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Image of the book cover of The Multifarious Mr Banks by Toby MusgraveForeword by Tony Grant, the reviewer. Before I start into Toby Musgrave’s well researched and deeply considered and heartfelt life and times of the ”father of Botany,” Joseph Banks, and all its implications to us and our world today, I’d like to say a few words about the author. Apart from reading his very short biography in the blurb on the back of the fly leaf to this book, and his even shorter dedication of no more than two short sentences to his brother, I have not ventured into discovering more about him. The book reveals all that is necessary to know about Musgrave’s passions and life’s work, and about the author himself. I felt by reading this biography of Banks that I was also, at a subliminal level, learning about Mr. Musgrave. A short dedication to his brother also reveals so much. His brother had an untimely death. The two of them had researched and written about Banks together in the late 1990s. I got the sense from this dedication that not only was the book for his brother, but his brother was also involved in the writing of the book. The intensity and passion of Musgrave’s work attests to this.

I must admit that as I read The Multifarious Mr. Banks I became totally involved in the worlds Musgrave was telling me about. It brought up so many questions. From the evidence the author provides and the stories he tells, I made my own conclusions. It is a very honest book with lots of research. If you want an intense absorption into the world of the 18th and early 19th centuries, then this book is for you.

Oil portrait of Joseph Banks, ca 1771-1773, Joshua Reynolds, National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Joseph Banks, ca 1771-1773, Joshua Reynolds, National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Childhood and early education:

Joseph Banks was born February 13th, 1743 at 30 Argyll Street in SOHO, London into a very wealthy family of landowners. In 1717, the first Joseph Banks – there were four of them – started buying land and estates in Lincolnshire. He bought Revesby Estate, which was to become the main home of the Banks family. Click on this link and scroll down to view Revesby Abbey.

The fourth Joseph Banks, who Toby Musgrave deals with in this book, inherited the extensive family fortune and lands. Joseph Banks IV’s early childhood was therefore spent on the 340-acre estate of Revesby. He was allowed to wander freely and explore the natural world around him. In April 1752, at the age of 9, he was sent to the free Grammar School run by John Lyon at Harrow, north west of the centre of London. Here he mixed with the aristocracy. On the 11th September 1756, at the age of 13, he attended the lower school of Eton near Windsor Castle in Berkshire.

Joseph Banks apparently lacked academic ability. Latin and Greek were not his strengths. He made friends easily, and because he was physically strong and big for his age, did not suffer from the bullying regime found at many of this type of school. It is said that young Joseph’s walks beside the River Thames near Eton and experiences in the natural world of the river bank and the surrounding countryside inspired his interest in botany. Rather than coming to grips with Latin and Greek and the classics, he set out to hunt plants and insects in the surrounding countryside. Botany was not a subject that was taken seriously in academic circles at the time. It was seen as an amateur interest. This of course brings up the question: what is learning and what is education, and, of course, what is intelligence? I could go on forever about that.

Laying the foundation of his life at Oxford:

After attending Eton, Banks went on to Oxford University. You might wonder at this with regards to his lack of academic achievement. Wealthy landowners and the aristocracy could send their sons to Oxford or Cambridge because they could afford to. The most important subjects at Oxford were again the study of Latin and Greek and the classics. The study of Hebrew and religion were also important areas for study. Joseph was a sociable person and made friends easily. He met the sons of many important people, aristocrats, politicians, and the people who ran Britain and its burgeoning Empire. Many of his friends at both Eton and later Oxford became people of influence in government and the Empire in their own right. Not only did Joseph make friends easily, he kept friendships for life. These contacts proved vital to his later pursuits in life. Arguably, his ability to influence these people through his friendships with them changed the course of Britain. It helped develop the Empire and affected the world we know today. In a world of a strongly designated class system underlain by a generally illiterate and uneducated working class, Joseph Banks had all the benefits of birth, wealth and contacts. He could fill his time with whatever he wanted to do. Very few people can attain that sort of situation in life in any century.

At Oxford, Banks became friends with Daniel Solander, the Swedish botanist who had been a pupil of Linnaeus, who invented the binomial system of classifying plants. Banks also spent some time at his mother’s house in Chelsea and became friends with her neighbor John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who became First Lord of The Admiralty. In Chelsea, Banks visited the physic garden, where he met Philip Miller, who ran the garden and where Banks enjoyed learning about botany and horticulture. In these early experiences we can see the beginnings of the arc of Bank’s life and work.

Discoveries and explorations:

At the treaty of Paris in 1763, w ith the end of the seven years war between France and Britain, and their allies, British expansionism could begin. Britain had gained Canada in the treaty. The fisheries protection ship, HMS Niger, was sent to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1766 to map and explore those areas. Joseph Banks and his wealthy friend, Constantine Phipps, saw this as an opportunity to follow their interests. This became Banks first independent scientific research. Using his own finances, Banks supplied himself with botanical research equipment and also an extensive reference library.

Image of Newfoundland, A General Chart, 1775, Captain James Cook,

Newfoundland, A General Chart, Captain James Cook, 1775, Heritage website

It seems strange to us that at this time science was often the pursuit of enthusiastic amateurs. These amateur scientists were wealthy and well-connected. Banks wanted to learn. He acquired research skills in botany from others in a voracious manner. He wanted to learn, and read and talked to people, and made life-long friends with people who had the know-how. He was persistent and determined. Today we think of Elon Musk and Richard Branson with their plans to take people into space as tourists. Banks and his wealthy friends were something like this; they were amateurs setting on a course that interested them, but they were also pioneers in their pursuit of scientific interests.

Journal writing:

Joseph Banks kept journals of his journeys of exploration, but he published very little of his own writings. Instead, he supported others in publishing their research and their illustrations. His existing journals are available for us to read today. For instance, the State Library of New South Wales has his Endeavour journals online for anybody to access. Banks’s journals are idiosyncratic to say the least. They demonstrate poor grammar and spelling and he writes often in a detached scientific voice. His writing is understandable, nonetheless. Banks described botanical specimens, as well as geological, ornithological, and marine specimens. He made military observations. This was evident during HMS Endeavour’s journey back to Britain when Captain James Cook called in at Batavia in Jakarta, run by the Dutch East India Company. Once again Banks poor literacy skills brings into question what education is about, for he was definitely learning and immersing himself in topics he was deeply passionate about.

Two open pages of a Joseph Banks Journal, State Library of New South Wales

Joseph Banks Journal, State Library of New South Wales

Journeys and expeditions:

Banks collected seeds and live plant specimens from his various expeditions, many of which didn’t survive the return journey to Britain. He took along the equipment to press and dry plants, which did survive. He named these specimens and described them, and used his reference library to recognise species and discover new species. In all his journeys, he discovered hundreds if not thousands of new species of plants that had never been discovered before by Europeans. He also brought his own group of botanists and servants, and artists, whose illustrations of plants we have today.

Voyages and peregrinations:

The voyage to Newfoundland in 1766 was Bank’s first real experience at research and exploration. He felt its joys and its hazards and the cramped quarters of life on board a ship and learned the absolute necessity for people to get on and to make compromises living in close proximity. On the trip to Newfoundland, he met Lieutenant James Cook who was charting its coast. Banks’s reports and journals were given to The Admiralty back in London, but he kept his plant specimens and began to accumulate his personal Natural History Museum in his house at number 30 Soho Square, London.

Banks, it appeared, had an addiction to finding out about the world around him. After Newfoundland, he made what he termed a ”Peregrination” around Britain, a meandering journey that took him wherever the next point of interest and investigation led him. He travelled to places as diverse as Pembrokeshire in West Wales, Kent, and Dorset. He explored the heartland of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution took place all over the British Isles, but Derbyshire and Shropshire in the North were major centres. Banks was interested in engineering technologies, manufacturing, chemical works, mining, and quarrying. He also took interest in an archaeological excavation of a Bronze Age round barrow in Llansadwrn in Wales. There seemed no stopping his boundless energy.

The Transit of Venus:

Banks then heard rumours about an expedition to observe the Transit of Venus. Here again he used his contacts. The Earl of Sandwich was the first Lord of the Admiralty and the admiralty were to supply a ship and a crew to take the astronomers who were chosen by The Royal Society to one of the locations in the south seas which they deemed a suitable place to make the observations. They also chose sites in the northern hemisphere as well as in Britain. The Transit of Venus occurs in a pattern that generally repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years. They are important because the size of the solar system can be worked out from the measurements using trigonometry to measure the Earth to Venus and then the distance to the Sun. This particular transit was due in 1769.

HMS Endeavor and a voyage around the world:

In 1768 Joseph Banks lobbied the Royal Society to include a group of botanists, artists and his good friend Solander, the Swedish botanist, who he would lead. The foremost hydrographer of the time, Alexander Dalrymple became the scientist who would measure the Transit of Venus. Eventually Banks was given permission by Lord Morton, the President of The Royal Society, to take his entourage to discover and illustrate new plants that would be beneficial to Britain and the Empire. Banks was always adept at combining his own interest, the interests of Botany and the national interest in his schemes. The captain for the trip was Lieutenant James Cook, who Banks had met in Newfoundland. This was to be a multi-purpose expedition. The main task was to measure the Transit of Venus, but Cook was also the Navy’s greatest map maker and navigator. He would chart the coasts of unknown lands.

Banks persuaded everyone that collecting and finding out about the botany of the southern oceans was important too. Plants were vital for food production and other economic pursuits. Another crucial aspect of exploration was trade and the extension of the Empire. In order to maintain its pre-eminence, Britain needed to keep its lead over other nations. The stories and sightings of what sailors thought was a southern continent also needed to be explored. Did this fabled southern continent exist? As a result, this expedition would become one of the most important voyages in history.

On the way south through the Atlantic, Banks and his team had many opportunities to botanise on the Atlantic Islands, such as The Canaries and the Azores. They also botanised on the coastal areas of South America and inland when they were permitted. To get to the Pacific Cook sailed through the Straits of Tierra Del Fuego from the Atlantic. They eventually landed in Tahiti where the Transit of Venus was to be observed and measured.

Oil painting of Endeavour Leaving Whitby, by Thomas Luny, 1768, Wikimedia, creative commons

Endeavour Leaving Whitby, by Thomas Luny, 1768, Wikimedia, creative commons

What happened next is very telling and has repercussions to this day in the way ethnic minorities and people of other cultures were treated. It seems sometimes we have learned nothing. The indigenous people of Tahiti were friendly and welcoming They were interested in what these Europeans had to bring to them. In turn, the British were interested in what they could get from the Tahitians. Iron was scarce and an important trading commodity in these islands. The British under Captain Cook thought of themselves as the dominant culture. They wanted to be friendly and trade, but on their terms. Misunderstandings were bound to happen. Tahitian women, for instance, offered themselves as wives and sexual partners to the British explorers and sailors. Banks recorded this, as well as Cook and other members of the expeditions in their journals. This was seen as immoral from a Christian aspect, although the sailors didn’t refuse and neither did Banks. Banks had a history of sexual adventures with his friends in Britain. The view that Cook, Banks and the rest of the crew formed about the Tahitians had to do with misunderstanding of cultures. Later the French repressed the Tahitians cruelly when they took over the islands and made it a French colony. Christianity played a major role in this subjugation as well.

As an aside, Banks left the lady he was to marry, Miss Harriet Blosset, behind without actually telling her that he was leaving until the night before his departure. He asked her to wait for him, which she dutifully did. On his return to Britain, he eventually spurned and ignored her, which put him in a bad light.

Black and white illustration of an 18th c. map of Tahiti

Tahiti, 18th century map-The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain. This work is cc in the U.S

Toby Musgrave points out that curiosity and discovery was not solely a European thing. Tupai was a Tahitian navigator who traversed the ocean using wave patterns, the stars, the sun, and the prevailing winds. He and other navigators from the south seas created stick charts which showed the prevailing wave patterns around the islands and that also marked the positions of various islands . Tupai drew and sketched Tahitian life and the meeting of Tahitian people with Europeans. James Cook learned from Tupai and Tupai learned from Cook. They had a mutual friendship and admiration for each other. Tupai, wanting to explore the European world, asked to return with Cook to Britain. Unfortunately the navigator died in 1770 on the journey back.

Black and white engraving of Tupai, Tahitian navigator, creative commons, wikimedia

Tupai, Tahitian navigator, creative commons, Wikimedia

Sailing south:

After the transit had been recorded, Cook was permitted to open sealed orders from the Admiralty. As was expected, Cook and his ship were requested to sail south to ascertain the existence of a southern continent. They sailed first to New Zealand. The Maoris were much more warlike than the Tahitians. Although willing to be friendly, some did not take to the British landing on New Zealand and they greeted the Endeavour in war canoes on occasion. There were confrontations on land too. The ship’s cannons fired over approaching war canoes and Maoris were shot. The Maoris backed off each time. Banks advocated this show of force. He argued that they were there to trade and discover new lands for Britain. This seems to be rather patronising. I wonder how Londoners would have reacted if Maori war canoes had sailed up the Thames with weaponry more powerful than anything the British had. Trying to see the other side’s point of view is important, I think. Colonialism is not benign. It is rapacious in its taking of the resources of a country and the denigrating of other cultures, their beliefs, and their religions.

The Endeavour sailed south and the voyageurs discovered the fabled southern continent. They explored the east coast of Australia and came in contact with aborigines, who they described as shy and of no danger to them. They saw kangaroos, and Banks discovered plants never seen before by Europeans. Botany Bay has two headlands, one was named Cape Banks and the other Cape Solander. There were perils. The Endeavour was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef and had to be pulled ashore for repairs before it could sail home. The trip took three years altogether. Cook had become famous and so, too, had Banks, who was introduced to King George III and became a close confidant.

Endeavour is beached in Australia- the Great Barrier Reef. An engraving, John Hawkesworth's An Account of the voyagesCredit-National Library of Australia.

Endeavour beached in Australia after hitting the Great Barrier Reef. An engraving, John Hawkesworth’s An Account of the voyages, Credit: National Library of Australia.

Return home

While away from Britain, Banks had been elected to The Royal Society. He had become a household name, but fame went to his head and his ego was flattered. He formally broke off his engagement to Miss Harriet Blosset, who he had promised to marry. This was a shocking thing to do at that time and did him no credit.

A second circumnavigation was planned with James Cook leading the expedition. Banks, while he did not publish his journals, had gathered an enormous collection of specimens and was invited to go along. He prepared a group of botanists, as well as his friend Solander, and planned to provision them with the latest equipment, but because of his unreasonable demands and his efforts to have the ship adapted to his needs (which made the ship unseaworthy), he backed out.

Banks had two obvious sides to his personality. He could be vain and devious, and was not averse to getting rid of people who stood in his way, but he could also be thoughtful and caring towards friends. The group of explorers he had gathered for this expedition did not go without work. He quickly organised a trip to Iceland that would be led by him. Other scientists had botanised in Iceland, but Banks’s expedition added to the store of knowledge. He also became a champion for the Icelandic people against the Danish Crown, and is remembered fondly by the Icelandic people to this day.

Kew Gardens near Richmond upon Thames:

Banks discussed with the King George III the development of the Kings garden in the grounds of Kew Palace near Richmond upon Thames and became the unofficial director. There, he designed and built green houses for different types of plants to be cultivated.

Color illustration of Kew Gardens, 1754 by cartographer John Rocque. Kew Archives.

Kew Gardens, 1754 by cartographer John Rocque. Kew Archives

At Kew, he trained botanists who were sent around the world to develop botanical gardens in other countries. These Kew-trained gardeners sent back specimens of plants and seeds from colonial gardens the world over. Kew became the greatest depository of plants and seeds, a position it still holds today.

Cplor photo of Flowers in front of the Palm House, Kew Gardens. Taken by Daniel Case

Flowers in front of the Palm House, Kew Gardens. Taken by Daniel Case, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) Wikipedia.

The father of Australia:

While he didn’t know it at the time, Banks was never to go on a trip of exploration again. He became an advisor and a facilitator of new botanical explorations around the world. An ardent colonialist, he promoted setting up a penal colony in New South Wales, which he planned to become self sufficient in agriculture, minerals and governance. The colony eventually became a net contributor in trade back to Britain. This is why Banks is often termed the father of Australia.

Banks also became interested in sheep. The Spanish had the best wool in the world from the Spanish Royal flock of Merino sheep. These sheep were hard to obtain, since the Spanish wanted to keep this rich resource from other hands. Through subterfuge and clandestine means, Banks managed to get hold of a number of Merino sheep, which he bred on his own estates in Britain and added to the Royal Flock at Kew. He had specimens sent to Australia and so launched sheep farming there.

Color illustration of A view of Kew Gardens with a flock of sheep, by William Woollett, c1765 (© Historic Royal Palaces)

A view of Kew Gardens with a flock of sheep, by William Woollett, c1765 (© Historic Royal Palaces)

Banks was also involved in plant cultivation and the movement of plants around the world for economic reasons, such as tea from China exported to Assam in India, which was governed by the British and resulted in cheaper tea for the British. He was concerned about transporting plants safely by sea and was involved in helping to develop different methods.

It is said he was anti slavery. He was indeed friends with William Wilberforce, the emancipator. He also expressed the view that it was immoral to use and treat humans like cattle, and was convinced other means of production rather than the use of slaves could be found, although he didn’t actively work towards the abolition of slavery. Perhaps this was another example of Banks being apolitical. He did support slavery in one way. The slave owners needed to feed their slaves as economically as possible. Banks suggested that breadfruit, a cheap and fast-growing crop, could be grown in the West Indies. As a result, ships began to transport bread fruit from Tahiti to the slave plantations.

Societies and memberships:

Joseph Banks liked to work unofficially for organisations. He remained apolitical throughout his life, not joining any political faction. He even went as far as to continue good relationships with botanists in France, the enemy of Britain, and also with botanists in many other nations around the world, since he considered science above nations and wars.

Through nefarious manoeuvrings, Banks, a member of The Royal Society, became its president. He was also involved in many other clubs and organisations. He helped set up the Ordnance Survey, which mapped the whole of Britain. He was interested in engineering and geology. On his estate at Revesby, he mined the mineral wealth from under his lands. In addition, he was involved in the Board of Longitude at Greenwich, and promoted watch makers, such as John Harrison, who eventually made the watch that was to transform navigation.

Banks also became a member of The African Association, which sent out explorers to find the fabled golden city of Timbuktu. He organised and planned the exploration of most of central Africa at that time, and facilitated the first expedition of the famous African explorer, Mungo Parks. Banks helped set up the Horticultural Society for developing plants for different economic, culinary and medicinal uses. Where other members of these organisations might attend occasionally, Banks would attend as often as he could. He read scientific papers, listened to lectures on a variety of subjects, and became knowledgeable about many strands of science, industry, and production. He was indeed, “multifarious.”

Banks was an enabler. Earlier I mentioned that he trained gardeners at Kew and sent them round the world to search for new plants in places not explored before, and also to set up other botanical gardens. He also supported people whom he thought worthy. The self taught astronomer William Herschel was famous for discovering a new planet first called The Georgian Planet and later named Uranus. After Herschel read a paper on his discovery to The Royal Society, he became friends with Banks. Herschel was poor and Banks supported him by introducing him to the King. When Herschel became the King’s Astronomer, he received a pension to live on. He moved from his home in Bath to a large mansion near Windsor at Datchet on the Thames. There he set up a 40 foot long reflector telescope in his garden.

Herschel_40_foot-wikipedia-publicdomain

Herschel’s forty foot telescope, the Great Forty-Foot, 1785-89. Public domain image, Wikipedia.

Banks kept up his interests throughout his life. His influence continued, and he often wrote detailed advice for the running and organisation of the colony at New South Wales. He also wrote thorough instructions to the botanists who had set up their botanical gardens around the world, and for any new botanists who ventured forth from Kew. Banks was appointed a member of the privy council in 1797, in which he acted as an adviser to King George III. As other scientists became more professional, however, many began to regard Banks as merely an enthusiastic amateur who wasn’t an expert in any field of study.

At the end of the book, author Toby Musgrave mentions Dorothea, Joseph Banks’s wife. Banks married Dorohea Hugessen, daughter of W.W. Hugessen, in March, 1779, and settled in a large house at 32 Soho Square. In his London residence he welcomed scientists, students, and foreign visitors. His friends Solander and Jonas Dryander, followed by Robert Brown, became librarians and curators of his collections. That year, Banks also took a lease on an estate called Spring Grove in Isleworth, located just a couple of miles west of Kew Gardens on the north side of The Thames.

Musgrave quotes from a poem Banks wrote to his wife. In it he suggested that after the years of travels and Tahitian mistresses and female acquaintances the botanist had settled down as a dutiful husband. It is difficult to tell what their relationship was really like. Dorothea never made public the letters Joseph wrote to her. The fact that they were together until Joseph died says something for stability and perhaps compromise. Joseph Banks was a poor writer on the whole. The fact he wrote a poem to his wife suggests he felt some love for her. 

“A husbands wish for his wife to Please

Abates not as the years increase

If it began in love…”

Joseph Banks died at the age of 77 on the 19th June 1820 at his house Spring Grove in Isleworth.

In conclusion, if you read this book, you will find Toby Musgrave an entertaining and lucid writer. He has a passion for his subject, but he doesn’t often give us his viewpoint and analysis. Perhaps that is the sign of a good biographer; they provide the evidence and describe the events and leave it to the reader to make their own analysis.

________________

Tony Grant has been a regular contributor to this blog since 2010. Find more of his writing at his blog, London Calling, and his other contributions to this blog by typing his name in the search bar at the top right.

References:

  • Musgrave, Toby. The Multifarious Mr Banks From Botany Bay to Kew, The Natural Historian Who Shaped the World.”by Toby Musgrave (Yale University Press 2020) ISBN: 9780300223835

  • The Library of Australia:

https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/joseph-banks-collection

https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/6092946?selectedversion=NBD25010136

In Part 1 of this series, we learned about the “morning” portion of a Regency woman’s day including pre-breakfast activities, breakfast foods and drinks, social calls, midday refreshments, and dressing for dinner. Now, we’ll explore the evening portion.

Evening: As we said last time, the typical Regency day consisted of two parts: “morning” and “evening.” Evenings were marked by changing clothes for dinner. For Jane Austen and the heroines in her novels, evenings varied greatly depending on where they were and who they were with. Evenings at home were usually quiet and modest; the Austen family enjoyed reading and talking together in the evening when they were home. Evenings out in company were lively and filled with dinners, games, and dances.

Dinner: Dinner was the largest and most formal meal of the day for people of Austen’s day and proper etiquette was essential. The timing of dinner moved later during Austen’s life, settling at six or seven. It was considered fashionable to delay dinner. The later the meal, the more candles needed; thus, affluent families could afford later dinners.

In company and at home, evening attire was more formal than day wear. Dinners at home tended to be more simple, with one course instead of two. This is undoubtedly when young girls learned proper mealtime etiquette from their mothers. For dinners in company, the food was as “lavish as the host’s budget allowed” (All Things Austen 147).

When dinner was served in company, guests walked into the dining room in couples, with the rank of the ladies determining the order in which they entered: “Where rank was equal, married women went before single women, and older ladies took precedence” (133). Once in the dining room, the hostess sat at the top of the table, the host at the bottom.  The “pre-eminent male guest was seated on the hostess’ right hand, the chief female guest at the host’s right” (134).

lady-catherine-de-bourghs-table

Dinner with Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Pride and Prejudice, 2005.

Dinner Courses: The first course was comprised of a variety of dishes including joints of meat and boiled or roasted fowl. There was always soup and very often a whole fish.  When these were removed, the second course was brought out. For the second course, the same amount of dishes were served, with new meat perhaps, but “the emphasis this time round was on the lighter savoury concoctions like fricassees and patties, together with a selection of fruit tarts, jellies and cream puddings” (43).

Two courses were served in grand households every day and in ordinary households when there was company. We see this in Pride and Prejudice: “Mrs. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask [Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy] to stay and dine;” however, though she always “kept a very good table, she did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.” (PP)

After the second course was removed, the cloth was cleared and dessert was brought out.  Dessert was usually served with wine and included “tidbits which could be eaten using the fingers” such as “dried fruits, nuts and sweet and spicy confections.” (ATA)

Interestingly, food was not passed around the table as we might do today. Men helped women to the dishes within reach, but servants did not take dishes around the table to serve each guest (as we might see, for example, in Downton Abbey). Sometimes a popular dish might be duplicated on both ends of the table but not always.

After dinner: At home, people often took walks and spent their time after dinner less formally. However, in company, the ladies retired after dinner to the drawing room, again in order of rank. The men stayed behind to drink port and talk uninhibited.

“If this was the hour most looked forward to by many of the men, it could be the most tedious hour for the women, thrown on their own resources in the drawing-room, with neither alcohol nor male company to inspirit the scene.”
-Maggie Lane, Jane Austen and Food

We certainly see this occur in Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s drawing room: “When the ladies returned to the drawing room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermissions till coffee came in” (PP).

Tea: Tea was taken once the men rejoined the women. The ladies poured coffee and tea, and usually some light refreshment was given, such as cake or toast. Men would approach the women for a cup, which often allowed conversations to spark. It’s not surprising that everyone looked forward to this portion of the evening, especially unmarried people.

Evening Entertainment: After tea, at home and in company, men and women spent the evening together. At home, they might read out loud, play the piano, sew, write letters, or read. At Netherfield when Elizabeth is staying to care for Jane, many important scenes and conversations occur in the drawing room after dinner. Mr. Darcy uses that time to write to his sister and read books, while Miss Bingley uses her time trying to get his attention.

In company, music was often performed, as we see in Emma and Sense and Sensibility with playing and singing. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford plays the harp. Cards and games like whist and lottery were also enjoyed by all once the tea table was cleared. At a private ball or at a large enough party in a home, there was usually dancing.

Supper: If a woman’s stays weren’t already about to burst after several courses of dinner, dessert, and tea time, there was supper to look forward to at the end of the evening. At home and in small gatherings, it was a simple meal laid on a smaller table in the drawing room where everyone was gathered. At a ball or larger gathering, supper was a much more substantial meal and must include soup.

Austen herself was known for staying out until the wee hours of the morning after a dance or party, which is why Regency women often slept later in the morning. When they arrived home, women retreated to their rooms. What a relief it must have been, after a long evening of eating, dancing, and socializing, to take down one’s hair, change out of one’s dress, petticoats, and stays, and slip into bed.

This is just a sample of the way Jane Austen’s Regency women might spend their evenings. Next month, we’ll look more closely at women’s issues of the time, such as female education and accomplishments, hygiene and beauty, fashion and cosmetics, and pregnancy and childbirth.

Food for thought: If you could spend an evening with Jane Austen, what activities would you most like to do?

Rachel Dodge is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 2020). Rachel teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen‘s World blog and Jane Austen‘s Regency World magazine. You can visit her at RachelDodge.com.

“They who buy books do not read them, and … they who read them do not buy them.” – Robert Southey

Introduction:

Circulating libraries benefited Jane Austen and authors of her era in two ways. They rented out books, pamphlets, and magazines economically to people of modest means, like Austen. After books were published, library subscriptions made them available to a wider readership than was previously possible.

A short history of circulating libraries:

Circulating libraries were first mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1740, when Dr. Samuel Fancourt used the words to advertise his store in Salisbury. He had started his library five years before to rent out religious books and pamphlets, then moved his store to London in 1742, where it thrived.

Other already existing London bookshops adopted Fancourt’s commercial library model and its descriptive term. In a little over 30 years, the circulating library had sprung up all over London, as well as Bath and other resort spas, and by 1801 an estimated 1,000 of these libraries had spread all over England. This library concept traveled to British Colonies the world over. A monthly parcel of books could also be ordered by subscription from a London circulating library and shipped to a foreign location, such as a plantation in Ceylon (Parasols & Gloves & Broches & Circulating Libraries,” Mary Margaret Benson).

The difference between subscription and circulating libraries:

An article about subscription vs circulating libraries by JASACT (Jane Austen and all that – in Canberra), explains that the two terms are often confused with each other. Subscription libraries consisted largely of serious book collections that covered specific topics, such as science, history, travel, or theology. Annual fees from male subscribers went towards purchasing books for the collections, which tended to be lofty and not open to the public.

The Roxburghe Club was a club for book lovers established after the sale of the library of the Duke of Roxburghe, which was one of the great libraries of the day, which concluded June 17, 1812. Its membership was men who loved and who could afford books, comprised of a mixed group of aristocrats, businessmen and academics.” – Club London in the Georgian and Regency Eras, Lauren Gilbert

Circulating libraries were established as businesses with the aim of making money from a mass market that consisted of men, the rising middle classes, and women. Instead of focusing on narrow subjects, circulating libraries offered a variety of materials designed to please as many reading tastes as possible (JASACT). These included the novel, which quickly rose in popularity with the fairer sex.

Image of lettering on a building in Bath that was once a Circulating Library and Reading Room on Milsom Street. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Lettering on a building in Bath that was once a Circulating Library and Reading Room on Milsom Street. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

The libraries began to expand from London and leisure resorts to more rural communities across England. Paul Kaufman in an article entitled “The Community Library: A Chapter in English Social History” mentions a circulating library in 1790 operated by Michael Heavisides in Darlington, Durham, a provincial market town. His 16-page catalogue offered only 466 books in 1,014 volumes with a modest list of topics, many of which were not au courant:

All types of fiction predominate, standard and cheapest contemporary types, many with the thinly veiled “history” and “memoir” titles…Shakespeare’s Poems (1 vol.), Milton’s Works, the Odyssey, Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy Ward, translations of Lucan and Ovid, Knox’s Essays, Cook’s Voyages, Spectator, Tatler, and Mirror, Smollett’s History of England (10 vols.), Salmon’s History of England (13 vols.), Thompson’s Poems, Rousseau’s Emile, Berkeley’s Minute Philosopher, Arabian Tales, and two apparently separate Persian Letters.” (The Bodleain.)

While the selection was small, even for regency libraries, Mr. Heavisides was successful enough to run his business for 30 years.

Image of Darlington in 1830

Darlington in 1830

Circulating libraries as consumers:

A new business relationship between booksellers and publishers emerged during the last quarter of the 18th century. Circulating libraries were

…business enterprises, aimed at readers who could not afford to buy books, but who would be willing to pay perhaps half a guinea a year as a subscription fee, and then a few pence rental fee for each volume, or at readers who were away from town-perhaps at a seashore spa!-for a time, as well as those voracious readers who wanted the latest books at bargain prices.” – “Parasols & Gloves & Broches & Circulating Libraries,” Mary Margaret Benson.

The British book industry first began to sell books to the libraries. Publishers then realized they could increase profits by owning a library and renting out their own books.

Image of a circulating library owned by Messrs Lackington Allen & Co, 1809. Image in the public domain

Circulating library of Messrs Lackington Allen & Co, 1809. Image in the public domain

John Lane, who was the proprietor of the Minerva Press, and both the leading publisher of gothic fiction in England and “the principal wholesaler of complete, packaged circulating libraries to new entrepreneurs,” realized that he could make substantial profits from catering to the tastes of readers like Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey. (Lee Erickson, p. 583)

People were quite willing to rent a novel they were unwilling to buy.”- Lee Erickson

Only the rich could afford to purchase books in Austen’s day. Publishers generally did not print their own books. They contracted a printer and estimated the number of copies that would sell. Since paper was expensive (much of it was handmade and then taxed), publishers would order new books when the first estimated run sold out. As the popularity of books and novels rose, so did their price. Between 1810 and 1815 books cost the equivalent of $90 to $100 American dollars today.

Image of a Trade Card of Thomas Clout, Printer. An engraving of a printing press is at the top center of the card. Public domain image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Trade Card of Thomas Clout, Printer. Notice the printing press at the top center of the card. Public domain image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To increase rentals, publishers began printing three-decker novels, also known as leviathans. These 3-volume novels became the standard until almost the end of the 19th century. The advantage of three volumes was that each book was rented out one at a time to a customer. When a reader finished Volume the First, she would turn it in and check out Volume the Second, and so forth. This meant that three customers would read one book at any one time. In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney described a typical three-decker set to his sister, Eleanor:

Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern …”

Image of a three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice bound in a simple publishers board. National Library of Scotland

Three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice bound in simple publishers board. National Library of Scotland

New authors like Jane Austen often took the financial risk of publishing their novels. Jane took this gamble after her father sold her first novel Susan in 1803 for £10 to Benjamin Crosby, who allowed it to languish unpublished on his shelves. Six years later, she wrote the publisher under the pseudonym of Mrs. Ashley Dennis, or M.A.D., for the return of her manuscript. Crosby quickly shot back a reply, saying her MS. would be hers if she paid the same amount for it that he paid her. For Jane that £10 represented almost half her yearly allowance, and so the book remained unpublished until after her death.

Austen learned her lesson from this experience and in 1811 she published Sense and Sensibility on commission, which guaranteed its publication. The novel’s success (which made Austen a profit of £140) ensured that she would not have to self publish again.

The rise of the novel:

What shall we say of certain books, which we are assured (for we have not read them) are in their nature so shameful, in their tendency so pestiferous, and contain such rank treason against the royalty of Virtue…that she who can bear to peruse them must in her soul be a prostitute…” – James Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women

Jane wrote her “pestiferous” novels, as Fordyce called all fiction largely aimed at the female market, at an auspicious time. The leisured upper and rising middle classes’ demand for books increased during a period when their costs went up. In addition, the number of literate people was rapidly expanding. In Jane Austen’s England, Roy and Lesley Adkins wrote:

…it has been estimated that two out of three working men could read to some extent, thought rather fewer had writing skills, and not nearly as many working women could read.” (p 231)

In Emma, Austen wrote about Mr. Martin’s sensible taste in reading and of his neat writing skills, which astonished Emma. Individuals who could not read enjoyed hearing a book read to them during group reading, a form of entertainment that the literate Austen family also followed. Paul Kaufman in “The Community Library” (p. 46) mentioned that reading also became a liberating force for the higher servant level. One imagines that cooks, butlers, housekeepers, and governesses were among them.

Circulating libraries fulfilled an insatiable appetite for subscribers. Library proprietors followed the money and increasingly offered more novels to accommodate female readers, although men generally had little regard for fictional stories. Many, like Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice), a devotee of Fordyce, held them in great contempt. Sir Edward Denham (Sanditon), could hardly contain his disdain for novel reading:

Sir Edward, approaching Charlotte, said, “You may perceive what has been our occupation. My sister wanted my counsel in the selection of some books. We have many leisure hours and read a great deal. I am no indiscriminate novel reader. The mere trash of the common circulating library I hold in the highest contempt. You will never hear me advocating those puerile emanations which detail nothing but discordant principles incapable of amalgamation, or those vapid tissues of ordinary occurrences, from which no useful deductions can be drawn. In vain may we put them into a literary alembic; we distill nothing which can add to science. You understand me, I am sure?”

Pity poor Charlotte having to listen to that drivel. Contrast Lord Denham’s pompous opinions with Henry Tilney’s charming and succinct statement:

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (Northanger Abbey)

It is interesting to note that Austen rewrote Susan (Northanger Abbey) before she began to write her unfinished novel, Sanditon, and that she and her family were avid novel readers. Still, reading fiction belonged largely to the pervue of women. Gothic and romance novels, popularized by Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Ann Radcliffe, were regarded as disposable throwaways only good enough for one-time reading. Few people purchased novels or kept them on their shelves, and so they were cheaply published with a simple binding known as publishers boards. The Prince Regent owned a handsome three-volume book of Emma, but this was the exception, not the rule.

Image of the 3-decker edition for the Prince Regent of Emma.

The Prince Regent’s edition of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Deirdre Le Faye via Jane Austen in Vermont.

Despite Fordyce’s dire warnings, by the end of the 18th century fully 75% of books rented out by circulating libraries were novels. Ninety percent of Mr. Heavisides books in his circulating library in Darlington were listed as standard and “cheapest contemporary” fiction.

This short discourse, gentle reader, brings Part One of Circulating Libraries to an end. In the second installment, discussions will center on subscription fees, libraries as social hubs, subscription books, reading rooms, characteristics of large city and small rural libraries, and Jane Austen’s descriptions of circulating libraries in her novels and letters.

Sources:

Reviewed by Brenda S. Cox

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801 provides fascinating insights into Jane Austen’s England.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, by Mike Rendell, explores 18th century life in England

Richard Hall was a tradesman, a hosier who made stockings in a shop near London Bridge. Like the Coles in Emma, he “was of low origin, in trade,” but moved up in society as he became wealthier. Hall accumulated his fortune through hard work, marriage, inheritance, and investments. From selling silk stockings, he moved into selling fine fabrics, silver buckles, and other fashionable accessories. Hall eventually owned several estates, and retired as a country gentleman. 

I asked the author, Mike Rendell, to tell us more about how he wrote this book.

Rendell says he inherited “a vast pile of old family papers, . . . stuffed into tea chests and boxes in the back of the garage” in his grandmother’s house. He focused on the papers related to Richard Hall and found it “a fascinating voyage of discovery.” 

This trunk was full of papers from the eighteenth century.

Rendell continues, “For instance, if he [Richard Hall] recorded in his diary that he had ‘visited the museum’ it made me research the origins of the British Museum, realizing that he was one of the earliest visitors. Which led on to researching what he might have seen, etc.”

He adds, “Writing my first book opened my eyes to a great deal about the world in which Jane [Austen] was brought up. I love her works – especially P&P and I must admit to binge-watching the entire BBC version in a single sitting, at least twice a year!”

In the context of Richard Hall’s story, Rendell tells us about many aspects of life in the eighteenth century, based on his extensive research. For example:

Religion

Richard Hall was a Baptist, one of the Dissenter (non-Church of England) groups in Austen’s England. This meant that even though Hall loved learning, he was not able to attend university. Oxford and Cambridge, the two English universities, would not give degrees to Dissenters. Hall could have studied in Holland, but his family decided to bring him directly into their hosiery business instead.

Richard Hall’s grandfather and father were Baptists, and Richard attended a Baptist church and listened to sermons by the famous Baptist preacher Dr. John Gill for many years. Richard also collected printed sermons by Dr. Gill. However, it was not until Richard was 36 that he “gave in his experience” and was baptized. Rendell explains that “giving in his experience” meant “explaining before the whole church at Carter Lane in Southwark how he had come to faith in Christ.”

Some of the leaders of the English Baptists of the time are part of Hall’s story, as well as disputes and divisions between Baptist churches.

Hall sometimes attended Anglican churches, and was even a churchwarden for a time. Rendell comments, “The fact that he was a Baptist did not mean that he was unwilling to attend Church of England services – just as long as the gospel was being preached.”

Methodists were another important movement in Hall’s England, though they were still part of the Anglican Church for most of Hall’s lifetime. One of Hall’s relatives, William Seward, became an early Methodist minister, preaching to open-air crowds. Rendell writes that Seward “died after being hit by a stone on the back of the head while preaching to a crowd at Hay-on-Wye, on 22 October 1740 – one of the first Methodist martyrs.”

Silhouette of Richard Hall, probably “taken” (cut out) by his daughter Martha. In 1777 Martha “gave her experience” and was baptized in a Baptist church, as her father had done.

Science

Rendell often explains advances in science that affected Hall’s life (and Jane Austen’s). He writes, “By the standards of his day . . . Richard was a well-educated man. Above all, he was a product of his time – there was a thirst for knowledge all around Richard as he grew up. There were new ideas in religion, in philosophy, in art and in architecture. This was the age of the grand tour, of trade developments with the Far East, and a new awareness of the planets and astronomy as well as an interest in chemistry and physics. It was a time when the landed gentry were experimenting with new farming methods – inspired by ‘Turnip’ Townsend and Jethro Tull – and where a nascent industrial revolution was making its faltering first steps.” Richard wrote down many scientific “facts”—or fictions—some of which are listed in an appendix.

Surprisingly, Richard Hall records several times that he saw the Aurora Borealis in southern England. Apparently, the aurora was sighted many times in Austen’s England, though it has since migrated northward.

Rendell also tells us about an invention that greatly improved transportation: the development of macadam roads. These were named for the Scotsman John McAdam who invented the process. When bitumen (tar) was added in the nineteenth century, such roads were called “tar-macadamised”: a word eventually shortened to “tarmac.”

Travel was quite an adventure in Austen’s time. Richard Hall made this detailed paper cutout of a coach and four, showing one of the fastest means of transportation available at the time. Hall also did cutouts of a coach and four about to crash because of a boulder in the road, and a one-horse coach being held up by a highwayman.

Medicine

Richard Hall’s small daughter was inoculated against smallpox, which meant she was given the actual disease. She had “between two and three hundred pustules.” But Richard writes that about three weeks later, “Through the goodness of God . . . the Dear Baby finally recovered from inoculation.” 

About ten years later, inoculation–giving the patient a hopefully mild case of smallpox–was replaced by vaccination. Dr. Edward Jenner developed this technique, where patients were given cowpox rather than smallpox to develop their immunity. However, Jenner became a member of the Royal Society (of scientists) not for his work on vaccination, but for his observations of cuckoos and their habits! He also experimented with hydrogen-filled balloons. The “naturalists” (not yet called “scientists”) of this age were interested in topics that nowadays we would separate into many different branches of science.

When Hall’s first wife, Eleanor, died of a stroke, he cut this tiny Chinese pagoda in memoriam, with her name, age, and date of death. Rendell says it is “like
lace. It is just an inch and a quarter across and most probably fitted in between the outer and inner cases of his pocket watch. In other words it was worn next to his heart. Very romantic!”

Weather

Hall also noted the weather. In 1783 he refers often “to a stifling heat, a constant haze, and to huge electrical storms which illuminated the ash cloud in a fearsome manner.” These were the effects of a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland, the Laki volcano. This eruption, the most catastrophic in history, caused an estimated two million deaths worldwide, and wiped out a quarter of the population of Iceland. In England, the harvest failed, cattle died, and about 23,000 people died of lung damage and respiratory failure.

Highwaymen were another danger in Austen’s England. In this paper cutting by Richard Hall, a criminal, possibly a highwayman, hangs on the gallows while spectators are unconcerned.

Language

Richard Hall wrote a list for himself of words that sound different than they look. He gives the spelling, then the pronunciation, which helps us see how people in his area and level of society spoke. A few examples:

Apron—Apurn

Chaise—Shaze

Cucumber—Cowcumber

Sheriff—Shreeve

Birmingham—Brummijum

Nurse—Nus

Dictionary—Dixnary

The history of some words are also explained. For example, the word “gossip” was a contraction of “God’s siblings.” Such women helped mothers in childbirth. The “gossips” offered sympathy, kept men away, and chattered in order to keep up the mother’s spirits throughout her labor.

Museums and Exhibitions

Rendell describes several museums and exhibitions that Hall visited. One of the most intriguing is Cox’s Museum, which Hall and his wife visited the year Austen was born. It featured rooms full of “bejewelled automata.” The most famous was a life-size silver swan, still a popular exhibit at the Bowes Museum in Durham (northern England). The Museum says it “rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.” No less a personage than Mark Twain admired this swan and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad.

Richard Hall’s upbringing stressed values which still resonate with many people today. Rendell writes, “. . .from an early age it had been instilled into Richard that there were only three things which could help stop the fall into the abyss of poverty, sickness and death. The first was a strong belief in the Lord, and that without faith you got nowhere. The second was the importance of education. The third was that you got nothing without working hard for it. These were the cornerstones of his upbringing – and of the whole of his subsequent life.”

Richard Hall was an artist of paper cutting. He cut out everyday objects and scenes. Many, like this finely-done rapier, were found among his books and journals.

And Much More

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is full of treasures for those of us who love reading about Jane Austen’s time period. We learn about guilds, clothing, food, disasters, transportation, prices, medical advances, explorers, and much more. 

To Rendell, Richard Hall “came across as a bit of a joyless, pious individual but then I thought: hang on, he had to face exactly the same problems as we do today – illness, worries about the business, problems with a son who was a mischief maker at school, problems with the drains etc etc. When he re-married  he fell out with his children because they didn’t approve of his new bride – and they excommunicated him [avoided and ignored him] for the rest of his life. In that sense his life was just as much of a mess as the ones we lead today!”

While Rendell originally wrote this story for his own family, when he decided to make it widely available he found he needed to promote it. He ended up in a surprising job. He says, “I had never before tried public speaking but quickly found that I loved it – and ended up with a totally new ‘career’ as a cruise ship lecturer (when Covid 19 permits!) travelling the world and talking about everyday life in the 18th Century. . . . These talks include talks about Jane Austen – in particular about the different adaptations, prequels, sequels, etc. of Pride and Prejudice – as well as talks about the venues used in the various films of Jane’s books. I also write articles for Jane Austen’s Regency World. . . . One thing led to another and I have now had a dozen books published, with two more in the pipeline.”

Mike Rendell’s books include topics such as Astley’s Circus (Astley’s is mentioned in Emma and in one of Jane Austen’s letters), Trailblazing Women of the Georgian EraPirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, and more. 18th Century Paper Cutting shows the illustrations used in this article, along with other lovely paper cuttings by Richard Hall. See Mike Rendell’s blog at mikerendell.com for more of Mike’s books and blog posts.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is available from amazon in the US and the UK. It is offered on kindle unlimited. If you order a paperback copy from Mike Rendell (Georgiangent on amazon.co.uk), he says, “if anyone orders a copy I will ask (through amazon) and see if they want a personal dedication/signed copy before popping it in the post.” (It is listed there as a hardback but is actually a paperback.)

By the way, Rendell pointed out that Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, also did paper cutting (or silhouettes). You can see examples of James’s work in Life in the Country. There is also a well-known silhouette of Jane’s brother Edward being presented to the Knight family; that one was done by a London artist, William Wellings.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman gives us valuable insights into the life of an Austen-era tradesman who became a country gentleman. What would you most like to know about the life of such a person?

___________

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

Inquiring readers, I once enjoyed afternoon tea in Fortnum and Mason’s in London. It was an exquisite, elaborate, and unforgettable experience. It was so elegant that I thought of it as high tea, but its presentation and intent had nothing in common with high tea in Jane Austen’s day, or in our present time. This post is meant to complement Rachel Dodge’s excellent post entitled “Jane Austen’s Regency Women: A Day in the Life , Part 1.” 

Afternoon tea:

The tradition of tea in the afternoon as we understand it began in 1840 with the Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857). She requested light food with tea and a few refreshments in mid-afternoon to stave off hunger pangs before dinner, which was served at 8 p.m. The Duchess soon began to invite friends to her rooms to join her in taking tea, and so a tradition began. This custom, which we celebrate to this day, began years after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.

High tea:

High tea was generally known as dinner or supper by the working classes.

For workers in the newly industrialized Britain, tea time had to wait until after work. By that hour, tea was generally served with heartier dishes which were substantially more than just tea and cakes. Workers needed sustenance after a day of hard labor, so the after-work meal was more often hot and filling and accompanied by a pot of good, strong tea to revive flagging spirits.”- Lemm

It seems that the term ‘high tea’ had more in common with furniture than a lofty service.

“Today, the evening meal in working-class households is still often called “tea” but as working patterns have changed yet again, many households now refer to the evening meal as supper. The addition of the word “high” to the phrase “high tea” is believed to differentiate between the afternoon tea that is traditionally served on low, comfortable parlor chairs or relaxing in the garden and the worker’s after-work high tea that is served at the table and seated on high back dining chairs.” – Lemm

Afternoon tea was therefor served on comfortable chairs in a drawing room or lady’s sitting room, or as a refreshment in the garden.

“Afternoon tea, also known as “low tea,” is the most often taken a a low table, like a coffee table in the sitting room before a warm fire. (Of course, it can also be served at a dining table.) High tea gets its name from its tendency to be served at a high table, like a dining table or high counter at the end of the workday.” – Brown

Breakfast:

Jane Austen was in charge of her family’s tea and sugar stores. She made her family’s breakfast at 9 a.m. The simple repast consisted of toast, rolls, or muffins and butter. Jane toasted the bread over a fire using a long handled fork or a metal rack that held the bread in place.

The typical ‘tea and toast’ breakfast that Jane Austen enjoyed was a relatively new invention. Traditionally, British breakfasts had consisted of hearty fare that often included beef and ale.” – Wilson, p. 21

Evening tea:

Tea was also served one or two hours after dinner. The time was variable, because people during the Regency era ate dinner at different times. Some ate early in the afternoon, as Jane Austen’s parents did when they were younger; some at 3 p.m., like the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice; the Bingleys dined at the more fashionable hour of 6 p.m.; and the Duchess of Bedford, a trendsetter, dined at 8 p.m. Kim Wilson quotes Captain Harry Smith in 1814 as saying, “I breakfast at eight, dine at three, have tea in the evening…” People who did not follow the latest fashion in dining kept the earlier dinner hours they and their families had always adhered to.

Confusing the issue further is that people of the time referred to all hours before dinner as ‘morning’, and the period between dinner and teas as ‘afternoon’, even if it fell in what we now call the evening. To them, ‘evening’ started after tea.” – Wilson, p. 91

In the evening after dinner, the assembled guests returned to the drawing-room. Tea was made by the ladies of the house to prevent servants from taking portions of this expensive commodity for their own use. After tea, “…when the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed” (Pride and Prejudice) the diners would play games, such as riddles or charades, or read to each other and partake of other pleasures. In Hartfield, “Mr. and Mrs. Weston and Mr. Elton sat down with Mr. Woodhouse to cards.”- (Emma)

Tea was also provided at balls, when suppers were served at midnight, in private alcoves in pleasure gardens, on visits when “Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea; and when he had drank his tea he was quite ready to go home” (Emma), and at musicales —”The first act was over. Now she hoped for some beneficial change; and, after a period of nothing-saying amongst the party, some of them did decide on going in quest of tea” (Persuasion).

A lady at a public assembly ball was dependent on a gentleman to escort her to the tea-room.

At a grand ball in Bath, Catherine Moreland of Northanger Abbey, and her friend Mrs. Allen, feel awkward and out of place until “they received an offer of tea from one of their neighbors; it was thankfully accepted, and this introduced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered it…”-Martyris

So many unanswered questions remain about tea taking in the Regency era, especially among the working classes and this post does not begin to address them or pretend to. Tea was so universal during this age, that anyone who could afford it (or smuggle it in) drank it, including Emma’s Mrs. Bates, who was “almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.

Sources:

I find Jane Austen’s daily routines inspiring, don’t you? She was well-rounded and enjoyed a variety of activities to keep her body, mind, and spirit healthy and balanced. She wrote newsy letters, played the pianoforte, prayed with her family, sewed beautifully, and loved brisk walks. Austen’s evenings at home were spent reading, sewing, and talking with her family. Evenings in company meant dinners, game tables, and dancing. And Sundays were set aside for rest and church.

But what else did Austen understand about the everyday lives of Regency women that might help further our enjoyment of her novels? What went on behind (and between) the scenes we love so well? In this series, I’ll cover a variety of topics on Regency women. Let’s start by looking at what women did each morning on a normal day.

Mornings

The Regency day was broken into two parts: Morning and Evening. Morning usually refers to the part of the day before dinner. Women changed their dresses for dinner, marking the evening portion of the day. Thus, when we read Austen’s novels, we must understand that “morning” encompasses what we refer to as morning and afternoon.

Pre-Breakfast: This was the time between rising and breakfast, which was given to various private pursuits and personal hygiene. A married woman or mistress of the house (as in Emma’s case) might use this time to look over menus and address household necessities with a housekeeper or servant. We know Austen used that time to practice the piano, walk in the garden or run short errands, and write letters to friends and family members. It’s easy to see that a lady’s personal time before breakfast was quite pleasant.

Breakfast: Breakfast was eaten around 10 a.m. in most households, as the Middletons and their guests do in Sense and Sensibility before their morning outing, though people in the country tended to eat earlier than those in town. Jane Austen herself was known for eating an earlier breakfast at 9 a.m. Breakfast was a leisurely meal, with food on the side board where people might serve themselves. In London at Mrs. Jennings’ table, we read that breakfast “lasted a considerable time” as it was her “favourite meal.”

Breakfasts in the Regency period were “dainty meals of varieties of bread, cake and hot drinks, served in the breakfast-parlour…and eaten…off…fine china” (Maggie Lane, Jane Austen and Food). However, an early and more substantial breakfast might be taken before traveling a long distance. In Mansfield Park, Henry and Fanny’s brother eat a hearty breakfast before setting out early in the morning: “the remaining cold pork bones and mustard in William’s plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shells in Mr. Crawford’s.”

Coffee, tea, and chocolate were the favorite hot drinks of the time, but tea was a breakfast staple for the Austen family: “Toast was made in front of the fire by the consumers themselves, rather than by their servants” (Lane 31). Jane Austen’s duties at breakfast included “[t]oasting the bread and boiling the water for tea in a kettle.” In Sanditon, we find this detail: “[Arthur] took his own cocoa from the tray . . . and turning completely to the fire, sat coddling and cooking it to his own satisfaction and toasting some slices of bread . . .” (ch. 10).

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Morning Calls: Visiting took up a great portion of the day, usually anywhere from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., depending on each household’s meal times. Normally, it was safest to call between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. for most households. Between visits or on quiet mornings at home, women tended to sew together as we know Austen herself enjoyed doing. In Sense and Sensibility, we’re told that the ladies settled themselves after breakfast “round the common working table.” Their work, of course, was needlework.

Social visits were typically 15 minutes in duration. A shorter visit was considered a snub, as is seen in Emma when she allows Harriet Smith to make a 14-minute visit to the Martins: “The style of the visit, and the shortness of it, were then felt to be decisive. Fourteen minutes to be given to those with whom she had thankfully passed six weeks not six months ago!” (emphasis mine). However, in Pride and Prejudice, emphasis is given to the length of Georgiana Darcy’s visit to Elizabeth at the inn: “Their visitors stayed with them above half-an-hour” (emphasis mine).

Visits were made for a variety of reasons, but special visits to friends and neighbors were made before and after trips away from home; new neighbors were often visited, as we see in Pride and Prejudice when Mrs. Bennet pressured Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley; and new brides were visited by everyone in the neighborhood. When Mr. Elton brings Mrs. Elton home, Mr. Woodhouse says, “Not to wait upon a bride is very remiss. […] I ought to have paid my respects to her if possible. It was being very deficient.”

As a Regency woman, morning visits must have ranged from enjoyable and entertaining to downright bothersome and boring. But one thing we modern readers must keep in mind: Virtually every visit required a reciprocal visit. Once you began visiting someone, it must have been difficult to ever stop!

Luncheon: Lunch did not exist as we know it today. Instead, light refreshments were brought in during the day, often during visit. These light meals were comprised of cold foods and served in whatever room the family was in at the time.  When callers came, the woman receiving a visit rang for refreshments and was expected to offer and serve tea and refreshments, all while carrying on polite conversation.

In Austen’s novels, these midday refreshments are referred to as a “tray,” “cold meat,” “a set-out” or a “cold repast” (Lane 35).  In Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth visits Miss Darcy at Pemberley, we read of “cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season.”

Interestingly, the only time a “lunch” of sorts is mentioned in Austen’s novels is at an inn. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters eat “‘the nicest cold luncheon in the world,’ which consists of ‘a sallad and cucumber’ and ‘such cold meat as an inn larder normally affords’” (Ch. 39). In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby stops for a quick “nuncheon” when traveling from London to Cleveland, consisting of “a pint of porter” and “cold beef.”

Dressing for dinner: At the conclusion of a full day of visiting with friends, neighbors, and family members, Regency women then returned to their rooms to change for dinner. The timing of this change of dress again depended on the hours kept in each home. This provided women time to refresh themselves, arrange their hair, and put on their evening dresses. (I imagine they also took the opportunity to loosen their stays for a bit!)

Evening activities ranged from simple dinners at home to full nights of dinner, dancing, and entertaining—sometimes until the early morning hours—so a Regency woman’s day did not necessarily end when the sun went down. Often, it was just getting started!

Please join me next month in Part 2 of this series as we explore the evening portion of a Regency woman’s day.

Food for thought: If you lived in Jane Austen’s time, what would you spend your time doing before breakfast?

Rachel Dodge is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 2020). Rachel teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen‘s World blog and Jane Austen‘s Regency World magazine. You can visit her at RachelDodge.com.

P&P Book CoverInquiring Readers, On September 15th Chronicle Books will release an edition of  Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters’ Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand, By Jane Austen, Curated by Barbara Heller. I received my lovely copy along with this text:

“This deluxe edition brings to life the letters exchanged among Jane Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice. 

Glassine pockets placed throughout the book contain removable replicas of 19 letters from the story. 

Image of Pride and Prejudice letters with glassine inserts. Image Chronicle Books.

Pride and Prejudice letters with glassine inserts. Image Chronicle Books.

These powerful epistles include Lydia’s announcement of her elopement, Mr. Collins’s obsequious missives, and of course Darcy’s painfully honest letter to Elizabeth.

  • Nothing captures Jane Austen’s vivid emotion and keen wit better than her characters’ correspondence.
  • Each letter is re-created with gorgeous calligraphy.
  • Letters are hand-folded with painstaking attention to historical detail.

Perusing the letters will transport readers straight to the drawing-room at Netherfield or the breakfast table at Longbourn.”

Image of Barbara Heller

Barbara Heller

Purchase the book at Chronicle Books, or at other booksellers, including Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Barnes and Noble.

Find Barbara Heller at BarbaraHeller.org, with information about her process and the scribes and graphic artist who designed the letters.

 

ChattyFeet Winners of Jane Austoe Socks!

In mid-August we held a contest regarding ChattyFeet’s Jane Austoe socks and received a variety of creative answers to our prompts. 

We announced three winners on August 22nd–Denise, Mea, and Mary. Mea proudly sent images of her wearing the socks and holding them. 

Denise, another contest winner, also sent in her images.

 

Denise with her new chattyfeet socks

Denise with her new chattyfeet socks

Denise and her socks view her Darcy and Lizzie figurines.

Denise and her socks view her Darcy and Lizzie figurines.

Vic received a surprise gift from Gil Kahana, the CEO of this funky, wonderful site. It was a literature box set of four outstanding authors: Jane Austoe, Virginia Wool, Ernestoe Hemingway, and Marcel Proustoe. I was thrilled and immediately donned two socks. Guess which author dominated!

Image of Vic wears rival authors on her feet whilst reading Fullerton's A Dance With Jane Austen.

Vic wears rival authors on her feet whilst reading Fullerton’s A Dance With Jane Austen.

The box is as unique as the socks.

ChattyFeet does not stop at literature. Famous artists, scientists, and royals also receive the funky and humorous treatment. Jane Austoe is the latest design to receive foot accolades. 

Inquiring Readers, I discovered that Susanna Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Austen author, is as much of a fan of Georgette Heyer as I am, perhaps more. This delightful article compares and contrasts the writings of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Susannah also offers a giveaway at the end of her article. Enjoy!

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Regency Buck there’s a delightful scene that takes place in Hookham’s Library in London’s Bond Street. The heroine, Judith Taverner, picks up a novel called Sense and Sensibility, one of the “new publications on offer” and written “By a Lady”. She proceeds to read aloud to her cousin Bernard from the scene when mercenary John Dashwood congratulates his sister Elinor on capturing the romantic interest of Colonel Brandon. John Dashwood is of course mistaken – it is Marianne that interests the Colonel – and it’s a lovely comic moment of misunderstanding. Judith closes the book and says to her cousin, “Surely the writer of that must possess a most lively mind?” This is one of the tributes that Heyer pays to Jane Austen, in her fiction. She knew only too well how very lively was the mind of her favourite novelist.

She’d have loved to have learned more about Jane Austen, but Heyer did not have the wealth of material available to today’s reader. James Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir had been published, and she could also turn to Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, but otherwise she had to pretty much rely on the novels to gain details she could use in her own fiction. There was no superbly researched edition of the letters by Deirdre le Faye, no Tomalin biography, no John Mullan analysis, for Heyer to turn to. But she made the most of what she had and reread the novels frequently. One reviewer of Friday’s Child picked up on this, noting with approval, “The author has read Jane Austen to advantage”.

I think Heyer must have felt, even with the limited biographical material available to her, that she had much in common with Jane Austen. Both women lost adored fathers and had rather troubled relationships with their mothers, both cherished their privacy, both were meticulous when it came to accuracy, and neither suffered fools easily. Both novelists “dearly loved to laugh” and their humour shines through in their fiction.

Sense and Sensibility is a novel about sisters and one can see the influence of this in Heyer’s oeuvre. Frederica is the sensible sister in the novel of that name, while Charis is the emotional and romantic equivalent of Marianne Dashwood. Mary and Sophia Challoner of Devil’s Cub, Horatia and Elizabeth Winwood of The Convenient Marriage are more examples of Austen-influenced sister-pairings, and Heyer shows, just as Austen did in Sense and Sensibility, that second attachments can succeed and that sometimes handsome young men turn out to be rotters.

Heyer learned from Northanger Abbey too, playing with Gothic conventions such as abductions, strange and overbearing ‘villains’, dark and stormy nights, and people being locked in cellars – but, like Austen, she mines Gothic tropes for humour, not for scariness. We find Gothic devices being mocked in The Reluctant Widow, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child, Cousin Kate and Faro’s Daughter.

Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablancain 2008
Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablanca in 2008

Novelist PD James once described Pride and Prejudice as “Mills & Boon, written by a genius”. Certainly, Austen’s novels give us the standard romance plot of ‘boy meets girl – consequent misunderstanding – romantic happiness’. Of course, Austen adds to this standard plot her own unique depth, psychological acuteness, and complexity of character which lifts her books into the realm of genius. Heyer uses this standard plot too – just as Elizabeth Bennet has to listen to Darcy’s “not handsome enough to tempt me”, so does Arabella have to listen to slighting comments from Mr Beaumaris. Like Austen, Heyer shows her couples learning about themselves and their world, often through making mistakes or initial prejudice. Sylvester, like Darcy, will learn to be “properly humbled” by the woman he comes to love, Sherry has to learn from Hero to think of others and not just himself, Freddy Standen in Cotillion must discover that love comes into one’s life in unexpected ways. Heyer shows couples sparring with each other in seeming dislike, just as Elizabeth and Darcy bandy words in the ball room. In Bath Tangle, Lady of Quality, Black Sheep and The Grand Sophy we see young men and women falling in love as they argue, and so often their language has echoes of the language used by Austen’s characters.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, and eyes that speak to each other are important in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy finds himself admiring Elizabeth’s very fine eyes and when Emma’s eyes “invited him irresistibly to come to her”, Mr Knightley doesn’t even try to resist. The eyes of Heyer’s heroines (usually cool grey ones) are often mentioned and are a great part of their attraction to their lovers. Eyes in her novels also sparkle with laughter, for Heyer’s heroines all love to laugh, as do Austen’s (even Fanny Price laughs – once!). Gurgles of laughter, lips twitching in smiles, and sudden bursts of laughter, all remind one of Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter, or of Emma’s smiles.

Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen's six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.
Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen’s six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

“There are just so many similarities in language, character and plot, as one sees again and again how Heyer pays tribute to Jane Austen. To many modern readers, the idea of cousins marrying each other is not appealing (we know of the possible genetic consequences for their children), but we find cousin marriages, which must have been common in the Regency, happening in Mansfield Park and in The Grand Sophy. That Heyer novel has a rather sleepy Spanish woman, a Marquesa, who is surely a Lady Bertram copy-cat, Dr Grant’s obsession with food and wine is mirrored in the wonderfully named Sir Bonamy Ripple of False Colours, and sudden illness, elopements to Scotland, and marital unhappiness (all to be found in Mansfield Park) are found frequently in Heyer. Sir Thomas Bertram and Miles Calverleigh have money from Indian plantations, Tom Bertram and Horatia Winwood are addicted to gaming, Fanny Price and Kitty Charing are taken in by relatives when young, and even Lady Bertram’s lazy pug is comically reincarnated in Friday’s Child. Emma is a rather managing young lady – so is Sophy Stanton-Lacy of The Grand Sophy though Emma has more to learn than Sophy; Miss Bates rarely stops talking long enough to draw breath and we gain such a vivid sense of how exhausting it must be for poor Jane Fairfax to live with her – Maria Farlow in Lady of Quality also has an inexhaustible flow of “nothing-sayings” which exhausts Annis; and Mr Woodhouse’s hypochondria has influenced the vapourish and imagined illness of many Heyer characters. Mrs Elton’s social climbing teaches Mrs Challoner a thing or two, dim-witted Harriet Smith and Belinda of The Foundling have much in common, while Bath Tangle concerns itself with lost love and second chances, just as does Persuasion.

Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer wrote about young women who enter the marriage market, and their novels are centred on romantic relationships. However, both novelists then proceed to de-centre this romance by using comedy, irony and by showing us the realities of marriage. Sometimes love or lust are just not enough, as is obvious from the Bennet marriage. Both writers investigate what W.H. Auden called “the amorous effects of brass” and show how money influences and distorts. And both show us the instability and social concerns of the Regency era (urban poverty, enclosure of land, women lacking dowries, a growing middle class, and soldiers with not enough to do). They give us heroines who must learn to cope on their own while losing homes, income, family and love, both show an unerring sense of place, and they give us so much to laugh over.

I love both of these authors, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for very different reasons. Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels, Heyer historical ones, so she spends more time explaining social detail than does Austen. I love Heyer’s sense of fun and relax into her fiction without feeling challenged or disturbed (which in these Covid times is exactly what I need). But Heyer never provides the acute psychological brilliance that we find in Austen, or the sheer innovation, or the depth of characterisation, or the knowledge that every single time we go back to her books we will learn something new about ourselves or other people. Austen challenges our intellects and makes us think; Heyer soothes and restores. Georgette Heyer would have been the first to admit that her own talents were far inferior to those of her literary mentor – she knew her novels were not in the same class. And yet her novels have huge charm and I am happy to keep going back to them, always with delight. I think that as readers we can rejoice in the differences and enjoy both writers in different ways, and have the fun of finding the echoes of Austen in the pages of Heyer.

Jennie Chawleigh of A Civil Contract reads Mansfield Park after her marriage to Adam. She is consoled by reading in its pages that a man can form a deep and lasting second attachment, and seeing Edmund Bertram begin to forget Mary and think about Fanny brings her comfort. I love such references made by one of my favourite novelists to the writer whose books I adore more than any other. In my view, one can find that both writers are, in the words of Heyer, “complete to a shade”, each in their own inimitable way.

About Susannah Fullerton:

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen – Jane Austen and Crime, A Dance with Jane Austen, Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction. She has also organised 3 Georgette Heyer conferences in Sydney and edited Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade. Please visit her website at https://susannahfullerton.com.au/ She is a ‘Lady Patroness’ of the newly formed International Heyer Society, which publishes a newsletter ‘Nonpareil’ and sends out fascinating posts about all things Heyer. For further information, see https://heyersociety.com/

Bibliography:

A fuller version of this article can be found in Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer, Edited by Rachel Hyland, Overlord Publishing, 2018

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester, ,Penguin, 2011

SPECIAL OFFER!:

Susannah writes a very popular blog, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’, which comes out for free on the first day of each month. This blog provides reading recommendations, keeps you up-to-date concerning film versions of classic novels, discusses a fabulous poem each month, and much more.

If you subscribe to this blog before 31 September, your name will be entered into a draw to win one of these prizes:

  • A signed copy of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade 
Image of the cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
Cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime

  • A 25-page Reader’s Guide to Jane Austen’s Emma

  • Complimentary membership for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 of the International Heyer Society

  • Two of Susannah’s fabulously illustrated video talks: ‘Jane Austen: Her Life and Works’ and ‘The Inimitable Georgette Heyer’ (each talk is about 60 mins)

To enter the draw, simply email Susannah on susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au, reference HEYER, and she will subscribe you to the blog and enter your name in the draw. Winners will be announced at the end of September.

Georgette Heyer links on this blog:

How I Fell In Love With Georgette Heyer, Vic Sanborn, August 7, 2012

Georgette Heyer Posts on Jane Austen’s World

You deserve a longer letter than this, but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve…” – Jane Austen

Introduction:

In August, 1798, Rev George and Mrs. Austen and their daughters Cassandra and Jane visited Godmersham, Edward Austen-Knight’s estate near Godmersham, Kent, where he had moved with his family in November, 1797. While Jane and her parents returned to Steventon in October, Cassandra remained behind until March, 1799. Jane wrote the following letter on Christmas eve in the middle of Cassandra’s prolonged visit. 

Godmersham-Park-Public-Domain-1799-Wikipedia

Godmersham Park, 1799, Wikipedia public domain image

Jane Austen’s letter:

Steventon: Monday Night, Dec 24 [1798]

My dear Cassandra

Our ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant. There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room. Of the gentlemen present you may have some idea from the list of my partners—Mr. Wood, G. Lefroy, Rice, a Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons). Mr. Temple (not the horrid one of all). Mr. Wm Orde (cousin to the Kingsclere man). Mr. John Harwood, and Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, and stood every now and then behind Catherine and me to be talked to and abused for not dancing. We teased him, however, into it at last. I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation…

There were twenty dances, and I danced them all, and without any fatigue…My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room…Of my charities to the poor since I came home you shall have a faithful account. I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens, and Dame Staples: a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins: amounting in all to about half a guinea…

I was to have dined at Deane today, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of snow. We are to have company to dinner on Friday: the three Digweeds and James. We shall be a nice silent party. I suppose.

You deserve a longer letter than this, but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve…God bless you!

Yours affectionately, Jane Austen

Image of Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons

Steventon Parsonage, Wikimedia Commons

This short letter might reveal very little information to the contemporary reader, but Cassandra knew the context of every sentence Jane wrote. She knew the people, time, place, and setting, since she lived it. No detailed descriptions were needed for Cassandra to comprehend the letter’s full meaning

Thankfully for us, records and books exist that will help us make more sense of Jane’s cryptic words.

The Years Leading to Austen’s Letter

Jane and Cassandra had just experienced a number of eventful years. In 1796, Jane met and danced with Tom LeFroy at Deane. We know the details of this meeting in the first existing letter Jane wrote to Cassandra. In August, 1797,  Cassandra learned that Thomas Fowle, her fiance, died tragically of fever in the West Indies months earlier and was buried at sea. A little over a year after the shocking news, she must still have been in deep mourning.

By 1798, Jane had already written the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, initially entitled First Impressions, and Sense and Sensibility, originally drafted as an epistolary novel entitled Elinor and Marianne. Just five months previously, her dear cousin Lady Williams (Jane Cooper) had died in a carriage accident, another cause for mourning. 

Timeline of events:

1795(?)Cassandra engaged to Thomas Fowle.
 MayMrs. James Austen died.
1795-6Mr. Tom Lefroy at Ashe.
1796 First Impressions (Pride and Prejudice) begun.
1797,Jan.James Austen married Mary Lloyd.
 Feb.Thomas Fowle died of fever in the W. Indies.
 Nov.Jane, with mother and sister, went to Bath.
  First Impressions refused by Cadell.
  Sense and Sensibility (already sketched in Elinor and Marianne) begun.
1798,Aug.Lady Williams (Jane Cooper) killed in a carriage accident.
  Mrs. Knight gave up Godmersham to the Edward Austens. Jane’s first visit there.
1798,Aug.First draft of Northanger Abbey begun.
Timeline/context of the letter in Project Gutenberg:  Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh

About Austen’s Letters

Deidre Le Faye in Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, listed Austen’s known letters in chronological order. At a glance one can see when and where the sisters were apart. Many casual readers think of Jane as a spinster and a homebody, but the list demonstrates how often and how extensively she and Casssandra traveled, largely in the south of England. This link leads to an interactive map of her travels in Smithsonian Magazine. 

Le Faye chronicles the ten letters Jane sent to Cassandra during her visit to Godmersham. They were written from October 24, 1798 to January 23, 1799. This letter, which described past and future events, was dated December 24th, Christmas eve. The ball had already occurred. Christmas festivities in 1798 were rather simple compared to festivities introduced during Queen Victoria’s time, (Click on this link to a Georgian Christmas). Jane must have missed her sister even more on this occasion.

Deirdre Le Faye, in her descriptive article for Persuasion #14, 1992, entitled Jane Austen’s Letters, described the letters as “often hasty and elliptical–the equivalent of chatty telephone conversations between the sisters, keeping each other informed of the events at home…interspersed with news of the day, both local and national.” (p. 82, Jane Austen’s Letters) 

Example of a cross written letter to save paper and postage, much as the Austens sent to each other. The recipient of the letter paid for the postage. Paper was saved by cross writing. Image in the public domain.

Example of a cross written letter to save paper and postage, much as the Austens sent to each other. The recipient of the letter paid for the postage. Paper was saved by cross writing. Image in the public domain.

When Jane and Cassandra were apart, they wrote each other every three days, or five letters in a fortnight. As soon as one was sent, they began to write the next one. The letters followed a pattern, telling the other of the journey, then about daily events and how life was at home, then talking about the visit at the destination, and finally of the journey home. This pattern helped Le Faye determine which letters (or set of letters) were missing or destroyed by Cassandra.

When Jane was ready to mail her letter, Mr. Austen dropped it off at the post box in Deane as he made his rounds throughout his parish. Cassandra bequeathed this letter to Fanny Knatchbull, née Austen-Knight, which eventually made its way into her son’s, Lord Brabourne’s, publication of Jane’s letters.

Events in the Letter: The Ball, the People, and the Setting

The setting

In her December 24th letter, Jane indicated her physical fitness – she danced all twenty dances without any fatigue. As a country girl who helped her family in the kitchen garden or with breakfast, and who walked into town, to church, or to visit neighbors at Deane or Ashe, she was in prime physical condition. View this map of Steventon, Deane, and Ashe.

She described the ball as being thin.

There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room.

It is hard to tell if the ball was public or private. The word “thin,” however, indicated that it must have been public to anyone who had a subscription. If the ball had been private, then the hosts would have ensured that the correct number of persons of both sexes would have been invited. Once they accepted the invitation, good manners would have obliged them to show up. If the December ball had been private, Jane would surely have known who and how many were coming. There would have been few surprises. 

basinstoke town hall

Basingstoke Town Hall in the late 18th early 19th centuries.

Public assembly balls were held in Basingstoke’s town hall, which was a little over 7 miles from Steventon (an hour’s carriage ride in good weather, since horses pulling carriages traveled 6 miles per hour on average). Dancing was performed in a ballroom on the first floor that also held a card room for gentlemen like Mr. Austen, who might not have felt like dancing.

Frequent allusions are made in the “Letters” to the county balls at Basingstoke. These took place, it seems, once a month on a Thursday during the season. They were held in the Assembly Rooms, and were frequented by all the well-to-do families of the out-lying neighbourhood; many of them, like the Austens, coming from long distances, undeterred by the dangers of dark winter nights, lampless lanes, and stormy weather.” – Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, Constance Hill, Illustrations by Ellen G. Hill, John Lane, The Bodley Head Limited, first Published 1901. Downloaded August 30, 2020.

The people

Dancers Jane described in her letter were:

Rev George and Mrs Anne Lefroy (née Brydges). The reverend obtained his living in Ashe in 1783, and Madam Lefroy, as she was locally known, was Jane’s good friend and mentor. In her letters, Jane talked of visiting friends and neighbors, such as the Lefroys of Ashe Park, which was within easy walking distance. In 1800, Jane wrote:

“We had a very pleasant day on Monday at Ashe (Park). We sat down fourteen to dinner in the study, the dining-room being not habitable from the storms having blown…down its chimney. There was a whist and a casino table…” – Constance Hill

Ashe Rectory-Hill

Ashe Rectory. Illustration by Ellen Hill

Mr. Wood: All we know about John Wood is that he was Jane’s dance partner. 

Rice is most likely Henry Rice, who married Jemima-Lucy Lefroy. He was known to be a fun-loving spendthrift who was often bailed out by his mother.

Mr. Temple, mostly likely Frank, who served in the navy. His friend was Samuel Butcher.

Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons.) Samuel Butcher was five years older than Jane. He was appointed to HMS Sans Pareil in 1795.

Mr. Wm Orde (cousin to the Kingscler man) of Nunnykirk “perhaps.” He remained unmarried.

Mr. Calland, who Penelope Hughes-Hallett identified as the Rector of Bentworth. The joke in the Austen family was that he always appeared at any function with a hat in his hand, which Mrs. Austen made fun of with a poem. On this day, Jane and her friend Catherine teased him into dancing.

Catherine is Catherine Bigg, daughter of Mr. Bigg Wither of Manydown Park, and Jane’s good friend.

“Manydown is within easy reach of Basingstoke, and Jane often stayed there when the Assembly balls took place. She had done so on the present occasion.”- Constance Hill

18th century engraving of Manydown Park

18th century engraving of Manydown Park

Of my charities to the poor…

In this section of the letter, Jane listed the Steventon villagers who received her largesse:

I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens, and Dame Staples: a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins:”

Hannah was Dame Staples’ daughter. Jane Austen, as a rector’s daughter of the most influential man (not the richest) in the parishes he served, was obligated to support the many poor ladies in Steventon. Her gifts, simple as they seemed, were multiplied by the gifts of food and clothing from the community at large and kept the villager women from dire extremes. Mrs. and Miss Bates in Emma depend on the kindness of neighbors to survive, as Jane wrote in scene after scene.

The Austens, while influential in Steventon, were not rich. They belonged, as Lucy Worsley writes in Jane Austen at Home, to the pseudo-gentry.

“Jane belonged to the pseudo-gentry; there was land in her family, but her parents and siblings didn’t own land, so they had to make do and mend and gloss things over.”

Pseudo-gentry kept up appearances even though their means fell short of their richer neighbors, friends, and relatives. Still, Jane managed from her meager yearly-pin money of around £20 to spend a sum “amounting in all to about half a guinea….”

Half a guinea was a gold coin minted from the Guinea Coast in Africa, which ceased to be minted around the time of this letter. The idea that Jane possessed a gold coin is far fetched. In Austen’s day, a guinea had a value of 21 shillings–this value could change depending on the quality of the coinage in use. Interestingly, the gold coin’s purchasing power (comparing Austen’s time to now), remains a little over 1 pound today. (CPI Inflation calendar).

The ball and dances

Balls in the days of Miss Austen consisted mainly of country dances, for the stately minuet was going out of vogue, while the rapid waltz had not yet come in. We must picture to ourselves the ladies and gentlemen ranged in two long rows facing one another, whilst the couples at the extreme ends danced down the set; the most important lady present having been privileged to “call” or lead off the dance.”… Constance Hill

Which dances did Jane Austen dance?

Country dances as late as 1798 had very little variation, with long lines of couples progressing up and down a set that could last from twenty minutes to as much as an hour. This and other dances mentioned by Austen included cotillions performed as a square by four couples. The boulanger was known as a “finishing” dance performed at the last. It was physically an easy dance to do and one that after a night of physical exertion was probably most welcome. – (“What did Jane Austen Dance,” Capering & Kickery, 2009)

Dances Austen might have danced in 1798, since they were popular during that time, were the Scotch reel, the minuet (rapidly going out of fashion), and Sir Roger de Coverley, another finishing dance (although no record exists of Jane mentioning this dance). One dance she and her contemporaries decidedly did not dance during this period was the waltz, although Jane might have heard its music. (Capering & Kickery.)

The Music

Jane adored music and she made eight volumes of her own collections, two of which she wrote by hand (copying sheets of music). The music included songs by Handel and English composers, and instrumental pieces by Correlli, Gluck and J.C. Bach. (Jane Austen and classical music: how Bath brought them together, Discover Music.)

'The London March', manuscript music copied by Jane Austen, image in the public domain

‘The London March’, manuscript music copied by Jane Austen, image in the public domain

Susan of Capering and Kickery reminds readers that dancers during the end of the 18th century and in the Regency era paid attention to fashionable “music in the moment.” Dancers would not have chosen to dance to music popular in the 17th or early 18th centuries. “Austen was no more likely to dance a 75- or 100-year old dance than she was to wear fashions from a hundred years earlier.”

Many contemporary comments regarding the music in the recent mini-series of “Sanditon” and the film, “Emma.” 2020, were scathing regarding the raw country tunes that were played in the dance scenes, many of which were Scottish airs and folk music, like “The Water is Wide,” which is popular to this day. Yet these movies have it wrong. 

“… dances like “Hole in the Wall,” “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” “Childgrove,” and “Grimstock” (all dating from 1650 to 1710) are nothing Jane Austen or her characters would have been caught dead dancing.”- Capering and Kickery

Yet, due to films, such as 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” (an adaptation I admire), modern audiences accept these dance choices as authentic. Neither Cassandra nor Jane would have.

The Musicians

Well-paid musicians in London would have played more sophisticated pieces from the Continent interspersed with popular English music. Country balls, however, employed traveling musicians (from 5-6) who sought work from town to town. Villagers and townsmen might have sought out local talent, who consisted of anyone who could play an instrument, no matter the quality of their play. Think of Mary Bennet, whose talent at the piano forte was bad, versus an impresario like Jane Fairfax.  Elizabeth Bennet could play tolerably well and Anne Elliot was called upon to play at the piano forte as the family rolled up the carpet for an impromptu dance in the evening. 

Image of Henry Raeburn, violinist and composer, 1727-1807

Henry Raeburn, violinist and composer, 1727-1807

Ball dress:

The only reference Austen makes to her dress is:

My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room…”

At twenty-three years of age, Jane was almost on the shelf and in danger of becoming a spinster. She had begun to wear caps earlier than most other unmarried ladies, and in this respect her quote was not surprising. It is hard, however, to find a black cap in the fashion magazines of her day and before. Black hats were shown in the magazines, but not caps in that color. They were generally made of white muslin and sewn by the women who wore them. Tom Fowle’s death hit Cassandra hard (she was not to learn of his passing until months after the event when the ship made it back to port.)

Cassandra knew exactly what Jane was writing about regarding the cap; but we can only conjecture. Regency mourning customs were not as strict as in Victorian times, but wearing a black cap was perhaps Jane’s way of honoring his memory and perhaps Jane Cooper. The following quote from The British Library states:

The Gallery of Fashion shows a lot of mourning dresses. A woman might spend a considerable part of her life wearing mourning of some sort, for distant relatives as well as close ones, so it is not surprising that there was a pressure to remain fashionable while doing so.” – Gallery of Fashion, The British Library.

In any case, little is known of the black cap. The closeup of this image is the only 1798 full dress example I found online after hours of searching.

Detail, Fashion Plate, 'Full Dress for Decr. 1798' for 'Lady's Monthly Museum'

Detail, Fashion Plate, ‘Full Dress for Dec. 1798’ for ‘Lady’s Monthly Museum’

In 1798, ladies’ dresses made the transition from round gowns (so prettily drawn in Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion (1794-1802) to sleeker, more figure hugging gowns popular in the early 19th century. 

Fashion Plate, 'Full Dress for Decr. 1798' for 'Lady's Monthly Museum', LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Fashion Plate, ‘Full Dress for Decr. 1798’ for ‘Lady’s Monthly Museum’, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Women’s dresses during this decade sported trains. Austen’s gown in the ball she attended in 1798 was probably a full dress gown, since the senior Austens were too often strapped for income to afford a full array of morning gowns, walking gowns, dinner gowns, full dress gowns, and ball gowns for their two girls. 

Jane began to write Northanger Abbey in 1798, when gowns with trains were fashionable. This extra fabric must have gotten quite dirty during country walks and work around the house, and might have tripped the dancer and her partners if left to its own devices. This passage from her novel provided the solution:

The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set;” – Chapter 5, Northanger Abbey

Image of "Pinned up each others trains", Northanger Abbey illustration in the public domain, Hugh Thompson. British Library.

“Pinned up each others trains”, Northanger Abbey illustration in the public domain, Hugh Thompson. British Library.

Shoes and the accoutrements of a lady’s dance wardrobe

Interestingly, many shoes made for dancing lasted for only one evening or two. The slippers, constructed of cloth or delicate kid, barely lasted the full hours of physical exertion. The slippers were festooned with rosettes made with a fabric that matched or complimented the ladies’ gowns. Mrs. Austen made dance slippers of fabric for her grandchildren, much in this tradition.

Gloves not only came above the elbow, but were often made of kid leather, which were a buttery color. The gloves also were made with white or an assortment of pale, soft colored cloths. Gentlemen wore gloves as well, for it was unseemly for a gentleman and lady to touch each other with bare hands. Another necessity, especially on warm nights, or when candlelight and exertion overheated the ballroom, was a fan. 

Dance cards were not yet as popular as in the 19th century, but a lady knew not to commit to too many dances ahead of the ball in case a likely prospect entered the room later in the evening. A couple could dance only two sets together, for dancing more than two was considered ill-mannered.

As mentioned in this letter, only five single women danced in a room with twenty men, which meant that each female was quite busy and exhausted at the end of the night. After supper, served around midnight, the ladies and their partner sat with the lady’s family or chaperones. The etiquette of the ballroom was quite strict. Once a lady refused to dance with a gentleman, she had to sit out the rest of the dances for the evening.

In her novels, Jane used this convention to differentiate the villains from the obedient or the heroes and heroines, or to demonstrate personality quirks. Mr. Elton’s rudeness in refusing a dance with poor Harriet Smith in Emma humiliated the young woman and spoke ill of his character. Mr. Knightley, in inviting Harriet to dance, showed his heroic instincts. These actions demonstrated a gentleman’s quality better than any exposition Jane could have written. Her contemporary readers knew this, but we in the 21st century must learn these quirks of etiquette through research and reading.

Post Ball mentions

I was to have dined at Deane today, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of snow. We are to have company to dinner on Friday: the three Digweeds and James. We shall be a nice silent party. I suppose.”

Deane House-Hill

Image of Deane House, Ellen Hill.

Dining at Deane meant dining in the old manor house of Deane with Squire Harwood and his family. In this house Jane had danced with Tom Lefroy in 1796. The Harwoods were very well off according to late 18th century standards, but this was not to last. Upon his death in 1813, it was discovered that John Harwood had mortgaged his estate to the hilt, leaving his heir in ruin and his widow and daughter with nothing.

As for not dining with the Harwoods in December, 1798, the narrow country lanes between Steventon, Deane and Ashe were filled with deep ruts. Wet snow would have deterred the company from visiting their good friends. 

Austen’s letter ends with a planned dinner with the Digweeds on Friday, December 28th. The Digweeds were tenants of Steventon Manor in Steventon Parish, who rented the land from Mr. Knight in Godmersham Park. (p. 18, Jane Austen’s Country Life.) The Digweeds and the Austens grazed hundreds of sheep around the village. (p. 21, Country Life.) Harry and William-Francis Digweed (who, with their brothers, were playmates with the Austen siblings) were joint tenants until 1798. James Digweed, ordained in 1797, became curate of Steventon in 1798. Jane, it seems, anticipated a quiet (boring?) evening.

Gentle reader: This analysis ends my research into this letter, which was sent shorthand to Cassandra. She would have mentally filled in the gaps easily and fluently, gaps that we today struggle to understand.   

Deirdre Le Fay, who passed away just a few weeks ago, painstakingly researched Austen’s letters and their corresponding information for her massive undertaking, Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition. With its lists of letters, the letters, abbreviations and citations, notes and general notes on the letters, select bibliography, biographical index, topographical index, subject index, and general index is 667 pages long. This world has lost a scholar of the first rank. 

References: 

Jane Austen’s Letters, Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 4th Edition (December 1, 2011), ISBN-100199576076, ISBN-13 : 978-0199576074

Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, Deidre Le Faye, Frances Lincoln (June 1, 2014) ISBN-100711231583, ISBN-13978-0711231580

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, Lucy Worsley, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017. Hardcover, 400 pages. ISBN-13978-1250131607, ISBN-10125013160X

A Dance With Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball, Susannah Fullerton, Frances Lincoln, 2012. ISBN-100711232458, ISBN-13 978-0711232457

“Historian Lucy Worsley goes around the houses with Jane Austen at York Literature Festival,” By Charles Hutchinson, The Press, 19th March 2018: Downloaded 8/25/2020, https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16097178.historian-lucy-worsley-goes-around-houses-jane-austen-york-literature-festival/

A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, Sue Wilkes, https://visitjaneaustensengland.blogspot.com/2015/07/down-on-farm.html

“The Three Churches of Steventon, Ashe, and Deane.” Downloaded 8-29-2020: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/england/hampshire/the-three-churches-of-steventon-ashe-and-deane?u=i

“Steventon, Basingstoke, Deane survey,” downloaded 8-29-2020: https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/local/steventon-basingstoke-and-deane

Shoe roses: downloaded August 30, 2020. https://janeausten.co.uk/blogs/fashion-to-make/make-shoe-roses  “No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after; — the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.”–P&P Netherfield Ball

“What Did Jane Austen Dance?” Capering & Kickery, Nov 1, 2009: Downloaded Aug 30, 2020. https://www.kickery.com/2009/11/what-did-jane-austen-dance.html

“‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood . . .'” —Northanger Abbey

The only riot in Jane Austen’s novels takes place in Eleanor Tilney’s mind, her brother says. But is it only in her mind?

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is walking with Henry and Eleanor Tilney  on Beechen Cliff, which overlooks Bath. They admire the scenery, then the conversation moves to government and politics;

“from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded [Henry’s] short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Not surprisingly, since they had just been talking about government and politics, Eleanor thinks that Catherine has heard rumors of something terrible about to happen in London.

“Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, ‘Indeed! And of what nature?’”

[Catherine responds,] “’That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.’”

“’Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?’”

“’A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.’”

“’You speak with astonishing composure! But I hope your friend’s accounts have been exaggerated; and if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.’”

“’Government,’ said Henry, endeavouring not to smile, ‘neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much.’”

[Eleanor responds,] “’Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.’”

“”Riot! What riot?’”

[Henry explains,] “’My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out . . .’”.

Catherine is talking about a new Gothic novel!

Henry explains that Eleanor, though,

“’immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.’”

Henry think Eleanor is foolish to imagine such a thing, but was she? Was Jane Austen perhaps describing a real riot?

800px-The_Gordon_Riots_by_John_Seymour_Lucas

Captain Frederick Tilney, knocked off his horse? “Gordon Riots,” Project Gutenberg eText 19609, by John Seymour Lucas, 1879. Public domain.

The Gordon Riots

Such riots had happened before. Henry might have been talking about the Gordon Riots of 1780.* These are considered the most destructive and violent riots in English history. Lord George Gordon initiated these anti-Catholic riots, though he intended only a peaceful demonstration. At that time, Catholics in England had very limited rights. An Act of Parliament, passed in 1778, gave Catholics a few rights, including the rights to buy and inherit property, and to join the military, if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

On June 2, 1780, Gordon gathered a crowd of around sixty thousand people at St. George’s Fields, London. They marched to Parliament to present a petition. Parliament did not choose to overturn the law.

256px-Charles_Green13

Thousands gathered in St. George’s Fields. “The Gordon Riots,” Charles Green (1840-1898) / Public domain

Riots ensued, with people shouting “No popery!” and burning down Catholic chapels, priests’ houses, Catholic homes, shops, and schools, and a distillery owned by a Catholic. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had supported the Catholic Relief Act (he later supported rights for black people in England as well); his house was looted. (Yes, Mansfield Park may have been named after this Lord Mansfield.) The homes of other politicians who supported the Act were also attacked. Lord Gordon tried to calm the situation; he took no responsibility for the riots.

Mobs, already angry about poverty and injustice, attacked the Bank of England on June 7. They burned prisons and prisoners went free. The rioting lasted for about a week. Over ten thousand soldiers were brought in to quell the riots. More than three hundred rioters were killed during the riots or executed afterwards. (By the way, at least two black men, included in the picture below, were involved in the rioting, and black writer Ignatius Sancho witnessed it and wrote about it. The story is told at Black Presence.) George Gordon was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was eventually acquitted of treason.

800px-An_exact_representation_of_the_Burning,_Plundering_and_Destruction_of_Newgate_by_the_rioters,_on_the_memorable_7th_of_June_1780_(BM_Z,1.4)

Newgate Prison was burned during the Gordon Riots. “An exact representation of the Burning, Plundering and Destruction of Newgate by the rioters, on the memorable 7th of June 1780,” by Henry Roberts, 1781. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Gordon Riots seem an appropriate possibility for Henry’s description: thousands gathering in St. George’s Fields (though many more than what he described), the bank attacked, the army called in, many people killed. I haven’t found references to the Tower of London being threatened, however.

These riots also relate to Bath, where Henry and the ladies were having their conversation. During the Gordon riots, anti-Catholic rioting also broke out in Bath. Rioters burned down the Catholic chapel, the bishop’s house and the priest’s house. The city of Bath responded strongly, hanging the ringleader and taxing the whole city to pay for the building of a new Catholic chapel.

Other Riots

However, the Gordon Riots took place when Jane Austen was only four years old; long before she wrote Northanger Abbey. Could she have been referring to more recent riots? Collins Hemingway, in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World (July/Aug 2018), suggests that it is more likely that Austen was describing one of the many riots going on in England closer to the time when Northanger Abbey was written or revised. (The novel was apparently written between 1797 and 1803, and revised somewhat in 1816-17.)

Some examples of riots closer to the writing of Northanger Abbey:

  • The Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791: Rioters attacked Dissenters (non-Anglicans) who were supporting the French Revolution, including Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a Unitarian minister as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen. Houses, chapels, and businesses were burned.
  • The Bristol Bridge Riot in 1793 in Bristol was a protest against taxes and tolls. Soldiers were called in and 11 people were killed and 45 injured. This was the second most violent riot in England in the eighteenth century.
  • A series of riots in 1795, in various towns in England, has been called “the Revolt of the Housewives.” Led mostly by women, these were protests against high food prices. Women would seize the goods of a merchant who they thought was overcharging customers. The women sold the goods at what they considered a fair price, and gave the money to the merchant.
  • A London riot in 1809, the Old Price Riot, protested price increases at the newly-rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. The management eventually gave in. They restored earlier prices so the theatre would be accessible to everyone, rich and poor.
  • In late 1816, as Austen may have been revising Northanger Abbey, a mob of about 10,000 people in Spa Fields, London demanded election reforms and relief for the poor. The first meeting was peaceful, but the second meeting, of about 20,000 people, turned violent. They attempted to attack the Tower of London. However, troops quickly put down the riots. Perhaps this riot inspired Austen to mention “the tower threatened.”

Hemingway suggests that the most likely riot to have inspired Austen was a riot in Manchester in 1808. Six thousand weavers gathered in St. George’s Field, Manchester (rather than St. George’s Field, London) to demand a minimum wage. Dragoons were sent to restore order. According to Hemingway, when Henry Tilney says the dragoons were called “up from Northampton,” it may mean they were called up to the north, to Manchester. One man was killed, and others were injured. The rioting spread to neighboring towns. Weavers did receive a small pay increase in the end. Surprisingly, the dragoons later apologized to the weavers for their actions, and took up a collection for the family of the man who was killed.

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Illustration from Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge, “Barnaby at the Gordon Riots,” 1871, public domain.

However, London is mentioned several times in the Northanger Abbey passage. It’s possible that Austen was taking details of other recent riots and transplanting them to London, for the story. To me, however, the Gordon Riots seem to most closely fit the details given. While there was not a time when the streets of London were literally “flowing with blood,” those were the riots in which the most people were killed.

Although Henry says Catherine’s “words could relate only to a circulating library,” riots similar to what he described had happened in recent history. Of course he also criticizes her vivid imagination when she thinks his father has committed a terrible crime. It turns out that his father is not a murderer, but does treat Catherine cruelly. Henry’s words are often ironic.

What do you think? Was Austen referring to a real riot (or several riots) here, or was the riot only in Eleanor’s mind?

 

*R. W. Chapman (1923 edition of Northanger Abbey), Roger E. Moore (Jane Austen and the Reformation, 105), and others consider this riot to refer to the Gordon Riots.

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

Standing, looking west across the Surrey countryside to the wooded ridge of hills in the distance, a line of trees mark the horizon. A sunny, hot day, blue skies with some clouds, small patches of white high above us,. Marilyn, Abi, Emily and myself stand two hundred and twenty four meters above sea level. Patches of fields lined with thick hedges of trees and shrubs spread out before us. Box, yew, beech, ash and oak populate the landscape gathered in woods or spread out in small copses on this hill top. Looking out over this scenery, I make out the distant markings of a football pitch. To one side is another field with a cricket square neatly and closely mowed in the middle of it, a wooden pavilion at one side of the field.

Image of a view of Burford.

Image of a view of Burford. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Below, almost looking straight down, a white 18th century mansion is surrounded by lawns and a pattern of four knot gardens are at the rear of the house. Although high up here there is no breeze and the trees are still and the air is warm. A few insects and butterflies move through the air nearby. Other people, families and partners and single walkers move at a distance across the chalk grassland steeply sloping down towards Burford Bridge that crosses the River Mole winding its way past the bottom of the hill. The A24, the Dorking bypass, hums with traffic. I catch glimpses of the red clay tiled roofs of flint cottages , through the canopy of trees, that make up the village of Mickleham to the north. Dorking is to the south. Great Bookham is due west and Leatherhead is unseen to the north west. The chatter of children as they race down the steep slope of Burford Spur I hear nearby but their sounds get fainter as they race away. The sun warms my skin, pleasantly.

Image of Burford spur

Image of Burford Spur, courtesy of Tony Grant

We walk on down Burford Spur before turning back. I am now required to step upwards, leaning forward, and push hard on thigh and calf muscles to make my way back up to the top of this very steep slope. I parked my car near the old fort at the National Trust car park.

On top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

On top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I decided to pick up a piece of flint to take home. Stones make a place. One stone is a piece of that place. This piece of flint was still embedded in the firm ground and some kicking and pulling and pushing with my hands were needed to prise it loose. I take stones home from places . A piece of smooth granite from a beach in Cornwall, some sandstone from a cliff face in Dorset, a piece of shale from the isle of White and now this piece of flint from the top of Box Hill in Surrey.

The Box Hill Picnic: Emma

Image of A view of Boxhill, Surrey (with Dorking in the distance), George Lambert, 1733, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image.

A view of Boxhill, Surrey (with Dorking in the distance), George Lambert, 1733, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image.

Things did not go quite as planned or as wished. The Sucklings were unable to come. Mrs Elton was disappointed, her plans thwarted but the trip to Box Hill was to go ahead.

Emma thought she would like to go to Box Hill too, separately from Mrs Elton’s expedition of course. She didn’t want to miss out on what others might experience. Her party should be simple and unpretentious compared to that of Mrs Eltons. Mr Weston decided other plans and suggested to Emma and Mrs Elton combining the two parties. Mrs Elton agreed and Emma felt forced to very reluctantly agree.

Mr Weston directed everybody on the day. His wife, Mrs Weston, was to stay with Mr Woodhouse to keep him company. Emma and Harriet were to go in one carriage. Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax, were to go with Mr and Mrs Elton and the gentlemen, Mr Knightley, Frank Churchill and Mr Weston on horse back.

Chris Hammond illustration of the picnic on Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma. Image in the public domain.

All admired the views on arrival. But there was a

deficiency.. languor.. a want of spirts and a lack of unison.”

They all separated too much into parties. Frank Churchill was silent and stupid, looking without seeing.

Frank eventually turned his attention to Emma and overtly carried on a most blatant flirtation, an act that Emma, perhaps to her surprise, doesn’t enjoy. It is all an obvious act. She feels his falsehood. Frank Churchill proceeds to upset Emma and the whole party by requesting they all reveal what they are thinking about. This makes the general mood worse. We can guess at their true thoughts. Emma is rightly afraid to hear their honest opinions. She feels the unease and disquiet created by this whole venture.He changes the request, asking each to say

one thing clever or two things moderately clever or three things dull.”

Miss Bates volunteers, perhaps to fill the unwanted silence and apprehension, suggesting she can say three things dull. Emma quips that she would find it difficult to limit the number to

only three at once.”

Miss Bates takes the hint and is mortified. Mr Weston provides a conundrum based on Emma’s name. Finally as they depart Mr Knightley takes Emma aside and points out the hurt she has caused her lifelong acquaintance and family friend, Miss Bates.

It was badly done indeed.”

The party to Box Hill is certainly not a success. Everything goes wrong. Mr and Mrs Elton walk off , Frank Churchill has his mind on other things, Emma feels uncomfortable under his feigned flirtations, she up sets Miss Bates and Mr Knighltley is angered by Emmas behaviour.This is the point in the novel when Emma has her naivity in human interactions and her immaturity laid bare. We all have to confront ourselves before we can change and develop. Emma is confronted by her own shortcomings. It is the beginning of self awareness and the need to be remorseful. A painful journey for Emma. This chapter is only is only six pages long in my edition but the human traits that it reveals are numerous,and the importance to the arc of the plot and the final outcomes is pivotal. Officiousness, immaturity, pride, selfishness, naivity, anger, cunning, secrecy, deceit, remorse and forgiveness. ”It was badly done indeed.” But, in another way, it was, well done.

A piece of flint:

The flint is heavy, about two kilogrammes in weight, nine centimetres long and about five centimetres wide.There are sharp angular edges where some of the flint has been broken off. Bluey black glassy hard faces are revealed. The stone is mostly covered in a thin white hard calcareous rind like the rind covering a cheese, enveloping most of its smooth surface. Hollows and rounded lumps push up beneath its white ,”skin,” like the shapes of bones lieing beneath its surface, finger bones, wrist joints, protruding heels, knuckle bones. A little bit of crumbling chalk, the substance it has been torn from, hides in a hollow on one side.

Image of The Stonebreaker by John Brett, exhibited 1858, Wikimedia Commons

The Stonebreaker by John Brett, exhibited 1858, Wikimedia Commons

Chalk was formed during the cretaceous period some 145 to 66 million years ago. It was formed under marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite shells shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores  A white muddy layer was formed on the sea bed. The same earth movements , the violent shifting of the earths plates, that formed the Alps formed these downlands in Southern England rippling and folding the earths surface. That soft white sediment of calcite shells hardened and formed the chalk. Within the chalk, creatures such as sponges and other organisms created pockets which, molecule by molecule by molecule were replaced by flint as water and minerals from the chalk seeped into the spaces.

Flint has been used for many things over the millennia. Axes, knives and arrow heads, used by the hunter gatherers that roamed this land over ten thousand years ago, were made from flint. It has been used in rural buildings. Today we can see many cottages and farm buildings located around Box Hill with layers of flint embedded in the surface of their walls. Some village churches are made from flint. The Romans built coastal forts from flint. It is a very durable material. Flint was used to create the spark that ignited the gunpowder on the ignition pans of flintlock muskets. It was used in the eighteenth century to strike against a piece of steel to create sparks to light fires with. We can say about, a cold callous person, that they have, “a heart of flint.”

Image of Box Hill flint found by Tony Grant. Image permission of Tony Grant

Image of Box Hill flint found by Tony Grant. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Here is my piece of flint from the top of Box Hill in Surrey , from the very location, at the top of Burford Spur with Mickleham to the north and Dorking to the south where Emma Woodhouse and the gentle people of Highbury gathered for a picnic.

Tony Grant and family on top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

All this on a hill of chalk downland in the centre of Surrey on a hot summers day.

 

Excited readers,

ChattyFeet, a cool, funky sock gift site, now features Jane Austoe socks! No, we are not kidding. Our Jane, who loved to walk, has joined the foot pantheon of other great writers: William Shakes-Feet, George Toe-Well, Virginia Wool, Ernestoe Hemingway, and Marcel Proustoe. (Artists like Vincent Van Toe and Frida Callus are also featured.)

Update: We have three winners–Denise, Mea, and Mary! I will contact you regarding your addresses. Thank you all for participating.

Image of Austoe socks

Jane Austoes!

These brilliant hysterical, er, historical, socks are available for purchase. Literature Sock Gift Sets are also offered to those who cannot exist without reading great books and who love novel ideas.

ChattyFeet-Sock-Collections

ChattyFeet Gift Sets. Note the Literature Gift Set in the top left corner!

To help your summer doldrums disappear with laughter, ChattyFeet will give away three pairs of Jane Austoe socks to three lucky G.B. or U.S. winners of this contest! Simply finish the blanks in one of the following sentences and leave it as a comment on this blog. Be outrageous. Be creative! Make readers smile. And then twirl with delight as you anticipate receiving your very own pair of Jane Austoes.

Six instagram images of people wearing Chatty Feet socks in the community

These instagram images might inspire you to enter the contest!

Q 1: Wearing my Jane Austoe socks will _____________ because __________.

or

Q 2: While wearing my Jane Austoe socks I’ll _____________ and will feel _______________.

The contest ends at midnight, August 22, EST USA time. Winners from the U.S. and G.B. will be drawn by random number generator.

More About Socks: A short history of knitting in Austen’s time and through today

In 1589, the first mechanical knitting machine was invented near Nottingham by William Lee of Calverton. As the stocking frame was refined, the knitting cottage industry dwindled in Britain. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) website offers a short history on hand knitting which includes an image of a pair of Regency socks in their collection. Also view an image of a stocking frame in 1751 at this link in The British Museum.

Women in the late 18th century and during the Regency era wore stockings held up by garters, but generally did not wear underwear. I find the detail in this cartoon by Rowlandson (Exhibition Stare Case) particularly funny and revealing!

Closeup image of the Exhibition Stare Case by Thomas Rowlandson.

Closeup of Exhibition Stare Case. Image is in the public domain, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. 

Interestingly, as machines took over the business of making stockings wholesale, genteel ladies continued to knit them. How else were they expected to spend their time? Ladies could not work or own property, and, with a few exceptions, were dependent on their male relatives to oversee every legal aspect of their lives. Days were long and boring for those who had nothing but time on their hands, and so “hand-knitting mainly became the domain of wealthier ladies,” – V&A. When not writing or overseeing household duties, Jane Austen occupied herself with sewing (view her needle case, and the quilt she sewed with her sister in these links). In her letters, Austen discussed sewing men’s shirts for her brothers–in Regency times, these shirts were made by female relatives and not purchased in a tailor shop. View two examples below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Public domain images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art of two early 19th century British men's shirts.

Public domain images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art of two early 19th century British men’s shirts.

Knitting remained part of the education of Yorkshire’s poor in the late 18th- and early 19th centuries.

for poorer members of society, [knitting]was taught in orphanages and poor houses. The first recorded knitting schools had been established in Lincoln, Leicester and York in the late 16th century and hand-knitting for income continued in Yorkshire until well into the 19th century. The Ackworth Quaker School in Yorkshire was established in 1779 for girls and boys “not in affluence”. According to records, its female pupils knitted 339 stockings in 1821 alone.” – V&A

To view a knitting instruction book, which was the first publication of its kind, visit The National Society’s Instructions on Needlework and Knitting, 1838, England. Museum no. T.307&A-1979. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A woman’s duties in the house remained largely unchanged until the early 20th century, when my great grandmother and great aunts and their daughters (solid middle class Dutch burger women) knitted and darned stockings for their menfolk and for soldiers during WWI and WWII. They crocheted the most intricate doilies for arm rests and neck rests on plush sofas and chairs. Long after their deaths, when I went through their sewing baskets, I beheld and assortment of wood balls and finials for darning stockings and tatting pointed lace doilies. Thick wool socks were reused until they literally fell apart.

Image of a small hand-made doily.

A small doily Tante Dina made for my dresser in the 1960s.

My Dutch mom’s sewing basket held different colors of wool scraps, and some of my favorite memories were of watching her at night darning a big hole in my wool stocking. These female skills were considered so essential through late mid-century Holland (and in the U.K., as described in The history of handknitting, The V&A Museum), that I learned to knit, sew, embroider, and crochet during my first 3 years of school in Den Haag. My brother was given no such instruction.

I assure you that ChattyFeet’s socks will need no darning, but they will keep your feet warm, pretty, and smart. I encourage you, fair reader, to enter the contest by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post, using one of the two questions listed at the top as a prompt. Remember that the contest ends on August 22nd. And do visit the ChattyFeet website! It is so much fun.

Find more information about Regency underdrawers on this blog: Ladies Underdrawers in Regency Times

Inquiring readers,

I’m pleased to formally announce my new Jane Austen’s World (JAW) partners, who will help me oversee this blog. Regular readers are already acquainted with the contributions of Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox. This month, I have formalized our association, inviting them to join me in contributing to a blog that has become too big for one person to manage. Thankfully, all three have agreed to come on board.

To celebrate this change, formal introductions are in order!

About Tony Grant, Contributor to JAW Since 2010

Inquiring readers, if you type Tony Grant into this blog’s search bar you’ll discover page upon page of his varied contributions to JAW, which include his breath taking photographs of Great Britain. Tony lives in London and has acted as a tour guide all over the South of England and London. Without him, I could not have kept this blog going during my father’s final illness from 2012 to 2014. Lately, he and I have been Zooming regularly with Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont. We three Austen-teers have become virtual bosom buddies.

Tony Grant is a retired teacher and writes a blog called London Calling. He has been writing articles about subjects that interest him for many years. Tony also writes articles about the world of Jane Austen. He has been published in the Jane Austen Society of Australia magazine, The Chronical, the Jane Austen in Vermont blog and in Jane Austen’s World. Tony is a literacy mentor for the Jane Austen Foundation that was founded by Jane Austen’s 5th great niece Caroline Knight. He is also a judge for the foundation’s short story writing competition and takes part in charity walks to raise money for the foundation’s literacy work in Africa, India and Australia.

Image of Tony Grant in 1978

Tony Grant in 1978

Image of Tony Grant in 2020

Tony Grant in 2020

Tony is a volunteer at The Museum of The Home in Shoreditch, north of the City of London. He takes tours of the 18th century almshouses and supports the curators in researching new exhibitions.

Tony became a qualified teacher in 1974. He obtained a Batchelor of Arts Honours degree in English literature from the Open University and a Masters degree in Museums and Galleries in Education from the Institute of Education UCL.

He has been married to Marilyn, a fellow teacher, for 38 years. They have four children: Sam, Alice, Emily and Abigail and one granddaughter, Emma.

So how did Tony get interested in Jane Austen? He was born and brought up in Southampton. His grandmother often took him into town as a youngster. They would go to the Tudor House Museum. Tony has always loved museums. As they walked through Castle Square she invariably said, as they passed the Juniper Berry pub, ”That’s the site of the house where Jane Austen lived.” – Tony

About Rachel Dodge, Contributor to JAW Since 2017

Rachel is another savior of this blog. Around the time that my mother became ill and when my work commitments increased significantly, Rachel noticed an alarming drop in JAW blog posts. She introduced herself and asked if she could submit posts. Upon reading the quality of her writing, I encouraged her to submit anything she wanted as often as she could. Much to my delight, Rachel took me up on the offer! Rachel is super busy these days overseeing online courses and teaching her children from home. I’m amazed that she finds time to write for JAW and work on a second book!

Rachel Dodge, Versailles, 1998

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Serbourne Park

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Sherbourne Park

Rachel Dodge teaches college writing classes and Jane Austen seminars, speaks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (2020).

Rachel is a graduate of the University of Southern California (B.A. in English and public relations) and California State University, Sacramento (M.A. in English literature). She wrote her master’s thesis on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and won the 2005 Dominic J. Bazzanella Literary Award for her paper on Elizabeth Bennet. She was the featured speaker at the Sacramento Library’s How Austentatious! series, the Notable Books series, and the 2014 Jane Austen Birthday Tea. Rachel’s writing has been featured in Jane Austen’s World, Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, Jane Austen in Vermont, and others. You can visit her at www.racheldodge.com

Rachel’s a great supporter of Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM), the Chawton House Library, and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. She’s visited numerous Austen historic sites on research trips. Her favorite trip so far: When she had the great honor of signing copies of Praying with Jane at Jane Austen’s House! – Rachel

About Brenda Cox, Contributor to JAW Since 2019 

Rachel Dodge introduced me to Brenda at the JASNA GMA in Williamsburg last October. By then, Brenda had written a number of articles for JAW. Her style is as clear and lovely as Rachel’s, and their articles elevated my blog to another level. Brenda travels extensively and is at present busy packing for yet another trip. She still found time to send her bio. Brenda’s educational and employment background puts my erratic bio to shame, and so I feel triply blessed to include her contributions along with Rachel’s and Tony’s.

Image of Brenda Cox in High School

Brenda Cox in High School

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen for many years. She is fascinated by the history of Austen’s time and the nuances of Austen’s books. Brenda has been doing extensive research in two areas: the church of Austen’s day, and science of Austen’s day. She would love to answer any questions you have about those topics. Brenda presented at JASNA’s AGM (national meeting) last year, and has had articles published in Persuasions On-Line. Her current project, nearing completion, is a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can visit her at her blog, “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen,” and on Facebook.

Brenda loves learning, and appreciated the privilege of homeschooling her four children (now all adults) because she got to learn so much along with them. She also enjoys cross-stitching, and reading a wide range of books. She travels and works overseas, and values the beautiful variety of cultures and languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s in applied linguistics, and now spends much of her time writing. She looks forward to interacting with you all! – Brenda

About Vic Sanborn, JAW Founder and Administrator Since 2007

Please note: the three previous bios are written properly in the third person. Since I have never been regarded as proper (Jane would have a field day with that!), I wrote mine in the familiar “Me, Myself, and I.”

In my largely abandoned Twitter account I present myself as a Dutch character in a Jane Austen novel. That phrase describes me to a tee—a bit cheeky but reverential towards Jane Austen’s awesome talent. I was born in Jakarta Indonesia to Dutch colonial parents, lived in Den Haag, The Netherlands for six years, and emigrated to the U.S. at nine years of age with my family. As my parents said when we landed in vibrant, bustling New York city – we’ve finally found our home! When I was 14 years old, I received The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (a modern library giant edition) for Christmas, and thus my lifelong love affair with Austen began.

Image of Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

I am neither a scholar nor an academic. Rather, I describe myself as a jack-“ess” of all trades. My degrees in biology and art history, and minor in English literature attest to that claim. I also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art during summer months and evenings to study painting and drawing. My employment history is equally all over the map, having worked as an EKG technician on weekends during college; as a technician in Johns Hopkins and Harvard Research labs; as a watercolor artist who showed her increasingly larger works in local galleries and statewide exhibits; as a community relations/outreach director for a nonprofit literacy organization; as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) to coordinate a two-year consortium of Baptist Churches interested in starting adult literacy projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods; and as a literacy specialist for a statewide, university-based professional development organization that provided training to adult education and literacy program staff and teachers. My one constant was my love for Austen. I started Jane Austen’s World thirteen years ago—my longest ongoing “work” commitment—that is still going strong (thanks to JAW’s many readers and new blog partners).

I am particularly grateful to Margaret Sullivan (Austenblog), whose mention of my blog in 2007 drove visitors to JAW, and Laurel Ann Nattress (Austenprose), who invited me to join her in writing for PBS Masterpiece during the 2009 Jane Austen season. That association put both our blogs on the map. We have been e-friends ever since. (BTW, both L.A. and MAGS are also published book authors.)

I genuinely enjoy the company of Janeites and the people I’ve met through this blog and my association with JASNA local groups. Mostly, I love getting to know Austen better through study, research, and reading. The most interesting world in my mind is the one that contains anything Jane Austen! Join me for more Austen-related information on my Pinterest site and Facebook group at Jane Austen and Her Regency World. – Vic

So, gentle readers, please send a virtual clapping of hands and kudos to my new compatriots! I am excited about the next phase for JAW. To skew Bette Davis’s famous line, “Hang on to your seat belts, it’s going to be a fabulous ride!”

Inquiring readers, This fascinating post written by author Clyve Rose explains to film viewers who have not read Emma the short, confusing scene shown in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 film adaptation of Austen’s novel. Ms. Rose reviews the history of Gipsies or Gypsies in Regency England and Europe in general, and provides insights into why this nomadic group was shunned and feared.

Painting of a young gypsy woman by Karlis Teodors Huns, 1870.

Public domain image of a young Gypsy woman with a tambourine, painted by Kārlis Teodors Hūns, 1870. Wikimedia Commons.

In Chapter 39 of Austen’s Emma, we come upon a curious incident. Miss Harriet Smith (the pretty and ‘natural daughter’ of no-one-yet-knows), out walking with a companion, is accosted by a ‘group of gypsies’. This incident is curious for many readers, and for many reasons.

For modern readers who may not understand the fear and attendant danger of such an episode, it is worth remembering that merely associating with “such a set of people” was judged to be a crime in Regency England. From the 1500s onwards the Crown made several attempts to rid their green and pleasant land of these ‘other’ residents, including deporting them to the colonies and attempting to legislate them out of all existence. By Austen’s time, any conversation or ‘consorting’ with ‘gypsies’ was considered a criminal act for which one could be incarcerated — or worse. A case in 1782 saw a fourteen year old girl hanged for such acquaintance, on the orders of the local magistrate.

That Harriet Smith speaks to the ‘gypsies’, offers them money, and then pleads with them would have been enough to see her in trouble with the law. While the local Highbury magistrate (our hero, Mr Knightley) would be unlikely to order Harriet hanged (I doubt even Austen could redeem a hero who sentences his heroine’s ‘particular friend’ to the gallows), Miss Smith still, technically, commits a crime in this scene. Leaving aside the impact this moment has on the romantic machinations of Emma and her friends, it affords us a rare glimpse into a Regency England that is not often represented in contemporary works.

Austen’s England is a very specific place. A place inhabited only by the English themselves. It is very interesting that one of the few glimpses her readers ever receive of the scaffolding behind this construct, is in the novel where her heroine is labelled by the author herself as ‘an imaginist’ – because, of course, the ideal of a homogenous England is pure imagination: Especially as the empire was at its height at the time, both from a cultural and a mercantile perspective.

There are hints of a similar façade – and Austen’s awareness that this is a façade – in Mansfield Park as well. Sir Thomas Bertram’s references to the slave trade in Jamaica, and its importance as the mainstay of his wealth, is touched upon. He even suggests introducing some of his ‘stock’ at Mansfield Park, but this is not taken seriously. What happens in Jamaica must stay in Jamaica. England is only for the English, Sir Thomas!

The British Empire once spanned a quarter of the known world, but at no point were the native-born residents of these colonies truly deemed to be ‘English’. These antipodeans were not, after all, actually resident in England itself. At least, not most of them. What if the ‘non-English’ people were not ‘out there’ in the colonies? What if they did, in fact, live in England right alongside the Bertrams, the Woodhouses, the Knightleys – and even the Bennets?

Which brings me to the Romany of England: Their position in these narratives is unique; almost as unusual as their place in Regency England – because of course they had one. They lived, loved, and mattered in the same geographic spaces as Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith.

The fact is, this ‘England-only-for-the-English’ was peopled by another culture entirely. England was, and is, a shared land. Two cultures, so vastly different in so many ways, coexisted for centuries, and rarely peacefully. The English Romany were as present and alive and wonderfully romantic as the Regency English. Coming from a mostly oral tradition, Romany stories from that time are rarely found in print but that they were there, and experienced this period, and undoubtedly have stories to tell about it – is visible even in the work of authors determined to showcase only their ‘own England’ to their ‘own’ readers.

Austen’s England has the backing of every powerful institution of her day. In terms of crafting the dominant narrative, the English are able to draw on the Crown, the Military, the Law, and of course the Church, which played such a vital part in the lives and lovers of Regency England. Even Heaven sides with the English in Austen’s world view. Her father, let’s not forget, was a clergyman. In the incident ascribed above, Austen does not specifically accuse the ‘gypsies’ of being heathens, but they are clearly depicted as ‘other’; outside the town limits of Highbury itself and dark, terrifying, criminal, and dangerous. They certainly do not ‘fit’ in Austen’s England, and are quite unsatisfyingly removed from Emma’s tale as soon as they have served their rather meagre narrative purpose: “The Gypsies did not wait for the operations of justice: they took themselves off in a hurry.”

Or rather, the author moved them quickly off her bleached white pages and out of ‘her’ England – despite the truth that there were non-English people present in Austen’s England; other voices with their own perspectives and their own stories worth telling, and worth writing. Contemporary Regency writers can not erase these different voices from their tales, because these real people existed all around them, finding their way into these ‘English-only’ narratives with the same kind of side-eye once given to the Irishman and the Scot. The cultural difference between these latter still-European folk and the Romany is, however, far greater – which may account for the fact that their treatment at the hands of English Regency writers seems to have been far worse.

It is difficult to be born into a place that never allows you to become a part of it without a fight, a plea, an effort to assimilate and cut away the parts of you that discomfit the powerful dominant culture all around you. It is more than difficult; it is painful and damaging. The very term ‘marginalisation’ is an admission of the lack of narrative ‘space’ allotted to the voices fiction has chosen to leave unloved, and unnoticed.

The term ‘marginal’ itself bothers me. It is almost (but not quite) a pejorative, which is why I place it in single quotes. I have here done the same with the term ‘gypsy’. I am aware that neither term is universally regarded as harmful. Debates rage all over this, on may fronts. I am only one writer; one voice among many and I have no answers. That there is ongoing debate however, is encouraging.

For myself, born into a marginalised culture with a mostly oral tradition, the ‘minor’ incident in Emma stands out. After all, my own tribe has quite a bit in common with the Romany. There was once a link made between the Romany of Europe and the Lost Tribes of Israel. It turned out to be incorrect, but the placement of ‘other’ in an otherwise ‘native’ land is a context embedded into my lived experience every day – and that’s quite apart from the grim reality shared in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II; a shared history I am sure not even an imaginist like Austen – or Emma – could envisage. Its very surreality is what allows deniability to play so plausibly in the minds of those focused on the façade, rather than any kind of ‘real’ history.

Real history is profoundly unromantic – and yet, somehow, we still try. There is beauty in stories, in narratives of the tales about long-ago lovers and their imagined worlds. There is much solace to be found in story – I love re-reading Austen (although Emma is not my favourite of her works), but in between the wonder of her words, I find myself reading for traces. Traces of others who were there – and whose stories deserve to be told.

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, www.artphotobykira.com.au

Image of Clyve Rose. Permission of her publicist Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, taken by photographer Kira, http://www.artphotobykira.com.au

About Clyve Rose:

Clyve Rose has been writing historical romance fiction for the best part of two decades. Her newest work, Always a Princess, published by Boroughs Publishing Group, debuts this September. She works in the historical romance, fantasy, and speculative fiction genres. She also creates literary novels under an alternative pen name. In between her devotion to fiction writing, Clyve researches various mythologies and historical periods, often basing her characters on actual historical personalities.​

One of her novels was longlisted for a Hachette Development Award for Fiction while her paranormal short story, The One Below, won the Passionate Ink (RWA) award for best Speculative Fiction Short.

​Visit her online at:

Connect with Clyve Rose at ClyveRose.com and Instagram.com/ClyveRose, in which she writes “Clyve Rose is an award-winning Regency Romance author. New Regency release out on 8 Sept. 2020.”

Till this moment, I never knew myself.”–Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, quoted in 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen.

In these days of stress and anxiety, do you long for a few minutes of peaceful reflection each day? Take a 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen. Jane is an excellent travel companion!

Cover of the book 30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

30-day Journey with Jane Austen by Natasha Duquette

Natasha Duquette has chosen thirty profound passages from Jane Austen. Most are from Austen’s novels; the last three are from her prayers.

Each daily passage is followed by an explanation, putting the passage in context and sometimes including connections to Austen’s life. Then a Reflection section connects the passage to our lives, giving us thoughts to chew on for that day.

The brief chapters in this book encouraged and inspired me each morning.

Highlights

Here are a few highlights that I appreciated:

Some reflections focus on our own hearts. On Day Two, Elinor Dashwood considers how “extravagance and vanity” have made Willoughby “cold-hearted and selfish” (Sense and Sensibility). Duquette points out that the Austen family themselves had to live economically, unlike some of Austen’s characters.

Natasha Duquette tells us that Elinor “realizes unthinking habits of luxury have led Willoughby to waste the valuable gifts placed in his hands. . . . Wasteful choices can interfere with true joy in our lives.”

The section concludes, “Focus on practices that build positive attachments to God, to human beings, and to other gifts in your life, rather than to material possessions. Think about how you might steward your resources wisely, hold them lightly, and express gratitude for them joyfully.”

A good reminder to live each day with thankfulness for what we have. We can experience joy today, whatever our circumstances, rather than wait for joy from what we might get in the future.

The Dashwoods teach us about peace as well as joy. On Day Three, volatile Marianne Dashwood “resolves to form habits that can lead to health and peace.” She intends to enjoy nature, reading, music, and her sister’s companionship. Could you find health and peace today in any of those ways?

Practical Suggestions

Some lessons are concrete. On Day Seven, Elizabeth Bennet reflects on Darcy’s letter as she walks for two hours. Duquette points out, “The classical philosopher Aristotle believed reason was sharpened by walking. Austen agreed.”

Image of Elizabeth and Darcy: After Elizabeth receives Darcy's letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

After Elizabeth receives Darcy’s letter, she walks alone for two hours to consider what the truth is. C. E. Brock illustration of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.

The Reflection section adds, “Such walking grounds us in reality. Often an answer to a problem will crystallize not as we are sitting statically before a computer screen but as we are physically moving somehow.” Duquette encourages us to “Reconsider a problem or challenging situation in your life as you exercise.”

Even in days of isolation, we need ways to exercise our bodies and give ourselves time to think. I walk up and down the hall of my small apartment for thirty minutes each day, thinking and praying. Others of you may have the opportunity to walk outside, as Elizabeth Bennet did, enjoying the outdoors as you consider whatever comes to mind.

Encouragement for Relationships

Day 10 is about our relationships. In Mansfield Park, Edmund finds his little cousin Fanny crying. He asks persistent questions and listens well, to console her. He then takes her outside, where she can be comforted by the beauties of nature. Duquette explains, “Edmund’s care for Fanny is pastoral, foreshadowing his eventual call into life as an Anglican priest.”

Jane Austen was sent away from home to study with Mrs. Cawley when she was only seven. So she knew how Fanny felt.

Duquette encourages us to notice people who are sad, and “then make time and space to listen to their story in a peaceful environment. You may be surprised at the effectiveness of such gentle attention.” Such deep connections, whether virtual or in person, can encourage you both.

 

Image of Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Edmund’s small kindnesses to Fanny Price made a big difference to Fanny. C. E. Brock illustration of Mansfield Park, public domain.

Spiritual Reflections

On Day 15, we think a bit about our mortality. Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park faced death, and because of that he became a better person. Duquette says, “Anglicans in Austen’s day would pray for a good death as part of their liturgy on a Sunday morning.” She encourages us to think about death, not fearfully, but to put our lives in perspective. We might consider, as Tom did, whether we are living for others as well as for ourselves.

The last three days, based on Austen’s prayers, focus more on our relationship with God. Day 30 encourages us to examine our own hearts, and look for ways to “reflect the infinite love of God to a hurting world deeply in need of mercy and grace.”

The 30-Day Journey Series: “Our Greatest Spiritual Thinkers”

30 Day Journey with Jane Austen is the newest addition to the 30-Day Journey series by Fortress Press. The publisher says:

“Enrich each day with wisdom from our greatest spiritual thinkers. Through brief daily readings and reflections, the 30-Day Journey series invites readers to be inspired and transformed. By devoting a moment to meaningful reflection and spiritual growth, readers will find deeper understanding of themselves and the world, one day at a time.”

I’m delighted, though a little surprised, to see Jane Austen join our “greatest spiritual thinkers”! The others in the series are Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day (Catholic social activist), Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and Emily Dickinson. Quite a varied lineup of thinkers.

I recommend 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen as a peaceful, encouraging way to begin each day. It will help you to reflect more deeply on important truths and how they might affect your life.

Links about the book:

About the blog post author:

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen” at brendascox.wordpress.com .

About Natasha Duquette:  For those who would like to know more about the author of 30-Day Journey With Jane Austen:

Dr. Natasha Duquette, Academic Dean and Professor of Literature, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, B.A., University of Alberta, M.A., University of Toronto, Ph.D., Queen’s University

Dr. Natasha Duquette is author of 30-Day Journey with Jane Austen (Fortress Press, 2020) and is currently serving as editor-in-chief for The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Romantic-Era Women’s Writing (Palgrave MacMillan), which is a collaborative project involving writers based in universities around the globe. She is also author of Veiled Intent (Pickwick, 2016), co-editor of Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony (Lehigh University Press, 2013), and editor of Sublimer Aspects: Interfaces between Literature, Aesthetics, and Theology (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). For the Chawton House Library series, she produced the first annotated, scholarly edition of Helen Maria Williams’s Julia, a novel interspersed with poetical pieces (Routledge, 2009).

Her articles have appeared in the journals PersuasionsPersuasions On-Line, English Studies in CanadaChristianity and LiteratureNotes and QueriesMosaic, and Women’s Writing. She has contributed essays to multiple collections, including Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010) and Art and Artifact in Austen (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Her research has been supported by fellowships from SSHRC, Chawton House, and Gladstone’s Library.

Dr. Duquette enjoys teaching courses on eighteenth-century satire, aesthetics, Jane Austen, African literature, and Indigenous writers of North America. Before coming to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, she taught full-time at the Royal Military College of Canada, Biola University in Southern California, and Tyndale University in Toronto, where she also served as Associate Dean of undergraduate studies for four years.

 

Inquiring readers: Today is the 203rd anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. She lived from December 16th, 1775 to July 18, 1817, and managed to achieve more in 41 years than a majority of us in twice that time. My previous posts marking this occasion were somber. This one provides a more light hearted, science fictiony approach. The North American Friends of Chawton House sent a limited edition of Celebrity Jane, a bobblehead doll, after I made a contribution that qualified me for this gift. NAFCH challenges Celebrity Jane doll possessors to share photos of Bad Ass Jane, as I renamed her, in various locations in our lives. I chose home.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meeting her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

Bad Ass Jane meets her 18th century silhouette, as drawn by Mr. Rose at the 2019 AGM in Williamsburg

It was a dream. It must have been. I had been researching Jane Austen’s life in Steventon until I fell asleep. Then, when I awoke around 2 A.M., as I am wont to do, I saw a bad ass version of Jane Austen on my bookshelf, staring at a silhouette of herself. Only she wasn’t quite the spinsterish virgin that I knew and loved so well, Oh, no! She was Bad Ass! A Rocker Chick. A person who would have appealed to my rebellious younger self and my current, well, rebellious me.

She still wore her virginal cap, but from the neck down she wore a black tee, low rise jeans that bared her midriff, and leather boots! Best of all she carried a guitar. Regency Jane loved playing music every morning on her piano forte. Bad Ass Jane (BAJ) plays electric guitar at every opportunity. (How BAJ finds the time to write—heaven knows.)

I gruffed at this strange Jane, who wanted to discuss the books in my book shelf, most of which pertained to her life and history. I needed my beauty sleep and promised her a tour of my house and gardens the following morn, but she would have none of it. She desired my company NOW! Jane played a few tunes on her guitar, which woke me more efficiently than two cups of Moroccan coffee. She mesmerized me with her persistence, pluck, and talent.

Image of Bad Ass Jane meets Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

Bad Ass Jane visits Cassandra, her two children, and mother wearing pearls.

I pointed to a 5 foot tall doll house, in which my 7-year-old grand nieces played occasionally. “Here’s your family.” I gestured to the top floor of the house where two female adults and two children resided.

BAJ peered inside. “My family? They look strange and somehow not themselves. And the fashion! Oh, so revealing. Who are those children?”

“Dear Jane,” I said familiarly. “Recall that this is a dream and that this story is a mere figment of my imagination and the result of a host of wishes. Tom Fowle never died. He returned with Lord Craven from the West Indies healthy and hale and became the intended heir of a living in Shropshire. He and Cassy married and had two beautiful children. Your mama, Mrs. Austen, acquired a gorgeous necklace of pearls, brought back by Tom.”

Copy of Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

Bad Ass Jane in the ficus tree

“How strange,” BAJ muttered. She wandered from the doll house to our ficus tree lit with fairy lights.

 

She then visited the wine corner. Recalling that she had a fondness for a tipple here and there, I offered a glass. Savoring the wine (a nice Australian Shiraz), we discussed her family, my family (our fathers, with their dry wit and extensive libraries had much in common), and our writing. She was better than me. Way. And more successful. Way. I felt humbled in her presence.

When BAJ learned about her enduring fame–the JASNA Societies, the JA groupies, the Austenesque novels and stories–her bobble head bobbled. “Goodness, I’m famous! Did I become rich?”

I shook my head sadly. “Not you, but Cassandra and your ancestors benefited most generously.”

When dawn broke, we walked into my back yard. BAJ played her guitar in the morning, much as she played her pianoforte before breakfast. I was mesmerized. It was time to greet the sun.

Image of Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

Bad Ass Jane at the bird feeders

I pointed to my bird feeders, where my hungry hordes of wildlife shrieked for their breakfast: blue jays, red cardinals, musical wrens, and colorful goldfinches. The deer, chipmunks, and squirrels were silent but watchful. Their ferocious appetites challenged my meager resources weekly. All stood a respectful distance away as I filled tubs, tubes, platforms, and the ground.

An impatient BAJ wanted in on the action and hopped right on to the feeders. In an impeccable British accent, she asked, “Pray, where are they?”

birds-deer

The deer and their fawns and birds appeared as we stood still

“Gurl,” I said. “Your Bad Ass attitude must’ve scared them. Stay still and behold the magic.” Shy creatures appeared flock by flock and one by one from the forest within feet of us. BAJ noted with irony that the brown sparrows were as common in the U.K. as in my back yard.

We visited the flowers. “They’re nothing as fabulous as your English gardens,” I cautioned, and so we viewed several areas designed to be deer proof.

At the last, BAJ noticed a sign. “Pray, what is this?”

Image of BAJ posing with an American security sign

BAJ meets an American security sign

“The sign is for security,” I answered. “This deters burglars. We call in and help arrives within, well, whenever.”

She laughed and said, “Is not a dog more effective?,” and jumped into a West Highland Terrier planter.

Image of BAJ's Westie carriage

BAJ Westie carriage

I guffawed. Jennie, our Westie is all bark and no bite. Poof, my dream ended. Once again I missed the chance to ask BAJ the questions swirling in my head. I’d assumed that I had all the time in the world. Ah, well. The mystery that is Miss Jane Austen continues.

It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.”—Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park

Picture 1 Clerical Alphabet for Blog Post

Richard Newton’s “A Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. Illustrations by Richard Newton; captions by Newton and publisher William Holland. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet” satirizes the English clergy of Austen’s time. You may be familiar with cartoonists, or caricaturists, of the eighteenth century like Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Some of Rowlandson’s cartoons are based on Richard Newton’s work. Newton’s popular cartoons mocked the “establishment,” including fashions, politicians, the king, and even the church. Newton lived only 21 years. He died of typhus in 1798, shortly after he drew a satirical series on death!

Jane Austen herself wrote satirically, though much more gently, of the clergy. We laugh with her at foolish Mr. Collins, presumptuous Mr. Elton, and gluttonous Dr. Grant. It seems, though, that they performed their jobs as ministers adequately. In Emma, Miss Nash has copied down all the texts (Bible passages) Mr. Elton preached from since he came to Highbury. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says Dr. Grant’s curate does much of his work. But at least Dr. Grant preaches good sermons, according to both Mary and Fanny Price.

Three of Jane Austen’s heroes, Edmund Bertram, Edward Ferrars, and Henry Tilney are conscientious clergymen. Sense and Sensibility tells us of Edward’s “ready discharge of his duties in every particular,” meaning that he willingly and eagerly did all that a clergyman was supposed to do. Henry Tilney employs a curate to do his duties while he is at Bath and Northanger Abbey. But Henry faithfully attends parish meetings, and I think he would have done his duties well once he was full-time at Woodston.

What were the clergy (church ministers or pastors) really like in Austen’s England? Many were good men, serving God and their communities. Jane’s father and brothers and her cousin Edward Cooper were faithful clergymen.

Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park, though, doesn’t think much of the clergy. “A clergyman is nothing,” she tells Edmund. Edmund and Fanny have much higher ideas of what the clergy can be, and should be.

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.” By “manners,” he explains that he means actions based on religious principles. He says the clergy have a huge influence on the people of their area.

Unfortunately, the church system in Austen’s day allowed anyone with a gentleman’s education and the right family and social connections to become a clergyman. Even an immoral man like Wickham could have been a clergyman, if he had not renounced his claim.

Newton’s cartoon shows us some of the major issues in Austen’s Church of England. Some of his clergymen are very fat and some are very thin. The church livings of Austen’s England were unevenly distributed. Some provided a high income, others a low income, and some were moderate. Let’s look in more detail at Newton’s criticisms of the Church of England in Jane Austen’s time, and how they connect to Austen’s novels.

Picture 2 Clerical Alphabet ABCDE

A, B, C, D, and E of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

The “Clerical Alphabet” begins:
A Was Archbishop with a red face,
B Was a Bishop who long’d for his place.
C Was a Curate, a poor Sans Culotte,
D Was a Dean who refus’d him a Coat
Even grudged him small beer to moisten his throat. (No picture for E, just a caption.)

A-B: In the Church of England, the king was the supreme authority of the church, and under him was the archbishop of Canterbury, then the archbishop of York. Each archbishop supervised a number of bishops, and the bishops supervised the more than 11,000 parish priests of England. Bishops and archbishops were wealthy men, with high incomes from the church. They were members of the House of Lords in Parliament. Mr. Collins says he is not worried that the archbishop or Lady Catherine will rebuke him for dancing. In reality, the archbishop would not know of Mr. Collins’s existence! Collins is exalting Lady Catherine by putting her at the same level as the highest church official.
C: Sans Culotte is French for “without pants” (more literally “without knee breeches”; the peasants wore long trousers instead of the knee breeches worn by upper classes). The “Sans Culotte” were the lower class French people who supported the French Revolution. In the English church, curates were the lowest rung of the clergy. Most lived on stipends of only £50 per year or less, barely enough for survival. They either assisted rectors and vicars, or led services in their place. In Persuasion, Mary Musgrove looks down on Charles Hayter as “nothing but a country curate.
D-E: A dean was another wealthy church leader, the head clergyman overseeing a major church. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Grant says they can move to London if someone commends “Dr. Grant to the deanery [the dean’s office] of Westminster or St. Paul’s.” Dr. Grant does get such a promotion at the end of the book. However, his gluttony kills him. No doubt this is Jane Austen’s own satire of wealthy clergymen!
Small beer was cheap beer with a low alcohol content. The church was not generous to the poor curates.

Picture 3 Clerical Alphabet FGHI

F, G, H, and I of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

F Was a Fellow of Brazen-Nose College
G Was a Graduate guileless of knowledge
H Was a high-flying Priest had a call!
I Was an Incumbent did nothing at all.

F: Brazen-Nose College is a pun on Brasenose College of Oxford University. Fellows were the senior members of a college, usually clergymen. This one enjoys his pipe and his wine.
G: The graduate, without knowledge, is likely a member of the highest social classes. The nobility and others with wealth could graduate from Oxford or Cambridge University simply by being there for a certain amount of time. Students who were not as rich had to write essays in Latin and take exams. Clergymen followed the same course of study as any other gentlemen, plus they had to show up for one course on theology. Edward Ferrars says he was “properly idle” at Oxford.
H: The clergy was considered an occupation at this time, not usually a calling from God.
I: Once a man had a church living (a post as rector or vicar of a parish), he was the incumbent. He held the living until he died. In old age, or if he moved elsewhere, he would hire a curate to perform his duties. Although Dr. Grant gets a post at Westminster and moves to London, he still has the income from the parish of Mansfield Park (he is still the incumbent) until he dies. Then Edmund can take that parish.
(At this time, I and J were considered to be the same letter. So there is no J in this alphabet. That is also why the Jane Austen sampler has an I but no J.)

Picture 4 Clerical Alphabet KLMN

K, L, M, and N of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

K Was King’s Chaplain as pompous as Dodd,
L Was a Lecturer dull as a clod.
M Was a Methodist Parson, stark mad!
N Was a NonCon and nearly as bad.

K: The king’s chaplain was the king’s personal priest for the Chapel Royal. William Dodd (1729-1777) was an extravagant clergyman who became chaplain to the King of England in 1763. To clear his debts, he forged a bond for £4200. He was convicted and hanged in 1777.
L: A lecturer was a preacher chosen and paid by the congregation who gave additional sermons (“lectures”) at a church, usually at afternoon or evening services.
M: The Methodists were part of the Church of England until around this time. They were known for their emotional enthusiasm and their focus on salvation by grace. Some Methodist preachers, including John Wesley, preached to large open-air meetings. According to Wesley’s Journal, listeners sometimes responded with “outcries, convulsions, visions, and trances.” More orthodox Anglicans considered this madness. When Edmund rebukes Mary Crawford, she ridicules him, saying, “when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists.” In the late 1700s, the Methodists separated from the Church of England and became Dissenters.
N: A NonCon was a Non-Conformist or Dissenter, a person who did not “conform” to the Church of England (or “dissented” from its statement of faith). These included Catholics, who faced major prejudices in Austen’s England. Baptists, Quakers, Independents, Unitarians, and others all fell into this category. They were usually from the middle and lower classes at this time. They could not get a degree from the universities, and were not supposed to hold public office. Mainstream Anglicans thought Nonconformists were enthusiasts (excessively emotional) like the Methodists.

Picture 5 Clerical Alphabet OPQ

O, P, and Q of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

O Was an Orator, stupid and sad.
P Was a Pluralist ever a-craving
Q A queer Parson at Pluralists raving!

O: An orator, as today, was a public speaker. In Mansfield Park, Edmund and Henry Crawford discuss how to best read the liturgy and preach in Church of England services. They agree that it was often done poorly. Edmund says that things have changed, and now, “It is felt that distinctness and energy may have weight in recommending the most solid truths.” Edmund is concerned with communicating truth. Henry, though, would like to speak well in order to be popular and admired.
P-Q: Pluralists held multiple church livings. They might live in one parish and serve as its minister and pay curates to serve the others, while they took most of the income from those parishes as well. They were not necessarily fat, though. Some livings were quite small and the clergyman needed a second one. Jane Austen’s father held two livings, at Steventon and Deane. They were close enough together that he could lead services at both churches on Sundays, and the income from each was low. Some pluralists, however, were extremely wealthy. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram says a clergyman should reside in his parish to set an example and care for the people of the parish. We don’t know what Edmund did once he had two parishes to care for, at Mansfield Park and Thornton Lacey.

Picture 6 Clerical Alphabet RSTU

R, S, T, and U of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

R Was a Rector at Pray’rs went to sleep
S Was his Shepherd who fleec’d all his sheep.
T Was a Tutor, a dull Pedagogue
U Was an Usher delighted to flog.

R: Mr. Collins was quite proud of being a rector. The rector received all the tithes from the parish; a vicar like Mr. Elton only received a portion of the tithes.
S: This is a play on words. The clergyman was to be a shepherd, caring for his parishioners, his flock. However, he also had to collect tithes from them: one-tenth of their farm income, including crops, the young of animals, and even eggs from their poultry.
T: At Oxford, each student had a tutor responsible for his education. The tutor gave assignments and lectured. A pedagogue is a teacher, especially a pompous or strict one.
U: An usher was an assistant to a schoolmaster. Schools were often run by clergymen. Flogging, or whipping, was a common punishment.

Picture 7 Clerical Alphabet V-Z

V, W, X, Y, and Z of Richard Newton’s “Clerical Alphabet,” published in 1795. © The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

V Was a Vicar who smok’d and drank grog.
W Was a wretched Welch Parson in rags.
X Stands for Tenths or for Tythes in the bags.
Y Was a young Priest the butt of Lay Wags.
Z Is a letter most people call Izzard
And I think what I’ve said will stick in their gizzard. (No picture for Z.)

V: A vicar, like Mr. Elton, was a clergyman who only got about a quarter of the tithes for the parish; someone else, often the squire, received the rest. Drunkenness was a widespread issue in Austen’s England. Grog was an alcoholic drink, usually rum and water. It was usually associated with sailors.

W: The church in Wales was poor compared to the church in England.

X: The clergy’s main income came from tithes, collected from farmers in the parish (see S). People of the parish were legally required to pay tithes to the clergyman, even if they were Dissenters. This sometimes caused friction between clergymen and the people of the parish.

Y: Laymen, who were not clergy, made fun of this priest. Johnson’s Dictionary says a wag is anyone “ludicrously mischievous.” The cartoonist Newton himself was apparently one of these “lay wags” making fun of priests.

Z: Izzard is a dialectal word for z, first recorded about 1726. Newton wasn’t afraid to irritate his readers.

Do any of these clergymen remind you of characters in Austen’s novels? I think Dr. Grant might have become the fat dean if he had lived long enough. Mr. Collins might end up as the dozing rector. And Collins wanted to be a pluralist; he hoped for more livings from Lady Catherine.

This was obviously an exaggerated picture of the church in Austen’s England. Because of such clergymen who abused their positions, though, many people like Mary Crawford thought poorly of the church and the clergy. The cartoon points out some of the issues that later generations would correct.

About the author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

The British Museum http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG40122 offers brief information about Newton and a link to Newton’s many caricatures held by the British Museum. For more about Richard Newton and his life and cartoons, see Lambiek.

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). BRLSI is a respected non profit organization set up 200 years ago as a centre for Enlightenment ideas and intellectual discussion in Bath, England (where Jane Austen lived!).
The Institute is having a virtual lecture this Saturday July 4th at 7.30pm British time (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST) with Dr. Georgina Newton regarding Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today.
Cost of this virtual lecture is just two pounds to get a ticket (2.50 USD) – and it is all online, so you can join in from wherever. The money raised will go towards the upkeep and preservation of the society. Click on this link to reserve your virtual spot.
From the BRLSI website :
Jane Austen’s Feminist Message for Young Women Today (LIVE ONLINE LECTURE)
Jane Austen’s novels typically conjure images of love, romance and femininity. But her acute observations on how society treated women in relation to equality, financial independence and opportunity reveal a mind strikingly in step with feminist thinking in the 21st Century.
In this special talk for the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Dr Georgina Newton examines how the hopes and concerns of today’s young women compare with those of Jane Austen’s era and how the author of Pride and Prejudice has much to say to modern readers.
SATURDAY JULY 4TH, 7.30pm GMT (2.30pm ET, 11.30am PST).

 

“after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some curious water-plant, . . .” –Pride and Prejudice, chapter 43; Elizabeth Bennet, the Gardiners, and Mr. Darcy do a bit of “botanizing” during their walk at Pemberley.

On May 30 and 31, 2020, Chawton House hosted a refreshing Virtual Garden Festival. If you missed it, you can still watch most of it online. You can virtually tour the beautiful Chawton House Gardens with Chawton House volunteer Yvette Carpenter or walk the Jane Austen Garden Trail with Clio O’Sullivan. An intriguing section of the gardens highlights a pioneering woman botanist of the eighteenth century. She lived in an era when science was the nearly-exclusive province of men.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herbal Garden

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is inside the Walled Garden built by Edward Knight. In Jane Austen’s letter of July 3-6, 1813, she wrote from her home, Chawton Cottage, that her brother Edward Knight was enjoying his property at nearby Chawton House. She said, “He talks of making a new Garden . . . at the top of the Lawn behind his own house—We like to have him proving & strengthening his attachment to the place by making it better.” The garden Edward built (which was finished after Austen’s death) has been restored, and the Herb Garden was added in 2016. 

Each section of the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is planted with medicinal herbs that were used to treat different parts of the body. For example, the Chest Bed includes herbs used to treat ailments of a person’s chest, such as coughs. The other sections are Head Beds, Digestion Beds, and Skin Beds. Carpenter tells us that many of these medicinal herbs, such as rosemary, were also used in cooking. Others have -wort as part of their names, indicating they were used for healing. For example, doctors today still recommend the use of St. John’s Wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. In the 1700s, Blackwell said it was used against “melancholy and madness.” Other herbs, as the narrator points out, sound magical, like the dragon tree, snakeweed, and mandrake.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, Lady Botanist

The plants in this garden are described in a book owned by the Chawton House Library. A Curious Herbal (1737-9), by Elizabeth Blackwell, is said to be the first herbal produced by a woman. It was also far superior to other herbals available at the time. An “herbal” was a book of plants used as medicines. Blackwell drew and colored 500 meticulously-detailed color plates, each of a different plant, with its flower, seeds, and fruit. Along with each plate is the name of the plant in various languages, a description of it, and how it was used medically. The British Library shows 42 pages of A Curious Herbal online, with summarized information about 38 of the plants. (The Biodiversity Heritage Library offers a complete scanned version.)

Amanda Edmiston, an herbalist and professional storyteller, tells Elizabeth Blackwell’s story. According to Edmiston, Elizabeth was born around 1707 in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Elizabeth eloped with a physician named Alexander Blackwell. His medical credentials were called into question, so they fled to London and she set him up in a printing business. (In Scotland, unlike England, women kept their own property after marriage, so she had the money to do this.) Unfortunately, Alexander was also not qualified to be a printer. He got deep into debt, and ended up in debtor’s prison. Elizabeth, penniless, stayed loyal to her husband, and looked for a way to support herself and their young son, and to pay off his debts. 

Elizabeth Blackwell came up with a plan as she and her son enjoyed the Chelsea Physic Garden. Physic meant medical; the plants in this garden were used to treat illnesses. It was filled with exotic plants. Sir Hans Sloane, a respected doctor and renowned naturalist, had collected the plants on his botanical journeys around the world. Many, including cocoa, came from the Americas. Elizabeth became friends with Sir Hans, as well as with the director and the head gardener of the Physic Garden. They supported her idea of creating a whole new herbal, including both native and imported plants. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, who rented the garden from Sir Hans Sloane, also officially approved her project. This support was crucial, since otherwise the scientific work of Blackwell, a woman, would probably not have been accepted and respected. 

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Even after Blackwell’s achievement, women botanists of the 1760s had to disguise themselves as men to study plants. In the 1790s, a clergyman wrote that it was “unseemly” for girls to study botany. But with the approval of medical and botanical experts, Elizabeth had been able to publish her groundbreaking Curious Herbal

A Curious Herbal

Before this time, most plants in herbals were not drawn from life. For example, mandrakes were often drawn with the root in the shape of an actual man and were said to scream as they were uprooted (as Harry Potter experiences in his magical herbology classes!). Elizabeth Blackwell, however, drew all 500 plants directly from real plants, some from the Physic Garden and others from other collections in Europe. Her illustrations were thus completely accurate. They can still be used today to clearly identify plants. 

It was said that her husband Alexander wrote the text of the book while he was in prison. Edmiston speculates that it’s more likely that Elizabeth did the writing herself. She had access to experts and to a library including texts that she often references. The idea that Alexander, a male physician, had written the text was probably a fiction to make the book more acceptable.

Elizabeth Blackwell published a section of the herbal with four plants every week, from 1737 to 1739 (about forty years before Jane Austen’s birth). Serial publication made her knowledge available and affordable for many, as well as giving her a regular income. The book did well and raised enough money for her to pay her husband’s debts and get him out of prison. However, he then took a job in Sweden. He got caught up in a plot there to overthrow the king and was executed, just as his wife was about to travel to join him. So Elizabeth and her son were on their own again; we don’t know much about the rest of her life.

 

 

 

In Edmiston’s further videos, she tells stories about many of the plants in Blackwell’s herbal. In Afternoon Tea with the Curious Herbal, we learn about cucumbers, tomatoes, green tea, chocolate, and coffee. Part 3, A Walk Through a Garden, includes stories about rosemary, St. John’s wort, lavender, yarrow, sage, and lemon balm. Take a look!

Other Lady Botanists

Blackwell was not the only woman botanist who published about plants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In “The Women Who Wrote Plants,” Katie Childs introduces us to other women whose books on botany are in the Chawton House Library. 

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

My favorite title is The Wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Mary Roberts, published in 1822. The “wonders” are described in a series of letters; perhaps imitating the approach of the famous naturalist Gilbert White. (Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne in 1789 was a groundbreaking book on the natural world and ecology. You can visit his house, which is now a fascinating museum, just a short drive from Jane Austen’s house at Chawton.) Roberts also wrote A Popular History of the Mollusca, with 18 color plates showing varieties of seashells and the creatures that live in them. It doesn’t sound like a “popular” subject, but perhaps it was in her day!

While women were not expected to write adult books on botany during Austen’s lifetime, it was fine for them to write botany textbooks for children’s education. These are quite detailed, like adult books. Priscilla Wakefield’s text for children, Introduction to Botany, was published in 1796. She wrote it as a series of letters, with color illustrations. In Katie Childs’ presentation, she tells us that Wakefield was a Quaker social reformer who started a maternity hospital. Elizabeth Fry, the famous Quaker prison reformer, was Wakefield’s niece.

Cover of An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection.

An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection. 

Botany did become a fashionable pursuit for elegant ladies. Botanical Rambles (1826), by Lucy Sarah Atkins, is subtitled, “Designed as an Early and Familiar Introduction to the Elegant and Pleasing Study of Botany.” The ability to draw plants accurately became an “accomplishment” ladies aspired to. Books were written specifically on how to draw plants, including information about the plants themselves. Watch Ms. Childs’ talk for more about early female botanical writers, and to see illustrations from their books.

Beatrix Potter, Expert on Fungi!

Speaking of discrimination against women in science, especially in botany: Much later, in 1897, a paper on fungi by Beatrix Potter (yes, the author of Peter Rabbit) was presented at the Linnaean Society in London. However, since she was a woman, she was not allowed to present, or even to attend the meeting. Her paper, presented by her uncle, was not taken seriously since it was written by a woman. Today, though, Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of various fungi are used around the world to identify species of mushrooms.

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books. ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books, ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215.

Highlight of the Festival: Gardens in Jane Austen

On Sunday, the Garden Festival offered some presentations specifically for gardeners, so if gardening is one of your passions, you may want to check those out.

For Jane Austen lovers like me, though, the highlight of the festival was “Love in the Shrubbery: Gardens in Jane Austen’s Life and Works.” Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, finished out the festival with this charming presentation. In it, she shows us gardens Austen knew. She also explains and illustrates those terms like shrubbery and wilderness, describing places where Austen’s ladies and gentlemen walk. Did you know that shrubberies had paths made of gravel to keep the ladies’ feet dry, since wet feet were considered potentially fatal? (Think of Marianne Dashwood, sitting in wet shoes and stockings before her near-fatal illness.) If you only have time to watch one video from the Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival, I recommend this delightful 28-minute presentation.

I also joined in an engaging creative writing workshop led by Claire Thurlow, “A Garden Writing Retreat.” Claire encouraged the participants to imagine ourselves in our own special gardens as we write. While that workshop is not available online, you might use Kim Wilson’s talk, or any of the virtual garden tours from the festival, to enjoy time in a virtual garden today. I hope it will refresh your soul.

Note for anyone who might be wondering: There was also a later Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman to graduate in medicine in the United States, in 1849. Both Blackwells were pioneering women in the medical field of their times.

A Word About the Author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on “Faith, Science, Joy, . . . and Jane Austen!” at brendascox.wordpress.com . Under the category “Science” at her site, you will find other articles on science in Jane Austen’s England, including women of science like Caroline Herschel and Mary Anning.

Quote from Austen’s letters is from p. 224 of Deirdre Le Faye’s fourth edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Links embedded in the article:

 

 

Last summer I received an uncorrected manuscript of The Jane Austen Society to read with a request for feedback and any thoughts I had before a final printing. (I assume many other readers also received this request.) Natalie Jenner’s name was not on the cover. Not wanting to be influenced by preconceived notions, I read the MS before seeking the author’s name. Once I realized that the story is purely fictional (peppered with historical facts), I stopped comparing it to the founding of the real Jane Austen Society in the United Kingdom in 1940.

 

 

The tale is, in fact, a lovely story—a fairy tale—about a group of people who have very little in common except their love for Jane Austen’s novels. It is a perfect summer read that transported me to Chawton and to a different age and time. Natalie Jenner, in her first published novel, gave herself a difficult assignment: to write about pre- and post-World War II England, to incorporate history and knowledge of the customs of the time, place and setting, and to make the intricacies of estate law and wills understandable without bogging down the story’s pace. She also added complexities to her characters’ motivation and insights that sets the tale apart from Austen fan fiction.

About the Plot:

Aside from their love for Austen’s novels, the primary characters have another thing in common—pain and loss in one form or another. At the start of the book, they are facing their demons in isolation. Some are more successful than others in finding a way forward in life, but all are struggling until they join in a common effort to found The Jane Austen Society. This bond begins a healing process for them all.

Jenner sets up the potential for this bond early in the book, where through the thoughts of Adam Berwick, a young farmer who reads Austen, he thinks about why her novels hold so much meaning in his life:

Adam loved being in this world, transported, where people were honest with each other, but also sincerely cared for each other, no matter their rank. Where the Miss Bateses of the world would always have a family to dine with, and the Harvilles would take in the grief-stricken Captain Benwick…and even the imperious and insensitive Bertrams would give Fanny Price a roof above her head. And the letters people sent—long, regular missives designed to keep people as close to one’s heart and thoughts as possible…” (p.98)

Adeline Lewis, who, as a newlywed, loses her husband at the end of WWII, and experiences yet another loss less than a year later, is in profound pain. In this passage she is haunted by her spouse’s last moments:

She pictured him in his bomber plane, the gauges rattling before him…and the intensity and the detachment that he would have brought to this one terrifying moment. He would have given his all, even though the effort didn’t matter—you were just a speck on someone else’s gauge, a tightrope walk across an abyss, an entire human life balanced on the point of a needle.

Now she was on the point of the needle too…if she kept this up and fell off and into the abyss, she might pull herself out one day—but she also might not.” (p. 101)

As a school teacher in Chawton, Adeline introduces young pupils, including Evie Stone, to a challenging choice of reading materials and class discussions which were more sophisticated than the village authorities liked. The books included Jane Austen novels, as well as writings by Mary Wollstonecraft. Evie dropped out of school at fourteen to supplement her family’s income as a house maid in Chawton House. There she encountered the richness of the Knight family library—over 2,000 volumes, many of them original editions. Sleeping only 4 hours a night, the young girl catalogues every book in the collection after work hours. We Austen fans know that a house maid’s daily duties are grueling, even with the kindest mistress. At this point I suspended disbelief and the fairy tale quality that I mentioned in the second paragraph of this review kicked in. Jenner’s writing style is so lovely that I kept going, for Evie’s trajectory, which is fun to follow, is important in moving the plot forward.

As with many reviewers, I won’t give the rest of the plot away. Jenner adopts Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which allows us to get in the minds of the narrator and characters. This technique is not as easy as it seems, but as a new author she switches between characters and narrators seamlessly and superbly IMHO.

The group’s discussions and thoughts about Austen’s novels are among the most rewarding passages in the book and provide the details that Austen fans crave. Take this exchange between Adam, the farmer, and Adeline, sitting in her window seat surrounded by books, the top cover of which is Persuasion:

“A hard book, that,” he comments. Adeline asks if he likes Jane Austen and he nods yes.

“…which of the books is your favourite?”

He looked down at his lap and gave her a small, self-conscious smile. “All of them. But Elizabeth Bennet is my favourite character.”

“Oh, me, too. There’s no one like her in all of literature. Dr. Gray goes on and on about his Emma, but I’ll take Lizzie over Emma any day.” (p. 103)

At that moment Adam realizes that Adeline views Austen’s characters as real people, as he does, and discovers that someone else in the village feels the same way about the novels as he.

Each of Jenner’s characters are bonded through their love of Austen, and they talk about the books frequently, which is a joy. Jenner also provides clues and hints about which of her characters resemble those in Austen’s books. It’s a fun game, one that evokes the many hints and mysteries buried within Emma.

To Listen or to Read?

Image of Richard Armitage, narrator of the audio book, with the book cover of The Jane Austen Society in the background.When I agreed to review this novel, I received a traditional book and an audio book. I “read” both and had thoughts about each of the treatments. Who can argue with listening to Richard Armitrage reading a story set in early 20th century England? Not I. Think of me as a fan struck by his rich baritone voice, which can be transformed to that of a 16-year-old girl. Richard’s pacing in reading the book is effortless, clear, and easy to follow. He acts the voices of the characters so that we know exactly who’s talking at any time:

Adam Berwith, the farmer with an overbearing mama, who mourns the loss of his father and brothers in the war and who finds solace in reading Austen’s novels; Mimi Harrison, the almost-washed up Hollywood actress who loves Austen’s novels and has funds to burn; Dr. Gray, grieving for his long dead wife and yearning for a woman who doesn’t give him the time of day; Adeline, who struggles to pull herself out of a deep depression; Evie, the young energetic maid; Francis Knight, alone, forlorn, and rejected by her father; and Andrew Forrester, the solicitor who must keep a terrible secret from Miss Knight. These characters are skillfully acted by Mr. Armitrage, who does not disappoint. His brogue as Yardley Sinclair, the auctioneer, is lovely to hear, and I wish Sinclair had a larger role to play in the novel.

The one exception is Jack Leonard, a Hollywood producer and Miss Harrison’s one-dimensional fiancé. Jenner gave him none of the shades and nuances of her other characters. This becomes most obvious when even a talented voice actor can do little but bark out Leonard’s lines. Leonard comes across like an unfeeling thug, which makes this reader wonder what anyone as nice and beautiful as Mimi (Marianne) ever saw in him.

I listened to the book on long walks or car rides; sunning on the deck; washing the dishes or dusting. The convenience of audio books is undeniable, but not when a stray train of thought takes you away from listening closely. It is easy to lose your attention, and if you are interrupted the medium makes it hard for you to toggle back and forth to find the precise spot you lost. In addition, one can’t speed up or slow down an audio book without affecting the sound quality. One bonus of this audio book is an interview of the author at the end of the story, which adds more information about Ms. Jenner to the short biography that sits at the bottom of this post.

Traditional print books—*sigh.* New books crackle, old books emit a delicious library “musk” smell. Print books can be held and fondled, with each page lovingly turned. They are read at leisure or skimmed and skipped quickly to find information. They can be earmarked; they provide space for margin notes. Words and phrases can be underlined (which for years I considered heresy, until I learned that marginalia is a time-honored tradition).

I cherish my books and treat them like beloved possessions. My biggest concern is that they hog space. In my former house, I could devote several rooms to book cases that contained over 4,000 volumes collected since college, but when I downsized, this luxury disappeared. Choosing which books to keep broke my heart, but I managed to save around 600 (and add 100 more since.)

Read or listened to, Natalie Jenner’s debut novel provides a relaxing, fun read. I give it four out of five tea cups.

The Contest: which is your preference?

Please feel free to comment on your preference: Audio or Traditional? The contest will be open until midnight June 30th EST U.S. For the first time, I am giving away an audio book, which I hope traditionalists won’t mind.

Image of Natalie JennerAbout Natalie Jenner:

Natalie Jenner is the international bestselling author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen lived. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY is her first published novel and is available now from St. Martin’s Press in North America and Orion Books in the UK/Commonwealth, with translation rights sold in Portugal, France, Romania, Italy, Brazil, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, South Korea and Serbia.

About the book:

Purchase The Jane Austen Society at this link to Amazon.

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250248736

ISBN-13: 978-1250248732

Other reviews:

See the blog tour on the side bar

Rachel Dodge, Jane Austen’s World: An interview with the author, Natalie Jenner

Deborah Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont: A list of ten reasons to read the novel

Image of the book cover of Danse de la Folie by Sherwood SmithLovers of Austen novels will find much delight in Sherwood Smith’s Danse de la Folie. With more wit than romance, this novel introduces two couples, mapping their relationships onto the quadrille. Smith’s attention to historical details, family dynamics, and rich characters create an engaging story.

Using the four dancers of the quadrille, Sherwood Smith overtly indicates our heroes and heroines. The first heroine on the page is the Honourable Miss Clarissa Harlowe. Described as plain in comparison with her younger stepsisters, Clarissa is warm, observant, and conscientious—especially kind to her servants. And unlike the witty heroines of most Austen books, Clarissa will inherit a large fortune when she comes of age.

Clarissa’s Hampshire household combines all the best domestic elements of Austen novels—benevolent parents, garrulous sisters, and wealth. Smith writes Lord and Lady Chadwick, their bevy of young daughters, and the widowed Aunt Sophia without any of the financial anxieties of the Bennets or Dashwoods. Aunt Sophia is Smith’s nod to Mrs. Norris, but the reader will not see Clarissa treated like Fanny Price. Though Clarissa is a child of Lord Chadwick’s first marriage, her glamorous stepmother, the present Lady Chadwick, treats her kindly.

As an heiress, Clarissa has lost her taste for romance. She has endured suitors only interested in her fortune, so she is reticent to be swept away by the popular tales of languishing love. She tells her friend Lady Kitty, “I do not see the appeal in hopelessness.”

Catherine Decourcey (Lady Kitty) lives for romance, gothic tropes, and wild narratives. Where Clarissa is wealthy, unassuming, and practical, our second heroine is beautiful, imaginative, and in desperate need of financial help. After Clarissa survives a shipwreck, she and Kitty become fast friends while she recovers at Kitty’s family home, Tarval Hall. The friendship shows both women at their best: Clarissa, wise and generous, and Kitty, earnest and sensitive. If you’ve ever wanted to refashion Elinor and Marianne Dashwood with contemporary depth, you can thank Shewood Smith for Clarissa Harlowe and Catherine Decourcey.

Though Clarissa has no desire to marry, a persistent suitor awaits her return to Hampshire: the ponderous Lord Wilburfolde. Well-born, respectable, and dull, Lord Wilburfolde prefaces every comment with, “My mother says.” With no suitors of her own, Lady Kitty accompanies Clarissa and her family to Hampshire and then to London for the Season, determined to publish her novel and marry well so she can ease her family’s financial burdens.

While the dancing romance of the novel only favors two couples, Miss Lucretia Boulderston angles for a chance to play the heroine. A neighbor to Lady Kitty, and quietly engaged to Kitty’s brother Carlisle, Lucretia uses every opportunity to gain social advantages. After her first meeting with Clarissa, Sherwood Smith writes, “Miss Boulderston curtseyed and departed, leaving behind a pleasant trace of French scent, and a general sense of constraint.” Lucretia is a calculating presence in the novel, snubbing her family and friends by turns, plying gentlemen with wine, and planning a picnic just to get caught in the rain. Her betrothal to Carlisle is privately announced early on, and inserted into the newspaper much later—without Carlisle’s consent.

Though Carlisle is not secretly engaged like Edward Ferrars, the arrangement is equally burdensome. For much of the novel, Carlisle cannot pursue the woman he loves—all because Lucretia engineered a kiss in the garden years ago. Quiet and well-read, Carlisle Decourcey inherited his father’s title as the Marquess of St. Tarval, but not his reputation as a spendthrift and rake. Our hero wants to keep his family home in good repair, spend a quiet life in the country, and introduce his sister into society. He struggles to find the means.

The final hero is Philip Devereaux, a sharp, fashionable gentleman, and the object of Lucretia’s most determined machinations. Like his cousin Clarissa, Philip is pursued for his wealth. Lucretia dreams of becoming his wife—“only two deaths away from being a duchess”—and making London society sick with envy.

The four dancers come together in the London Season, meeting at the weekly Almack’s balls, occasional soirees, rides in the park, and even a duchess’s masquerade. Smith’s writing sparkles with the historically appropriate details that contemporary readers crave—observations on fashion, etiquette, and social luminaries like Beau Brummell. While Lady Chadwick copies gown patterns from the Duchess of Devonshire, the younger Miss Boulderston has a suitor known in town for the height of his shirt-points.

Despite her fortune, Clarissa’s position in the novel is another poignant historical circumstance. As an unmarried woman, she fears being a burden to her brother James when he sets up his own household. She accepts Lord Wilburfolde’s suit so she won’t become another Aunt Sophia, living on her brother’s goodwill. But with encouragement from her formidable grandmother, she manages to create a better future for herself.

Though Smith identifies the four dancers clearly, the eventual pairings don’t ring false or shallow at the end of the novel. With a wide cast of characters, Danse de la Folie reads more like a miniseries. Aunt Sophia and Lucretia Boulderston compete for most exaggerated theatrical gestures while Lord and Lady Chadwick are the most benevolent and disinterested parents a reader could wish for. To solve her problems, Lady Kitty declares, “One must be the heroine,” but she never adopts Lucretia’s rehearsed gestures, a running joke throughout the book. Lady Kitty steps into the heroine’s position with her charming artlessness, catching the eye of Mr. Devereaux and proving that warmth and sincerity will defeat strategy and malice.

Image of author Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith

About the author: Sherwood Smith has loved Jane Austen all her life, which led to her getting a degree in European history. She lives in Southern California with her spouse, two kids, and two dogs.

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Book View Cafe (September 25, 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 9781611387407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611387407

 

About the reviewer: Emily K. Michael is a poet, musician, and writing instructor from Jacksonville, FL. She is the poetry editor for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature at Syracuse University, and she curates the Blind Academy blog. Her first book Neoteny: Poems is available from Finishing Line Press (click here to enter the site). Blind and print-disabled users can also find it on Bookshare.

Read more of her work at her website:

  • “On the Blink: How My Light is Spent.” Click on this link.
  • Watch her TEDx FSCJ talk entitled The Confluence of Disability and Imagination (Dec 6, 2016) at this link.

 

Cover image of Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney by Jessica A. Volz Inquiring readers: This post is a follow up to my review of Dr. Jessica Volz’s book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. I mainly reviewed Chapter 1, which concentrated on Austen’s visuality. For this post, I asked the author about Radcliffe’s, Edgeworth’s, and Burney’s contributions and why she began her interesting observations with Austen.

Vic: Your book’s title is Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Jane Austen was younger than the last three women and not as famed during her lifetime. Why did you choose to place her “story” first in your book? Is it because she emerges as the best known, most popular author today – the genius?

Volz: Jane Austen was indeed born after the other women authors whose novels I discuss. She was born on December 16, 1775 – roughly 8 years after Maria Edgeworth, 12 years after Ann Radcliffe and 24 years after Frances Burney (Madame d’Arblay). Nonetheless, she was outlived by these illustrious contemporaries, departing from this world in 1817 at the age of 41, leaving her last work – Sanditon – (distressingly) unfinished. While Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were geniuses of their times in their own respective ways, I believe Austen is a genius for our era as well. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made some of the dynamics that her novels expose all the more relatable. After William Shakespeare (whose fame as an indivisible person is still a question of heated debate), many would argue that Austen is the most universally acclaimed literary figure in history. For a writer whose name was not initially attached to any of her published works, that’s quite the surge to branded stardom. When I set out to turn my doctoral research into a book that would bridge the divide between academic and non-academic audiences, I wanted its discussion to open with an author whose appeal continues to grow across the globe and whose brilliant use of language has inspired other luminaries, from Sir Winston Churchill to J.K. Rowling. It’s not for nothing that Austen is the only woman apart from the Queen to appear on a UK bank note. I am also very grateful that Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the founder and chair of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (which I cannot encourage you enough to support!), supplied the foreword to my book.

Jessica Voltz at Chawton House

Jessica Volz at Chawton House. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

As Anna Laetitia Barbauld once exclaimed, “Next to the Balloon, Miss Burney is the object of public curiosity.” The celebrity status that Frances Burney – novelist, playwright, diarist and Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte – had attained upon being acknowledged as the Authoress of Evelina, the book that everyone was reading in 1778, is no longer. From an anonymous literary “incognita,” who had relied on writing both furtively and in a feigned hand, Burney had metamorphosed into a highly visible household name. (Perhaps only Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, exceeded her standing in this regard.) Edmund Burke found in Evelina a page-turner, while Sir Joshua Reynolds reputedly offered £50 in exchange for the author’s identity. As today’s bookshelves can attest, Burney’s fame has curiously waned; in her afterlife, Austen has usurped Burney’s place on the podium of visibility.

While each of the novelists I examine in my book relied on visuality – a methodology empowering the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – its forms and functions varied in scale and in style. In addition, Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney experimented with and contributed to different approaches to the novel: Austen modernized narration through her introduction of free indirect discourse; Radcliffe reinterpreted the Gothic novel and removed her plots to temporally and geographically disparate settings (picture a scene painted by Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain); Edgeworth imbued her narratives with political undertones that conveyed the situation in Ireland and was innovative in her theatrical experimentation with male narrators and cross-dressing; Burney’s comparative visibility in society, from Samuel Johnson’s circle to the Court of Queen Charlotte, shaped her treatment of the courtship novel and influenced her transition from an epistolary to a third-person perspective, which was, in my humble opinion, nothing short of Revolutionary.

Image of dining room at the Jane Austen House Museum

One of the rooms at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. You can see Austen’s writing desk on the far right, where she wrote in private. Image courtesy of Dr. Volz

My book moves from novels empowering the role of projections of character exterior to the self (think portraiture and architectural metaphors) to the drama of reflections, fashion and the minutiae of self-display (as in color codes of emotions and eyes that “speak”). This calculated progression shows how visuality “liberated” women novelists at a time when self-expression was particularly constrained for their sex, arming them with a means by which they could freely direct the reader’s attention to otherwise “indescribable” aspects of the era: its gender politics, socio-economic constraints and patriarchal abuses.

Vic: Please summarize the contributions to visuality that Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney made that influenced Austen or were parallel to Austen’s influences, and that were readily known to 18th- and 19th-century readers.

Volz: Given that writers cannot help but be influenced by what they read, the forms and functions of visuality that I describe in my book were trending to varying degrees when Austen was penning her novels. For instance, she would have been well-acquainted with Burney’s manipulation of ocular dialogue and color codes of emotion. However, Austen’s approach to directing the female gaze is more complex, especially when combined with free indirect discourse. She often challenges her protagonists and, in turn, readers of her fiction to make judgments about true character through portraiture and architectural metaphors – approaches to visuality that were also employed by Radcliffe and Edgeworth. The fact that visuality was not an esoteric means of communicating the otherwise difficult/impossible to express was what gave it power. The language that women novelists had to employ (to preserve their reputations as respectable women) reveals the self-consciousness that resonated between the author and her fictional women. Women novelists were, like women readers of novels, seen as threats to a patriarchal regime of knowledge where men had power over women’s perceptions of their surroundings and themselves. Today, gender equality remains a call to action, an unfortunate truth which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also reiterated. In addition to appealing to those similarly infatuated with British literature, my book would serve as a uniquely valuable resource for diplomats, politicians and lawyers, as visuality remains an efficient and effective means of strategic and diplomatic communication that should not be overlooked.

Vic: My third question is a minor one: Burney and Austen never met, but their lives in terms of acquaintances and places they visited and lived in were close. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Volz: Yes, I think it’s fascinating to consider that Austen and Burney would have been directly or indirectly acquainted with a number of the same sights and social contexts on British shores. The views of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney were culturally representative, making them and their novels choice case studies in my book.

(Gentle reader: please read more about the intersection between Frances Burney and Jane Austen in the link below along with accompanying images.)

Vic: Why did you not include more information about Austen’s ‘Persuasion?’

Volz: It was admittedly difficult to narrow the scope of my book. I ultimately opted to confine my discussion to novels published in Britain between 1778, which coincided with the start of the Anglo-French War, and 1815, the year that witnessed the Battle of Waterloo. (Burney was actually in Brussels at the time.) As my book explores cross-Channel tensions and manifestations of cultural identity, this period was of particular interest. Nonetheless, Austen’s use of visuality in her other works, including Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, would be fascinating subjects of future exploration. Like Burney’s approach to visuality, Austen’s penchant for architectural metaphors and portraiture remained largely unchanged during her lifetime. It was a hallmark of her artful construction of language and, like her penmanship, held strong right up until the end.

Additional information about the Burney-Austen connection:

“Jane Austen and Great Bookham,” a post on Deborah Barnum’s blog, Jane Austen in Vermont, and written by guest contributor Tony Grant (accompanied by his usual informative photographs), discusses how Frances Burney’s and Jane Austen’s lives intersected. Below find a slide show of a few of the images in that post.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fanny Burney’s tomb rests in the cemetery of St Swithins Church in Bath. George Austen is buried in the same churchyard. St. Swithins is the church where Jane Austen’s parents– George Austen and Cassandra Leigh–were married.

Email comment from Jessica Volz regarding the Jane Austen–Frances Burney connection:  The Burney-Austen link is fascinating. I made it to King’s Lynn after speaking at the Pride an Prejudice bicentenary conference at the University of Cambridge and quested for  her birthplace, which was marked by a Clarks footwear shop (as of 2013). What a shame! Burney led a fascinating life, and her journals and letters are the stuff of which novels were/are made.

Image of the cover of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie JennerIt is my pleasure to introduce to you author Natalie Jenner and her debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. – Rachel Dodge

Let’s begin with a description of the novel to whet your literary appetites:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Introducing Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society:

I first “met” Natalie Jenner online last year, and we’ve since formed a lovely friendship—one that I foresee extending into the future for a very long time. That’s the thing about Jane Austen devotees: We always seem to find one another, even if we’re from different parts of the world, because of our shared love for Jane, her life, and her work. That magic is also what immediately drew me to Natalie’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, a story about a group of people who are drawn together based on their love for all things Austen and a desire to protect her legacy.

As a fellow writer, I couldn’t wait to pick Natalie’s brain about how she came up with such a beautiful concept for a novel. Her answers to my questions gave me a further glimpse into her creative process and the story of how this novel came to be. I’ve loved getting to know Natalie this past year. And I hope, once you read her interview, you’ll feel like you know her, too.

Q: When did you first discover Jane Austen and how have her books touched your life?

A: I discovered a beautiful 1976 Dutton edition of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelves when I was a child, and I remember being besotted by the fact that the book came in a box with a ribbon that ran through it, by the wonderful ink and wash illustrations by Isabel Bishop, and most of all by that crazy dialogue-heavy opening scene with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet that reads just like a screenplay.

Austen’s books have touched my life in many ways: as a teenager, they introduced me to female characters with little social agency yet huge reservoirs of inner conviction and resilience and hope. As I started my own adult and family life, books like Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility in particular showed me a side to the pathos of real grown-up life that seemed missing from so much modern culture. And most recently, Austen helped me through a challenging time in middle age by her personal example of living with chronic pain and grief, and writing through illness and despair.

Q: What initially inspired you to write The Jane Austen Society? (Do you remember where you were when the idea first came to you?)

A: I remember exactly where I was. I had been spending a “quiet year” rereading all of Austen, looking for solace when my husband was diagnosed in his early 50s with a very rare and incurable form of lung disease. This led me to start reading as many books about her life as I could find, which in turn inspired me to take a bucket list trip to Bath and Chawton to literally walk in Austen’s footsteps, as well as attend my first JASNA regional event. I was also binge-watching a lot of Downton Abbey and British television during this time, including a home real estate series called Escape to the Country. When my husband’s lung decline started to stabilize following experimental treatment, I remember feeling hope for the first time in two years of what was frankly a medical nightmare. Along with hope, I was also surprised to find myself yearning to write again, after locking five unpublished manuscripts from my 30s away in a drawer many years ago. Initially I was going to write about a group of people trying to rescue an old British estate house, similar to Downton Abbey. But my daughter very clearly remembers me one day, out of the blue, looking up from my reading and saying very simply instead, “I am going to write a book about a group of people trying to save Jane Austen’s house.” And that is pretty much still the tag line for my book.

Q: At what point did you decide to write it as a fictional account? Did the story come to you all at once or did it slowly build as you planned and drafted?

A: Interestingly, because my first impulse was to write something completely fictional about a made-up house, the idea of any of it being related to Austen only came upon the heels of that. So, fictional first, then Austen second. I conceived of eight to ten characters, half men and half women, and I gave them jobs (as a career coach in my other life, I know how important one’s job is to one’s identity, and in looking back, I think that must be why so much of the action stems from the fact of someone being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a servant girl).

That was all the planning that I did in advance. When I sat down one day to write, an image immediately came to mind of a man, tired and lonely and sad, lying back on the very stone wall in the churchyard of St. Nicholas where I had rested the fall before when visiting Chawton. I remember typing that first chapter, having this man meet the Austen fan from America who has descended on his village, making up his life story, having him start reading a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the library (that moment we can all relate to, that very first “hit”), and then I wrote the words “He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy” and right away I knew what my book was really going to be about. People in love with Jane Austen, and then learning to love themselves. I write completely without a plan or outline of any kind—I love it, it’s so exhilarating, and it lets my characters drive the action, so everything always comes as a complete surprise to me. That’s where all the fun in writing is for me. Revision is the penance for the fun.

Q: How do your characters “introduce” themselves to you? What is the process you use to create and develop them?

A: My characters appear to me completely formed and ready, in terms of their appearance but also their temperament, personality, and mannerisms. I can’t explain it, and I haven’t asked other authors how common that is, probably because I am afraid of the answer! I can immediately picture everything about my characters when they first appear to me except—strangely—the exact features of their face. Their faces always remain a little blurry, but that does enable me to do stunt-casting later on for my dream movie or tv version.

Q: Your character names are perfectly charming! How did you come up with their names?

A: This is also a strangely intuitive part of the process, as the names for the most part just pop up in my mind. But I do remember struggling with Dr. Gray’s first name, Benjamin, because I wanted it to be traditional and strong and pleasant, but also not overly common. And I am going to give you a little nugget: I had already picked Mimi for the Hollywood actress’s name, and it was only later in researching the name that I learned that “Mimi” is also a diminutive for “Mary Ann”—which was, obviously, so perfect, and a sign that I just could not ignore. Once I had all the names in place, and because I did not want to step on any real-life people in creating this fictional work about a very real society and place, I did go through census records online for the village of Chawton, trying to the best of my ability to ensure that no real villagers now or in the past shared surnames with any of my characters, just to avoid any unnecessary confusion.

Q: What was your research process for this book and what sources did you consult? Did you visit any Jane Austen sites in England?

A: So I had actually done a year of what I now call “unintentional research” when I was sitting in my garden rereading Austen and then reading every book I could find on the story of her life. I was particularly impacted by the following books: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe, Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman, and Reading Austen in America by Professor Juliette Wells, all of which really got me thinking about Austen fandom and how it has manifested itself historically; and Caroline Knight’s memoir, Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage, which introduced me to the more private, familial side of Chawton House’s history.

Throughout my life I have visited and revisited many Austen sites, but during this particular time, I was fortunate to get to spend a week on my own in Hampshire. Every morning I would make the same walk to Chawton from Alton that Austen herself used to make. I would be the first person to arrive at the Jane Austen’s House Museum when it opened in the morning, and the last person to leave Chawton House at the end of the day. All of this “research” was done before I even had an inkling that I was going to write a book about any of it one day!

Q: Are there any characters or storylines in the book that strike a chord with you personally? Do you have a favorite character?

A: I love this question, because yes! Adeline the war widow can be a polarizing figure but her total immersion in her grief really resonated with me—it was like a funhouse mirror reflection of the great parts of her character: the intensity, the curiousity, the always-up-for-a-fight. She’s just so independent and her own person, and I loved that about her. I also loved Dr. Gray, who is propping this entire little village totally at the expense of his own emotional healing, which seemed so human to me. But my real soft spot is for Evie: she is my daughter and myself at that age, so single-mindedly focused on her intellectual growth and academic ambition, and just waiting, impatiently, for her moment in the sun.

Q: Where and when do you get your writing done? Can you share any rituals or quirks you have as a writer?

A: My main quirk as a writer is the fact that I can and do write anywhere, anytime. I gave up my home office when my husband started working from home, and so far I have not yet been able to get it back! I write by the fireplace and big window in the living room, in bed, at the dining room table, by the pool, and last summer I treated myself to an 8 foot by 8 foot writing shed in the garden. My absolute favourite time to write is when I first wake up, usually around 5 am if I am in the middle of a book and can’t stand the suspense myself of what’s going to happen next. All I need when I write is just my laptop and sometimes a cup of English breakfast tea to keep me going.

Q: What do you hope the worldwide Jane Austen community will gain from reading this book?

A: My goal for this book is even more global than that: I want everyone, Austenites and strangers to Austen alike, to reaffirm for themselves, through the experiences of my characters, the critical and essential role of hope in all our lives. As I say in the book, sometimes hope is all we have: but hope can also sometimes be just enough. I know it was for me. For Austenites in particular, I would love for them to appreciate and celebrate all of our individual and collective efforts in keeping the works of Austen so thriving and alive.

Q: If you could step into one of Jane Austen’s novels, which one would it be and which character would you like to play?

A: Elizabeth Bennet. All the way. In fact, I’m already halfway there in my mind as I say this. She is undoubtably the most delightful, charismatic, and authentic character in all of literature.

Q: Who is your favorite actor from the new Emma movie and what do you like most about his/her performance. (I think I know the answer, but I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!)

A: You are a good guesser because, yes, it’s Mr. Johnny Flynn. I was so averse to his casting announcement, and superficially so—he struck me as having a very young, British-boy-band, foppish manner. My Mr. Knightley (my favourite romantic figure in all of Austen) is tall, and imposing, and so smart. What I loved about Flynn’s performance in the new Emma movie was how he retained the imposing manner in any room, but gave it a quieter confidence and vulnerability that I hadn’t seen before. I could feel how much he wanted to love and be loved, and to start a family, and I just found that all so incredibly romantic and touching.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this book?

A: I would add that I tried while I was writing, and in the dreaded revising, to throw in as many little “Easter eggs” as I could, so that the more hard-core Austen fans could have fun picking up on little allusions and parallels to events, characters, and romances from Austen’s own works. Although over the course of three drafts many of these parallels were intentional, some still surprised even me. Which, as I said before, is the total joy and fun of writing.

Image of Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Rachel Dodge, author of Praying With Jane Austen, at the 2019 JASNA AGM in Williamsburg

Rachel Dodge at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, October 2019

About Rachel Dodge, the interviewer: Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 1, 2020). . You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

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AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8

PURCHASE LINKS:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

You may order your copy of The Jane Austen Society here:

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JOHN THE BLOG TOUR!

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

May 25 Jane Austen’s World

May 25 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog

May 26 Frolic Media

May 26 A Bookish Affair

May 26 Courtney Reads Romance

May 26 Margie’s Must Reads

May 26 The Reading Frenzy

View the Rest of the Tour Schedule in the Side Bar – The blog tour lasts until June 30th!

 

Volz BookInquiring readers,

My apologies to author Jessica Volz–who contacted me weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown about her book–for posting my review of her book several months late. She has been so patient that I must thank her for her graciousness. – Vic Sanborn

The highly interesting and informative Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, is no fast walk in the park as far as reading goes, but it is worth the effort since it is filled with new and insightful information. One cannot skip or skim to learn about the way Austen and female writers of her era used visuality in language to communicate hidden meaning. In order to understand how visual language transmitted women’s emotions, issues, and areas of concern in a patriarchal society, I digested Dr. Volz’s words and reflected on how her observations helped me to reassess my understanding of the hidden language these 18th and 19th century authors used.

In her book, Dr. Volz studied the novels of four authors published between 1778 and 1815. Three of those novelists, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney, enjoyed recognition during Austen’s life, while Austen ultimately found lasting fame as a literary giant. This was a time when women’s views on their rights shifted, greatly helped by the Enlightenment’s campaign for human rights, the influence of the French Revolution in questioning conventional perceptions of women, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary writings. Wollstonecraft wanted male-dominated females to attain power over themselves. While this emancipation would take a longer time than she even envisioned, Wolstonecraft influenced contemporary women authors to employ an approach that “concealed their resistance within an artful narration.” (1. Volz, p. 210.)

Volz’s findings found that in a patriarchal society, when women were expected to behave modestly and correctly and use phrases that were acceptable to their male relatives and husbands, female authors found a linguistic end-around through visual references. They:

…focused on ways their texts reveal the authors’ approaches to issues explored or suggested in the novels, including “women’s difficulties, polite society’s anxieties and the problems inherent in judging by appearances.” – (2. Painting With Words, Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA, 2019.)

Thus, while the novels written by these four authors seemed to outwardly conform to societal standards, their heroines thought for themselves.

While the forms and functions of visuality that women novelists employed to their rhetorical advantage vary, they channeled their thoughts through several distinct visual pathways: visible and ‘invisible’ likenesses, architectural metaphors, the ‘made-up’ social self and communicating countenances.” (Volz, p. 212)

This review discusses some ways in which Dr. Volz examines how Austen employed the forms and functions of visuality. When she sent me her book, she was correct in predicting that I would be the most affected by the chapter that discussed Jane Austen. I’ll start with my first (and still favorite) Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, and Mr. Darcy

While Dr. Volz discusses Pemberley well into Chapter 1, I did not begin to truly understand her analysis of Austen’s visuality until I reached this section. I knew Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite fictional heroine from almost the moment I met her at the age of fourteen. Lady Catherine deBourgh expressed the 18th century attitude towards women when she accused Elizabeth of being obstinate and headstrong. In other words, she was not the right sort of lady, especially not for Mr. Darcy.

On that first reading, I instantly understood that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy were transformed as she walked along the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, viewed the house from afar in its perfect setting, moved throug its exquisite interior, listened to the raptures of his housekeeper as she described her master’s kindnesses, compared a miniature of his youthful self to Mr. Wickham’s (whose actions, as related by the housekeeper, described a cad), and then finally studied a large painted portrait of Mr. Darcy that to Elizabeth seemed true to life and captured her new understanding of his essence.

The architectural metaphors that Volz mentioned explain much in this description of Elizabeth’s leisurely ramble with the Gardiners along Pemberley’s grounds:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Pride and Prejudice)

As she views Pemberley’s grounds, Elizabeth can see herself living in this natural setting as its mistress, but she realizes with some sadness that this is no longer possible. To her regret, she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal based on her first impressions. Now that she sees him through a new lens, she recognizes how much their tastes and inclinations have in common. Moreover, she understands that Darcy, like his estate, Pemberley, has no artifice.

The lack of artifice is also how Mr. Darcy views Elizabeth – early in their association, he admires her expressive eyes and the liveliness of her character, which gave her a natural beauty much like the estate grounds he loves.

But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Austen also emphasized Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s unorthodox, unladylike walk to Netherfield, which “improved her figure’s picturesque quality and intensified the expressiveness of her eyes.” (Volz, p. 60). His appreciation echoes the ideal of the picturesque in writings by Johann Kaspar Lavater (a Swiss physiognomist, philosopher, and theologian) and William Gilpin in his Observations Relating Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) which appreciated the irregular features of a person, place, or setting and that “gave them a certain charm and made them desirable subjects for painting.” (Ibid)

JaneAustenSilhouette-Wikimedia

Image, Wikimedia Commons

Volz writes much more about the mastery in which Austen unites Elizabeth and Darcy through visible and invisible likenesses and architectural metaphors. Yet Austen is known for her austere descriptions of person, place or thing. How does this reconcile with visuality? One of the best-known images of Austen is a silhouette used by Jane Austen societies the world over. Early in her book, Volz mentions Austen’s affinity and familiarity with silhouettes. Like her contemporary profilists, “Austen sought to produce verbal ‘shades’ that ‘”convey the most forcible expression of character.”’ (3. Marsh & Hickman, Shades from Jane Austen.)

Austen’s habit of eschewing detail when describing characters’ appearance indicates her preference for using a single telling line that, like the silhouette, supplies ‘infinite expression’ though a profile that is not overshadowed by the particulars within it.” (Volz, p. 36)

For me, this explains Austen’s spare use of details and how this writing style encourage the readers’ imaginations to take hold. As I age, I find new depths in her plots, whose meanings change as my perceptions of the world (and knowledge of her era) change. For example, as a young girl/woman, I couldn’t stand or understand Mrs. Bennet, and found her an irritating though comic character. The more I studied Austen’s era and the circumscribed lives women were forced to live, my sympathy for Mrs. Benne’s poor nerves and her quest to find husbands for her five daughters increased, while my patience with Mr. Bennet (though I never stopped appreciating his wit) waned.

Volz writes that “Austen’s use of an aesthetic vocabulary of character in her fiction directs the reader’s attention to the act of viewing and its ultimate subjectivity in creating couples united in their affections.” So true, but Austen does this so economically and so masterfully, that I am constantly astounded and motivated to reread her novels.

Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele

In Sense and Sensibility, Volz traces the evolution of Elinor’s certainty that Edward Ferrars favors her against her painful, but inexorable understanding that he is engaged to Lucy. The proof is supplied through physiognomic means in the form of a miniature likeness of Edward that he gave to his intended. Does this miniature prove that he loves her? Elinor isn’t sure. While devastated, she is a skillful observer, as painters often are. Why do he and Lucy only see each other twice a year? And why, she wonders, did Lucy never give him her picture?

This plot in Sense and Sensibility reads like a mystery, with Austen using visuality clues to lead Elinor/us to the realization that, by not giving Edward her visual likeness, Lucy’s attachment is tenuous at best. In Lavater’s opinion, a portrait is “more expressive than nature.” One can then deduce that a ring with a lock of Lucy’s hair means little compared to an actual likeness. Elinor can discern no real affection in Lucy’s body language or demeanor towards Edward, but this knowledge gives her no comfort. Only a woman is allowed to end an engagement and Edward is too honorable to go against convention. At the end of the novel, Elinor’s intuition proves to be correct and Edward, unceremoniously dumped by Lucy in favor of his brother, is free to declare himself to the woman he loves.

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith

When it comes to the heroine that no one but Austen will much like, Volz explains that Emma is “as much of a product of Highbury as she is a shaper of it.” (Volz, p. 79). Emma’s status, while high in the ranks of Highbury society, does not detract from the dullness of her daily life as a modest female. In her twenty-one years, she hasn’t visited London, a mere few hours drive away in a carriage, or a seaside resort, or even Box Hill (until the famous scene at the end of the novel). After Miss Taylor became Mrs. Weston, a bored Emma (who took credit for uniting Mr. Weston with her governess) looks for another “project.” When her thoughts turn to Harriet Smith, her imagination and manipulation take over. She will mold Harriet into her vision of a young lady with prospects, even though Harriet is the natural daughter of an unknown somebody.

A famous scene in the novel centers on Emma painting a portrait of Harriet. Volz describes this portrait as an example of the heroine’s self-delusions (the likeness depicts Harriet as Emma would like her to be), and that the friendship among the two women represents something other than themselves. “Emma has redrawn Harriet’s character, which now ‘acts’ as improperly as the eye and hand that have shaped it.” (Volz, p. 80) Needless to say, Emma’s portrayal of Harriet has more to say about the painter than the sitter.

From the start of the alliance, the reader understands that this friendship is woefully out of balance. A weak mouse stands little chance against a powerful cat, and so Emma’s machinations blindly continue, but after Harriet reveals her love for Mr. Knightley, which she (unbelievably) thinks is reciprocated, Emma finally sees ‘the blinders of her own head and heart,’ although Emma feels sorrier for herself in her self-deception than she feels for her deluded friend. “Austen’s visual technique stages for the reader the dramatic shift in the heroine’s vision and perceptions.” (Ibid.) This is true, but Austen’s young heroine still has much to learn before the story ends.

In this section, Volz provides more interesting observations about the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship, which readers will find equally fascinating.

Fanny Price and Mansfield Park

My final thoughts about Volz’s book are about her analysis of Fanny Price. Fanny’s journey as a young girl transported to a strange new house is demonstrated by the rooms she lives in. At first the lonely child cries herself to sleep, but as the novel progresses, the rooms she occupies within the house, first as an outsider and then as an accepted member of the household, correspond with her emotional growth. The more comfortable Fanny feels in her adopted home, the more she blossoms. Fanny’s “acquisition of a new private space within Mansfield serves as a metaphor for her progress towards social acceptance.” (Volz, p. 76)

When Fanny is banished to live with her parents in Portsmouth, she learns how much she has changed and grown. “Aesthetic contrasts teach the heroine and the reader to see that Mansfield’s values are diametrically opposed to those at Portsmouth, with its crowded, agitating interior.” (Ibid.) Mansfield Park has become Fanny’s home, and within it she shines both outwardly and inwardly.

Austen’s evolving views towards ideal landscapes are personified in her descriptions of Pemberley and Mansfield Park:

Whereas Elizabeth’s raptures over Pemberley’s physiognomic display highlight the place’s picturesque irregularity, here [in Mansfield Park], Austen defers to the presentation of organized beauty and agreeable symmetry, implying her own changed view of landscape design.” (Volz, p. 77)

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

This is not surprising, since one of the premier landscape architects at the time that Austen wrote  Mansfield Park was Humphry Repton, whose work Jane prominently mentions in the novel. Repton’s habit of removing irregularities from a landscape can be viewed in his red books, in which he presented before and after watercolors of his designs to his clients. The “after” watercolors remove any impediments to a perfect view or irregularities (by cutting down trees or adding features, such as a pond or a Palladian bridge).

I should also mention that Volz’s thorough examination of Austen’s visual aesthetic includes the author’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which characterizes Austen’s writing. Approximately 20-30% of Austen’s narration is FID, in which both the narrator and a character are speaking at once.

Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels relay information about thoughts and speech. […] Austen’s employment of FID was revolutionary, for while earlier authors had used it to some degree, it remained to Austen to take advantage of the wide range of how FID could be deployed to manipulate our ironic understanding of her characters.” (4. Mooneyham White, Discerning Voice Through Austen, JASNA)

In our day and age, many readers no longer recognize the subtleties that 18th/19th century readers understood when reading novels by contemporary female authors. Dr. Volz’s observations help us to analyze their subtext and, in my case, prompted me to rethink my earlier reactions to Austen’s characters.

One can use Dr. Volz’s observations in analyzing other Austen characters on our own – Anne Elliot, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and Henry Tilney, to mention a few. Austen scholars and Austen fans who have delved deeply into her characters’ lives and the history of Regency England will find this book fascinating and a useful reference in their libraries.

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

About Dr. Jessica A. Volz:

Dr. Jessica A. Volz of Denver, Colorado is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels. Her latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), discusses how visuality — the continuum linking visual and verbal communication — provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language. The title offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling point of view.

Dr. Volz holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of St. Andrews and a B.A./M.A. in European Cultural Studies and Journalism from Boston University. She was recently named an ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was created to harness the global passion for Jane Austen to fund literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Dr. Volz has also served as the editor of two Colorado legal publications and as a translator for a number of Paris-based companies. In her spare time, she enjoys planning tea parties and plotting novels.

References:

1. Volz, Jessica A. Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Anthem Press, Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series, 2020. Print. ISBN:13-978-1-78527-253-0 (pbk).

2. “Painting with Words,” Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, Jessica A. Volz. Review by Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA News, 2019. PDF document downloaded May 18, 2020: file:///C:/Users/18046/Downloads/JASNANews_Summer2019_BookReviews.pdf

3. Hickman, Peggy and Marsh, Honoria, Shades from Jane Austen, London: Parry, Jackman 1975, xv-xxii.

4. Mooneyham White, Laura, Discerning Voice through Austen Said: Free Indirect Discourse, Coding, and Interpretive (Un)Certainty, Jane Austen Society of North America, Volu. 37, No1—Winter 2016, Downloaded May 20, 2020: http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/white-smith/

Additional:

Coffee, Tea and Visuality: The Art of Attraction in ’‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jessica A.Volz, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, February 22, 2017, Downloaded May 18, 2020:https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality

Edmundson, Melissa, “A Space for for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park,” Persuasions On=Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, V. 23, No.1 (Winter 2002), Downloaded 5/20/2020: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol23no1/edmundson.html

Lavater, Johann Casper. Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by or under the inspection of, Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Thomas Holdcroft. 3 vols. 5 bks. London: John Murray 1789-98.

Oesteich, Kate Faber, “Jessica A. Volz – Interview,” Nineteenth-Century Studies Association (NCSA), May 10, 2017. Downloaded May 18, 2020: https://ncsaweb.net/2017/05/10/jessica-a-volz/

Purchase the book:

Inquiring readers: Covid-19 has meant making changes for us and our families, friends, and co-workers world wide. Rachel Dodge wrote this lovely article regarding stay-at-home activities in Jane Austen’s era that are still practiced. I think we can all relate!

As we practice social distancing and spend more time at home, I often think about what Jane would have done under similar circumstances. I can imagine she would miss making morning calls, traveling to visit family and friends, going to church on Sundays, and attending balls where she might dance “nine dances out of ten” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, November 1800).

With what we know of Austen’s home life in mind, I’ve compiled a list of activities that I hope will feed the minds, imaginations, and souls of my fellow Janeites:

 

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Rachel Dodge.

Image of cover of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

  • Read all the books

Books provided Austen with the intellectual stimulation and emotional escape her active mind required. (We can certainly relate!) She enjoyed a wide range of genres and didn’t limit herself to one category.

While libraries remain closed, we can follow our own literary pursuits to new places and take advantage of online resources, e-books (gasp!), and audiobooks. Better yet, we can go through our bookshelves and read the books we already own but haven’t read!

If you want to read the books Austen read, you can explore these resources:

Image of bookshelf courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

Image of bookshelf, courtesy of Rachel Dodge.

 

Use your creative gifts to connect with others

Austen enjoyed quiet moments by the fire and often found creative inspiration for her writing during those private reveries. Marianne Knight shares this memory: 

[Aunt Jane would sit quietly working beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back to the fire and go on quietly working as before.” (Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, 1901)

Later in the day, Austen would often share her creative work with her family, leading to hours of discussion and laughter. While sheltering in place, my friends and neighbors have taken turns sharing creative love offerings with one another—fresh flowers, special treats, recipes, wine, craft supplies, cards, and homemade bread. How can you share your gifts and talents with others during this time?

  • Play games

In the article “Spillikins,” The Jane Austen Centre (https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spillikins/) shares this: “Jane Austen was a very hands-on aunt, with numerous games and activities in her repertoire. Her nieces and nephews recall with fondness the many games, from paper ships to Battledore and Shuttlecock, that she would play with them by the hour.”

Spillikins was her particular favorite: “Our little visitor has just left us, & left us highly pleased with her… -Half her time here was spent at Spillikins; which I consider as a very valuable part of our Household furniture, & as not the least important Benefaction- from the family of Knight to that of Austen.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, February 8, 1807)

If you have friends and family you’re missing right now, especially younger family members, try playing a game online or set up a Facetime game time. 

  • Enjoy walks and natural beauty

Austen (and many of her heroines) enjoyed a brisk walk. As we can see from her letters and novels, she liked the exercise and the beauty of her surroundings: 

We took a very charming walk from six to eight up Beacon Hill, and across some fields, to the village of Charlecombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green valley, as a village with such a name ought to be.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, June 2, 1799)

My family likes to walk, bike, or go out on our deck when the weather is nice. We’ve paid closer attention to the beauty of a sunset, a mother duck with her ducklings, and the wildflowers blooming along our walking trail. If you can’t get outside, try an exercise program online. There’s something for everyone right now!

  • Pray with Jane

Image of Jane Austen's Prayers

Image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

The Austen family said morning and evening prayers together. You might take time to read through Austen’s prayers for a few days. She wrote three lovely prayers that cover many of the concerns of daily life. 

Austen herself was no stranger to distress and tribulation. She understood the dangerous realities of war, illness, childbearing, and sea travel during her lifetime. Some of the lines of her prayers are particularly fitting for times like these:

“Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.” (Jane Austen, Prayers)

If you’d like to explore her prayers more fully, I created a 7-day Jane Austen prayer guide for COVID-19 here: https://www.racheldodge.com/7-days-prayer-jane-austen/

  • Write letters

Jane Austen wrote letters full of news and details. It was how she and her family and friends kept in close contact when they couldn’t be together in person. They shared everything – both the important and the mundane – in these missives!

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 3, 1801)

If you’re missing your friends and loved ones, why not write a letter? My daughter has been sending letters, stickers, and drawings back and forth in the mail with her best friend. They make their own envelopes and decorate them with colorful designs. 

  • Find comfort in familiar rhythms

Image of Tea with Jane Austen courtesy of Rachel Dodge

Image of Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, image courtesy of Rachel Dodge

In Caroline Austen’s book My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, she describes her aunt Jane’s morning habits: “Aunt Jane began her day with music . . . before breakfast—when she could have the room to herself—.” (Caroline Austen, My Aunt Jane: A Memoir, 1867)

Austen’s days had a certain cadence to them: She began the day with piano practice and letter writing. During the day, she wrote, sewed, visited with her family, and walked. In the evening, she and her family read out loud, played games, and talked. 

Keeping some of our routines as “normal” as possible (and finding new routines) helps give our days shape and definition. Perhaps you can host a weekly tea party or book discussion with your Jane Austen friends over Zoom!

Austen had an active imagination and would certainly have found many things with which to occupy her time. What else do you think Austen might have done? What routines do you find comforting in these turbulent times?

About the Author:

Rachel Dodge is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at http://www.RachelDodge.com.

Thank you, Ellen Moody, for posting this information on my Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook group page.  Isolation has just become a little better.

Jennifer is still my favorite Lizzie Bennet.

Armchair Travelers: In other news, visit Chawton Cottage on Susan Branch’s site. See this site’s previous post, which also includes Chawton visits by Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and lil’ ol’ moi.

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

The Peabody Institute Watch Party Concerts soothe our souls every Friday night. Catch them at this link.

Peabody

 

Stay safe, all. As my mamma says, “This too shall pass.” Vic

Inquiring readers,

During the Covid-19 lock down, I’ve missed traveling around my country. I intended to go abroad as well, but had to lay those plans aside. The internet affords me a way to satisfy my wanderlust.

Today as I e-searched Jane Austen’s gardens and her family’s use of fruits and herbs in making wines and home medicines, I discovered this lovely blog by author Susan Branch. Susan visited Chawton Cottage in 2012. Her photos and delightful narrative of her trip add to those I featured from blog contributors Tony Grant and Rachel Dodge. I’m publishing the first 20% of Susan’s post and will then link to her blog. Enjoy!

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage in 2012

Jane Austen

On our last day in England in the spring of 2012, just a few hours before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for our trip home, we stopped to visit Jane Austen’s house in a little country town called Chawton. I can’t say we saved the best for last, because everything we saw was “best.”  But this house was wonderful and better than I ever imagined it could be.  It’s in Hampshire, centrally located in the south of  England (very close to Southampton) — you can see it on the map on page six of my book chronicling this magical trip called   A FINE ROMANCE.

"Marry me, my wonderful darling friend" Quote by Mr. Knightley to Emma in the orchard

Crossroads

Sign to Chawton Cottage, the car park St. Nicholas church and Chawton House, and the village. Image courtesy Susan Branch.

First off, you have to know how this quiet neighborhood sounded this day!  The only sound missing is “my-toe-hurts-bet-tee” the nature national anthem of England, but there were wood pigeons cooing liltingly from every branch!

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage with a view of the visitor entrance. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

This is the 17th century house where Jane Austen did some of her most important work.  She lived here from 1809 to 1817, and published four novels during that time, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

How beautiful!  Let’s go find a parking space!

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

After parking, we walked for a little bit through the leafy old neighborhood and something interesting happened.  I took a picture of this little Jack Russell in a window of the house across the street from Jane’s and posted it here on the blog.  Later, after we returned home, I received an email from the owner of this house!  Her name is Mary and the dog’s name is Basil!  Mary had just happened upon our blog.  Isn’t that amazing? What a small world!  She’s actually written a cute children’s book about Basil which she sent to me . . .

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

 Many of the homes in Chawton have thatched roofs like Mary’s.  It’s a darling town ~ and we only had one afternoon. I wish we’d saved more time for this ~ there’s a lot of wonderfulness to see here.  Keep that in mind for when you go and have at least one full day.

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click here  to enter Susan’s blog. Note her journey through Chawton village, the rooms through the cottage, and her walk in the gardens.

well behaved women rarely make history signBTW, I noticed on Susan’s sidebar a saying that I keep in my office. Sisters always have a way of finding each other!!

Other posts on this blog about Chawton Cottage and Chawton House

Inquiring readers: My funny bone has yet to tickle me during this pandemic. I am still writing my Emma. film review. My tongue-in-cheek inspiration is coming back in dribs and drabs, but it hasn’t quite jelled.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meeting with friends, Janeites, and fellow volunteers online via Zoom and sharing ways to keep one’s mind preoccupied with loftier things than the constant doom and gloom droning on the news.

I’ve placed some concerts, virtual museum tours, and fine art discussions in this post to help you/us liven up our isolation.

Starting tonight they are:

ART: Cocktails with the Curator of the Frick Museum: A half hour discussion 5 pm every Friday. When I visit NYC, I always make an effort to stop at the Frick Museum. Previous discussions are available on YouTube. Download the APP for a gallery tour.

Cocktails Frick

MUSIC: Peabody Watch Party: Recurring Friday Nights:  The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins will stream a previously recorded concert every Friday night at 7:30pm Eastern Standard Time.  On April 17th, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70 “Souvenir de Forence” featureing Vadim Gluzman and Mei Zhan, violin, Alaina Rea and Josef Fischer, viola, and Michael Kanned and Ismael Guerrero Bombut, violoncello.

Visit Peabody ArtReach for additional performances and performance-related learning and wellness resources.

Peabody ArtReach

ONLINE CONCERT: One World Together at Home, Saturday, April 18th

One World Together at Home, a global broadcast & digital special to support frontline healthcare workers and the WHO.

TO WATCH: Find your channel on Global Citizen

One World Together at Home

Jane Austen Online

Jane AustenBritish Library: Jane Austen

Internet Archive: Jane Austen’s novels digitized

Persuasion

In addition: 

  • Business Traveller compiled a list of world class museums that offer free virtual tours. They include The Louvre, Van Gogh Museum, The Vatican Museum, British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rijksmuseum, Musée d’Orsay.

Museum tours

NPR’s (National Public Radio) Tiny Desk Concerts

These acoustic concerts have held me enthralled for a number of years. Try one. You’ll find that singers sound so much better in an intimate setting. Click here to try a few.

Tiny Desk Concerts

Inquiring readers,

Kevin Lindsey, who frequently comments to posts on this blog, forwarded the link to this 5-minute YouTube video. He writes:

As a long time subscriber to your blog, I thought you might be interested in this. It’s from a British group called Crows Eye Production. They create excellent, tasteful, and informative videos on historical clothing. They released this one on Jane & Cassandra Austen today. I thought it really well done, and thought I would share it with you, in case you wanted to pass it along. Below is a link. If you would prefer not to use that just got to YouTube and look up “CrowsEyeProductions”

Enjoy!

More on Regency Fashions: Jane Austen’s World category on fashions

Coming soon …

…my reviews of

Emma. “Handsome, clever, and rich.”

Emma

Emma. 2020 publicity still. Focus Features.

Visuality-VolzVisuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney by Jessica A. Voltz. Preview book by clicking on the link.

 

Stay Safe, Everyone!!

Inquiring readers, 

Last April Brenda Cox shared a thought-provoking post about  a Jane Austen Sampler. Click here to read the article. Mrs. Cox writes that 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.’

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Mrs. Cox has continued her research into this fascinating topic, and writes:

A few years ago, I bought a printed copy of the “Jane Austen sampler” at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. In 2018 I posted thoughts on my blog about that “Jane Austen Sampler.” However, I had no idea whether “our” Jane Austen had stitched it or not.

Then Deirdre Le Faye saw that post and directed me to her article for the Jane Austen Society. She speculated, for various reasons, that the sampler may have been done by a cousin of Jane Austen’s. In 2019 I wrote about her ideas in Jane Austen’s World. At the end of that article I asked if some genealogist might try to track down the history of the sampler.

Now the plot continues to thicken. Months later, Alden O’Brien, curator of the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. saw those posts and wrote to me for details. She then did extensive research based on her specialties: the history of needlework and genealogical research. Exactly what we needed!

Ms. O’Brien posted her conclusions which I highly recommend you read: “Is This Jane Austen’s Sampler?

Sampler purportedly embroidered by Jane Austen

In summary:

For it to be “our” Jane Austen’s sampler, we need to assume that it originally said 1787 and stitches were pulled out to make it say 1797. Deirdre Le Faye thought this was highly unlikely. Alden O’Brien thinks it even more unlikely. From the photos we have (which admittedly are not great), there is no evidence in the fabric that stitches were removed. And O’Brien compared it to Cassandra Austen’s sampler which includes all the numbers. Presumably the sisters would have been using the same style of numbers. The “9” in the “Jane Austen sampler” looks much like Cassandra’s 9, but not completed. Cassandra’s 8 is a different shape, so it’s unlikely that the original said 1787.

Even more conclusively, O’Brien was able to trace the provenance given for the sampler. She found clear records from the sampler’s previous owners back to a Jane Austen who would have been about 12-14 in 1797, the right age for making such a sampler. It appears that this Jane grew up to marry the owner of a pub. One of her sons was a servant, and her daughter married an oyster fisherman. So she was from a lower social class than the author Jane Austen. O’Brien points out that even young women of this class often went to schools where they might produce samplers like this one.

The Mr. Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who once owned the sampler is claimed to be “a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” However, from this evidence, it appears he actually was a grandson of this (alternate) Jane Austen.

So, the bad news is that the sampler almost certainly was not sewn by the author Jane Austen. Still, it did come from her time period. And unraveling the mystery has been a story in itself!

 

 

Emma. 2020, The Movie

Inquiring Readers,

After experiencing years of an Austen drought on the large and small screen, we are treated to two adaptations within a half year–Sanditon and the newly released Emma.

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma film poster on a London bus. Photo courtesy of Tony Grant

Emma, the film will air in theaters in my region on March 6th. Sadly, I won’t see the film until late next week, but my British friend Tony Grant has reviewed it. He writes in part:

My thoughts were, will Autumn de Wilde’s Emma get Austen’s subtleties concerning the different relationships right? Will the actors be any good? All is lost if they can’t cut the mustard. What might we get out of this Emma that speaks to us in 2020? Will the film tell Jane Austen’s story well?

The film begins, focusing in from an expansive bucolic scene of green pastures and wooded areas to an iconic 18thcentury mansion, Hartfield. We hone down to a gothic styled greenhouse and enter to a scene of peace and calm and meditative background music as Emma, played by Anya Taylor Joy, slowly, carefully moves, almost like floating in a dream, examining her blooming red roses while servant girls hover, secateurs poised ready to snip the stem of any flower Emma thinks fit. Anya Taylor’s eyes look and roam and pierce us to our souls. Oh! those eyes. She pauses, she considers, she moves on and decides, “That one.” And the flower is cut. This opening scene is very clever and says in this silent dreamlike ballet of a scene all that Austen says in the opening words of her novel.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” 

The film is lit  brightly and the colours, not just of the costumes, but of the scenery too has a pale pastel sheen, which can only be achieved through the cinematography.–-To read the rest of Tony Grant’s review, click this link to London Calling, his blog.

In anticipation of seeing the film, I’ve been reading Robert Rodi’s take on Emma in Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps. (Yes, he’s that sarcastic, but witty, wise, and fun.) I particularly liked this passage, which shows Emma’s animus towards Augusta Elton shortly after she paid Mr. Elton and his new missus a visit:

Eventually Mrs. Elton return the visit, and Emma has plenty of time for her options to coalesce. And she really, really, really does not like this chick. Not. One. Little. Bit.

Rodi then goes on to quote this Austen passage:

“The quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she want to shine and be very superior…”

Rodi does not stop there, but I paused at these words for a long moment. The qualities Emma dislikes about Mrs. Elton are the same qualities she possesses. Augusta, of course is different from Emma. She’s coarse, grasping, and aggressively power hungry, whereas Emma is the well-bred young lady described in the movie’s publicity: a well meaning but selfish young woman [who] meddles in the love lives of her friends.

The comic characters in Emma are among Austen’s finest, and I look forward in revisiting them in this film, especially in the forms of Miranda Hart as Miss Bates and Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse.

 

 

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Although I won’t see the film for some time, please feel free to leave your opinions if you have them.

Meanwhile, enjoy Tony Grant’s review at the top of this blog!

 

Inquiring Readers:

Chris Brindle, who lives in Colchester, England, is a prolific writer of music and books, and also a producer. Chris has written the following post (a compilation of information on his website and from the emails & materials he sent me.) He postulates that as Austen was dying in 1817, she deliberately wrote ‘Sanditon’ as a challenge and inspiration for other people in her family to finish, particularly her niece Anna (Lefroy) and nephew James-Edward (Austen-Leigh). Here, then, is Chris’s article.

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Steventon Rectory. Image Wikimedia Commons

Sanditon was Jane Austen’s last, partially completed, novel of around 24,000 words, written in 1817 between January 27th and March 18th. Jane’s niece Anna, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother James, had been brought up in her youngest years at Steventon where her aunt, who was 18 years older, also lived. Anna remained at Steventon with her father until she married Ben Lefroy at 21. After a brief interlude, Anna moved back to Hampshire to live two miles away from Jane, then living at Chawton.

Jane Lefroy's biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Jane Lefroy’s biography pages by Chris Brindle in his book Hampshire, Vol 2, pp. 72-73. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle. His book is available via Amazon.

Anna was surely the first ‘Janeite’ and harboured a life-long ambition to emulate and honour her aunt. In March 1845 she inherited Jane’s manuscript in the will of Jane’s sister Cassandra, and set about writing her continuation [of the unfinished novel], which is of similar length and is similarly unfinished.

By the time Austen put down her pen and finally her pencil, she had introduced all the characters that the story needed—apart maybe for a good villain, as Lefroy realised in her continuation, when she invented Mr Tracy as one of Sidney Parker’s friends (friends Austen told us would join Sidney at the Hotel). I don’t believe Austen intended Sir Edward Denham to be a villain, rather just a sexually frustrated character answering to Lady Denham’s will, who, as dowager, controlled Sir Edward’s estate.

When Austen realised she was dying, I believe she worked out a way in which her books and letters would not die with her, but would live on as the next generation took up the baton as her literary heirs. Her book and letters were her children and she wanted them to live forever.

This is the lyric in my ‘Song For Jane Austen’–YouTube link

When did you realise that your life would soon come to its end ?

Did you always know your life would be so short ?

What is a life, what is it worth ?

Is it what you leave behind you at the end ?

Your books and letters were your children

Left to others to inspire, and maybe carry on your work

Do you die if a little bit of you will live in others ?

Or memories of you will still remain ?

How do you spend your last few moments on this earth

When your journey has to come to its end

One last display of brilliance in three tiny booklets

Your sketches on a canvas for others to fill in

Your gift to God and to the world

And those you leave behind you at the end

In your pain you left us biting satire

A town built on sand in need of hope

But you left us characters who could save it

If in our imagination we could see how they would cope

May the Lord look on you with grace and favour

For this was the world you created

Reaching out for your future

A century or more away

When your pain was most intense

And your time was running out”

Anna Lefroy, whose mother died when she was two, was largely brought up with Jane at Steventon in her early years.  Thus she most probably earns the right to be known as Austen’s first fan. Anna’s life was devoted to an effort to emulate her aunt. We know most about Jane’s approach to writing from the exchange of letters between her and Anna, as Anna sent the latest piece of dialogue to Jane for her comments.  From the letters it was clear that Anna had no idea how to plot a novel, or to start with a strong enough idea to drive an interesting story, so Sanditon was most probably written as a starting place for Anna to complete the novel.

In 1817 Anna was starting a family and had no time to write. In any case, Anna would need to earn the right to be Austen’s literary heir by being a published author. Thus, after Jane’s death in 1817, all the letters and manuscripts went to her sister Cassandra. To keep Austen’s memory alive, it would be for Cassandra to decide who should get what. Anna Lefroy inherited the unfinished manuscript of Sanditon on Cassandra’s death in 1845.

I tell this story in my Documentary (YouTube link)  and how, although Anna failed to complete Sanditon (Click here to read her unfinished text), her half brother James Edward Austen-Leigh went one better and wrote the first biography of Austen. A Memoir of Jane Austen put the life of Austen together with her fiction and made her a mega-star. It was the competition that Austen created between her nieces and nephews that made the Memoir happen. (Click here to read the Memoir.)

I came to realise what Sanditon actually was when writing the illustrated story of the life of my great great great grandfather R.H.C. Ubsdell (1812-1887), the Portsmouth miniaturist, portrait painter and early photographer. Ubsdell had a studio and art gallery in Old Portsmouth opposite the theatre. He painted portraits of Jane Austen’s sailor brothers Charles and Francis (Frank) and the miniature of Anna Lefroy, delivered to her in the Autumn of 1845. He probably also drew the disputed portrait in graphite on vellum of Austen (the property of Paula Byrne) as an ‘identikit reconstruction’ for Anna Lefroy circa 1845 (probably to serve as a frontispiece for her intended completion of Sanditon together with her own portrait.)

'Unseen' Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

‘Unseen’ Portrait of Jane Austen (Paula Byrne), Miniature of Charles Austen, and miniature of Anna Lefroy. Images courtesy of Chris Brinkle.

These illustrated books, entitled Hampshire, are available on Amazon. Click on this link to view the books.

History of the Church and Rectory at Ashe

A page in Hampshire, a book by Chris Brindle. This one discusses the history of the church and Rectory at Ashe, a village close to Steventon. Image courtesy of Chris Brindle.

I think it is only when one puts the Lefroy continuation together with the Austen original that one truly understands why Austen wrote Sanditon. My conclusion comes from studying the life stories of Austen and Anna Lefroy, and Anna’s diary and life story that her daughters copied out. (One copy was kindly lent to me by descendant Helen Lefroy).  So perhaps one cannot complain if ITV chooses Andrew Davies to write a very modern ‘Love Island’ ‘take’ on the book.  Having invested our time in a couple of episodes, most people will probably want to know how it ends.

Sanditon, the ITV/PBS Masterpiece television mini-series

Davies does little more than take the names of some of the characters, however, whilst ignoring most of the content of Austen’s original fragment, niece Anna Lefroy’s continuation, and the financial relationships between the characters that Austen very clearly outlines, and which Lefroy clearly understood. Austen’s story should be about property speculation and money, inspired by her time in London with brother Henry, when the bank of which he was a partner, Austen, Maude & Tilson was collapsing because of their ill-considering loans.

Davies and the production studio also fail to present the main character properly–a South Coast English seaside resort in its earliest stages of speculative development. Trafalgar House (Tom and Mary Parker’s house) is not part of ‘New Sanditon’, a bold new development on the cliff, instead in the TV show it is stuck down in a very squalid looking village.

The other thing that is unsatisfactory about the ITV/PBS Masterpiece production is that it ignores the actual history and real-life detail of the development of the English seaside resorts such as Brighton, Worthing and Southsea. It wasn’t an accident that Austen chose the setting of an English Seaside Resort, because she saw that this was a character in its own right. From its infancy, Sanditon would grow up over time. Therefore, for any future ‘completer’ there would be so much actual historical detail of the financial machinations to draw upon.

Chris Brindle’s works and productions

I am very gratified that people looking for something more authentic have been viewing on YouTube my original solution to the completion clues that Austen and Lefroy left, my 2014 Play:

and my Documentary filmed in Hampshire in the same year that tells ‘The Story Behind Sanditon‘:

Austen left us so little of Sanditon that I think rather than rushing ahead and inventing new story lines I thought it might be better to look at Austen’s characters in more detail, using as many of her actual words as possible, and thus my idea for a musical was born. This built on the duet ‘Blue Briny Sea’ that I had written for the original stage show  (filmed at Chawton Great House) https://youtu.be/2gmrFrEdMBg

and  ‘Song For Jane Austen’ (filmed in Bath) that I had written for the 200th Anniversary of Jane’s death:

My first script for the musical was a grand stage musical with a cast of 19, which I then reduced to an actor musician musical performed by 11 players that I produced and filmed at ‘The Other Palace’ Theatre in London in July last year:-

In this musical the songwriter for a modern 21st Century Pop Band persuades the members of her band to take on Austen’s words, the characters in Austen’s novel, tell the story behind the novel, and reflect on what the novel means to them ‘200 Years Later’.  The carriage ride from Willingden to Sanditon then becomes this song as Tom & Mary Parker and Charlotte Heywood give their respective views on the resort:

Whilst an Austen story with modern popular music might seem a strange mix, another example of a musical doing very well on tour in the UK at the moment is “Pride & Prejudice” (Sort Of ), which features the Pride & Prejudice story told by the Bennet’s servants, but in broad Glaswegian with added karaoke songs!

Everything I’ve done has been on a tiny budget driven by my fascination for the subject matter.  I’m currently working on plans to develop the big stage production in the amateur sector.  More details can be found on my website www.Sanditon.info, which I’ve updated.

On my website you will find the links to

  • The texts of both the Austen and Lefroy fragments of ‘Sanditon’ (An entirely different perspective opens up if one asks oneself line-by-line, why did the author include ‘that bit’?  (If you read the Austen fragment in this way, Austen clearly leaves so many plot openers and clues in her work for future ‘completers’ to solve.  This is probably what is most unsatisfactory about the Andrew Davies / ITV dramatisation in that Davies chooses not to solve any of Austen’s clues and just ‘does his own thing’.)
  • My 2014 Film of The Play of Jane Austen’s and Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon.
  • My 2014 Documentary filmed in Hampshire & Berkshire with piano music by American Composer and JASNA delegate Amanda Jacobs
  • My 2019 Musical  “200 Years Later”  Jane Austen’s ‘Sanditon’ The Pop/Rock Musical as premiered at ‘The Other Palace’, Victoria London on 26th July 2019

Additional information from other sources

Photo of Chris Brindle

Chris Brindle 

Chris is a writer (see www.Ubsdell.com) and in 2014 produced a play, short film and documentary that completed and told the story of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel Sanditon. Read more of his biography at this link.

Inquiring readers: This is a long recap. Eight episodes of a mini-series deserve a thorough discussion of the finale.

Spoiler Alert: We’ve invested many hours in Davies’ Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece and where did it get us? Before we rush to the comment section to share our opinions, let’s analyze the final show. At the end of my, er, analysis, we’ll finish with a poll to measure our collective satisfaction quotient.

Announcement: According to PBS and ITV, there are no plans to film a second season of Sanditon.

Dancing on a cloud

The episode opens with our lovely Miss Charlotte walking on air through the one intersection of the Sanditon set that viewers have seen repeatedly. Thoughts of Sidney’s sweet talk and proposal interruptus swirl in her head.

She knocks on Mrs. Griffith’s door to visit Georgiana and espies Sidney nearby talking to Tom. He sees her as well. They exchange smoldering looks. Charlotte’s heart beats as fast as mine.

The scene segues to Georgiana’s bedroom. For the first time in many episodes, Miss Lambe is dressed in a lovely gown. Her complexion glows. She and Charlotte chatter like close girlfriends are wont to do, giggling and exchanging highly personal information.

Then Charlotte drops a bombshell – “Sidney is a wonderful man. He’s kind. He’s so dreamy. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking of him.”

Quelle horreur!

Georgiana is beside herself. “You aren’t (gag) in love with him!? Please say you are not.”

“Well, uh, maybe, perhaps. Recall that he trotted out Otis to say goodbye to you. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You cannot trust a word he says!”

Sanditon intersectionEnd of discussion. The viewer is immediately transported to the same intersection of the Sanditon set that they have seen repeatedly. This time a stagecoach takes center stage to deliver passengers and the mail. James Stringer receives a letter stating that he has received an offer of an apprenticeship in London. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Now all he has to do is tell his Da.

Something jolly

The camera pans to Sanditon House. My head spins from the many scene changes and from my low blood sugar. I reach for crackers with sharp New Zealand cheddar cheese and a fine red Australian wine and watch Lady D and Esther playing cards. Esther’s bored and pays scant attention to the game, which prompts Lady D to complain,

“You are playing like a nincompoop. What is the matter with you?”

Esther is honest. She couldn’t care less about cards.

“Don’t give yourself airs,” says Lady D, “You haven’t got my money yet! Go over and play the piano. Play me something jolly.”

Esther resists, saying she can’t play or sing.

At that moment, Lord Babbington is announced and he enters smiling and smug, and asks Esther to accompany him for a ride.

Esther: “No”

Lord Babb: “Yes”

Lady D: “Go!”

babbington and estherIn the next scene we see Esther and Lord Babb sitting side by side in a curricle (a dandy’s vehicle, much like today’s ultra sleek sports car for the uber rich). The horses gallop along a beautiful stretch of beach. Esther feigns boredom, but Lord Babb urges the horses on. She basically calls him a wuss and says:

“You are the world’s worst carriage driver.”

“Do you want to take over the reins?”

“Why not?” As she drives the horses even faster we gain insight into their future relationship. Esther is the alpha of the two—a bitch in a bonnet. (Thanks, Robert Rodi for the title, which I borrowed from your book.)

The horses increase their speed, their manes and tails flying in the wind. Esther laughs joyously and for the first time viewers watch her blossom into a fun-loving young woman whose worries disappear with a man who loves her more than she loves him.

First kiss

Tom Parker is happy. The WHOLE WORLD wants to come to Sanditon (a slight exaggeration) just in time for the Midsummer’s Ball.

Sidney visits Tom in the drawing room and catches Charlotte going out to adjust the final finishes to her ball gown. Sidney expresses interest in joining her in her perambulations. She says, coyly, “Sure why not?” And off they go—in the exact opposite direction of her destination. There is no urgency to her dressmaking, she says. Hah!

charlotte SidneyThe couple meanders along the Downs, lost in tender emotions and lust. Then they kiss.

Heartstrings tug. Violins violin. The music climaxes in volume. We viewers KNOW this maiden has won the final rose from her very eligible bachelor and that all is right in Austenland.

*Sigh.*

At the Midsummer’s ball

I give the third ball in this series a rating of 2. (#1 goes to the London ball, and #3 to the assembly ball at the beginning of the series.) The midsummer decorations are more than adequate and the beau monde & villagers look smashing—kudos to the costume and prop departments.

Our main protagonists and characters are assembled, beautifully dressed and ready to party, except for Georgiana, who confronts Sidney. “What are you up to with Charlotte?

Arthur interrupts to ask Miss Lambe to dance. Sidney quickly answers, “She’d be delighted.”

Off they go.

Then Sidney is way laid by Tom. James Stringer takes this moment to ask Charlotte for a dance. Across the ball room, Charlotte and Sidney exchange glances of frustration, but she can’t refuse Stringer, for she was not engaged to dance with another gentleman. Regency manners require her to accept this invitation or bow out from dancing for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, a dance in formation can take up a considerable amount of time and Sidney will have to bide his time before he can talk to his sweet Charlotte.

As James and Charlotte dance, he tells her he’s found an excellent situation in London as an apprentice. She’s so delighted with the news—so pleased for him—so gushing—that he must be disappointed with that overenthusiastic reaction.

Lord Babb talks to Sidney as they eye the dancers. He leaves his friend as soon as he sees Lady D and Esther enter the ball room, fashionably late as great ladies were wont to do.

The dancing continues, with Lord Babb and Esther, Arthur and Georgiana, and the rest of the assembled guests having great fun.  After what seems to be an age, Charlotte’s dance with Stringer finally ends.

Balcony scene

We now have a Romeo and Juliet moment in reverse, with Sidney looking down at Charlotte on the ballroom floor. They finally meet and greet. In their scene together he says all the words that a hero would say at the VERY END of a romance, but we are only halfway into the story!

And so, Sidney says, “What a brute I was.”

Charlotte, who, once upon a time was a feisty opinionated woman, says, “I deserved it.”

He then confesses he’s the same man. She ripostes, “But much improved.” Really, Charlotte, really? I reach for more wine and learn to my surprise that one can gulp 3 ounces in one fell swoop.

Then comes the piece de resistance in romance dialogues—“If I’ve changed at all it is in no small part down to you. I’ve never waited to put myself in someone else’s power before.”

Violins violin. Hearts flutter.

I think: *WTDFJH?* (What the Dr. Fuchs just happened?) This denouement is occurring too soon!

I forgot about deux ex machina, a literary device used to derail the reader or viewer, and that is discouraged by professors who teach Writing Romance Novels 101.

Ashes to ashes

For some reason, the elder Stringer, instead of attending the ball, works late by candlelight on a stepladder to complete the Crescent all by his lonesome. James Stringer sought him out before the ball to tell him about his acceptance letter in the apprenticeship program

Dad is not pleased. “It’s for Charlotte and (eyeing his ball attire), you look like one of THEM! Well, off you go, then.”

James, such a sweet and likable character, stomps out, calling his father a miserable old man.

The night is dark and only candles light up the space when Old Stringer touches his chest, then his left arm. Uh, oh. My knowledge of medicine, learned in lifeguard training classes in college, kicks in. This is not looking good. Plus, why is the elder Stringer working for a gentleman when he hasn’t been paid in an age?

The next thing we know, someone yells, “Fire!” Poor Mr. Stringer is toast. Scant resources existed in the early 19th century to fight fires in buildings made largely of wood, and the structure is swiftly destroyed.  James Stringer is aghast at the loss of his father, and he recalls his angry last words with profound regret.

Tom, who was riding high a few hours ago with visions of profits dancing in his head, is utterly destroyed financially. He has no idea of how to save his dream for a seaside resort. Worse, how could he face his Mary?  His stupidity and naiveté are revealed when Sidney uncovers his true crime—not investing in insurance to save a few quid.

Lady D swoops down upon the hapless brothers and sister, saying she wants her investment back or else they’ll all be put in the poor house. The Parkers’ combined resources cannot cover the disastrous cost of  ‎£80,000, or £6,323,574.23 in today’s money. Is there no hope?

Yes! Deus ex machina.

Everything has changed. Sidney rides off in the sunset to London to find funds. In ancient Greek theatre, this DEM device came in the form of an angel or god of sorts lowered onto a stage who would save the protagonists. A chorus echoes in my head with the refrain, “Lady Campion, she’s the champion, richest widow in the land.”

Before Sidney leaves, he visits Charlotte and holds her hand: “When I return, we’ll finally have a chance to finish our conversation. I’ll be back in a week.”

Is that so, kemo sabe? We’ll see.

Old Stringer is buried. We learn his name was Isaac. James is beside himself with grief and regret.

In another scene, Tom grovels in front of Mary and she, milquetoast, er, loving wife, that she is, forgives him.

Charlotte writes a letter to her sister saying that it’s been weeks since Sidney left in an attempt to save Sanditon…and so the plot goes on.

The wedding is celebrated by … the wrong couple, or the right couple, or half the couples who are eligible to marry. Take your pick.

I must confess my happiness when Lord Babb and his Esther marry. It’s the same feeling I had when Lady Edith married her Bertie in Downton Abbey, making her a marchioness.

I love it when Story B makes it to the A list and emerges front and center. In this instance, the viewer is treated to the morning after the wedding night, when we see that Esther is not disappointed. In fact, she anticipates a happy future with her Lord, who unleashed emotions in her and feelings of pleasure that Sir Ed would never have liberated.

Well done you, Lord Babb. I love rich, huggy-bear types who adore their headstrong women.

Good news, bad news: the hero returns to save the day but sacrifices his lovely damsel and his own happiness.

The Parkers’ financial future lies in Sidney’s quick return, and they gnash their teeth as they await news of his success. He hies back to Sanditon several weeks after his departure, causing ulcers and sleepless nights for kith and kin. It turns out, he has saved them all—except for he, himself and Charlotte.

Their meeting stinks, in my humble opinion. At least he’s gutsy enough to tell her in person of his actions.

Saint Sidney takes her hand in his.

“Charlotte, my dear Charlotte…I had hoped that upon my return I’d be able to make you a proposal of marriage, but it cannot be…the fact is I have been obliged to engage myself to Mrs. Eliza Campion.”

*Yeah, whatev,* I think. Charlotte is stunned, however.

“Please believe me there was no other way to resolve Tom’s situation”

Sidney’s words turn Charlotte into a boneless mass of compliance.

“I understand. I wish you every happiness,” she says like an automaton.

Adding salt to the wound of rejection

Lady DenhamAfter Lord Babb’s weddng to Esther, Lady D turns to Charlotte. “Well Miss Heywood? Are you still proclaiming your independence? Or is it that none of our young men have taken your fancy?” She turns to Sidney: “What do you say, Mr. Parker?”

Lady D is called away, before he can formulate an answer.

Charlotte and Sidney soldier on, exchanging polite conversation. “How are your wedding preparations?” she asks, her face immobile, as if injected by botox

“Elaborate.”

Lady Campion, all noxious graciousness, insinuates herself into the conversation.

“Perhaps we should plan a simple country wedding. Although I don’t think it would be our sort of thing.”

At this point I’ve eaten all my crackers and cheese, texted my Janeite friends with my observances, and poured another glass of an outstanding 94-point Fox in the Hen House wine. I take care not to throw that precious liquid at the screen whenever Lady C smirks.

Charlotte folds in on herself like a wet noodle

Charlotte visits James Stringer. Feeling the weight of guilt for his last angry words to his father, he now lives in his Da’s cottage.

“I gather Mr. Sidney Parker is engaged,” he says.

“Yes, I wish for his happiness.”

“She’s not half the woman you are…if he doesn’t see that he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stringer.” Charlotte obviously has no desire to flirt with James or embark on a relationship with him. More fool she.

We then see her saying goodbye to the Palmer family and leaving Sanditon in a lovely carriage pulled by four magnificent horses. Once again, the scenery of the Downs is sublime.

The camera pans to Sidney chasing after Charlotte on his powerful steed.

“Whoa, whoa,” says the coachman, prompting Charlotte to peer out the window.

The viewers instantly know why Sidney needs to see her when he says, “Tell me you don’t think badly of me.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 1.49.20 PMCharlotte says without inflection, “I don’t think badly of you.”

He then says, “I don’t love her, you know… I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain.”

This is the UNFAIREST cut of them all. “Sir,” I shout at the screen, “You are no gentleman!”

Charlotte meekly steps inside the carriage and Sidney watches until it disappears over the horizon

I splutter. THAT’S IT?! What did I just invest my time in?

Davies and his team have an obligation to viewers to end this mini-series without a cliff hanger. He was hoping for but was not assured a second season.  His attitude towards us is disrespectful.

My plea to the powers that be is to think of your audience and order up at least one more episode to tie up loose ends and provide Charlotte with the logical ending she deserves.

Now, gentle reader,  it’s your turn to vent, either in the comment section or in this poll.

Thank you for visiting this blog. It’s been a pleasure reading your thoughts, pro, con, or indifferent.

Viewer satisfaction poll of Sanditon

Sanditon, Episode 7: Good Grief

Episode 7: At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

As popular television fare goes, Davies’ Sanditon is quite entertaining. In the first 16 minutes of Episode Seven, so many dizzying plot developments are introduced, that they left this viewer’s head spinning. By the end of the episode, everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown into the mix to keep viewers hungering for more. (The last episode is a doozy, but we’ll get to it next week.)

 

Davies’ sledge -hammer approach felt so heavy handed at times, that (honestly) I ran to my bookshelf to retrieve Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen’s delightful, familiar words gave me a sense of calm. I put down the book and continued to watch the episode.

 

As certain characters in Davies’ Sanditon reveal their distasteful ambitions, such as when Clara Brereton told Esther Denham about her sexual gymnastics with Sir Edward on the drawing room floor after burning Lady Denham’s will and divvying up her fortune (as that lady lay dying), I reached for my first glass of wine, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Let’s face it. Austen did not hesitate to create nasty characters. Think of Sense and Sensibility.  Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, is a piece of work plotting to oust Mrs. Dashwood, John’s stepmother, and his stepsisters from Norland Park almost as soon as the elder Mr. Dashwood was buried. Her machinations were despicable, but under Austen’s skillful pen, Fanny’s method to drive them out was masterful, awesome, ruthless, and nuanced. John, her husband, is a manipulated fool and yet a willing conspirator in disregarding his father’s express desire for his stepsisters’ and stepmother’s future security.

 

We felt the Dashwood women’s pain and grief. We understood their pride and anger as they chose to leave an impossible situation as soon as possible. We felt for Marianne Dashwood when she fell for Willoughby, a flawed but smooth-talking and handsome character. Readers knew, along with Colonel Brandon, that he had gotten a virginal girl pregnant and then abandoned her to a life of shame.

 

Elinor Dashwood, a sensible character, at first had difficulty seeing through Lucy Steele, a conniving little witch. When Elinor finally figured her out, she was trapped into listening to information about Edward Ferrars that felt like knives stabbing her heart. More than once I wanted her to bitch slap that girl, but Elinor has more class than me.

 

Who can forget Fanny Dashwood’s mother? She was an outspoken battle-ax and manipulator of the worst sort, whose conversation provoked Marianne to defend her sister with a truthful artlessness that was bold and threw caution to the wind.

 

The difference between Austen’s villains and Davies’ is that Austen laid a careful groundwork for their motivations and behavior. The dark undertones of conflict between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon resonate with us. The secrets the two men withheld from Marianne, and the complexity of their love and longing for her add to the suspense of the plot—who will she choose? Which choice makes sense to the heart of a young girl? Which is the more mature, sensible choice? How do experience, suffering, and maturity add to a character’s growth and understanding?

 

In Davies’ Sanditon, secondary characters and villains tend to be one dimensional, almost cartoon-like. The main protagonists, Charlotte and Sidney, are given more complex motivations, which I appreciate, especially in this episode as they attempt to overcome their misunderstandings and grow closer. Their longing for each other is palpable, as Lady Susan and Young Stringer notice.

 

Now, let’s examine the salient plot lines in this second to the last episode.

 

Stupid is as stupid does

 

While Lucy Steele’s devised her trap for Elinor with evil genius, she kept her plans to herself until she approached Edward. Clara Brereton is just plain dumb. She lords it over Esther, who is unable to hide her emotions for her stepbrother. A gloating Clara reveals that she and Edward found the will, agreed to 50% of the cut, then burned it. Seeing Esther’s disbelief, she adds salt to the wound to reveal that she and Sir Ed sealed the deal with a quickie on the drawing room floor. Charlotte Spencer, the actress who plays Esther, stepped up her acting chops and gave a superb performance throughout this episode. We feel her pain, her horror, and then her understanding of the situation.

 

Most of all, we (I) cheered her hard slap to Clara’s face. Then, when Clara figures out that Esther is still a virgin, she says,”No wonder he was so keen to take his pleasure elsewhere.” We (I) wished that Esther had knocked her unconscious to the floor. (I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies.)

 

As for Clara, she’s no Jane Fairfax. Her situation as Lady D’s dependent companion is precarious. Falsely confident, she assumes the mantle of the victor prematurely. Jane Fairfax kept silent until all the dominoes fell safely in place before Frank Churchill revealed their romantic bond. Clara, who has just as much to lose, could not stop herself from gloating.

 

A vengeful phoenix arises from the ashes and swoops on her victims with talons outstretched

 

Esther, in her misery, pays a final visit to Lady Denham. Her confession to the comatose lady is revealing. She says:

 

You should know there’s not a single person alive who holds you in the least affection. Not Edward, Clara, not me…“You will die unloved, and Edward, my Edward—she holds Lady D’s hand—“Truth is, he’s betrayed us both. He betrayed us when he and Clara lay with each other on the drawing room floor. He betrayed us when he and Clara conspired to burn your will and share your fortune. I truly hope that you find happiness in heaven, because this earth has become a living hell.”

 

Hours or days later, Esther sits waiting in the hallway as Sir Ed awakens from a couch just outside of Lady D’s bedroom. He yawns and says,

I did not know it was going to be this drawn out [or] I would have been in bed.”

Esther replies sarcastically,

Perhaps you would have been more comfortable on the floor.”

He shoots her a curious look. Then, wonder of wonders, the unfortunately named Dr. Fuchs runs towards them.

Her fever broke!…She may yet recover altogether!”

While Clara blanches, as if the ghost of Northanger Abbey has come to attack her, Sir Ed’s collar grows three sizes too small.

 

Somewhat later, he and Clara simper up to Lady D, who’s still abed. Sir Ed says unctuously,

Words cannot express our belief. Dr. Fuchs has our eternal gratitude.”

Lady D, holding a glass with a milky substance, says,

Why? If anyone deserves credit, it is the ass who restored my strength.”

Austen created the running joke of Lady D’s milch asses, from whom that wealthy widow planned to make much money. Davies and his team hardly used that funny material, an opportunity missed.

 

Clara adds timidly,

We have kept constant vigil.”

A steely-eyed Lady D then gives the two of them her what for.

Mmmm. Well, you can dry your eyes. Dying is highly disagreeable…although it has to be said there is nothing like imminent death to focus the mind. I have under-estimated the boundless depth of your venality.”

The two blather and bluster, but Lady D waves them off.

Enough, you feeble parasites…Get out, and needless to say, I shall be laying a new floor in my drawing room, since the old one has been indelibly stained!”

Gentle readers, who’d have thunk a wood floor would become such an important character in a mini-series? Oh, the drama! Sir Ed is disinherited. Clara is banished to London post haste. And Esther appears to be the sole remaining heir to the Denham fortune. At this point, I poured my second glass of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and munched copious amounts of Utz Party Mix, which contains not one wholly natural ingredient as far as I can tell.

 

Turbo recap of the rest of the story

 

Tom Parker is beside himself when he gushes that all the beau monde in London have traveled to Sanditon. He greets Lady Susan with an obsequiousness that is cringe worthy. When he tells her that Sanditon has the finest situation on the south coast, she pooh-poohs the idea,

 

Oh, shush. Never mind all that. If I gave a fig about the sea, I’d have gone to Brighton.” (A delicious cut.)

It turns out that she’s come to continue her conversation with Charlotte, which, to my mind, was nothing more than artless chatter at a fancy ball from a simple girl from a simple farm near an undeveloped town. One can never divine the whims of the rich and famous, so we’ll have to take Lady Susan’s word at face value.

 

She and Charlotte chatter, and the lady’s keen observation tells her that she’s in love. Her discernment also tells her that Lady Eliza Campion, one of the richest women in the country and an old connection to Sidney Parker, stands in the way of Charlotte’s happiness. Lady S, a kind busybody, will see to that. She’ll find a chink in Lady Campion’s armour and put a stop to her designs on Sidney Parker. Anything for a friend she’s known for all of two hours.

 

Charlotte, upset at seeing Lady C, turns away from the assembled company and encounters Young Stringer in the woods. We learn this late in the series that his first name is James. James Stringer. Had Davies and his team meant for Stringer to be a likely love interest for Charlotte, we would have learned this important fact earlier. In the course of their conversation, James realizes that while he yearns for Charlotte, she yearns for someone else. Like the stoic man he is, he holds his feelings to himself and lets her go. C’mon, James! Fight for your woman!

 

We then see the three Parker brothers strolling towards the regatta. As they converse, we learn that Sidney has loved Eliza Campion for a decade and that his broken heart drove him to the West Indies. (Another bit of news that comes late in the series.) Sidney only says that it’s a strange feeling to want something that is impossible and to find that it’s suddenly in your grasp. For once Arthur sounds intelligent and says that while he admires Sidney’s spirit of forgiveness, if it were him, he would never trust that lady again.

 

As a quick aside, Miss Lambe, who has been strangely delegated as a secondary character in the background, shows signs of deep depression. Arthur Parker visits her and insists that she join them in the festivities. She goes unwillingly, but it is obvious that he has a crush on her.

 

The regatta is a letdown. There’s a sandcastle competition, a fisherman’s boat race, and a gentleman’s rowing race that James Stringer and his crew win. Tents provide food and drink, but I see nothing that would attract the beau monde to return a second time.

 

Before the rowing competition, Sidney and Charlotte make goo goo eyes at each other on the boat as he practices his strokes and shows her how to row along with him. (I do so love symbolism.) Eliza Campion watches them from the banks, jealous and suspicious. After the race she makes a pitch, telling him she never lost hope and that fate is giving them a second chance. 

 

Sir Ed fails in his quest to woo Esther back and share her fortune. The once confident man is drunk and disheveled as he encounters Clara with her packed bags at the docks. He tells her off harshly and brags that he’s still a gentleman and titled. “Yes,” she says, “but I had nothing to lose…You’re alone and unloved.”

 

After a revealing conversation with Sir Ed, who spoke in derogatory terms about Esther, Lord Babbington hurries to see her. He tells her that he can’t forget her and that he has her back, always.

I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not have enough.”

 

Esther begins to cry.

You…know nothing.”

 

He replies,

I think you’ve been his prisoner for too long.”

The background music swells in my head as he continues talking to her in this romantic vein.

 

In the last scene, Sidney approaches Charlotte.

I thought you and Mrs. Campion would be heading back for London,” she says.

 

She’s already left. I decided against joining her. On reflection, I realized I would rather be here…I believe I’m my best self—my truest self when I’m with you.”

 

The music crescendos. My heart’s a flutter. Perhaps from the wine, but it might be that all this romantic stuff is making me feel all puddly inside.

 

Next week: the conclusion. Or is it? (Gentle readers, those of you who binge watched this series, please include no spoilers in the comments. Thank you!)

 

The plot goes on, the plot goes on
Twists keep pounding confusion to my brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Inquiring Readers,

I apologize for reworking Sonny and Cher lyrics and adding them to my recap of Sanditon: Episode Six, but when the Davies’ writing team had 19th century Charlotte saying “Anyway, she’s safe” in discussing Georgiana to a stranger named Susan at a London ball, I was instantly transported out of the Regency era to our own time. Like, you know. Wha’s up with dat?

Our classy Miss Jane did not have any characters say “anyway” in her novel fragment of Sanditon This phrase, uttered late in the episode by Rose Williams, an accomplished and very likable actress, stood out like a gluten-free, plant-based dish at a smoked meat barbecue. Am I nitpicking? Well, yeah. You betcha.

The production values of the ball were gaspingly beautiful, and I loved the dances, although the music was somewhat off putting. While I liked the folksy music at the assembly ball in Sussex, a rural area, I would think that a prestigious London ball would feature more sophisticated airs and the latest musical trends from the continent.

With all the plot twists and confusing goings on in this episode, I imbibed two glasses of pinot noir. Just now I’m having a hard time deciding which plot elements to cover and which to gloss over. I’m sure you’ll mention some I missed in the comments.

Bear with me as I condense 8 pages of notes into a short-ish review. At the start of the episode we see virginal 22-year old Miss Charlotte Heywood galivanting alone to London by stagecoach with only a vague idea of where to find her friend, Georgiana Lambe, who planned to run off with Mr. Otis Molyneux and free herself from the shackles of her guardian, Sidney Parker.

Never mind that no single 19th century lady like Charlotte (or Miss Lambe) would venture forth without a chaperone (recall that dastardly General Tilney cast Catherine Morland out alone from Northanger Abbey on a long journey home and how this appalled Henry and his sister). Disregarding conventions or the services of a maid, our stubborn and loyal heroine is determined to find her friend without an address in a city of a million people. Somehow, in a dark, dank alley, without a GPS, she *happens* to meet Mr. Sidney Parker. Plot-wise, this is not Deus Ex Machina. It is Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Sidney, after an awkward exchange with Charlotte in which he mentions that he despises slavery, suggest that they might find Mr. Molyneux at a meeting of the Sons of Africa, a movement to which he belongs. There they find him speaking at a pulpit. Deus Ex Coincidenta.

Here’s where the plot twists and bends It turns out that Mr. Otis Molyneux never received the letter from Georgiana stating where she would meet him. Someone else met her and abducted her. Speaking to Otis, they discover he owes gambling debts to a Mr. Beecroft.

Sidney and Charlotte rush over to Beecroft’s gambling den and learn that in order to satisfy Otis’s debt, Mr. Beecroft kidnapped Miss Lambe and sold her to a Mr. Howard, a repulsive and dangerous man. This individual, upon learning that Sidney is hot on his heels, absconds with Georgiana to Scotland in order to force her into marriage and gain full access to her fortune.

Sidney, along with Charlotte, chase after Howard in a scene reminiscent of a classic Hollywood movie with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Sidney’s horses heroically overtake Howard’s carriage, which allows our hero to jump onto the villain’s vehicle. The camera follows Sidney, not the horses, who have probably collapsed on the side of the road from exhaustion after their herculean efforts. It’s hard enough for two horses to pull a heavy vehicle for twelve miles at regular speed, but to ask them to run at a full clip with 2-3 people on board for however long, well, that’s zany. Why did Sidney not go on horseback alone and return with Miss Lambe after rescuing her? Oh, yes, I forgot. Stubborn Charlotte insisted on coming along.

At this point, Davies’ Sanditon, which many episodes ago had left the sophisticated structure of Austen’s unconventional forward-thinking novel fragment, goes backwards in time to gain inspiration from Austen’s fun but melodramatic Juvenilia stories, which were filled with outrageous characters, situations, and histories.

I reached for my second glass of wine while watching the drama unfold among the Denhams and Clara Brereton. As Lady Denham lies dying (she is as mean-spirited as ever), Edward searches for her will in every nook and cranny, room or desk he can think of. Papers are scattered everywhere (one would have thought a servant might have alerted their lady to this dastardly search, but Lady D probably alienated them too.)

In Jane’s novel fragment, Edward is a self-centered buffoon, one who quotes poetry and literature inspired by nature with doltish misunderstanding. In quoting his favorite poets and authors, he blathers reams of nonsense.

Sir E also fancies himself a ladies’ man and a seducer. His personality under Austen’s hand is that of an ineffectual dilettante, one without a fortune. To save himself from poverty, his hopes depend solely on an inheritance from Lady D or a marriage to an heiress. In Davies’ Sanditon, Edward is intentionally malicious. He is a villain, plain and simple – handsome and dangerous – but a plotting SOB.

My attitude towards Esther in Davies’ Sanditon has softened somewhat, since her treatment of Babbington in Episode 5 was not altogether atrocious, but she’s captive to her longing for Edward, which makes her a weak character. Still, I cannot forget her coarse conversations with Clara Brereton, more reminiscent of women in a brothel than maidens reared in privileged environments.

It’s not as if Esther has no prospects. Lady D is more than willing to team her up with Lord Babbington, Sidney’s friend, who possesses the trifecta of a title, estate, and fortune. Hormones have overpowered Esther’s common sense, however, and she prefers to moon over her stepbrother and wait for good fortune to save and unite them.

Jane Austen’s take on the situation differs from Davies’s. In Austen’s Sanditon, Lady D tells Charlotte about Esther:

Miss Esther wants me to invite her and her brother to spend a week with me at Sanditon House, as I did last summer. But I shan’t. She has been trying to get round me every way with her praise of this and her praise of that; but I saw what she was about. I saw through it all. I am not very easily taken in, my dear.”

&

“And Miss Esther must marry somebody of fortune too. She must get a rich husband. Ah, young ladies that have no money are very much to be pitied! But,” after a short pause, “if Miss Esther thinks to talk me into inviting them to come and stay at Sanditon House, she will find herself mistaken. Matters are altered with me since last summer, you know. I have Miss Clara with me now which makes a great difference.”

Then there’s Clara Brereton, Lady D’s companion, whose enviable skill is in her ability to keep Lady D happy. This is how Austen describes her:

…in selecting the one, Lady Denham had shown the good part of her character. For, passing by the actual daughters of the house, she had chosen Clara, a niece—more helpless and more pitiable of course than any—a dependent on poverty—an additional burden on an encumbered circle—and one who had been so low in every worldly view as, with all her natural endowments and powers, to have been preparing for a situation little better than a nursery maid.

Clara had returned with her—and by her good sense and merit had now, to all appearance, secured a very strong hold in Lady Denham’s regard. The six months had long been over—and not a syllable was breathed of any change or exchange. She was a general favourite.”

One critic compared Clara’s situation to Jane Fairfax’s. Both young women, dependent on the kindness of relatives and strangers, had to walk a tightrope in their respective situations. No hint of scandal could be attached to their conduct. Jane Fairfax was successful in hiding her romance with Frank Churchill, but in Davies’ Sanditon, Clara makes brazen movements towards Sir Edward. She’s seen by Charlotte giving him a hand job and in this episode the viewer is given the distasteful experience of watching her writhe with Edward on the floor after they found Lady D’s will and wrangled over their take of the inheritance. What if the servants had walked in on them? How stupid could a single woman with no fortune be?

Austen does hint at Edward’s desire to have Clara for a lover. She writes:

Miss Heywood, or any other young woman with any pretensions to beauty, he was entitled (according to his own view of society) to approach with high compliment and rhapsody on the slightest acquaintance. But it was Clara alone on whom he had serious designs; it was Clara whom he meant to seduce.”

What is Clara’s part in his plans for her seduction? Evidently, she wasn’t born yesterday. Jane describes the following:

Clara saw through him and had not the least intention of being seduced; but she bore with him patiently enough to confirm the sort of attachment which her personal charms had raised. A greater degree of discouragement indeed would not have affected Sir Edward. He was armed against the highest pitch of disdain or aversion. If she could not be won by affection, he must carry her off. He knew his business. Already had he had many musings on the subject. If he were constrained so to act, he must naturally wish to strike out something new, to exceed those who had gone before him; and he felt a strong curiosity to ascertain whether the neighbourhood of Timbuctoo might not afford some solitary house adapted for Clara’s reception.”

Sir Edward’s plans are ambitious and nonsensical, for he has not a sou to his name, and so Austen states:

But the expense, alas! of measures in that masterly style was ill-suited to his purse; and prudence obliged him to prefer the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace for the object of his affections to the more renowned.”

Austen’s rather extensive description of the Denhams in her short twelve paragraphs exceeds her description of Sidney Parker and Miss Lambe, to whom Austen had not given a first name. So the story of the Denhams and Clara Brereton as it unfolds in Davies’ Sanditon is partially Austen’s invention, but in the series’ explicit vulgarity it is all Davies’s.

Episode six ends with the ball. Weeks before, Lord Babbington entered Trafalgar House with invitations to a masked ball in Grosvenor Square, a high end Mayfair address in London. Tom Parker immediately seizes on the idea of taking his friends to the ball and asking them to advertise the regatta in Sanditon to all the ball goers they encounter. This is bad form, but Tom is desperate and his friends’ support might be his last hope for salvaging his finances and reputation.

In a Deus Ex Coincidenta moment, Charlotte meets a lovely older woman named Susan, who shows extraordinary interest in the artless young woman. As Charlotte leaves her new acquaintance, she spots Sidney Parker in deep conversation with a lady. Since Charlotte’s and Sidney’s adventure in rescuing Georgianna, they’ve bonded and become close. Their dance brought them even closer, so one can imagine her shock at seeing him so intimate with a strange woman.

Stay tuned for Episode 7 to see what develops. I, for one, am somewhat miffed that a new character has been introduced so late in the series.

What say you?

Inquiring readers,

Unmarriageable new paperback edition cover

Unmarriageable, new paperback edition out on February 5

Soniah Kamal has written a fascinating version of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan, Unmarriageable. The book has become very popular in a wide variety of circles, and, almost a year after its appearance, the author is still busy meeting with book clubs and speaking at book festivals and conferences.

Soniah calls Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice since it includes all the characters and plot points of the original book, albeit in a different setting. Elizabeth became Alysba Binat, an English literature teacher in a British School in Pakistan, and Darcy became Valentine Darsee, wealthy head of the British School Group.

I’ve read the book twice, and enjoyed it very much each time! I asked Soniah to tell us more about her book.

Brenda S. Cox: How have Jane Austen fans responded to Unmarriageable? I know you spoke about it to the Georgia chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Author Soniah Kamal, photo by Indus Kamal Wasti

Soniah Kamal: You know I’m a huge Jane Austen fan myself and I actually ran a special book club for all six novels during the 200th commemoration year, so I know Janeites and how revered Jane Austen is. Austen connoisseurs aren’t hesitant about expressing their opinion when they don’t like something, and so I really wondered how Unmarriageable would be received, considering what I’d set out to do. My first taste was at the Georgia JASNA meeting for which they’d decided to read Unmarriageable and I was going to be interviewed. I was so nervous when I saw the full room and then, when I stepped in, everyone stood up and clapped, and I realized I’d been holding my breath–that validation was really, really gratifying and the best endorsement. Some of the members told me that they’d been hesitant to read Unmarriageable because they weren’t very fond of takes on Austen’s novels, but that they loved Unmarriageable.

I think Unmarriageable has resonated so amazingly with Janeites because they’re reading it for Jane Austen, they know Pride and Prejudice, and so when I mention real characters like Harris Bigg-Wither and Thomas Fowle, they get it. When I discuss Jane Austen in Unmarriageable, it’s fun and extra. They see the little inside jokes. When I bring up that Darcy’s wet T-shirt scene is not in the novel, they appreciate that stuff–it’s like diving into a really rich cake for them, I think.

One of the loveliest things I’ve heard so far from Janeites is that in reading Unmarriageable, because it is a parallel retelling, it’s as if they are reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time and it’s bringing back all their joy in reading Austen for the first time. So that was lovely unexpected feedback. And then another one was that readers who have never read Pride and Prejudice or Austen have picked up Unmarriageable, and then they are going to read Pride and Prejudice through that. Never did I think that my book would be a gateway for readers to get to Pride and Prejudice; I always thought obviously it would be the other way around.

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Soniah at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina

Since the Georgia JASNA meeting, I’ve been invited by the Northern California JASNA Chapter to deliver Jane Austen’s Birthday Toast, and I spoke at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. I will be the 2020 Keynote Speaker at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a featured Plenary Panelist at the 2020 JASNA AGM in Cleveland.

If you are a Janeite you will get a lot of the “Easter eggs” and inside jokes in