album here and her blog at this link.

Then learn more about regency jewelry and reticules in the following posts:

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