Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2010

Circulating libraries in the 18th and 19th century were associated with leisure, and were found  in cities and towns with a population of 2,000 and upward. They were as much of an attraction in wealthy resorts, where people came to relax and look after their health, as in cities and small towns, like Basingstoke, where Jane Austen subscribed to Mrs. Martin’s circulating library.

In 1801, it was said that there were 1,000 circulating libraries in Britain. Book shops abounded as well, but in 1815 a 3-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 today. Such a price placed a novel beyond the reach of most people. Worried about a second edition for Mansfield Park, Jane Austen wrote in 1814:

“People are more ready to borrow and praise, than to buy –which I cannot wonder at.”

Circulating libraries made books accessible to many more people at an affordable price.  For two guineas a year, a patron could check out two volumes. Which meant that for the price of one book, a patron could read up to 26 volumes per year.

By 1800, most copies of a novel’s edition were sold to the libraries, which were flourishing businesses to be found in every major English city and town, and which promoted the sale of books during a period when their price rose relative to the cost of living. The libraries created a market for the publishers’ product and encouraged readers to read more by charging them an annual subscription fee that would entitle them to check out a specified number of volumes at one time. – Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

The leisurely classes had plenty of time for reading, late 18th c.

The practice of borrowing books was not a new concept in the Regency era. Records from the 17th century show that people were borrowing books from booksellers. As early as 1735, Samuel Fancourt advertised a circulating library in Salisbury for his religious books and pamphlets.

Circulating libraries attracted many patrons, even those who did not necessarily come to borrow or book or read, for they were also places for fashionable people to “hang out” and meet others.

In the resorts the circulating libraries became fashionable daytime lounges where ladies could see others and be seen, where raffles were held and games were played, and where expensive merchandise could be purchased.  - Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

Jane Austen well knew the attractions of libraries at sea side resorts. Mrs. Whitby’s Circulating Library operated in Sanditon, and Lydia visited one in Brighton.  In her letters to Cassandra, Jane frequently mentioned circulating libraries, in particular visiting one in Southampton.

Circulating Library and Reading Room, Milsom Street, Bath. Image, Tony Grant

Circulating libraries tended to be located in a convenient location in the center of a resort. Newcomers would find out about them from guide books, such as the one in Brighton. The Royal Colonade Library advertised itself as thus:

MESSRS. WRIGHT AND SON’S ROYAL COLONADE LIBRARY, MUSIC SALOON, AND READING ROOMS.

This establishment is situated in North-street, at the corner of the New Road, and contains between seven and eight thousand volumes of History, Biography, Novels, French and Italian, and all the best Modern Publications. The Reading Room is frequented both by Ladies and Gentlemen, and is daily supplied with a profusion of London morning and evening papers, besides the French and weekly English journals, magazines, reviews, and general popular periodicals. – Brighton As It Is, 1836

In 1836, Cassandra Austen would have been familiar with the costs associated with the Royal Colonade Library’s terms of subscriptions:

Terms of subscription

By the end of the 18th century, Scarborough, a resortt located in the county of North Yorkshire, boasted several circulating libraries. The town’s population had risen to 7,067 by 1811, and one can imagine that, with the many leisurely hours available to tourists and visitors, these libraries managed a booming business.


A circulating library in Scarborough around 1818, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough

The Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, first published in 1813, features twenty-one illustrations of humorous subjects about the many features available in the resort, including a satiric poem about the Circulating Library:

As in life’s tide by careful fate
The mind is made to circulate
Just so each watering place supplies
It’s CIRCULATING LIBRARIES:

Where charming volumes may be had
Of good indifferent and bad
And some small towns on Britain’s shore
Can boast of book shops half a score
Scarbro and with much truth may boast
Her’s good as any on our coast
AINSWORTH’S or SCAUM’S no matter which
Or WHITING’S all in learning rich
Afford a more than common measure
Of pleasant intellectual treasure

One wonders if the following publication could be checked out a Scarborough circulating library at the turn of the 19th century, for the book was written by a local schoolmaster:

A Short Grammar of The English Language. In Two Parts By John Hornsey. Schoolmaster, Scarborough.

THE publick are much indebted to Mr Hornsey for this able and excellent compendium of English grammar. We acknowledge that we perused it with singular satisfaction; and are well persuaded that a more useful introduction to the English language cannot be placed in the hands of our youth. That this work should reach a second edition, did not excite our wonder; may it pass through many succeeding ones!- The Nichols, John.Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 86, 1799, p 1144.

Read Full Post »

In Counter Culture Blues, the church's peaceful Sunday sermon is shattered by the sound of gun shots on the estate next door.

Counter Culture Blues, the latest Inspector Lewis mystery on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, treats the viewer to three murders – a young boy, a rocker, and a music professor. This episode of Inspector Lewis kicks off to the third season and does not disappoint. Half the fun of mysteries set in England is witnessing the audaciousness of the characters and the entertaining display of British wit. Both are offered in abundance in this episode about aging rockers.

Richie (David Hayman) looks on as Franco (Anthony Higgins) sees Esme (Joanna Lumley) for the first time in 35 years.

The murders coincide with the reappearance of Esme Ford, the front singer of a once hugely popular 70′s rock band, Midnight Addiction. Esme was thought to have killed herself 35 years ago, but much to the shocked surprise of Ritchie Maguire, the band’s leather-faced leader, she walks back into his life, hoping to ressurrect the band and duplicate their past glory. It was Esme, the “tart with the heart”, who had been the “enchantment who held the band together.” While Richie Maguire had recently attempted a solo CD, whose master had mysteriously been wiped clean, the members of the band were living richly off the proceeds of their past glory.

Just when Inspector Lewis thinks it is safe to sit down to a nice meal, duty calls.

We first meet Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) at home and about to sit down to a microwave dinner, when he and Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are called to investigate the illegal hunting of game near a church during Sunday service. The culprit is Richie, whose estate is nearby. Inspector Lewis knows the band’s history intimately, for in his youth he had been a huge fan. His surprise upon encountering Esme is as great as Richie’s, and it conjures up memories of a poster of Esme sans shirt and bra that he had purchased as a boy and hung in his room.

David Hayman as Richie Maguire

Anthony Higgins as Franco

The rockers have not aged well, and the actors who play Richie (David Hayman), Bone (Zig Byfield), Mack (Hilton McRae), and Franco (Anthony Higgins) are as craggy as Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.

Zig Byfield as Bone

Hilton McRae as Mack

I won’t give too much of the plot away, since you can still see this episode online. This intelligent and often witty script was written by Guy Andre, who adapted the screenplay from a story by Nick Deare. The series itself is inspired by Colin Dexter’s’ Inspector Morse novels and is greatly enhanced by an excellent cast. Simon Callow portrays Vernon Oxe, the openly gay manager who claims that the band was his creation. Oxe’s sudden appearance in Oxford coincides with that of Esme Ford.

Simon Callow as Vernon Oxe (with Anthony Higgins)

Joanna Lumley as Esme is superb, but then I am biased in her favor. I will always adore Joanna for her turn as Patsy Stone, the boozing, smoking, non-eating, free-loving character of Absolutely Fabulous. I could not help but laugh at Esme’s brazen reason for sleeping with two men on the same night – to assure them that she had not forgotten either of them. My only beef with Joanna as Esme was her obvious wig, which was is not Ms Lumley’s fault. For the viewer’s sake, could they not have found a better hair piece?

Joanna Lumley as Esme

The plot of Counter Culture Blues is complicated, but still manages to hold the viewer’s interest. Sub plots abound. While they did not throw me off my scent (I figured out who the murderer was fairly early on), they added a richness and complexity to the world that Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway inhabit.

Perdita Weeks plays Kitten, a girl with a secret and from whom a secret is being kept.

Richie’s daughter, Kitten (Perdita Weeks), has mysterious dealings with a nasty young man named Peter, which gives James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) something productive to do. Hathaway is no slouch, and he is on to Peter’s sordid schemes. His confrontation of the young man are among my favorite scenes in this production.

Sergeant Hathaway interrogates creepy Peter

Peter (Harry Lloyd) shows no conscience

The mysterious death of Jason, the boy who was murdered at the gates of Richie’s mansion, and of two other charactes keep Inspector Lewis on his toes.

Jason's friend, Declan (Daniel Kaluuya) bravely helps Inspector Lewis solve why the boy was murdered.

It turns out that free-loving Richie has a wife. Helen Baxendale as Caroline is given the best line in this episode. When asked by Inspector Lewis why she disappears for weeks on end, she says she can always tell when her husband is gearing up to have another affair and she wanted to give him the necessary space. “He’s like a dog, really. Needs exercizing.”

Caroline, Helen Baxendale, takes a pragmatic view on marriage.

As usual the reader is treated to scenes in and around Oxford, always a delight, and Rebecca Front once againmakes her appearance as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent, telling Lewis that “If my life is disagreeable, yours is going to be hell. “ Neither Lewis nor Hathaway can do their jobs without the sharp eyed skills of Drl Laura Hobson, capably played by Clare Holman. It would be lovely if she and Lewis got together, but that is my mothering gene working in overdrive.

The scenes in and around Oxford are part of the background.

Rebecca Front as Chief Superintendent Innocent is both exasperated with Inspector Lewis and in awe of his skills.

Lewis and Hathaway depend on Dr. Hobson's (Clare Holman) findings to do their work.

The identity of the murderer is somewhat obvious, but the ending is satisfying nevertheless. Joanna Lumley is entertaining as ever and this episode is worth watching for her performance alone. If you want to see the series again, it will be shown online at this link starting August 30 and through September 12. The other episodes scheduled for Season III are:

Needless to say, it is going to be a great September of Sundays with Inspector Lewis at PBS!

Read Full Post »

The new annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice by Patricia Meyer Spacks, a professor of English, Emerita, at the University of Virginia, is so beautiful a book, so lush to the touch and rich with beautiful color images and scholarly insights, that I cannot wait to spend the weekend reading it.

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition is substantially different from the 2007 Annotated Pride and Prejudice by David Shapard, a trade paperback. At $35, this hard cover book will make the perfect gift for the Jane Austen lover in your life. Click here to read more about it. Look for my review soon.

Read Full Post »

Panorama of Bath from Beechen Cliff, 1824, Harvey Wood

Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant, who lives in London, teaches, and acts as occasional tour guide, has been contributing articles to Jane Austen Today for several months. Recently, Tony and his family traveled to Bath and the West Country. This is one of many posts he has written about his journey. Tony also has his own blog, London Calling.

The Paragon from Travelpod

On Wednesday 6th May 1801 Jane wrote to Cassandra, from a house positioned on a hill half way up a road called, The Paragon, in Bath. It was her uncle and aunt’s, the Leigh Perrots, home. Her aunt was her mother’s sister. Jane and her mother and father had just arrived, just moved in and were getting settled into their rooms.

“ My dear Cassandra,

I have the pleasure of writing from my own room up two pairs of stairs, with everything very comfortable about me. Our journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed horses at the end of every stage, & paid almost at every turnpike;- we had charming weather, hardly any dust,& were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in every three miles.- between Luggershall & Everley we made our grand meal…….”

Jane had arrived in Bath after a journey of about 50 miles from Steventon, her home.

Wood engraving of Steventon Rectory

She sounds excited and thrilled by the new experience for instance she has ,” my own room.” But perhaps she was trying to put a brave face on it, be positive and put the negatives to the back of her mind.

Claire Tomlin reminds us,

“ The decision by Mr and Mrs Austen to leave their home of over thirty years, taking their children with them, came as a complete surprise to her; in effect, a twenty fifth birthday surprise, in December 1800. Not a word had been said to anyone in advance of the decision.”

Jane had spent all her life in Steventon a quiet country village near Basingstoke in Hampshire. She knew the families who lived in the great houses and many were her friends. She knew the villagers of Steventon very well. It was the source of her imagination and she had developed her own intimate writing habits there. Her world , in a sense was turned upside down and she was being wrenched from this intimate, close world that she was comfortable in, to that of a bustling town, but not just any town.

The Bath Medley, the Pump Room, detail on a fan, 1735

Bath was the centre of Georgian ,”FUN.” Here people came for the medicinal benefits of the waters, dancing, parading in the streets in their finest clothes, drinking tea, and taking rides and walks out into the nearby countryside. It was a place to rest, to be seen and to meet new people. Many families brought their unmarried daughters here to find eligible spouses.

Dancing, Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath

Bath was a magnet for the wealthy and comfortable middle classes who came and went with the season. It was a fluctuating population. Friendships could be brief. It was a hot house for relationships. Whether The Reverend George Austen had it in mind to find suitors for his two unmarried daughters, as part of his plan, is not certain. Jane however was definitely out of her comfort zone. She was a very astute judge of characters and she would not like much of the ostentatious show of Bath. People who went to Bath for the season behaved differently. Strangers were thrown together in a mix of fun and gaiety. Moral codes were loosened. You get a very strong sense of this in the description of Catherine Morelands first experiences of Bath in Northanger Abbey.

Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room, Rowlandson

To get to Bath from Steventon over the fifty mile journey, Jane took, she passed through many picturesque and beautiful villages and towns. Those places are still there today.

Overton, Andover, Weyhill, Ludgershall, Eveleigh, where the Austens stopped to take tea and rest, Upavon, crossing the River Avon at this point, Conock and Devizes where they probably rested again before the final stretch to Bath. Devizes is a bustling town today, traffic and shoppers, many small businesses, churches and chapels and still many magnificent Georgian buildings. Take away the cars, and dress the people differently and Devizes would still be very familiar to Jane. It still has very much of its Georgian character but it is a modern 21st century town too.Like modern day England, Devizes is a layer cake of history. There are bits from every era and it has and does thrive in all of them.

Strolling through Sydney Gardens

When I went to Bath this time I came in from a slightly different direction to Janes journey there in 1801. I came the south east, travelling from Stonehenge in Wiltshire. This road comes from high up in the hills to the south of Bath and the first sight of the city is from a steep, tree lined, Beckford Road which reaches Bath stretching along next to Sydney Gardens. It was a great pleasure and very exciting to come across, almost immediately on reaching Bath, number 4 Sydney Place, which was one of the houses Jane and her family rented.

Georgian terraced houses along the London Road, Bath

Jane entered Bath by way of the London Road which sweeps in from the east and curves across the top of the bend in the River Avon which borders the southern part of the City of Bath.The London Road leads straight to The Paragon, the road in which her aunt and uncle, The Leigh Perrots, lived and where Jane and her mother and father were to live until they found their own residence. Bath has not expanded in modern times much south of the river partly because of the steep hills there.

Old - Lower - Assembly Rooms

So there is an excited tone in Janes first letter from The Paragon. The excitement doesn’t last. Her aunt and uncle being residents in Bath, they at least know people to introduce Jane to. Unlike Catherine Moreland who meets nobody and knows no one at first. But what terrible people? Or is Jane just having a bout of sour grapes? Within weeks Jane is writing to Cassandra her comments about Bath acquaintances.

Wednesday 13th may 1801 writing to Cassandra

“I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment.”

Mrs Chamberlayne is picked out for more effort. Jane tries to find something in common, tries to see if a new friendship can blossom.

Friday 22nd May 1801

“The friendship between Mrs Chamberlayne & me which you predicted has already taken place, for we shake hands whenever we meet Our grand walk to Weston was again fixed for yesterday & was accomplished in a very striking manner; Everyone of the party declined it under some pretence or other except our two selves, & we therefore had a tete a tete, but that we should equally have had after the first two yards, had half the inhabitants of Bath set off with us.- It would have amused you to see our progress;-we went up by Sion Hill, and returned across the fields,- in climbing a hill Mrs Chamberlayne is very capital; I could with diffuculty keep pace with her- yet would not flinch for the world.- On plain ground I was quite her equal- and so we posted away under a fine hot sun, She without any parasol or any shade to her hat, stopping for nothing ,& crossing the churchyard at Weston with as much expedition as if we were afraid of being buried alive.-After seeing what she is equal to, I cannot help feeling a regard for her.-As to agreeableness, she is much like other people.”

There is something final about this relationship as though it’s not going far, in two phrases, “The friendship between Mrs Chamberlayne & me which you predicted has already taken place,…..” and , “As to agreeableness, she is much like other people.”

Regency Bath

Jane uses the past tense already about the relationship with Mrs Chamberlayne and she finally concludes that she is much like other people. Nothing is going to happen here. Jane was a very guarded person, certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, gave people a chance and discarded them for their mediocrity. Jane obviously needed something else in a relationship. Already she wasn’t in the mood for Bath.

Candle Snuffer, image Tony Grant

In the same letter she mentions house hunting. They have been looking at houses amongst Green Park Buildings. Green Park Buildings are situated near the river at the bottom of the town. They were obviously prone to flooding.

“ our views on GP building seem all at an end; the observations of the damps still remaining the offices of an house which has only been vacated a week, with reports of discontented families& putrid fevers have given the coup de grace.”

Nowadays the river near Green Park Buildings has high banks to prevent flooding and has been canalised. One of the main car parks, where we actually parked is near there. Also Bath Railway Station and The University of Bath is situated nearby these days.

For all this dire and damning report the Austens did move into Green Park Buildings. It could not have been very pleasant. Perhaps they thought their stay in The Paragon was prolonged enough and anything had to be taken.

Much of Jane’s remaining letters from Bath have some discussion about finding accommodation. The contracts on these houses seem to have been short term. Maybe this was because Bath was a seasonal place. People generally came for short periods of time. If you really wanted to live there permanently you would have to buy. Perhaps the Austens could not afford to do that. It begs the question, did Mr and Mrs Austen really think through their move to Bath carefully enough?

25 Gay Street, image Tony Grant

After Green Park Buildings the next set of letters come from number 25 Gay Street, just a few houses up the hill from The Jane Austen Centre. It is a dental practioners office today. The letters from Gay Street are the last from an address in Bath. However we also know that Jane lived at number 4 Sydney Street, a new house at the time overlooking a grand house which is now the Holburn Museum and its grounds, Sydney Park. This is by far one of the more pleasant situations Jane lived in.

Jane’s father died in a house in Trim Street not far from Queen Square and Gay Street. So another move had had to take place. In five years Jane had lived in at least five different house all providing differing qualities of living.

Side Street, Bath, image by Tony Grant

You can find this reflected in the two novels that concern themselves most with Bath, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. In Persuasion Anne Elliot finds an old school friend, Mrs Smith, living in poor circumstances.

“Her accommodations were limited to a noisy parlour , and a dark bedroom behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the otherwithiout assistancewhich there was only one servant in the house to affordand she never quitted the house but to be conveyed into the warm bath.”

Mrs Smith’s accommodation was in Westgate Buildings not far from the Pump Room. Mrs Smith’s husband had died leaving her almost penniless but because of her health the warm bath treatment was seen as a cure. Her life was certainly not one of fun and frivolity. It seems, like in any city and town today, in the 18th century, the poor and destitute and the wealthy are not far from each other. Anne Elliot seems to prefer the company of Mrs Smith rather than the fripperies that Bath had to offer. She knows the right people and could have fun if she wanted to. Anne Elliot can see the two sides of Bath.

Side view of Bath Abbey, image Tony Grant

Jane Austen knew Bath extremely well. Throughout Persuasion and Northanger Abbey she houses her characters in real streets and in real buildings, although she does avoid giving us the number of the house in such and such a street. The real owners and occupants might not have liked the notoriety. And today they might not like the notoriety as well. Was there such a thing as litigation in the 18th century? I’m sure there was.

More About the Topic

Cheap Street with hills in the distance, image from Tony Grant

Read Full Post »

Even rarer than a first edition of a Jane Austen novel are images taken of her during her short lifetime. A small watercolor by her sister Cassandra has been reworked over the centuries to make Jane look more attractive. Another watercolor image taken of Jane’s backside as she sits in the grass, a dark silhouette, a small watercolor by James Stanier Clark, and a portrait of Jane at 14 (the validity of the latter two are in question) are all that we have to go by. Verbal descriptions of Jane Austen are also quite rare, and some seem to contradict each other, a few relatives and friends thinking her quite pretty and others declaring that her looks were rather ordinary.

Anna Lefroy

In 1864, Anna Lefroy, Jane Austen’s niece and James Edward Austen-Leigh’s sister, wrote her memories of Aunt Jane in a letter for Edward’s memoir. She apologized that her recollections were so shadowy and that she was unable to grasp anything of substance. She did recall that Jane and Cassandra wore pattens when they walked between Dean and Steventon in “wintry weather through the sloppy lanes”. Pattens, or shoe coverings that protected delicate shoes, were worn by gentlewomen at that time, but they would soon go out of fashion. Anna also described Jane as having a tall and elegant figure, and a “quick firm step,” an observation that she shared with others.

Anna goes on to relate one particularly sweet family story of a 7 year-old Jane and her 3 year-old brother Charles greeting Cassandra, who was returning from a visit with Dr. and Mrs. Cooper at Bath. Jane and Charles had toddled down the lane “as far as New Down to meet the chaise, & have the pleasure of riding home in it.” While the popular perception was that Jane and Cassandra were inseparable, they spent a great deal of time apart.

Young Cassandra frequently visited the Coopers in Bath, and as an adult became a regular guest at Godmersham, her brother Edward’s estate. She was a favorite with the family there, but the young Godmersham children were not quite as fond of Jane. This was not the case with the Jane’s other nieces and nephews, all of whom liked her exceedingly as a playfellow and a teller of stories. In her letter, Anna bemoaned the loss of Jane’s verbal stories, those “happy tales of invention” that she wove out of nothing.

Jane’s niece wrote this observation about her aunt’s image:

“Her complexion of that rather rare sort which seems the peculiar property of light brunettes. A mottled skin, not fair, but perfectly clear & healthy in hue; the fine naturally curling hair, neither light nor dark; the bright hazel eyes to match, & the rather small but well shaped nose.”

Anna concludes, as Cassandra’s portrait attests, that Jane failed to be a decidedly handsome woman. Seventeen years younger than Jane, one wonders if Anna was thinking of an older, more mature Jane, the one who had taken to wearing caps at all times, rather than a younger and prettier Jane with bright sparkling eyes and full round cheeks.

Other posts on this blog about Jane’s image and character sit below:

Le Faye, Deirdre. Anna Lefroy’s Original Memories of Jane Austen. The Review of English Studies, New Series, Oxford University Press, Vol 39, #155 (Aug, 1988), pp 417-421.

Read Full Post »

Jean Louis Bazalgette, the Prince Regent's tailor

Most of the known accounts published about George, Prince of Wales, and his profligate spending on clothes and luxury items say that his main tailor was John Weston. It is also said that under the influence of young Beau Brummel he patronized other London tailors such as Meyer, and Schweitzer and Davidson. Steven Parissien, in his very interesting book ‘George IV, Inspiration of the Regency’ has a whole chapter entitled ‘Clothing & Militaria’ which lists tailors, bootmakers etc. used by the Prince.

The name of the unknown man who was the Prince’s tailor for 32 years – Louis Bazalgette – shows up in none of these sources. He appears to have started quietly supplying the Prince with all manner of clothes in great quantities in about 1780, and carried on making most of his clothes until at least 1795.

A dandy and his tailor

In 1794, the sixteen-year-old Brummel attracted the interest of the Prince, who under his influence began slowly to change his style of dress, so that by 1795 Bazalgette was making less of the gaudy outfits of which Prinny had been so fond. However, Louis continued to make most of the Prince’s uniforms, and the livery for his servants, until at least 1806.

Louis was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Charles Bazalgette (r), who is writing his life story. The book contains a great deal of new material; as a foretaste, Charles has started a blog which can be accessed at this blog - http://chasbaz.posterous.com/

Read Full Post »

Tony Grant at 3 Queen Square, down the road from the Jane Austen Centre

Tony Grant, who writes posts for Jane Austen Today and London Calling, stands above the “area”, the servants entrance that sits below ground and in front of town houses built during the Georgian and Regency eras. A wrough-iron fence separated the upper level from the lower basement level, which was sunk partly below the street. Windows in the work areas gave the servants a view of the people walking along the sidewalks.

Wherever these town houses were built, servants and delivery people used the lower entrance. The “area” also contained a coal vault used for storage.

The "area", or the way down to the servant's quarters

A collier unloaded coal from a cart directly into the coal vault. This practice prevented dirty coal sacks from being dragged through the house. Coal was dumped down a chute via a coal hole. The coal would then be used for fires or the kitchen stove. (Gaelen Foley)  The design of the coal hatch, which was locked from the inside, would vary from house to house. Coal holes were in use from the early 1800s to the middle 1900s, when the Clean Air Act made the burning of coal illegal. (Knowledge of London)

Coal hole, Bath, England

So much coal was burned in 19th century London (in 1800 over one million London residents were burning soft coal) that “winter fogs” became common.

An 1873 coal-smoke saturated fog, thicker and more persistent than natural fog, hovered over the city of days. As we now know from subsequent epidemiological findings, the fog caused 268 deaths from bronchitis. Another fog in 1879 lasted from November to March, four long months of sunshineless gloom. (London’s Historic “Pea Soupers”)

Read Full Post »


Inquiring readers: Austenprose has been featuring Georgette Heyer all this month. Today is her 108th birthday! Laurel Ann has graciously interviewed me about one of my favorite authors. My interview on her blog begins with this question:

Some critics write Georgette Heyer off as merely a romance novelist. Others praise her for her historical accuracy, witty dialogue and engaging plots. Looking back on her fifty plus novels, why do you think she is [still] so popular years after [her] first publication?

When she was a current bestselling author, Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances stood out from the pack. Her humorous but well-researched writing rose above a sea of earnestly written historical romances. In those days, Daphne du Maurier, Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt), Mary Stewart, and Mills and Boon (Harlequin) authors reigned supreme. While these best-selling authors were popular, none came close to combining humor, history, and romance in Georgette’s inimitable way. Today, GH’s breezy style doesn’t stand out quite as vividly, because there are many other romance writers (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Susan Andersen, Sandra Hill, Jane Ann Krentz) who publish funny and sassy romances, but back in the dark ages when I went to college, Georgette had the humorous romance field to herself.

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

In addition to the interview, I am featuring two of my reviews of GH novels:  Lady of Quality and Friday’s Child. As a special treat for Georgette’s birthday, I am also including a link to one of her short stories: A Proposal to Cecily

Lady of Quality:

Miss Annis Wychwood, at twenty-nine, has long been on the shelf, but this bothers her not at all. She is rich and still beautiful and she enjoys living independently in Bath, except for the tiresome female cousin, who her very proper brother insists must live with her.

When Annis offers sanctuary to the very young runaway heiress Miss Lucilla Carleton, no one at all thinks this is a good idea. With the exception of Miss Carleton’s overbearing guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton, whose reputation as the rudest man in London precedes him. Outrageous as he is, the charming Annis ends up finding him absolutely irresistible. - Sourcebooks blurb

I discovered Georgette Heyer just after I graduated from college. Having run out of new Jane Austen novels to read, I began to search for other regency stories set in similar settings. One day at the library, I stumbled across Charity Girl and Arabella, and my love affair with all things Georgette began.

In those days I was barely older than the youngest of Heyer’s heroines, and could identify closely with The Grand Sophy. I reveled in Georgette’s world filled with bored aristocratic gentlemen who, usually as they traveled by coach or horse to a country inn or walked the streets in London in the middle of the night, stumbled across an innocent and disarming chit who needed rescuing. This plot device was a popular one with the author. Another one of Georgette’s plots was that of the “older” beautiful, rich, and independent spinster (almost on the shelf, but not quite) who is determined to live her life as she likes it and skirt convention when she can. Because she has independent means, she rules her roost and will brook no interference from any man. Invariably, these strong willed women meet their match in an even richer, stronger-willed man, usually a Duke or Earl, but not always as in a Lady of Quality.
Read the rest of the review at this link

Friday’s Child:

fridays-child-sourceHeadstrong, spoiled and impetuous, Lord Sheringham wants to be married. Not because he is in love, but because he wants control of his fortune, his father having left it so that he would be either 25 or married before he could rid himself of his trustees. He has some difficulties with debts, certainly, but the main reason he wishes to have that trust drawn up is that one of his trustees is plundering his estate.

The book opens with his proposal to the Incomparable, Isabella Milborne, a lifelong neighbor and friend. She refuses him because they don’t love each other, and he, furious at her level-headed thwarting of his plans, vows to marry the next lady he sees. This would be Hero Wantage, another lifelong neighborhood friend, just out of the schoolroom and unschooled in any of the ways of Society. Hero, who has adored her friend Sherry for years, is an orphan who has been under the care of her cousin, who never intended to provide a Season for her ward, but rather to prepare her for marriage to the local curate, or for life as a governess. At just seventeen and full of fun, Hero is not ready for either quelling prospect.

So the two decide that they will get married. Lord Sheringham’s cousins Gil and Ferdy and his friend George, Lord Wrotham, all of whom seem to travel in a pack, among them arrange for the marriage by special license. The young Lord and Lady Sheringham set up house, and Sherry and his friends seek to establish young Lady Sherry in London society, where they have been cutting a pretty wild and dashing swath. What follows is a madcap romp, as Hero falls in and out of scrapes as fast as she can. All through innocence, or from following her husband’s sayings. She is bright, educated, and has a mind of her own, and when she takes umbrage at her husband’s scolding her for something, she will say, “but you said…” To his credit, he hears his words and begins to reconsider his own way of life.

Read the rest of the review at this link

A Proposal to Cecily:

Flapper Louise_BrooksCicely hurled a cushion across the room. “Thats how I feel!” she said, & glared at her first cousin once removed, Richard Spalding.

“Good lord”, he remarked, with a proper amount of sympathy in his lazy voice.

“And you sit there – idling about in my room – laughing at me! I quite hate you, Richard!

“Oh, I say!” he expostulated, “I wasn’t laughing – honour bright!”

Cicely looked scornful. “I’m absolutely sick of it all. Dead sick of it.” Cecily nodded so vigorously that her brown, bobbed curls seemed to jump. “I never want to go to another dance as long as I live.”

“That’s bad,” said Spalding respectfully. “What’s brought on this sense of repletion?”

“Everything. I’ve been trotted round till I want to scream! I feel like doing something desperate!”

At that Spalding dragged himself upright and threw away his half-smoked cigarette.

“Oh, splendid, Cis! I hoped that if I waited long enough you’d melt. When shall it be? Be a sport, now, and -”

Cicely covered her ears with her hands.

“No, no, no! I don’t want to do anything as desperate as that!”

Richard sank back again.

“Thought it was too good to be true”. He pulled a leather diary from his waistcoat pocket and proceeded, gloomily, to make an entry.

“What’s that?” asked Cicely.

“Diary.”

“But what are you writing?”

“‘Friday. Proposed to Cicely. Refused.’”

In spite of herself Cicely giggled.

“Dicky, you are idiotic! When will you give it up?”

“When we’re married.”

“We’re not going to be!” Cicely’s chin went up defiantly.

Read the rest of the short story at this link


Reviews of Georgette Heyer’s novels on this site:

Read Full Post »

Brummel’s morning dress was similar to that of every other gentleman. Hessians and pantaloons, or top boots and buckskins, with a blue coat and a light or buff coloured waistcoat, of course, fitting to admiration on the best figure in England. His dress of an evening was a blue coat and white waistcoat, black pantaloons, which buttoned tight to the ankle, striped stockings and opera hat; in fact, he was always carefully dressed, but never the slave of fashion.

Brummel’s tailors were Schweitzer and Davidson in Cork Street, Weston, and a German of the name of Meyer who lived in Conduit Street. The trousers, which opened at the bottom of the leg, and were closed by buttons and loops, were invented either by Meyer or Brummel. The Beau, at any rate, was the first who wore them, and they immediately became quite the fashion ,and continued so for some years. - English Eccentrics: Beau Brummell, John Timbs, p 22-35,

Mr. Brummel in his morning dress

A good humoured baronet, and brother Etonian of [Brummel's], who followed him at a humble distance in his dress, told me that he went to Schweitzer’s one morning to get properly rigged out, and that while his talented purveyor of habiliments was measuring him, he asked him what cloth he recommended? “Why, Sir,” said the artiste, “the Prince wears superfine, and Mr. Brummell the Bath coating; but it is immaterial which you choose, Sir John, you must be right; suppose, Sir, we say Bath coating, — I think Mr. Brummell has a trifle the preference.” – The Life of George Brummel, Esq, William Jesse

More on the topic: Between a Gentleman and His Tailor, Georgian Index

Read Full Post »

Even as women freed themselves for a short time from the confinement of corsets, the Regency dandy, following the Prince Regent’s fashion, began to constrict himself into a wasp-waisted and broad shouldered look. For men of a certain challenged physique, firm waists and tight stomachs were achieved through laced corsets. The sculpting of wide shoulders, bulging thighs, and fine calves was accomplished by well-placed pads, as the satiric image below shows.

 

Lacing a Dandy, 1819

 

There can be no doubt, indeed, that just as the large cravat resulted from defects in the royal neck, so the stays in later years became necessary to restrain the unwieldy proportions of the royal waist, and assumed by the dandies as an act of compliment to their patron. The caricatures of the day exhibit an Illustrious Personage lifted up and struggling to insert his legs into a pair of “leather”s of a size he was anxious to appear in –  which are securely lashed to the bed posts to give a sort of purchase in furtherance of his efforts – just as in 1784 stories were told of Monseigneur d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI of France,  needing the aid of four tall lacqueys to put on and off, without creasing, his small clothes of a special make and kind. – Once a Week, Volume 10

 

Prince Regent at his toilet, Hugh Bonneville, Beau Brummell, This Charming Man, 2008

 

Corsets continued to be relatively popular among the ruling and military classes for the rest of the 19th century, and retained a significant following during the first part of the 20th century.

 

1812 Regency a la mode

 

Read more on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Along with Austenprose, this blog is celebrating Georgette Heyer’s 108th birthday on August 16th. Look for Laurel Ann’s interview with me on her blog that day! Her questions were quite challenging.

The recent reviews featured on Laurel Ann’s blog echo some of the reviews that have been published in recent years on this blog. For your enjoyment and in celebration of the Austenprose event, we are reviving some of our favorite Georgette Heyer reviews.

Read more Georgette Heyer reviews by a wide variety of bloggers on Austenprose.

Read Full Post »

Over a century ago, Douglas Jerrold asked:

Is there a more helpless, a more forlorn and unprotected, creature than, in nine cases out of ten, the Dress Maker’s Girl – the Daily Sempstress; pushed prematurely from the parental hearth, or rather no hearth, to win her miserable crust by aching fingers?

Imagine that it is the Season in London and young ladies and their mamas are ordering dresses by the dozens for balls and visits. In an age when all sewing and embroidery were done by hand, when lighting was poor and wages were so low that they barely paid for room and board, pity the poor seamstress hunched over her sewing assignments, racing against time to meet a series of deadlines that seem endless, and complying with the exacting standards of a boss and clients who cared not a whit for her comfort.

Fingers numb, backs aching, eyes straining to focus on mind numbingly repetitive work meant that burning the midnight oil was no mere phrase. For embroiderers who continued to work well past dusk, lamps were devised that amplified light. Those who sat closest to its source benefited the most. The poor women who sat in the outer circle scarcely benefited from the amplification of lacemaker lamps:

“The three legged stool (candle-block, candle-stool or pole-board are alternative names) upon which the candle and the water filled “magnifying” flasks are fitted, is placed in the middle of the room. The laceworkers then arrange themselves around the light in an orderly manner that allows each person to have at least some of the light. The best lacemakers use the highest stools and are nearest the light source. They have what is known as the “first-light” then the graded workers arrange themselves according to ability to have the “second-light” and the “third light”. Whiting tells us that in this way 18 lacemakers can be accommodated around the candle-stool.

From my own experiments with this form of lighting, I find it hard to understand how any maker who was in the third light, or even the second light come to that, could make lace from that single source of illumination!” – Brian Lemin

Mr. Jerrod’s prose is purply, like much of the writing during the Victorian era, but one gets the gist of what life must have been like for a lowly little seamstress toiling in a garret room with other seamstresses. The hours were long, and sometimes unpredictable:

Our little Dress Maker has arrived at the work room, After two or three hours she takes her bread and butter and warm adulterated water denominated tea. Breakfast hurriedly over, she works under the rigid scrutinising eye of a task mistress some four hours more, and then proceeds to the important work of dinner. A scanty slice of meat, perhaps an egg, is produced from her basket; she dines and sews again till five. Then comes again the fluid of the morning and again the needle until eight. Hark, yes, that’s eight now striking. “Thank heaven,” thinks our heroine, as she rises to put by her work, the task for the day is done.

At this moment a thundering knock is heard at the door: — The Duchess of Daffodils must have her robe by four to morrow!

Again the Dress Maker’s apprentice is made to take her place — again, she resumes her thread and needle, and perhaps the clock is “beating one”, as she again, jaded and half dead with work, creeps to her lodging, and goes to bed, still haunted with the thought that as the work “is very back”, she must be up by five to-morrow.

Pity the woman who was born to luxury who lost a father before she was comfortably married and, because of his debts or other hardship, had to work for a living. Preferred jobs included governess, chaperone, or a ladies companion, but they often led to a woman living a life of limbo. Neither servant nor family member, they spent lonely lives of servitude, fitting in nowhere. If a woman could not obtain employment in those positions, she could always turn to sewing as either an independent dressmaker or seamstress. Jane Austen’s friend, Mary Lamb, made her living as a mantua maker, sewing garments for women and men in her own home, and taking up mending. In Persuasion, Mrs. Smith knitted small souvenir objects, which Nurse Rooke sold for her.

Dress maker in 1840

These women, accustomed to luxury in their earlier years, were exposed to sumptuous homes and surroundings as they visited their clients for fittings. Yet their earnings of twelve or fifteen shillings per week (1840 quote) were hardly sufficient to provide for adequate food and lodging. Independent dressmakers had to look neat and presentable, yet they could barely afford their upkeep. Her life could even turn for the worse if she never married. She would then be fated to grow old in a world that was harsh for single women.  Barely able to scrape a living together while she was young and healthy, she was fated to lose her excellent eyesight due to the strain of her work.

The Children’s Employment Commission in 1842 estimated that there were some 1000 millinery and dressmaking businesses in London (millinery is here equivalent to dressmaking; the word was not confined to hat makers until the end of the century), and Nicola Phillips estimates that 95 per cent of these were run by women. It is a common mistake to confuse one needlewoman with another, but as Kay points out, ‘the businesswoman milliner is a different creature to the jobbing sempstress’: one designed and made or had made individual garments; the other worked by the piece, either for a milliner or stitching pre-cut ready-made clothes –  (The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship, Alison Kay, p. 48).

Dressmaker shop in 1775. Image from Regency England by Yvonne Forsling

Owning a shop was no guarantee of economic stability, for many wealthy women failed to pay their bills on time, if at all. In the 18th century, the enterprising Hannah Glasse ran a dressmaker’s shop in London with her daughter, which eventually went bankrupt. She went on to write one of the most popular cookbooks of her era, but in this venture she too lost money.

As the century progressed and with the advent of the sewing machine, life did not automatically become easier for seamstresses and dressmakers, who still worked long hours in cramped conditions, their backs bent over sewing machines in factories and piece work shops. Clothing had become more affordable. The rising middle class was purchasing more items than ever, and etiquette dictated that wealthy ladies were required to change their clothes for different functions throughout the day. Thus demand for new and fashionable clothes remained high.

Bottom image from Regency England

More reading on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,066 other followers