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Archive for June, 2009

“Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to choose his own wife.” – Jane Austen, Emma

By the time breakfast was served in a regency household, the family had been up for a while. After rising, people would engage in tasks such as letter writing, practicing the piano, taking a walk or riding. In larger households, the cook and maids would busy themselves heating the stove and boiling water. In more modest establishments, such as the Austen household at Chawton, Jane would help with preparing breakfast. A simple repast of toast, rolls, cheese, tea, coffee, chocolate, or ale would be served between nine and ten. The more elaborate breakfast would not be featured until Victorian times.*

chinoiserieIndividuals would rise early, at around 6:00 in the morning. Within the next half-hour or so, people would start work. Breakfast would be taken later, at around 9:00 and afterwards. The morning’s work would finish with ‘dinner’–probably taken between 12:30 and 14:00. Work continued until late. For some, there was tea in the late afternoon, between 17:00 and 18:00. It would be common not to leave one’s work before 19:00. After the evening meal, people would go to bed at around 22:00 – Time and Work in England 1750- 1830, Hans-Joachim Voth

Nuncheon or luncheon was a midday meal served at an inn. For several centuries this meal was simply a snack. Dr. Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary defined luncheon as “as much food as one’s hand can hold.” In the Regency home, such meals had no official name and often consisted of only a cold snack and drink to provide sustenance until the evening meal.*

Morning

food

After breakfast with the children, the first job of the lady of the house would be to talk to the housekeeper. It would be important for them to communicate about the other servants, making sure they were doing their jobs properly and behaving correctly above and below stairs.

They would also discuss the evening meal. If visitors were expected, the lady would choose meals that were lavish and unusual. (They loved showing off) When these matters were dealt with the wife would then check through the household accounts. Bills for meat, candles and flour would usually be paid weekly. When the early morning activities were finished, the social whirl would begin! High society ladies would either receive calls or visit others. Tea would be drunk and snacks eaten.- The Regency Townhouse

During the medieval period dinner was eaten at midday, but this meal was slowly moved up to 3 in the afternoon, then pushed up to five. These meals became elaborate affairs of at least two or three courses, which Louis Simond, a French/American traveler to London, described in wondrous detail in his travel diary. During Jane Austen’s time tea would be served an hour or so after the meal, or from 3-6 o’clock, depending on when dinner was served. Suppers became light snacks, except in the case of a grand ball, where elaborate buffets might be served.

In 1798 Jane Austen writes of half past three being the customary dinner hour at Steventon, but by 1808 they are dining at five o’clock in Southampton. There are many mentions of the timing of dinner in the novels, but none is so explicit as in the fragment The Watsons. Tom Musgrave knows perfectly well that the unpretentious Watson family dine at three, and times his visit to embarrass them, arriving just as their servant is bringing in the tray of cutlery. Tom compounds his rudeness by boasting that he dines at eight: the latest dinner hour of any character. At Mansfield Parsonage they dine at half past four and at Northanger Abbey at five. The effect of London fashion can be seen in the difference between the half past four dinner at Longbourn and that at half past six at Netherfield. – Jane Austen in Context, Janet Todd, p. 264

  • *Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane

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mrs mcginty's dead2I’ve spent another pleasant Sunday evening with Hercule Poirot as he solves the murder of Mrs. McGinty in the small village of Broadhinney. The murderer has already been convicted and is sentenced to die by hanging, and detective Poirot has only two weeks in which to find the actual murderer. His gray matter working overtime, Poirot manages to accomplish the task. If you missed watching this splendid series the first time around, click here to watch both Poirot episodes online on the PBS website until July 5th. While I found this episode satisfying, the story line was a bit too complicated to follow without losing the thread, although I did identify the actual murderer early on.

Poirot3For my taste, I thought that last week’s The Cat Among the Pigeons was a bit more satisfying, though I did enjoy watching Amanda Root (Anne Elliot, Persuasion) again, regardless of her small part. And Siân Philips (right) is, as always, excellent. Mrs. Marple’s turn comes next week. I can’t wait.

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my lord john

Gentle Readers, My friend, Hillary Major, a fan of history and recent Georgette Heyer convert, graciously agreed to review Source Books’ latest release of My Lord John, which was published posthumously. You can purchase the book at this link.

Many Heyer readers may be surprised to learn that the Middle Ages, not the Regency era, was the historical period closest to Georgette’s heart. So asserts her husband, in his brief preface to My Lord John, Heyer’s last and unfinished work, which tackles the history of the royal House of Lancaster in the years leading up to the Wars of the Roses. Heyer first began the writing and researching of My Lord John in 1948, and when she died in 1974, she had completed less than half of her planned narrative. The copious research she left behind was proof of a passionate interest in the era; it included index cards noting the important events for every calendar day from 1393 to 1435.
In explaining why Georgette was never able to finish My Lord John (a title chosen after her death), Heyer’s husband G. R. Rougier writes, “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story. … So a great historical novel was never finished.” Heyer fans will find it difficult to regret those “stories” to which Georgette turned her hand – novels ranging from Arabella and The Grand Sophy to Black Sheep.

My Lord John, however, shows a different and perhaps more complex side of Heyer. Romance is barely a flutter in the background of the dynastic tangle that faces readers at the novel’s opening: King Richard II’s reign is seeming more unstable by the day, and with no direct heirs, nearly every powerful noble family is jockeying to take over the throne. As events develop, family relationships will prove to be the driving force for Heyer’s protagonist; when ties of friendship and politics are tested, the family bond prevails. (In contrast, romance proper is banished to a minor subplot, and the parties in the unwise affair are granted no sympathy; Heyer’s 15th-century England has no patience with star-crossed lovers.)

The tale centers on four brothers: the future Henry V, his more dashing but less intelligent brother Thomas, the solid and reliable John, and Humphrey, the spoiled youngest. We first meet the future princes through the eyes (and gossip) of their nurses as they worry about lord Harry’s sickliness and retching and lord Humphrey’s unpredictable toddling. This is a technique Heyer uses again and again to bring the everyday details of medieval life to the fore: the reader is shown the perspective of minor characters, often servants, whose point-of-view broadens the medieval landscape while their observations help round out the characters of the main historical figures. We see Lord John, for example, through the eyes of a squire (who wonders why a nobleman would stop to patronize a street stall like a commoner) and the priest who follows in his retinue as Lord Confessor (who worries much more about the worldly concerns of lodging and meals than does his charge). Heyer takes every opportunity to revel in period dialogue (glossary provided) and even manages to write in cameo appearances by medieval celebrities such as Chaucer and Froissert.

As Heyer paints her portrait of Lord John, he emerges as an unusual hero: moderate, conscientious, loyal, but happy to fill a secondary role. While Heyer may relish the flash of Lord Harry (and the challenge of covering the events that inspired Shakespeare, who was rather less faithful to his sources), it is the slow-and-steady John whom she elevates to hero. My Lord John is in many ways a coming-of-age novel, and the story picks up pace about halfway through, when John travels to the Scottish Borderlands as Lord Warden, the representative of the throne in this rebellious and sometimes hostile region. As he meets with the nobles, clergy, and common folk, John consistently shows that is he more than he appears:

The Abbot himself received the Lord John … At first unhopeful of exchanging ideas with so young a princeling, he soon discovered that the King’s third son, besides having enjoyed the advantages of a careful education, had delved deeply into mundane matters. Sheep-farming was the chief worldly business of the Cistercians, and … [t]hey talked of ewe-flocks, of whethers and hoggets; of the perils of the lambing season; of fells; of the advantages and the disadvantages of a fixed Staple; of the guile of the Lombard merchants, and the wiles of the brokers; of the circumstances which had led great families to lease their farms to tenants; and – this was a homethrust delivered by the Lord John – of the sand-blind policy that induced sheep-farmers to sell their wool for many years ahead to crafty Flemish and Italian merchants.” (p. 210)

John shows himself similarly knowledgeable about falconry and coal-mining, among other pursuits. In passages like this, the reader sees in Lord John a love of the details and intricacies of daily life that is clearly shared by Heyer herself. While Harry has the fire and drives much of the action, it is John, the consummate planner and administrator, who earns the respect of author and readers. Can we see a parallel between the sparkling plots and vivid romances on which Heyer’s fame (and sales) relied and the meticulous research (on multiple historical periods) that she so valued and that infused her work?

It is impossible to know how Heyer would have completed her Lancastrian manuscript (or even how much of the present work would have survived her editing process), though further scenes of battle would have been inevitable and a passage toward the end of the book describing a heretic’s execution may be intended to foreshadow Lord John’s future encounters with Joan of Arc. As it is, the dedication to historical accuracy and the fact that Lord John is not personally involved in much of the action in the first half of the book, make My Lord John a slower and drier read than most Heyer novels. But the reader who takes a lesson from the unlikely hero, and relishes the richness and texture of Heyer’s medieval world, will find much to enjoy.

Other Heyer book reviews:

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Healthful Sports for Young Ladies was written by Mlle St. Sernin, a French governess, and delightfully illustrated by Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825). The book, which described exercises that were appropriate for young ladies, was printed in London in 1822 by W. Clowes  for R. Ackermann. The book can be viewed in the digital collection at the Library of Congress

Bowls and nine pins, 1822

Bowls and nine pins, 1822

A regency lady was not expected to unduly exert herself while exercising, but there were forms of physical motion that were acceptable. Swinging, playing hoops, see sawing, archery, and bowls and nine pins were sports that were not unduly frowned upon. Bowling became popular in Britain in the 14th Century and became a favorite pastime of King Edward III’s soldiers.  During the 1400s, the game was brought indoors. Later, bowling became a favorite bar game, with many pubs sporting their own bowling greens.  Heavy balls were rolled on a lawn at a smaller ball called the Jack. During the 18th century the game was called “nine pins” because of the number of pins used. The game was banned in Colonial America due to its association with drinking and gambling. On page 70 of her charming book, Mlle St. Sernin discusses a complicated scoring system:

nine pins

The game of shuttlecock was fairly simple to play. There were no official rules and the sole object was to keep the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible  by hitting it up. When two people played the game, the idea was to keep the shuttlecock up in the air for as long as possible. A point was lost by the player who let the shuttle fall. A single person playing the game would tally the number of hits for as long as she kept the shuttlecock in play. Below is a description of the game for 4-5 people.

Shuttlecock, 1822

Shuttlecock, 1822

After the introduction of a net, the game, also known as badminton, became more regulated and competitive. Below is a charming explanation of how 4-5  people can play shuttlecock:

shuttlecock

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The Cat Among the Pigeons, the new Hercule Poirot mystery on PBS’s Mystery was as satisfying an Agatha Cristie mystery as I’ve seen in a long time. If you missed this episode on June 21, PBS will make it availabe for online viewing between June 22 and July 5, 2009.

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Written in 1959, this novel translates very well into a t.v. special. Most rewarding are the number of familiar British actors who have portrayed characters in Jane Austen film adaptations. This episode stars Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode, head mistress of Meadowbank Girl’s School. She wishes to retire, but before she does, she invites Mr. Poirot to study the teachers in her school to make certain that she has read their characters correctly, for one of them will be appointed the new head mistress. Before Mr. Poirot can advise her, the nasty gym teacher, Miss Springer (Elizabeth Berrington), is killed in a gruesome manner – impaled by a javelin through the heart. (Shades of the priest being killed in the originalThe Omen.) The remaining staff swiftly become murder suspects, as Poirot works with Inspector Kelsey (Anton Lesser, who recently played Mr. Merdle in Little Dorrit) to uncover the murderer. The mystery deepens as another body is found, the princess of Ramat is kidnapped and her deceased father’s priceless rubys go missing. Needless to say, the school is in trouble, with parents removing their daughters as the bodies pile up.

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Miss Springer, Victim

Miss Springer, Victim

David Suchet is remarkable as the Belgian detective, Inspector Poirot. Poirot’s stories are among my least favorite of the Agatha Christie mysteries, but Suchet is so superb in the role that I cannot wait to see the next episode. Sharp-eyed movie buffs will note that both Harriet Walter and Claire Skinner, who plays Miss Rich, a teacher with a past, played Fanny Dashwood, the former in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and the

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

latter in last year’s version of Sense & Sensibility. Both performances were excellent, though I was struck by how soft Ms. Skinner looks in this part as compared to her turn as the hard hearted Fanny. Natasha Little, Becky Sharp in 1998’s Vanity Fair, plays an enigmatic character and love interest to the handsome Adam, (Adam Croasdell), a man who is out of place as a lowly gardener. “There’s a cat among the pigeons,” the French teacher Mlle Blanche (Amanda Raison) declares to Mr. Poirot before things go bump in the night again.

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

PBS will be showing Six by Agatha from June 21 through July 26th. The next episode to air is Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, another Poirot tale. I will most definitely be glued in front of my t.v. watching Mystery! again.

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

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Lamplighter, Pyne, 1808

Lamplighter, Pyne, 1808

In Oxford Road alone there are more lamps than in all the city of Paris. Even the great roads, for seven or eight miles round, are crowded with them, which makes the effect exceedingly grand. – Archenholtz, 1780s

The Lamplighter, 1790's

The Lamplighter, 1790's

Urban development in London grew at a rapid rate during the 18th century, especially in London’s West End, where the great squares were laid out. The population of London surpassed one million in 1815 and an increasing number of bridges were built between 1750 and 1819, boosting development south of the river. In 1750, a system of street lighting with oil lamps was introduced, changing the nature of city life. The lights were supplied with reflectors, a big improvement. Previous to 1736, the lights were lit until midnight, but after that year they stayed on until sunrise, making the streets safer. As the quote suggests, foreign visitors were impressed, for at that time no other city could boast of so much lighting. Before 1750, people who traveled at night hired link boys to light their way. Their torches emitted poor lighting, however, and the streets were dangerous and dark outside their small circles of light.

With the new system of lights, walking the streets at night became relatively safe. The new lights contributed to London’s nightlife and the sense that life in the City was unnatural and not subject to traditional constraints.* The pleasure gardens of London, such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall, offered illuminated entertainment, and fashionable people could travel to theatres, assembly rooms, and each others’ houses, which extended social interaction. Shops lighted window displays and stayed open later,  profiting from the extended hours. The benefit of  better lighting worked both ways, for:

The shop-keepers of London are of infinite service to the rest of the inhabitants by their liberal use of the Patent Lamp, to shew their commodities during the long evenings of winter. Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London During the Eighteenth Century, James Peller Malcolm, 1810,  P 383,

The first gas lights were introduced in Pall Mall on January 28th, 1807. Samuel Clegg had by then set up the London and Westminser Gas Lighting and Coke Company. On December 31, 1813, the Westminster Bridge was also lit by gas, and by 1823, 40,000 lamps covered 215 miles of London’s streets. Today, one can still see the gas lights in Green Park and the exterior of Buckingham Palace.

A peep at the gas lights in Pall Mall, Rowlandson

A peep at the gas lights in Pall Mall, Rowlandson

More on the topic:

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White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

In today’s insulated world, we can only imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the animals that inhabited Regency London alongside humans. Cows were confined inside small city dairies or allowed to graze in public parks ready to be milked at a moment’s notice. Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep were driven from the countryside through the streets to Smithfield market to feed the masses. Considering that a “horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day”, crossing sweepers were kept perpetually busy clearing the streets of dung, for by the end of the 19th century, over 300, 000 horses lived and worked in London. Despite the sweepers’ best efforts, the streets were covered in horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere.* Not a pretty image of a time that we tend to view with nostalgia.

Town planners had to take the lodging of horses and animals into account when designing new squares and terraces, which was no small effort, for stabling these animals and feeding them straw made an enormous demand on urban spaces.

The direct and indirect energy cost of urban horse-drawn transport–in terms of feeding, stabling, grooming, shoeing, harnessing, and driving the hourses and removing their wastes to periurban market gardens–were among the largest items on the energy balances of late-nineteenth-century cities. – Energy in World History, Vaclav Smil,  p. 132

In terms of urban transportation, horses reached the peak of their importance in hauling goods and transporting people between 1820 and 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly displaced by electric streetcars, automobiles, and buses. The cost of stabling and feeding horses was enormous and most Londoners walked. Those who could afford the luxury of stabling their animals and maintaining their carriages paid a steep price.

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

The difficulty and cost of horses and their stabling encouraged walking, which helped to keep the city small and dense. The limited travel span of the horse and cart further restricted urban expansion by constraining the outward movment of industry. An idea of the costs to households of private horse-based transport can be seen in the mews of the more expensive nineteenth-century West End neighbourhoods. Solely designed to house horses, carriages and livery servants, these back passageways behind the grand houses took up considerable space; whilts working horses ate prodigious amounts of feed, and livery men were often some of the best paid domestic staff. – An economic history of London, 1800-1914, by Michael Ball, David Sunderland, p. 229

Coaching houses and mews not only had to be located close enough to dwellings for convenience, but they needed to be tucked out of sight , especially in the tony West End (see image below).  These photographs of Garrett Street Stables in Islington, London demonstrate how horses were traditionally kept. The site also tallies the numbers of horses that have been stabled at that location since 1750. While these animal were housed in a well maintained stable, one can only imagine the conditions for animals who were unlucky enough to be owned by those who could barely eek out a living. Costs for maintaining horses and a carriage in London were astronomical and reserved only for the rich if they could find a convenient space to house them. If one purchased a horse, one had to find stables, as Georgette Heyer reminds us in The Grand Sophy, when Sophy shows up in a new phaeton drawn by a pair of horses:

‘Don’t hesitate to tell me which of my mother’s or my horses you would like me to remove from the stables to make room for these!’ begged Mr. Rivenhall, with savage civility. ‘Unless, of course, you are setting up your own stables!’

Gower Mews, since 1792

Gower Mews, since 1792

Relying on a carriage for transport, however, required significant wealth. They were expensive to buy and maintain, needing as they did stabling for the horses and liveries for the coachman and grooms. Even renting a carriage and pair (two horses) with a coachman cost £200–£300 a year (£10,000–£20,000 today). The two-wheeled carriages with one horse (the Ferraris of their day) were called ‘bankrupt carts’ by the Chief Justice ‘because they were, and are, frequently driven by those who could neither afford the Money to support them, nor the Time spent in using them, the want of which, in their Business, brought them to Bankruptcy’. Stabling your own horse, particularly in a city, was harder than finding a parking space today. Just feeding a horse cost £30 a year – more than feeding the groom, in fact – while the coachman’s liveries cost more than his annual salary.

On a practical level, coaches also took some time to prepare and had to be ordered several hours before they were needed. They were therefore more useful for displaying one’s wealth than for surveying one’s estate. They were necessary on long journeys, of course, or when carrying large loads, but otherwise riding a horse or a mule was much the quickest and cheapest option … – Regency House Party, Channel 4 History

The costs of keeping a horse in London are still enormous. Economist Brad DeLong estimates that with exercise, stabling, grooming, shoeing, and other facilities it costs £30,000 to maintain each horse per year, which is considerably more than driving and maintaining a car.


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