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Archive for April, 2010

This book from Shire Classics describes the 19th-Century servant class in Great Britain in satisfying detail. Combined with another book I purchased at the National Portrait Gallery of portraits taken of the servant class, my DVDs of Gosford Park and Upstairs/Downstairs, and my recent viewing of Edwardian House and Regency House, I think that I am getting a fairly good idea about how a great house operated in days of yore.

The Victorian Domestic Servant reveals that the Duke of Bedford (died 1839) employed 300 servants and the Duke of Portland employed 320. These were excessive amounts to be sure, but most respectable Victorian households employed servants. An income of 250 a year allowed a family to employ a maid of all work, but an income of 100 would barely pay the rent, much less pay for help. As an aside, Jane Austen, her mother and sister were able to afford a maid of all work and a male servant on their modest income. After moving to Barton Cottage, the Dashwood women employed two servants as well. Yet both the Austen and Dashwood women, while not destitute, had to count every penny. People like Mrs. Smith from Persuasion and the Bates women in Emma could afford no help at all.

In 1851 domestic service represented the second largest occupation in England after agriculture, although the servant class was in constant flux. People frequently moved positions looking for higher pay or for promotions or for a way out. Although many servants felt professional pride towards their work, they often left service because the deference their employers expected wore them down. For the lower servants, the constant need for showing respect was even worse. The servant hierarchy Below Stairs showed as many distinctions as Above Stairs, with lower and upper servants rarely commingling. Lower servants were expected to remain silent unless spoken to at the table when dining, for example. They were expected neither to be seen nor heard as they worked.

Most of the work that servants performed had to be done out of sight of the family that employed them. This meant they had to rise early to do their tasks, stopping when the family arose and restarting late in the evening. Tasks were repetitive and laborious, such as filling a tub with water, which meant heating pails and pails of water and trudging up and down the stairs, or bringing coal to fireplaces and stoves and removing ashes. Much time was spent removing coal ash from fireplaces, and then dusting rooms and sweeping floors clear of the substance.

The preferred servant was raised in the country, for these people tended to show more respect and deference than their urban counterparts. A symbol of status was the footman, who wore livery and had actually not much work to do other than to look handsome and open and close doors, help the butler serve food at table, and sleep in the Butler’s Pantry to protect the family plate and silver from thieves.

While The Victorian Domestic Servant is only 32 pages long, I found so much information packed in its pages that I will have to read it again soon. For those who are curious about the servant class, or for writers of the Victorian Era, I cannot recommend this book enough. If this were a regency book, I would give it three regency fans. In this instance, I think I shall give it five out of five dust bins, broom sticks, and wash cloths.

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Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Shire; illustrated edition edition (March 4, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747803684
ISBN-13: 978-0747803683

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, the Insight Edition from Bethany House is a lovely annotated version of this classic novel. The intended audience is obviously a young Christian girl or someone who is reading the novel for the first time. The notes sit in the margins; they are not too obtrusive or overly verbose, but they do add a dimension to reading the book. Symbols indicate what sort of comment to expect. For example, a feather tells us that we will learn a tidbit about Jane Austen’s life. A small cross will indicate themes of faith drawn from the novel or her life; a small crown leads to historical facts. (“Consumption: tuberculosis; once referred to as consumption because it “consumed” the body. P. 189.)  Smiley faces tell us about parts of the novel that make the reader smile, and frownies assure us that the character has become nothing but irritating. (On page 133, “ranking our dislike: 1. Fanny; 2. Lady “Passive-aggressive” Middleton, 3. ..”etc.)

Many of the annotations deal with scenes from film adaptations, which help to clarify them in relation to the book (look for the camera symbol). With the inclusion of these film annotations, Bethany House rightly assumes that many people reading Jane Austen for the first time seek out her novels only after seeing a movie based on her novel.

The foreword by Julie Klassen is short and to the point, and the book group questions in the back are neither pompous nor difficult to discuss. In short, this book provides a wonderful introduction to Sense and Sensibility, one of Jane Austen’s earlier novels and, next to Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, the most accessible to her new fans. Bethany House also offers a Pride and Prejudice edition, which I surmise must contain similar annotations and book group questions.

I highly recommend this book to new readers of Jane Austen, especially those who possess only a cursory knowledge about her life or the Regency era. Before purchasing the book for yourself or a friend or loved one, you should aware of the many notes that pertain to faith. The quotes are informative and not preachy, as on p. 145: “The hard core of morality and even of religion seems to me to be just what makes good comedy possible…where there is no norm, nothing can be ridiculous…” C.S. Lewis, “A Note on Jane Austen, Essays in Criticism.” This edition of Sense and Sensibility points out how Jane’s faith informs her writing and her life, which is natural given that her father and two of her brother were men of the cloth.

In reading this book I am enjoying my revisit with Marianne and Elinor, and the shenanigans of the devious Lucy Steele and mean-spirited Fanny Dashwood. I still find Willoughby’s conduct reprehensible for a man in love, but Colonel Brandon, though a tad boring, makes my heart patter with his devotion and strength of character . The margin notes, written by Jane Austen fans (not scholars)  have enriched my enjoyment of this edition, and thus I give it three out of three Regency fans.

About Bethany House: Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, has been publishing Christian fiction books for 50 years. Nearly 120 titles are published annually, including historical and contemporary fiction, Christian living, family, health, devotional, children’s, classics, and theology subjects.

Sense and Sensibility, insight ed. by Jane Austen
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0740-2
Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Division: Bethany House

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Gentle Readers: Don’t forget to join my book giveaway of Laurie Viera Rigler’s paperback version of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. This is a rather fun contest on Jane Austen Today. You have until mid day on May 8th. Please click on link to enter!

My review sits here.

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Caroline Norton 1833

Until the mid 1800s, married women in England had no legal rights. By law a husband could prevent his wife from seeing their children. He also had control over all her income, including any earnings she might make. Caroline Norton (1808-1877), who was married to an abusive man and who had been barred from seeing her three sons after they divorced, successfully challenged these laws.

Caroline was the granddaughter of a playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the daughter of novelist Caroline Henrietta Sheridan. Caroline’s father died when she was eight years old, which left the family in financial straits. When Caroline had turned 16, George Norton, a Tory member of parliament for Guildford,  spotted her and asked for her hand in marriage. But she was too young to marry. Though a renowned beauty, Caroline had no dowry. Still, she hesitated to marry George Norton, but her mother eventually supported the match and thus she wed him at 19.

George Norton turned out to be a violent and unfaithful husband. He beat Caroline repeatedly, even in her third trimester of pregnancy. The marriage, though a failure, lasted long enough for Caroline to bear three sons. There were repeated estrangements and reunions, but the marriage finally ended in 1836. Caroline’s travails had just begun. Her reputation was in tatters as a divorced woman, and she was not allowed to see her sons. She was to write:

What I suffered on my children’s account, none will ever know or measure. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness,” and God knew mine! The days and nights of tears and anguish, that grew into the struggle of yearsit is even now a pain to me to look back upon; even now, the hot agony of resentment and grief rises in my mind, when I think of the needless tyranny I endured in this respect. Mr Norton held my children as hostages; he felt that while he had them, he still had a power over me that nothing could control. Baffled in the matter of the trial and damages, he still had the power to do more than punishto torturethe wife who had been so anxious to part from him – Caroline Norton, English Laws for Women in the 19th Century

Caroline’s story is more convoluted and complicated than presented here, and well worth reading. Suffice it to say that Caroline challenged the law that favored men over women, and her writing was instrumental in having The Child Custody Act of 1839 passed. Sadly for Caroline, her husband still denied her access to her children. Her youngest boy fell from a horse and died, and only after this tragedy were her two other boys allowed to live with her.

His cruel carelessness was afterwards proved, on a most miserable occasion. My youngest child, then a boy of eight years old, left without care or overlooking, rode out with a brother but little older than himself, was thrown, carried to the house of a country neighbor, and died there of lock jaw, consequent on the accident. Mr Norton allowed the child to lie ill for a week,–indeed to be at death’s door,–before he sent to inform me. Sir Fitzroy and Lady Kelly were staying with Mr Norton in the country. Lady Kelly (who was an utter stranger to me) met me at the railway station. I said–”I am here,–is my boy better?” “No,” she said–”he is not better,–he is dead.” And I found, instead of my child, a corpse already coffined.
Mr Norton asked my forgiveness then, as he had asked it often before; he sent his elder child to plead for him,–for well he knew what my children were to me; he humbled himself, and grieved for an hour, till he changed into pity the horror and repugnance I had expressed at the idea of seeing him;–and then he buried our child, and forgot both his sorrow and his penitence.

Caroline Norton

When George Norton caught wind that Caroline had been left a small legacy by her friend, Lord Melbourne and a small sum that her mother had left her, he stopped support payments for her and the children. Caroline fought him in court but lost. She campaigned to have the laws changed, and her victory resulted in the Matrimonial Act of 1857. Caroline remarried just months before her death in 1877, but not before two more crucial laws were passed that protected the rights of women and children, the Infant Custody Acts of 1873 (and 1886) and The Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 (and 1882).

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Gentle Reader, Those of us who have read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy know that Sir Percy Blakeney pretends to be an effete dandy. Unbeknownst to his wife, who cannot conceal her disappointment in her foppish husband, he smuggles people out of  France during the French Revolution and away from danger. Sir Percy, despite his heroics, is a bit of a clothes horse. Here, then, is his opinion of cravats after he accidentally on purpose spills wine on Monsieur Chauvelin, for whom the public admiration for the Scarlet Pimpernel was a source of bitter hatred.

Sir Percy Blakeney, Richard E. Grant as the Scarlet Pimpernel

Sir Percy Blakeney to Monsieur Chauvelin: “Sir, my most abject and humble apologies. I’ve completely drowned your cravat! How can I possibley make amends for such clumsiness?”

Martin Shaw as Monsieur Chauvelin

Monsieur Chauvelin, Ministry of Justice: “It’s of no consequence. It’s only a cravat.”

Richard E. Grant as Sir Percy aka The Scarlet Pimpernel

Sir Percy: “Only a cravat! Oh, my dear sir! A cravat is the apotheosis of all neckwear! A cravat distinguishes a man of refinement from the merely ordinary. It sneers at the severity of the stock. It is the only item of dress that expresses true individuality. And whether it be made of lace or silk or the finest lawn it thrives on ingenuity, on originality, and above all, on personality down to the last skilled twist of bow or knot.”

Jonathan Coy as the Prince of Wales

Prince Regent: “Bravo, Percy! Bravo!”

Bravo, indeed! More on the topic

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I love puffed and gathered sleeves on regency gowns. The Probert Encyclopedia defines a mamaluke sleeve as “a long full sleeve partitioned into five sections, each section being drawn and seamed to fit around the arm.” Romantic Fashion Plates defines Marie Sleeves as full to the wrist but tied at intervals. Which source accurately names the sleeves on these gowns?  The three dresses shown in this post show sleeves with more than the five sections. Could the number of sections determine what the sleeve is called?

Muslin dress with mamaluke sleeves

The first dress (1816) was featured in the Jane Austen Fashion Exhibit last fall in Melbourne. Note that in the second dress (1819-1820) the waist is beginning to creep down. The skirt during this time is conical in shape and stiffened at the bottom, whereas the earlier dress has a columnar-shaped skirt that drapes in soft folds from the high waist.

The dress below is described as having Marie sleeves. Adding another wrinkle to identifying these sleeves is this description found in a glossary from Nineteenth Century Fashions: A Compendium: “sleeve with multitude of puffs top to bottom” (romance).  I’m not sure how these differ from Marie sleeves.” In a description for Marie Sleeves, the site states:

“long gauzy sleeves gathered at intervals to make a series of puffs down the arm. I think I have also heard these referred to as “Juliet sleeves”; may also be synonymous with Gabrielle sleeves, the point being, I think, that they were perceived as vaguely Latinate and Renaissancy in origin.”

So, now we have these sleeves described as Mameluke, Marie, Juliet, or Gabrielle.

1820 dress with marie sleeves, V&A museum

I’ve scoured images of Mamelukes, none of which feature these segmented sleeves. Mamelukes are members of a former military caste originally composed of slaves from Turkey, that held the Egyptian throne from the mid thirteenth century to the early 1500s. They remained strong until 1811. Regency fashion took inspiration from Mameluke clothing, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the sleeves were also inspired by this group of warriors – if only I could find a painting of a Mameluke wearing a shirt with partitioned puffy sleeves.

Mameluke, early 19th c.

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Brock illustration of Persuasion

My book contest for Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen is closed, and the winner, Lesley-Ann Mcleod was announced. I was left with a legacy of Jane Austen quotes that I would like to share with my readers. The comments were outstanding and I loved every one of the quotes. For those who would like to read all 164 of them, click on this link. Every week, I will post another 5 – 10 until everyone has been featured.

keriluna: “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.” Catherine Morland to Mr. Tilney / Northanger Abbey :)

lydiane: “Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.” – Captain Wentworth, Persuasion

QNPoohBear: We’re on the same wavelength Lydiane! That’s my favorite part of the whole book. That letter kills me every time! Here’s my line: “I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.” Captain Wentworth, Persuasion Chapter 23

Sherry Blackwell: In teaching literature to 8th grade gifted students, I often borrowed quotes from the author being studied. The following quote from Jane Austen was posted to encourage students to produce one work of quality rather than amass a quantity of mediocre work. We used the symbol Q/Q = Quality over Quantity. “The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 10

Cindi: “I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man.” Lizzie to Mr. Collins~ Pride and Prejudice

Lindsay: “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice….I love this part :)

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