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Archive for April, 2011

This image comes from The Library of Congress’s digital collection, and sits in John Trusler’s The honours of the table, or, Rules for behaviour during meals : with the whole art of carving, illustrated by a variety of cuts. Together with directions for going to market, and the method of distinguishing good provisions from bad; to which is added a number of hints or concise lessons for the improvement of youth, on all occasions in life. By the author of Principles of politeness, &c. … For the use of young people, London, 1791

My tenderest emotions go toward that veal, for it did not have much time on this earth to use its knuckle. And yet, Mr. Trusler writes of this delicacy with such feeling.

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Inquiring Readers, Carolyn McDowall of The Culture Concept Circle has graciously allowed me to recreate Part One of her Two Part series. Find Part Two of Vanity Fair, but where is Mr Darcy? at this link.

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously…pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us” … Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1811

William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen by Thomas Gainsborough, courtesy National Gallery at London

By the close of the eighteenth century archaeological investigations in Europe and Egypt were revealing more and more about the ‘antique’ past. The expansion of knowledge about antiquity revealed that ancient artists and writers had been accustomed to free expression in their work, with religion and honour paramount to any society’s daily existence. This revelation began changing the social and moral values and concerns of the many English, American and European societies who were all now ardently in search of truth.

Author Jane Austen lived in one of the most eventful, colourful and turbulent epochs in the history of England and Europe. The scenes of this extraordinary era were well recorded by many talented painters and sculptors of the day. In England this included the renowned painter Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1785, when Jane Austen was just 10 years old, he captured William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen stepping out in style together for a morning walk. They were an elegant young couple, both 21 years of age and bound by their social status and the rules it imposed. They were due to be married in the summer of 1785.

They epitomize the stylish quality of the people who starred in Jane’s novels. He is discreetly dashing in a well fitting black velvet riding coat, an aspect of a gentleman’s costume that reflected his desire to be seen as ‘informal’, approachable, someone in touch with the political scene and social set of his day. He has the quiet confidence of a compleat gentleman.

She looks lovely in her softly floating silk dress, a smart black band accentuating her small waist and balancing perfectly with the simple black straw hat tied with a ribbon and feathers and placed at a jaunty modern angle on her very bouffant hair.

Strolling happily through a woodland landscape with an adoring dog at the lady’s heel they both appear full of hope in love and eagerly looking forward to a July wedding and a happy life together into the new millennium.

Cassandra's portrait of her sister, Jane Austen. National Portrait Gallery

One of Jane Austen’s peers, renowned Scottish author of romantic novels Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) said of Jane (1775-1817) that he believed the secret of her success was that she had chosen to write about ‘ordinary people doing things that happen in every day life’.Born at Steventon, Hampshire on 16th December 1775. The seventh child and second daughter of a scholar-clergyman and rector of the small country parishes of Steventon and Deane, Jane Austen’s family were members of the wealthy merchant class on her father’s side and aristocrats on her mother’s side. She was brought up in a country rectory and was, from contemporary descriptions, without pretension, her demeanour more ‘in a homely rather than grand manner’. Another way of saying that she was plain.

Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones)

She and her family enjoyed amateur dramatics in the barn, playing charades, literary readings and musical evenings. While her older brothers hunted and shot game her mother industriously managed a small herd of cows, a dairy and, as a woman of sensibility and of some station in life, looked to the wellbeing of the local poor. Her father, as a rector, was regarded as a ‘gentleman’. He was an affable, courteous man welcomed by all the local landed gentry, and their well off tenants, as was her brother Edward, who just happened to be the heir to his cousin Mr. Thomas Knight’s estates. This meant Jane was able to move comfortably out and about in society and become a respectable observer in the luxurious world of the leisured classes.

A Georgian Rectory

It seems that her family more than likely fell into a category of middling people, a term coined by literary wit and social commentator Horace Walpole on his return from the continent in 1741 “I have before discovered that there was nowhere but in England the distinction of being middling people. I perceive now that there is peculiar to us middling houses; how snug they are” The country gentry actively supported the ruling and upper classes by cultivating an ambience of politeness, a keen, though delicate sensibility, which was always balanced by displaying a great deal of practical common sense.

Their gentrification was reflected in how they dressed, dined, performed and were entertained, in a selection of social settings. They rotated from the socially competitive atmosphere of London’s elegant drawing rooms to the cheerful gaiety of Bath’s assembly’s room and they also enjoyed the more robust attractions of popular coastal resorts like Brighton, which were after 1792 was also frequented by the Prince Regent and his entourage.

They strove for aesthetic perfection urged on by their awareness of the ‘antique’, while striving to emulate the ideal – classical perfection, The classical ideal had flowed over into the landscape during the eighteenth century and small temples originally designed as refuges from the hot Mediterranean sun, became focal points of beauty.

View of the Hall at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill 1788 Watercolour by John Carte

At the time of Jane’s birth Horace Walpole, for whom literacy mattered, was using decorative ornament inspired by a literary and pictorial interest in Gothic architecture at his house Strawberry Hill.

He and his peers benchmarked standards for excellence in taste and style well recognised by Jane and the burgeoning middle classes, who wished to emulate them.

Horry took what he liked and used it the way he wanted and his character seemingly enjoyed total satisfaction by ‘imprinting the gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals on one’s house.’

Godmersham Park.

Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight eventually inherited the very gentrified Godmersham Park in Kent and two of her other brother’s Francis and Charles had distinguished careers in the British navy. Francis received a knighthood and the much coveted order of Bath and Jane’s brother Charles bought topaz crosses for his two sisters, going without to purchase them.

In the Christian understanding perfect love makes no demands and seeks nothing for itself, and this was the quality of the people that abounded in so many of the characters in Jane Austen’s life and in her novels. Jane enjoyed what she herself called ‘life a la Godmersham”.

Emma (Gwynneth Paltrow) and Mr Knightley (Jeremy Northam) dance

Her brothers hunted in Edward’s park, played billiards and entertained in a style that amused Jane. Writing from Godmersham in 1813 she commented “at this present time I have five tables, eight and twenty chairs and two fires all to myself”.

The Royal navy were winning great victories on the continent at the time. For the leisured classes in Jane’s novels the war was something that happened in the newspapers or far out at sea. Although her brothers were involved, many of these events seemed very remote and Jane and her peers continued to pursue their daily activities such as music, painting, playing games and writing with great enthusiasm comforted in the knowledge that England had the best navy in the world.

Trafalgar Chair, 1810, courtesy V & A Museum, London

The Duke of Wellington’s victories and Admiral Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar caused a nation to mourn as well as celebrate wildly for twenty years afterward. And all manner of goods were named for him including “Trafalgar chairs”, which along with the sofa table were two very popular pieces of furniture during the Regency period.

Rosewood Regency period Sofa Table c1810, courtesy Mallett Antiques, London

Country houses and their beautiful parks were not simply the expressions of a wealthy ruling class for Jane and her contemporaries. They represented an ideal civilization with a mixture of self-esteem, national pride and uncompromising good taste. For the rest of the population they reflected the unequal structure of a society where a third of the nation’s population faced a daily struggle to survive. From the monarch to the poorest of the land there was a pyramid of patronage and property. At the base of which in 1803 a third were the labouring poor, the cottagers, the seamen, the soldiers, the paupers and the vagrants who lived at subsistence level.

Jane’s letter to her sister Cassandra in 1799 highlights the point, when a horse her brother purchased cost sixty guineas and the boy hired to look after him four pounds a year. Those employed in service counted they lucky, but even in well off household’s service conditions were still fairly primitive. Jane said “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can”. The contrast of the battlefield and the ballroom are apt as a reminder of the powerfully opposed elements that made up the England into which Jane was born and in which she grew to maturity.

Beau Brummell - The Fashionable dress of a Gentleman

George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV was the very active, central focus of the style we now know as the Regency period. His personality was complex and he often indulged in fantastic flights of fantasy.

George, Prince of Wales in 1792

As a young man he had fair hair, blue eyes and pink and white complexion, and a tendency to corpulence. As he grew to maturity he gained considerably in popularity due to his good looks, high spirits and agreeable manners.

He was the darling of the fashionable world. George Bryan Brummell (England, 1778-1840) became the most famous of all the dashing young men of the Regency. He was not of aristocratic birth, but the son of the secretary to Lord North.(George III’s Prime Minister who played a major role in the American Revolution). Educated at Eton, the Beau became known as Buck and was extremely well liked by the other boys. He spent a short period at Oriel College, which has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford, dating from 1324.

Sartorial splendour - shades of Mr Darcy? (Colin Firth)

The Prince Regent was told that Brummell was a witty fellow, so he obtained an appointment for him in his regiment (1794). Brummell became a Captain of the Tenth Hussars and was constantly in the Prince’s company.

Military sartorial splendour...must be Mr Wickham! (Rupert Friend)

In the circles around the Prince he was known as a virtual oracle on matters related to dress and etiquette. As the new dictator of taste he established a code of costume.

A typical Regency outfit for day wear was a jacket cut away in front and with tails at the back. There was no waist seam, a feature present in Victorian coats. The open area around the hip had a distinctive curve pulling slightly around the waist.

Even more notably, the sleeves were particularly long and seated high on the shoulder. There are virtually no shoulder pads. Normally jackets had fabric-covered buttons. An exception was blue jackets with brass metal buttons–an association with military styles.

At night it was all sartorial splendour, rich textiles velvet, brocades, silks, all combined with a great deal of elegance, the costume for a gentlemen including a black coat.

Today we would say the Beau was very well connected, an important part of an influential network and a man to know.

Entrance Hall, Carlton House, 1819 by W.H.Pyn

It was in 1784 when the Prince of Wales took one look at Maria Fitzherbert standing on the steps of the Opera and fell instantly in love with her. He was totally besotted and would only attend parties and events if the hostess assured him Maria would be both there – and sat next to him!

Maria Fitzherbert

Following a dedicated and unsuccessful pursuit of Mrs. Fitzherbert, Maria was surprised one evening by a visit from some of the Prince’s men. They had found him weak and bleeding in his home Carlton House, whose interiors were among the wonders of the age.

They told her the Prince had tried to commit suicide and Mrs. Fitzherbert, accompanied by the Duchess of Devonshire, rushed to his side whereupon he persuaded Maria to marry him. In 1785 George, Prince of Wales Prince married Mrs. Fitzherbert (1756 –1837) a Roman Catholic who had been married twice before. The couple was happy and while society seemingly accepted the unconventional pair the marriage rocked court circles, which could not cope with the thought that a Prince might marry a divorced woman.

Bedford Square Brighton built 1801

Eventually the Prince would be forced to put her aside and it did not help his cause that his friend Beau Brummell, to whom Maria took a pronounced dislike, disapproved of the liaison.

Brighton-Marine-Pavilion

Initially the Prince spent a great deal of time and effort building Maria his bride a house nearby his home Carlton House in Pall Mall and decorating his own home. He ran up such huge debts the only way his father, the King would agree to help him out and pay them was if he put aside Maria and marry Caroline of Brunswick, for political reasons, which he did.

In 1793 George, Prince of Wales visited the seaside town of Brighton, and ordered the subsequent renovation of a small house he purchased from one of his footman. Architect, Henry Holland, well known for his refined Francophile tastes, fashioned it into a splendid marine villa with gentle curving bays, wrought iron balconies and long sash windows, and it was much admired and set a standard for marine villas for many years to come. Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince parted company upon the marriage to Princess Caroline, however following the birth of his daughter; the Prince recommenced his pursuit of Maria.

Mathematical Tiles on Regency House, Brighton

Maria was wary, however and upon asking the Pope for guidance she was informed that she was the only true wife of the Prince so she returned to him. Again the couple spent a lot of time entertaining at Brighton and London.

Sea Bathing England C19

Bathing in the sea had become very popular, with the Prince’s own physician recommending he bathe daily and bathing machines were set up especially for that purpose. All over Brighton, rows of small villas were built, echoing the Pavilion’s shape.

Some of the newly popular ‘seaside’ villas in Brighton were glazed with a smart material called ‘mathematical tiles’ which enabled villa houses to be built of less expensive brick and then ‘faced’. Introduced into the English architectural system after 1700 in England they were hung on buildings originally built of timber to give the appearance of higher quality brick walls. Today they are still not easy to recognise and are often mistaken for conventional brickwork. Black, glazed mathematical tiles are easy to discern, however, and may be seen at many locations in Brighton.

Chair designed by Thomas Hope, London in 1807 and made in 1892

Painted furniture and at wall decoration ‘Etruscan style’ at Osterley House. The interiors were designed by Scottish Architect Robert Adam
Interior arrangements whose design focus was based on classical order reached the height of its popularity through the neoclassical style of Scottish architect Robert Adam between 1760 and 1793. The expansion of the neo-classical style was fuelled in the last half of the eighteenth century because of the interests of English Grand Tourists in the new discoveries being made at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.

Etruscan room, Osterly House, Robert Adam.

Not only the shapes of the furniture were greatly influenced – for instance in the use of animal forms as supports for tables and chairs – but also the colour and decoration used for painted furniture, which was to be found in grand houses as well as much simpler gentry houses. Much of the charm of collecting such pieces lies in the rather primitive way the decoration was thought out and executed and many examples of very sophisticated simulated bamboo pieces were destined for important rooms.

Adam’s interiors could have easily been the inspiration for those of the formidable Lady Catherine de Burgh. Her country house Rosings in Pride and Prejudice was described by Jane as an interior of ‘fine proportion and finished ornaments’

Vanity fair, but where is Mr Darcy? – Part 2

Carolyn McDowall, April 2011 ©The Culture Concept Circle

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Wedding dresses in the royal collection. Princess Charlotte's gown is in the middle. Image @Daily News

The Telegraph.co.uk features a video of five beautiful wedding dresses of the past, Queen Victoria’s and Princess Margaret’s among them, and asks the question, “How will Kate Middleton’s gown measure up to history?” Featured is Princess Charlotte’s beautiful silver wedding gown, which has not been on view for several decades and which, as the oldest wedding dress in the collection, requires quite a bit more conservation. In these images pulled from the film you can see the beautiful sheen of the silver fabric, which was meant to represent British wealth, status, and power.

It was made by Mrs Triaud of Bolton Street, from ‘cloth-of-silver’, silk bobbinet embroidered with heavy silver lamé, embellished with Brussels lace, and with embroidered flowers and shells festooning the hem.” -Telegraph.co.uk

Contemporary images simply do not do the dress justice.

One can see in this small (blurred) image how the dress sparkles under lights. The dress required “500 hours of detailed hand-stitching in ultra-fine, mono-filament silk threads, almost invisible to the naked eye.” Those poor seamstresses must have gone blind. The Regency Fashion page carries a description of the dress and ceremony in La Belle Assemblee.

The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress” … La Belle Assemblee

Princes Charlotte and Prince Leopold on their wedding day in 1816, Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace

The historic wedding dresses are among the 10,000 items in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress will be publicly displayed in March 2012, in the new permanent exhibition at the refurbished Kensington Palace, ‘Victoria Revealed” hrp.org.uk . –  Telegraph.co.uk

In this older image you can see the gown's train. Image @Museum of London

The jewellery of the royal bride is most superb; beside the wreath, are a diamond cestus, ear- rings, and an armlet of great value, with a superb set of pearls.” – La Belle Assemblee

Contemporary depiction of Princess Charlotte's wedding

Sadly, the marriage did not last for even two years, due to Princess Charlotte’s death in childbirth (see article below.) Thank you, Brandy Parfums for alerting me to this video and article!

More posts about Princess Charlotte and Royal Weddings:

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A Receipt for a Pudding

Contributed by Mrs. Cassandra Austen (Jane’s mother) to Martha Lloyd’s collection of recipes, 1808. As this recipe attests, Jane Austen came by her talent honestly. For amusement, her family wrote riddles, charades, poems, and plays for each other. Mrs. Austen excelled at poetry to the extent that one can easily follow her recipe in rhyme.

Puddings, Mrs. Beeton

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses.

Then its sweetness to make
Some currants you take
And Sugar of each half a pound
Be not butter forgot
And the quantity sought
Must the same with your currants be found

Cloves & mace you will want,
With rose water I grant,
And more savory things if well chosen;
Then to bind each ingredient,
You’ll find it expedient,
Of Eggs to put in half a dozen.

Some milk dont refuse it,
But boiled ere you use it,
A proper hint this for its maker;
And the whole when compleat,
In a pan clean and neat,
With care recommend to the baker.

In praise of this pudding,
I vouch it a good one,
Or should you suspect a fond word;
To every Guest,
Perhaps it is best,
Two puddings should smoke on the board.

Two puddings! – yet – no,
For if one will do,
The other comes in out of season;
And these lines but obey,
Nor can anyone say,
That this pudding’s with-out rhyme or reason

Jean at Delightful Repast has created a modern interpretation of this bread pudding. It looks so delicious, I think I shall try it at my next Janeites meeting! Click on the link for the recipe. Thank you for sharing, Jean!

Jean's bread pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding, also called simply “bread pudding,” is a dessert that has been a first for many of my dinner guests. Since I grew up with it, I’m always amazed when people tell me they’ve never had it before. They always like it and think it was something very difficult and time-consuming to make, when actually it is quite the opposite (Isn’t that what every hostess aims for!).

If you are a Jane Austen aficionado, you may have read her mother’s recipe, written in rhyme. My recipe makes about a fourth the quantity of Mrs. Austen’s and uses proportionately less sugar and butter and more eggs. Also, I skip the cloves and rosewater–the cloves because so many people don’t like them and the rosewater because I seldom have it on hand.

Sometimes I serve it with custard sauce, sometimes with my Banana-Pecan Rum Sauce (see below), but this time I served it with softly whipped cream sweetened with a drop of real maple syrup.

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The third episode of Upstairs Downstairs will be shown this Sunday. Will you tune in?  (Watch all three episodes from April 25 through May 24 at this link.) Better yet, the BBC will make the DVD available for sale Tuesday, April 26th.

BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs DVD is available for purchase!

Upstairs Downstairs has been brought back with a fresh new cast. It is 1936 and six years since parlormaid Rose (Jean Marsh) left 165 Eaton Place. Fate brings her back to the house and its new owners, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), and his mother, Lady Maud Holland (Eileen Atkins). Rose recruits a new “downstairs” family to help run the elegance and finery of the “upstairs” world. Set against the historical backdrop of a pre-World War II Britain with a new King on the throne, with Fascism on the rise on the continent, and with sexual, social and political tensions at 165 Eaton Place, this new series provides an evocative take on the master-servant relationship.

In honor of the U.S Premiere on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, the BBC is giving away a free DVD just two days following the conclusion of the third episode. This DVD includes the making-of featurette Upstairs Downstairs – Behind Closed Doors. (SRP: $34.98 ($43.98 in Canada)

CONTEST is CLOSED. The winner is Felicia!!: For an opportunity to win the DVD, all you need to do is leave a comment stating what you liked best about this 2010 series! The drawing (by random number) will be held on Tuesday, April 26th at 11:59 PM, EST.

Read this blog’s reviews of UpDown in these posts:

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Gentle readers, I will be on semi-hiatus for the next few weeks, as my personal and work schedules do not permit me to concentrate as much on my blogs as I would like. For the time being I will feature past posts or link to others. When I looked at these images, I was reminded of the old-fashioned games of my childhood. Do children, I wonder, still play blind man’s bluff? Curious minds want to know.

Blind Man's Bluff

The above plate came from Healthful Sports for Young Ladies by Mlle St. Sernin, a French governess, and delightfully illustrated by Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825). In blind man’s bluff, the blindfolded person must first find someone and then guess her identity. Here is a charming description from Mlle St. Sernin:

Le Bon Genre documented the social trends and leisure activities of Parisians. Below are two images from that magazine.

Black and white plate of Blind Mans Bluff, Le Bon Genre, 1803

Magazines with color plates cost more. Blind Mans Bluff, Le Bon Genre, 1803

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Oh, my, Upstairs Downstairs turned down a darker road in the second episode, which can be seen online this week until May 24th.

The arrival of parlor maid, Rachel Perlmutter, changes the mood of the show from light-hearted to somber. She is a Jewish refugee from Germany who is forced to work as a maid, a career that is dangerous to her asthmatic condition.

Rachel (Helen Bradbury) suffers from asthma, which strikes her at the most unexpected moments.

Race and prejudice are the very obvious subtexts of this episode, in which Mr. Amanjit, who at first lived apart from the staff, is slowly accepted downstairs.

This scene, in which Mr. Amanjit was invited to listen to music on the radio, was most gratifying

Harry Spargo, the chauffeur, has developed a political interest that is typical of many people in the 1930′s, but his leanings are towards the far right and with the black shirts of Oswald Mosley’s fascist party.

Harrys social politics will place him at odds with the family and lead to tragedy belowstairs

A bored Ladie Percie flirts with danger as she pursues the chauffeur and his interests.

Bored and rebellious are not a good combination in the mind of a none too bright woman. Lady Percie races up the stairs to join an unsuspecting Harry at a far right rally.

And Agnes, the mistress, is pregnant.

A montage shows the stages of Agness pregnancy in swift succession

While I liked that Upstairs Downstairs embraced the many social upheavals of pre-war Britain, the one hour format is too rushed for these complex plot developments. I know the original series was based on one-hour shows, but back then each episode centered on one plot line that was often developed over several episodes. There were too many holes in the various plots that have been introduced and this series seems rushed, giving almost no time to character development. I hope that the pace slows down in Season 2 next year. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see what develops in Episode 3, for at this point the twists and turns have intrigued me.

I must admit to being disappointed with the costumes, which did not appeal to me at all.

Other Upstairs Downstairs posts on this blog:

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Fashionable mourning dresses, Ladies Museum, 1805

According to Jane Austen chronicler and scholar, David Nokes, when Martha Lloyd’s mother died on April 16, 1805, Jane Austen showed few signs of grief or emotion over that woman’s earthly departure. Instead, Jane wrote a jaunty verse to an uncivil (and imaginary) dressmaker. I surmise that these verses were meant more to cheer Martha up than to bring Martha’s mood down by reminding her of her loss. Mrs Austen, who was known for her droll verses, wrote a mythical reply by the dressmaker. At this time the Austen women were still reeling from Rev. Austen’s death in January and their own change in financial circumstances, having moved to more modest lodgings and becoming accustomed to a drastically reduced style of life. They would soon invite Martha to live with them in Bath. (Martha would remain with the Austen women through their move to Southampton in 1809.) After Jane’s death in 1817, Martha joined Cassandra in Chawton to help look after Mrs. Austen.

The poem that Jane wrote gives us a glimpse into how mourning clothes were made to order quickly. In this for-instance, the dressmaker, Miss Green, was slow to respond.

Lines sent to an uncivil Dress maker

Miss Lloyd has now sent to Miss Green,
As, on opening the box, may be seen,
Some yards of a Black Ploughman’s Gauze,
To be made up directly, because
Miss Lloyd must in mourning appear –
For the death of a Relative dear –
Miss Lloyd must expect to receive
This license to mourn & to grieve,
Complete, er’e the end of the week –
It is better to write than to speak – Jane Austen

Mrs. Austen’s reply as Miss Green

I’ve often made clothes
For those who write prose,
But ’tis the first time
I’ve had orders in rhyme – .
Depend on’t, fair Maid,
You shall be obeyed;
Your garment of black
Shall sit close to your back,
And in every part
I’ll exert all my art;
It shall be the neatest,
And eke the completest
That ever was seen –
Or my name is not Green! – Mrs. Cassandra Austen

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Gentle Readers, Laurel Anne from Austenprose and I were chatting the other day about this, that, and the other, for we are both a bit Jane Austen nutty (if you haven’t noticed.) As you continue reading, you will need to know only one thing:  we are just a wee bit longer in the tooth than Jane’s young heroines:

LA: Vic and I were chatting on the phone today. Over the course of our three plus year Austen-inspired friendship we have mostly emailed, so this was a treat. She has the most infectious laugh which made me laugh too. Of course we were talking about our favorite author and she remarked that Austen excelled at humor and the amazing secondary characters she developed. Somehow it just popped out and I boldly asked her what Jane Austen character she most identified with. Without hesitation she replied, Lady Russell from Persuasion. “Lady Russell?” I replied in surprise! “Well, yes.”

Jane Rus.., er, Mrs. Russell

She then revealed that she is often wrong about the advice she gives people. At work she gathers the young-uns around her and freely offers opinions, whether they are solicited or not. When she gives wrong counsel – which she admits is more often than not – she torpedos herself in a most spectacular fashion. “The error of my ways does not go unnoticed by this unforgiving crowd. Unlike Lady Russell, I will own up to a misteak, er, mistake or two, and apologize for having interfered, but I hold the line at groveling.”

Another reason why she identifies with this character is her independence. Lady Russell is a widow with a healthy income and she has no intention of remarrying and being subjugated by a man. “I am a divorced woman who has discovered the joys of living singly on my own terms and by my own schedule. Ah, what total, selfish bliss!”

Vic further admitted that at a party, or when she lets her hair loose, she starts to resemble Mrs. Jennings. You know the type: a bit vulgar, out for a good time, giggling at precisely the wrong moments, and making those with a more composed nature feel uncomfortable with crass jokes and loud language. “Like Mrs. Jennings, I have a good heart. But I can be out there and in your face too. I might seem unseemly to a quieter person like Elinor, and be totally disliked by the likes of a Marianne, but my friends and family get me, and that’s what counts.”

Oh Vic! You are such a card. Lady Russell and Mrs. Jennings? She then turned the tables on me. “Now, who do you identify with in Jane’s novels? Are you like me, a bossy and interfering carouser? Or are your a bit more sedate and ladylike?”

Harriet Smith (Tony Collette) patiently poses for Emma

Vic: “Sedate. A total Harriet Smith,” LA replied. Many years ago a dear Janeite friend tagged her as a Harriet to her Emma. “It seemed appropriate since I was often asking for advice and was very mailable to change.” In her view, Harriet was a bit of a ditz and gullible which she has been accused of too. The thing she liked about being a Harriet is that Austen gave her such a great ending. She is resilient, and after being tossed about in love no less than three times in a year, Harriet gets the man she wanted in the first place and proves Emma, with her self-important airs, was totally clueless about the human heart. “I like having the last laugh, and being right.” ;-)

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Lately LA thinks she has evolved into Sir John Middleton from Sense and Sensibility. He was the Dashwood’s cousin and landlord of Barton Cottage. He is very gracious and likes to pop in and make sure his tenants are comfortable and entertained. He is a bit of a bore and talks too much about things that are not of interest to his young companions, but he likes dogs, has a good heart and loves to laugh. “As an enthusiastic bookseller, I like to inform customers of their choices and make suggestions. I am also a bit of an organizer and enjoy planning events on my blog, and orchestrating the 23 authors in my anthology. It is like herding cats, but I like being the boss of my own world!”

One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best. Persuasion, Ch 13

Now our question. Which Jane Austen character do you, estimable viewer, most identify with, or which character are you afraid of becoming? Feel free to leave your comments!

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Fans of Jane Austen’s fiction are familiar with the rising middle class, successful and enterprising tradesmen, upward mobility through marriage, the fragility of life (especially for fishermen, sailors and child-bearing women), and the difficulties of road travel. All these topics are touched upon in a short biography of Mr. Edward Innes, a successful baker and property man.

In this image, Mr. Innes is dressed as a gentleman, and is followed by a companion, Mr. James Cooper. As his position rose in life, his sensibilities must have become quite delicate, for as he passes a woman carrying a basket, Mr. Innes shields his face and nose from the offending stench that must have emanated from her basket.

Mr. Edward Innes and his second, James Cooper

Mr. Innes, if this account is to be believed, was a nonpareil, covering the distance to London in his carriage at the unheard of speed of 50 miles per day.

The progenitors of Mr Innes were farmers in the neighbourhood of Glencorse, but his father was a baker, and had his shop at one time at the head of the Fleshmarket Close. Latterly, the shop having been let without his knowledge to a higher bidder, he removed to his son’s property situated betwixt Marling and Niddfy’s Wynds. In his younger years, the old man was usually styled the handsome baker from his exquisite symmetry, and he was not less fortunate in his choice of a pretty woman for his wife. Isabella, or Bell Gordon, had been married to the captain of a vessel, who was drowned at sea only a few weeks after. The young widow then only in her eighteenth year, happening to be on a visit at the house of her brother in law, Mr Syme ,ship builder, Leith; the handsome baker was introduced to her acquaintance, and the result was a speedy union. Besides a daughter by her first husband, Mrs Innes had eight children, of whom the subject of our notice was the second eldest.

Mr Edward Innes, after serving his apprenticeship with his father, commenced as a baker on his own account in the High Street. In addition to his good fortune in business, he acquired considerable property by his wife, a Miss Wright of Edinburgh, by whom he had several children. Mr Innes kept a horse and gig, an equipage rather unusual for a tradesman in his day; and what was considered remarkable at that time, he drove to London on one occasion, accompanied by his wife, in eight days, a distance averaging fifty miles a day. The circumstance was much talked o,f and taking into account the then state of the roads, the performance was really one of no ordinary magnitude. - A series of original portraits and caricature etchings, Volume 2, Part 2 (Google eBook), John Kay, 1838, p 284.

Note: Considering the poor road conditions of the day, carriage horses averaged from 2-4 miles per hour; at breakneck speed, they could achieve a remarkable 6 miles per hour, but horses that pulled a carriage could keep up this pace for only a short distance. Thus Mr. Innes and his wife spent long hours on the road (10-12 per day) and had their horses frequently changed at stops along the way.

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For those who were so unfortunate as to miss Upstairs Downstairs, PBS has made the series available online one day after the initial airing. Click here to watch Episode One.

Ten points to ponder as you contemplate the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs:

1. Rose is back. She is the bridge between the old series and the new. (Jean Marsh was one of the original creators of the show.) Time has not been kind to Rose. Although only six years have passed since the Bellamys left 165 Eaton Place, the poor maid turned housekeeper seems to have aged three decades.

Rose now runs her own business

2. Co-creator Eileen Atkins was committed to another project when filming of the original series began, but she was available for this series. Her turn as Lady Maude Holland, the dowager mama does not quite rival Maggie Smith’s Violet in Downton Abbey, but unlike Maggie, Eileen was given a most interesting, very capable, quite mysterious and handsome secretary – Mr. Amanjit Singh.

Maude dictates her memoirs to her secretary

3.  Few series feature a monkey or a fledgling in a nest. This one has both.

Mr. Amanjit Sing (Art Malik) and Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) place the egg in a linen closet

4. Agnes and Hallam are passionately in love. I wonder if her bitchiness when talking to the servants turns him on, or is it her thriftiness?

Passion in Eaton Place (Keeley Hawes and Ed Stoppard)

5. Like Downton Abbey, there seems to be a foreshadowing of a relationship between the chauffeur and his young mistress, in this instance, Agnes’s sister, Lady Persie, a rebellious though uneducated minx.

Harry (Neil Jackson) and Lady Persie (Claire Foy)

6. What self-respecting viewer can resist a series that features both the family jewels and a home renovation?

The Holland Jewels

7.  We are given one more reason to despise Wallis Simpson.

Instead of the King, Wallis brings Her Ribbentrop (Edward Baker-Duly) to the party

8. A mystery is afoot. Will Johnny the footman, whose passion for the nubile (but very underage Ivy) has put him in the clinker, be able to highfoot it back to Eaton Place?

Ivy (Ellie Kendrick) turns out to be a tease.

9. Will we ever warm up to Pritchard and Mrs. Thackeray? Or will our fond memories of Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges stand in the way? And where was Georgina (Lesley Ann Downe)?


10. Shall Episodes 2 & 3 firmly answer the question: Which series is better, Downton or UpDown? Inquiring minds want to know. Vote here.

Ivy meets Lady Holland

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18th century robe a la Francaise. Image @Rijksmuseum

During the 18th century and much of the Regency era, trains were popular on evening and court dresses, and at times on walking gowns. The length of the train shortened as the 18th century progressed, but even shorter trains swept over lawns and grounds and sidewalks. This fashion turned out to be quite expensive, for after several short walks, the fabric would be quite soiled or would need replacement. Oliver Goldsmith wrote in Citizen of the world (1760):

Nothing can be better calculated to increase the price of silk than the present manner of dressing. A lady’s train is not bought but at some expense, and after it has swept  the public walks for a very few evenings, is fit to be worn no longer, more silk must be bought in order to repair the breach, and some ladies of peculiar economy are thus found to patch up their tails eight or ten times in a season.”

One imagines that the delicate muslin trains of the Regency era were as easily wrecked by wear and tear, and that only the rich could afford such an extravagant consumption. There were ways to save one’s train. In 1996′s Emma, Gwynneth Paltrow is seen holding up her train during the dance.

Emma's train is attached to her wrist.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen described how Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland pinned up each others trains.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together.”

1800 sprigged muslin gown. Image @Christies

One can only conclude that trains (or tails, as Goldsmith called them) were an extravagance that the ordinary working woman did not indulge in wearing, for until mass production made cloth more affordable, the added lengths of cloth, plus the constant need for laundering and patching, would make this fashionable feature prohibitively high for most women.

Note: That Isabella and Catherine met  “in defiance of wet and dirt” meant something, for shoes and fabrics were so delicate at the time, that ladies tended to stay indoors on rainy days.


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