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Archive for the ‘Regency Life’ Category

St. James’s Park offered some of the freshest, most wholesome milk during a Georgian London summer – the frothy hot liquid, or new milk, was drawn at the request of customers from cows that had grazed on the park’s lawns.

An estimated 8,500 cows were kept for milk near London.* Farmers milked their herds and carted in the milk to dairy retailers from as much as 20 miles away.

St James's Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

St James’s Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

In idealized scenes, artists give us an insight into contemporary customs. A milkmaid is milking a cow in St. James’s Park as a young boy in a skeleton suit waits with his empty cup. The party consists of a soldier and a mother with two other children, a boy and a girl. These two have already received their share of milk, with the mother helping the younger child sitting on her lap. It is hard to tell if it is a girl or a boy, for in their early years both sexes were dressed similarly.

One is struck by the tin cups on display at the wood table. There are no washing facilities nearby, and one can only assume that these cups are reused by strangers. A more finicky person would probably bring their own cup to the park. In this instance, a basket filled with hay is placed next to the table, ostensibly as fodder for the cow.

The following illuminating passage c0mes from Henry Mayhew’s account of London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 (Tufts Digital Library:

The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James’s Park. The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs—the milk being drawn warm from the cow’s udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, spice, &c.—is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part of their business, no lengthened notice is required.

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply their trade in the park. There are stands in the summer, and as many cows, but in the winter there are only cows. The milk-vendors sell upon an average, in the summer, from eighteen to quarts per day; in the winter, not more than a of that quantity. The interrupted milking of the cows, as practised in the Park, often causes them to give less milk, than they would in the ordinary way. The chief customers are infants, and adults, and others, of a delicate constitution, who have been recommended to take new milk. On a wet day scarcely any milk can be disposed of. Soldiers are occasional customers.

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the following account:

It’s not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, though some thinks it’s a gay time in the Park! I’ve often been dull enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I’ve served a good many such. They’re mostly young women, I think, that’s de- licate, and makes the most of it. There’s twenty women, and more, to one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass’s milk either, I think. Let them go on a milkwalk to cure them—that’s what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I’ve seen the nurse-girls frightened to death about the mugs. I’ve heard one young child say to another: ‘I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a mechanic, who came and shook hands with her.’ The girl was as red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there’s a deal of brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park. The greatest fools I’ve sold milk to is servant-gals out for the day. Some must have a day, or half a day, in the month. Their mistresses ought to keep them at home, I say, and not let them out to spend their money, and get into nobody knows what company for a holiday; mistresses is too easy that way. It’s such gals as makes fools of themselves in liking a soldier to run after them. I’ve seen one of them—yes, some would call her pretty, and the prettiest is the silliest and easiest tricked out of money, that’s my opinion, anyhow—I’ve seen one of them, and more than one, walk with a soldier, and they’ve stopped a minute, and she’s taken something out of her glove and given it to him. Then they’ve come up to me, and he’s said to her, ‘Mayn’t I treat you with a little new milk, my dear?’ and he’s changed a shilling. Why, of course, the silly fool of a gal had given him that there shilling. I thought, when Annette Myers shot the soldier, it would be a warning, but nothing’s a warning to some gals. She was one of those fools. It was a good deal talked about at the stand, but I think none of us know’d her. Indeed, we don’t know our customers but by sight. Yes, there’s now and then some oldish gentlemen— I suppose they’re gentlemen, anyhow, they’re idle men—lounging about the stand: but there’s no nonsense there. They tell me, too, that there’s not so much lounging about as there was; those that’s known the trade longer than me thinks so. Them children’s a great check on the nusses, and they can’t be such fools as the servant-maids. I don’t know how many of them I’ve served with milk along with soldiers: I never counted them. They’re nothing to me. Very few elderly people drink new milk. It’s mostly the young. I’ve been asked by strangers when the Duke of Wellington would pass to the Horse-Guards or to the House of Lords. He’s pretty regular. I’ve had 6d. given me—but not above once or twice a year—to tell strangers where was the best place to see him from as he passed. I don’t understand about this Great Exhibition, but, no doubt, more new milk will be sold when it’s opened, and that’s all I cares about.

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)  Milkmaids in St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey beyond  oil on panel

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)
Milkmaids in St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey beyond
oil on panel,  Christie’s.

Benjamin West’s scene of St. James’s Park evinces a more majestic tone, with the industrious maids in the center and an assembly looking on or promenading into view, such as the soldiers on the right escorting their ladies. The hard working milk maids are merely the servants of cowkeepers, as Henry Mayhew’s passage explains.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Although this painting is quite formal, the details are similar to those described in the Mayhew passage. The milk maid is on her knees, not sitting on a stool, and some people have brought their own vessels in the shape of cups or buckets. The majority are women and children, who wait patiently on benches as the maid fills their orders. The rest of the herd can be seen in the background, awaiting their turn to supply milk, for only two cows are being actively milked.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Customers come from a variety of social backgrounds. A small child sits and drinks her milk on a bench by a table, others wait in line with their mothers or governesses. One maid holds a flask on top of her head in a classic pose that one suspects is more of a nod to classic sources than contemporary British customs.

St. James's Park, detail3, West

St. James’s Park, detail3, West

I simply had to add this detail of West’s painting, for the soldiers and their female companions are described in detail in the Mayhew passage. They also remind me of the immature and idealized view that Lydia had of herself when in Wickham’s company – that of a lady who cut an elegant impression next to a man in uniform.

st. James's and Green Park

As one can see from a map of the era, the lawns are not huge.  St. James’s Park consists of 58 acres that were originally purchased from Eton College by Henry the 8th in 1532. I have not read any sources regarding the regular maintenance of these parks, but imagine that grazing sheep and cows kept the grasses under control, but, anyone who has ever wandered through a cow pasture knows how much dung cows can leave behind!

Cow Keeper's Shop 1825 George Scharf

Cow Keeper’s Shop, 1825, George Scharf

George Scharf’s Cow Keeper’s Shop in London shows where city cows were kept – indoors. These creatures were fed indoors in back street yards and fared badly compared to their country cousins. Their milk was of a poorer quality, which came as a shock to country-bred Jane Austen, when her family move from Steventon to Bath. In many instances, unscrupulous retail milk-dealers seeking to increase their profits thinned the milk with water. Roy and Lesley Adkins in their splendid book, Jane Austen’s England, describe how cow-houses were furnished with water pumps. Milk was diluted in front of the customers. In some instances, merchants did not bother to use “clean” water (the only safe water in those days was boiled), but watered milk from a horse’s trough or, worse, from streams that had been fouled by animal dung and urine.*

The milk was next taken to the retailers’ homes and left for a day, so that the cream rose to the surface to be skimmed off. The deteriorating milk was then sold as fresh, while the cream was sold separately…” (Adkins, page 105)

Ironically, the deterioration of milk was at its highest when the fashionable set came to Town for the winter season, and at its freshest when the Beau Monde returned to their country estates for the summer.

Milk maids, George Scharf

Milk maids, George Scharf

In Scharf’s image, milkmaids  and a milkman are preparing for a day of sales. Pyne’s illustration clearly shows the five-gallon pails hanging from a wooden yoke,  the vessels that transported the milk into other containers, and the cups that were used to sell milk to individual buyers. Much of this milk was used largely for cooking.

milk woman, william henry pyne, 1805

Milk woman, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The milk maid’s cry, which proudly (and ironically) proclaimed the fine quality of her milk, was shortened to Milk Below and eventually to Milko!

Milk Below.

Rain, frost, or snow, or hot or cold,

I travel up and down,

The cream and milk you buy of me

Is best in all the town.

For custards, puddings, or for tea,

There’s none like those you buy of me.

From A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern [with woodcuts by T. and J. Bewick]. (Google eBook)

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jane austen and food Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane is not a cookbook with recipes, but a well-researched, highly informative, and entertaining historical discussion about food, mealtimes, manners, and housekeeping in the age of Jane Austen. Lane examines Austen’s letters regarding food and drink, and how she uses both to define the characters in her novels.

Today, the Jane Austen and Food’s hardcover edition, which was first published in 1995, can be purchased on Amazon in hardcover or paperback for $85 to $129! But the kindle edition from Endeavor Press is available for a mere $2.99 – and it contains the same content as the hardcover and paperback editions. (Keep in mind that kindle apps are available for those who do not own kindles. I have downloaded the book on my iPad and android devices, for example.)

Let me explain what a bargain you will be getting with the kindle version of Maggie Lane’s thoroughly enjoyable and informative book. Jane Austen’s treatment of food yields new insights in which she creates character and establishes her moral values in her novels:

In Steventon, the glebe lands (which added to about 3 acres) supplied the Rectory with pork, mutton, wheat, peas, barley, hops, and oats and hay for the horses. The surplus in produce contributed up to £300 per year to the Austen’s income. They made their own mead and wines and preserved foods that were produced with foods in season. The only commodities that were purchased were expensive items like tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices, and dried fruits.

No gentleman, single or widowed, could run his own home. He depended upon a paid housekeeper to oversee his hearth for good dinners, or, like Mr Bingley, he required a sister to keep house for him. Mr. Rushworth depended upon his mother, while Mr. Collins was in need of a wife.  When Mrs. Austen was kept away in 1770 for a month to look after her sister in childbirth, Mr. Austen wrote that “I must bear … [for] about three weeks longer, at which time I expect my housekeeper’s return.” Jane never took the responsibility of a household completely, although she assisted whenever she was needed. Composing for her was difficult during such times, and she wrote, “Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.”

In terms of food and its purchase, the Austen’s move to Bath was a shock. Slow transportation changed the quality of the food that Jane and her family were accustomed to, and the very fact that they had to purchase all their produce made them anxious, for they had lost sources of revenue in the form of farm produce, pupils, and Reverend Austen’s clerical stipend. Milk was of a poor quality due to the cows being kept in unhygienic barns, and food, purchased at the bakers, grocers, butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers was quite expensive. In addition, its cost  fluctuated.

Mrs. Austen in particular never lost her love for working in a garden. She did so at Steventon and later at Chawton Cottage, where she dug up her own potatoes and delighted in her flower borders. According to one of her great-grand-daughters: “She wore a green round frock like a day-laborer’s.”

At Chawton Cottage, the Austen women were able to find their footing again, growing their own fruit and vegetables, rearing poultry, keeping bees, baking bread, and making wine and brewing beer. Villagers recalled in later years that their dog, Link, would carry home a pail of milk in his mouth. It must be emphasized that, although Jane Austen worried about financial security, she and her sister and mother were comfortable enough to eat well and, like Emma Woodhouse, to dispense charity to those less fortunate than themselves. If Jane envied others, it was for their freedom from perpetual contrivance. In the sale of her novels, she found some relief from such worry.

In later chapters, Maggie Lane describes the history of tea, coffee, and chocolate, and how these fashionable drinks were imbibed before and during Jane Austen’s day. Austen herself only mentioned chocolate twice in her letters, but Mrs Austen during her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey wrote that their breakfast at her ancestral home consisted of “Chocolate Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, brad and Butter, and dry toast for me.”

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper are described, but Lane emphasizes that Jane barely mentions these daily events in her letters and novels. She gives scant details, especially as to the preferences of her heroines, most of whom are not concerned with the daily details of food. There are hints here and there in her novels: Willoughby takes porter at an inn during midday, and Frank Churchill imbibes spruce beer on a hot day at Donwell.

Dinner times are moved up as the Regency era progresses. In 1798, Jane writes to Cassandra that they dine at half after three, and by 1808, “we never dine now till five.” This was a gradual shift in dinner-time that took place with most families during this era, although dinner in town (London) was taken fashionably later. In addition, dinners in the early 19th century were far less splendid than those in the latter part of the century. Edward Austen-Leigh noted that there was a “far less splendid appearance than it does now.” By the time Jane wrote Mansfield Park, silver forks emerged, as well as napkins and finger glasses. In 1808 Jane wrote, “My mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate – a whole tablespoon and a whole dessertspoon, and six whole teaspoons – which makes our sideboard border on the magnificent.”

I could go on and on describing the enormous amount of information in this ebook. Lane goes on to discuss in great detail the attitudes towards food and domesticity in Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park – all of which excited this reader. The characters of Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Grant, Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Norris, Mr. Price, and General Tilney are elaborated in great detail in their obsession (or not) with food and general housekeeping details.

tea cups ratingIs Jane Austen and Food worth the cost of $2.99? Oh, yes. Definitely.!I paid so much more for my hardback copy several years ago and do not regret its purchase. I give this ebook a rating of 5 out of 5 Regency teacups.

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This image by Nancy Rosin (2007) from victoriantreasury.com  is of a puzzle purse dated February 14, 1816! By clicking on the link, you can read about these wonderful puzzle purses, and how and why they were made. (Sweethearts exchanged them as early as the 1790s.) Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!

Valentine puzzle purse, February 14, 1816

Valentine puzzle purse, February 14, 1816. Image by Nancy Rosin

Please note: the ads placed below my posts are from WordPress. I do not make money from writing this blog, but will occasionally accept promotional materials for review.

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A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

Happy New Year, gentle readers. I hope to write more for my blog in 2014. Thank you for your loyal readership. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your comments and thoughts.

In winter weather, what can be a better way to pass the time than to curl up under a blanket with a good book? I’d like to recommend two books for you to purchase with the gift  money you (hopefully) received this holiday season. Both books are necessary additions in the libraries of confirmed Janeites and Jane Austen lovers, or so it is my belief. (Note: Contest closed. Congratulations Janice Jacobson!)

Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks.

The first is the 4th installment of  an incomparable anthology series of Jane Austen’s novels. Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition is published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and edited by noted scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks. This lush book could easy be confused for a coffee table book – the cover is so beautiful and the color images inside are of the highest quality, but the annotations are anything but superficial. Dr. Spacks’ research adds dimension to Jane Austen’s words and to an era that is long gone, and whose customs have become foreign to our modern understanding. Her observations include a comparison of characters within the novel – “Miss Steele is as acquisitive in a small way as the John Dashwoods are in a grander fashion”. She also draws a similarity between two novels, nothing that Willoughby is similar to Henry Crawford in that both men have fallen in love with the women they targeted for a light flirtation and amusement.

In her introduction, Dr. Spacks elaborates on the 18th century definition of sensibility, which was understood to be derived from the nervous system. Hence, fragile nerves, irritability, hysteria, tremors, fainting spells, and sickness at heart were closely associated with the term (as with Marianne Dashwood’s and Mrs. Bennet’s histrionics). Spacks’s introduction also delineates how Austen conceived of the book and how Elinor and Marianne cannot easily be pigeon-holed into the two separate categories. As they grow in understanding, both women possess elements of the other’s characteristic. As most of us know, Jane Austen wrote the first draft (known as Elinor and Marianne) by the time she was 20 years old. The book, written first in epistolary form, did not assume the third person narrative until 1811. Perhaps this is the reason why a number of passages in the book seem to lack detail or were uneven.

Sense_Sensibility_Spacks

Publicity materials for this annotated edition explain that:

In her notes, Spacks elucidates language and allusions that have become obscure (What are Nabobs? When is rent day?), draws comparisons to Austen’s other work and to that of her precursors, and gives an idea of how other critics have seen the novel. In her introduction and annotations, she explores Austen’s sympathy with both Elinor and Marianne, the degree to which the sisters share “sense” and “sensibility,” and how they must learn from each other. Both manage to achieve security and a degree of happiness by the novel’s end. Austen’s romance, however, reveals darker overtones, and Spacks does not leave unexamined the issue of the social and psychological restrictions of women in Austen’s era.

One get the strong sense that Spacks prefers Willoughby as a hero over Edward, whose character is rather tepid and static. Colonel Brandon’s mature patience doesn’t fare much better in some of the annotations, which also include extensive descriptions of manners, mores, and historical facts. Mundane customs are described, such as the games of whist and cassino.

Home, hearth, and space play important roles in this novel.The country side affects Edward more than Willoughby, who regards the land merely as a place in which to hunt. Edward will eventually live off the land, and happily so. Ennui, or inertia, is also evident in the novel’s characters. Spacks quotes the scholar, Isobel Armstrong, who observed that “a long, patient but sapping wait is the fate of many in this novel; Edward, Elinor, Colonel Brandon, even the unsympathetic Steeles.” Perhaps this is the reason why so few of us think of Edward as a strong hero. His character lacks decisive action. When he does make a decision, as with his unfortunate choice of fiancee, he seems stuck and unable to make a move when encountering a road block. The conniving Lucy spends considerable time waiting for Edward and hoping that Mrs. Ferrars will come around to accepting her. Most of her machinations (that of seducing Robert Ferrars) occur off the novel’s pages and we hear about her success in marrying Robert only through word of mouth.

My one complaint about this edition is that the annotations seem spare compared to Pride and Prejudice, the first annotated book edited by Dr. Spacks. To be fair, Sense and Sensibility is not as highly ranked on most reader’s lists as Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, or Emma. It is the earliest of Jane Austen’s published novels, which may explain why the number of annotations seem to be fewer in this book. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this edition, which costs $35, a bargain considering the the number of colored illustrations and information contained therein.

Northanger Abbey is the next novel to be annotated. It will come out in spring of 2014. I cannot wait for it to be published. 

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

The next book on my recommended buy list is Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins. Actually, I should amend my ranking, for both books are equal in my estimation. The publisher sent an uncorrected proof of  Jane Austen’s England when I was in the throes of taking care of my parents this past summer and fall, and so I read the book piecemeal, hoping to find the time to give it the review it deserved. My copy is earmarked and underlined. I have read many passages twice. Roy and Lesley Adkins have accomplished a remarkable job of research and writing that informs as well as entertains. I realize that many of you have read a number of histories associated with Jane Austen’s age and some of you will find the information repetitive. In addition, you can easily find many of the sources used for this book on the Internet or for purchase.

This book is divided into topics that follow the lives of Jane Austen and her characters. While the historic territory that the Adkins go over is not unique, their presentation is organized in such a way that all we need to do is to turn to Breeding or Toddler to Teenager to Wealth and Work and Medicine Men to find out more about the daily habits of the Austens, Jane’s characters, or the socio-economic conditions of those who lived during the Regency era. The Adkins do not subject us to mere romantic assumptions, but relate the harsh reality of life for the majority of people living during that age. The chapter on Filth minces few nice words. This was an era when outhouses abutted to sculleries, cholera was spread through contaminated water, and cesspits drained into watercourses. Men and women were known to urinate and defecate in streets. While our dear Jane did not write about these indelicacies, she must have witnessed such actions and known of many more contemporary customs that would turn our heads today. In her novels, she ignored the harsh realities of war and famine, common occurrences in her day, and assumed that her readers would seamlessly fill in the details of daily life while she concentrated on her character studies.

Topics in Jane Austen’s England  include kidnapped children, superstitions and folk wisdom, the use of Almanacs (useful for planning evening parties during a full moon), boundary stones, funeral customs, tax burdens of the rich and poor, Frost Fairs, animal fighting, animal abuse, hunting, cricket, horse races, regattas, amateur theatricals, London theatres with their noisy audiences, the cost of music tickets (two weeks wages for a servant), ballad sellers, public houses, taking snuff, state lotteries, the cessation of the Grand Tour during the Napoleonic Wars, the danger and challenges of travel and transportation, boot scrapers, toll roads, toll booths, turnpikes, surveying,  mapping England, medicine, apothecaries, the royal navy, and more. Whew!

Even though I finished the book late last month, I struggle to remember all the fascinating details that this 300+ page book contains.

For a New Year’s gift, I am holding a book giveaway of a hard back copy of Jane Austen’s England until midnight, January 7, 2014. All you need to do is leave a comment about an interesting fact you know about Regency life or Jane Austen’s era. Participants are confined to the U.S. and Canada. (So sorry!) Winners will be chosen by a random number generator. You may enter as often as you like, provided that you share another interesting bit of information about Jane Austen’s England each time you make a comment.

Happy New Year, all. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

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My blog has been silent again. Just as my schedule was letting up a bit, my father fell ill. In Jane Austen’s time, extended families lived in one village and often under the same roof. Healthy family members or friends took care of the sick, elderly, and very young. In this age, when sons and daughters and siblings live far apart, taking care of a loved one is not as convenient. I took time off from work, more to help my 88 year-old mother than my father, who was in the hospital, and to take some stress off my brother, who was starting a challenging and demanding new assignment. We thought Dad had suffered a stroke. In the 18th century, his condition would have been described as apoplexy, or “paralysis caused by stroke. Sudden deprivation of all the internal and external sensation and of all motion unless of the heart and thorax.” ( Glossary of Old Medical Terms Used in the 18th and 19th Centuries)

As he came out of a restaurant bathroom, my dad forgot to walk. I happened to be there, worried that he was taking so long. He began to slur his words and hallucinated that his father, who has been dead for 40 years, was joining us for dinner. We rushed him to the emergency room, where he wound up in good hands, receiving excellent diagnostic care. After four days of tests, he was transferred to a rehab hospital for the elderly to receive 10 days of speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

Stroke (apoplexy) satirical art work. 1822 copy of a Charles Aubry original. Click here to go to Fine Art America to read the details.

Stroke (apoplexy) satirical art work. 1822 copy of a Charles Aubry original. Click here to go to Fine Art America to read the details.

Back in the old days, those who suffered apoplexy or stroke were not so lucky. Many died within hours of the event, if not a few weeks later. Blood letting was one cure that was thought to be effective, although in most cases the practice was harmful and weakened the patient.

Some of those who survived successive attacks, especially the young, were mistaken for being mad. Romance author, Laura Kinsale, has written a remarkable book entitled Flowers From the Storm, in which a hedonistic and haughty duke is placed by his family into a mental institution after a major stroke. His sudden inability to communicate and lack of physical control is described in detail by this talented author in a story that, 15 years after I first read it, still stands out in my mind. I imagine the fate that this fictional Duke suffered was shared by many actual people of that era.

In our case, Dad benefited from modern medicine. An MRI showed previous minor strokes, but a CAT scan proved that this was not the reason for his illness. Dad’s illness was a “neurological event” that has been attributed to the progression of his Parkinson’s disease, once known as shaking palsy; the effects of a new medication, which made him hallucinate; the poisonous interaction among the 16 some medications he was taking per day; the slow advancement of his dementia; lack of exercise; and simply old age.

Two hundred years ago, I would have lived close enough to my parents to help on a daily basis. These days, Dad will be depending on home visits from medical personnel and the loving attentions of his wife.

My, how times have changed.

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Ring in a boxInquiring readers, dear friend Tony Grant (London Calling) has written an article to help jump start my re-entry into blogging. I love this post, for I am a huge Kelly Clarkson fan, and I was happily astounded to learn that she was a Janeite. Who knew that the simple girl from Texas with the huge voice would make it so big in the music industry that one day she would outbid a host of collectors for Jane Austen’s cabochon blue stone ring? Since her winning bid, the ring has lived in limbo, as Tony’s tale will recount, but now it is safely in British hands again, thanks to a committed group of people.

Kelly’s other association with Jane Austen is peripheral. She sang a song for the hit movie, Love Actually, in which a number of actors who starred in Jane Austen films appeared: Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I have placed the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tony’s tale.

It is possible that you might have heard about a certain ring that hit the headlines worldwide recently.

American singer Kelly Clarkson, a 31 year old singer from Fort Worth Texas, bought a small gold ring with a smooth turquoise stone set in it at Sotheby’s Auction for around £150, 000. The news hit the headlines because this ring had been the property of Jane Austen. British government officials, the Jane Austen Society and readers of Jane Austen across the known world were aghast.

Kelly Clarkson

A number of issues came to the fore. First, a ring, which is of British national importance, because of its provenance, was about to be taken out of Britain; secondly it was going to a pop star, who although she professed her love of Jane Austen, was really just buying it, because she could. A holding order was placed on the ring by the British Government preventing it leaving the country. A few months were given for a British buyer to raise the funds to purchase it back from Miss Clarkson.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage , the home of Jane Austen for the last eight years of her life, came forward to raise the necessary money. An anonymous benefactor provided most of the funds required within a short space of time and petitions and activity,  amongst American, Australian and British Janeites secured the rest. Susannah Fullerton took the lead in Australia and Maggie Sullivan sent out a rallying call in America and Chawton House made clear their aim over here. Janeites from around the world contributed money on the site set up by Chawton Cottage and Kelly Clarkson graciously sold it to Chawton Cottage. The ring will now have associations to Jane Austen, as well as to Miss Clarkson. The whole of the Jane Austen community will feel that they have a part of it because of their contributions. It will truly become a ring owned and loved by all. It has now gained another dramatic layer of history and meaning.

The ring will be on display at Chawton Cottage alongside other pieces of Jewellery, the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles and also a beaded bracelet, also owned by Jane, for all visitors to see.

The Arts Council’s reviewing committee secretary states,

The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the gold ring (width 17.5 mm; height 8 mm) set with a turquoise was probably made in the eighteenth century, possibly about 1760-80. In excellent condition, the ring sat in a later nineteenth-century case bearing the name of T. West, Goldsmith of Ludgate Street, London and was accompanied by papers documenting the history of the ring within the family of Jane Austen.”

The gold circle of the ring is 9 carat gold which is rather low in pure gold content and so denotes the ring as being an ordinary piece. The highest carat possible is 23 carat, which is almost 100% gold. It has been assessed because of its design and construction as being made between 1760 and 1780. The ends of the hoop of the ring curve round underneath the bezel. Taken with the thin hoop and simple oval bezel this suggest its date. Jane was born in 1775 so it is evident that the ring was not made for her originally. The provenance of the ring is based solely on letters and documents within the Austen family and only go back to Jane‘s ownership. After her death it went to Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Could it possibly have got to Jane in the same way? A relative dying and passing it on to Jane as a keepsake. It is something that Jane obviously wanted to keep. It’s simplicity and effectiveness would have appealed to her. On her finger it would have had a lustre under candlelight. It would have been something that other people would have noticed at any gathering such as a ball or family event such as Christmas.

Janes ring

Gold itself was not an easy commodity to come by between 1760 and 1780. The American war of Independence which waged between 1775 and 1783 made Gold a rare commodity. It was a vital constituent of the wealth of the nation. Britain had to pay for the War. Much gold came to Britain from Brazil in the 18th century, but because of the European war against France and the War against the colonies in North America getting gold here from South America was not an easy business. Transport ships could be captured or sunk. It pushed the price of gold up. Even 9 carat gold must have been expensive and hard to come by at the time. There were some gold mines in Britain  , at Dollgethlau in Wales, in the low border hills of Scotland and in Cornwall at the Treore mine near Wadebridge, the Carlson veins at Hopes Nose Mine and within the copper veins of Bampfylde, North Molton. The Romans first discovered gold in Wales so there is a long history of gold mining in Britain. It would be good to imagine that the gold in Jane’s ring came from one of the mines in Cornwall. She loved the West Country and had family holidays in Lyme, Sidmouth and Colyton.

There is a turquoise gem set in the ring. Turquoise is meant to be a bringer of good luck. It has been found in the tombs and on the artifacts of many Egyptian Pharaohs and important people. It can change colour under certain circumstances. Turquoise is found all over the world. It is associated with copper mining and indeed Cornwall, where copper has been mined it is also associated with turquoise. Because of the geopolitical state of the world in the 1770’s onward, Cornwall, like the gold in Jane’s ring, is the most likely source of the turquoise. It has also been suggested that the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring might be a special variant called Ondontolite. Ondontolite is also called bone or fossil turquoise. It is a gem formed by the infiltration of surrounding minerals into fossil bones. This would fit with the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring because, Dorset and the West Country have rich fossil deposits.

Jane’s ring is therefore connected to wars, national financial need, geology, the mining industry and mining communities and the lives of their inhabitants, which were being developed exponentially with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, social status, personal attractiveness, social occasions and mystical meaning. A designer designed it and a craftsman made it and a shopkeeper sold it. It is one symbol of economic and social endeavour within an historical context.

In the novels rings and jewellery have their importance and meaning. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia describes how her carriage overtakes the curricle of William Goulding and she lowers the window and lets her ring be seen. Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey looks forward to the day that friends and neighbours will envy her her, “exhibition of hoop rings on her fingers.” These two examples are of characters who show vanity and self-importance but in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, who receives the present of a small cross from her brother William, is at pains to find just the right simple chain to wear it with and show off her brothers generosity. William cannot afford the chain to go with the cross and Edmund eventually comes to Fanny’s rescue with just the right sort of simple chain for her to wear. The jewellery in the novels  seem to portray elements of character. They show Jane Austen’s understanding of the use of jewellery. This adds to the importance of the turquoise ring that Chawton Cottage have managed to now acquire.

In the Arts Council assessment of the ring, in the part where they describe the provenance of the ring, they describe documentary evidence for it belonging to Jane and various members of her family through the generations.  The report sets out the ownership of the ring after Jane’s death. The other point to be made is the report in the news that the ring is, ” a never seen before ring owned by the novelist Jane Austen.”

The family for generations have kept the ring  to themselves. Jane is one of the most pored over, read about and speculated upon authors in history. The family appeared to want to keep something of her just to themselves, their own private bit of her.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

One member of the family in each generation was given guardianship over the ring. So what was special about the keepers of the ring? After Jane’s death Cassandra owned it. She passed it on to her sister in law Eleanor Austen, the second wife of Henry Austen, “as soon as she knew I was engaged to your uncle.” Henry had been Jane’s favourite brother and it was he, whilst a banker living in London, who had arranged for her novels to be published. Eleanor passed it on to Caroline Mary Craven Austen, the daughter of Jane’s brother James. Caroline Austen passed it on to her niece Mary Austen Leigh who passed it on in turn to her niece Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh. Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh then passed it on to her sister Winifred Jenkyns in 1962. Apart from the obvious observation that the ring passed along the female line what else can we deduce? The ring was adapted for the use of somebody with a smaller finger than the original owner. A bar of gold, called a stretcher, has been fitted at a later date, probably by the company T West Goldsmiths of Ludgate Hill which is named on the inside of the box holding the ring. It seems that the ring was worn and not just kept as a memento. This might suggest things about the owner in each generation. A memorial ring, which this is, especially after Jane’s death and passed on through the family, commemorates Jane through generations. The wearer and owner could almost be seen as a surrogate Jane to the family in each generation. It is unlike a memento, such as a piece of furniture or a vase, which is set at a distance from people to be viewed. This ring has a different connection. It was worn on occasions. One wonders what occasions the Austen ancestor in each generation would wear it? When you wear an item belonging to somebody you take on aspects of that person. It’s not just the touching of the object which makes a connection with that person and the past but it is also the using it as they would have used it. They almost, in a way, become that person. A little like an actor wearing a costume,however in a case like this, wearing Jane’s ring would have been much more personal and evocative than merely playing a part.

Durer's image of a rhino

Durer’s image of a rhino

Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, wrote and published “A History of The World in 1000 Objects,” in 2010 and broadcast his readings of the book on BBC radio 4. In his description of the first of his 100 objects, the Mummy of Hornedjitef (circa 240BC), an object taken out of chronological order in MacGregors 100 objects, he uses it as an illustration of how knowledge develops. The interpretation of the mummy has changed as more research has been possible. The Mummy is a vivid example of the work of the academic. Neil MacGregor states that the work of an Archaeologist or Historian is to gather the evidence and make the best of the evidence they can. This changes over time as more evidence emerges but the archaeologist can only do his best with what he has. MacGregor gives Durers portrait of a rhinoceros, drawn in 1515, as an example. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros. He drew his portrait from first hand witness accounts. He did his best with what evidence he had. The drawing is completely wrong. I have used the evidence I have got for Jane’s ring and gathered other evidence to answer questions as they occurred, from various sources but I, like Durer, don’t really know.
Clarkson, had almost the last word. This was her reaction to Chawton Cottage buying the ring from her,

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

Chawton actually had the last word. They hoped for a long and fruitful relationship with Kelly and hoped she would visit the ring at the cottage.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen's ring at a concert.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen’s ring at a concert. Image @Mirror News

Everybody appears to be friends!!!

Here’s Kelly’s song in Love Actually, The Trouble With Love Is, with scenes from the film

Mirror News: Kelly Clarkson Jane Austen ring row

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The History of Goody Little Two Shoes was one of the moral lesson books that Jane Austen owned as a child. These seem to have been popular in the Georgian era. Another book with moral lessons came out two years after her death. Entitled The Accidents of Youth, its tales were meant to warn children of risky behaviors and improve their moral conduct. The tales would have been scary enough to make me think twice as a child. I love the Internet Archive, which allows you to read the books virtually intact, with illustrations and original font type. The only thing you can’t do is hold the book or feel the thickness of the pages.

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

accidents of youth2

accidents of youth3

Interestingly, these accidents beset children today, especially those left to their own devices in the countryside.

accidents of youth4

One young man aims at a bird with a slingshot and kills his mother, a horrific tale. Another’s hair is set on fire by a candle.

accidents of youth5

Kitchen accidents were quite common. After death from childbirth, kitchen fires killed more women than other accidents combined. In these stories children are warned of the dangers of hot kettles and catching one’s clothes on fire from coming too close to a fireplace. In the first image, a cast iron pot, hanging directly over the fire on an iron hook tips over, burning the child. Billowing skirts caught fire in fireplaces, as the second image attests.

accidents of youth6The final image in this post shows the danger of a broken glass window and a young boy falling from furniture that he had rearranged at play. Another, earlier book entitled The Blossoms of Morality and published in 1806, concentrates on the instruction of young ladies and gentlemen”. The stories include “Juvenile tyranny conquered” and “The melancholy effects of pride”.  One can imagine that, after reading Fordyce’s Sermons to his young children, Mr. Collins would have picked up these books to read to his children.

I wonder how long the concentration of today’s youth would have lasted when listening to these morality tales. One nanosecond? I think not.

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Nobody could catch cold by the sea; nobody wanted appetite by the sea; nobody wanted spirits; nobody wanted strength. Sea air was healing, softening, relaxing — fortifying and bracing — seemingly just as was wanted — sometimes one, sometimes the other. If the sea breeze failed, the seabath was the certain corrective; and where bathing disagreed, the sea air alone was evidently designed by nature for the cure.” ― Jane Austen, Sanditon

Inquiring readers, I have spent this week at the seaside with my extended family, an unusual occurrence for us, but one that a Regency traveler would have easily understood. The great grandparents are resting in a cool spot, while grandparents and parents have taken the grandchildren and great grandchildren to the beach. A lady’s companion and an auntie (me) are also in attendance, doing what is required to maintain family unity, feed the masses, and provide comfort and mobility for the elders.

A Calm, 1810, Gillray

A Calm, James Gillray, 1810

Life near the sea shore today is different than depicted in this 19th century image by James Gillray. Or is it really?  We still come to the beach to relax and holiday with friends and family, and to enjoy the bracing sea air and the entertainments that are available for the entire family. While modern sea-goers are more scantily dressed, we still enjoy sitting on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking along the seashore, watching ships or dolphins pass by, eating fresh seafood, reading the latest best sellers, and ogling others.

While we no longer swim behind bathing machines that have been pulled into the waters by sturdy horses, we use other equipment to make our swims more enjoyable – floats and surf boards or paddle boards. Like the women in the image, many of us wear hats for protection from the sun and sit under beach umbrellas. We comb the sands for shells and the waters for clams and crabs.

My family frequently vacations at Bethany Beach in Delaware, where my brother owns a vacation house. Each year, new vacation resorts seem to spring up on what once were cornfields and farmlands. If it weren’t for my GPS system, I would get lost, for so many of the landmarks I once knew are disappearing. It was much the same in Jane Austen’s day, when fashionable sea resorts also sprang up to satisfy the masses.  London became a convenient day’s ride from the coast as roads improved, and the benefits of fresh air and sea water were appreciated for invalids and healthy alike. In this passage from Sanditon, Mr. Parker’s and Mr. Heywood’s topic of discussion is similar to the one I had with my family as we lamented the increasingly crowded conditions and traffic jams, even as we confessed our addiction to the sea:

“Yes, I have heard of Sanditon,” replied Mr. Heywood. “Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the sea and growing the fashion. How they can half of them be filled is the wonder! Where people can be found with money and time to go to them! Bad things for a country, sure to raise the price of provisions and make the poor good for nothing, as I daresay you find, Sir.”

“Not at all, Sir, not at all,” cried Mr. Parker eagerly. “Quite the contrary, I assure you. A common idea, but a mistaken one. It may apply to your large, overgrown places like Brighton or Worthing or Eastbourne, but not to a small village like Sanditon, precluded by its size from experiencing any of the veils of civilization; while the growth of the place, the buildings, the nursery grounds, the demand for everything, and the sure resort of the very best company, those regular, steady, private families of thorough gentility and character who are a blessing everywhere, excite the industry of the poor and diffuse comfort and improvement among them of every sort. No, Sir, I assure you, Sanditon is not a place …”

“I do not mean to take exception to any place in particular,” answered Mr. Heywood. “I only think our coast is too full of them altogether. But we had not better try to get you …”

“Our coast is abundant enough. It demands no more. Everybody’s taste and everybody’s finances may be suited. And those good people who are trying to add to the number are, in my opinion, excessively absurd and must soon find themselves the dupes of their own fallacious calculations. Such a place as Sanditon, Sir, I may say, was wanted, was called for. Nature had marked it out , had spoken in most intelligible characters. The finest, purest sea breeze on the coast, acknowledged to be so, excellent bathing, fine hard sand, deep water ten yards from the shore, no mud, no weeds, no slimy rocks. Never was there a place more palpably designed by nature for the resort of the invalid, the very spot that thousands seemed in need of! The most desirable distance from London! One complete, measured mile nearer than Eastbourne, Only conceive, Sir, the advantage of saving a whole mile in a long journey. But Brinshore , Sir, which I daresay you have in your eye, the attempts of two or three speculating people about Brinshore this last year to raise that paltry hamlet, lying as it does between a stagnant march, a bleak moor, and the constant effluvia of a ridge of putrefying seaweed, can end in nothing but their own disappointment. “

Alas, our sojourn at the beach has ended. We must pack up our belongings and return to our daily routines. Would that vacation had lasted a week longer!

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One of the benefits of gathering images for Pinterest is that one’s awareness of the minute differences in fashions from year to year improves. Daily exposure to thousands of fashion images from the Georgian era have taught me to notice the nuances of style and line. These images are one-sided, since very few articles of clothing from the lower classes survive. With rare exceptions, most museum quality fashions were made for the wealthy, and one must keep in mind when studying these images that fashions for the upper classes were vastly different from those of the working poor or laboring classes. Men’s trousers are a perfect example of class distinction.

a dandy fainting

In this caricature, you can see a contemporary rendering of short, loose trousers; formal breeches; and a form-fitting pantaloon.

By the turn of the 19th century, breeches, pantaloons and trousers worn by all men were sewn with a flap in front called a fall front. This flap was universally held in place by two or three buttons at the top. No belts were worn. Instead, breeches, pantaloons and trousers were held up by tight-fitting waists, which were adjusted by gusset ties in back of the waist. Seats were baggy to allow a man to rise comfortably from a sitting position. As waists rose to the belly button after 1810, suspenders were used to hold the garment up.

Trousers, top flap

Trousers with top flap open

Bfreeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches silk - 18th century - part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust

Breeches silk – 18th century – part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust. Note that the front flap has only two buttons.

Breeches, or short pants worn just below the knee, were popular during the 18th century. During the Regency era, they were worn largely as evening wear or at court, a practice that was to continue until the mid-century.

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

By the 1820s, breeches had fallen out of favor for day wear and were considered either too old-fashioned or effeminate a garment. As the 19th century progressed only liveried male servants, most specifically footmen, continued to wear breeches.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810. @Costume Institute of Fashion Plates, Met Museum

In their heyday, breeches were made from a variety of materials. For the upper classes, buckskin breeches were considered to be proper casual attire for mornings or life  in the country. Silk  breeches were reserved for the evening and more formal occasions. White stockings were worn with white breeches, and black or white stockings with black breeches. Tradesmen and hunters wore breeches made of  leather or coarse cloth.

Country attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and hessian boots.

Country or morning attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and riding boots.

Around the 1790s, the tail coat changed and breeches began to be lengthened below the knees to accommodate the longer tails, gradually giving way to slimmer fitting, longer pants, or pantaloons, that ended at the ankle. Pantaloons were close-fitting and sometimes buttoned all the way down the leg. Fabrics were knitted or, like kerseymere and nankin, cut on the bias, so that the garment would hug the leg.

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

These slim pants were often worn with Hessian boots. To help maintain a smooth look, some pantaloons had a fabric loop that went under the foot, as in the image below. Gusset ties are evident in this image.

1830 linen pantaloon 1830-40 met

Pantaloons were recommended for men whose legs were both slim and muscular. The idea was to show off a good leg. If men possessed deficiencies in musculature, a slight degree of stuffing was recommended, although padding, it was assumed, would be used with the greatest care and circumspection. Interestingly, stockings worn under pantaloons were kept in place by the tightness of the design and fabric.

Padding was added to make the ideal 1819 male figure.

Some dandies added padding to attain the ideal 1819 male figure.

Caricaturists had a field day with men whose physiques looked outlandish in pantaloons.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

This detail of a public domain image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a Regency dandy who cuts a fine figure in his pantaloons. No stuffing or corsets needed here.

A fine figure of a man

A fine figure of a man

Overalls were a form of extended breeches used largely by military men, but first worn by men in the American frontier. They covered the leg, stockings, and buttoned over shoes, much like spats. They were a practically garment for traveling and walking over rugged terrain, and were quickly adopted by the British army.

Trouser, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Overall, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Trousers were first worn by sailors and working men before 1800, and were adopted by the fashionable set around 1810.

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers and pantaloon worn by the soldier.

Originally known as “slops”, trousers were loose-fitting and ended at the ankle. As trousers were adopted, long stockings with decorative clocks were replaced by half-hose, all but destroying the stocking industry, which had thrived since breeches had become fashionable.

A sailor's slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rpwlandson's "Wapping"

A sailor’s slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rowlandson’s “Wapping”, ca. 1807

Caricatures had a field day showing dandy’s in short wide-legged trousers, as in the image below.

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers with a high waist that came up to the navel.

Closer fitting trousers were slit up the seam for a few inches above the ankle. This allowed the foot to get through the pant leg. (Breeches and pantaloons were buttoned on the side.) Early in the 19th century, they were appropriate only for day wear.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief. Notice the very high waist.

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers were made of wool, linen or cotton. They could also be strapped.

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

By the 1840s, they had replaced pantaloons. The waist is high in the above trousers, which were probably kept up with suspenders.

The well trousered genteman

The well trousered gentleman, ca. 1830s-40s.

Knee pants with black silk stockings were an essential evening accessory until 1850s when long trousers finally took over. Up until the 1850s, the tie could be black or white, but by the ’60s, white or off-white was the most common choice.

1850's ballroom scene.

1850’s ballroom scene.

In the 1850s long trousers finally replaced breeches for appropriate evening attire.

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Inquiring readers, It’s such a delight to receive first-hand information from a friend who lives in the U.K. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, writes about his impressions of seeing the BBC2 special last Sunday entitled Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. The scenes were filmed in Chawton House wherein a Regency ball was reconstructed in a way that Jane Austen’s contemporaries knew well, but whose meanings in many instances have been lost to us. I had the privilege of watching the show as well and have interspersed my comments as if Tony and I were engaged in a dialogue. (Italics represent my comments.)  Let’s hope this special will be available soon the world over.

Amanda Vickery. Image courtesy of

Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. Image courtesy of BBC2

It is Winter, 1813.

Amanda Vickery and Alaister Sooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph and who also presents art history programmes for the BBC, present this amazing programme. It is one and a half hours long and, being a BBC production, there are no breaks or intermissions.

The programme is a tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The producers have taken the Netherfield Ball as their focus. They did not choose the Merryton Assembly ball, which was a public ball where everybody from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was eligible to attend. The Netherfield Ball was a more intimate and select affair and by invitation only. One would be assured to rub shoulders with only the best families in the community.

Jane and her sister and mother lived in Chawton Cottage, where Pride and Prejudice was prepared for publication. It was a time when courtship was a serious business. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing and drawing,” Jane wrote, and a man had to marry well if he was to secure his dynasty.

Research into costumes, food, dance, music, carriages, conversation and so on focussed on the year 1813.

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds. Image courtesy of Chawton House

The writers and producers consulted and interviewed professors and experts about the minutiae of Georgian life. One professor, Jeanice Brooks at Southampton University, showed Alexander Sooke the very music manuscripts that Jane Austen wrote out by her hand with little cartoon doodlings in the margin.

Jane Austen doodle in a music manuscript

Jane Austen’s doodle in her music manuscript. Image @BBC2

That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer. (For me too, Tony!)

Popular music was widely collected at the time and summarized for the piano. Jane Austen must have spent hours copying music in her neat hand, for there are quite a number of her music manuscripts still in existence. 

ivan day food expert

Ivan day, historic food expert. Image @BBC2

The food was researched to the minutest degree. Ivan Day and his kitchen staff used Georgian cooking implements, although the Georgian cooking range at Chawton House was not in working order, so they used modern ovens. The recipes were authentic and came from Martha Lloyd’s cook book and other original Georgian documents.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Martha Lloyd’s recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Food denoted status. Game shot on a gentleman’s land was turned into a partridge pie, a symbol of upper class dining. At the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bingley would be sure to provide only the most excellent food, such as fresh grapes, nectarines and peaches in winter, which would have been expensive to import or grow indoors in hot houses. The grand spectacle of the supper table, with its silver platters, silver dishes, and silver tureens, gave an overall impression of austentation [sic] and of the host’s status. 

Ivan Day's recreation of Solomon's Temple, a very difficult flummery to recreate.

Ivan Day’s recreation of Solomon’s Temple, a very difficult flummery (Georgian jelly) to recreate. Image @BBC2

Stuart Marsden, an expert in Georgian dances and a former ballet dancer, assembled students from the dance department of Surrey University at Guildford, about twenty miles north of Chawton, to dance at the ball. Although these young dancers were fit and professional, in their Georgian costumes and in the full glare of hundreds of candles, they suffered from heat and encroaching exhaustion as the evening went on.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few have survived.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few of these fans have survived. As all fans of the Regency know, they also served as the perfect tool for flirtation. Image @BBC2

During the course of the evening, the dancers were supplied with Portugese wine and fortified negus punch. Punch a la Romaine, or Roman punch, was a mixture of rum or brandy with lemon water, lemon meringue and a very hot syrup. It was a sort of creamy iced drink that was 30 or 40 percent alcohol, a Georgian equivalent of a cold Coca Cola that cooled the dancers down between dances.

Punch a la Romaine

Punch a la Romaine. By the end of the night the dancers were a little tipsy, shall we say. The spoons used in the production belonged to the Prince Regent and came from Brighton Pavilion. Image @BBC.

Although Chawton House is large, the room where the dance was held seemed rather crowded once all the dancers were assembled. Candles blazed everywhere. The men wore stiff jackets, waistcoats, and neck high cravats. The ladies, whose bosoms were exposed, also wore many layers. They had donned swaths of petticoats under their skirts, and wore long stockings and long gloves. One can imagine that with the press of bodies, heat from the candles, constant exertion in long dance sets, and frequent imbibing of alcohol that the assembly quickly felt heated.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was and how 300 candles and all that exertion might have heated the dancers.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was, and how the blaze from 300 candles and hours of exertion might have heated the dancers. I was amazed at the lack of evident sweat.

It was interesting to find out that everybody knew how a long a dance would last from the length and quality of the candles. There were four-hour candles and six-hour candles. For this production eight-hour candles were used.

The finest, most expensive and clean burning candles were made of beeswax. Up to 300 might be used for a ball – quite an expense, for the cost was around £15, or a year’s wages for a manservant. Less expensive (and smokier and stinkier) were tallow candles, which were purchased by the less wealthy. The very poor had to make do with rush sticks, which didn’t last very long.

Peoples’ wealth and position in the upper and gentry classes were evident from the outset. Hierarchy pervaded all strata of Regency society. Social signifiers included the materials used for clothes, their style and the embellishments they had personally chosen for their costumes, the cut of the material and garment, the very buttons they had on their costumes, and so on. These details would reveal not only their status but their personalities too.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made and reflected personal taste and input. In addition, the outfits “reflected the range of social rank and social division by cut, color, and texture.” Appearance meant everything at a ball. Many refashioned their frocks from hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin, creating “hybrid” fashions, for the value of these outfits lay in the material, not the design of the dress. Individual details and features were immediately evident to Jane Austen’s contemporaries, for fashion and jewelry represented a public display of one’s assets. Image @BBC2

Silk would be worn by Miss Bingley, for it was a rich and expensive fabric. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst would have worn the latest fashions from London, which is quite evident in the film costumes of Pride and Prejudice 1995. Lydia Bennet would have chosen a fine gown,  for she was fashion forward for a country girl (and her mama’s favorite), whereas Mrs. Bennet would have worn a print gown with a frilly but modest matronly cap that denoted her status as a woman with some authority. The Bingley sisters would have sneered at the simply styled hybrid dress that the Bennet sisters might have refashioned from a combination of old clothes and newer fabrics.  If you were a good needlewoman, such a gown might have been embellished with embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Shoes were changed in the cloak room, for some people walked quite a distance to get to the ball, and even soldiers exchanged their Hessian boots for dancing slippers. Over the course of the evening, delicate dance slippers might be worn down to a thread.

Historical makeup and rouge pots. Too much, and a lady might be labeled a trollop.

These are Sally Pointer’s historical makeup and rouge pots for rosy cheeks (even for the redcoats, like Wickham). Apply too much color and a lady might be labeled a trollop. Image @BBC2

Everything – one’s clothes, actions, and relationships – how you arrived at the ball – could be read and interpreted. This was one of the main points made by the programme.

It’s not so different today, really, is it Tony? At a glance we can tell who is fashion forward, who is a frump. Whose jewelry reeks of Tiffany’s and who shopped at Walmart. We know from each others speech, friends and business associations, educational background, and other social signifiers who belongs in our social strata and who does not. My mother especially had a keen sense of which of my suitors suited and who did not. Her primary social signifiers were persons of moral character and compassion. It was who that person was inside that mattered, not what they wore or what possessions they had acquired. I suspect that during the Regency such distinctions were also important. Jane Austen was a genius at distinguishing wheat from chaff, and ferreting out the foibles of her contemporaries.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns. The hooded cloaks reminded me of the medieval era and monks. Image@BBC2

I noticed how most of the actors in the production walked to the ball holding lanterns. Carriages were expensive. If possible, those who had carriages would arrange to pick others up and bring them. If not, the guests walked to the ball. A similar scene was shown in Becoming Jane, where guests arrived on foot and walked along a lane strung with lanterns. Back in those days balls were planned to coincide with a full moon for maximum light at night and for a bit of safety from bandits and robbers. One wonders about such well-laid plans in rainy England, where a blanket of storm clouds would block the moonlight and rain would soil the hems of delicate ball gowns.

The most interesting thing I found from the programme was the meaning of the dance. This Darcy quote, “every savage can dance,” is used to highlight that the dance alludes to something primal. Elizabeth and Darcy have their most unguarded conversation during a dance. Interestingly, the Savage Dance was a craze in 1813 and taken from a song and dance routine from a musical based on Robinson Crusoe.

Balls, to quote Amanda Vickery, were sexual arenas of social interaction. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth dance around their sexual attraction for each other. The truth is that in those days single men and well-protected young and unmarried ladies could not spend one moment in private with each other before they were officially engaged. But at a dance they could touch each other (through gloved hands) and flirt and talk at length without a chaperon breathing down their necks. The long dance sets were strenuous and required stamina, however. To quote Amanda Vickery, “The entire ball is hard work, with physical, social, and emotional investment and cost.” The cost being one of expenditure (looking one’s best) and exertion (maintaining one’s stamina.) 

dance chawton

Dancing the cotillion. Image @BBC2

Young ladies and young gentlemen practiced and prepared for the balls from childhood on. They had to be good and graceful at dancing to be admired and looked at. This was necessary for their futures, for they were actually dancing for their lives. You were likely to dance with a person from the same rank and expertise: they endured these dances for a very long time with one partner. There were moments of physical contact and movement. Aristocratic young men like Darcy sought strong and accomplished women to be the mother of their children for the sake of inheritance and future generations of their families. Young women needed to attract a good catch for their happiness and futures too. So much effort and hope was invested in the “ball,” for a girl’s future could be sealed at a dance.

No wonder the excitable Lydia Bennet went ballistic when the Netherfield Ball was announced! She was not only man crazy, but she had a competitive streak in her, frequently pitting herself against her older sisters. I was also struck by how much dancing masters could make per person from dance lessons. Every young boy and girl from a respectable family was expected to practice dance steps. It was quite a telling detail for Jane Austen’s contemporary readers that Mr. Collins is a poor dancer and that Mr. Elton exhibited such ungentlemanly conduct towards Miss Smith at the Crown Inn ball, where Mr. Knightley (a true knight in shining armour) came to her rescue and saved her from public humiliation. Mr. Elton’s reaction towards Miss Smith pointed out how much Emma misjudged Miss Smith’s tenuous connection to the gentry, for Mr. Elton thinks too highly of himself and his own social standing to ally himself to the bastard daughter of a gentleman.

 Alaister Sooke makes the comment that for all its finery and sophistication the ball (it was decorous and tightly controlled) was also primeval, with the subconscious very much in play. The way the dancers were dressed, with women revealing lots of cleavage and the men revealing their groins in tight-fitting trousers, was totally sexual in nature.

men's breeches

The dancers get fitted for their breeches, which revealed quite a bit of the male anatomy, especially the groin area. Image @BBC2.

You are so right, Tony. Let’s take the case of menswear ca. 1813. Although the colors were muted, the silhoutte was quite athletic. The front of a man’s coat was cut high so that his body was fully revealed in front from the waist down. Men tucked their long shirt tails between their legs, which served as underwear. Because their calves were exposed, it was important for men to dance well, since all their steps were in full view. Women’s legs were hidden by their skirts and they could make a mistake or two without much notice.  I was struck by how much the modern dancers enjoyed the evening and how much their costumes and the setting affected them.

corset

The ladies in the series wore authentic underwear. Underneath the muslins  and silks they wore undergarments consisting of a chemise and petticoat. There was actually a lot going on below the skirt, but the ladies  generally went knickerless. Even when women wore underdrawers, the crotch area remained open and they remained so until the late 19th c. or early 20th century.  Crotchless knickers were the norm! Image @BBC2

A courting couple made sure to reserve the supper dance for each other (or the dance just before the evening meal), for this meant that they could extend the time they spent together to include the meal, which was generally served at midnight. In the series, Ivan Day and his staff slaved to make the dishes, for they were served à la française (in the French style), or all at once. Preparing dishes for such a service required a great deal of skill and Herculean effort, for hot meals needed to be served hot, while delicate ices needed to remain frozen until they were consumed. At the dinner table in this special, a mild scene of chaos ensued, with servants bringing platters from one end of the table to the other, guests handing platters around, and others reaching across the table to sample a tidbit. Ragout of Veal, one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, was served. This dish was frequently mentioned by her, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. As an aside, one could readily discern at the supper ball which guests had manners and those who did not.

Ragout of

The ragout of veal at the supper dance was associated with high living. Image @BBC2

More on the topic:

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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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During the 18th century women wore a long flannel shift while bathing, sometimes with lead weights sewn into the hem to keep the skirts from floating up. (Word Wenches: Keeping It Clean.) In  Worn Through, Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell discusses monkeys in art in a blog entitled Monkeys a la mode. The creatures served as satirical stand-ins for humans, much as dogs did in satirical early 20th century poker paintings.

Bathing_scene

Image @Worn Through. Click on image to go to the source.

I found Chrisman-Campbell’s passage about the bath of particular interest:

The bath scene is a rare and realistic image of an eighteenth-century bathroom and bathing ritual; the monkey kicks off her red-heeled shoes (long before Louboutins, these signified that one had been presented at Versailles, an allusion to the family’s courtly connections) but she will wear her lace-trimmed white linen chemise in the tub.

One wonders how much the habit of wearing a bathing gown in a bath had to do with modesty. The time it took to prepare for a bath was long and arduous. Water had to be hauled from the well, heated in sufficient quantities, and then hauled up the stairs before the water cooled. One did not take a quick bath in such an instance, but would linger in the tub until the water became too cold for comfort. One imagines that a roaring fire kept the room (and bather) warm. In those days, aristocratic women entertained visitors in their dressing rooms while wearing elaborate dressing gowns. As shown in the scene below, they also entertained visitors while bathing.

Valmont_stills_21959

Annette Bening and Colin Firth in Valmont

In the  film Valmont, Bening’s Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil uses the bath as a prop to demonstrate her power and sexuality. Her bathing dress enhances her curves and disguises very little. This film clip shows one delicious bath scene.

 

In this image from Mr. Vernon, Martha Washington’s bathing dress is plain and pedestrian by comparison. It is a mystery to me why the bathing dress was worn, for anyone who has walked in the rain knows how quickly wet clothes can cool the skin. One can only imagine the chilling effect of wet cloth in drafty houses.

Bathing gown. Image @ Mount Vernon

Bathing gown. Image @ Mount Vernon

By the late 18th century/early 19th century, bathing dresses were fashionable at seaside resorts. One can readily understand why, for in the image below a man on horseback pulls the bathing machine into the water. The bather peeks out of the door, unwilling to expose herself until all was safe. In fashionable Brighton, men and women bathers were separated and swam from different beaches. Away from prying eyes, some women felt free to bathe nude.

TopILNewsBathingMachine

Tide Coming in Fast and a Jibbing Horse”, a 19th century engraving from the Illustrated London News which shows how a bathing machine was towed in and out of the sea by a man on horseback. Image @The Brighton Swimming Club

As you can see from this 1813 image from the Costumes of Yorkshire, many women still chose modesty over nudity. The dippers were female, and the male rider on horseback kept well away from view.

1813-From-The-costume-of-Yorkshire-illustrated-by-a-series-of-forty-engravings-being-fac-similes-of-original-drawings-500x351

Sea Bathing’ 1813 From “The costume of Yorkshire, illustrated by a series of forty engravings, being fac-similes of original drawings” NYPL Digital Collection

If modesty was the reason for wearing bathing costumes made from linen or cotton, then their purpose failed. As seen in this 1916 photograph, wet fabric didn’t hide the details of the nude body as much as accentuate the curves. The veiling was illusory and the result much sexier than the nude body itself.

bathing suit 1916

Wet suit 1916: Alfred Stieglitz(‘Ellen Koeniger’, 1916, gelatin silver photograph, 11.1 x 9.1, J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

In an interesting aside, this image of a medieval bath from Leeds Castle shows that bathing wasn’t always regarded as a harmful exercise by the British.

Medieval bath, Leeds Castle

Medieval bath, Leeds Castle

Read more about the seaside and seaside fashions on this blog to round out your knowledge of how the Regency folks enjoyed their seaside excursions:

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