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Image of the book cover Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken HodgeIt is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Jane Aiken Hodge’s (JAH) biography of Jane Austen is characterized by the biographer’s distinctive voice. It is as clear as spring water and as refreshing. She expertly braids a variety of sources consisting of biographies, articles, letters, and Austen’s own novels to tell us about the author’s life. JAH uses a straightforward yet descriptive writing style that takes us effortlessly through the stages of Austen’s personal journey, career, triumphs, and struggles.

Aiken Hodge’s descriptions paint a vivid word picture of a gifted author living the double life of a proper lady in a bygone era, who, unbeknownst to contemporary readers, chose career over marriage, a daring move in an age when genteel women were expected to marry, rule a household, and breed heirs and spares. JAH’s conclusions, although not footnoted like an academic, are laid out persuasively and supported by her choice of the source materials available to her in 1972, the year this biography was first published.

The book begins with a description of Steventon Rectory in the context of the rising middle class and rising costs of goods resulting from war, societal changes brought about by the industrial revolution, vast improvements in travel created by a network of canals and macademised roads, changes in fashion (barely mentioned by Austen), the advent of circulating libraries, and more.  Aiken Hodge describes a rural world where a stage coach clattering through a small village drowned out bird song or the voice of a farmer calling out to his cattle.

The elder Austens worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on their family’s backs. They performed double duty in almost all aspects of life. Rev. George Austen used his horse to plow his glebe land and perform the functions of his ministry. He was both a rector and the head of a small boarding school. Mrs. Austen oversaw the household, diary and chickens, and the children (including Rev. Austen’s male students) yet found the time to create recipes in rhymes.

Unlike many girls of their time, Jane and her older sister Cassandra were given free reign of Rev. Austen’s extensive library (books were extremely expensive in that era). Their hard-working and resourceful, parents still found time to join in the fun of riddles, charades, and plays and journey forth for family visits. Jane’s writings, actively encouraged by her family, are preserved in 3 volumes of her Juvenilia, which she painstakingly copied as an adult. The Austen family adored reading novels, hence the title of this book, Only a Novel. This was an age when reading novels over serious fiction and nonfiction was a habit akin to liking reality tv today over serious, well-researched documentaries. (I humbly confess to still watching ‘Survivor’.)

The difference between the Austen boys’ freedom and her own and Cassandra’s must have rankled Jane, whose independent career choice was curtailed by conventions. Sons could ride horses and carriages and venture forth at will. Their actions were unrestrained compared to the girls’ strict upbringing. JAH describes at great length how both Jane and Cassandra could not travel unescorted. In order to arrange for transportation, they had to wait for proper chaperonage, even if this meant delaying a return trip for weeks.

We know today that through her novels and letters Jane displayed a lively and irreverent sense of humor. In public, however, she presented herself as quiet and restrained, especially after she donned a spinster’s cap and had given up all pretense of seeking a husband. Before the publication of her first novel, friends and neighbors knew Jane to be friendly yet unobtrusive. (Her family knew an entirely different and much livelier Jane.) After Pride and Prejudice and subsequent novels were published, acquaintances and neighbors became more cautious around this keen, sometimes acerbic observer, thus the full title of this biography, Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen.

Aiken Hodge compares the rural settings of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage to the city settings of Bath and London and the hectic, at times unpredictable, pace of her visits to family houses and friends. These events, including the shock of moving to Bath, Rev. Austen’s sudden death, and the Austen women’s peripatetic life for eight years, stood in the way of Jane’s creativity. Fortunately for posterity, her move to rural Chawton Cottage in 1809 spawned her productive period – her reworking of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey, and creation of Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, all masterpieces. These days we can also enjoy her incomplete works (Lady Susan and Sanditon ) and her Juvenilia. While this period in Austen’s life was adequately covered by Jane Aiken Hodge, especially regarding Jane’s relationship with her publishers (through her male relatives) and quest for an independent living as a single woman, I longed for more details, but I quibble. Aiken Hodge’s description of Chawton Cottage, which sat so close to Winchester Road (and which ran through Chawton Village), allowed passersby to view the Austen women dining intimately in the dining room or conversing, was like a snapshot in time.

Jane Austen’s fatal disease, characterized more by fatigue than pain (and still studied by modern diagnosticians), took her family a long time to accept as dire. Aiken Hodge writes about the events leading to Jane’s death without over-emotional hand wringing. Her restrained description of Austen’s last days allowed my imagination to take hold. I cried once again at my and the world’s loss of this talented author at the height of her writing power. Almost as an afterthought, JAH mentioned that only four male mourners (brothers Edward, Henry, and Frank, and nephew James-Edward) were present at her funeral, whereas neither her mother nor sister could attend, as it was not the custom of females to accompany the funeral cortege.

JAH concludes her biography by describing Austen’s close relationships with her family (she and sister Cassandra were “everything to each other”), including her nieces and nephews. She had, through these associations, a special affinity with children. I was struck by this recollection from a nephew after her death:

He expected particular happiness in that house [Chawton] and found it there no longer. The laughter had died…”

JAH concluded that the laughter lives on through Austen’s novels and characters. Letters saved by her kin and memoirs published after her death preserved precious memories before all first-hand memories about her were lost.

Image of Only a Novel by Jane Aiken Hodge with reviewer notesCompared to Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life (1999), which is filled with images and illustrations and attachments with postscripts, two appendices, page notes, bibliography, family tree, and index consisting of 73 pages, Aiken Hodge’s Only A Novel provides six pages of notes and bibliography. Instead, JAHs bibliography uses the memoirs, letters, histories, biographies, and papers available to her in the early 70’s.  I loved reading this biography. From the photo on the right, you can see by the sticky notes how much interesting information I found. Aiken Hodge’s lovely writing style suits me to a tee. I also own another JAH biography, the wonderfully illustrated The Private World of Georgette Heyer, published in 1984 and which I have kept all these years. Only A Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen is worth every penny of its purchase and has become a grand addition to my Austen library.

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Image of author Jane Aiken Hodge

Jane Aiken Hodge

Jane Aiken Hodge was born in Massachusetts but moved with her family to East Sussex in Britain when she was three years old. After reading English in Somerville College, Oxford, she moved to the US to undertake a second degree at Radcliffe College. Whilst she was there, she spent time as a civil servant and worked for Time Magazine before returning to the UK to focus on her career as a novelist. In 1972 she became a British citizen. She is the daughter of the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Conrad Aiken.

Aiken Hodge is known for her works of historical romance. In a career spanning nearly fifty years, she published over thirty novels, exploring contemporary settings and the detective genre in her later life. She died in 2009, aged ninety-two.

Purchase the book:

Product details:

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Agora Books (April 25, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1913099253
  • ISBN-13: 978-1913099251

Hashtag:  Please use the hashtag #OnlyANovel when posting or talking about Only a Novel on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Also, make sure you tag us – @AgoraBooksLDN on Twitter and Instagram!

Good news for Janeites who live within striking distance of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD! At 7:00 PM EST on April 29th, the Bird in Hand, a cafe/bookstore, will be offering the first in a series of workshops on the last Monday of each month in the public humanities. Sponsored by the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore-based professors and students will share new work in the public humanities and oriented toward broader public audiences. The intimate setting is meant to encourage public feedback and critical dialogue. One guest lecturer will be Juliette Wells, author of ‘Reading Austen in America’ (see Project MUSE’s review of the book at this link and purchase the book at this link to Amazon prime.

Date: Monday, April 29, 2019 –
Time: 7:00pm,
Place: Bird in Hand, 11 E. 33rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Excerpt from the advert from the Ivy Bookshop:

Just over a century after Jane Austen’s death in 1817, devoted readers sought out her letters and personal possessions, as well as first and rare editions of her novels. Alberta Hirshheimer Burke, Goucher College class of 1928, built the most extensive collection in the U.S. of Austen manuscripts, editions, translations, and ephemera–plus one famous relic, a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, which made international news when Mrs. Burke donated it to the Jane Austen House in Chawton, England. Second only to Mrs. Burke’s was the collection formed by Charles Beecher Hogan, Yale class of 1928, which included the topaz cross necklace owned by Austen. Drawing on new research in the two collectors’ personal archives, this presentation establishes the importance to Austen reception history of their pursuit of items that held great personal importance to them.

Event Topic (click on links):

 

Other posts on the topic of Jane Austen’s letters and personal possessions and Jane Austen scholars:

Inquiring readers, Brenda Cox has contributed yet another fascinating post. This one is about Jane Austen’s cross-stitched sampler. Is it hers or not? Find out as Ms. Cox explores the possibilities using an extensive amount of research and conversations with Jane Austen expert Deirdre Le Faye. Find her blog Faith, Science, Joy, … and Jane Austen at this link.

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Did Jane Austen stitch this sampler? (Photos are of a reproduction. The white marks below the word “out” are damage to the print, not the sampler.)

Someone named Jane Austen stitched this lovely, well-worn sampler in 1797 or 1787. It is cross-stitched on linen, mostly in plum and green silk, with quotes from the Psalms. The text says 1797, but may have originally said 1787. Stitches below the 9 seem to have been picked out or frayed.  If it was done in 1787, Jane Austen would have been almost twelve years old. It appears the stitching could have been done by a girl around that age.

I have a reproduction of the sampler which I bought at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath some years ago. They no longer offer it. The original is in a private collection, though it was displayed at Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 2012. But was the sampler stitched by the novelist Jane Austen?

Samplers

In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland he was at Oxford while she was “a good little girl working [her] sampler at home.” (“Not very good, I’m afraid,” Catherine responds.)  Girls often stitched samplers as a way of learning sewing and the alphabet.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton displays a sampler worked by Jane’s sister Cassandra, or possibly by their niece of the same name. Many samplers of the time were much like Cassandra’s. They display different stitches, alphabets, and numbers. The young lady could refer to her sampler later when she did more complex projects or stitched initials on items of clothing.

Picture 2 Cassandra's Sampler

Cassandra Austen’s Sampler. Courtesy of Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton

Picture 3 Jane Austen sampler - alphabet

Alphabet at the top of the Jane Austen Sampler. Letters in between each pair are in a lighter, faded color. The P’s are backwards here, but correct in the verses below.

The two samplers are about the same size. Both are about 10” wide and 11 to 12” high. The capital letters on the Jane Austen sampler are very similar to the smaller cross-stitched capital letters on Cassandra’s sampler. (Cassandra’s larger capitals are sewn with a different stitch.) These were probably standard styles of stitching.

Much of the Jane Austen sampler is different from Cassandra’s, though, since it quotes from the Psalms. This helped the stitcher learn Bible verses along with the alphabet.

Why the Psalms? Austen’s Church of England used The Book of Common Prayerfor worship. It includes daily readings from the Psalms, taken from the 1535 Coverdale translation of the Bible. The whole book of Psalms is read every month, so it was very familiar to Austen and her family. The sampler quotes various verses, in no particular order. Each line starts with a capital letter, but most verses do not start a new line.

The Verses from the Psalms

Picture 4 Jane Austen sampler - Psalms

The verses from the Psalms are in a continuous stream.

The following verses are quoted. Some are not exact quotes from the Psalms in the prayer book.

Praise the Lord o my Soul and all that is within me Praise his holy Name (Ps. 103:1)

as long as I live will I praise The Lord I will give thanks unto God while I have My Being (paraphrased fromPs. 104:33, “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live : I will praise my God while I have my being.”)

sing unto the Lord o ye Kingdoms of the Earth o sing praise unto the Lord (paraphrased from Ps. 68:32 “Sing unto God, O ye kingdoms of the earth : O sing praises unto the Lord”)

Give the Lord the Honour doe [?] unto his Name worship the Lord with holy Worship (Psalm 29:2, with “doe” substituted for “due”)

in the Time of trouble I will call upon the Lord and he will hear me (from Ps 86:7 “In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee : for thou hearest me.”)

Turn thy Face from my Sins and put out all my Misdeeds (Ps 51:9)

Picture 5 Jane Austen sampler - trees and name and more


A border of flowers (or possibly geometric shapes) surrounds the Psalms.  Below are flowering trees with a bird, and “Jane Austen, 1797.

Is this Jane Austen the novelist, or another Jane Austen?

Deirdre Le Faye, an expert on Jane Austen, believes that the stitcher was another Jane Austen, probably a second cousin of the author of Pride and Prejudice. These are her arguments, followed by my own, definitely non-expert, thoughts:

  1. The date is 1797, but appears to have originally been 1787. Sometimes a date on a sampler would be changed to make a woman appear to be younger than she was.  Le Faye asks, “Would the eminently honest and straightforward Austens have bothered with such a petty deception?”

I agree that this seems out of character for Jane Austen and her family. However, descriptions I have seen of the sampler say some of the stitching has “come away.” It may be that it was not purposely changed, but that the stitches came loose over time. The sampler has been folded and somewhat damaged. The “9” (or “8”) is at the center, possibly on a fold line. The “A” directly above the number is also not very clear.

Picture 6 Jane Austen sampler - name and date


Closeup of name and date

2. The verses seem to be chosen haphazardly and are all run together.  There is also a simple spelling error (“doe” for “due”), which Le Faye thinks our Jane Austen would not have made. Le Faye asks, “Would Jane—bright as we know she was in her childhood—have copied texts inaccurately from the psalms in her Prayerbook?”

Perhaps the young Jane Austen would not have made such a spelling error. However, there are misspellings and random capitalizations in her early Juvenilia. Also, the single stitch that makes the middle letter of “due” into an “o” is very tiny, like all the cross stitches on this small sampler. It is not very clear on my reproduction, and at first I thought it was a “u” but a bit blurred. It may be a stitching error rather than a spelling error.

The inaccuracy of the texts is a bigger issue, and it does seem odd that the verses are all run together. The changes within the verses are minor, as you can see above.  These verses would have been very familiar to the Austen family, who probably read from the Psalms daily. So we might have expected Jane to stitch them correctly. However, perhaps they were familiar enough that Jane was stitching them from memory. We know she was creative and imaginative. She may have been stitching verses as they came to mind, in ways that resonated with her. The meanings are expressed well.

On the other hand, even at a young age, it does seem more likely that “our” Jane Austen would have put the verses together in a more organized, accurate fashion. Deirdre Le Faye adds that, since Jane’s father was a rector, he probably would have corrected any mistakes that she made in quoting the Psalms. He might even have helped her choose verses to include.

 

3. The main issue is the provenance (the history of ownership) of the sampler. According to an earlier article that Le Faye refers to, in 1976 the sampler was “owned by a Mrs Molly Proctor, who was given it by Mrs I. Thompson of Rochester, whose grandfather, Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable, was a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” It was sold at auction in 1996 for 2,185 pounds.

This provenance was passed down orally and not in writing. There is no indication of who the cousin might be.  Austen had only a few first cousins: Eliza de Feuillide, Jane and Edward Cooper, James and Phylly Walter. Le Faye continues, “Only Edward Cooper and James Walter left descendants, all of whom lived in the Midlands” (central England).

Whitstable, mentioned in the provenance of the sampler, is quite some distance away, on the coast of northern Kent in southeastern England (north of Canterbury).  There is no record of any cousins of the Steventon Austen family living in that area. And the name “Frederick Nicholls” is not found among the Austen relations in R. A. Austen-Leigh’s Pedigree of Austen. So it seems unlikely that Nicholls was connected with the novelist Jane Austen in a different part of the country.

Le Faye therefore suggests that the sampler was probably done by a different woman named Jane Austen, of a similar age, in Kent. She gives two possibilities:

  • There was an Austen family in Ramsgate and Loose, near Maidstone in Kent. They were related to the Austens of Steventon through a sixteenth-century ancestor. It’s possible they had their own “Jane Austen.”
  • Jane Austen did have a second cousin named Jane Austen who lived in Kent. They had the same great-grandfather, John Austen IV of Broadford, who died in 1704. His son Francis Austen had a son named Francis-Motley Austen (1747-1815) who lived at Kippington near Sevenoaks in Kent. Francis-Motley had a daughter named Jane Austen. She lived from 1776 (the year after the novelist Jane was born) until 1857. This Jane Austen married William-John Campion in 1797 and had children. It’s possible that she stitched the sampler and left it to relatives who passed it down through the family.

The two Jane Austens probably met in 1788, when the George Austen family visited Jane’s great-uncle Francis Austen and his family at Sevenoaks. Our Jane was twelve, her second cousin Jane about a year younger.  We don’t know what they thought of each other.

At this point there is no definitive proof as to whether the sampler was sewn by “our” Jane Austen, by her second cousin in Kent, or by some other Jane Austen.

At the very least we can say that it was a sampler stitched at around the same time as our Jane Austen probably made her own, and most likely somewhere in southern England. It may have been in a similar style to whatever sampler she sewed. And she or one of her relatives may have stitched it. So we can enjoy it as another small window into Jane Austen’s world.

 (By the way, is there a genealogist out there who can track down a Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who was a grandson of a cousin of a Jane Austen? A Jane Austen who was a young girl in 1787 or 1797? Which Jane Austen was she?)

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Her previous contribution to this blog can be found at this link: George Austen’s Spiritual Advice to his Son Francis Austen. 

Sources

“Which Jane Austen Stitched this Sampler?” by Deirdre Le Faye.  Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society, Vol. 5 (1996-2000), pp 233-35. Also personal correspondence with Deirdre Le Faye.

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1913), discusses the “Motley Austen” branch of the family in chapters 1 and 4.

Jane Austen: A Family Record by Deirdre Le Faye (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2004) mentions the family of the other Jane Austen (the second cousin) on pages 2-3, 64, and 78.

More on the Topic

Sanders-JaneAustenforKidsInquiring readers,

In this blog post (to wind up women’s history month), author Nancy Sanders discusses her new book Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings and World, with 21 activities, which teaches young readers about our favorite novelist through 21 enriching activities that help them gain a better understanding of what day-to-day life in the Georgian era was like. Activities include learning to play whist, designing their own family coat of arms, planting a Georgian-style kitchen garden, hosting a Regency tea, sewing a reticule, and more.

I am pleased to announce that the publisher has agreed to give away two free copies of the book. Please leave a comment to enter the contest and let us know which activity you would introduce to children to learn more about Georgian life! Winners will be drawn via random number generator 7 AM EST USA April 1st. (US readers only, please). You may leave as many comments as you like. NOTICE: Contest is closed as of 10 AM April 1. The winners are: Rona Shirdan and DanelleinKansas

Ms. Sanders sent us information about her new book and her splendid visit to Winchester. Enjoy!

When I signed the contract to write a biography of Jane Austen for young people, it was a thrilling day indeed! The deadline was set when the final manuscript would be due at the editor’s desk, and I dove into my project.

 

How diverting it was to read and reread Jane’s delightful novels, watch and watch again the amazing variety of movies based on her books, and pour over biographies others had written about our favorite author.

 

Several months into my deep research, however, I discovered a treasure that changed my course. Shortly after my manuscript was due at the publisher, all England would be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s legacy to the world.

 

On July 18, 2017, Winchester Cathedral planned to host private services at Jane’s grave followed in the evening by a Choral Evensong honoring this amazing woman.

 

Would I be there to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event? Could I be there? I called my editor and got my deadline extended to include this unexpected trip. My husband Jeff and I booked an exclusive tour with JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America). Upon my word, we were excited to participate in the gala celebrations and all-things-Jane!

1_P1040161_WINCHESTER_CATHEDRAL[1]

All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

July 18, 2017 dawned sunny and fair. I entered the hushed halls of Winchester Cathedral with Jeff and my tour group whom we had just met the night before. Our capable and enthusiastic group leader was Liz Philosophos Cooper, a Janeite from a family of Janeites who was destined to become the very next President of JASNA!

2_P1030843_nave[1]

All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We were led through the magnificent nave of the cathedral and stood next to Jane’s grave. Canon Sue Wallace greeted us and shared inspirational words about Jane and how her faith shaped Jane’s thoughts, actions, and writings. Along with the other members of our tour group, Jeff and I placed a rose on Jane’s grave.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

It was 200 years ago, this very day, that our beloved Jane passed quietly away. After the graveside service finished, we lingered nearby.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a beautiful bust of Jane displayed in the nave. I stopped and looked into Jane’s eyes.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

There was a memory book to sign. The BBC radio interviewed several of us on our way out. The only way I could force myself to leave was knowing that in the evening we would return back to the cathedral for yet another special event once again in honor of Jane.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

We traced the route the small funeral procession probably took on the day of Jane’s funeral. The short walk led us to College Street where the house still stands that Jane and her sister Cassandra rented during Jane’s last days.

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

I stood at the front door of this historic landmark…remembering the letter her sister wrote to inform the family of Jane’s last moments…remembering the description she gave of the small sad funeral procession that departed from this door…

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All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A dog looked down at me and at our tour group who was visiting this house. What was the dog thinking? What did Jane think as she looked out onto this street during her final days? What did Cassandra think 200 years ago as she chose to stay behind from the funeral and looked out on this street to whisper her final good-byes to the sister she had so dearly loved? I longed to switch places with the dog for just a moment to catch a glimpse of the same view these two sisters shared during those heartbreaking times.

9_P1040124_website_film_crew[1]

All photos from Winchester Cathedral by author, courtesy of the Winchester Cathedral.

A film crew arrived and set up their equipment to begin filming. This was an important day in history. Two hundred years ago this very day, one of English literature’s greatest authors passed quietly away into the halls of eternity. Although practically unknown, Jane Austen was given a stately burial site in the magnificent Winchester Cathedral. Somehow, someone recognized the treasures this self-taught genius and amazing woman had given to England…and the world. They gave her a final resting place where Janeites from around the globe could come show their love and respect…as did I and hundreds of others on this unforgettable day.

Thank you Nancy, for this wonderful description of your visit to Winchester and these excellent photos! Don’t forget to leave your comment, readers, for a chance of winning one of two copies of this book. (U.S. readers are eligible only)

___________

About the author:

Nancy I. SAnders is the author of many books, including Frederick Douglas for Kids, America’s Black Founders, A Kid’s Guide to African American History and Old Testament Days. She lives in Chino, California.

About the book: 

Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World, with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. Chicago Review Press, Distributed by IPG Publication Date: February 5, 2019, 144 pages. Two color interior, ages 9 & up. ISBN: 978-1-61373-853-5

Other posts about Winchester on this blog:

 

 

 

 

“Memorandums for the use [of] Mr. F. W. Austen on his going to the East Indies Mids[hip]man on board his Majesty’s Ship Perseverance Cap: [Sm]ith Decr. 1788”

Thus begins a letter from Jane Austen’s father to her older brother Francis. Francis, who Jane called Frank, went to sea at age 14. He had been at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth (home town of Fanny Price of Mansfield Park) for two and a half years.

Photo 1 Lieutenant Francis Austen

Lieutenant Francis Austen, 1796, about eight years after his father sent this letter

Their father had written to Francis regularly at school. He now felt that his son needed to know more about subjects “of the greatest importance”—his relationships with God and with people.

Francis apparently treasured this letter. There is even fire damage on some of the folds, since he had it with him on shipboard. It was found among his papers when he died at age 91.

His descendants quoted much of the letter in the book Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers. However, they did not quote the second paragraph. Instead they summarized it as “some well-chosen and impressive injunctions on the subject of his [George Austen’s] son’s religious duties.” (They also left out a few later parts of the letter, such as George telling his son to keep himself clean and take care of his teeth!) We can learn a lot about the Austen family’s religious beliefs and practices from the missing second paragraph.

The “Memorandums”

At the end of the first paragraph, George Austen says his son’s own “good sense & natural Judgment of what is right” will guide him in specific circumstances. Then he writes with more general advice:

“The first & most important of all considerations to a human Being is Religion, or the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves – In each of these your Catechism instructs you, & for what is further necessary to be known on this subject in general, & on Christianity in particular I must refer you to that part of the Elegant Extracts where you have Passages from approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice. To these I refer you & recommend them to your frequent & attentive perusal; observing only on this head, that as you must be well convinced how wholly you depend on God for success in all your undertakings, you will easily see that you are bound in interest as well as duty regularly to address yourself to him in Prayer, Night & Morning; thankfully acknowledging the Blessings you have received already & humbly beseeching his future favor & protection. Now this is a Duty which nothing can excus[e t]he omission of times of the greatest hurry will not hinder a well dis[pose]d mind from fulfilling it – for a short Ejaculation to the Almig[ht]y, when it comes from the heart will be as acceptable to him as the most elegant & studied form of Words.” (The parts in [brackets] are damaged areas of the letter.)

Photo 2 Rev. George Austen 1763

Reverend George Austen, rector of Steventon and Deane

Jane and Francis Austen grew up in a very religious household. Their father was a clergyman, a priest in the Church of England. Some clergymen at this time saw their job simply as a source of income, and did the minimum they could. In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford assumes that Edmund Bertram will be such a clergyman. But Edmund is determined to live among his people and set a good example for them—as George Austen actually did in his parish.

Religious Duties and the Catechism

Reverend Austen begins by telling his son that religion is the most important thing in life. Jane Austen echoes this belief in Mansfield Park. Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” (Italics added.) Religion meant religious practices and teachings; morals (which Austen also called “good principles”)  were inward knowledge of right and wrong, based on religion; and manners were outward actions towards other people (not just politeness).

Rev. Austen similarly defines religion as “the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves.” In other words, religion includes both what people believe and how they act based on their beliefs.

He says the Catechism teaches these duties. Frank and Jane would have memorized the Catechism from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. In it, the child recites the Ten Commandments, which teach a person’s duty towards God and towards their neighbour.

Photo 3 Book of Common Prayer Cover page

The Book of Common Prayer, 1762, which includes the Catechism that George Austen refers to

When the child is asked what his duty is toward God, he responds,

“My duty towards God, is to believe in him, to fear him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship him, to give him thanks, to put my whole trust in him, to call upon him, to honour his holy Name and his Word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life.” (This is considered to be a summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments.)

The child is then asked what his duty is toward his neighbour. He answers,

“My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the King, and all that are put in authority under him: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt no body by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet, nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.” (This section is based on the last six of the Ten Commandments.)

Jane Austen refers to some of these duties in Sense and Sensibility. When Marianne Dashwood repents of her failures, she says, “Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged.” She has failed in her duties to love her neighbour as herself and “to hurt no body by word or deed,” as the Catechism says.

The Catechism refers to one’s “betters” and one’s “state of life.” In Austen’s England, each person was believed to have a specific God-ordained place in society.  George Austen later advises his son on the “three Orders of Men” he will encounter: his superior officers, his “Equals,” and his “Inferiors.” He recommends treating them with respect and kindness.

The Catechism doesn’t specifically address our duty “to ourselves,” as George Austen says. However, it does say “To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity.” That means to care for oneself by not eating or drinking too much or indulging in sex outside of marriage. Later in the letter Rev. Austen says that Frank already knows that soberness is important for his health, morals, and fortune.

George Austen probably thought that doing our duty to God and to man would also be a way of doing our duty to ourselves. The Austens were familiar with Thomas Secker’s Lectures on the Catechism, which Jane Austen owned. The introductory lecture states that “the happiness of all Persons depends beyond Comparison chiefly on being truly religious.” Rev. Austen also points out that if Frank treats others well it will add to his “present happiness & comfort” as well as his “future well-doing.”

Elegant Extracts

Rev. Austen told his son to read Elegant Extracts frequently and attentively.  It contained “approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice.” Elegant Extracts was a large schoolbook with a wide variety of selections from books and essays. The first section contained 135 “Moral and Religious” writings (in the second edition, 1784). More than 40 were from sermons by Hugh Blair.

Photo 4 Elegant Extracts

Elegant Extracts: This 1784 edition is probably the one Francis Austen owned.

Hugh Blair was a Scottish Presbyterian minister whose books of sermons were very popular. Jane Austen enjoyed reading sermons, as many people did in that time. Clergymen often read other men’s sermons from the pulpit. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says a preacher should have the sense to preach from Blair’s Sermons rather than writing his own. (Blair also wrote a book on rhetoric which is mentioned in Northanger Abbey. It is quoted extensively in the introduction to Elegant Extracts.)

Blair’s first entry in Elegant Extracts emphasizes that those in any “station of life” who work hard and do right will prosper. However, those who seek only their own amusement will end up miserable. Other extracts address topics like contentment and cheerfulness.  In his letter, George Austen also stresses these themes.

It seems surprising that Rev. Austen recommended Elegant Extracts for religious instruction rather than the Bible. However, some Christian groups in Austen’s time interpreted the Bible in ways that did not fit the Austens’ orthodox Anglican faith. Therefore he may have preferred that Frank read “approved” interpretations. Or perhaps he thought his 14-year-old son might more easily understand Elegant Extracts, which was intended for schoolboys.

Prayer 

Finally, George Austen gives Frank specific instructions on prayer.

  • Why should Frank pray? Because he depends completely on God for any success in whatever he does; he needs God’s help. The Catechism also says that people need God’s grace to keep his commandments. It gives the Lord’s Prayer as a way to ask for that help.
  • When should he pray? Every night and morning, even in “times of the greatest hurry.” The Church of England follows a liturgy. Sets of prayers are read each day, along with Bible readings that change throughout the year. Austen’s family probably read “Morning Prayer” and “Evening Prayer” together daily from The Book of Common Prayer. These also include the Lord’s Prayer, which is at the end of each of the prayers Jane Austen herself wrote.
  • How should he pray? When he can’t pray from the prayer book, his father tells Frank that a brief cry to God from his heart will be just as acceptable as the formal words of the prayer book.
  • What should he pray for? He should give thanks for the blessings he has received in the past, and ask God for favor and protection in the future. This is also a way of doing his “duty to God” as the Catechism states.

 

Photo 5 Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen, later Admiral of the Fleet

Francis Austen went on to great honors in his profession, becoming Senior Admiral of the Fleet shortly before he died. He was known as a very religious officer, who never swore or allowed others to swear. His ships were considered “praying ships,” and he was known as “the officer who knelt in church.” He apparently took his father’s example and advice to heart.

__________

With grateful acknowledgment to Deirdre LeFaye, who provided a transcript of George Austen’s letter, and to Admiral Sir Francis Austen’s great-great-granddaughter, who gave permission to reproduce this section of the letter.

About Brenda S. Cox:

Brenda S. Cox writes at brendascox.wordpress.com on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

Sources and Further Reading

Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J. H. Hubback and Edith C. Hubback, 1906.  www.mollands.net/etexts/jasb/jasb2.html   Available at mollands.net, at google books, and at archive.org . You can read most of the letter in this book.

Elegant Extracts by Vicesimus Knox. London: Charles Dilly, 1784. 2nd edition. archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94215/. The Blair quote is from extract 26.

The Book of Common Prayer. Cambridge: Baskerville, 1762. books.google.com/books/about/The_Book_of_Common_Prayer_and_Administra.html?id=_sYUAAAAQAAJ The Catechism is on p. 359 ff. of this scanned file.

Lectures on the Catechism, by Thomas Secker. London: Rivington, 1771. archive.org/details/lecturesoncatech01seck/page/n13

“Reading Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer.” brendascox.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/reading-prayers-the-book-of-common-prayer/

“Jane Austen Faith Word: Duty, and Anne Elliot” brendascox.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/jane-austen-faith-word-duty-and-anne-elliot/

Marianne Dashwood’s Repentance, Willoughby’s ‘Repentance,’ and The Book of Common Prayer.“ Persuasions On-line Winter 2018. jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/volume-39-no-1/cox/

“Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers: Francis and Charles in Life and Art,” by Brian Southam. Persuasions 25. jasna.org/publications/persuasions/no25/southam/

“Sir Francis William Austen: Glimpses of Jane’s Sailor Brother in Letters” janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/sir-francis-william-austen-glimpses-of-janes-sailor-brother-in-letters/

“Jane Austen’s Seagoing Brothers, Francis and Charles” https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/janes-seagoing-brothers-francis-and-charles/

Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter by Irene Collins. London: Hambledon, 2007. amazon.com/dp/1852855622/

Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018. amazon.com/dp/B07D6Y5P14/

 

 

 

Inquiring readers,

Sourcebooks Landmark have agreed to offer Karen Wasylowski’s first book ‘Darcy and Fitzwilliam’ for free for the week of March 11 to March 18. Read more about the author’s latest novel, then find out how to access a free kindle book version from Amazon!

KarenVWasylowski_SaintsAndSinners_HR (2)

Saints and Sinners

In my first book, Darcy & Fitzwilliam (a continuation of Pride and Prejudice) the romance of Pride and Prejudice continues with the marriage of Lizzy and Darcy, showing the couple newlywed and starry eyed – when into the mix rides Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s cousin and closest friend. Where Darcy is aloof, proud and elegant, Fitzwilliam is gregarious, charming and a rascal. ‘Darcy and Fitzwilliam’ is unique in that it is also a ‘bromance,’ a story about two men who had grown up together – bonding like brothers, fighting like rivals.  

Darcy and Fitzwilliam then spawned a series of books, a Family Saga really, beginning with Sons & Daughters the story of the two young families, the Darcy’s and the Fitzwilliam’s, and their increasing numbers of children, the terrors of parenthood, the vitality of young couples loving each other and arguing just as fiercely, and little children discovering the wonder of the world.

After Sons and Daughters came my third book, Wives and Lovers. In Wives and Lovers the Darcy and Fitzwilliam children are adults venturing out into the world, falling in love, experiencing heartbreaks and joys. Life happens with or without our permission, good and bad, and families go on.

And now Saints & Sinners.

Saints and Sinners begins with the death of Prince Albert at 42 years of age, an event that stunned an already reeling nation. Prince Albert had taken over many of Queen Victoria’s duties as their large family grew and his passing came at a dangerous time. Tensions were exploding with America and another war threatened.

It is into this time frame the families return as Colonel Fitzwilliam’s volatile, passionate son, Matthew, confronts the woman he loved and lost years before to his rival… while his twin brother, Mark, the steadier of the two, decides to give up waiting for true love to find him, and will settle in marriage with an old friend. As always nothing turns out as planned with the loves, laughs, tears and surprises of life pushing and pulling the families in directions they never saw coming.

Karen Wasylowski author page: author.to/KarenWasylowski

darcy and fitzwilliamDARCY AND FITZWILLIAM WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR FREE FROM MARCH 11 TO MARCH 18, 2019! at Sourcebooks Landmark

 

Previous interview on this blog:

Interview with Karen V. Wasylowski, Author of Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer, from the desk of Shelley de Wees, Feb, 2011

winter spruce branches-vjs

Image of evergreen branches © Vic Sanborn

Inquiring readers,
Spruce beer was a popular beverage during Jane Austen’s lifetime. On December 9, 1808, Austen wrote her sister Cassandra from Castle Square:

But all this,” as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, “is flight and fancy, and nonsense, for my master has his great casks to mind and I have my little children.” It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask for we are brewing spruce beer again.”

(More about this quote later)

 

About spruce beer

According to Wikipedia, spruce beer describes an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink that is made from the buds and needles of spruce trees. The flavor depends on which species of spruce grows near the brewer, the season in which the needles and buds are collected, and the recipe used in the preparation.
The taste of spruce beer varies. Some describe a pleasant spruce tip bitterness to the alcoholic version, while another source states that spruce beer soda, a non-alcoholic soda largely made in Canada, tastes like

a Christmas tree in a glass … The soda itself was very effervescent and light, with very sharp flavor. It tasted like the smell of Vicks VapoRub and pine needles.” – Eater

Images of spruce beer show a dark brown-greenish concoction, which isn’t attractive to my eye but pleases a variety of palates. According to Andrew Schloss in an article for The Splendid Table, the taste of the “piney turpene flavor, ” reminiscent of the “essence of the forest,” is an acquired one.

 

A short history of spruce beer

Martin Cornell in “A Short History of Spruce Beer Part Two: The North American Connection” quotes Swedish-Finish botanist Pehr Kalm about the discovery of spruce beer by French, Dutch, and British settlers as early as the 17th century. Kalm wrote in letters to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:

Spruce beer is chiefly used by the French in Canada; a considerable quantity is indeed made by the Dutch who live round Hudson’s river, in the most Northern parts, but the English seldom have it except in New England and New Scotland; because in Canada the tree is very common…”

The botanist visited the colonies from 1748-1752 when he observed that French Canadians largely drank spruce beer. The origins of spruce beer are not quite clear. According to Jim Dykstra in “A History of Spruce Beer,” Beer Connoisseur, 11/07/2016,

spruce beer has been around for quite some time. Depending on who you ask, it was either first made by indigenous North Americans pre-European Scandinavians – “Vikings purportedly brewed it for fertility and strength in battle.” – Jim Dykstra, A History of Spruce Beer: Old World Cheer, or Any Time of Year 

jane-austen-brewercol-vjsmed

Drawing © Vic Sanborn

Spruce beer was consumed to ward off scurvy

In the 18th Century the British navy encouraged drinking spruce beer as a treatment for scurvy. (Spruce and other evergreens, such as hemlock pine and juniper were used as sources for Vitamin C. – Small Beer Press). Captain James Cook wrote in Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784),

Besides fish, we had other refreshments in abundance. Scurvy-grass, celery and portable soup were boiled every day with the wheat and pease; and we had spruce beer for our drink. Such a regimen soon removed all seeds of the scurvy from our people, if any of them had contracted it. “– April Fulton, Don’t Waste That Christmas Tree: Turn it Into Spruce Beer, NPR

Fulton states that the connection between spruce beer and scurvy prevention, while strongly supported in the 18th and 19th centuries, has largely been debunked by modern medicine, since fermentation destroys vitamin C.  In “A History of Spruce Beer,” Jim Dykstra writes that the beer wasn’t always alcoholic and that native Americans tended to use spruce infusions, whereas colonists brewed and boiled the beverage, which significantly reduced its ability to prevent scurvy.

Still, the connection between spruce beer and Jane Austen’s sailor brothers, and the Georgian belief that the beer was a sort of elixir for scurvy cannot be ignored. European sailors spread word about spruce beer around the world. (Dykstra) Sadly, the recipe that Austen used is lost to time, but Benjamin Franklin, who was introduced to the beer during his stay in France (1776-1777) shared a recipe in French:

Way of Making Beer with Essence of Spruce:
For a Cask containing 80 bottles, take one pot of Essence and 13 Pounds of Molases. – or the same amount of unrefined Loaf Sugar; mix them well together in 20 pints of hot Water: Stir together until they make a Foam, then pour it into the Cask you will then fill with Water: add a Pint of good Yeast, stir it well together and let it stand 2 or 3 Days to ferment, after which close the Cask, and after a few days it will be ready to be put into Bottles, that must be tightly corked. Leave them 10 or 12 Days in a cool Cellar, after which the Beer will be good to drink.” – Food History & Culture
“Don’t Waste That Christmas Tree: Turn It Into Spruce Beer,” April Fulton, NPR, January 4, 2013

This recipe must have produced enough beer for several weeks, if not months depending on the drinker’s daily intake. There are other, more modest recipes from this era easily found online, including recipes created for today’s palate.

 

Back to the Jane Austen spruce beer quote

In this section I venture a few “educated guesses” about segments of Jane Austen’s quote. “Mr. Piozzi in charge of the great casks” most likely explains that by the time Jane wrote her novels, brew masters, who had once predominantly been women, were replaced by men during the age of industrialization when public taverns began to make profits. In the 17th century, brewing, once thought of as a woman’s domain in the kitchen, was overtaken by men and widows, who inherited their husbands’ businesses. Mrs. Piozzi mentions her domestic duties “having her little children” with no connection to the great casks.

Then Jane Austen’s writes:

It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask for we are brewing spruce beer again.”

In this instance Cassandra was most likely minding her widowed brother James’s children, while Jane oversaw domestic duties.

While commercial brewing became the domain of men, home brewing remained in the hands of women in the countryside. Housewives, mothers, and daughters, as in Jane Austen’s case, brewed ales and beers, and made wines for household consumption. According to William Cobbett, this domestic habit continued until the last quarter of the 18th century (Van Dekken). Jane’s quote, written in 1808, proves that this domestic practice continued well beyond that date.

We don’t know if the recipe Austen used was alcoholic or nonalcoholic, and I wonder if it was influenced by her sailor brothers, whose concerns about scurvy while spending months at sea must have been on their minds. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British navy encouraged the use of spruce beer. Individuals sailing vast distances for months at sea or enduring long, harsh winters in the far north faced decreased access to vitamin C as fresh fruit was consumed or rotted. For sailors, stored casks of spruce beer became one way of staving off the debilitating results of scurvy. For colonists facing a long winter without fresh fruits and vegetables, making the brew from abundant fir trees became a life saver.

Thank you, Tony Grant, for forwarding the article “Jane Austen Brewed her own Specialty Beer” to me.

 

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