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Archive for November, 2009

Gentle readers, I am taking a short hiatus from this blog for Thanksgiving week. Meanwhile, enjoy these images of people dining in days of yore…

Dining for most people was a simple affair and food was taken from the land. Many families, unless their house was large enough to accommodate a dining room, ate in the kitchen.

Notice in this image of a family sharing a meal by Thomas Rowlandson (from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith), that the meal is eaten during the day and near the fire.

The rich could afford to eat by candlelight, as in this early 20th C. image of a Georgian dinner scene.

For some, like the Prince Regent, dinners were elaborate affairs.

For other families the meal was more basic and simple.

Family Meal

The hours in which people ate meals were changing:

In the beginning of the sixteenth century in England, dinner, the main meal of the day, used to begin at 11:00AM. Meals tended over time to be eaten later and later in the day: by the eighteenth century, dinner was eaten at about 3:00PM…By the early nineteenth century, lunch, what Palmer in Moveable Feasts calls “the furtive snack,” had become a sit-down meal at the dning table in the middle of the day. Upper-class people were eating breakfast earlier, and dinner later, than they had formerly done…in 1808…dinner was now a late meal and supper a snack taken at the very end of the day before people retired to bed. For a long time luncheon was a very upper-class habit; ordinarily working people dined in the early evening, and contented themselves as they had done for centuries with a mid-day snack…Supper now means a light evening meal that replaces dinner; such a meal is especially popular if people have eaten a heavy lunch – The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser [Penguid:New York] 1991 (p. 159-160) – Food Timeline

Meat made up a large part of the Regency diet, even for the middle class. For most people living in London, the animals had to be brought a long way to market. Due to the length of the journey, the quality of meat was often poor. In contrast, venison and game procured from country estates and served fresh was often considered prize meat.

The Breedwell Family, Thomas Rowlandson

Families tended to be large and extended. In this boisterous family scene by Rowlandson, the Breedwells obviously bred beyond “the heir and the spare.”

Desserts, Isabella Beaton

Desserts made up the last course of the meal. Even for the middle class this course was elaborate and plentiful, but for the rich it was spectacular.

Walled kitchen garden

Kitchen gardens provided fresh produce during the growing season. The very rich grew fruits and vegetables in hot houses, but most people ate meat, soups, or bread throughout the year. Fruit and vegetables were preserved, or, as in the case of apples and root vegetables, stored through the winter.

Seafood had to be served fresh and within hours of its harvest. Chances were that this tavern, where oysters were served on a platter, sits in a geographic area by the sea.

Life in Yorkshire

Elegant, or simple, the family meal meant togetherness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone

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Inquiring readers, Over a week ago, Chris wrote a post about her blog and her personal journey in pursuing a course of study about Jane Austen, her novels, and the time she lived in. This is her second post about her year-long project.

Over here at ‘Embarking on a Course of Study,‘ I’ve been hard at work on the project. Having finished Sense and Sensibility, I asked people to weigh in on who they felt they were most like, Marianne or Elinor, and who they would like to have as a friend. The results so far are overwhelmingly in Marianne’s favor. If you haven’t posted your comment/vote, please do! I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve begun Mansfield Park again and have re-encountered, as I expected, another heroine I don’t much like (my other has always been Emma – I love her spunk, but she does too much damage). I forgot how dull Fanny is. Not that I think Mary Crawford is as fantastic as Lizzie Bennet, with whom I’ve read her compared. Mary is manipulative and racy. I enjoy how she pushes the limits, but not much more. The dynamics among the characters are the most fascinating for me, as are Austen’s insights and writing, of course.

I’ve been reading the Jane Austen Cookbook as well, to decide on something to contribute to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and have settled on Little Iced Cakes. As you’ll read in my blog, I had to choose something family would actually eat. I do want to make Things With Fun Names like ‘trifle’ and ‘syllabub’ at some point. I was tempted to go for something really foreign to us these days, like the ‘forcemeat balls,’ which would require the purchase (or capture?) of 2-3 pigeons, but just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of eating what struts around the streets of Baltimore on a daily basis. If you’d like to join me in the making of this dessert, the recipe is on my blog, along with a link to other recipes from the Jane Austen Cookbook.

If you’re in New York City any time before March 14th, there’s a wonderful new exhibit at The Morgan Library: A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. Comprised of letters, drawings, films, and lectures, it promises to thrill the Austen lover. If you’d like to see the 15 minute documentary film entitled The Divine Jane, which “examines the influence of Austen’s fiction—and her enduring fame— through interviews with leading writers, scholars, and actors,” go to my blog.

Next week, I’ll post notes from my meeting with Professor Robin Bates at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, who has been teaching a class on Austen for years, asking his students to read the books and poems mentioned in her novels, similar to my plan. I will also update you on my efforts to arrange an English Country Dancing class with an instructor from the Baltimore Folk Music Society. I have 8 ladies interested and am working on the venue. We’re all tremendously excited about learning some dances.

For those of you in the US, Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Stewart

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In 1798, the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson drew The Comforts of Bath, a series of satiric drawings. The cartoons were used to illustrate the 1858 edition of the New Bath Guide, written by Christopher Anstey and first published in 1766.* Rowlandson depicted both the social and medical scene in Bath just before the period described by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and by Georgette Heyer in her Regency romances.

The Portrait, Comforts of Bath, 1798, Thomas Rowlandson

In this post I combined Rowlandson’s images with excerpts from an 1811 guidebook, A new guide through Bath and its environs By Richard Warner. The scenes depict the use of mineral water therapy for the invalids who flocked to Bath, a city whose fashionable post-Nash reputation was already well past its prime and whose medical men were generally regarded as quacks or, worse, “potential murderers”. The rotund gentleman in front and center of all these scenes (who undoubtedly suffered from gout, a painful rich man’s disease), was conjectured to be based after Tobias Smollet’s Mr. Bramble. In the pictorial’s subtext, notice how “Mr. Bramble’s” young wife (companion or daughter) flirts with the young officer who boldly woos her (Image above). Even while satirizing them, Rowlandson gets the social details just right. Underneath each image sits a quote from the guidebook.

King Bladud's Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

It is fit for the patient when he goeth into the bath to defend those parts which are apt to be offended by the bath, as to have his head well covered from the air and wind and from the vapours arising from the bath, also his kidneys if they be subject to the stone, anointed with some cooling unguents as rosatum comitiffs infrigidans Galeni Santo linum &c. Also, to begin gently with the bath till his body be inured to it, and to be quiet from swimming or much motion which may offend the head by sending up vapours thither at his coming forth, to have his body well dryed and to rest in his bed an hour and sweat, etc.” – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Pump Room, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

The new Pump Room supplied water from a covered pump. Before the room was built, the populace drank the waters in the open air. But the new rooms allowed them to

…  take the exercise prescribed to them sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. The work was accordingly begun in 1704, finished two years afterwards, and opened for the reception of the company under the auspices of Mr Nash, who had just then become the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Bath…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Black and White detail of above print

In the year 1751 [The Pump] Room was enlarged. Accommodated with a beautiful Portico stretching from it in a northern direction in 1786, and adorned with superb Western Frontispiece in 1791, The Corporation further beautified the city in 1796 by taking down the old Pump Room entirely and building on its site the much larger and more magnificent edifice known at present by that name…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Public Breakfast, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

Pertaining to the construction of  the Harrison rooms and the Assembly Rooms:

Temporary booths had hitherto been the only places in which the company could drink their tea and divert themselves with cards, but Mr Harrison, a man of spirit and speculation, perceiving that a building of this nature was much wanted and would probably make him a very suitable return, undertook at the suggestion of Mr Nash to erect a large and commodious room for the purpose of receiving the company.  The succes of this attempt induced a similar one in the year 1728, when another large room was built by Mr Thayer.  A regular system of pleasurable amusements commenced from this period, and the gay routine of public breakfasts, morning concerts, noon card parties, evening promenades, and nocturnal balls rolled on in an endless and diversified succession. - A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Company at Play, The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Rules card games:

That no persons be permitted to play with cards left by another party;  That no hazard or unlawful game of any sort be allowed in these Rooms on any account whatever nor any cards on Sundays...A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Concert, Bath Chambers, Rowlandson

For music sweet music has charms to controul; And tune up each passion that ruffles the soul; What things have I read and what stories been told; Of feats that were done by musicians of old – The New Bath Guide, 1779

Dinner, Comforts of Bath, 1798

Bath has little trade and no manufactures; the higher clafles of people and their dependents conftitute the chief part of the population, and the number of the lower clafles being but fmall…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Bath Races, Rowlandson

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I had just about given up on reading advance copies of Jane Austen sequels, prequels, and mash-ups, when A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson and published by Random House, arrived in my mailbox. A sigh of relief swept over me as I opened the mailer and saw that I had received a serious book about Jane Austen’s body of work – I would not be subjected to reading another mash-up of vampires and zombies, or a sequel with Mr & Mrs Darcy making babies.

I prefer to read literary appraisals written by professional writers. They often express their thoughts about other writers more clearly than academics, whose use of lofty terms, elaborate theories, and learned analysis in their critiques tends to befuddle all but a handful of their colleagues and students. Except for her own essay, editor Susannah Carson (a doctoral candidate) takes a back seat to Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Alain de Botton, Jay McInerney, Anna Quindlen, and Eudora Welty. Esteemed literary critic, Harold Bloom, wrote the foreword. As I read this new book, my gratitude towards these eloquent writers grew.

L-R: Alain de Botton, Anna Quinlan, Harold Bloom, Eudora Welty, E.M.Forster, and Virginia Woolf

Each of the book’s thirty-three essays gave me a new insight about Jane Austen’s novels. While I did not agree with every writer’s take on Jane’s work, I felt that I had been exposed to a variety of new ideas. I’m not sure Jane is quite the paragon of moral virtue as depicted by James Collins. Nor do her novels necessarily end happily ever after. (Witness the number of unsuccessful marriages in her books, and her newly engaged/married characters still have the majority of their lives to live.) Not all her mothers are awful, nor is Mr. Bennet an especially noteworthy father. Regardless of my disagreements, I felt after finishing the book that I had attended a two-day symposium in which bright literary minds discussed and debated my favorite author.

L-R: Benjamin Nugent, Amy Heckerling, C.S.Lewis, AS Byat, J.B. Priestley, & Margot Livesey

Ms. Carson chose essays from both classic and contemporary writers, all of whom are ardent admirers of Jane’s writing. Some essays are long, and some are short, a nice mix. I would have preferred to read essays from a few detractors as well, for unlimited admiration can sometimes seem treacly. Still, I was as thrilled with Eudora Welty’s observations on the “real secret of the six novels’already long life,” as with director Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of the movie “Clueless” from Emma. Amy Bloom, whose “Terrible Jane” was my favorite essay, asserted that Jane knew her own worth as a writer and that, far from being the mild and shy spinster her Victorian family tried to reinvent after her death, she was a witty, fallible, full-blooded, and clear-sighted woman who liked a good party, hated being poor, and was often unkind. (Cassandra did not quite succeed in cutting out all of Jane’s acerbic observations in her letters.)

In her introductory essay, Ms. Carson (r) asked the question: Why do we read Jane Austen? Why indeed? As I read the essays, I began to understand that above all, Jane Austen makes me smile, think and ponder, and reach eagerly for the next page. She created characters that I want to revisit over and over again. As I have aged and grown wiser (presumably), her novels revealed new layers of depth and insights that I had not noticed before. This book has enriched my enjoyment of Jane, and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. I give it three out of three Regency fans.

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CassandraPretty Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s elder sister by two years, lived until the ripe age of 72 . This brief visual guide demonstrates how fashion changed during her lifetime. Wherever possible, I tried to represent Cassandra’s age and the clothes she would have worn during that period. I also used the paired women combination to evoke Cassandra and Jane, even in the years after Jane’s death. The last image shows the changes in the silhouettes of the gowns regarding waists, sleeves, skirts and trains.

Mrs. Thomas Bolling with children, 1773. One can see the style of clothes baby Cassandra and Mrs. Austen would have worn after her birth.

Madame Vigee and child, 1780. Cassandra was seven and Jane had turned five, somewhat older than the child depicted in this painting.

Isaac Cruickshank Sketch 1790. Jane Austen would have been 15 and Cassandra 17 years of age. This image is NOT of the Austen sisters.

Jane Austen was 20 and Cassandra 22 when Hoppner painted this image of the Frankland sisters in 1795

Chemise dress, 1799. Lovely lines, but the trains so popular during these years must have collected dust and dirt.

Afternoon dresses, Lady's Monthly Museum, 1802

Ingres drew the Harvey sisters in 1804 when Jane was 29 and Cassandra had turned 31

Belle Assemblee, English Costume 1807. Short trains are still fashionable.

Regency morning dress 1813

Walking dress 1817, the year Jane Austen died

Eliza Ridgely painted by Sully, 1818.

Ball gown, 1820. Notice the shorter dress length and the fancy hem.

Rust brown redingote, 1823

Morning and evening dresses in 1829. Notice how the elaborate hats and hairdos balance the large sleeves. The waistline is situated almost at its natural position and the hemlines reveal slippers and trim ankles.

Riding Habit, 1842

Would Cassandra have resembled this old woman in 1845, the year of her death?

Review of the changes in fashion silhouettes

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Another book review so soon on this blog? Well, yes. This book from Shire Publications, Victorian and Edwardian Horse Cabs by Trevor May, is short, just 32 pages long, but it  is filled with many facts and rare images of interest to lovers of history. In Jane Austen’s day most people walked to work, town, church, and market square, or to their neighbors. Six miles was not considered an undue distance to travel by foot one way. The gentry were another breed. They either owned their own carriages or hired a public horse cab. These equipages were available as early as the 1620’s.

Hackneys, or public carriages for hire made their first significant appearance in the early 17th century. By 1694, these vehicles had increased to such a number that a body of Hackney Coach Commissioners was established in London. The commissioners dealt out licences, which was a bit of a joke, for a mere four inspectors were responsible for over 1,000 vehicles.

Hackney Coach 1680

Most of these licensed hackney coaches were purchased second hand. All that an enterprising person needed to establish his own hackney coach business was enough money for a used carriage and three horses, two that worked in rotation, and one that could be used as a replacement in case of injury or illness. The death of a horse could lead to a cab owner’s financial ruin. Another important ingredient was housing for the horses.

Hackney Coach 1800. Image @Wikimedia Commons

By, 1823, the lighter horse cabs began to replace cumbersome hackney coaches in great quantity, and by the mid 1830’s, the hansom cab set the new standard for modern horse cabs. Aloysius Hansom, an architect, designed the first carriage. When Hansom went bankrupt through poor investments, John Chapman took over, designing an even lighter, more efficient cab, one whose framework did not strike the horses on their backs or sides whenever a carriage ran over an obstacle in the road.

Hansom Cab

Commercial cab firms tended to be small, even as late as 1892. Only one or two proprietors provided a large number or variety of equipages, like Alfred Pargetter, whose concern advertised removal carriages, cabs, and funeral coaches for hire. While cabs were licensed, their drivers were not and the road could present a dangerous obstacle course. The video clip below shows how adroitly horses and carriages managed to avoid each other with seemingly few rules (mostly towards the end of the clip). Notice how some lucky individual horses pulled relatively light loads compared to other horses forced to pull heavy carts.

These two video clips, one from 1903 and the other from 1896 (unbelievable!) show the end of an era, for by 1914, motorized vehicles were rapidly replacing the horse-drawn cart.

I recommend this book to anyone with an insatiable appetite for a pictorial history on a particular topic. Trevor May is an expert on the Victorian era, and he has managed to squeeze more information about horse-drawn cabs in this short book (more a thick pamphlet) than I have read before. The images are simply splendid.

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I read these words on the book flab of the excellent new compilation, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, edited by Susannah Carson, foreword by Harold Bloom, “For so many of us a Jane Austen novel is much more than the epitome of a great read. It is a delight and a solace, a challenge and a reward, and perhaps even an obsession.” How true. Susannah Carson has culled essays from the last one hundred years of criticism and juxtaposed a few pieces by today’s essayists and novelists in a book that I found to be more satisfying than attending a master class on Jane Austen. I consider this interview with Susannah to be among the better posts on this blog. Enjoy!

33Q: What were your criteria for choosing the essays? Would you give us an example of a writer whose essay you first considered and then decided not to include in the collection?

A: There have been so many excellent essays written on Jane Austen! Most of them endeavor to clarify some aspect of the novels—the what, when, how, etc.—and these can be extraordinarily helpful. But then there are other essays which tackle what is, in my opinion, the big question: the why. Not, for instance, how can we understand the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth in terms of gender relations, narrative technique, and cultural institutions, but why does their love continue to move us so?

David Lodge wrote an essay entitled “Jane Austen’s Novels: Form and Structure.” This is perhaps the most acute, elegant account of how the novels work. But it answers the “how” question, and so I chose to include his essay “Reading and Rereading Emma” instead, for there he is after the essential “why”.

Q. Did you have an order in mind when you arranged the essays and why?

A. Some of the essays are about one novel, some are about a couple or a few of her works, and some are about everything she wrote from the juvenilia to her unfinished novels to her letters. In the end, we decided to order them loosely: essays about a single novel appear in a series, and they are separated by two or three more general essays that are united by theme (e.g. morality, films). When I reread them through in this order, I was pleased to discover that the same thoughts would rise and fall in the smaller waves as well as throughout the length of the book. Austen’s vitalism, for instance: towards the beginning, Eudora Welty writes that Jane Austen’s novels are about “Life itself”; in the middle, later, Amy Heckerling notes that everyone is “BUSY” and Eva Brann observes that the heroines are full of “liveliness”; and in the penultimate essay, Virginia Woolf hears “the sound of laughter.”

Q: Do you agree with Benjamin Nugent’s observation that a Jane Austen novel is the “ultimate talky French movie,” because in essence nothing happens except for a series of conversations between characters?

A: I do agree. Austen’s use of dialogue is complex—she uses it to sketch character, but (as Diane Johnson notes in her essay) she rarely uses it to advance plot. And yet, at the same time, most of the climactic scenes are all about words—their use and misuse. In Pride and Prejudice, it’s Darcy’s hilariously misworded proposal; in Mansfield Park, it’s the drama surrounding drama, or the debate over whether or not to perform Lovers’ Vows; in Emma, it’s Emma’s slight of Miss Bates during the picnic at Box Hill; in Persuasion, it’s Wentworth’s letter written in counterpoint with the conversation he overhears between Anne and Harville. So words are at the center of whatever it is that they get wrong or right, whatever it is they need to learn in the course of the novel. Figuring out how words work in a social setting is, as Ben so astutely notes, part of a timeless coming-of-age process.

Q: James Collins made a number of powerful statements, saying that Jane Austen helped him clarify ethical choices and figure out a way to live his life with integrity. One of the reasons that she has credibility in his eyes is her total lack of sentimentality. C. S. Lewis comments on Austen’s hard core morality, and Amy Bloom paints a picture of a woman who sees the world around her through a clear pane of glass. These authors helped me to clarify why I am so drawn to Jane Austen. In your introduction you hope the reader will formulate an answer to the question: why do you read Jane Austen? I will reformulate your question: what was your reason for assembling this book and why are you drawn to Jane Austen?

A: It seems like there’s a whispered suspicion in our culture that Reading is dead—that we hardly ever read anymore and, when we do, we’re still not really reading. Hopefully this isn’t true, but the sublime Robertson Davies was certainly haunted by this fear when he issued his call to arms: “What I call for is a multitude of revolutionary cells, each composed of one intelligent human being and one book of substantial worth, getting down to the immensely serious business of personal exploration through personal pleasure.”

This collection of essays is intended to help people figure out how to really, really, really enjoy reading. There are different kinds of reading. There’s the light reading of a Jane Austen spin-off, and that provides a certain amount of fun. And then there’s the rich reading of a Jane Austen novel, and that provides not just quick delight but insight into how our hearts and minds work. We frequently think of reading as somehow separate from the act of living, but with the best literature—with Austen’s novels—reading becomes just as grand, if not grander, than the other bits and acts of life. So I read, and I read Austen, not only because it teaches me to think, imagine, and relate, but also because it’s a critically important and deeply indulgent pursuit.

Susannah Carson CREDIT Eric C CarterDizzy Pixel Inc SMALLERQ: Tell us a little about yourself! Your short bio on the book flap intrigues me. Unlike provincial Jane, whose life was quite circumscribed, you are truly a woman of the world.

Yes! It’s telling that Austen’s work continues to have something to say to modern women who are so very different from her in all sorts of quotidian details. I started off in much the same place, however; my first memories date from the years my family lived in Hockwold-cum-Wilton, a little village in East Anglia. We moved back to the Napa Valley when I was still small, and I grew up in the country where I could trek across the countryside to visit friends. The scope changed when I went away to college, for I found myself increasingly addicted to books: first philosophy, then literature. While I was writing an M.A. thesis for San Francisco State University on Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves, I fell head-over-heels in love with 17th C French novels. To read these rare novels in all their original mustiness, I moved to France. After a maîtrise at Lyon II, I did a D.E.A. (or M.Phil) at Paris III. In Paris, I lived in an apartment above a chocolaterie on the Ile St. Louis and walked around Notre Dame every day on my way to class at the Sorbonne. I then moved to New Haven to pursue a doctorate at Yale, and I’ve just returned to San Francisco to finish a dissertation on danger in French novels of the Ancien Régime.

What would Jane Austen’s life have been had she lived, read, and written today? Would she have traveled the world for her craft, or would she have been just as content with stationary flights of fancy? Would she have racked up degrees and indulged in “serious” study, or would she have stuck to her depictions of three or four families in a little village? No matter how we live it out, I think it’s inevitable that modern bluestockings somehow associate themselves with Austen: she was such an important pioneer, and it’s hard to say where we would be today had she never written.

Thank you for your insights, Susannah! It has been a pleasure talking to you. For the readers of this blog, I will post my review of the book soon.

More information about Susannah on Random House’s site: Susannah Carson is a doctoral candidate in French at Yale University. Her previous degrees include an M.Phil from the Sorbonne Paris III, as well as MAs from the Université Lyon II and San Francisco State University. She has lectured on various topics of English and French literature at Oxford, the University of Glasgow, Yale, Harvard, Concordia, and Boston University.  Order the book at this link.

Susannah’s site sits at this link:  Why Jane Austen


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