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Archive for July, 2011

In 1993 Colin Firth starred opposite Jemma Redgrave (Lady Betram, Mansfield Park) in Chatsky, in which the hero of the play tells the truth and is mistaken for a lunatic.  It is amazing to see the images from that play,  for, since it is set during Regency times, Colin in full costume could easily be mistaken as Mr. Darcy, a role he would play two years later. Jemma played Lady Bertram in 2007′s Mansfield Park. Although the part was written against type (at the end of the film, Lady Bertram energetically unites Fanny with Edmund), her portrayal of that indolent lady was fresh and memorable.

Image @The AFirthionado Archive

To see more pictures of Chatsky and to read about the play, go to: The AFirthionado

Colin in 1993. Image @The AFirthionado Archive

Colin in 1995

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Jefferson's neat notations in the margin of "Architecture de Palladio. Image @Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections

Most of us have written in the margins of books, especially in our own textbooks when cramming for an exam or writing a paper, but how many of us write notes in expensive hardcovers that we treasure? These days writing inside books is heavily discouraged and frowned upon, but it was once a common practice, one that has pleased many a historian and bibliophile. Imagine coming across a dusty old book at a yard sale and finding the notes and scribblings of a famous person inside of it. Imagine the joy you would feel to come across such a connection!

Sir Isaac Newton's marginalia

Marginalia, or the practice of writing in books, has a rich literary tradition. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s friends lent their books to him on purpose hoping that he would write along their margins. Chances were that he did, for he was a prolific margin writer. Mark Twain often made comments, giving his opinions or hotly debating with the book’s author.  Other practitioners of margin writing were William Blake, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Jefferson. Even Jane Austen joined this select group, scribbling in her copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s book about her favorite poet, William Cowper (pronounced Cooper.)

Mark Twain's annotation of his publication of Huckleberry Fin. Image @New York Times

In Persuasions Online, Jane Austen scholar Edith Lank writes about her copy of the two-volume Lord Barbourne edition of Jane Austen’s letters, which she found at a sale. This books is filled with

detailed genealogies, marginal comments, explanations and family gossip…The first were Fanny Caroline Lefroy and her sister Mrs. Louisa Lefroy Bellas, both daughters of Jane Austen’s neice (sic) Anna Austen Lefroy. The sisters annotated the book in careful nineteenth-century script and printing.” – List of Annotations in the Bellas Copy of Lord Brabourne’s Letters of Jane Austen

Thomas Jefferson’s scribblings were as elegant and refined as his mind. He sold his book collection to the Library of Congress in 1815, and kept a personal collection of books that he built upon until his death. Those books revealed that he often corrected typographical errors.

Thomas Jefferson's neat handwriting in Greek on a note inside his book.

Marginal scribblings provided a window into the minds of its writers, for they offered an insight into what they thought and revealed personal aspects of their characters. My scribblings in college texts were boring, for they merely summarized the most important points I needed to recall. I rarely left a personal thought in the margins or wrote inside my own books, although I dog eared favorite passages or left scraps of paper between pages that I wanted to reread.

Wild scribblings

The author of an article in the New York Times feared that the advent of eBooks would end the art of marginalia, but the following passage partially assuages that fear. I say partially because part of the charm of marginalia is to see the author’s hand and his/her choice of writing implement, which is something Kindle does not yet offer (who knows what the future will hold?):

Annotations in a Kindle

When I received a Kindle as a gift earlier this year, my habits of marginalia soared to new heights. It became extremely easy to highlight passages and add notes, which are then situated in the text I’m reading but also pulled together into my Kindle account on Amazon where I can, for instance, share them with students in a course, fellow members of a book discussion group, family, and friends…even, in theory, with enemies. I’ll rebut and rebuke them with my rapier marginalia. It’s even possible to add a marginal note on a Kindle and then tweet it.-The margins of MarginaliaBooks From Thomas Jefferson’s Personal Library Rediscovered

Do you write inside books? What’s your opinion about about this literary tradition? And do you think Kindle will rekindle it?

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I am at a conference for the rest of the week. Workshops begin at 8:30 AM. Working backwards, this means I must be up by 5 AM to get washed and dressed, eat breakfast, drive to the training site, set up the workshop room, and be ready to greet participants (without a bleary eye) by 8:15 AM.

Upon reading my statements, early morning risers will think, “What’s so strange about that?” But for those of us who were meant to keep Regency hours, this schedule is akin to torture. I would much have preferred Jane Austen’s hours.

How the English during the Regency era spent their mornings depended on their status. The schedule of the modern day trainer or worker is, in fact, one that a servant in the 19th century would have kept, rising at dawn to haul and boil water, stoke the fires, and get the house in shape before the gentry arose. Unlike  19th century  servants, modern day folks generally eat breakfast before the workday begins. Servants, who had been toiling for at least 3-4 hours making the house ready for the day and tending to the family’s needs, would not break their fast until after the family’s breakfast dishes had been cleared and rinsed.

Ladies in their morning gowns at breakfast. Heideloff, 1794. Image @Fashion Gallery

Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Knightley, both country gentlemen, would rise earlier than their city counterparts, who kept later more fashionable hours. Upon rising at 7 AM, Jane Austen, for example, would not immediately sit down to breakfast. She would write letters or practice on the piano, walk in the garden to pick flowers, or even go into the village to run a short errand before sitting down with her family at 9 AM to partake of a simple breakfast consisting of rolls, breads, butter, preserves, and tea or a pot of hot chocolate. If she were on vacation or at the seaside, she might take a leisurely stroll to the beach or point of interest before partaking of the morning meal at an inn.

Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley interrupted at breakfast, Pride and Prejudice 2005

Lady Bertram, whose day revolved around pleasing herself, would in all likelihood arise from her bed much later than Jane and remain in her dressing room with her maid until she was suitably dressed. Before breakfast, she would also consult with her housekeeper about the household plans for the day, giving her instructions to relay to the cook about the day’s meals. She might write letters in her boudoir and emerge in her morning gown and cap to eat breakfast with her family, or perhaps have it sent to her rooms on a tray.

Sir Thomas Bertram or Mr. Knightley would also delay breakfast. They might consult with their bailiffs, or check out a new horse at the stable before consuming their morning meal. General Tilney stuck to a strict schedule and had the family eat breakfast at nine. The Middletons, whose house was always filled with guests, ate breakfast at Barton Park around 10 AM. Some families sat down together, while others strolled in during a certain set time, say between 10 and 11 AM let’s say, to help themselves from dishes placed on a sideboard. One imagines that the Tilneys observed the former practice, whereas Mr. Bingley and the Middletons allowed people to wander into the breakfast room at their own pleasure. Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s rich brother, had breakfast served at 10 AM, and expected the entire family to be at the table.

By 11:30 AM, breakfast service was generally over. Town times were much different, and meals were served at a later, more fashionable hour. Often the very fashionable would stick to those hours even when in the country. Lizzie Bennet walked 3 miles to Netherfield Park after breakfast to be with her sick sister, Jane, only to encounter Mr. Bingley’s town guests just sitting down to breakfast over an hour later.

Regency family eating a meal together

The Regency definition of morning differed vastly from ours. Visiting hours were kept at set times. A family might receive visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, or on Wednesday, between 11 AM to 3 PM. These hours were considered morning hours. When Anne Elliot arrived at Uppercross Cottage at 1:00 PM, she considered the time to be early in the morning.

Regency ladies wore morning gowns when they were at home. If a lady had no plans to go visiting or receive visitors, and simply stayed at home, she would wear her morning gown well past the hour of three, not bothering to change until dinner, when she was expected to dress more formally. Morning gowns could be made of simple dimity gowns covered by a pinafore if the lady, like Elinor Dashwood or Cassandra Austen at Chawton Cottage, was working in the kitchen or garden, or the gown could be made of finer stuff, like a delicate muslin. Ladies in morning gowns could be seen by family and guests, but they would never dare set foot in public while wearing one.

I must admit to liking Regency hours. On the weekends or on vacations, I rise late and will lounge for hours in my study/dressing room, reading or writing for my blog while sipping coffee. I’ll throw on some clothes and walk my dog Cody, and afterwards will make breakfast. I’ll then hang around the house in my ratty lounge wear, doing a little of this and a little of that, before donning more respectable garments to receive visitors, go out and shop, or visit with friends and family. If I am home all day, I’ll stay in my frayed jeans and tee shirt.

Would that my daily schedule resembled my weekend schedule! But, alas, I must work to earn my dog’s kibbles. The clock tells me I must get dressed now and be out of the door in half an hour. The powers that be decreed that our work day starts anywhere between 7 and 9 AM (even earlier for many). Obviously, considering those hours, our bosses view us more as servants than as revered guests.

I, for one, was meant to be a lady of leisure. Perhaps I shall be reincarnated as one?

More on the topic:

Sources:
Wilson, Kim. Tea With Jane Austen. Frances Lincoln LTD, ISBN: 9780711231894
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of her novels, Frances Lincoldn LTD, ISBN: 9780711222786

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Today almost everywhere we turn we are inundated with ads over television and radio, in film theatres, on billboards and our computers, and magazines and store fronts. We simply cannot escape the messages put out by individuals and businesses trying to get us to buy their products and services.

W. H. Pyne, Bill sticker

The situation was the same in Jane Austen’s day. When shoppers walked to a shopping area in a city the streets would be indundated with shop signs, hired walkers wearing advertising boards, and hawkers. Advertising merchants dealt in trades that are both familiar and unfamiliar to us today: silversmiths, coal dealers, shoemakers, scum boilers, boarding houses, brewers, tavern keepers, silk merchants, coffee houses, cabinet makers, bakers, mattress makers, curriers and dealers in grindery, warper, hair dressers, woollen drapers and dealers in trimmings, victuallers, livery stable keepers, grocers, music sellers, linen drapers, beer sellers, dealer in rags, tripeman, tobacconist – well, the list goes on.

This is a raucous street scene in London at night in which the shop signs hanging over the pedestrians seem almost ominous. (Notice the slop being poured out of the window!)

There were leaflets, handbills, posters on bricks walls and glass windows seemingly almost everywhere, and advertisements in newspapers … and of course the inevitable street criers.

The bell and cry of the muffin man

Bill stickers, or external paper hangers plastered blank walls, empty shops and wooden hoards and fences with advertisement bills. But these activities were taxed. And thus enterprising merchants turned to mobile advertising and paid people to wear sandwich boards and hand carry placards. - London Street Advertising

Walking billboards in the 18th century. The young boy is wearing a sandwich board!

Extensive improvements on the printing press meant that newspapers and printed products could be churned out swiftly and more efficiently than before. Bills and posters were printed speedily and cheaply. There were frequent misspelling of words, and if more than one color was used, a frequent misplaced overlay of one color over the other. Printed ads and posters were designed to promote an event or sale, and were meant to be discarded. Bills plastered on walls and fences would soon be covered over by newer announcements.

The apothecary's newspaper advertisement mentioned all the diseases he can cure

Newspapers and advertisers focused on products that appealed to a mass market. They generally targeted themselves to the middle and upper-middle classes. By the mid-eighteenth century, the variety of ads began to increase. Ladies’ fashions as well as silver, brass, and copper items became subjects of advertisements.” – Place an Advertisement

Shop bill from the frock shop. Image @The Works of William Hogarth, 1821

Trade cards were another way that merchants informed the public about their wares. These cards came with a combination of image and text, which provided information about the location, goods and services of an establishment or business. – Eighteenth Century Centre

Wm. Neate goldsmith & jeweller trading card. Image @Bodleian Library

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A heatwave has us hiding inside air-conditioned rooms this week. As I gazed at a hideously yellow sky and glowering orange sun last evening, I wondered how people survived 100 degree plus days 200 years ago? They mostly suffered, I imagine! But there were ways they could deal with extreme heat.

Regency fans could be beautiful or plain. All served to move air and cool the user.

Ceilings were higher, so the heated air had a place to rise, and walls were thicker, which kept rooms and basements cooler for longer. Hand held fans were popular, and one source I found said that gentlemen would sport them as well. The rich had mechanisms in the tropics whereby ceiling fans were rotated by strings and pulled by slaves or servants.

Carnfunnock ice house

Big blocks of glacier ice or blocks of ice cut from frozen rivers were hauled up river by ship into the countryside, covered in straw and burlap, and stored in ice houses that were dug into hillsides or were largely underground.

Cutting and hauling river ice. This image is from St. Petersburg, Russia, but the custom of cutting and transporting ice was widespread.

Ice cream was available to those who could afford it in such places a Gunther’s or made at home by the cook.

John Bull and his family at an ice cafe, 1815. Image@Newcastle University

The rich would move back to their country estates for the summer, escaping the stifling heat (and smells) in the city, but ordinary people had to adjust. This morning it was announced that over 2 dozen deaths had been attributed to this latest heatwave, which covers 2/3 of the U.S. I wonder back then how many people died from the effects of such extreme weather?

Regency gentlemen at a country house. Note that they are wearing light clothes without jackets. Sitting under a gazebo, they have pitchers of water at hand. One must pity the footmen in full uniform and wig! Image@Regency House Party

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I sat on an outdoor balcony during lunch yesterday, editing some work and eating a salad, and was struck by the sounds of the city – the traffic whizzing by, the rattling chain of an old bicycle, the siren of a distant firetruck, the buzz of a lawn mower, the chirps and tweets of birds, and … almost no human voices. It was late and I was practically alone, and the heat was keeping pedestrians indoors.

Rowlandson's "Buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap"

London in the 18th 19th centuries was famous for its noises. The rattling of carriage wheels, the sounds of animal hooves as they were driven to market, and the cries of the street vendors competing with each other created a daily assault to auditory nerves. On hot days, people propped their windows open to capture the slightest breeze, thereby letting in the noise. In Richmond yesterday all I heard was the hum of air conditioners and fans, for windows were kept firmly shut allowing no city sounds in.

Jane Austen moved from the quiet rural life in Steventon to Bath, and I wonder how much the noise and dirt of city life affected her creativity. Some people cannot abide noise while they are writing. I wonder if this was the case with Jane?

Cries of London, "Buy my rat trap," Rowlandson

Captured in many illustrations by a number of artists over the centuries, the street Cries of London are still famous today, though the voices have died down. This illustration by Rowlandson illustrates the cry for rat traps. (My favorite rat trap is my terrier, Cody.) Color illustrations were expensive, much like color printing is today. Even fashion illustrations in ladies magazines came in two forms, color for those who could afford the cost and black and white for the frugally minded.

Today promises to be another scorcher. I will keep my windows shut again and the city noises out.

Click here to read my post about London Street Noises: The Enraged Musician by William Hogarth

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Gentle readers, strap on your seat belts. Tony Grant from London Calling sent in his review of “A Jane Austen Education: How six novels taught me about love, friendship and the things that really matter“by William Deresiewicz. Let’s just say this is a review by a bloke about a bloke’s book. There will be no teacup or regency fan ratings this time. 

Just recently a dear friend sent me a copy of A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. I had read some of the reviews written on a few of the Jane blogs and my impression from those was that it must be a fresh, slightly different approach to engaging with Jane’s works. I sort of put the idea of reading it to one side, I must admit. I thought it would be just another quirky angle on Jane. Anything with Jane’s name attached to it sells, doesn’t it? However, now having a copy here in front of me I decided, at the very least, I should have a look, delve in, and see what I thought.

The front cover was at first a mystery and slightly off putting. A paper doll cut out suited gentleman, headless, to be placed over an inanimate cardboard cut out of a Regency, or did it look more early Victorian, gentleman, presumably wearing underwear, seemed an odd choice. One dimensional, stiff, inanimate, stuck in one pose, drinking tea, ah yes, there was the Jane connection. What did all this reveal about what I was about to discover between the sheets?

The contents page revealed a nice straightforward approach. Chapter 1 Emma, Every Day Matters, Chapter 2 Pride and Prejudice, Growing Up and so on through the six published novels, each providing William with a stepping stone along his journey of self discovery and growth. And to round it all off, a nice concluding chapter “The End of the story.” Yes, a well-ordered and neatly constructed narrative was bound to follow.

By the end of the first chapter I had our William sussed. Start with the personal stuff (my life was crap-type thing) – provide an overview of the novel, characters, and plot, and then follow through by laboriously comparing his life events with the characters and events in the book. And finally, relating how it had changed him for the best. I began to feel that I was about to hunker down for a tortuous time. But things were worse than that, William was depressed. Now I’m fine with depression and especially manic depression. All the great comedians profess to be depressives. We have had and have (some of them are dead by the way) Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and John Clease. All of them are professed manic depressives who used this depth of pain to create some of the greatest humour ever. Winston Churchill suffered from what he termed his ”black dog.” Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, both incredible writers who could bare their souls and take us to places in the human psyche we would never have dreamed of, both took their lives. Life was too unbearable.

However William writes,

Well it just sat there, that realisation, like a lump in my gut – sat there for weeks. I didn’t know what to do with it, how to get rid of it, how to dig myself out the hole I just discovered I was in. But I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore.”

This passage is a build up to telling his girlfriend at the time, that he thought they should part their ways. There was no depth to their relationship apparently. This level of depression is the equivalent of having a bad cold. In the hierarchy of depressive situations, William is not going to reach into our emotional depths and inspire us with what is a very common place situation. I was hoping things would get better, but no, he droned on in this flat slightly miserable way all through the first chapter. And what did he learn from Emma?

“Even I was beginning to realise what a real relationship looked like,” he droned.

Oh I see!!!!!!! Yes, I was really beginning to see.

I was getting the idea. I really do hope William gets his full share of the kudos that Jane’s name, applied to a title, provides. I was beginning to think, what else is there? What other value?

At one stage, I must say, I thought that the analysis part of each chapter had worth, William is an English literature lecturer at a university after all, but then I got bored with that too. He is far, far too contrived. Later in the book, here is William analysing Mansfield Park, my favourite Austen novel,

“What Austen recommended to us, she urged upon her nearest and dearest, too. Love means effort and self control – for the sake of others, and thus, ultimately, for your own.”

Oh God, this is beginning to sound so profound. Life’s hard lessons learned so emphatically, and by a writer so young too.

I squirmed a few times while reading this. Yes, I did persevere. The book was compelling in a ”how can it get worse?” sort of way.

But this is the real sneaky bit. Come on William, tell us the truth. What were you thinking when you wrote this stuff ?

We had jumped each other one night the previous summer, and though we had been together for over a year we had little in common and had never much progressed beyond the sex.”

Honesty, the baring of ones soul, telling it like it is — it’s all in this book. William repeats at discrete, well-paced intervals, lightly (and apparently carelessly), how bad he feels about superficial relationships and jumping into bed for hot steamy one night stands. Any bloke down my pub would laugh at him heartily and call him a …….!!! No I really can’t write what I know my mates would say. William might sue me. This book just ain’t for blokes, let’s put it that way.

It does beg the question who this little boy lost saga is for.

By the end of the book William tells us he has found true, deep, long-lasting love. He has found out at last what it means to be “intimate.” One of the most squirm-creating moments in this whole squirm-creating edifice was earlier in the book when William asks a girlfriend in a cafe what intimacy was and if they were being intimate at that time.

The book ends: (Warning: Spoiler alert.)

That first weekend she came to Brooklyn, the visit that sealed our fate, she brought along a book, just in case there was some downtime. [I’m trying to imagine what the downtime might entail and why and how there could be downtime.] She knew I was a graduate student by that point, but she had no idea what I studied or whom I was writing my dissertation about. It was just the thing she happened to be reading at the time.

The book was Pride and Prejudice.

Reader, I married her.”

So let me get this right. In the end, after all the soul searching, all those profound life lessons it boiled down to Pride and Prejudice?

We’ve been taken through the superficial relationships and I must admit, when I got to the end of the book, I discovered William’s photograph on the back of the fly sheet. It startled me. This bloke had superficial relationships!!!!! There has been the father who disapproved. There has been the depressive moments, mild depression by the way, boring and ordinary, that nothing but a good blow of the nose into a handkerchief wouldn’t have solved. There have been the life lessons learned. I’m sorry, I can’t get it out of my head: This young bloke has learned life’s lessons through Jane Austen already. Where does he go from there? My experience is nothing like that. Life creeps up on you imperceptibly. You adapt and grow slowly, often without noticing and sometimes you regress badly. Life and life’s lessons are nowhere near as easy to learn, as William makes out, by reading a set of novels. You can’t learn it in your head, you have to live life. Sometimes I think it’s impossibly to learn the so-called life lessons. Often we are just stuck, through no fault of our own, because we are who we are.

I am very reluctant to throw a book onto a fire, for echoes of the many evil political regimes that have done that sort of thing come to mind. What I’ll do, out of gratitude to my friend who sent me this copy, is put it on my bookshelf to gather dust. Then I’ll forget about it.

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