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Archive for September, 2010

Happy 200th Birthday, Elizabeth Gaskell! Although your life was cut short at 55, you still cast a bright light in our world.

Elizabeth Gaskell around the time of her marriage, 1832

“No, I tell you it’s the poor, and the poor only, as does such things for the poor. Don’t think to come over me with th’ old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don’t know, they ought to know. We’re their slaves as long as we can work…” – Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

Since babyhood Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell nee Stevenson experienced profound sorrow and a sense of loss and displacement. Her parents, Elizabeth and William Stevenson, had eight children, but only two survived – baby Elizabeth and her older brother John. Her mother did not live to raise her, for she died a year after her daugher’s birth. Sadly, her widowed father did not feel up to taking care of his young daughter and sent Elizabeth away to live with her Aunt Lumb in Knutsford, Chesire.

Knutsford, the model for Cranford, 1863

Under this loving aunt’s care, Elizabeth experienced a happy childhood. She played with cousins in the rural town of Knutsford where lived “11 widows of respectability who kept house, besides spinsters innumerable”. In later life, Elizabeth would use Knutsford as the idealized setting for Cranford. She was to return there often to recall the rare happy memories of her early childhood.

Knutsford in 1860, before the railroad came

Elizabeth’s father continued to reject her even after his remarriage. When she was nine years old, he finally sent for her to visit him in London, but Elizabeth and her stepmother did not hit it off. In addition, her father and his new wife favored the children of their union. Although often reduced to tears by their indifference, Elizabeth did have one person she could turn to, her beloved brother John.

William Gaskel

When Elizabeth was twelve, John joined the merchant navy. She would never see him again, for he drowned six years later off the coast of India. Within six months of John’s death, her griefstricken father also died. And thus, at the tender age of eighteen, Elizabeth was alone again.

William Turner, a distant relative, took Elizabeth in to live with his family. As a Unitarian minister he influenced her religious beliefs and introduced her to charitable works. It was through William Turner’s daugher that Elizabeth met William Gaskell, whom she married in the Knutsford Parish Church on August, 1832.

Gaskell was also a Unitarian minister and a lecturer and educator. After their honeymoon, the young couple moved to industrial Manchester, where William had acquired a post as minister of the Cross Street Chapel. Gaskell was also to hold the chair of English history and literature in Manchester New College.

Manchester in 1840. Note the factory chimneys.

Elizabeth would eventually bear her husband six children, the first of whom was a stillborn daughter. Considering the losses she had already experienced in her life, the death of this little girl, born in 1833, must have grieved her deeply. Three years afterward she penned this touching poem:

On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl

I made a vow within my soul, O child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of Death on every tender part,
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, thou
Whose eyes ne’er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose suff’ rings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.
– Elizabeth Gaskell’s poem for her stillborn daughter, 1836

Then three healthy girls arrived in succession: Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), and Florence Elizabeth (1842). In 1844 she gave birth to her son William. These years marked a busy and productive period in Elizabeth’s life. Both the Gaskell’s divided their time between his ministry, their social life, and charity work. In Manchester, Gaskell witnessed the dire poverty of the textile workers, which was to have a lasting effect on her writing.

Elizabeth Gaskell by George Richmond, 1851. @National Portrait Gallery, London.

Between raising children and visiting the poor, Elizabeth managed to find the time to write. Her husband supported her in this endeavor, helping her with research and editing. The year she gave birth to her daugher Margaret, Elizabeth sold her first story to Blackwoods Magazine entitled “Sketches Among the Poor.” In 1846, she gave birth to another daughter, Julia.

Factory Kids, Manchester 1836

Elizabeth’s life was a fulfilling and happy one until her nine-month old son, William, caught scarlet fever during a visit to Wales in1848, and died. The blow was too much. When a devastated Elizabeth was unable to rise out of bed, William encouraged her to concentrate on her writing and begin a novel. The result was Mary Barton, which told about the desperate poverty of those living in industrial cities like Manchester, a topic with which Elizabeth had become all too familiar during her charity work.

Illustration by Alexy Pendle from Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton brought  success to Elizabeth. She was paid £200 for the book, which was published anonymously. Charles Dickens sang its praises. Other admirers included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, and Thomas Carlyle. Although critics took a jaundiced view towards her championing of the poor and calls for social reform, the novel led to her writing other books, each one making her more money. From then on she published her books under her own name, Mrs. Gaskell.

Houshold Words, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens admired Elizabeth so much that he serialised her next novel, Cranford, in his journal, Household Words (1851-1853). More novels followed in rapid succession, including Ruth (1853), North and South (1855), and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). These books did not represent her sole literary output. Elizabeth wrote several novellas, of which Cranford was one, as well as short stories and articles for periodicals.

Gilbraltar Tower House, Carnforth. Mrs. Gaskell often wrote in the top room of the tower.

After her good friend Charlotte Bronte died, Gaskell wrote her acclaimed biography, using firsthand accounts and sources. This led her into some legal trouble, for shortly after the book’s publication a few of the people mentioned in it threatened to sue for having been represented incorrectly.

She made many other important friends, and was an avid correspondent, writing thousands of letters to friends and near strangers with the rapidity and ease of someone who, had she lived in the future, would most likely have embraced email.*

Mrs. Gaskell's letter to Dante Gabriel Rossetti about William Wordsworth, Princeton Collection

Elizabeth’s novels were enormously popular with the public, and the Gaskells lived well, traveling around Europe, hiring servants, and moving into a bigger house, Plymouth Grove, which still stands. Even with the income from her books and her popularity, Elizabeth continued to remain involved in her husband’s ministry and charity work.

Interior of Plymouth Grove, National Trust

“He is very shy, but very merry when he is well, delights in puns & punning, is very fond of children… 6 foot high, grey hair and whiskers….I do believe he does like Manchester better than any other place in the world; and his study the best place in Manchester” – Elizabeth Gaskell, in describing her husband.

While Gaskell loved her husband dearly and was faithful to him, she did meet a young man in her later life who flattered her womanly ego. On one of her trips to Italy with her daughters, she met an American, Charles Norton, who was 20 years her junior and clearly worshipped her. One cannot be surprised by his attraction, for Elizabeth was a successful, intelligent, and passionate woman. But their friendship remained platonic and they corresponded until Elizabeth’s death. Her Roman flirtation left an indelible memory in Elizabeth’s mind: “It was in those charming Roman days that my life culminated,” she later wrote to a friend. “I shall never be so happy again. I don’t think I was ever so happy before.”**

Mrs. Gaskell towards the end of her life.

Years of loss, sorrow, hard work, and success took a toll on her. Once a vibrant and lovely woman, she looked drawn and tired in later photographs. Elizabeth’s death came suddenly and unexpectedly on a visit to her cottage near Alton in Holybourne, Hampshire. Unknown to her husband, she had secretly purchased the house for their retirement.

“On Sunday November 12, 1865, she and her daughters spent a lazy morning before Elizabeth walked up the lane to church. The vicar thought she looked extremely well.

At 5pm, everyone sat in the drawing room for tea. Elizabeth was gossiping, relating a conversation she’d had with a judge when, mid-sentence, she stopped, gasped and slumped down dead from a heart attack.” – The Daily Mail Online, 2007

Manuscript of Wives and Daughters

Elizabeth had been witing her last work, Wives and Daughters, which remained unfinished. After her unexpected death, a friend wrote, “The world of English letters has lost one of its foremost authors,” a sentiment the Anthenaeum echoed: “If not the most popular, with small question, the most powerful and finished female novelist of an epoch singularly rich in female novelists.”

Burial spot for Elizabeth and William Gaskell

Elizabeth is buried at Brookstreet Chapel in Knutsford. William Gaskell survived her by two decades and never retired, serving as Minister in Cross Street and living in Plymouth Grove with two daughters until his death in 1884. He is buried beside her.

In terms of her legacy, this 1989 letter by Henry Rollin, Chairman, History of Psychiatry Group,  sums up Elizabeth Gaskell’s body of work:

But of greater importance to the medical historian are the glimpses she gives in her novels of the socioeconomic diseases of the period of which she writes. Life is cheap. Alcoholism and prostitution are rife. Cholera and typhus are commonplace. Women die in childbirth. And she reveals in harrowing detail the prevalence of opium addiction. John Barton, the father of Mary Barton in her novel of that name, is portrayed as a man so bitterly humiliated by his abject failure in all departments of his life that he degenerates into the quintessential opium addict. But even more haunting is the intense pathos of her description of the relationship between opium and the grinding poverty and near-starvation of the underprivileged. “Many a penny that would have gone little way enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bought opium to still the hungry little ones, and make them forget their uneasiness in heavy troubled sleep”, she writes of the Manchester she knew in her day-to-day work as the wife of a Unitarian minister.”

Gaskell's great great great granddaughter, Sarah Prince, lays a wreath in the Poet's Corner

In honor of the Bicentenary, Mrs. Gaskell was included in the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey, a top honor indeed. Rest in peace, Elizabeth Gaskell, and happy, happy birthday!

Gentle Reader: This blog has joined fourteen others in celebrating the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour, sponsored by Austenprose. The next blog on your tour is Mary Barton (1848) Book: Kelly’s of the Jane Austen Sequel Examiner. She will discuss Mary Barton, Gaskell’s first book.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. Deadline October 7th, midnight PT

Sources:

Thank you, Austenprose, for arranging this web tour!

The Gaskell Blog Tour:

Biography

Novels/Biography

Novellas

Resources

  • 14.) Your Gaskell Library – a select bibliography of written resources and links to MP3′s, ebooks, audio books, other downloads and reading resources available online: Janeite Deb - Jane Austen in Vermont
  • 15) Plymouth Grove - A Visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester:  Tony Grant – London Calling

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Elated readers: You have a chance of winning one of three copies of Dancing With Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House Library, and compiled by Sarah Waters. The book will be available in your local bookstore on October 19th!

For a chance to win, just leave your comment. Please address this topic: What kind of story about Jane Austen or her characters would you be interested in reading?

Contest ends October 20th. Names will be drawn through a random number generator.

So sorry: Only those who live in the U.S. or Canada are eligible to win. THANK YOU for participating. Contest is closed.

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Jane Austen scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks has written many books, but none so lush and lovely as Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Not only will this beautiful annotated edition of Jane Austen’s beloved novel look fabulous on your coffee table, but after reading it you will feel that you’ve come to understand Pride and Prejudice as you never have before.

Dr. Spacks’s definitions, descriptions, and clarifications of arcane words, Regency customs, and obscure passages add dimension to a novel that I have read over 22 times and thought I knew inside and out. But I was wrong. Take her annotation of this rather unassuming sentence in Chapter 4, for example:

With no greater events than these in the Longbourn family, and otherwise diversified by little beyond the walks to Meryton, sometimes dirty and sometimes cold, did January and February pass away.”

Dr. Spacks explains that in this instance, dirty meant muddy. Thinking of how uneventful life in a semi-rural setting must be, she adds, “Aside from the arrival of the militia and of Wickham, virtually everything of significance that has happened in the novel so far has been psychological…” She then goes on to describe the states of mind in Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy and Mr. Collins as they interact with each other.

In Chapter 2, Volume III, she introduces Michael Kramp’s idea that Mr. Darcy’s kindness to Mrs. Gardiner during Elizabeth’s and the Gardiners visit to Pemberly is evidence of the changing nature of England’s social arrangements and that “the gap between new and old money is shrinking.” (p. 307)

Dr. Spacks’s new annotated edition provides an erudite commentary on Pride and Prejudice, refers to many scholarly sources, and includes a large assortment of images. As she explained in a recent interview with me: “we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.”

Her 24-page introduction explores the continuing appeal of Pride and Prejudice: that it is considered safe for teaching in school and appeals to both feminists and sentimental individuals who are attracted to a romantic English past.

It has also emerged clearly as a repository for and stimulus of fantasy, and thus possibly less safe than it seems. In the film versions…Darcy, romanticized, tends to turn into a Heathcliff figure, passionate, beautiful, and overwhelmingly physical.”

A visitor to this blog recently asked how this annotation of Pride and Prejudice differed from David M. Shapard’s 2004 annotation. The Spacks volume comes in a lavishly color-illustrated, hardback edition, while Shapard’s book was published as a trade paperback. Scattered thinly throughout its pages are a few black and white illustrations. Aside from the difference in physical appearance, Spacks’s annotations are more scholarly.

Flipping through the first page of the novel, you can immediately spot the difference between the two approaches. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, Emerita at the University of Virginia, discusses the famous first sentence as material for a critical debate on the ambiguity of “want”, whereas Dr. Shapard, an 18th century expert, emphasizes the introduction of two central themes of the novel – marriage and financial considerations. These two annotations are so different, that I believe there is room on the shelves for both of them.

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks is a perfect gift for oneself and for a beloved friend or family member. If the $35 purchase price is a bit steep in this economic downturn, place it on your Holiday gift wish list. You will not be disappointed when you unwrap your package.

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Oxford, Halloween night and under a full moon

Falling Darkness, the final episode of season 3 of Inspector Lewis on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! begins on Halloween Eve, a night when the moon is full and young goblins go from house to house trick or treating.

Tiny hobgoblins trick or treating at Lewis's door

The viewer is witness to Inspector Lewis’s playful reaction as children in costume arrive at his doorstep. But all too soon Hathaway appears at his doorstep to halt all the fun and announce a murder.

Lewis greeting Hathaway

The victim, Ligeia Willard, is found with a stake through her heart and garlic in her mouth. Could it be witchcraft? Or revenge? for Dr. Willard is a renowned scientist at a stem cell research institute and “not overly popular with the spiritually certain.”

The stem cell research institute was being picketed. Could a protester have killed Dr. Willard?

Dr. Willard, as it turns out, was also Laura Hobson’s good friend and college house mate years ago. They shared their house with another friend, Ellen, and two male friends, Alec and Peter.

Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) at home, dealing with her friend's death

Griefstricken over her friend’s death, Laura removes herself from the investigation. When another murder of a young woman, Rowena, occurs in that same house, the string of clues lead to Laura as the main suspect.

Rupert Graves as Alec Pickman, one of Laura's former housemate

The plot of Falling Darkness revolves around Laura Hobson and events in her past that might solve the mystery. This is an unwelcome development for Inspector Lewis, who must follow correct investigative procedure and check out Laura’s alibis.

Hathaway (Laurence Fox) follows the clues.

The incomparable Rupert Graves, whose portrayal of Freddie in A Room With a View I shall never forget, makes an appearance as Alec Pickman, a hopeless alcoholic, former lothario, and one of the men who shared the house with Laura and her friends.

Ursula Van Tessel, psychic, assures Lewis that "She didn't suffer," causing him to wince

In this plot we learn more about Laura’s past as Hathaway and Lewis work furiously to solve the murders and clear her name. On a personal level, season III ended strongly with this episode, for Lewis and Laura have developed their relationship to the point where they can hold hands in public, but I did not feel that all the ends had been neatly tied and addressed, such as the reason Rowena was murdered. Neglecting such a detial is bad murder mystery form.

The clues keep leading to Laura

I will miss Lewis and Hathaway and the setting of Oxford tremendously, but with Wallander slated to air next week, I will be amply compensated for their absence.

Lewis and Hathaway walk through Oxford

Watch Falling Darkness online at this link for two weeks starting Monday, September 28th, through October 26th, 2010.

Laura thanks Lewis for his help

Last episode of the season, and until next year, The End

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Cassandra Austen in later life

Gentle readers, I am often asked questions by readers, some of which I answer and some of which go unrecognized. Be assured that if you are a student looking for me to do your research when all you have to do is poke into my pages, I shall remain silent. But if your question is intriguing enough, I might be stirred to action. Such is the case with Craig Piercey’s recent question, which goes like this:

Hi Vic

I was rummaging through the Census of 1841 when I came across something interesting. It lists Cassandra Austen of Chawton as 65 however, she died in 1845 aged 72 years. So, something is not right somewhere, either the census is wrong, there were two Cassandra Austen’s in Chawton (unlikely) or her age is wrong on her Grave Stone.

I enclose the census ledger – its on page 8 half way down. It has her listed as being of independent means.

Let me know your thoughts.

Cheers

Craig.

Ledger of the Chawton census, 1841

I could not give Craig an intelligent answer, for the first thought that came to me was that vanity had caused her to give the census taker a wrong age, but then I reasoned that perhaps an honest mistake had been made. I next thought of Tony Grant, who writes for both my blogs. Tony, a retired teacher, arranges customized tour packages for small groups of tourists. His resources are varied, and because he lives in England, he has quick access to historical registers and individuals who can help him. I asked Craig if I could share the question with Tony.

Hi Vic

Please feel free.

What confuses me is, somebody would have had to go round the houses in the village as it looks like the ledger was done by hand – no forms here… So, I’m guessing the nominated person must have actually met her and asked her her age. This would make the age on the Census probable but of course, not completely reliable. I seem to recall somewhere that it was originally clergymen who filled in the Census forms making her age being wrong even more unlikely as the clergyman at the time was her Nephew I think…

As for her grave stone… Well, I have never been to the church or the Great House, although I have been to her house and what I can say is that I have seen pictures of Cassandra’s grave and it look like it may have been moved as there was a fire in the late eighteen hundreds which gutted the original church and maybe the grave stones as well… Who knows, the age on the stones could be wrong… But, unlikely as there would have been family alive that would have known her intimately and surely would have noticed.

I would be interested to know the findings from this, maybe I’m just being stupid and have missed something obvious but, I think not.

Hope you are well, always a pleasure.

Craig.

After Tony returned from yet another of his tour excurions, I put the question to him. Still logy from his trip, he responded off the cuff:

Hi Vic

There were two Cassandras. Mrs Austen was also called Cassandra. This is off the top of my head…

Here’s a picture  of the Chawton Church yard. Tell me if this answers the question.

No it doesn’t. Just checked Craig’s message. Need to look at this further.

Gravesite, Cassandra and Cassandra Austen

Tony then got in touch with the Hampshire records office in Winchester, and “asked them about the discrepancy between the census of 1841 and the inscription on Cassandra’s grave stone.” The answer came almost immediately.

Hi Vic,

Hampshire archives are on the ball today. They got back to me. Here is what they said:

Dear Mr. Grant,

Thank you for your enquiry.

Indeed Cassandra Austen was 72 at the time of her death, her birth being in 1773. I checked the 1841 census and I must admit Cassandra’s age does appear to be 65 on the census return. Her Brother, Henry, born in 1771, is correctly recorded as being 65 and Cassandra should, depending on the date of the census, be recorded as being 68. Either, the census enumerator recorded her age incorrectly at the time of the cenus or there could be a possibility that the number 65 is badly faded and the five was originally an 8 as the original copy of the census return is quite badly faded. Apart from this it is a mystery why she would record her age as 65.

I hope this is of some assistance to you.

Yours Sincerely
Steve Jones

Steve Jones, Archives and Local Studies Assistant

Tony still wasn’t finished.

Closeup of the 1841 Census at Chawton

Hi Vic,

Just had a close look at the copy of the 1841 census you attached. There is no way that 5 was an 8. Somebody made a mistake in recording her age.They probably recorded Henry’s first,correctly as 65 and then got overawed by the domineering presence of Cassandra and either didn’t ask her her age or misheard out of confusion and recorded the same age as her brother.

You can just imagine the scene.

ANOTHER little dramatic episode one of our ,”writers,” could use.

All the best,
Tony

And there you have it, readers. Sometimes even the simplest question involves a great deal of thinking and searching. I am not sure we will ever solve the mystery, but I believe Tony and the Hampshire Records Office got as close to solving the mystery as anyone.

Update: But wait! The plot thickens. Who is the Henry below Cassandra Austen? If Henry Austen was born in 1771, he would have been 70 at the time of the census. Could the census taker have gotten the ages of both siblings wrong, or is this another Henry listed below Cassandra? I find it curious that his last name is not listed as Austen. The case becomes curiouser and curiouser.

Update #2: Laurel Ann pointed me to the site of the 1841 Census, which states,

Age and sex of each person:
Ages up to 15 are listed exactly as reported/recorded but ages over 15 were rounded to the nearest 5 years
(i.e. a person aged 53 would be listed on
the census as age 50 years).

If that is the case, what about Henry, who is already 70? His age would then be listed wrong, not Cassandra’s.

Thank you Craig and Tony for providing the content of this most enlivening and enlightening post! Vic

Update #3: Sarah Parry and Ray Moseley from Chawton House discussed the 1841 Census, as did Laurel Ann from Austenprose, which I featured on this post. Along with the comments below, we have a fairly comprehensive answer to the question. Thank you all for participating.

More about Tony Grant:

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Dr. Patricia Meyer Spacks

Inquiring Reader: This interview is with Patricia Meyer Spacks, the editor of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Dr. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia, has written a number of books, including ”The Adolescent Idea,” ”The Female Imagination,” “Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels,” “Reading Eighteenth-Century Poetry (Blackwell Reading Poetry),” “The female imagination,” and various studies of 18th-century literature. Her most recent undertaking, the annotation of Jane Austen’s most beloved and popular novel, resulted in a beautiful and elucidative book. I know that Jane Austen lovers will find this illustrated volume a useful and informative addition to their book collection.

How old were you when you first read Jane Austen and which book was it? Were you instantly taken by her writing, or did you develop an appreciation for her over time? Why?

I was probably ten or eleven years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I wish I remembered what I saw in it then; I’ve often had the same wondering about college students of mine who read the book early, because now it and the rest of Austen’s novels seem to me very much books intended for grown-ups. For some reason, though–perhaps because of its plot’s resemblance to those of familiar fairy tales–I loved P and P on first reading and read it several times more before ever studying it. As for “develop[ing] an appreciation”: one of the wonderful things about Austen (and other great writers) is that you can appreciate her novels in different ways over time and develop gradually wider areas of appreciation. This is one reason, I think, why many people frequently reread Austen, even as often as every year. Like many others, I have appreciated her for different reasons as I keep rereading her novels.

Image in the book: Carlton House, Blue Velvet Room, Charles Wild, 1816. From the Royal Collection*

How did you come up with the idea of writing this book? What were some of the challenges in researching the information?

The book wasn’t my idea. John Kulka, who became my editor at Harvard University Press, came up with the idea and persuaded me to execute it. That indeed took some persuasion, because I was engrossed with another project at the time he proposed it, but I finally agreed because I had read the novel probably 40 or 50 times; had taught it to college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students, as well as one faculty seminar; and thought I could pretty much annotate it out of my head. Big mistake! I learned a great deal in the course of annotating it, but I don’t recall any particular challenges. Every time I decided that something needed annotating, I had no difficulty finding the information I needed.

I am curious how you decided which sections of Pride and Prejudice required annotation, and how much explanation a term or concept needed. Also, how did you decide on which images to include?

As I said earlier, I’ve taught Pride and Prejudice many times; therefore I had a good idea what words were likely to cause students difficulty. So I started there, annotating language, with special attention to words that we still use but that meant something different in Austen’s time. Beyond that, it was just a matter of paying attention to the text and of thinking about how Austen’s knowledge and assumptions differed from our own. Sometimes one thing led to another. For example, I started wondering why the novel specified Brighton as the place where the militia were stationed. I read a book on eighteenth-century Brighton and learned that because of the nature of the harbor, that was the locale thought the most likely for invasion from France. That made me think about the Napoleonic Wars, which Austen is thought to have ignored, and I was able to discover and annotate a number of references to war that it’s easy to miss.

One of the images in the book: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney, by John Smart. Image from V&A Collection.**

In this kind of book, though, it’s not always a matter of how much explanation is “needed.” I had plenty of room to annotate whenever I thought of something about the text that struck me as interesting, and room to include quotations from other critics that suggested points of view different from my own. Many of the notes suggest connections between Pride and Prejudice and other works of Austen, including her letters.

About the images: John Kulka, my wonderful editor, found most of them. I came across some in my own reading. For instance, in establishing a text I used a first edition of Pride and Prejudice in the Houghton Library at Harvard. The books–the novel was in three volumes–had belonged to Amy Lowell and contained her bookplate. Moreover, they originally belonged to a circulating library and had the original wrappers, specifying the fees for different levels of borrowing and the rules of the establishment. I very much wanted images of the cover, the bookplate, and the text—and they’re in my book. As with the notes, necessity didn’t govern the choices: we looked for images that were beautiful in themselves and that illuminated some aspect of Austen’s period.

What were some of your favorite sources for information and where or how did you access them? Which of them do you think a serious Janeite should absolutely have in her library collection?

I used the internet, the Harvard University libraries, and my personal library as sources. The only “favorite” source I can think of is the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, which was indispensable–and I suppose I think it’s indispensable for any serious student of any literature from the past. It’s available on line now, and the on line edition is both more flexible and more up-to-date than the printed one. Otherwise, I used many many different sources, and I can’t think of any that I think Janeites MUST have.

Which author/s among Jane Austen’s contemporaries do you think exerted the most influence on her while she was writing First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice?

Maria Edgeworth, Austen’s contemporary, and Frances Burney, her predecessor. Pride and Prejudice contains some apparent allusions to Burney’s novel, Evelina, and the title itself may come from Burney’s second novel, Cecilia. Austen praises Edgeworth in her letters, and although Pride and Prejudice doesn’t directly allude to any Edgeworth novel, it takes up some of the issues that interested Edgeworth.

Thank you so much for your illuminating thoughts, and good luck with the book!

Additional links for this post:

*Carlton House Blue Velvet Room – Royal Collection

**Victoria and Albert Collection: Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney

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Punctuation Personified, 1760 version of A Pretty Little Pocket Book. Image from the British Library

This post about Jane Austen’s experiences in boarding school at a young age was written by Tony Grant, who is a frequent contributor. Tony also writes for his own blog, London Calling.

In 1782 at the age of 7 Jane Austen went to school for the first time. Theories go that she wanted to go to school because her elder sister Cassandra was being sent to Mrs Cawley’s school in Oxford to accompany their cousin Jane Cooper who was being sent there. Cassandra was to go as a companion for Jane Cooper. Jane did not like to be separated from Cassandra and Mrs Austen in later years suggested that Jane was insistent that she accompany Cassandra. However this may have been defensive reasoning by Mrs Autsen because of the near disaster that befell the girls whilst in the care of Mrs Cawley. So the real reasoning for sending Jane to this school at the age of seven is obscure.

Behavior at the School, from A Pretty Little Pocketbook, 1744

Mrs Cawley moved the school to Southampton because a measles outbreak had occurred in Oxford. However in 1783 troops, returning to the port of Southampton brought an infectious disease with them and Jane, Cassandra and their cousin Jane Cooper caught it. The three of them became very ill. It was only a letter from Jane Cooper to her mother and father in Bath that alerted the Austens to the predicament. Mrs Austen and Mrs Cooper both went to Southampton to collect their daughters. Mrs Austen had to nurse Jane back to health. Mrs Cooper caught the disease and later that year,died from it.

Reading Abbey, 1783, public domain image

One wonders what sort of education the girls actually got under the direction of Mrs Cawley. Sewing and French were taught, they read a lot and I presume they were able to write letters.

The adult Jane Austen wrote scathingly of girls schools. She found it hard to see schools as anything more than places of torment.

In1784 Jane was still at home after this first experience of school. She had free run of her fathers extensive library. After a year at home with the now motherless Jane Cooper the girls were sent off to school again. This time to A Mrs La Tournelles in Reading. Madame La Tournelle, she was not French by the way and spoke no French , was really called Sarah Hackit. She used the French name to impress prospective parents. She enjoyed telling stories about actors and actresses. She involved children in drama productions. They learned spelling, needlework and did get some French from one of the other teachers. Jane might have also learned to play the piano there.

Instruction with delight, from A Pretty Little Pocketbook, 1744

In 1786 a Gloucestershire cousin of Mr Austen, the reverend Thomas Lea of Adlestrop, visited the girls while passing through Reading. Later that year The Reverend Austen removed Jane and Cassandra from the school. Maybe Thomas Lea gave a poor report of the school and Jane’s father thought he was wasting his money. Jane never had any formal education again.

From their experience of school we can gather that Jane and Cassandra had perhaps learned some social skills, had had the opportunity to read, take part in plays, learn some French and learn the piano. These were things that were all available at home anyway.

B is for Bull, from an old alphabet book

So what makes for a fantastic, brilliant, inspiring, life changing, learning experience and how did Jane Austen actually learn?

With all those intelligent older brothers Jane had some great roll models. The vitally active and mentally agile and alert Jane must have passionately absorbed and lapped up what her brothers were doing, saying and experiencing. She must have had this inner drive and force to want what they had mentally and imaginatively. Inspiration is a great motivator. An inner need and hunger for something can’t be beaten when we want to learn. Jane must have had this in spades.

Cruikshank, Alphabet book

James Austen passionately loved the theatre and plays. He organised and directed dramas in their barn at Steventon. So Jane had acting and playwriting modelled for her to copy and use as her own skill. She began to write some juvenile works.

The there was her fathers library. She had a whole range of books covering many subjests to read and peruse. Somebody with Jane’s brain and need to know and explore would have been asking questions and finding answers that created more questions and so more reading and more asking. You can imagine an explosion of questions, ideas and exploration going on in that mind of hers.

Children's horn books

From the point of view of a teacher what I aspire to do for my pupils is to make them independent, passionate learners, for life. But what gets them started? What gets that spark going? What ignites it all? I, as a teacher, have to try and provide experiences, I have to be a roll model, I have to demonstrate and model all sorts of different skills , I have to break things down into manageable learning experiences that have a progression. As an example of what I mean, here is how a might get a class to write a poem. On a fine sunny day I could take a group of children outside of the classroom to lie on the grass and look at the sky. We could talk about the clouds, the blue sky in-between, we could talk about the shapes they see, their feelings and all the while I would be coaxing them along by introducing new vocabulary, asking them, What? Why? How? What if? When? to get them to think in new ways and see and feel and think about things differently. Talking together is so important for the children. Teachers should talk less by the way.

Most of the lessons were given in a building next to the Gateway. Image from Austenized.

Then we could go back into the classroom. I would gather some vocabulary and ideas from the children and I would model the structure of a poem and maybe write a couple of lines of my own for them to see. The children now ready with words, a structure, ideas, concepts, similes and metaphors, some support materials for those who need it and with all this churning around in their heads, can write their poem.

The next time I wanted to write poem I would give them a little more independence. I would get them to tell me the process we did last time and they could use this. Those who needed my help would get more focussed support.

A little boy and girl reading, A Pretty Little Pocket Book, 1744

I can see this learning process in the story of our Jane. The way humans learn hasn’t changed, ever; it’s just that teachers through the centuries have gone against the natural process of learning. Nowadays we are far more enlightened and are actually trying to find out how our pupils can learn in the classroom and out of it. All those great learning experiences were there for Jane. Her mind was open to learning. She craved it. Children who tell me they hate school I always think is because nobody has tuned into their learning style, found out what inspires them, found out what WOWS!!! them. It’s all about close relationships really. A teacher should be able to get into the minds and feelings of their children, get under their skin.

Thank God Jane’s experiences, relationships and the world around her became her , “school,” and using the experiences and world around her, ignited her genius mind.

The idea of education in the 18th century was all about enforcing ideas and behaviours. Jane set free from that, was released into her real learning environment.

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