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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s life’ Category

The blog, Carla-at-Home features an interesting post on the progression of Regency fashion. The images were taken from John Peacock’s book: Costume 1066 – 1966, A Complete Guide to English Costume Design and History (copyrighted 1986). Mr. Peacock was the senior costume designer for BBC Television when the book was printed. Here is one of the images. Click on the link above to visit the site and see the rest of them. You can see that over time the hemlines raised to show the ankle and how increasingly intricate the hems became. Also, the English bosom tended to be covered up during the day, but at night even shy ladies showed their assets.

Image @Carla-at-Home. Click on image to view a larger version.

1800- 1811. Image @Carla-at-Home. Click on image to view a larger version.

Below are images of some dresses that were prevalent between 1800-1811. The gowns are classic and tend to be free of frills. The hems in the fashion plates below are longer than in the modern image above. Earlier in the century even the day gowns still sported trains. Hats were embellished with ribbons and feathers, but not with many fruits or flowers.  In these fashion images, bosoms are covered during the day and exposed in the evening. The waist rises until it can go no higher, as in the 1806 image. In the 1810 image, you see that waists start to lower again. Gloves are often made of kid, but can also be fashioned from fabric.

Ladies Monthly Museum, afternoon dress, 1800

Ladies Monthly Museum, afternoon dress, 1800

The fashion plates of 1800 and 1801 show round gowns with skirts that are fuller than later fashions that sported a more columnar silhouette. (See 1804, 1805).

Nicholas Heidelof, morning gowns. 1801

Nicholas Heidelof, morning gowns. 1801

The period between 1800 and 1811 was a time of turmoil for Jane Austen. She was 25 in 1800, perilously close to sitting on the shelf, and a confirmed spinster at 36 when her brother, Edward, gave the Chawton Cottage to his mother and sisters and their friend, Martha Lloyd, to live in, providing them with some stability and security. During these 11 years, Jane was to live in all the places she was ever to call home, except for the last one in Winchester, where she died in 1817. During her prime adulthood, she and her sister Cassandra would have worn fashions that were similar to (but remarkably plainer and less costly than) the fashions depicted in the fashion plates below.  The Austen family lived in Steventon until 1801 and then moved to Sydney Place in Bath until 1804. In 1802, Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to Jane (then 27), who accepted him in the evening and rejected his suit the following morning.

1802 Ladies Monthly Museum

1802 Ladies Monthly Museum

1803 must have brought Jane some joy, for her novel, Susan, was sold to the publisher Crosby for £10. She was to be a published author. Sadly, the novel (to be renamed Northanger Abbey after Jane’s death) languished on Crosby’s shelves for 10 years.

Mirroir de la Mode, undress, 1803

Mirroir de la Mode, morning gown, 1803

Fashions of London and Paris, 1804. @Museum of London

Fashions of London and Paris, 1804. @Museum of London

After the lease in Sydney Place ran out in 1804,  the Austens moved to Green Park buildings. A few months later,  Rev. George Austen died suddenly in January 1805.

Fashions of London and Paris, evening dresses, 1805. @Museum of London

Fashions of London and Paris, evening dresses, 1805. @Museum of London

Their income severely reduced, the women found lodging in Gay Street, Bath from 1805 to 1806. The Jane Austen Centre is located at this building today. During this sad time, I can’t quite imagine Jane attending a ball in the Bath Assembly Rooms wearing an evening gown with an exposed bosom, such as the dresses worn by the women below.

La Belle Assemblee, opera and drawing room gowns, 1806

La Belle Assemblee, opera and drawing room gowns, 1806

In the first half of 1806, the Austen women lived for a short time in Trim Street, then lived a peripatetic life from 1806 through 1807, visiting friends and family, and always on the move.

John Bell, full dress, roxborough jacket, 1807

John Bell, full dress, roxborough jacket, 1807

They landed in Southampton in March of 1807 at the invitation of Frank Austen, who was newly married. Jane, Cassandra, their mother and friend Martha Lloyd, and new sister-in-law, Mary Austen (nee Gibson),  lived there until July, 1809. With money in short supply, the womens’ gowns must have been simple and largely refashioned from older gowns that were still wearable and sturdy.

La Belle Assemblee, walking dresses, 1808

La Belle Assemblee, walking dresses, 1808

Fabric was quite expensive in an era before easy mass production, which is why clothes were recycled. There were occasions when the Austen women needed to purchase cloth for new clothes, but the quality wasn’t always guaranteed. In this letter to Cassandra, written while she lived in Southampton, Jane complains about a tradesman in that city:

As for Mr Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation; how is your blue gown? – Mine is all to peices. – I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a Touch. – There is four shillings thrown away.”

Sadly, the Austen women were in no position to fritter away their money, and this poorly made cloth must have been a low blow for Jane’s finances.

Ackermann, walking dresses, 1809

Ackermann, walking dresses, 1809. The overdress with lace edging at the hem is lovely.

In 1809, Edward Austen invited his mother, sisters, and Martha to live in  Chawton Cottage, which began an era of fruitful creativity for Jane and her writing.

Ackermann, walking and morning dresses, 1810

Ackermann, walking and morning dresses, 1810

As you can see, the classically simple fashions depicted in these fashion plates were popular during a time when Jane Austen’s life was in a state of constant uprooting and confusion. She did not regain her equilibrium as a writer until she was settled in Chawton Cottage. When Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, Jane might well have worn a more simple version of the elegant gowns depicted in this last Ackermann plate.

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Steventon. Every Janeite has heard of this sleepy little village in Hampshire and the parsonage in which Jane lived over half her life. Situated in the chalk hills of North Hants, about seven miles from Basingstoke. As with Chawton, I “traveled” through narrow lanes to St. Nicholas church, where Reverend Austen held Sunday service, married parishioners, and baptized babies, and where members of the Austen family were laid to rest.

Drive to St. Nicholas

Drive to St. Nicholas. Google street view.

Edward Austen Leigh, Jane’s nephew, described the area as somewhat tame but well clothed with woods and hedgerows. The soil is poor, and while there is an abundance of timber, there are no large trees.

narrow winding lane

The narrow winding lanes curve naturally and offer pleasant nooks and corners. Google street view.

Approach to the church on the left

Approach to the church, which sits on the left, behind the tree. Google street view.

St. Nicholas as seen from the road, with the graves of the Austen family to the right.

St. Nicholas as seen from the road, with the graves of the Austen family to the right. Google street view.

St. Nicholas church. Image @Tony Grant

St. Nicholas church, first mentioned in records in 1238. Image @Tony Grant

Interior of St. Nicholas

Interior of St. Nicholas. Two of the three arches have been closed in. Image @Tony Grant

Detail of interior

Detail of the arch to the right in the above image. Image @Tony Grant

St. Nicholas's stained glass window

St. Nicholas’s stained glass window, which dates from 1883. Image @Tony Grant

Gargoyle

Gargoyle. Image@Tony Grant

Another view of the lane near the church

Another view of the lane near the church. One can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking through this country, wearing pattens during rainy weather to protect their delicate shoes, clutching their red hooded cloaks, and umbrellas.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

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list lovers guideThe List-Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen is a quick, easy reference guide for all things Jane Austen. When you enter a JA trivia quiz, you can quickly become an expert by looking up the books Jane read, her #1 pet peeve, the people in her social circle, the balls she attended, who broke her heart and the hearts she broke, etc.

Joan Strasbaugh has created the first-ever list-only biography! Written mostly in 140 characters or less, this volume is jam-packed with information presented as lists or charts.

  • The flowers in her garden
  • Her royal ancestors
  • Particulars about her wardrobe
  • What she did for fun
  • Characters in her book
  • Where she traveled
  • The items she possessed
  • Where she worshipped
  • Where she lived and shopped
  • Contemporary descriptions of her features

The lists go on and on. (Click here for a view inside the book). The book provides a comprehensive overview of her life. Nieces and nephews born after she died are not listed, and places her friends or family may have traveled (but there’s no evidence she did) are not included. The lists do include friends’ and relatives’ firsthand accounts and reminiscences from neighbors and people who crossed her path.

Four out of five Regency tea cups

Four out of five Regency tea cups

My impressions of this book are positive. Any time I need to review a fact, I can turn to it and quickly find the information. The cover is attractive but I found the print a bit hard to read. This book will be helpful to Janeites, teachers, students, authors, and anyone interested in the Regency era. I give it 4 out of 5 Regency teacups.

About the Author

Joan Strasbaugh has been a proud Janeite for half of her life. She now works as the senior editor of Abbeville Press in New York, and notably organized the Jane Austen in the 21st Century Humanities Festival at the University of Wisconsin. She is currently spearheading the A former publisher at Jones Books, Strasbaugh also holds a membership to the Jane Austen Society of North America.

The biggest surprise in putting this book together was discovering the sheer number of social contacts, places visited, and characters in her books. Her social circle was enormous and her travels many, mirrored in her novels by the sixty plus characters and forty plus locations in Sense and Sensibility, for starters.

About the contest: (NOTE: Contest closed! The winners are – Cara D. , Anne F., Tess G., Lilyane S., and Alison M. Congratulations all and thank you for participating in this contest. The winners were drawn with random number generator. (Long discussions between two individuals were not included.) One of you entered the first day of the contest, and someone entered on the last day. Amazing.

Sourcebooks has agreed to give out 5 copies of the book. Yes, 5! To enter the contest, please share what information you’d like to know about Jane Austen. Contest ends June 9th at midnight!

List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh, released this month.

June 4th, 2013, ISBN 9781402282034, Trade Paperback

$12.99 U.S. / £8.99 UK

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tony Grant’s recent pictorial visit to Chawton was so popular that I thought you would like to see the village in which Jane Austen lived out the last years of her life. You might want to reference Tony’s images with the ones below, which were taken with Google maps. After I made these, I felt as if I had traveled to Hampshire for a pleasant hour or so. Interestingly, the seasons go back and forth, from late summer to early November.  At times you will see full foliage and at other times the scene was shot in the middle of fall.

Winchester Road to Chawton

Winchester Road to Chawton from A31. You can see the signpost marking the village.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Lovely narrow lanes

Lovely narrow lanes. Click on the images for a larger version.

Approaching Chawton Cottage on the left and Cassandra's Cup Tea Room, the white building in the distance

Approaching Chawton Cottage behind the tree on the left and Cassandra’s Cup Tea Room, the cream colored building in the middle distance. If you turned right, you would be going to Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s residence. But we will be turning left.

Chawton Cottage coming into full view, along with the cross roads sign

Chawton Cottage coming into full view on the left, along with the cross roads sign. Check Tony Grant’s images in the previous post for more details.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra's Cup tea house.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra’s Cup tea house.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles. This one gives a view into the street and down the village. You can see how close the dining parlor window is to the street and sidewalk (to the right of the door.) This is where Jane Austen wrote and revised her novels.

The following text comes from the 1901 travel book, Hampshire, With the Isle of Wight by George Albemarle Bertie Dewar, John Vaughan. Their description of Jane Austen shows how successfully her family had whitewashed her image as a sweet spinster in whose life not much had happened. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you viewed the rest of my virtual trip through Chawton.

The cottage up close

The cottage up close, with bricked up window on the east side of the drawing room and plaques in honor of Jane Austen. Tourists exit from the garden to the left of the house.

A mile south of Alton is Chawton village. Jane Austen, the writer of the pure sweet stories which at the present time are loved better even than they were when Scott and Macaulay and Lewis sounded their praises, lived with her family at Chawton from 1809 to 1817.”

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious.

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious. The visitor’s entrance is to the right, through the gate, towards the outbuildings. The gift shop is housed in the brick building to your immediate right.

The house is still standing. Part of it has been made into a workman’s club, whilst the remainder is occupied by three families of working people, but it has been altered a good deal since her time. In the church there is a tablet to the memory of some members of the Austen family, Cassandra Elizabeth and her brothers. Jane Austen was quite a Hampshire woman.”

A view of the gardens.

A view of the gardens and a clear view of the yew trees.

She was born at Steventon near Oakley in December 1775, and lived there till twenty-five years old. I went to see Steventon one day in the summer of 1899, and found it the sleepiest little spot one could imagine. The country is green and leafy, but the scenery is without distinction: there are no hills to speak of, no beautiful troutstreams, no fine old houses, no stately parks. The old parsonage where Jane Austen was born has gone, and there are no remains whatever of her or her family at Steventon.”

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage.

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage, still on Winchester Road. One can imagine the coaches and wagons rattling by the window near Jane’s writing desk.

The spired church in which her father held service stands a little distance from the village at the edge of a hazel and oak coppice. It was in this quiet nook, seven or eight miles from the nearest town, that Jane Austen at twentyone years of age began to write that perfect story “Pride and Prejudice.” In 1797 she was at work on “Sense and Sensibility,” and in 1798 completed “Northanger Abbey.”

You can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking a mile through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Jane and Cassandra walked a mile north through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Where in the world did she get her knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so great that Macaulay was almost ready to extol her as the Shakespeare of her sex? What life could she have seen about Steventon a hundred years ago? In 1801 Jane went to Bath, and in 1805 to Southampton, where the family had rooms in Castle Street: in 1807, as we have seen, the Austens settled at Chawton, and four years after the story “Sense and Sensibility” was published, being followed by “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park.”

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right.

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right around the bend.

In 1817 her health broke down and she removed to rooms in College Street, Winchester, and died there the same year. The memorials of Jane Austen are but few, and it is clear that her life was uneventful. It has been said that the woman without a history is the happier. The life of Jane Austen, like her death, was placid; there is here no record of harrowing anguish, or anxiety, such as we find in the story of that strong sufferer Mrs. Oliphant. Nor in the scant materials which have been left for a “life,” could the biographer find anything in the nature of a sad love-affair.”

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Hope you enjoyed your short trip.

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Up ahead and to the right is Wolff’s Lane. This concludes my short trip through Chawton.

Serenity is the word that best describes her career: and in this Jane Austen may remind one of Gilbert White, who was spending his happy days at Selborne when at Steventon, only about fifteen miles off as the crow flies, she was doing her French exercises and getting her first insight into the little world around her. She has given us a small but very choice portrait gallery of masterpieces. The irresistible Elizabeth, as easy to fall in love with as Scott’s Di Vernon, the alluring if sometimes rather irritating Emma, the worldly but very human Constance—they live and move to-day. You should read Jane Austen after one of the unwholesome, much-boomed, ephemeral novels of to-day, as Dean Stanley read his “Guy Mannering” to take the nasty taste out of his mouth. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where she is to have at length a worthy memorial.”

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite.

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite. On the left you can see a narrow footpath between the hedges.

Oh, those Victorians and their simplistic view of Jane Austen. Hope you enjoyed the 112 year old description of Jane’s life as well. In the image below you can see the short trip, which started on the Winchester Road (which started on the left, below A31), then turned left at Jane Austen’s house, and ended at Wolff’s Lane, which turns right and parallels with A31 at the top of the image. Alton would have been a mile up the street and NW of the cottage. Chawton House would have been too much of a walk for Mrs. Austen. I imagine that Edward must have sent his carriage to his mother and sisters when they came to visit.

A Walk Map

View a contemporary watercolor of the village in this article by Joan Austen-Leigh, Chawton Cottage Transfigured

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Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

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Inquiring reader: The city of Bath is a topic that guest writer Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, knows well, having immersed himself in Bath’s history and environs for his novel. For this article he examines Jane’s life in Bath and how the city must have looked and felt to her in the years that she lived there. Enjoy.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opens with the sentence, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” It is one of the best written and best known opening lines of any novel. It is also one of the best examples of “comic irony” because, as Austen makes clear throughout the novel, it is primarily the women (or more particularly their mothers) who are desperately in search of a rich single man as husband-material.

Historically Bath was undoubtedly one of the most favoured locations for such husband hunting, both in fact and in fiction. Though the city is relatively small today, it had grown faster than almost any other in Britain during the 17th Century. In 1801, when Jane moved to the city it was the ninth largest conurbation in England with a population of 35,000. Its spa facilities and entertainments were renowned throughout Europe and visitors flocked to the city for “The Season” (roughly from the beginning of May to mid-September). This was the time for match-making.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Bath. Wikimedia image.

There were balls and gatherings, concerts and card games in the Upper and Lower Assembly Rooms. Each day people met in The Pump Rooms to see who was newly arrived in the city, to make introductions (and to be introduced) and perhaps most importantly to exchange gossip, and arrange social events. The theatre too, was well attended with a continually changing programme of popular contemporary productions, drawing some of the finest actors and performers of the age.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Pump Room. Wikimedia image.

People also entertained at home, and yet one of the most favoured social events (weather permitting) was simply “promenading” in the popular shopping areas like Milsom Street, or the many purpose-built, Parades and Parks, like Jane’s favourite, Sydney Gardens. These were the places to see and be seen, the places where accidental meetings might be expected, or could be contrived. As Catherine Morland remarks in Northanger Abbey – “a fine Sunday in Bath empties every house of its inhabitants, and all the world appears on such an occasion to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, The Ball. Wikimedia image.

It would be easy to be swept away by images of “beautiful people” in a social whirl of high society events, set against a back-drop of some of the finest Georgian architecture in the world. Indeed that is the world that Jane Austen seems to present in her novels, yet that was not the whole truth, at least for Jane. The notorious British weather certainly often made promenading, or even attending events or visiting friends, difficult. As Jane said in a letter to her sister, Cassandra,

“We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty person fall on steep hill. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Gouty persons fall on a steep hill. Wikimedia image.

It must also be remembered that Jane lived in Bath continuously (throughout the years) from 1801 to 1805, and the city was a very different place, out of season. Being primarily a Spa, many of the resident population of Bath were of retirement age and not always in the best of health. As for eligible young men, only 39% of Bath’s population were male in 1801, and it is safe to assume that relatively few of these were eligible, and that even fewer were young. As Sir Walter Elliot observes in Persuasion –

“There certainly were a dreadful multitude of ugly women in Bath; and as for the men! they were infinitely worse. Such scarecrows as the streets were full of! It was evident how little the women were used to the sight of anything tolerable, by the effect which a man of decent appearance produced.”

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Rowlanson, The Comforts of Bath, The Breakfast. Wikimedia image.

Many of the eligible young men were of course in the army or navy and away fighting the Napoleonic Wars for much of the time that Jane was living in Bath. And while officers in the services were expected to be at least literate, they came from vary varied educational and social backgrounds. Contrary to popular opinion, although an officer was supposed also to be a “gentleman”, this usually referred to an expectation rather than a predisposition. And often officers fell short of those expectations, which perhaps accounts for Jane’s portrayal of characters like George Wickham, the ne’er-do-well seducer in Pride and Prejudice.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Coaches arriving. Wikimedia image.

I’m sure there were lots of George Wickhams in Bath. It was, and still is, the perfect setting for a novel. It was a place where, given enough money or access to credit, all the trappings of wealth and position could be rented or hired or borrowed for The Season, and where people were often not who they appeared to be. As Jane observed in Persuasion.

“Sir Walter had at first thought more of London; but Mr Shepherd felt that he could not be trusted in London, and had been skillful enough to dissuade him from it, and make Bath preferred. It was a much safer place for a gentleman in his predicament: he might there be important at comparatively little expense.”

Company at Play, Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath, Company at Play

Very few of Jane’s letters survive from her time in Bath and some say that she wrote very little while she was there. Yet it’s well known that Jane was a consummate editor, writing and re-writing, polishing and refining her work until she was satisfied it was good enough. She may well have been working on drafts of her later novels even then. She was certainly observing and remembering what she saw.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath. Private practice previous to the ball. Wikimedia image.

We do know that Jane wrote the beginning of her unfinished novel, “The Watsons” while in Bath. Some say it remained unfinished because it was a time of upheaval in her life (with the death of her father). Others believe it so clearly mirrored her own experience (particularly the financial precariousness of the family) at the time that she found it too painful to continue. And perhaps the chapters that she did complete lack some of the refinement and polish of her later novels, yet I find them very poignant and touching. I can’t help thinking that someone of Jane’s intelligence and sensitivity must at times have been hurt by a Society where people were judged so much in terms of title, wealth and appearance; as opposed to their true nature and accomplishments. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that Jane Austen makes such good use of comic irony.

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Paul Emanuelli holds up his novel, Avon Street

Find more information about Paul Emanuelli and Avon Street on his blog, unpublishedwriter, where you will find a thoughtful discussion on the demise of book stores, and his Twitter account. Click on image to find his book.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0752465546
ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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Sidmouth is now talked of as our summer abode” – Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, January 1801

Sidmouth: A History. Book available at. Click on link.

Sidmouth: A History, edited by Geof Holmes. Book at this link. Click on image for source.

In the summer of 1801, Jane Austen and her sister and parents visited Sidmouth, a seaside Devon town made unexpectedly popular by a visit from King George III in 1791. The Austens came at the invitation of Richard Buller, a newly-wed vicar and former pupil of Jane’s father, Rev. George Austen.

Jane was happy to escape Bath which, even then, she found confining after the freedom of Steventon; and, furthermore, she liked Mr Buller and was satisfied, she wrote, that ‘he would not oppress me by his felicity and his love for his wife…he simply calls her Anna without any Angelic embellishments.’-  Sidmouth, Dawlish, and Weymouth

For a few short weeks there Jane experienced the happiness of new love, although scant proof exists.  Cassandra, according to many accounts, made brief remarks about that visit to her nephews and nieces years after Jane’s death. Her memories, according to David Cecil, author of A Portrait of Jane Austen, are not in complete agreement.

All we can be reasonably sure of is that at Sidmouth Jane met a young gentleman who showed signs of being extremely attracted by her. We do not know his name nor his profession, though there is a suggestion that he was a clergyman. We do know that he was handsome, intelligent and possessed of unusual charm; so much so that Cassandra, who hardly ever praised anybody, praised him warmly and even thought him good enough for her sister Jane. – Cecil, p. 97

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion.

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion. Click on image for source.

Jane was apparently as smitten with the young man as he was with her. After only two or three weeks acquaintance, in which Cassandra was convinced that their attraction towards each other had blossomed into love, the young man had to leave to meet an obligation.

It was understood that he would soon come back and join the family again. Cassandra had no doubt that he would then state his intentions and that Jane would receive them favourably. – Cecil, p. 97

Sadly, this hope did not come to fruition. Before the budding lovers could meet again, the young man’s brother wrote to say that he had died suddenly. We know no more about the story. Jane’s letters are missing for many months afterwards – either she was so grief stricken that she was unable to write or her letters were destroyed by Cassandra. We will never know.

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

We can only surmise that Harris Big-Wither, Jane’s next suitor who did propose (and was accepted one evening and rejected the following morning) did not live up to Jane’s standards for a husband, not in the way that her mysterious lover had. While rich and able to support Jane and her family, Harris lacked looks, intelligence and charm. (“Mr Wither was very plain in person – awkward, and even uncouth in manner – nothing but his size to recommend him” – The Suitor: Harris Big-Wither, JASA.)

Jane’s doomed love affair occurred in a small seaside town in Devon that had increased in popularity after the King’s visit. Until 1800, Sidmouth was a fishing village situated on the Channel, between Lyme and Exmouth, one hundred and sixty-two miles from London. By 1801, Sidmouth offered an elegant ball room, tea-room, and some shops. By the mid-19th century there were seven or eight bathing machines, which were private property. Several rows of good houses were built by the gentry, a numbers of whom made it their summer residence. The market-days were Tuesday and Saturday, with no coaches or waggons going regularly to or from this small resort. In an 1814 panorama, one can see the Georgian verandas and awnings  and the fashionable dandies and well-dressed ladies parading up and down the esplanade.

Sidmouth 1803 engraving

Sidmouth, 1803 engraving. Fronticepiece.


For the Frontispiece the Author is indebted to the friendly and elegant pencil of Hubert Cornish, Esq.; and he feels happy in thus acknowledging his obligations, for a drawing of one of the most interesting bathing-places in the kingdom.

The view is taken at low water, and from Salcombe-hill, which rises on the east side of the town; A part only of Sidmouth is included; but the Beach, and the distinguishing features of its coast, are sketched with fidelity and spirit.

The cliffs of Torbay are seen in the western distance—High Peak succeeds; and Peak-hill, with its signal-post, near which runs the road to Exmouth, exhibits the western side of Sidmouth valley. Peak-house, the residence of Mr. Baruhr, and the elegant cottage of Miss Floyd, are seen above the town. – An Excursion from Sidmouth to Chester, 1803, Google ebook

Sidmouth during Jane Austen's day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.

Sidmouth during Jane Austen’s day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.


The town consists of about three hundred houses and, in the census taken by order of Parliament in the year 1803, was said to contain twelve hundred and fifty-two inhabitants. This number, according to the census in 1813, was increased to above 1600. Beginning from what is termed Mill-cross, at the north end of the town, and ending at the beach, its length is about the third part of a mile. For rather more than half of this space it is, principally, one street; the remainder is divided into two branches like the letter Y. In the eastern branch, which seems rather the best of the two, are shops of almost every description, and two of the inns of the town, the London Inn and the New Inn. In the western branch of the main street is the Post-office. Both branches of the Y, as well as the main stem, contain lodging-houses, very various both in size and price. – The Beauties of Sidmouth, 1816

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Today, much of the Regency architecture remains and one can readily imagine Jane and her beau walking along the coast, inhaling the bracing sea air and feeling the ocean breezes. Years later Jane mentioned Sidmouth briefly, for William Elliot had visited the town before visiting Lyme and meeting Anne in Persuasion.

Years after her death:

Sidmouth became an epicentre of the craze for cottages ornées – gentlemen’s residences designed in faux rustic style. Look at the thatched roofs on the seafront. When the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning came to Sidmouth in 1832, the house she rented had previously been occupied by the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia. Sidmouth had found its form.  – Sidmouth mans the barricades

Sidmouth's Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Sidmouth’s Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Another version of Jane’s romance with a stranger has recently surfaced. In Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, author Andrew Norman asserts that the young clergyman was called Samuel Bicknall. According to the Daily Mail, a British rag, “Not only were her dreams of marrying Sam thwarted, but the match was sabotaged by her own beloved sister, Cassandra, who also lusted after him.”

Oh, dear (and how contrary to our knowledge of Jane’s and Cassandra’s deep love and respect for each other!)  I ordered this seemingly spiteful book for my Kindle. More on Mr. Norman’s assertions later!

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