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Archive for June, 2010

Inquiring Readers: Lynn Shepherd, author of  Murder at Mansfield Park, has written this guest post. She lives in in Berkshire, England, with her husband Simon. Murder at Mansfield Park is her first novel, but she’s been a professional copywriter for the last ten years. Going freelance in 2000 gave her the time she needed to see if she could make a dream into a reality. Ten years and two and a half unpublished novels later, it’s finally happened…

There were two big challenges in writing Murder at Mansfield Park, and they’re summed up in the title of the book. The first was creating an accurate and convincing version of Jane Austen’s own language and idiom, and the second (and in many ways the most fun) was producing an authentic Regency murder mystery.

When I started writing, I didn’t know very much about how a violent (and extremely aristocratic) killing would have been investigated in 1811, when the novel is set. I knew there was nothing we would now recognise as a police force –London didn’t get its first ‘bobbies’ until 1829, and the provinces were much later. But as I did more and more research, I realised that people who’d been the victims of a violent crime had precious few alternatives open to them – as one historian has said, the system at the time was extraordinarily ‘fragmented and inept’. There were the parish constables, of course, but this was often little more than an honorary position, and the elderly men who invariably performed the role would have been little or no use faced with a serious crime like rape or murder. So if you didn’t catch the perpetrator red-handed, your only real options were to post a reward for information in the local newspaper, or pay – very handsomely – for someone to conduct an investigation on your behalf.

This is where the ‘thief takers’ came in: private citizens functioning, in effect, as licensed bounty hunters. The profession – if we can call it that – dates back to the 17th century, when Parliament set a scale of ‘no win, no fee’ rewards for the apprehension of ‘most wanted’ criminals, such as coiners or highwaymen. At that time catching a highwayman was worth £40, and you also got to keep his money, weapons, and horse. Thief takers operated in the shadowy world between the criminals and the law, negotiating between thieves and their victims to return stolen goods for a fee (hence the name). The most famous and infamous of them all was the self-styled ‘Thief Taker General of England and Ireland’, Jonathan Wild, who dominated London’s criminal underworld in the early 1720s. He set up an office where victims of robbery could register the details of their lost possessions, which Wild would then undertake to recover. But what many of his clients didn’t realise was that Wild was also running a very lucrative sideline as a receiver of stolen goods, so more often than not he either had their missing property himself already, or knew who did.

It may sound like nice work if you can get it, but thief taking was a notoriously dangerous undertaking – by the time he was hanged in 1725, Wild had two skull fractures and a plate in his head, and had survived having his throat cut. Wild’s notorious career was one of the main reasons why the thief taking system became so unpopular with more law-abiding citizenry – many people felt it caused more crime than it solved, and some thief takers even became ‘thief makers’ by encouraging gullible men to commit crimes, and then informing on them and claiming the reward. But the bald fact was that English criminal justice couldn’t function without them – they got results even if their methods didn’t bear too much scrutiny.

It was this growing public dissatisfaction with the whole thief taking system that led directly to the founding of the Bow Street Runners in 1748. If Tom Jones is Henry Fielding’s great achievement as a novelist, the Runners were the equivalent for his career as a magistrate. Fielding started out as a group of half a dozen ‘official’ thief takers, who he would send out to track down and arrest culprits when a crime was reported. They would often travel across the country in pursuit of their quarries, and some occasionally got involved in solving crimes on the outskirts of London – in the 1780s half a dozen Runners were involved in arrests in Essex, and a Runner called Patrick McManus made £24 from 4 arrests (up to £2,500 in today’s money).

Lynn Shepherd, Author

Thanks largely to the establishment of the Runners, detection became a lot more professional in the second half of the 18th century. By the 1780s they had developed the sort of techniques we would recognize today, including interrogating witnesses, examining crime scenes, and checking alibis. They’re also known to have used ID parades, and to have traced offenders through lodging house receipts, or vehicle registration numbers! One of the more celebrated Runners, Charles Jealous, was even said to be able to tell country mud from city mud on a highwayman’s boots.

My Charles Maddox is a former Runner who’s set up a (very lucrative) business on his own account. He’s also a man very much after Jealous’s heart – more like a modern private investigator, than a thief taker in the strict sense of the term. All the same, he has a very different background and ethical code from the fine folk at Mansfield Park, and bursts upon the elegant Austen landscape with all the force of an asteroid hit…

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Inquiring Readers: This is the second of four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball. This post discusses the dances and etiquette of balls in Jane Austen’s era. Warning: the film adaptations get many dance details wrong.

Dancers, Rowlandson, 1790's

So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger …” Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball.

The English ballroom and assembly room was the courting field upon which gentlemen and ladies on the marriage mart could finally touch one another and spend some time conversing during their long sets or ogle each other without seeming to be too forward or brash. Dancing was such an important social event during the Georgian and Regency eras that girls and boys practiced complicated dance steps with dancing masters and learned to memorize the rules of ballroom etiquette.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Balls were regarded as social experiences, and gentlemen were tasked to dance with as many ladies as they could. This is one reason why Mr. Darcy’s behavior was considered rude at the Meryton Ball- there were several ladies, as Elizabeth pointed out to him and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings, who had to sit out the dance.

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, danced every dance and thus behaved as a gentleman should.

Ladies had to wait passively for a partner to approach them and when they were, they were then obliged to accept the invitation. One reason why Elizabeth was so vexed when Mr. Collins, who had solicited her for the first two dances at the Netherfield Ball, was that she’d intended to reserve them for Mr. Wickham. Had she refused Mr. Collins, she would have been considered not only rude, but she would have forced to sit out the dances for the rest of the evening.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, Gillray, 1804

The only acceptable excuse in refusing a dance was when a lady had already promised the next set to another, or if she had grown tired and was sitting out the dance. Elizabeth could offer neither excuses at the start of the ball, and thus was forced to partner with Mr. Collins.

At a ball, a lady’s dress and deportment were designed to exhibit her best qualities:

As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage, so towards it our regards must be particularly turned: and we shall find that when Beauty in all her power is to be set forth, she cannot choose a more effective exhibition – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Real Life in London

It was also extremely important for a gentleman to dance well, for such a talent reflected upon his character and abilities. Lizzie’s dances with Mr. Collins were causes of mortification and distress.

Mr. Collins slightly out of step

“Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.”

A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance if they had not been introduced. This point was well made in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland had to sit out the dances in the Upper Rooms in Bath, for Mrs. Allen and she did not know a single soul. Mrs Allen kept sighing throughout the evening, “I wish you could dance, my dear, — I wish you could get a partner.” Mr. Tilney was introduced by Mr. King, the Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms, to Catherine, who could then dance with him. At Rosings, when Mr. Darcy explained to Lizzie that he danced only four dances at the Meryton Assembly ball because he knew only the ladies in his own party, she scoffed and retorted: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room.”

Because a ball was considered a social experience, a couple could (at the most) dance only two sets (each set consisted of two dances), which generally lasted from 20-30 minutes per dance. Thus, a couple in love had an opportunity of spending as much as an hour together for each set.

A gentleman, whether single or married, was expected to approach the ladies who wished to dance. Given the etiquette of the day, Mr. Elton’s refusal to dance with poor Harriet at the Crown Ball in Emma was rude in the extreme, but Mr. Knightley performed his gentlemanly duty by asking that young lady to dance (and winning her heart in the process).

A lively dance at Almack's

Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.

Depending on the dance formation and steps, a gentleman was allowed to touch a lady and hold her hand (and vice versa, as shown in the example of Mansfield Park 1999 above and in the image below).

Allemande

The couple had many opportunities to converse or catch their breaths when they waited for others to finish working their way down a dance progression.  The ability to carry out a conversation was considered very important, as Lizzie pointedly reminded Mr. Darcy:

“Elizabeth … took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.”

The dances that would have been danced at the Nethefield Ball were:

The English Country Dance

The characteristic of an English country dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy, and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest , and graceful. – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Country dances consisted of long lines of dances in which the couples performed figures as they progressed down the line.

When a dancer was too tired to do steps, she would have been considered no longer dancing at all, as with Fanny in Chapter 28 of Mansfield Park:

“Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.”

Rather than everyone starting at once, dances would have called and led off by a single couple at the top; as that couple progressed down the set other couples would begin to dance, then lead off in turn as they reached the top, until all the dancers were moving. Jane Austen occasionally got to lead a dance, as she mentioned in a letter of November 20, 1800, to her sister Cassandra:

“My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr. Mathew, with whom I called the last, and whom I liked the best of my little stock.”

This could lead to very long dances indeed (half an hour to an hour) if there were many couples in a set” – What Did Jane Austen Dance?

The Cotillion


The cotillion was based on the 18th-century French contradanse and was popular through the first two decades of the 19th century. It was performed in a square formation by eight dancers, who performed the figure of the dance alternately with ten changes.

The rapid changes of the cotillion are admirably calculated for the display of elegant gayety, and I hope that their animated evolvements will long continue a favourite accomplishment and amusement with our youthful fair. – The Mirror of Graces

The minuet.

The Devonshire Minuet

This dance had grown almost out of fashion by the time A Lady of Distinction wrote The Mirror of Graces, and it is conjectured that Jane Austen must have danced it in her lifetime.

Boulanger

Boulangers, or circular dances, were performed at the end of the evening, when the couples were tired. Jane Austen danced the boulanger, which she mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1796: “We dined at Goodnestone, and in the evening danced two country-dances and the Boulangeries.”

Quadrille

Note: the Quadrille and the waltz would not have been danced at the Netherfield Ball. Jane did mention the quadrille in a letter to Fanny Knight, which was dated 1816. And the waltz would not have been regarded an acceptable dance in 1813. It is doubted that Jane ever waltzed. The reel might have been danced at the Meryton Assembly, or at a private dance given by Colonel Foster and his wife, for instance, but it would probably not have been featured at the Netherfield Ball at the same time as a country dance.

Second Note: The movies have it all wrong. According to the author of this post on Capering and Kickery, “Real Regency Dancers Are Au Courant

Along with the peculiar notion that dance figures from the 17th century are useful for the early 19th century comes the even more peculiar notion that entire dances of that era are appropriate. Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today’s teenagers are. Dances like “Hole in the Wall” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. Loving obsessions with these dances make me want to cry at the sheer ignorance being promulgated by the people who keep putting these dances in movies.”

More on the Topic

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The latest Miss Marple Mystery on PBS Mystery!, The Blue Geranium, was originally an Agatha Christie short story. While I did not find this mystery quite as satisfying to watch as The Secret of the Chimneys, I found my viewing time well spent. The solution leads to a typical old-fashioned Agatha Christie twist, with Miss Marple racing against time to save an innocent man. Once again the British cast, led by Julia McKenzie, Toby Stephens, and Claudie Blakley is sterling. To see where the clues were dropped, you can watch the 90-minute presentation online from June 28 through July 11!

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Sense and Sensibility 1995. Marianne carries roses and small white flowers.

In ancient times, brides carried bouquets of fragrant herbs and spices to ward off evil, or wore round garlands on their heads or around their necks as symbols of fertility and longevity. Dill, known as the herb of lust, would often be eaten by both the bride and groom. By the 18th century, bridal bouquets of herbs and flowers had come to symbolize delicateness, purity, and new life. (Sage meant wisdom and garlic goodness.)

Elinor's bouquet would have been made of locally grown flowers. Sense and Sensibility 1995.

Celtic bouquets would include greenery like ivy or thistle. Love knots made from rope or ribbons were tied inside the bouquets, a tradition that is still followed today. Edible flowers, such as pansies, would often be tucked in among the herbs. In Jane Austen’s era, brides would carry herbs, greenery, or flowers that were in season, and that could be picked alongside the road or from one’s garden. They included roses, peonies, sweet peas, scabious, lilies, and delphinium. New exotic flowers like dahlias, nerines and fuschia would also be included if they were locally grown.  Only the very rich could afford hot house flowers out of season. Once picked, the herbs, flowers, and greenery would be made into a pleasing arrangement and bound by a ribbon.

Pride and Prejudice winter wedding. Would Lizzie have carried dried herbs or would Mr. Darcy have given her flowers from his hot house?

Decorations to suggest – baskets, urns and vases of flowers were all used during this time. The flowers would have been arranged informally with lots of different varieties and colours jumbled together in the same container. Flowers worn in the hair and as buttonholes became popular. Elaborate garlands and swags combining fruit, vegetables and grasses into the designs were used. Hang these around fireplaces, on walls and around windows. – Historically Themed Weddings

It was not until the Victorian times, that the all-flower bouquet became popular. Queen Victoria carried a bouquet of marigolds, which were edible. Small posies were also in vogue and remained so until the early 19th century.

Flowers also carried meanings in what was known as ‘the language of the flower.’  Roses meant love, freesia trust, ivy fidelity, violets hope, and ferns sincerity.  Until modern times, the choices brides would make for their bouquets would be influenced more by symbolic meaning than by shape or color.

Other posts on the topic:

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Inquiring Readers: I will be contributing four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. This post discusses the clothes that the characters would have worn in relation to the film adaptations and actual fashion plates of the time. Warning: this is a long post.

Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

The Netherfield Ball. Ah! How much of Jane Austen’s plot for Pride and Prejudice was put on show in this chapter! Elizabeth Bennet – its star – enters the ball room hoping for a glimpse of a strangely absent Mr. Wickham, but is forced to dance two dances with bumblefooted Mr. Collins, whose presence she somehow can’t seem to shake. (From his actions the astute reader comes to understand that this irritating man will be proposing soon.)

Lizzie and Mr. Collins out of step, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mr. Darcy then solicits Lizzie for a dance, and his aloofness and awkward silences during their set confirms in Lizzie’s mind that he suffers from a superiority complex.

Dancing a set with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 1995

As the evening progresses her family’s behavior is so appalling (Mary hogs the pianoforte with her awful playing; Kitty and Lydia are boisterously flirtatious with the militia men; and Mrs. Bennet brazenly proclaims to all within earshot that Mr. Bingley and Jane are as good as engaged) that the only enjoyment Lizzie takes away from the event is in the knowledge that Mr. Bingley is as besotted with Jane as she is with him.

Jane and Bingley have eyes only for each other, while Lizzie cannot wait for her set with Mr. Collins to end, Pride & Prejudice 2005

In anticipation of furthering her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham, Lizzie dressed with extreme care, making sure both her dress and hair looked perfect. In the image below, Jennifer Ehle’s “wig” is adorned with silk flower accessories, and a string of pearls, which was the fashion of the time. She wears a simple garnet cross at her throat (Jane Austen owned one made of topaz) and her dress shows off her figure to perfection.

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) in full dress, Pride and Prejudice 1995

Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice between 1797 and 1813, when the novel was accepted for publication. For continuity’s sake, I will discuss the style of dresses worn from 1811-1813.

Pride and Prejudice 1995

Pride and Prejudice 1980 and 1995 stayed fairly consistent in using costumes that were based on fashions from the early 19th century. Pride and Prejudice 2005 took great liberties in several ways, and I shall point out the most egregious deviations or obvious errors as they arise.

Assembly Hall dance, Meryton, Pride & Prejudice 2005

For a private ball, Lizzie and Jane would don their best ball gowns, also known as full dress gowns. They would have worn simpler dresses for a public assembly hall dance, such as the one in Meryton when Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy made their first appearance, and where anyone in town who could afford the price of a season ticket could attend. (This is one of the reasons that the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy did not comingle with the hoi poloi! Imagine Mr. Darcy dancing with an apothecary’s daughter!) The  image  above shows Lizzie in a dark green cotton gown and Charlotte in a brown dress. None of the ladies are wearing hair ornaments or gloves, nor holding fans.

Jane and Lizzie, 1980 Pride & Prejudice

For a private ball, in which the guest list could be controlled by the host, the guests went all out to show off their finery. Their best gowns were retrieved from storage and were accessorized with long gloves, fancy hair ornaments, a fan, dance card,  delicate necklaces and earrings, and a beautiful Norwich or India shawl. The dresses were made of finer muslin or silk (an extremely expensive fabric worn largely by the rich). They had these qualities in common: bare necks and/or low necklines, short puffy sleeves, and long, columnar skirts embellished with lace, embroidery or ribbon. Under the dresses, the ladies wore bodiced petticoats and silk stockings and slippers. By 1813, trains on full dress gowns were beginning to go out of fashion or were reduced considerably in length, except for court gowns, which followed a different set of rules.

Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane, Pride & Prejudice 1995

Balls were generally scheduled during a full moon so that carriages traveling over dark roads were guided by lunar light. As the revelers approached the house, brightly lit lanterns dangling from trees or torches planted alongside the road would light the way; and the rooms themselves would be emblazoned from the light of hundreds of beeswax candles, which tended not to drip and would give off a steady flame (but were horrifically expensive). Candlelight made large rooms look smaller, since so many dark corners remained unlit. The resulting low light was kind to aging skin and the badly complected.

Chandelier, Upper assembly room, Bath

The hundreds of blazing candles emitted no more light than that of a few 25 watt bulbs. The light was enhanced by the crystal pendants that acted as reflectors and by mirrors, that were often placed in back of wall sconces. Candlelit rooms became hot over time and ceilings were covered in soot from the smoke. With the number of people assembled in one space and the great number of burning candles, ball rooms  required good ventilation. Most women carried fans. One can imagine how hot the men must have felt wearing long sleeved shirts and waistcoats under coats and cravats that covered the neck up to the chin. As an aside, if an overabundance of guest spilled over from room to room, the event was deemed to be a “crush,” (or a rousing success).

Cruikshank, Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room shows what a "crush" looks like

One can suppose that the gathering at Netherfield was a more sedate affair than the one depicted above by Cruikshank, with only the cream of Meryton crop invited to partake in the festivities. Given the size of Netherfield Park, a crush would have looked more like this:

Crush at Netherfield, 1995 Pride & Prejudice

The golden glow emanating from chandeliers and wall sconces would alter the color of the gowns that the ladies wore. Colors that looked good in the yellow light would be chosen for greatest effect, colors that clashed would be avoided. I imagine that a blue gown could look green under yellow light, and that a strong puce could look black or that lavender would turn a sickly gray.

Mr. Darcy approaches Lizzie and Charlotte. The white dresses look beautiful in candlelight.

Young ladies of fashion preferred to wear white during the Regency era, but they would also wear soft pastel colors, as shown in the image below from P & P 1995. Notice the slight differences in the necklines and details of sashes and embellishments, but the gowns look as if they were designed for the same era.

A Lady of Distinction, author of The Mirror of Graces (1811), advised young maidens how to dress:

In the spring of youth, when all is lovely and gay, then, as the soft green, sparkling in freshness, bedecks the earth; so, light and transparent robes, of tender colours, should adorn the limbs of the young beauty…Her summer evening dress may be of a gossamer texture; but it must still preserve the same simplicity, though its gracefully-diverging folds may fall like the mantle of Juno…In this dress, her arms, and part of her neck and bosom may be unveiled: but only part. The eye of maternal decorum should draw the virgin zone to the limit where modesty would bid it rest.”


A Lady of Distinction advised married ladies like Mrs. Bennet to make more modest choices:

As the lovely of my sex advance towards the vale of years, I counsel them to assume a graver habit and a less vivacious air…At this period she lays aside the flowers of youth, and arrays herself in the majesty of sobriety, or in the grandeur of simple magnificence…Long is the reign of this commanding epoch of a woman’s age; for from thirty to fifty she may most respectably maintain her station on this throne of matron excellence.”

Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas in subdued colors, Pride & Prejudice 1980

Mrs. Bennet and other matrons are shown covering their hair with feathers or caps. At their age, they were allowed to wear deeper but more somber colors. If they chose to wear white, they were advised to add a striking color through accessories, such as a richly colored shawl. The costumes in Pride and Prejudice 2005 combine the fashionable dress of 1812-1813 (women at left below) with old-fashioned 18th century gowns that had natural waists (Brenda Blethyn and woman at right). Since Regency gowns kept their “value” longer, it makes sense that matrons would wear them beyond their fashionable hey day. It would not make sense for a young lady on the marriage mart to wear anything but the most up to date gown she could afford.

In Pride and Prejudice 2005, Mrs. Bennet wears an old-fashioned gown with a natural waistline.

All five Bennet girls were “out,” much to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s surprise, and allowed to attend balls and parties en masse. This meant that all the girls would need their own party and ball dresses in addition to their regular gowns, a quite expensive proposition for Mr. Bennet, who, one suspects, would have preferred to spend his money on books . Handmade fabrics were still very costly before the age of mass production and ladies recycled their gowns as a matter of course. It was the tradition to remake their gowns, or to hand them down to younger or smaller members of the family to be recut in the latest fashion or refurbished with new trim and accessories, which were more affordable.

The Bennet family dressed for the Netherfield Ball, Pride & Prejudice 2005

Silks were quite expensive. Mr. Bennet could probably afford to dress Jane in silks since she was the eldest daughter and her dresses could be handed down to the younger girls, but the cost would be too prohibitive for him to outfit all his daughters in such a costly fabric.

Jane and Elizabeth, Pride & Prejudice 2005. Lizzie

The Bennet girls lived less than a day’s drive from Town and received the most recent fashion magazines within days of their city counterparts, but they did not have access to the latest textiles at the fabric warehouses in London. Whenever friends or relatives visited London, they came armed with orders to purchase fabrics and clothing items at the Draper’s.

Harding & Howell Drapers, Rudolph Ackermann. Print from Georgian Index

Traveling salesmen and local shops could offer only a limited supply of fabrics to choose from, and one imagines that quite a few ladies in a small community would be forced to make dresses (or have them made up by a dressmaker) from the same bolt of cloth. Local drapers, dressmaker shops, and millinary shops would have looked much like the shop below:

In 1828 the proprietor of this milinary shop in Sutton Valence, Miss Elizabeth Hayes, "went to London to purchase Bonnetts at Ludgate Hill".

Because fashion took longer to take hold in the “provinces”, most of the women in Meryton would have worn dresses that were popular several years back (1811 or 1812). They could update their gown with lace and ribbon, or embroidery, and make minor adjustments, which is what Jane Austen often wrote about in her letter to Cassandra. In that way they updated their gowns and introduced variety.

Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst in their London finery. Pride & Prejudice 1995.

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, on the other hand, would be decked out in the latest and most elaborate finery that London fashion had to offer. The fabrics and trims on Miss Bingley’s gown are rich and costly and is made up of a color that was quite in vogue. Mrs. Hurst’s hairdo, which evokes a Roman matron, must have taken a while to fashion. Her decolete is more obvious; not only is she better endowed than her sister, but her neckline is lower and the sleeves are puffier. She, too, wears a more elaborate necklace than the Bennet girls, but is is matched with a simple pair of pearl drop earrings. Compare Mrs. Hurst’s hairstyle to that of the ancient Roman portrait below.

Roman fresco, Pompeii, Aphrodite, after a Greek painting

Pride and Prejudice 2005 shows most of the young women wearing pretty but simple muslin ball gowns, many of which would be embroidered in whitework. The young ladies of that era were adept seamstresses, and they learned to embroider at a young age. Whitework embroidery patterns were readily available in fashion magazines.

Whitework embroidered hem

Lizzie’s hair (below) is styled becomingly with pearls, but it has a more modern, contemporary flavor than Miss Bingley’s and Mrs. Hursts hairdos in the (3rd) image above.

Caroline Bingley (below) looks like she’s dressed for a 2005 wedding. There is nothing Regency about her outfit or her hair. While actress Kelly Riley looks beautiful, I wince every time I see her in this supposed Regency costume.

Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Director Joe Wright wanted to play up Lizzie’s tomboyish side, but regardless of her affinity for plein air walks she would still have followed propriety and worn gloves. Her dress, too, has a modern feel. We know that Keira Knightely has a small bosom, but a corseted petticoat would have given this gown more structure. In addition, her waist is a tad too low. Compare this image with the one above, and you get virtually no sense of place or time in Pride and Prejudice 2005 via the gowns.

Elizabeth dancing with bare arms. Her hair is elaborately fashioned, but the gown's waist should be a little higher.

In the 1980 movie adaptation,  Lizzie is shown wearing a more elaborate ballgown. She is also holding a fan, a handy instrument in a crowded and hot ballroom! My biggest complaint with her gown is that her bosom is showing entirely too much, and would have earned disapprobation from A Lady of Distinction.

Lizzie and Charlotte, Pride and Prejudice 1980

Ornaments were woven through upswept hairdos. Small tight curls framed the face and tumbled in front of ears. The only ornamentation in Charlotte’s hair (image above) are thin braids that are twisted in such a way as to decorate the upswept “do.”


One note about the opera gloves used in these film adaptations. They should be worn over the elbow and they should be quite loose! In the image at right, below, the loose long gloves fall naturally below the elbow.

Up to now I’ve shown the fashions from movie adaptations. But the fashion plates from the Regency era are even more revealing. Let’s look at some sample plates from 1811 to 1813. Note that throughout these three years, the waists remained high, just under the bosom. Gown lengths seemed to vary, but the hems would creep up as the decade progressed to reveal neat ankles and lovely slippered feet. In 1811, such brazenness was frowned upon by A Lady of Distinction.

Evening dresses, Mirror of Graces, 1811

It is apparent from the above illustration that the bodice petticoat provided a “shelf” silhouette to the bosom. A Lady of Distinction found this new fashion abhorrent:

The bosom, which nature has formed with exquisite symmetry in itself … has been transformed into a shape, and transplanted to a place, which deprives it of its original beauty and harmony with the rest of the person. This hideous metamorphose has been effected by mean of invented stays or corsets…”

1812 evening gown, Ackermann

Jane Austen noted in one of her letters to Cassandra how long sleeves were becoming fashionable for evening. I imagine this dress was meant to be worn on a cold night, for such sleeves would have been stifling in summer. The sleeves are known as Mamaluke or Marie Sleeves.

1813, evening dress, Ackermann

In the illustration above, you can best see how the loose gloves bunched below the elbows. This dress comes with a short train, ribbon embellishments at the hem, and white lace ruffles around the neckline and on the sleeves. Pearls and flowers are woven throughout the hair.

Let’s not forget the gentlemen. Their attire included beautifully formed jackets and waistcoats, white pantaloons, silk stockings, leather slippers, and short gloves. Their cravats, it goes without saying, were tied with precision and made with the whitest starched linen. A cravat pin, a quizzing glass, snuff box, and fob watch completed their sartorial splendor.

Both Darcy and Lizzie are wearing gloves. Pride and Prejudice 1980

More on the topic:

  • Pride and Prejudice 1995, Lizzie and Darcy dance to Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot

This post is copyrighted. You may link to it, and use excerpts with attribution, but you may not place it wholesale on your blog. Always, always attribute this post or material derived from it to Vic at Jane Austen’s World.

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Gentle Reader: This Father’s Day weekend, I salute Jane Austen’s father, George Austen. This post, which I wrote three years ago, has been resurrected and updated for this occasion.

Rev. George Austen was by all accounts a handsome man. Anna LeFroy, Jane’s niece wrote,

I have always understood that he was considered extremely handsome, and it was a beauty which stood by him all his life. At the time when I have the most perfect recollection of him he must have been hard upon seventy, but his hair in its milk-whiteness might have belonged to a much older man. It was very beautiful, with short curls about the ears. His eyes were not large, but of a peculiar and bright hazel. My aunt Jane’s were something like them, but none of the children had precisely the same excepting my uncle Henry.”

George Austen was born in 1731. His mother died in childbirth and his father died a year after marrying a new wife, who did not want the responsibility of taking care of the young lad. George then lived with an aunt in Tonbridge and earned a Fellowship to study at St. John’s. Smart, ambitious, and self-made (with the support of his uncle Francis), he received a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Oxford. Considered good looking all his life, he was called “the handsome proctor” as he worked as an assistant chaplain, dean of arts, and Greek lecturer while going to school.

George first met Cassandra Leigh in Oxford when she was visiting her uncle Theophilus, a renowned scholar. After marrying Cassandra in Bath, George became rector in several country parishes, including Steventon. The family grew by leaps and bounds, and eventually he and Cassandra had six sons and two daughters.

Shortly after Jane was born, her father said: “She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy.” But the little girl was known as Jane all her life.

By all accounts George and Cassandra Austen had a happy marriage. His annual income from the combined tithes of Steventon and the neighboring village of Deane was modest. With so many mouths to feed, the family was not wealthy. To augment the family income,  George Austen opened a boarding school at Steventon Rectory for the sons of local gentlemen, and sold produce from his farm.

George Austen presents his son Edward to the Knights, who adopted him. This was a common practice in that era. Image from Chawton House.

Rev. Austen, a doting father to all his children, encouraged Cassandra and Jane to read from his extensive library, and taught his boys in his boarding school. For entertainment, the family read to each other, played games, and produced poetry, novels, and plays. James, the eldest son, an accomplished writer and poet, was considered to be the “writer” of the family, especially by his mother, Cassandra, who doted on him. George Austen was proud of his youngest daughter’s accomplishments, and tried to get First Impressions, the first draft of  Pride and Prejudice published. The “Memoir of Jane Austen” by Edward Austen-Leigh contains a letter from George Austen to Mr. Cadell, publisher, dated November 1797, in which he describes the work as a “manuscript novel comprising three volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s ‘Evelina’” and asks Mr. Cadell if he would like to see the work with a view to entering into some arrangement for its publication, “either at the author’s risk or otherwise.” Unfortunately, nothing came of this query, but P&P became hugely popular among the friends and family who read it before it was published. The original 3-part manuscript no longer exists, and a much shorter form of the novel was finally published in 1813, long after George’s death and only four short years before Jane’s fatal illness.
Rev. George Austen died unexpectedly in Bath on  January 1, 1805, where the Austen family had moved after living in Steventon for over 30 years. This move did not sit well with Jane, who, as legend goes, fainted when she learned that the family was moving to Bath. (The silhouettes above are of George and Cassandra, who had not aged well). Rev. Austen did not linger long after falling ill, and on January 21,  Jane Austen would write sorrowfully to her brother, Frank, one of two sailors in the family:

“We have lost an excellent Father. An illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” - Sir Francis William Austen

Rev. Austen was buried in St. Swithin churchyard in Bath. The inscription on his grave reads:

Under this stone rests the remains of
the Revd. George Austen
Rector of Steventon and Deane in Hampshire
who departed this life
the 1st. of January 1805
aged 75 years.”

Double click on this grave marker to read the words. (From: Find a Grave Memorial. Image of George and his grave is from this site.)

More on the topic:

The Austen Family:

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I should have guessed the ending of The Secret of the Chimneys, the latest Miss Marple episode on PBS on Sunday, June 20, but I so enjoyed going along for the ride that I deliberately missed the cues until the very end.  The mysterious County Ludwig Von Stainach wishes to purchase The Chimneys, a house that has seen better days. Assembled at the mansion are a motley sort, even for a Miss Marple mystery. Once again things go bump in the night and someone is murdered.

Enter Finch, Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard. Played by the divine Stephen Dillane, who portrayed Schmidt in God on Trial and Thomas Jefferson in John Adams. Finch is a particularly refreshing official, for he respects Miss Marple’s detective skills and consults her as they both, well, she solves the mystery.

I won’t spoil the plot for you other than to say that this was one of the more satisfying Miss Marple mysteries that I have watched. If you missed the episode, or would like to see it again, PBS will show it online from June 21 to July 4th.

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Inquiring readers: Ben H. Winters bravely left a comment on my in-depth analysis of his new steam punk mashup, Android Karenina, and was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Hi Ben: Thank you for agreeing to participate in this Q&A. I must say that you made a fan out of me when you left that gracious comment on my blog.

Even though I was unable to complete more than one paragraph in the first Chapter of Android Karenina, I thought that you managed to capture an amazing amount of angst and subtext in the opening lines. Did you want readers to learn anything from your book?

Well, yes and no. First and foremost, it’s a work of popular entertainment, so the goal is for readers to have a good time — to laugh, to be drawn in by the characters and pulled along by the story.

At the same time, there is some food for thought to be had here, if a reader is up for it. For example, Tolstoy’s original is full of anxiety about how technologies like the steam engine and the telegraph are transforming society. By vastly accelerating the pace of that technological change, and deepening the violence that surrounds it, I’ve juiced that anxiety, and (potentially) asked the reader to consider how rapid technological innovation is changing our contemporary society.

You should try reading it again. The second paragraph is amazing.

Click here to read the rest of the interview ...

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Readers of the Regency era are familiar with Beau (George Bryan) Brummell’s elegance and sartorial splendor. He was born on June 7, 1778, the younger son of William Brummell, private secretary of Lord North.

William Brummell and his younger brother George, by Joshua Reynolds, 1782

In 1793 George attended Eton, where he met the Prince of Wales. Even back then Brummell was known for his sense of fashion and wit. Tall and fair in looks, he cut a neat and enviable figure.

Beau Brummell as a young man, 1886 illustration

Only 16 when is father died in 1794, George quit Oriel College in Oxford and joined the 10th hussars. Two years later he was promoted to captain. During his service, Brummell fell from his horse, acquiring a broken nose that healed crookedly to the side. The new nose added a harsh element to his soft face, making it less than perfect.

Idealized image of Brummell in a Player's cigarette ad.

While some felt that the Beau’s less than perfect nose added character to his features, others, like Julia Johnstone, a famous demimondaine of the era, felt that it had ruined his looks.

Image from Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style via the London Lounge

According to Ian Kelly, author of Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style, the few sketches and miniatures that remain of Brummell show radically different interpretations of the dandy’s features. Was the broken nose responsible for these inconsistencies?

Interestingly, these two images do not depict a man with a broken nose.

Beau Brummell retired from service in 1798 and shortly thereafter came into his property, a moderate 30,000 pounds that would not go far in supporting his gambling habits. But with his knack for making friends in high places (the Prince Regent and his set) and his sartorial gifts, Brummell reigned supreme as the style arbiter of his era, inspiring generations of men to dress with simplicity, taste, and style.

Brummell in 1815 at Almack's, the year he insulted the Prince Regent. This image must have been made later, for the style of the woman's dress was popular after 1825, when Brummell was already exiled in France.

In 1816, Brummell’s debts forced him into exile in France, where he died in 1840.

Brummell, broken and broke, in Calais

More on the topic:

Book page image from the London Lounge

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Inquiring reader: Jean at The Delightful Repast is a freelance writer who writes mostly about food, weddings, etiquette and entertaining for numerous publications. Her blog reflects her culinary heritage–an English grandmother, a Southern grandmother and a mother who could do it all. Jean’s love of reading and cooking (often done simultaneously) is definitely in her genes. She has (delightfully) offered to share her thoughts about tea in Jane Austen’s day and her recipe for Sally Lunn buns!

It came as quite a disappointment to me that day long ago when I, an avid afternoon tea aficionado, realized that afternoon tea was not part of Jane Austen’s life. (I am still taken aback by the thought as I write those words!) Tea drinking, popular at Court since the 1660′s, had by the Regency Period long since trickled down through all strata of society. Jane and her family no doubt enjoyed a nice cup of tea at least twice a day, at breakfast and in the evening after dinner.

Tea, being the magical all-purpose beverage that it is, was surely drunk at other times as well. I drink tea a minimum of four times a day. My grandmother Elizabeth (from the Lake District) drank tea several times a day, including once in the middle of the night. Her mother Mary Ann was constantly putting the kettle on. And it was Mary Ann’s grandmother Mary who was a contemporary of Jane Austen’s, though at the other end of the country.

There are a number of things Jane might have had with her tea, including hot, buttered Sally Lunn buns, good with both sweet and savory toppings. Those made today in Bath are very large, perhaps six inches across and four inches high. My own version, which I’m sure Sally Lunn’s in Bath would scorn as an inadequate imitation, is much smaller. I’ve made them as large as a hamburger bun but, preferring them smaller yet, usually make them in a muffin tin.

Sally Lunn Buns
(Makes 18 )

4 packed cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 large eggs

1 cup milk

In medium bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure), whisk together flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In small saucepan, melt butter.

With electric mixer, beat the eggs until fluffy and pale lemon yellow, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. By hand with a dough whisk or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to three days.

About 2 1/4 hours before serving time, remove dough from refrigerator. Stir down the dough, just a few strokes, with a wooden spoon. With a 1/4-cup measure or scoop sprayed with cooking spray, scoop dough into well-greased or cooking-sprayed standard muffin tins. Lightly butter a sheet of plastic wrap and place, buttered side down, over the buns. Let rise until puffy but likely not doubled in volume, about 1 3/4 hours. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Uncover buns. Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer tins to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes. Turn the buns out of the tins onto the racks and serve warm or continue to cool before storing.

By Jean at The Delightful Repast at http://delightfulrepast.com/

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Gentle Reader, next week Austenprose will begin a Pride and Prejudice extravaganza entitled, Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies. The group will be reading Jane Austen’s own words. Not some mash up. Not a sequel. And, as far as I am concerned, my favorite book of all time. When Laurel Ann asked me to contribute my thoughts during the event, I was already researching information about Mr. Jones, the apothecary who treated Jane Bennet. So, as a pre-announcement, I am publishing this post. Do obtain a copy of Pride and Prejudice and join Laurel Ann and her readers as she begins her in-depth analysis of the book on Tuesday, June 16th.

Jane is sick, Netherfield Hall, Pride and Prejudice 2005

In 1813, the year that Pride and Prejudice was finally published, apothecaries filled an important role in rural areas where physicians were scarce. When Jane Bennet fell ill at Netherfield Park, Mr. Jones, the apothecary was sent for:

Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following note for Elizabeth:

“My dearest Lizzy,

I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me and excepting a sore throat and head-ache, there is not much the matter with me.

Yours, &c.”

Unlike a physician, whose social standing ranked high, apothecaries were considered one step up from a tradesmen, and several rungs below the physician/doctor.


This cartoon by James Gillray suggests that the Cockney in question is an apothecary. Note the mortar and pestle symbol on the side of the carriage.

Apothecaries learned how to make drugs and poultices during their tenure as apprentices. They used their hands and labored in shops, and were often the only alternative for people who sought medical care and who could not afford a doctor’s fees. Interestingly, apothecaries were not paid for giving advice or providing medical treatment. They were paid only for the drugs they sold.

Apothecary Shop, Glasgow Looking Glass

Mr. Jones, would have traveled to Netherfield Hall and dispensed his advice without recompense. But he recommended his draughts, which enabled him to earn some money, and instructed Elizabeth on how to use them:

The apothecary came and having examined his patient said as might be supposed that she had caught a violent cold and that they must endeavor to get the better of it advised her to return to bed and promised her some draughts. The advice was followed readily for the feverish symptoms increased and her head ached acutely.

Visiting an ill Jane at Netherfield, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Mrs. Bennet’s ploy to keep Jane at Netherfield, using Mr. Jones as an excuse when Mr. Bingley inquires about Jane’s condition, worked:

“Indeed I have, Sir,” was her answer. “She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness.”

Mr. Bennet used Mrs. Bennet’s machinations to his advantage, demonstrating his wit even as he admonished his wife for placing Jane in danger:

“Well, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders.”

“Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long is she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her, if I could have the carriage.”

As an interesting aside, one of the 3rd Earl of Stanhope’s third daughter’s eloped with the family apothecary, prompting James Gillray to draw the cartoon, Democratic Levelling: Alliance a la Francaise, The Union of the Coronet and Clyster Pipe. (A coronet is a small crown symbolizing a peer’s status and a clyster pipe was a tube used for injections). The earl was a great proponent of liberty and revolution, but this marriage sorely tested his tolerance for equality! One wonders what Mr. Bennet might have said had Jane or Lizzie run off with Mr. Jones!

At the turn of the 19th century, the practice of medicine would benefit from rapid scientific advances brought about by methodical and well-reasoned experimentation and observations. But at the height of Thomas Rowland’s and James Gillray’s satiric powers, doctors, surgeons, and apothecaries were still targets of fun. The medical field also did not fare well with popular opinion.

The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson. At the end of the 18th Century, Bath had more doctors and apothecaries per number of citizens than any city in England.

The following humorous scene between a doctor and an author sums up the popular perception of a doctor’s swelled head. His miniscule knowledge about medicine does not detract from his exalted opinion of his social standing in relation to an apothecary’s. This passage emphasizes the point that the medical field took a back seat to poetry and criticism:

Doctor: I suppose, Sir, you are his apothecary.

Gent: Sir, I am his friend.

Doctor: I doubt it not. What regimen have you observed since he has been under your care? You remember, I suppose, the passage in Celsus, which says, “if the patient on the third day have an interval, suspend the medicaments at night. Let fumigations be used to corroborate the brain.” I hope you have upon no account promoted slernutation by hellebore.

Gent:  Sir, you mistake the matter quite.

Doctor: What! an apothecary tell a physician he mistakes! You pretend to dispute my prescription! Pharmacopola componant. Medicus folus prefabricat. Fumigate him, I say, this very evening, while he is relieved by an interval’

Dennis: Death, Sir, do you take my friend for an apothecary! A man of genius and learning for an apothecary! Know, Sir, that this gentleman professes, like myself, the two noblest sciences in the universe, criticism and poetry. By the immortals, he himself is author of three whole paragraphs in my Remarks, had a hand in my Public Spirit, and assisted me in my description of the furies and infernal regions in my Appius.

(The discussion continues.) Then the doctor says:

Doctor: He must use the cold bath, and be cupped on the head. The symptoms seem desperate. Avicen says: “If learning be mixed with a brain that is not of a contexture fit to receive it, the brain ferments till it be totally exhausted. We must endeavour to eradicate these indigested ideas out of the perieranium, and to restore the patient to a competent knowledge of himself. - Elegant Extracts, or Useful Entertaining Passages

Consultation of Physicians, Hogarth

Physicians occupied the top rung of the medical social ladder because they did not “soil” their hands by treating the patient directly, as a surgeon would. They did not accept money in public (the payment would have been made discreetly). These “learned” men attended university but did not perform autopsies or dissect cadavres. Men of breeding, they merely sat back and watched the procedure from afar.

Apothecary shop, 1719

An apothecary shop during Jane Austen’s day was much like today’s drug store, where a customer could purchase drugs, herbs, poultices, panaceas, and other medicinals. In the image from 1st Art Gallery, one can see the preparations and infusions being made in an 18th century apothecary shop. Herbs grew in an adjacent garden and substances were stored in apothecary jars and drawers. Such shops also sold surgical equipment. In this link one can view an apothecary shop in Colonial Williamsburg, much as a similar shop might have looked in Meryton.

18th century apothecary bottles made with mercury glass

Apothecaries were often the only doctors available in a rural community, and they would take their supplies with them in portable apothecary box. Mr. Jones, Jane Bennet’s apothecary, must have dispensed his solutions from a similar box.

Apothecary box

By the mid-19th century, the medical field changed drastically, including the pharmaceutical field, and medications and medical practices  began to actually heal patients with predictable success. In 1895, the Pharmaceutical Journal wrote what might well be an eulogy for apothecaries:

You are all familiar in one way or another with the apothecary of the last century. A gloomy little man in a gloomy little shop with a gloomy little helper. What mystery there was surrounding every step!  His weird work with flame and flask mortar pestle and still! … These were pioneers in our profession and all honour is due them.

My further discussions about medicine in the 19th century can be found in three posts I have written on the topic:

More on the topic of medicine in Jane Austen’s day in these links:

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Inquiring Readers, This review by Lady Anne is about a Dido Kent mystery, part of a series of books by Anna Dean. McMillan says about its author: “Anna Dean set about crafting stories at the age of five under the impression that everyone was taught to write in order to pen books. By the time she discovered her mistake, the habit was too deeply ingrained to give up. She resides in the Lake District of England.”

Dido Kent, the heroine of Anna Dean’s new book Bellfield Hall, is that useful family member, the unmarried sister (and aunt) whose brothers add to her income so that she is not in actual want, and so they can call on her whenever they need assistance.  Dido is outspoken and curious; attractive enough not to be considered an antidote, but because she speaks her mind, has apparently frightened the young men about town enough that she has never been asked to marry.   At almost thirty she is definitely on the shelf.

In this first outing for Dido, niece Catherine has called on her aunt for assistance in a most delicate situation.  Catherine has just become engaged; it is a very good match, except that the bridegroom-to-be suddenly leaves the weekend party and writes Catherine a quelling note ending, in the most gracious albeit obscure terms, the engagement.  Catherine, who is totally surprised and distressed, asks for her aunt to come and discover what has caused this dreadful change.   To add to the worry, a woman is found dead in the shrubbery, and no one admits to knowing anything about who she may be.  And so we get a delightful country-houseparty murder mystery.

The constraints of the time – this story unfolds in September of 1805 – preclude Aunt Dido from being overt in her crime solving.  Nevertheless, she does accumulate a number of interesting clues, one of the most important of which involves the family dog.  Other peculiarities include the gatekeeper, who is a young woman with a young child, a dress of singularly unusual construction, and two sisters whose graceful accomplishments seem to vary depending upon the audience.

Much of the story is told in letters to her sister; epistolary novels are always interesting for what they tell not only in words, but in implication.  Dido’s voice is very clear, and her several false starts and stumbling efforts to discover what has happened to her niece’s intended bridegroom are explained well in the letters.

While the book has very much the flavor of the early 19th Century, several aspects of the different characters are told in a clearly 21st Century manner.  One of the houseguests, Col. Walborough, is considering marriage to a wealthy young woman; strangely, he does not seem particular about which young women.  He allows that it will mean a significant change in lifestyle for him.  He really is not referring to his military career, but rather his predilection for young men, particularly young men in service.  He cannot decide which of the two talented sisters to ask for; each has a good portion of her father’s considerable fortune settled on her.  These girls have decided that they do not wish to marry, so they have their own way of keeping suitors at bay; their parents cannot comprehend that their daughters do not wish the married state.

Dido peers, pokes, and prods, and throughout the process, says what she thinks.  She resolves the mystery and frees the young bride-groom-to-be from his terrible toils.  The mystery is good; there is just enough that is not told to keep the puzzle intriguing.

In each of Jane Austen’s books, the characters are straightforward about the economic reasons for young women to marry well.  This sometimes causes contemporary readers to consider Jane’s young heroines as mercenary, which is really not the case.  They were practical and clear-sighted.  Georgette Heyer shows the fiscal reality that young ladies of gentle birth and little means faced:  they became governesses like Ancilla Trent in The Nonesuch, or Elinor Rochdale of The Reluctant Widow, or poor Kate Malvern in Cousin Kate, whose rescue from that life by her aunt created an even worse situation.  If they tried to live by their wits, as Deb Grantham in Faro’s Daughter did, society frowned and sneered.  They were not good times for gentlewomen without income.  This reality gives Heyer a hook for her books, and the wealthy and handsome suitor, even if he is sardonic, is a welcome rescue from a life that would only become harder.

Anna Dean’s Dido Kent talks about the strictures she faces in a very contemporary fashion.  Ladies could marry money, or they could inherit money.  Lacking those options, their lives were not their own.  Dido also speaks plainly to and about the two wealthy sisters who actually can choose not to marry because they are so comfortably fixed; even they must resort to subterfuge to carry out their convictions.  At the end of this book, Dido must go to another brother’s household because “unmarried women must not expect to remain where they cannot be useful.”  Her dependent situation, however,  serves as a useful device for involvement in another mystery, and indeed, we can hope for another gently delivered tale of problems solved by Dido, in a new locality and with a different cast of characters.  We can also continue to hope that she will find someone who she feels can marry Tom Lomax, with whose family she will remain connected.  Once she accomplishes that, she perhaps will no longer be at her family’s beck and call.

Afterword: Lady Anne, who has written a number of reviews for Jane Austen’s World, is Vic’s special friend. She is often rewarded for her critiquing efforts with an outing to one of our favorite watering holes in a nearby fashion park. Whether perched on stools in an elegant bar or at an outdoor table adjacent to a bocce ball court, we can dis and gossip with the best of them. Think of Sex in the Burbs with bite. Well trod (Lady Anne is more often found sampling foods and wares in far flung places) and well shod (think of a Nordic Carrie with sensible 3″ stilettos), and you have an idea of why I find my dearest Janeite friend so appealing.

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