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Archive for February, 2009

Domestic Happiness, Morland

Domestic Happiness, Morland

When we think of artists during the Georgian era, painters like Hogarth, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Lawrence immediately come to mind. These days we rarely include George Morland. A prolific painter of rural scenes, he lived from 1763 to 1804. Many of his simple subjects would have been familiar to Jane Austen – children playing, women sewing, a family sitting by a fire, two men sitting outside an inn, people gathering firewood, men walking on a windy day, etc. Click on the first link below to view the most extensive collection on the web of this prolific artist’s paintings.

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libraryThe abstract of What Was Mr. Bennet Doing in His Library and What Does it Matter? by H.J. Jackson states:

In this article, Jackson uses the familiar example of the Bennet household in Pride and Prejudice to outline some of the practices associated with the establishment and maintenance of a library about 1800. Besides gathering clues from the novel itself and providing information about the resources likely to have been available in or near a market town like Meryton, this essay speculates that Mr. Bennet might have been writing in his books and surveys some of the ways of writing that would have been available to him.

This vastly interesting essay, part of a series of essays on Romantic Libraries, is filled with insights like these:

The possession of a library—of a dedicated space, as well as of a private collection of books—is a clear indicator of status in the novel, reflecting relatively recent social developments. The Bingleys, renting Netherfield, have a room but not many books; their new money will be put to use in this generation by the purchase of property and the beginning of a collection. Darcy has a fine library at Pemberley, “the work of many generations,” to which he is constantly adding. His idea of a “truly accomplished woman” is one who would put it to use, a goddess capable of improving “her mind by extensive reading”. “I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these,” he says. His is the standard to which all aspire. The Bennet library is one of the bonds between Elizabeth’s family and the one that she will marry into: “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter,” as she defiantly but rather disingenuously declares to Lady Catherine. They have the same social values.

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Princess Charlotte's Court Dress, 1814-16, also known as the Bellflower Dress

Princess Charlotte's Court Dress, 1814-16, also known as the Bellflower Dress

embroidered-bellsWhen I saw Princess Charlotte’s bellflower court dress (1814-16) at the Museum of London I remember being transfixed and standing in front of the glass case for a half hour. I could not get over the exquisite details and embroidery of this gossamer thin gown, and wondered at the hours it took to create it, the number of seamstresses that must have toiled over it, and its cost. It was so beautiful that I mistook it for a wedding dress. The train, which showed slight damage where some of the embroidered bells were missing, is similar to the one on Princess Charlotte’s silver net wedding gown. Tradition has it that this court dress was made for Princess Charlotte on her engagement in 1814. The bellflowers were fashioned from silk covered wire and net decorated with silver thread darning and the tiny beads were made from blown glass. (The London Look, p 22)

The Museum of London website states that this sumptuous dress, which is “covered with hundreds of tiny three-dimensional bellflowers, exemplifies the technical excellence of London’s dress-makers in this period. The dress needed 600 hours of conservation work and is so fragile it may never be shown in public again.”

Detail of bells and net embroidery

Detail of bells and net embroidery

Short in stature and slightly dumpy, and not known for her fashion sense, Princess Charlotte could easily afford elaborate costumes. Her provisioners included the William King of Pall Mall, a silk mercer, and Mrs. Triaud and Mrs. Bean, London dressmakers who worked on her trousseau. (The London Look, p 22.)

According to a contemporary description, the Princess entered her mother’s drawing room in May 1815 in an exquisitely beautiful dress that (from the description) looked similar to the bellflower dress:

Gold lama and white draperies over a petticoat of rich white satin and gold twisted trimming; train of rich figured white satin, body elegantly trimmed with rich gold and blond lace; head-dress, plume of ostrich feathers, with a beautiful diadem of brilliants; necklace and ear-rings of diamonds. – The London Look, p 24

  • The London Look, Fashion from Street to Catwalk. By Christopher Breward, Edwina Ehrman, Caroline Evans, 2004

princess-charlotte-court-dress3Front of gown, Museum of London

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Image of Jane Austen's pelisse coat

Image of Jane Austen's pelisse coat

Isn’t Jane Austen’s pelisse coat pretty? It has an oak pattern on a beige and brown ground. The pelisse was donated to the Hamphire Museum in 1993 and can be viewed in this link. View close ups of the coat here.

According to Fashion-Era: “Both the late 18th century and the early 19th century pelisse were three quarter length coat. Later versions had a shoulder cape or capes. It was often trimmed with fur, ruched silk trimmings or satin along its edges.” Pelisses can be without sleeves or with sleeves and vary in length.

1819 Walking Dress, Ackermann's Repository

1819 Walking Dress, Ackermann's Repository

Lara Corsets and Gowns reproduced a pelisse coat from an 1819 Ackermann fashion plate.  The following is Catherine Decker’s description of this coat: “Walking Dress, featuring Pelisse. This grey pelisse is trimmed with ruby velvet and has a matching ruby velvet bonnet, with ostrich feathers dyed to match. The huge fur muff would stay popular for the next few years, but muffs in the late 1820s were generally of a more reasonable size.”

  • Click here to see the modern reproduction and for ordering information.

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young-girl-of-spirit-constance-hillIn December 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote this letter of recommendation to Parthenope Verney:

My dear [Parthenope Verney]

It occurred to me after writing yesterday if you are going to set up a needlewoman under the housekeeper, Mary Jenkins, Bathwoman, Dr. W. Johnson’s, Great Malvern, has a niece, living at Oxford, a first-rate needlewoman, eldest girl of a very large family, who wants or wanted a place. If she is at all like my good old friend, her aunt, she would be a very valuable servant. Perhaps her needlework would be almost too good for your place. I believe she is a qualified “young lady’s maid,” though when I heard of her, she had never been “out,” i.e., in service. Perhaps she has a place. I think it answers very well in a large house to have as much as possible done at home, as little as possible “put out.”

This domestic job as needlewoman – mending, embroidering, making clothes – sounds benign compared to the custom of the Regency and Victorian eras to overwork seamstresses. While plying the needle was a common domestic activity (Jane Austen was known to possess a particular talent in this direction), working class seamstresses were appallingly overworked and underpaid, especially during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. Many women toiled for long hours in poor lighting conditions, with some going blind from their employment. An apprentice seamstress in a milliner’s shop worked under slightly better conditions, but during the Season when demand for new and fashionable dresses was high, these women would also be pressed to work into the wee hours of the night to complete an order.

The above illustration of Jane Austen sewing comes from Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends by Constance Hill. In Chapter XX, Constance makes the following observation about Jane Austen’s skill as a needlewoman:

Her needlework was exquisite. We have seen a muslin scarf embroidered by her in satin-stitch, and have held in our hands a tiny housewife of fairy-like proportions, which Jane worked at the age of sixteen as a gift for a friend. It consists of a narrow strip of flowered silk, embroidered at the back, which measures four inches by one and a quarter, and is furnished with minikin needles and fine thread. At one end there is a tiny pocket, containing a slip of paper upon which are some verses in diminutive handwriting with the date “Jany. 1792.” The little housewife, when rolled up, is tied with narrow ribbon. “Having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made.

For more on this topic, click on my other post The Life of a Seamstress.

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Biblical passages in workhouses reminded the poor of how lucky they were.

Biblical passages in workhouses reminded the poor how lucky they were.

There’s nothing romantic about PBS Masterpiece Classic’s excellent 2008 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist. Those of us who hold warm and fuzzy memories of the musical -  Oliver! – should put those singing and dancing images out of our minds. This film version depicts the seamy side of Victorian England that Dickens intended – purists will like it for staying true to the author’s gritty vision, and dislike it for the many changes in the plot, as with the character of Rose Maylie.

Oliver lost his mother within hours of his birth and began a twisted start.

Oliver lost his mother within hours of his birth and began a twisted start.

Oliver’s twisted start began not unlike the many orphans of unmarried mothers for whom charity was the only way to survive. In 1848, reformer Lord Ashley referred to the more than thirty thousand children living on the streets as, “naked, filthy, roaming, lawless, and deserted children.” They had no recourse but to live in workhouses, large industrial factories that needed a labor force.

Badly treated workhouse boy.

Badly treated workhouse boy.

Back in the mid-19th century workhouses were no better than concentration camps. Conditions were made purposefully harsh to discourage the destitute from asking for help. Those unlucky enough to qualify were given just enough calories to stay alive for the harsh labor they were forced to perform breaking stones or picking oakum*. In addition to the brutal conditions, parents were separated from their children, and wives were separated from their husbands to prevent more breeding.

William Miller as Oliver Twist

William Miller as Oliver Twist

In 1834 the average age of death for a person in industrial cities like Leeds and Manchester was nineteen. Almost 1/3 of children had lost at least one parent by the age of 15. The odds that a young child would be orphaned was around 8%.**  Such was the world that Charles Dickens grew up in. The child of a debtor and forced into labor in a workhouse at the age of 12, he managed to escape a life of relentless poverty to become one of the most popular and successful authors of his time.

The Board of Guardians eat lavishly while showing Oliver no compassion.

The Board of Guardians eat lavishly while showing Oliver no compassion.

Oliver Twist experienced the horrors of the workhouse from birth. Formerly known as almshouses, these places were supervised by a Board of Guardians, local officials whose aim was to keep the poor out of the way of the middle and upper classes. As in the movie, they treated the poor with complete disdain.

Noah (Adam Gillen) taunts Oliver.

Noah (Adam Gillen) taunts Oliver.

Class was relative. Noah Claypole, who made coffins for Mr. Sowerberry, felt superior to Oliver because he had parents while Oliver did not, and Noah taunted him mercilessly.

Oliver's view of the Sowerberrys, Mr. Bumble, Noah, and Charlotte just before his hair raising escape from the undertaker's establishment.

Oliver's view of the Sowerberrys, Mr. Bumble, Noah, and Charlotte just before his hair raising escape from the undertaker

The workhouse was administered by unpaid bureaucrats, headed by the Beadle, an elected official. These civil servants treated workhouse residents with scorn and cruelty, reminding them with Biblical passages how lucky they were (“Blessed are the poor…”). The workhouse staff received a somewhat better class of lodging and food for their efforts. – Down and Out in Victorian London

After his escape, Oliver walks to London 70 miles away.

After his escape, Oliver walks to London 70 miles away.

During his journey he spots a carriage that carries the mysterious Mr. Monk, who is searching for him.

During his journey he spots a carriage that carries the mysterious Mr. Monk, who is searching for him.

London streets are filled with noise and the clatter of carriages.

London streets are filled with noise and the clatter of carriages.

The lanes are narrow and crowded.

The lanes are narrow and crowded.

Oliver meets his first friendly Londoner, the Artful Dodger (Adam Arnold)

Oliver meetshis first friendly Londoner, the Artful Dodger (Adam Arnold)

For an orphan like Oliver or a woman without family or husband like Nancy, Victorian London was as equally harsh an environment as the workhouse. Newly arrived in town, the Artful Dodger is the only friendly face Oliver sees.

Sophie Okonedo as Nancy

Sophie Okonedo as Nancy

Nancy, a thief and prostitute, had worked for Fagin since the age of 12. She’s one of the few conflicted characters in Dickens’ plot, someone who is neither totally evil, like Sikes or Fagin, or totally good, like Oliver or Rose. Talented actress Sophie Okonedo plays Nancy – the prostitute and thief with a heart of gold – without sentimentality. Although Nancy was a white woman in the novel, black servants were common in Britain, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine that illegitimate mulatto offspring would be forced to make their own way in the world.

Fagin (Timothy Spall) might seem like a nicer character than the Beadle, but he represents oppression of a different kind.

Fagin (Timothy Spall) might seem like a nicer character than the Beadle, but he represents oppression of a different kind.

Fagin, played with relish by Timothy Spall, trained his boys as pickpockets in “foul’d and frosty dens, where vice is closely packed and lacks the room to turn.”  Bill Sikes – evil and completely merciless as written by Dickens and played by Tom Hardy – was probably a product of the London slums or workhouse.

As described by Dickens, Bill Sikes (Tom Hardy) was a violent man and dog beater who terrorized those around him.

As described by Dickens, Bill Sikes (Tom Hardy) was a violent man and dog beater who terrorized those around him.

The scene in which young Oliver was sentenced to the gallows was entirely believable. Punishments were uneven and unbelievably harsh. Children as young as twelve were sentenced to death or sent to the penal colony in Australia for minor crimes like pickpocketing, stealing a penny’s worth of paint, or being found in the company of gypsies.

Oliver walks 70 miles to London.

Oliver walks 70 miles to London.

The director of the film, Coky Giedroyc, takes advantage of setting and color to depict Oliver’s world. The workhouse is bleak and gray and the cinematic colors remains so when Oliver works for Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker. The only bucolic scene is shot during Oliver’s long journey on foot to London, and even then it rains more often than not. London looks and feels crowded and claustrophobic as Oliver walks to the East End. When he enters Fagin’s den, surrounded by colorfully clad boys and stolen scarves, his world brightens, though it remains hemmed in.

Food and colorful scarves in Fagin's lair.

Food and colorful scarves in Fagin's lair.

Oliver wakes up in Mr. Brownlow’s house after being rescued from the gallows and his world brightens even more. Light floods over him and Rose and Mrs. Bedwin as they tenderly take care of him. This bright interlude in which Oliver gets a glimpse of another world is short lived. Before long he is plucked away from his sanctuary by Sikes and Fagin, who fear the young boy might reveal their names, location, and criminal operations.

Oliver mistakenly thinks he's died when he wakes up and sees Rose's gentle but concerned face.

Oliver mistakenly thinks he's died when he wakes up and sees Rose's (Morven Christie) gentle but concerned face.

Written as a serialized novel, Oliver Twist is filled with colorful characters, unsuspected plot twists, and suspense, which translate well into film. The result is a remarkably modern plot that has the feel of a detective story.

The Artful Dodger is always on the make.

The Artful Dodger is always on the make.

Everyone was discussing Oliver Twist, from the newly crowned teenage Queen Victoria (who said she disapproved of the novel for younger readers, but read on herself anyway) to Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (“…all about workhouses and coffin makers and pickpockets… I don’t like that low and debasing view of mankind”) to those who could never afford to buy the novel whole, but who could readily identify with the reality it described. All England found itself caught up in the tale of the lonely and mysterious orphan at the mercy of the parish welfare system. – The Rise of the Killer Serial

Mr. Brownlow (Edward Fox).

Mr. Brownlow (Edward Fox).

Mr. Brownlow, whose pocket was picked by the Artful Dodger, turns out to be Oliver’s grandfather. He gives Oliver shelter in his home after testifying on the boy’s behalf and saving him from the gallows. Only the reader/viewer knows early on about this coincidence. Rose Maylie is now Mr. Brownlow’s ward and lives with him – a plot change Dickensian purists will dislike. Edward, his grandson and Oliver’s half brother, walks a fine line between pretending concern over finding out what happened to Agnes, Oliver’s mother, and ordering his brother’s murder. Julian Rhind-Tutt plays Edward (Mr. Monk) with just the right amount of sleaziness, especially when courting Rose.

"We will find Agnes," the double talking Edward (Julian Rhind-Tutt) assures his grandfather.

"We will find Agnes," the double talking Edward (Julian Rhind-Tutt) assures his grandfather.

The first week’s episode ends with two shots fired in the dark and Oliver’s outcry. In Dickens’s tale, Rose Maylie lived in the mansion that Sikes was about to rob. Had this adaptation been more faithful to the book’s plot, she would have found Oliver and nursed him back to health, but Bill Sikes carries the wounded boy back to London instead, where Nancy nurses him. The tale ends with Oliver reunited with Mr. Brownlow and Rose; Nancy, Bill Sikes, and Fagin dead; Mr. Brumble marrying Mrs. Corney; and Edmund disgraced and disinherited.

Young William Miller, like all the Olivers before him, looks angelic. I found it strange, however, that despite being raised in the workhouse with the likes of Mr. Brumble and Mrs. Corney, his accent is so refined. And where did he learn his exquisite manners? Would nature truly be so triumphant over nurture in such a hard scrabble world? I think not, but this is not this production’s only failing.

Mrs. Corny tries to blackmail Monks.

Mrs. Corny tries to blackmail Monks.

While Mr. Brumble and Mrs. Corney do marry, as in the film, their tale does not end at the altar. They squander their ill gotten gains and wind up in the workhouse without hope of leaving and experiencing the same lack of compassion that they had meeted out.

Fagin guilty on all counts

Fagin guilty on all counts

In the book Edward teams up with Fagin – a sinister character as Dickens describes him and without a hint of the lovable traits depicted by Timothy Spall – to hunt after Oliver. In Dickens’ plot, Edward (Mr. Monks) is not cast out without a penny. After receiving half his inheritance from Mr. Brownlow, who hopes he will redeem himself, Edward travels to America, where he squanders his fortune and dies destitute in prison. Seeing him grovel in the film just did not seem quite in character and I found the scene  distasteful and discordant.

Oliver Returns

Oliver Returns

While the second half of this tale was much darker than the first installment, which was grim enough, the film’s pacing had me sitting on the edge of my seat towards the end. Fagin’s death was swift and merciless, and the deft visual touch of the Artful Dodger walking away with Bill Sikes’ dog showed how quickly life moves on. Before Fagin lay cold in his grave, his position had been replaced by one of the boys and his passing went largely unnoticed, except for the crowd. Such hanging scenes were common back then, and vendors sold food and drink as if the crowd was attending an entertainment, which in a strange way they were.  As for Sikes, in the book he dies in a gristly accident running from an angry mob. Death by his own hand seemed just a bit too merciful an ending for a merciless and inhumane man.

If you missed the second installment of this adaptation, click here to view it online. The video will be available on PBS’s site from Feb 23 – March 1.

More Links:

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excessively-diverted1Catherine Delors, blog editrix of one of my favorite blogs Versailles and More and author of Mistress of the Revolution, and Jane Odiwe, editrix of the excellent Jane Austen Sequels and author of Lydia Bennet’s Journal, have tagged Jane Austen’s World along with a bevy of other excessively diverting blogs. Thank you, Catherine and Jane! You both made my week. Looking at the nominees, I see that my blog has joined an august company.  I am to pick seven other blogs, a tough choice as there are so many worthy sites. I’ll follow my predilection for history and choose sites that are as obsessed with uncovering delicious details of the past as I am.

For those who were nominated, these are the rules: Recipients, please claim your award by copying the HTML code of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award badge, posting it on your blog, listing the name of the person who nominated you, and linking to their blog. Then nominate seven other blogs that you feel meet or exceed the standards set forth. Nominees may place the Excessively Diverting badge in their side bar and enjoy the appreciation of their fellow blogger for recognition of their talent.

  • Edwardian Promenade: Beautiful to view, fascinating to read, this blog’s author concentrates on only this fascinating era. Who knew that so many interesting events occurred in such a short time span?
  • Tea at Trianon: This fabulous blog covers a variety of subjects. Stop by for a visit and see what I mean.
  • Nineteen Teen: This blog annotates the regency era with fascinating and informative posts on being a teen in the 19th century.
  • Writing With Style: This stylish blog’s post concentrate more on writing than history. One never knows which topic the author chooses to cover.
  • Prima La Musica: This blog is all about Mozart. How divine. Even better, it is celebrating its 10th year anniversary. Now that’s what I call success!
  • Scandalous Women: Oooh, la la! Women of the past might have had few legal rights, but a number of them managed to live adventurous lives. Do visit this well researched blog and read about eye-popping scandals of the past.

To view the other nominated sites, visit these posts at Jane Austen Today and Austenprose.

What is the aim of this award you ask yourself? Why, just this: To acknowledge writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen’s genius in amusing and delighting readers with her irony, humor, wit, and talent for keen observation. Recipients will uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove. This award was created by the blogging team of Jane Austen Today to acknowledge superior writing over the Internet and promote Jane Austen’s brilliance.

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Inquiring readers, This Georgette Heyer novel, written in her mature years and recently reissued by Sourcebooks, will help you wile away the winter doldrums. Her scintillating dialogue is at its best in Black Sheep, as this snippet of conversation between Abigail Wendover and Miles Caverleigh reveals:

“Yes, that’s it. I’m his Uncle Miles.”

” Oh!” she uttered, staring at him in the liveliest astonishment. “You can’t mean that you are the one who …” She broke off in some confusion, and added hurriedly. “The one who went to India!”

He laughed. “Yes, I’m the black sheep of the family!”

She blushed, but said,”I wasn’t going to say that!”

“Weren’t you? Why not? You won’t hurt my feelings!”

“I wouldn’t be so uncivil! And if it comes to black sheep … !”

“Once you become entangled with Calverleighs, it’s bound to,” he said. “We came to England with the Conqueror, you know. It’s my belief that our ancestor was one of the thatch-gallows he brought with him.”

My thoughts about this novel are: Run, don’t walk to your nearest Sourcebooks online bookstore to purchase Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer. I’ve been raving about this book to friends who are interested in reading their first GH regency novel, and we have selected it for our next book club meeting (along with Lady of Quality). While GH uses all the usual convoluted plot elements and character types in this book that we have come to associate with her, there is a mature quality to the hero and heroine that I found especially attractive. At this point you might be muttering: Vic’s liked every Georgette Heyer novel she’s reviewed, so why should I believe her? To be fair there are GH novels that I don’t like as much as others, such as Friday’s Child, which was GH’s personal favorite, or The Convenient Marriage in which a 17 year old’s marriage to her 34 year-old husband is fraught with misunderstandings of her own naïve making.

In this book, Miles Caverleigh – the Black Sheep – returns from his exile to India several decades older and wiser, and, much, much richer. He feels so comfortable in his skin that the reader cannot help but admire his indifference to those for whom surface appearance matters. Miles dresses quite plainly and carelessly for a GH hero, and his social graces leave something to be desired, but his humor brings a warm twinkle to his eyes that Abigail, our heroine, cannot ignore. At the most inconvenient times, and much to her chagrin, he induces her to giggle. Even more, he appeals to Abby’s intellectual and practical side. Instead of wooing her with a flurry of pretty but empty compliments, he courts her with honest and well thought-out observations.

At 28, Abigail is a bit long in the tooth, but she is not without admirers. Pretty, stylish, and comfortably off, she feels no pressing need to marry. She lives with her older spinster sister in Bath, where the two are regarded as fixtures of Bath society. When Abigail is away on an extended family visit, a Fortune Hunter in the form of Miles’s nephew steps in to woo Abby’s 17 year old niece, Fanny. Rich, innocent, and not yet OUT, young Fanny is completely swept off her silly innocent feet by the debonair and handsome ne’er do well, Stacy Caverleigh. This cad is just days away from losing his ancestral lands and MUST marry an heiress to forestall foreclosure. An engagement announcement would keep him solvent until he gets his finely manicured hands on Fanny’s fortune. Abby returns to Bath to find this villain well entrenched in Fanny’s affections. Knowing she must tread carefully with her infatuated niece, she implores Miles to help her get rid of his nephew, but Miles refuses to interfere in an affair that is none of his business. Besides, he’s never met this nephew, who sounds like just the sort of person Miles despises.

Barbosa cover of Black Sheep

Barbosa cover of Black Sheep

The plot sways between Mile’s disinterest in his nephew’s actions and Abby’s determination to separate Fanny from the blackguard. Black Sheep’s characters are richly drawn and exhibit more depth than the usual GH regency romance. Even Fanny, young and immature as she is, operates in more than one dimension. Her first foray into romance is believable for one so young, and one feels that she will learn much from her puppy love experience to grow into a wiser, more mature woman. Like Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Fanny falls ill, causing her suitor to react in a most ungentlemanlike manner. His actions cause Fanny’s eyes to open to the WAYS of fortune hunters.

Georgette worked hard on perfecting her plots and it shows in this novel. Oh, there are some missteps. I found Abby’s sister Selina more irritating than interesting, even though her fashion sense is impeccable. Still, such a degree of silliness at her advanced age is a bit unbelievable. The older brother James is as self-important, selfish, and self-obsessed a prig as Robert Ferrars ever was, but given my overall enjoyment of this masterful book, my quibbles with these characters are minor.

The book’s ending provides a perfect solution to a choice Abigail is forced to make: She is so accustomed to assuming responsibility for those around her, that she’s forgotten what it’s like to have someone take a major decision out of her hands. Frankly, I never saw those last few pages of plot coming!

19th-century-fansOut of three regency fans, I give this book four. You may order it at Sourcebooks, a publishing company that features the Georgette Heyer books reviewed below. In addition, click on this link to look for new Georgette Heyer novels coming out in spring 2009.
My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

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Bianconi Coach

Bianconi Coach

Have you ever heard of Charles Bianconi? The Irish probably have: Bianconi revolutionized public transport in Ireland in the early 19th century. An immigrant in 1802 from Costa Masnaga, Italy, he founded a network of coaching routes  that covered Ireland from Belfast to Cork from a terminus that began at the Hearn Hotel in County Tipperary on July 6th in 1815. The first Bianconi carriage was a two-wheel horse drawn cart that carried three or four passengers.  The new venture, known as the  Bianconi Coach Service for private passengers,  made the 30-year-old immigrant the ” King” of the Irish roads.

Charles Bianconi

Charles Bianconi

Bianconi quickly expanded his fleet  to 900 horses and  67 coaches.

Travel on one of these “Bians” as they were to become known, cost one-penny farthing a mile. Such demand was there for his transport that over the next 30 years a huge network of communications were established, with Clonmel, Co Tipperary as its hub. Huge employment was also now created from this growing transport business. The year 1833 saw the “long car” go into production from his coach building premises in Clonmel which enabled him to carry up to twenty passengers, plus cargo and mail deliveries for both  British and Irish Post Offices. Here in Thurles, his depot was situated in O`Shea`s Hotel which today trades as McLoughneys, a ladies clothing boutique. The stables where he fed and changed his horses between journeys still exists, relatively unchanged, to this very day and  are situated at the rear of Ryan’s Jewellers shop, Liberty Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.The advent of railway in 1834 brought home to Bianconi the realisation that his coaching business had now only a limited future. He immediately began to buy shares in the different rail lines as they were being built. He began to sell his coaches and long carts to his employees who had worked for him. – Thurles Information

Bianconi Coaches in front of the Hearn Inn

Bianconi Coaches in front of the Hearn Hotel

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We continue our revisit with Sense and Sensibility and visual review of Part 2 of the movie (click here for Part 1) wherein Mrs. Ferrars is suitably creepy and mean, and Marianne’s tear ducts gush more water than the fountains at Chatsworth House. While many details in Jane’s novel were changed in this production, the film’s length was satisfying. Strangely I found many echoes of Emma Thompson’s and Ang Lee’s excellent 1995 film in this adaptation as well.

Margaret hiding in the library is a scene taken from the 1995 film.

Margaret hiding in the library is a scene taken from the 1995 film.

Lucy and Anne Steele had different accents. While Lucy seemed more refined, Anne stole the show.

Lucy and Anne Steele spoke in different accents. While Lucy seemed more refined, Anne was comedic.

Henry Dashwood, much older than in Jane's novel, seems a bit embarassed wearing those curls and collar.

Henry Dashwood, much older than in Jane's novel, seems a bit embarrassed wearing long curls and a frilly collar.

Edward chopping wood in the rain.

Working off his frustration, Edward chops wood in the rain.

Elinor talks to Edward in the rain.

Elinor, confused with Edward's behavior, talks to him in the rain.

In fact most of the outdoor shots were filmed in the rain.

In fact most of the outdoor shots were filmed in the rain.

In London Marianne looks for Willoughby in vain.

Newly arrived in London, Marianne looks for Willoughby in vain.

Lucy and Anne ogle the nasty beasts at the assembly.

Lucy and Anne ogle the nasty beasts, as Anne describes the men at the ball.

When she finds him she is seriously displeased.

When Marianne sees Willoughby she overcome.

Marianne finally receives a letter from Willoughby.

Marianne finally receives a tepid letter of explanation from Willoughby.

Edward awkwardly offers his arm to his betrothed in front of Elinor.

Edward awkwardly offers his arm to his betrothed in front of Elinor.

Elinor confesses to Marianne how unhappy she has been.

Elinor confesses to Marianne how unhappy she has been.

Mrs. Ferrars is seriously displeased with Edward when he confesses his engagement to Lucy.

Mrs. Ferrars is seriously displeased with Edward when he confesses his engagement to Lucy.

Fanny Dashwood, equally upset, holds onto her husband's hand.

Fanny Dashwood, equally upset with the news, clenches her husband's hand.

Marianne wants to leave London.

Marianne cannot wait to leave London for home.

Walking to Willoughby's house, Marianne is refreshed by the rain.

She walks to Willoughby's house in the rain and catches a lung infection, more reminiscent of the 1995 film than Jane's novel.

The colonel is beside himself with worry.

The colonel is beside himself with worry.

Charity Wakefield, looking suitably wan, properly thanks Colonel Brandon.

Marianne looked suitably wan in bed, but very pretty when she thanks the colonel.

An anguished Willoughby tries to convince Elinor that he truly cared for Marianne.

An anguished Willoughby tries to convince Elinor that he truly cared for Marianne.

The film ends on a happy and romantic note in a scene that is eerily similar to 1995's Sense and Sensibility.

The film ends on a happy and romantic note in a scene that is eerily similar to 1995's Sense and Sensibility.

The colonel carries his bride across the threshold.

The colonel carries his bride across the threshold.

My other Sense and Sensibility posts sit here, including Sense and Sensibility Soaked.

Post script: Where was Janet McTeer/Mrs. Dashwood? A fine actress, she wasn’t given much camera time except for reaction shots.

Think I'll add a few more Mrs. Dashwood lines in the script. Wonder if anyone will notice?

Think I'll add a few more Mrs. Dashwood lines in the script. Wonder if anyone will notice?

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Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound…. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Chatsworth

Chatsworth

Waterfall from the top

Waterfall from the top

Chatsworth is said to be the model for Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s home in Pride and Prejudice, and the great house served as Pemberley for the 2005 film adaptation. The home of the Dukes of Devonshire, Chatsworth dates from the Elizabethan era when Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish, the treasurer of the Chamber to Henry VIII, acquired the land. The exterior was rebuilt in the early 1700′s by William, the 1st Duke of Devonshire (Bess’s son). He built it wing by wing until some of the Elizabethan structure was buried deep within its new walls.

The first duke also renovated the garden, making it a complement to the house and causing Daniel Defoe to call it “the most pleasant garden and the most beautiful palace in the world.”  In 1760 the 4th Duke widened the Derwent River. He also directed famed landscape architect Capability Brown to make neoclassical improvements to the land surrounding the house:

The cascade of the willow tree fountain is a dramatically splashing and rushing water feature, originally designed in the 1690s by Grillet, a pupil of Ande Le Norte. Several years later, this cascade was dug up and extended, and a temple pavilion designed by Thomas Archer was placed at the top of the cascade in 1703 to provide a dramatic vista from the east side of the house. Around 1830, Paxton supervised the rebuilding of more than half the water cascade to align it better with the house. A new water aqueduct filling the garden ponds, reservoirs, and pipework were built to supply it. Later in the 19th century, some criticized the cascade, which is rather unique for an English garden. Joshua Major, in his book on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, remarked on how the cascade combination of art and nature opposes the dictates of good taste. However, pushing the limits of water power and its effects interested Paxton, his innovative work on the cascade and other fountains, as well as his designs for the garden, still delights visitors today. The water cascades, a sheet of water flows over the series of elegant steps, down from the Baroque pavilion to disappear abruptly into a culvert at the bottom, and feed into yet another fountain, the Sea Horse Fountain on the South lawn close to the house. – The Fountains at Chatsworth

The cascade waterfall is old, beautiful, and unique

The cascade waterfall is old, beautiful, and unique

From that first period remain several formalist landscape designs including a spectacular cascade tumbling down stone steps in the hillside east of the house, which was designed by Grillet, a pupil of Le Notre. The little temple at the head of the steps is fitted out with pipes and spouts and becomes itself a fountain with water cascading down its dome.

The great parterres of this period were swept away by the vogue for the romantic or natural landscape as created by Lancelot (Capability) Brown for the fourth Duke. By the 1760′s, the gardens became lawns (Chatsworth boasts the oldest lawn in Britain under continuous care) and the hills were crested with oaks and elms seen today in their maturity. An unspoiled Capability Brown park is what Jane Austen was describing.- New York Times, 300 Years of Treasures At Chatsworth

The step waterfall attracts tourists and waders.

The step waterfall attracts tourists and waders.

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rossettis-bed-project-gutenberg

A few days after Jane [Austen's] birth a blizzard struck and paralyzed all the south of England, making travel almost impossible as snow drifted deeply and blotted out all signs of roads and tracks. On four nights in January the temperatures sank so low that even urine in chamber pots underneath beds became frozen. It was weeks before a thaw occurred, and even then the spring was very cold, so Jane was not taken out to Steventon church for her christening until early April 1776. – Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye

In Ways to Keep Warm in the Regency era, Part 1, the post ended with the invention of the Rumford fireplace, a vast improvement over previous fireplaces in which most of the heat from a fire went up the chimney and smoke billowed into the room. Not all people during the Regency period could afford the more efficient new fireplaces. There were ways, however, to capture heat and to prevent feeling ice cold on one side while too hot on the other.

Mid 18th century Wing Back Chair, England

Mid 18th century Wing Back Chair, England

Wing chairs

Arranged in a circle around a cozy fire, wing chairs served a dual purpose, conserving heat and protecting the sitter from draughts. English homes were notorious for chill draughts entering under doors and through ill fitting window frames. The highs backs of these chairs and wings, sometimes known as cheeks, prevented cold air from swirling around the head and upper body, and at the same time prevented heat from escaping past the sitter. High backed wood settees served a similar purpose but were not quite so comfortable.

Room screens

Also known as draught screens, room screens have been used since medieval times as a protection against draughts. Thought of as a necessity, they partitioned off long halls and kept draughts from entering too close to the heated portion of the room. They could also serve as protection against too much sun in the summer in a room that faced west.

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- Family Physician A Manual of Domestic Medicine, 1886

Draught Screen 1744

Draught Screen 1744

Of the tribe of fire screens and draught screens there are so many varieties that it is impossible to mention more than a tithe. The purpose of the former is so apparent as to need little commendation. So long as we are scorched baked or fried at one side of the room and frozen at the other so long shall we require at times a screen between the fire and those nearest it. This screen may take the form of transparent glass or tinted cathedral glass in leaded squares. It may have its panels of brocade, or old leather of rare needlework by skilful fingers, or of painting on panel in oils or in water colour. – The Furniture Gazette 1881

pole-screenPole screens

A beautiful addition to any room, decorative pole screens served an important function in the 18th century: The tall thin screens shielded people’s faces from the direct heat of the fire. In the 17th and 18th centuries both men and women wore makeup to hide blemishes. (It was said that before he turned fifty the Prince Regent’s face had turned waxen and copper colored from make up.)  The cosmetic preparation worn to hide small pox was thick, and made up of wax and white lead. The lead was toxic, especially when warmed, and the heat from a fire could be life threatening. A pole screen protected the face from intense heat and prevented the wax from melting and the cosmetics from interacting with the skin.  Pole screens were fitted with sliding panels that could be enlarged or diminished as needed. The earliest panels were made of wicker, but these were replaced with beautiful needlework or embroidered panels that came in many shapes and sizes – oval, heart-shaped, rectangular, etc. By the late 18th century, skin disfiguration caused by plagues was no longer as prevalent as before, and smaller polescreens became more fashionable.

The Bedroom

The bedroom remained a primary focus for staying warm. Privacy was a luxury only the rich or rising middle classes could afford. Most poor and working class families shared rooms (or lived in a one-room hovel), and children often shared a bed and huddled together. For the privileged, life was vastly different. A half hour before the family retired, a servant would enter the bedrooms and start a fire in each room. They would also warm the bed sheets with bed warmers.

antique-brass-bed-warmer

Bed warmers

Brass bed warmer open

Brass bed warmer open

Bed warmers like the one depicted in the image above were made of brass tin or lined copper, and had long wood handles. The round metal pan was hinged so that it could be easily filled with hot coals. The pan would then be moved gently back and forth between the sheets to warm the beds on cold evenings. These bed warmers gradually fell into disuse in the 19th century after hot water bottles made of rubber became affordable and widespread.

Four poster beds

The thick hangings that surrounded a four poster or tester bed kept cold draughts out and body heat in. Popular since before the Elizabethan age, their design changed with the times: ornate in the 16th century, plain in the 18th century, and a rich but restrained neoclassical style in the 19th century. The bed and bedding materials varied according to wealth. Luxurious hanging made of velvet or brocade were often worth more than the wood bed frame, and in times past the rich would take the hangings with them as they traveled, leaving the wood bed behind. As improvements in insulation and draught exclusion were made, the four poster bed became more decorative than functional.

Four poster bed

Four poster bed

Night caps (also known as jelly-bags in the 19th century).

Knitted wool or silk stocking caps provided warmth while sleeping. This distinctive cap was also used other than for sleeping. From the 14th-19th century it was known as a skullcap and worn indoors by men when they removed their wigs. Women wore a more ornate mob cap during the day, to bed, and outdoors under their hats.

Nightcaps are no protection against snoring

Nightcaps are no protection against snoring

Foot warmers

18th-cent-foot-warmer Foot warmers were small, practical and transportable. Most foot warmers were simple wood, tin, or brass boxes with metal trays that held hot coals. The sides were poked with holes in a patterned design, and a rope or metal handle allowed for easy portability. Women and children would carry footwarmers to church or inside a carriage. They were used in a cold room as well. Women’s long skirts would hang over the warmer, providentially holding the heat around their feet. By the end of the 19th century, footwarmers were primarily used in sleighs and carriages until the advent of the automobile

High-sided Church Pews:

For about 54 shillings a year a family could rent a high sided pew whose tall wooden walls protected worshipers from winter drafts. Family members would sit close together and share the heat from a foot warmer. The pews were often individualized by family members who brought in their own pillows or fabrics, and even furniture. Pews in the galleries were for parishioners who could not afford to rent a box downstairs.

Family Pew, Tichborne

Family Pew, Tichborne

Read more about this topic at these links:

First Image, Rossetti’s Bed

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