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Turnspit Dogs

When I visited Bath in the U.K., I made a point of seeing No. 1 Royal Crescent, a fascinating museum whose interior was decorated in the Georgian style of the late 18th century/early 19th century. One had the feeling when entering the house that it may have been inhabited by people Jane Austen might have met in the Pump Room or the Upper Assembly Rooms. 

Completion of the Royal Crescent, Thomas Malton, 1769. No. 1 Royal Crescent sits towards the front.

Completion of the Royal Crescent, Thomas Malton, 1769. No. 1 Royal Crescent sits towards the front. Image in the public domain. Wikimedia.

My one lasting memory is of the kitchen and a contraption near the ceiling. It hung in the far corner near a fire place and looked like a torture instrument. Inside the wooden wheel was a stuffed dog, popularly known in its time as a turnspit dog, which represented a breed that no longer exists. They were small, long-bodied, and sturdy; had short crooked legs; and were trained to run inside a wheel that turned a roasting spit. These long-suffering, hard-working canines, resembled curs not purebreds, and saved cooks (or menial boys of the lowest servant order) the task of turning roasting spits by hand for hours. 

Turnspitdog-1862

Turnspit dog, 1862. H Weir – Illustrated Natural History, Rev JG Wood.  Image in the public domain. Wikipedia 

The dogs were first mentioned in 1576 under the name “Turnespete”(Wikipedia). Their lives were hot, tedious, strenuous, and short. They were considered more kitchen utensils than pets, this during the centuries when animal cruelty was casual and baiting animals was a sport. 

1024px-Turnspit_Dog_Working

A dog at work inside a wheel near the ceiling; from Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales (1800). Wikipedia, public domain image

“To train the dog to run faster, a glowing coal was thrown into the wheel”- Turnspit Dogs: The Rise and Fall of the Vernepator Cur, NPR

Their breed was considered so common that its origins are unknown, although some experts think the turnspit dog was related to a terrier or perhaps the Welsh Corgi. Imagine the life of this dog–confined to a wheel for hours, forced to run near a fireplace while smelling the roasting meat of an animal that was out of their reach, tired, aching, and thirsting for water. 

“The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint.”- NPR

As we all know, heat rises, so one wonders how well that placement worked! Turnspit dogs worked in alternating teams of two and were regularly relieved by an equally hardworking companion dog. They often were given Sundays off, not because their owners cared about their well being, but because they acted as foot warmers in cold church pews (Kitchensisters). One must imagine their relief for these few hours of rest.

turnspit-2-e1453334578380-Whiskey-Barkpost

Whiskey, the last known turnspit dog, now on view in the Abergavenny Museum in Wales.

These tiny unloved dogs were prevalent in the mid 18th century, but by 1900 mechanical spit turning machines replaced them. Since they were considered ugly and lowly, their breed became extinct. Whiskey, the last known surviving turnspit dog, lives on as a taxidermied specimen in the Abergavenny Museum in Wales. 

As an interesting footnote, in the United States the plight of the turnspit dog inspired the founding of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

“In 1850, founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh, was so moved by the appalling conditions in which the Turnspits were found in Manhattan hotels, that its horrific living conditions contributed to the birth of the organization in 1866. Coincidentally, this was around the time the dogs had become scarce, and 50 years later, they completely disappeared.”- Barkpost

Note: Before COVID-19, Vic volunteered with the local SPCA, which is a no-kill shelter. She’s also been privileged to live with two rescue dogs, both of whom were (aside from friends and family) the loves of her life. Neither dog revealed their living conditions before she adopted them.

More References:

Spit Roast Doggie, Richard Wyatt, September 21, 2014, Day by Day. Bath News Museum

A Breed You’ve Never Heard Of Is The Reason We Fight Animal Cruelty Today, Bark Post

Inquiring readers: While our world travels have been curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can think of no better a way to take a tour than with Tony Grant, who has served as a guide in Jane Austen country for many years.

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Jane Austen criss crossed the county of Surrey many, many times in her lifetime. Surrey is the county north of Hampshire. All the direct routes from Basingstoke, Steventon and Chawton to London pass through Surrey. She mentions Surrey places in her letters, providing a sense of what it was like to travel the roads of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Emma, her completed Surrey novel, is set in the fictitious Highbury and Hartfield located right in the middle of the county, surrounded by the real Surrey, Dorking, Mickleham, Box Hill, Cobham and with Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames to the north. Jane’s earlier attempt at another Surrey novel, The Watsons, begun while living in Bath in 1804 was never completed. The few pages of The Watsons that were completed set the action mostly in Dorking but also some outlying places.  Croydon, a large town, is repeatedly referred to and,” a village about three miles distant,” from Dorking, Westhumble, is a template for Stanton. Jane stayed at Great Bookham just north of Dorking with her relations, the Cookes. It is a short carriage ride away from Box Hill. Just north of Great Bookham is Leatherhead which has a debatable role in this account and to the north west of Great Bookham is Cobham, another place of interest mentioned in Emma. Interestingly a well-known, famous town in Surrey–Epsom– also gets a passing mention in Pride and Prejudice. It is amazing to see how the places and locations in Surrey came together in Jane’s imagination and how she used them in her novels. It’s like pieces of a jigsaw fitting together neatly. 

Great Bookham

Photo of St. Nicholas, Great Bookham

St. Nicholas, Great Bookham. Photo by Tony Grant

I am going to introduce Great Bookham first, because although Jane knew many places in Surrey well and visited most of them many times she actually spent lengthy periods of time in Great Bookham, staying with her aunt and uncle and cousins, the Cookes. Cassandra Cooke, her mother’s cousin, was Jane ‘s aunt. You might notice, the name Cassandra seems popular within the extended family as well as her immediate family. It is the same name as both Jane’s sister and mother. Cassandra Cooke was a budding writer. A forgotten novel called, Battleridge, is her contribution to posterity. Jane’s uncle Samuel Cooke was the vicar of St Nicholas Church in Great Bookham. The Cookes were well acquainted with Fanny Burney, who lived in the village with her husband, General D’Arblay, and their young son. The Reverend Cooke asked Fanny Burney‘s father for advice about church music. Burneys father, Charles Burney, was a reputed musician and composer. It is from Great Bookham that Jane first visited Box Hill a few miles away. Great Bookham, like Highbury and Hartfield, is at the centre of the geographical world of both The Watsons and Emma.

Box Hill

Image Mickleham to the right of Box Hill

Mickleham to the right of Box Hill. Photo by Tony Grant

So, to Box Hill, a mere few miles east of Great Bookham.

“They had a very fine day for Box Hill……. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and everybody had a burst of admiration on first arriving.” Emma

Later, Frank Churchill, as though proclaiming from a vast church pulpit, (which indeed, if you stand on the top of Box Hill and look out over the surrounding countryside, does feel like that,) announces grandly and perhaps grandiosely

“Let everybody on the hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side and Dorking on the other.”

Box Hill is part of the chalk incline that forms the North Downs in Surrey. It was a beauty spot, where visitors loved to look out on the beautiful surrounding countryside in Jane’s time and that is the situation still today. A National Trust shop and café is at the top. A 19th century fort built as part of a line of forts to help repulse a French invasion is there too. Throughout the 18th and most of the 19th century, France was always a threat to Britain real and imaginary. Pre Raphaelite artists painted there, poets wrote poetry about the countryside and John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television, carried out experiments from his cottage at the top of the hill. It is a nature reserve, the site of a very strange burial, and is still a great picnic site, as Emma was anticipating.

Mickleham

Mickleham

Mickleham, photo by Tony Grant

If you do as Frank Churchill informs us, look out from Box Hill with Mickleham to one side and Dorking to the other you will be facing west straight towards Great Bookham. Mickleham is located at the foot of Box Hill on its north west side. It is home to a  junior school called Box Hill School. St Michael’s Church in the village is where Fanny Burney and General D’Arblay were married. General D’Arblay was a French exile, who fled France for England after the rise of Maximillian Robespierre. He and other emigres were living at Juniper Hall on the edge of Mickleham. The house was leased from 1792 to 1793 by David Jenkinson, a wealthy landowner, to a group of French emigres which included Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, a writer who Jane Austen admired, although de Stael was dismissive of Jane Austen’s writing. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PérigordLouis, comte de Narbonne-Lara grandson of King Louis XV of France, and General Alexandre D’Arblay were among the key emigres staying at Juniper Hall. D’Arblay met Fanny Burney in the Templeton Room here. 

Dorking

Image Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking is located south west of Box Hill. From Stanton ( Mickleham) the two Watson sisters  travelled by the turnpike road which led to the east end of the town. As they entered the town they could see the White Hart Inn on their right, where the ball they were so anticipating was to take place, and the church steeple of St Martins just behind the inn. In the Penguin Classic version of The Watsons the editor, Claire Lamoy suggests that The White Hart was in reality The Red Lion Inn, located in Dorking High Street which Jane visited while staying at Great Bookham. The Red Lion backed on to the churchyard of St Martins Church. The inn does not exist nowadays. A modern row of shops stands in its place. Many buildings in Dorking do originate from the 18th century and some earlier. It is an ancient market town. Dorking has links to The Pilgrim fathers. William Mullins a shoe maker from Dorking was on that first voyage of The Mayflower. His shop still stands in the High Street and is now a coffee shop. There are also connections to Dickens and Vaughn Williams, the 20th century composer.

Croydon

Image of Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery, by Tony Grant

Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery. Photo by Tony Grant.

In The Watsons the town of Croydon, about 17 miles from Dorking, is mentioned a number of times. Rich relations of the Watsons live there. It is where Emma Watson has been living with an aunt. When the story starts her aunt has died and Emma has recently returned to her family in Stanton.

Cobham

Image of Cobham churchyard

Cobham churchyard photo by Tony Grant

Cobham, north west of Great Bookham, has a cameo appearance in Emma. John Knightley’s wife Isabella, in praise of Mr Weston, states,

“and ever since his kindness last September twelvemonth in writing that note, at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlet fever at Cobham, I have been convinced there could not be a more feeling heart nor a better man in existence.”

I have always thought that Cobham fits a description of Highbury and Hartfield. Many of the features of Cobham are the same. But you can find similar features in most country towns and large villages. There are the church, a mill, a local school, old coaching inns, houses for the local gentry and a large estate such as Mr Knightley’s a mile from the centre of town. Cobham has Painshill Park on its outskirts and Jane herself mentions it in a letter to Cassandra when travelling through leafy Surrey on one of her many visits to London. 

Kingston upon Thames

Image of O Druids head coaching inn Kingston

O Druids head coaching inn, Kingston. Photo by Tony Grant.

Kingston upon Thames is an important location in Emma. Mr Martin and also Mr Knightley go to Kingston regularly.

Harriet after meeting Robert Martin in the street reports to Emma

“He has not been able to get, “The Romance of the Forest,” yet. He was so busy the last time he was in Kingston that he quite forgot it, but he goes again tomorrow.”

Kingston used to have a large cattle market on the edge of town The area where it was located is still called The Cattle Market to this day. The municipal swimming baths and sports centre is on the site. It had an apple market, and that spot is still called The Apple Market, and also a large central market in the middle of the town where fishmongers, butchers, and fruit and vegetables from market gardens were sold. Fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are sold from market stalls in the same location today. A few of the 18th century coaching inns still exist, The Griffin and The Druids Head are still pubs and inns, and the site of The Crown Inn that Jane Austen knew well is a department store that still retains a magnificent 18th century carved oak staircase. She often mentioned her visits to Kingston in letters to Cassandra as she travelled on the way to London. Kingston was an important place for carriages to change horses.

To Cassandra. Wednesday 15-Thursday 16 September 1813 from Henrietta Street

“… We had a very good journey-Weather and roads excellent-the three stages for 1s-6d & our only misadventure the being delayed about a quarter of an hour at Kingston for Horse, & being obliged to put up with a pair belonging to a Hackney Coach & their Coachman which left no room on the Barouche box for Lizzy.”

Jerry Abershaw

Black and white etching of Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Kingston has a more chilling aspect to i,t which has a relevance to Northanger Abbey. On the main road from Kingston into the centre of London the route passed through a remote wild area of heath and woodland. In 1795, at Tibbets Corner (the Putney, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Village junction) beside Wimbledon Common, a young highwayman called Jerry Abershawe was detained and executed. His body hung at Tibbets Corner inside a gibbet to rot and be picked to pieces by carrion crows as a warning to all highwaymen. In Northangar Abbey General Tilney sends the teenage Catherine Moreland away from the Abbey by herself in a public coach. Highwaymen were a danger. Even Jane’s brothers would not let her travel independently. Perhaps Jane and Cassandra witnessed Abershawe’s body in the gibbet. His body would have been left there until nothing was left. It would take a year or two to disappear.

Richmond upon Thames

Photo of Richmond Green The Churchills lived here.

Richmond Green. The Churchills lived here. Photo by Tony Grant.

Richmond upon Thames further north along The Thames from Kingston also has an importance in Emma. The Churchill’s removed from London to Richmond because of Mrs Churchill’s health.  

“It soon appeared that London was not the place for her. She could not endure its noise. Her nerves were under continual irritation and suffering; and by the ten days’ end, her nephew’s letter to Randalls communicated a change of plan. They were going to remove to Richmond. Mrs Churchill had been recommended to the medical skill of an eminent person there.”

I know Richmond well. It is just seven miles north of Richmond Park from where I live. It has an amazing history with connections to the nobility and the Monarchy. A Tudor palace was located at Richmond and also just outside of Richmond is Kew Gardens and Kew Palace where George III and his family spent a lot of time. Richmond was a very well connected town. Jane used this in Emma as an underlying comment about Frank Churchill.

Epsom

Image of Epsom Centre, by Tony Grant

Epsom Centre photo by Tony Grant

Epsom, at the foot of the north downs and famous for the Derby Racecourse, the forerunner of all Derbys around the world, gets a mention in Pride and Prejudice. When Wickham and Lydia elope from Brighton, where Wickham’s regiment is stationed, they of course have to pass through the county of Surrey to reach London. They change horses at Epsom. 

Lydia had disappeared with Wickham and Mr Bennet had turned into a man of action. Elizabeth enquired.

“She then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.”

“He meant,” I believe, “replied Jane, to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions and try if anything could be made out … His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them …”

Epsom, is a lovely market town and has an amazing central clock tower and wide thoroughfare for the market stalls set up there. There is also a well preserved 18th century Assembly Rooms called, “The Assembly Rooms,” which is now a Weatherspoon’s pub and restaurant. I have indeed imbibed a pint or two in there. There are many 18th century buildings still in the town.

Leatherhead

Image of leatherhead museum

Leatherhead Museum. Photo by Tony Grant

I must mention Leatherhead, very close to Great Bookham and Box Hill. It is a town Jane would have visited and probably knew well. It has become somewhat a cause celebre in the world of Jane Austen and generally causes arguments.  Highbury and Hartfield are fictitious places set within the real world of Surrey. There are those, however, who are  convinced that Leatherhead is indeed Highbury and Hartfield. They point out all the places that are in and around Leatherhead which they think fit Jane’s descriptions in Emma. It cannot be forgotten that Emma is a fiction, all said and done. Highbury and Hartfield are the quintessential 18th century English villages. Jane is concerned about the lives and relationships of people within a community.  That is what really counts.

There are many places in Surrey that Jane knew. I have included an overall map to show some of the key places I mention in this article and here are a few more places she mentions either in her novels or in her letters.

Guildford, Streatham, The Hogsback (A long hill outside of Guildford) Ripley, Painshill, Clapham, Battersea, Barnes and Egham.

To Cassandra Austen Thursday 20th May 1813

“We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12- (I hope somebody cares for these minutes) & were at Esher in about 2 hours more.- I was very much pleased with the country in general-;- between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill & everywhere else; & from a Mr Spicer’s Grounds at Esher which we Walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful. I cannot say what we did not see but I should think there could not be a wood or a meadow or a palace or a remarkable spot in England that was not spread out us on one side or another.-“

Streatham is interesting, located  in South London at Tooting. It is where Dr Johnson lived for a while with Esther Thrale and her husband in their grand house next to the common and where many of the artistic glitterati of the 18th century met.

REFERENCES:

  • Austen J. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon Penguin Classics (first published 1974) Revised edition published 2015
  • Austen J. Emma, Penguin Classics (Published in Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Pride and Prejudice, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Northanger Abbey, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Le Faye D. Jane Austen’s Letters, (Third Edition) Oxford University Press 1995.

TONY’S OTHER BLOG POSTS: Below are some of the blog posts I have written connected with places I have mentioned in this article located in Surrey and South London where I live.

London Calling, Tony’s blog

Jane Austen in Vermont, Tony’s guest posts

Jane Austen’s World, Tony’s posts

Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion has long been heralded as one of the most romantic letters—and moments—in English literature. But does Wentworth’s letter live up to today’s standards of a really well-written love letter?

If you look up how to write the perfect love letter on the Internet, quite a lot of interesting information comes up. One article that might be of particular interest to a man like Captain Wentworth is this one: “How to Write a Love Letter” by Brett and Kate McKay from the web site, The Art of Manliness.

First, the article states that, “A handwritten letter is something tangible that we touch and hold and then pass to another to touch and hold. And they are preserved and cherished in a way that text messages or email never will be.” Captain Wentworth’s letter certainly meets this criteria. He writes his letter to Anne by hand, folds the paper “hastily,” and writes a “hardly legible” direction “to ‘Miss A. E.— ’” on the outside. (As to whether his letter will be preserved and cherished, I’ll leave that up to your excellent imaginations.)

Captain Wentworth pens his letter.

Next, there is the mode of delivery. For lovers who are separated by miles, an envelope and a stamp do the job nicely. Others might choose to leave their letters under a door mat, on a bedside table, or beside a dinner plate. As for Wentworth, he prefers the rather intense (and covert) personal delivery system for his letter to Anne:

[Wentworth] drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs Musgrove was aware of his being in it: the work of an instant!

Jane Austen’s Persuasion
“Placed it before Anne.” Illustration by C.E. Brock, 1909.

Finally, we must consider the contents of the letter. Wentworth hastily writes his letter at a writing table as he listens in on Anne and Captain Harville’s conversation about love and constancy. But does his hurried letter check all the boxes of a first-rate love letter?

The Art of Manliness suggests that every good love letter much include six major elements. Let’s go through the checklist and find out if Wentworth’s letter to Anne makes the grade:

Six Keys to a Good Love Letter

1. Start off by stating the purpose of your letter. Captain Wentworth certainly doesn’t waste any time getting to the point and stating his purpose. There is no question that this is a passionate love letter right from the start:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.”

2. Recall a romantic memory. Though their past is painful, Wentworth lets Anne know that his memories of her—and his love for her—have never faded, no matter what has happened between them or what he has tried to do to heal and forget her:

“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

3. Tell her all the things you love about her. For Captain Wentworth, every word out of Anne’s mouth is like water to his thirsty soul. He knows her voice better than anyone else and hangs on her every word:

“I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed.”

4. Tell her how your life has changed since meeting her. Wentworth could probably write a whole book about this (indeed, Austen did), but his letter checks this box in a rather dramatic way as he reveals that Anne is the only thing he cares about and that she is the sole focus of all his thoughts and plans:

“You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine.”

5. Reaffirm your love and commitment. Wentworth declares his love several times in this letter and has no trouble expressing his commitment to Anne. He clearly asks for her hand in marriage:

“I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.” He declares his love in absolute terms: “I have loved none but you.” And after listening to her conversation with Captain Harville, he closes his letter with another affirmation of his fervent and undying love for her:

“You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.”

6. End with a line that sums up your love. One might actually think Captain Wentworth was a contributing writer for The Art of Manliness because he accomplishes this task with an eloquent post script, asking for one word or look from Anne to seal his fate:

“I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”

Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves.

The Right Response

Wentworth’s letter certainly seems to satisfy the most important aspects of an eloquent love letter, but the true test of any romantic letter is the addressee’s response. For that, we must go to Anne herself for her reaction to the letter:

Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour’s solitude and reflection might have tranquillized her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was overpowering happiness.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Indeed, Wentworth’s letter is a complete success. When they meet in the street, Anne returns his pointed look and the “cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided.” There, in the street, they exchange “again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement.”

Truly, “such a letter” is not to be “soon recovered from.” By Anne or by us.

The sky’s the limit with letter writing. And love letters are never to be outdone by “newsy,” handwritten letters that fly back and forth between friends. But if you do write a love letter, make sure you take some pointers from Captain Wentworth.

For more information about the digitized version of Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves on Etsy (pictured above), click HERE.

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane. “Persuasion.” The Project Gutenberg E-Text of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, 2019, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/105/105-h/105-h.htm.

McKay, Brett and Kate. “30 Days to a Better Man Day 28: Write a Love Letter.” The Art of Manliness, 2 Oct. 2020, http://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/30-days-to-a-better-man-day-28-write-a-love-letter/.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She is 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. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Inquiring readers: The lists in this blog post describe us (Vic, Rachel, Brenda, and Tony) and our interests to a tee. If we were to remove our names heralding our choices, you could probably guess who chose which list. The books mentioned are those that we read in 2020 and that have influenced our interests, thoughts, and research. Enjoy! Feel free to leave your own book suggestions in the comment section!

Vic Sanborn

1. Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era: The Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World, Mike Rendell, Pen & Sword History, Pen & Sword Books LTD, 2018.

This useful reference details the contributions of 18th century women (despite their lack of legal standing) in the arts, literature, sciences, business, commerce, reform, and education. Some women, like Frances Burney and Mary Wollstonecraft, are well known to us today. How many of us know about Mary Darly, Jane Marcet, Elizabeth Fry, or Ann Damer? This is a beautiful book well worth owning.

2. What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, John Mullan. 2003, Bloomsbury Press

John Mullan’s book was highly recommended to me. In it he discusses diverse topics in 20 chapters, such as: “How Much Does Age Matter?,” “Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?,” “How Do Jane Austen’s Characters Look?,” “When Does Jane Austen Speak Directly to the Reader?,” and more. Mr. Mullan’s analysis prompts me to reread crucial passages in Austen’s novels; he helps me understand how much I still need to explore in her novels after all these years.

3. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, Paula Byrne, 2014, Harper Perennial.

I decided to purchase this book after watching “Bridgerton.” I did not see “Belle,” the movie, but have read short descriptions of the remarkable life of this illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an enslaved African American woman.

4. The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman: 1776-1800, National Trust, a primary source.

This extremely short book (62 pages) was not noticed until it was printed in 1952. Whatman’s observations on household management was for personal use only. It provides a snapshot of how an 18th century housewife managed a household, and describes her expectations and relationship with her servants. This primary source is extremely useful for anyone interested in the servant/mistress relationship during that time.

5. Hamnet, kindle edition, by Maggie O’Farrell, Deckle Edge, July 2020, mentioned as one of the 10 best books of 2020. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is my only entry that was recently published. My Janeite friend, Deb Barnum, could not praise the book enough and urged me to read it. O’Farrell’s tale about the death of William Shakespeare’s son is told in prose so beautiful, lyrical, poignant and magical that one enters another world entirely. The tale is sad, for Hamnet died of the plague, but the topic speaks to the grief that so many families in this world are feeling as they mourn lost ones due to the pandemic.

Brenda Cox

1. Jane Austen and Religion, by William Jarvis. ISBN: 095271261X

This fascinating little book gives more insight into the role of religion in Austen’s life and novels. Quite easy to read, unlike some of the other books on this topic.

2. Paupers & Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, A Somerset Parson, 1799-1818, edited by Jack Ayres. ISBN-10 : 0750932015

These selections from a parson’s diary give you an idea of what the daily lives of Austen’s family might have been like (since her father and two of her brothers were country parsons).

3. Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales during the period of the British Slave Trade, c. 1660-1807, by Kathleen Chater. 2011. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

If you’d like to know about black people in Jane Austen’s England and their lives, this book is based on extensive research from primary sources. See the History tab above, the section Black History, for more resources.

4. The Woman of Colour, anonymous, edited by Lyndon Dominique. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

This novel of 1808, possibly written by a woman of color, gives you a more personal view of the situation for black people in Austen’s England. It includes contemporary accounts from the slave-holding colonies.

5. Jane Austen & Crime, by Susannah Fullerton. ISBN-10 : 0976353954

This novel is full of great insights into law and crime in Austen’s England and in her life and her novels.

6. Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal. ISBN-10 : 0525486488

This book is a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan. Lots of fun. See my review.

Rachel Dodge

1. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan. ISBN-10: 0785224505

“In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.”

This book is perfect for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to know more about his wife, Joy Davidman. This novelized version of Joy’s life is hard to put down! I loved getting to know more about the brilliant mind and life of the woman Lewis called “my whole world.”

2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: ISBN-10 : 1846140498

This novel is one of my best memories of 2020 and one of my greatest achievements as a reader. I read this with an online read-along group for six months and fell in love with the novel and with Hugo’s writing. I could have never finished it without the group to help me stay on track. We had weekly online discussions that were incredibly invigorating. I highly recommend Les Mis to anyone who hasn’t read it — but if you can, read it with a buddy or a group. There’s nothing like it!

3. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller: ISBN-10 : 006268535X

“In this novel authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.”

This book gives a detailed view of the Little House books as told from Caroline “Ma” Ingalls’ perspective. It is meticulously researched and written, and I was mesmerized by the story of this incredibly strong woman. I have always wondered about the “real Ma” and how she handled even the worst situations with such grit and grace.

4. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery:mISBN-10 : 1402289367

“Valancy Stirling is 29 and has never been in love. She’s spent her entire life on a quiet little street in an ugly little house and never dared to contradict her domineering mother and her unforgiving aunt. But one day she receives a shocking, life-altering letter―and decides then and there that everything needs to change. For the first time in her life, she does exactly what she wants to and says exactly what she feels.”

I’m including this on my list because it’s one of L.M. Montgomery’s best books–and many people have never read it. It is one of only two books Montgomery wrote for an adult audience, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t enjoy it. If you need a fun, quick, and invigorating read, this is a great one to pick up. You will love Valancy and Barney.

Tony Grant

1. A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce. Published by the Penguin Group 1992 (First published 1914-15.)

Published in 1916, the book plots the course of the early life of Stephen Daedalus, his struggles with religion, education and relationships. All the things that matter in life. At that time the way people lived in Ireland was strongly controlled by the Catholic Church. We all know how that has turned out. As a lapsed catholic, even I shuddered and felt troubled by the four page description of hell.

2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Published by the Penguin Group1999 (First published 1839)

I like a good dose of Dickens every now and then. I read Nicholas Nickleby recently. If you want a roller coaster of emotions, good, bad and ugly this is for you. The evil Ralph Nickleby and the Yorkshire headmaster, Squeers of Do The Boys Hall, are counterbalanced by the angelic Brothers Cheeryble and a few ,”Madonna,” like young women.It wouldn’t be Dickens without an angelic, perfect, beautiful young woman, defenceless waiting to be saved. Its Dickens at his best, mining the depths of humanity, sending your emotions in all directions like a firework display.

3. The Neopolitan Novels by Ellena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, and published by Europa Editions (2012-2015). Four novels entitled:

  • My Brilliant Friend.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

  • The Story of a New Name.

  • The Story of the Lost Child.

Even if you read just one of these amazing novels it is worth it. The quartet is a powerful evocation of humanity. Like all of us, the characters in these novels make awful mistakes and some terrible things happen to them but nevertheless their lives move forward. Lina and Ellena, two friends who have known each other from birth, brought up in the back streets of Naples live off their innate animal intelligence. Ferrante plots their lives. If you think in terms of soul mates these two are each one half of the same organism. Both brilliant in different ways, their lives diverge but the link between them always remains. Their power and strength is derived from their connection. Together they are a force of nature. It is tough reading at times . There is not much humour but you feel that you have gone through a cathartic experience. This is Joyce and Dickens combined. Ferrante is a genius.

4. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. Published by Faber and Faber, 2017

This is the book Rooney wrote before, “Normal People.” Set in Ireland in the present time, it plots the love lives of young people. Rooney writes about her own age group. She is a great writer, plotting human relations through many hard, confusing, elating and passionate moments. Her characters are on a journey. The novel feels real, honest and gritty, with tenderness mixed in. Even at my advanced age I can empathise with the way their relationships pan out. This is the book James Joyce wanted to write, tried to write and for which he was virtually kicked out of Ireland.

5. The Rio Tape/Slide Show (Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 1980s)

Published by Isola Press London (IsolaPress.com) October 2020.

Ok, this is not a novel but it engaged and absorbed me completely. I felt so inspired I wrote a long review for my blog, London Calling. Hackney is a London Borough in the east end of London. In the 1980s, there was a lot of unemployment and poverty. It was a whole melting pot of different cultures and ethnic minorities. People were bullied by the police and government policies made life even harder. The Rio Tape Slide project based at The Rio Cinema in Kingsland Road began community initiatives. They educated the local people in ideas, photography, art workshops, news reporting, writing and community action. News reals, shown at the cinema, were made by local people who went out with cameras to record and write about their community. The project brought people together to form very effective action groups. This is Gandhi’s peaceful action alongside Martin Luther King’s ideas about community . As well as the photographs illustrating much of what went on, there are essays written by some of the original organisers of the campaigns that occurred. They explain their philosophy and thinking behind their actions. This should be read by everybody. It is a template for grass roots social action. I kept thinking,” this is how it’s done!!” Politics can be beneficial.

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And, so, gentle readers. Which books have you read? Which of them would you recommend? Which new books would you add to our list in the comments?  Curious minds want to know. Thank you for participating!

By Brenda S. Cox

 

“. . . we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.” –Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney is criticizing Catherine’s modern usage of the word “nice.”

“. . . like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in notions than facts.”—Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra, Feb. 8, 1807, quoting from a letter from Johnson to Boswell.

 

Nowadays, we take dictionaries for granted. When an author is writing a book, she can access all kinds of dictionaries online. Even before the internet, we had a wide variety of reference books, and any author would have at least one dictionary.

However, in Jane Austen’s England, dictionaries were still relatively rare and expensive. Jane Austen may not have owned one. However, she had access, at least some of the time, to her brother Edward’s library at Godmersham Park and his library at Chawton House. The Godmersham library has been recreated online, so we can see some of the books she might have used. The 1818 library catalog lists twenty dictionaries. Most are for specialized categories. For example, the Knights owned a dictionary of heraldry, a farming dictionary, a law dictionary, and a classical dictionary.

Early Dictionaries

It took time for our modern style of dictionary to develop.

In the 1500s, some bilingual dictionaries were produced, translating from Latin, French, or Italian into English. The Knights owned a Latin dictionary published much later, in 1816.

In 1604, the first English-to-English dictionary was published, by Robert Cawdrey. However, his dictionary and later dictionaries of that century focused only on difficult, unusual words; slang expressions; or words from certain fields of study or regions of the country. They listed such words and explained them in simpler English. Some of these dictionaries were rather pretentious, including rare words like abequitate and commotrix. Cawdrey intended his dictionary to “benefit & help” “Ladies, gentlewomen or any other unskillful persons” to better understand difficult English words they might hear or read in the Bible or in sermons, and to use those words themselves. Everyday words were not defined.

The Knight Collection included one such dictionary, by Edward Phillips, published in 1678. It listed “Terms that conduce to the understanding of any of the Arts or Sciences.” Sciences at that time were simply areas of knowledge. (Austen calls dancing a science, for example.) The areas listed for this dictionary range from theology to astrology to jewelling to hunting to much more.

Nathaniel Bailey made the first attempt at a complete English-to-English dictionary in 1721.

The first attempt to include all the words of English in a dictionary was in 1721, when Nathaniel Bailey produced his Universal Etymological English Dictionary. (Etymological means giving the original sources of words; many entries, however, do not include etymologies.) Thirty editions appeared between 1721 and 1802; the last was about 900 pages long. The Knights and their family and friends could look words up in the fourteenth edition of this dictionary, published in 1751.

While Bailey’s dictionary included “many Thousand Words more” than any previous English dictionary, it was still not complete enough. Literary leaders such as Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift called for a better source to standardize the English language.

Johnson’s Dictionary

Jane Austen’s “dear Dr. Johnson” took up the challenge. Simon Winchester calls Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language “an unparalleled triumph . . . a portrait of the language of the day in all its majesty, beauty, and marvelous confusion.”

In 1746, a group of London booksellers hired Samuel Johnson to produce a new dictionary. He hired six men as scribes and spent the following years compiling his dictionary.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary became the definitive dictionary of English in England for the next century.

How do you write a dictionary? Johnson began by reading. He bought or borrowed stacks and stacks of books. He went through them, reading hundreds of thousands of pages. He listed and organized all the words he found.

Since he couldn’t go through all of history (as the later Oxford English Dictionary would do), he chose books from a time period of about 150 years: beginning with Sir Philip Sydney, who died in 1586, and ending with authors who had recently died in Johnson’s own time (plus a little Chaucer thrown in here and there).

As Johnson read, he marked the words he wanted and chose good sentences illustrating all the varied meanings of each word. His assistants wrote the sentences on slips of paper, which he filed.

Four years later, in 1750, Johnson had finished gathering words. Then he spent another four years sorting, choosing, and editing his 118,000 sample quotations (which he occasionally altered!). Finally, he wrote definitions for the 43,500 words included. Sometimes he based the definitions on earlier dictionaries, but many were entirely his own.

Imagine how much work this was, for one man! No wonder he defined lexicographer as “A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.” There must have been a great deal of drudgery involved in digging out and organizing so many words, with no help from a computer or even a typewriter. While a few definitions, like lexicographer, show Johnson’s personal opinion, most are careful and exact.

I learned in a linguistics class that it is very hard to write definitions. You need to use only words that are simpler than the word you are defining, explain clearly what the word means and rule out what it doesn’t mean, and not use circular definitions (defining Word A as meaning B, but when you look up B you find it means A). Try making up a definition for an everyday word, and you’ll get some appreciation for Johnson’s task. Then you might want to compare your definition with Johnson’s.

Johnson’s dictionary was very thorough, including most of the words in use at the time. As in modern dictionaries, many words have multiple definitions. The word take, for example, is followed by 134 definitions. All are supported by at least one quotation from literature, and most have several.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, 1756

When Johnson was almost ready to publish his dictionary, he convinced Oxford University to give him an honorary degree, so he would have letters to put after his name (Samuel Johnson, A. M.), and the dictionary was published in 1755.

The final dictionary was over 2300 pages long. It was printed on high quality paper in large, heavy, expensive volumes. Jane’s parents probably could not have afforded a set.

The fact that Godmersham had two copies of this dictionary shows us something of the Knight family’s wealth. They owned a first edition, published in 1755, and a  twelfth edition, published in 1810; each was in two volumes.

Samuel Johnson’s was England’s definitive dictionary of English until 1928, when the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was completed. Simon Winchester tells the enthralling story of the OED in his book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Most of this article comes from his section on Johnson’s dictionary. For the OED, a team of thousands of volunteers sent the compilers over six million slips of paper with sample sentences on them, from works in English throughout history. After five years, the compilers had only gotten to the word ant.  It took from 1879 to 1928 to produce all ten volumes of the dictionary. The OED has been constantly updated since then, because of course language is always changing.

(In America, of course, Noah Webster published the first dictionary of American English in 1806. American and British dialects and spelling were already diverging at that point.)

Austen and Johnson’s Dictionary

We don’t know how much Jane Austen consulted Johnson’s Dictionary, but we do know that she loved to read Dr. Johnson’s works, so she probably read some of the dictionary when she could. There might have been a copy at Chawton House near her cottage.  Also, shorter, smaller abridged versions, without all the quotes, were published later in her lifetime, so perhaps she owned one of those.

Shortened versions of Johnson’s Dictionary were soon produced, like this one in 1806.

Henry Tilney is “Nice”

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney have a discussion about a word and its definition:

Catherine: “But now really, do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?”

Henry: “The nicest—by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding.”

“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “you are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.”

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

“While, in fact,” cried his sister, “it ought only to be applied to you, without any commendation at all. You are more nice than wise.”

“Nice” in Samuel Johnson’s original dictionary

So how did Samuel Johnson define the word nice? He gave these definitions:

  1. Accurate in judgment to minute exactness; superfluously exact. (This may describe Tilney himself in the discussion, as his sister says.)
  2. Delicate; scrupulously and minutely cautious.
  3. Fastidious; squeamish
  4. Easily injured; delicate
  5. Formed with minute exactness (Perhaps this is the definition by which Tilney says the book’s binding may be nice.)
  6. Requiring scrupulous exactness
  7. Refined
  8. Having lucky hits (a meaning no longer in use)

Catherine, however, was using the word more as we would use it today, to simply mean something good or pleasant. Apparently, when Johnson wrote his dictionary forty years earlier, nice was not often used that way, at least in books. Even an 1817 short version of his dictionary still defines nice as “accurate, scrupulous, delicate.” Henry Tilney was overly scrupulous, or too nice, in his use of words.

(By the way, Eleanor refers to “Johnson and Blair.” Blair is Dr. Hugh Blair, a Scottish minister who wrote books of sermons that Mary Crawford mentions in Mansfield Park. He also wrote Blair’s Rhetoric, teaching good writing and speaking, which is what Eleanor mentions here.)

“Nice” in an 1806 abridged version of Johnson’s Dictionary

“Nice” Austen Quotes in the Oxford English Dictionary

The current Oxford English Dictionary (OED) quotes Jane Austen in three of its 44 definitions of nice (24 of these definitions are now obsolete, 2 others are rare).

For the obsolete definition 3c, “Particular, strict, or careful with regard to a specific point or thing,” this example appears from Persuasion, 1817: “Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential.”

The OED’s definition 14a of nice, “That one derives pleasure or satisfaction from; agreeable, pleasant, satisfactory; attractive,” is illustrated of course by Catherine and Henry’s conversation in Northanger Abbey. (It’s not the first example, though–that came from actor David Garrick in 1749, just a little too late to be included in Johnson’s Dictionary.)

And there’s one more “nice” example from Austen in definition 14d, where nice is “used ironically”: the very instance is from Jane Austen’s letter of Dec. 24, 1798: “We are to have Company to dinner on friday; the three Digweeds & James.—We shall be a nice silent party I suppose.”

 

Language has changed so much that we sometimes need dictionaries to understand writers of former ages. It would be easy to assume that wherever we see the word nice, for example, it means “pleasant,” but in Austen’s time it was much more likely to mean something else. In my research on the church in Austen’s time, I’ve found a number of words that had religious meanings in her time, words like principle and serious, that are now used differently. The word candour has changed almost entirely; it meant assuming the best of a person (which is why Jane Bennet is an example of candour), rather than plain speaking.

What are your favorite examples of words used in Jane Austen which now have different meanings, or are obsolete now? And, what’s your favorite dictionary or website where you look them up?

Further Resources

Johnson’s Dictionary: Myths and Reality, by linguist David Crystal

Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755, British Library

Johnson’s Dictionary Online is a fantastic free resource. You can look up any word in the original 1755 dictionary. Page view is available for all the words (click on the letters at the top), and some have been transcribed (search in the search window). If you want to know what words were in use in Jane Austen’s England, and how they were used, this is the book for you. If you want a later edition, archive.org has volumes of the dictionary from later dates.

Dr. Johnson, His House, Jane Austen, and a Cat Called Hodge,” by Tony Grant (who writes for Jane Austen’s World), gives a fascinating overview of Johnson’s life, Jane Austen’s comments about Johnson, and lovely photos of Johnson’s house. He also includes the intriguing story of Johnson’s black servant Francis Barber, who was like a son to Johnson; Johnson left most of his estate to Barber.

Dr. Johnson’s House, a museum of Samuel Johnson, can be visited in London (though it is currently closed for covid; check the website before going).

The Oxford English Dictionary will give you more detail and more quotations, but if you are not part of a library or university with access to it, it’s quite expensive. (Currently subscriptions are deeply discounted, at $90 per year.)

Simon Winchester tells the fascinating story of English dictionaries, especially the OED, in The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The movie, The Professor and the Madman (2019), is based on this book and is well done, though it adds some imaginative twists.

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

Inquiring readers: One of the activities I have missed the most during this year of COVID-19 is traveling abroad. In this blog post, Tony Grant takes us on a tour to The Vyne, which is one of England’s grand houses and is closely associated with Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy!

Gentle readers: Please note: this post is updated with corrections about the Stained Glass Windows and Flemish Tiles, as indicated in the comments by Stuart Hall, Tour Guide, The Vyne.

Image of The_Vyne_House wikipediaThe Vyne, Sherborne St John Hampshire, Image from Wikipedia

The Vyne, is an 18th century mansion near the village of Sherbourne St John. It is just north of the town of  Basingstoke; eight miles from Steventon, which is located south west of Basingstoke; eighteen miles from Chawton; twenty miles north of Winchester; and just over fifty miles from the centre of London. It is a typical grand house that, although its present appearance is 18th century, has been developed and adapted over the centuries to fit different periods. In the late 18th century its proximity to Basingstoke and Steventon put it and the Chute family, who owned it, within Jane Austen’s family local connections. George and Cassandra Austen, after their marriage in Bath, moved to Steventon in 1764 when George and Cassandra Austen first took up the living of Steventon Parish and were set to start their family with their first child, James, born on February 13th, 1765. Jane, the Austen’s eighth child, was born 16th December, 1775. As the vicar of Steventon, George Austen associated with the country gentry and landowners in the area and these included the Chutes at The Vyne in Sherborne St John.

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne was first built as a large Tudor mansion by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain who died in 1540. The King himself, was entertained three times at The Vyne by Lord Sandys. The wealth of the Sandys family declined slowly through the centuries, but the Civil Wars 1642 – 1651 finished the family as an authority in the country and their wealth declined drastically. In 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, who was the Speaker in the House, a role which had great power in Parliament shaping how Parliament debated issues and passed legislation during the last Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was set up after the execution of Charles 1st and continued to a little after Oliver Cromwell’s death and the reinstatement of the monarchy. Chaloner Chute was a very important man in the country. He reduced the size of the original Tudor mansion and modernised it, employing John Webb, a talented pupil of Inigo Jones to redesign it.

Floorplan of The VyneThe floor plan of The Vyne, The National Trust

Chute died in 1659 and not much more was done to the house for the next hundred years. His great grandson, John Chute (1701-76) inherited the house in 1754. John Chute was a talented architect and along with his friend Horace Walpole helped Walpole design the Gothic interiors of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house at Twickenham. Along with Walpole he also redesigned the Gothic interior of the chapel at The Vyne. In his early thirties, he brought back mementoes from his grand tour of Europe which remain in the house today. 

John Chute died without heirs in 1776 and the house passed to his cousin Thomas Lobb (1721-90), the son of a Thomas Lobb of Norfolk who had married Elizabeth Chute (d 1725) in 1720, hence the family connection. This second Thomas Lobb assumed the name of Chute when John Chute died and passed the Vyne to him, thus keeping the family name extant. Thomas (Lobb) Chute married Anne Rachael Wiggett (1733-90) in 1753.

They had two sons, William John Chute (1757-1824) and Thomas Chute (1772-1827). William, who inherited the house in 1790, married Elizabeth Smith in 1794.

Upon his death in 1824 the Vyne passed to his younger brother Thomas, a clergyman. As neither William nor Thomas had issue, the house was left in 1827 to William John Chute’s godson and part of the Wiggett family, William Lyde Wiggett (1800-79). THIS William assumed the name of Chute in 1827 and succeeded to the Vyne in 1842 when Elizabeth Smith Chute passed away.

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James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother (above image on the right), became a close and lifelong friend of Tom Chute, William John Chute’s brother. They both loved fox hunting and often rode with the hounds together. On his clergyman’s income, James Austen was able to keep his own pack of hounds. As rector of Steventon, George Austen, Jane’s father, was also a visitor to the Chute family home.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet and the Bennet girls were all a flutter at wealthy landowners, such as Fitzwilliam Darcy, came to live in their neighbourhood. The game was on to get her daughters married into a wealthy strata of society and rise in the world. You had to be ambitious if nothing else and take a chance.

The local clergy were regularly invited to the local landowner’s home for dinner; they became almost a part of the family in many ways. Mr Collins waxed lyrical about his great honour of being invited to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

“She had asked him twice to dine at Rosings and had sent for him only the Saturday before  to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening… she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood.”

We can gather that James Austen became closely associated with the Chute family, first because of his father’s connections and subsequently as the vicar of  Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne was located.  Later he took over the incumbency of Steventon Parish from his father, a mere eight miles from The Vyne, which kept him close to the Chutes and the great house.  

James accumulated parishes throughout his clerical career. Deirdre le Faye enumerates the following. 

“curate of Stoke Charity , Hants, 1788, (the year he completed his studies with an MA from Oxford), the curate at Overton Hants in 1790, the vicar at Sherborne St John in 1791, the curate of Deane in 1791, the vicar of Cubbington in 1792, the perpetual curate of Hunningham in 1805  curate of Steventon (under his father) in 1801 and finally the vicar of Steventon  between 1805 and 1819 (died 1819).” 

Photo of The grave of James and Mary Austen at Steventon

James is buried alongside his wife in Steventon Churchyard. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Jane and Cassandra fully took part in local society, including friendships formed through family associations and connections provided by their father and brothers. Jane often wrote about her acquaintances and the local activities she took part in, including information she knew Cassandra would be interested in, often referring to the Chutes of The Vyne.

Thursday 14th – Friday 15th January 1796

“Friday- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over- My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. William Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom ( Chute)  is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass.”

On Saturday 1st November 1800, Jane went to a ball , presumably at Basingstoke.

“It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples-The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there and all the meaner and more unusual etc etc’s- There was a scarcity of men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were much good for much .- I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Steven Terry, T. Chute and James Digwood and four with Catherine-“

Saturday 9th November 1800

“Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chutes frank and only happened intirely (JA’s spelling) to forget it- but will write soon-“

On Saturday3rd January 1801 Jane saw Tom Chute when she visited Ash Park. On Friday 9th January  a few days later she saw him again at Deane. These are all houses belonging to the local gentry in Hampshire.

On Monday 22nd April 1805 she hears of Tom Chute’s fall from a horse.

“I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him.”

On the 8th January 1807, Jane adds another news item to her letter to Cassandra

“…. and another that Tom Chute is going to settle in Norfolk.” This was of course where another Chute family property was located, through the Wiggett connection.”

In January 1813, she again refers to the use of Mr Chute’s franks.

And probably most intriguing of all on Wednesday, February 26th 1817 Jane writes,

“I am sorry to hear of Caroline Wiggetts being so ill. Mrs Chute would feel almost like a mother in losing her.”

The reference to using the Chutes’ “frank” refers to the means by which the Chutes addressed an envelope. The MP wrote the address, dated it properly, and wrote the word “FREE” in the middle of his signature. This  meant that the recipient of the letter didn’t pay for its delivery (which was the custom), but that the Chutes would pay.  At the time of this last message Jane was still in the process of writing Sanditon and she had a mere few months left to live. Jane died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817. The Chutes remained in her sphere of interest to the last. 

Claire Tomalin makes links between Jane Austen’s real life associations, the Chutes, etc., and some of her novels’ characters. She surmises that William John Chute and Elizabeth Chute nee Smith could have inspired some of her ideas about Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane and Elizabeth Chute did not become great friends but Elizabeth Chute was well read and was an intelligent person from all accounts. There is also the matter of Caroline Wiggett, who was mentioned in the letter above. Caroline was a second cousin of William’s mother, who came to live with Elizabeth and William and thought of them as her Aunt and Uncle. She was brought up at The Vyne from 1803. From Caroline’s reminiscences we learn that she had a rather lonely childhood at The Vyne. Could she have been an inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park? Tomlin rightly warns us about making too many assumptions. Writers use many experiences from their lives but use them creatively within their works. A writer will not use personal experiences in a factual way, but aspects of their experiences can inevitably be adapted, drawn upon, and used fictionally.

However, what attracts me most about Jane’s letters, which is clearly obvious in the quotations above, is her humorous tone, often teasing, and making fun of those people and situations she writes about. Of course these letters are private letters to her dear sister Cassandra. She and Cassandra would have had their private jokes and opinions, not for publication. Haven’t we all?

Eventually in 1956, upon the death of Sir Charles Chute, the final Chute owner, The Vyne was bequeathed to The National Trust, who take care of the house today. It is open to the public.

Photo of a National Trust membership cardNational Trust Membership card.

A few years ago, Emily, one of our daughters, bought us a National Trust membership as a Christmas present. The trust looks after hundreds of old houses, estates, gardens, coastal paths and wild areas of the British Isles. With membership we get free entry into these estates, gardens and historic houses, which is an amazing thing. 

In March 2017, Marilyn and I went to visit The Vyne. I had heard of the Austen connection, of course, and also the connection with Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the Gothic Revival movement. After university, Emily had worked as an intern at Strawberry Hill House, Walpole’s mansion at Twickenham, and we visited Strawberry Hill with Emily as our guide. We were expecting to see something of the Gothic Revival style of interior design at The Vyne, just as we had seen at Strawberry Hill. 

Photo of Sherborne St John road sign Sherborne St John. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I have focused a lot of this article on the period when the Austens lived at Steventon and on the connections between the Austen family and the Chutes. In an earlier period, Horace Walpole was best friends with John Chute (1701-1776) before William John Chute and Thomas Chute, the Austens’ acquaintances.

The Vyne is rich in objects and paintings brought to The Vyne after John Chute returned from his grand tour of Europe. At 39, John was older than his fellow travellers. His cousin Francis Whitehead, who he went on tour with, was 23, and the friends he made on the tour, including Horace Walpole, were virtually a generation younger.

Photo of Some of John Chute's porcelain collectionPorcelain brought back by John Chute from his Grand Tour. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Marilyn and I entered through the entrance on the south side overlooking the extensive surrounding parkland and the lake.  Each room is attended by a guide. Once you ask a question you are inundated with the most interesting and detailed, in-depth information about the Chutes, the house, and the very room you might be standing in at the given moment.

Photo of the Vyne library, National TrustThe library. Image from The National Trust

We walked through the rooms packed with objects and paintings. The library has two large globes of the world, a fantastic ornate baroque fireplace, full length portraits of the Chutes, and walls with shelf upon shelf of books. I must admit to a quirky disposition when I walk through libraries in old houses. You must not touch the books. They are rare, ancient, bound in leather and cost a fortune. I have an enormous urge, which I have to fight against, to spend time with the said books, take them off the shelves and read them. It is always a difficult time having to merely walk past them. I spent a moment reading the titles on the spines though. 

We walked along the oak gallery, the walls lined with portraits and landscapes. The floor is of oak timbers. The walls are faced with oak wainscoting with an intricate “folded linen” effect carved and finely chiselled into the surface of each panel.  They are similar to the panelling I have seen in the Tudor Palace at Hampton Court and other Tudor mansions around the country. This is a fantastic example of the Gothic Revival on the walls, created in the 18th century and not the 16th century.

Photo of linen fold panelingLinen fold oak panelling. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

The chapel attached to the eastern wing of the house is a sight to behold. It is the epitome of Gothic Revival. We think Jane Austen did visit The Vyne, so there is a good chance she too gasped at what you see today. Horace Walpole advised on the decoration. John Chute employed an Italian craftsman called Spiridore Roma, who worked on the chapel between 1769-1771. He used a technique called trompe l’oeil, to create a three dimensional effect of buttresses, Gothic arched windows, and fan ceilings.

Photo of Trompe l'oeil in the chapel National Trust pictureTrompe l’oeil in the chapel. National Trust image.

I have seen the real thing in Bath Abbey and other medieval churches and cathedrals and it is obvious that this is not the real thing, but this paint effect is very impressive indeed. There are medieval-styled tiles on the floor and stained glass windows–all of 16th century medieval originals. The effect is glorious.

Image of Tudor floor tiles (Gothic Revival)

Image of Tudor Revival Gothic floor tiles, courtesy of Tony Grant

Next to the chapel is the Tomb Chamber. It is set out like a Gothic cathedral chapter house. It has valuabele 16th century stained glass windows and a stone slab floor, but the centre piece is a table tomb with a reclining white marble statue of Speaker Chute  (Chaloner Chute 1595- 1659) lying full length with his head propped up on an elbow. Horace Walpole wanted to create the emotions derived from Gothic architecture and in this chapel and tomb chamber he aided John Chute, his friend in recreating that Gothic moment.

Photo of Challoner Chutes tombChaloner Chutes tomb. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

After our tour inside the great house Marilyn and I walked in the grounds. We had a wonderful view of the long lake, smooth green lawns, and the massive cedar trees. We went inside the brick summer house and looked up at its web-like beamed ceiling.

Photo of the summer houseThe Summer House. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

We walked through the walled garden where the National Trust is recreating a great houses kitchen garden with a variety of shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.

Photo of the kitchen garden by Tony GrantThe walled kitchen garden. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

 We walked along the Lime Walk and listened to the wind in the branches and birds singing in the canopy.

Photo of The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne

The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Visiting a National Trust property such as The Vyne lifts the spirits, and provides beauty, natural and man-made, that soothes the soul. Afterwards, we drove into the village of Sherborne St Peter nearby and walked to the church where James Austen was vicar.

References:

“The Vyne Hampshire,” published by The National Trust  1998 (revised 2015)

Jane Austen A Life, by Claire Tomalin published by Penguin Books 1997.

Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Third Edition)  Published by Oxford University Press 1997.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen  Published by Penguin Classics 1996

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen  Published by The Penguin English Library 1966

Tony Grant Posts:

 

As we enter a new year, it’s intriguing to think about the power of a fresh start. Jane Austen herself seems to have entered into a new season when she came back to the Hampshire countryside in 1809, after leaving Steventon for Bath with her family in 1801.

During her time away from the Hampshire of her youth, Austen’s writing activity slowed and she experienced a period marked by loss and change. But once she and Mrs. Austen and Cassandra moved into the cottage on her brother Edward’s property in Chawton, she started writing prolifically—revising earlier manuscripts, drafting new ones, and beginning her publishing journey.

An Unsettled Season

There are many thoughts on why Austen didn’t write as much during those years, but it’s important to note two important factors. First, not only did Austen move away from her childhood home, but she also experienced grief, including the loss of her dear friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy (December 1804), her own beloved father Reverend Austen (January 1805), and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Austen (1808).

Second, after the Reverend Austen’s death, the Austen women stayed on in Bath, moving several times. They then moved to Southampton in 1806, living first with Francis and Mary Austen and then in Castle Square. The Austen women remained unsettled for quite some time.

Sydney Place in Bath where Austen lived 1801-1804 (photo by Rachel Dodge)

As many of us know firsthand, losing a loved one is at the top of most stress charts. Moving to a new home is thought to be highly stressful as well. It’s possible that the combination of grief and frequent moves may have impacted Austen’s creativity.

A Fresh Start

After living away from the quiet of the Hampshire countryside for so many years, and having moved houses several times, moving to Chawton must have been a relief for the Austen women. It also seems to have provided just the right time and place for Austen’s writing to flourish. Almost as soon as they settled into the house there, Austen began revising and writing at a terrific pace.

It’s also interesting to note that when Austen moved to Chawton she picked back up her manuscript for Sense and Sensibility (originally titled “Elinor and Marianne”), a story about a recently widowed woman and her daughters who go to live in a small cottage on the property of a male relative. The Dashwood women, in need of a fresh start, find their new beginning in Barton. The Austen women found theirs in Chawton.

This intriguing quote from Sense and Sensibility almost seems as though it could have been written from the Austens’ point of view:

The Dashwoods were now settled at Barton with tolerable comfort to themselves. The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding them, were now become familiar, and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with far greater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford, since the loss of their father.

Sense and Sensibility, Ch. 9

To view an image of a contemporary watercolor of Chawton Cottage, as Austen may have known it, you can see it here on the JASNA site, in a fascinating Persuasions article entitled “Chawton Cottage Transfigured” by Joan Austen-Leigh (1982).

At Chawton, Austen revised and published Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813); wrote and published Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815); reacquired Northanger Abbey and wrote Persuasion (both of which were published after her death in 1817); and started “Sanditon.”

St Nicholas Church at Chawton
(photo by Rachel Dodge)

Storing Up Inspiration

It seems that Austen’s time away from her beloved Hampshire countryside actually played an important role in her writing journey. Even if she didn’t write as much during those years, she was evidently storing up experiences, people, places, and inspiration all along the way. Coming “home” to the countryside and settling down sparked new creativity.

There are many factors that may have led to Austen’s fresh spurt of writing at Chawton, but here are a few that come to mind:

  • Feeling at home and settled in their own house
  • Time and space to walk, think, and listen
  • Slower pace and quieter surroundings
  • Familiar scenery, sounds, and walks
  • Extended family, nieces and nephews, and friends nearby
  • New experiences and settings for inspiration (Bath, Southampton, Godmersham, and Lyme Regis)
  • New books to read (at Chawton House and Godmersham Park)
  • The society of local families

One might say that Austen herself was living in her own ideal setting at Chawton: As she wrote to Anna Austen in 1814, “You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life;—3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on” (emphasis mine).

For Austen, perhaps a country village was not only the perfect thing to work on but also the perfect place in which to work. That setting—the “delight” of her life—seems to be where she worked best.

It’s heartening to consider new beginnings like these. After difficulty and heartache, light dawned once more for Austen. And the unsettled years certainly weren’t wasted; they provided Austen with new experiences and fresh inspiration.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She is 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. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

This article was researched, written, and designed by LiYuan Byrne, Josephine Chan, Ariana Desai, Carolyn Engargiola, Ava Giles, Macy Levin, Gage Miles, Sophia Romagnoli, Kate Snyder, Oscar Steinhardt, Lauren Stoneman, Alexandria Thomas, Varsha Venkatram, and Dr. Ben Wiebracht.

Introduction to this class project

This article is by the teacher and students of “Advanced Topics: Love Stories” at Stanford Online High School. It is part of a class-wide project to explore the city that so dazzled Catherine Morland, but about which Austen herself had mixed feelings. We started with the 1795 satire “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” – a roughly eight page poem by little-known poet John Matthews. The poem is chock-full of allusions and references to Bath institutions – some still familiar, like the Pump Room and the Royal Crescent; others long forgotten, like the riding school of Jonathan Dash. Working in small groups, the students consulted a wide array of sources to track down these many references, and in so doing reconstruct a typical day in the life of a Georgian visitor to Bath. They looked through old guidebooks to the city, published scholarship on Georgian Bath, old Parliamentary records, newspapers from the time, and much else. They also had the benefit of a virtual visit from two experts familiar to readers of JAW: Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant. Then, they distilled their mountain of research into what we hope is an informative and enjoyable article, one that does justice to the playful spirit of our poem, and indeed, of Northanger Abbey itself.

When Northanger Abbey was finally being prepared for publication in 1817, nearly twenty years after its composition, Austen worried that the novel had missed its moment. Anticipating criticism on that score, she included an “Advertisement” warning that “places, manners, books and opinions have undergone considerable changes.” This was particularly true of the city of Bath, where the first half of the novel is set. The thriving Georgian resort town that Catherine Morland discovers had lost much of its luster by the late Regency as the upper classes, disdainful of the new, middle-class visitors to the city, sought out other retreats (see Akiko Takei, “Sanditon and the Uncertain Prospects of a Resort Business”). Austen’s advertisement is a reminder that her novels, immortal though they may be as works of art, are still very much grounded in time and place.

This semester, my students and I have been working to recover the Bath of the 1790s. Our rather unexpected guide has been a long-forgotten satirical poem that I discovered over the summer: “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” (1795), by the Herefordshire physician and poetaster John Matthews (see the full text here). The poem describes a typical day in the Bath season, from the morning trip to the Pump Room to an afternoon stroll along the Royal Crescent to the inevitable evening ball at the Upper or Lower Assembly Rooms. The poem is hardly fine verse, but it is a fun read, tripping along in four-beat couplets and cracking good-natured jokes about the vanity of Bath life. For readers of Jane Austen, it is also a rich source of information. As Matthews ribs and roasts his way through the town, he touches on many of the places and customs that Catherine herself experiences, often in ways that help us better appreciate Austen’s own treatment of the city.

The students spent almost two months tracking down the allusions in this poem, placing it in its literary and historical context, and drawing connections between it and Northanger Abbey. Our article is truly a collaborative project – both the research and the prose. And, we’re not quite done with Matthews yet! Next semester, we hope to publish a new edition of Matthews’ “Adumbration,” complete with an introduction and annotations, and designed specifically for readers of Jane Austen. For now, we offer you a day in Catherine Morland’s Bath, courtesy of John Matthews!

Morning

The Pump Room

Two images. Left: “Comforts of Bath: Pump Room,” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798 (image credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection); The Pump Room, overlooking the baths (image credit: Tony Grant)

Of all the gay cities in Britain renowned,

Dear Bath is the place where most pleasure is found.

There alone is true breeding, politeness, and ease;

You have nothing to do, but each other to please.

There the circle of day is one scene of delight,

From morning to noon, from noon until night;

For if dull in the morning, you open your eyes,

You may run to the Pump Room as soon as you rise,

[…]

So the Beaux in their boots, the Belles in their slippers,

Come to walk up and down and peep at the dippers,

For though strange it appears, I’d have you to know,

Whilst you’re drinking above, some are bathing below,

And each glass of water, brought up by the pumps,

Contains the quintessence of half-a-score rumps.

Oh my! Our poem begins with some rather indecorous insinuations. Could it really be true that the supposed healing waters of Bath were literal bath waters, and that lecherous men could watch women bathe from the Pump Room?

In reality, the Pump Room was located at the site of the old Roman baths, where mineral water from hot springs was ingeniously pumped up and served to guests. The water was thought to have curative properties, thus making Bath a popular destination for wealthy invalids. Eighteenth-century aristocrats had the choice between descending below to relax in the baths, or drinking the mineral water in the Pump Room above the pools, giving some the perfect vantage point to peep at the underdressed bathers (cotton tends to mold to the skin!). Matthews’ racy joke that some may have visited the Pump Room to catch a glimpse of others bathing was, surprisingly, true. Fortunately, despite what rumor-mongers like Matthews might say, it was completely untrue that drinking water was pumped up from the baths below, and that those who frequented the Pump Room partook of the “quintessence of rumps”! 

And frequent they did: the Pump Room was a staple of the Bath morning routine. It was a popular, casual meeting place for visitors to “parade up and down for an hour,” conduct private conversations with friends, or search for their crush! Catherine hastens to the Pump Room several times over the course of her stay in Bath, once anxiously checking the Pump Room book to see if Henry Tilney is still in Bath, and another time consulting it for his address. The Pump Room book was a register with the names of everyone currently staying in Bath: a good way to keep tabs on interesting young men or women! All in all, the Pump Room was an important institution in the Bath marriage market. With a register of guests (with addresses), inbuilt opportunities to spy on the opposite sex, and a standard morning routine that nearly everyone followed, the Pump Room treated lovesickness at least as effectively as gout!

The New Arrivals

Image of “Comforts of Bath: Coaches Arriving,” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798 (public domain)

Having there drank enough to banish the spleen,

You go home to breakfast with appetite keen;

But as strong tea is apt to give people the vapours,

After that ‘twill be proper to read the newspapers,

To behold where your own name appears in the list

Of arrivals at Bath, where Sir Sawny MacTwist,

And Lady O’Connor, with Mynheer Van Prow,

All figure away in the very same row.

Sure such honor as this, must make a man vain,

And chase all the megrims that trouble his brain.

Leaving behind the Pump Room and its dubious refreshments, Matthews escorts us back to our rented lodgings for breakfast – one of the few private moments a visitor was likely to enjoy during a day in Bath. There we peruse the newspapers, but not for news. The Bath papers all featured a weekly list of new arrivals in town, organized by rank. For January 7, 1784, to take an example at random, the Bath Chronicle begins the list with “Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire,” proceeds through an array of lesser nobility and gentry, and concludes with (one suspects) a number of spinsters: “Miss Mitchell, Miss Hervey, Miss Praed, Miss Danvers, Miss Portley, &c. &c.” Where you fell in the list, as Matthews hints, was a matter of some concern. 

The famous list of Bath arrivals does, interestingly enough, make an appearance in Austen’s novels, and exactly where you would expect it to. Sir Walter Elliott learns from it that his aristocratic relatives Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret have arrived in Bath. If anyone in Bath were to be studying the list of arrivals, it would be the intensely rank-conscious Sir Walter!

Afternoon

Town and Country

Image of “The Macaroni,” Philip Dawe, 1773 (public domain)

When you’ve with politics done, the beauties to meet,

You may stroll for an hour up and down Milsom Street;

Where the Misses so smart, at ev’ry fine shop,

Like rabbits in burrows, just in and out pop;

Where booted and spurred, the gay macaronies,

Bestride Mandell’s counter instead of their ponies,

Preferring the pleasure of ‘tending the fair,

To breathing the freshness of Lansdown’s pure air;

Besides, ‘tis the tippy’ and more in the flash,

To canter away in the school of old Dash.

Time to sally forth again! From breakfast, Matthews shifts the scene to fashionable Milsom Street, where the best shopping in Bath was to be had. In the shop of the milliner Elizabeth Mandell, we meet a swaggering set of “macaronies” – foppish, overdressed fellows who embody both the pleasure-loving spirit of Bath and its absurd vanity. Despite their flashy spurs, these pompous bachelors are apparently less interested in riding than preening for the ladies. When they do ride, they limit themselves to a trot around the yard of Jonathan Dash’s riding school. Lansdown Hill, a popular and scenic destination nine miles from the city proper, is much beyond their range. Thus the town-bound macaronies will never know the pleasure of “pure air” – one of the few luxuries not for sale in crowded, smelly Bath (more on the aromas of Bath later…).

Matthews suggests that a young man might venture to Lansdown instead of “’tending the fair,” (read: courting the ladies), but as John Thorpe shows, the two could be done at the same time. Careful readers of Northanger Abbey might remember that John Thorpe offers Catherine a ride up Lansdown Hill during their first meeting in Bath. The Tilneys and Catherine, on the other hand, choose to traverse Beechen Cliff – the closer, more natural, and perhaps less frequented location. Jane Austen walked both Lansdown Hill and Beechen Cliff during her time in Bath, and in Northanger Abbey, she may be using the two locations to draw a distinction between Catherine’s two suitors. The hour-to-two-hours-long carriage ride to Lansdown Hill would provide the perfect occasion for Bath gallants hoping to be in close quarters with young women — how scandalous! Mr. Allen questions the propriety of such carriage rides, thinking it “an odd appearance, if young ladies are frequently driven about in them by young men, to whom they are not even related.” It makes sense that the cocksure, indecorous John Thorpe would propose such a thing to Catherine. Henry’s choice of the more respectable walking trip to Beechen Cliff (with his sister accompanying them) may be Austen’s way of offering him as the more thoughtful and substantive option for Catherine.

The Masters of Ceremony

Two images: Left: Etching of Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies for the Upper Rooms, 1782 (© The Trustees of the British Museum); Right: James King, Master of Ceremonies for the Lower Assembly Rooms, 1805 (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Next on the parades, you must walk for a while,

Then to lounge at the pump again is the style;

For at Bath, goddess Trivia has ‘stablished her throne,

And even Pleasure is managed by rules of her own,

And her laws are so good, that ‘twere pity to break ‘em,

So there’s appointed two priests, to make people keep ‘em.

Them her Masters of Ceremony Folly here calls,

Who preside o’er the concerts, the assemblies, and balls;

The one is named Tyson, the other called King,

Who wear each a gold medal, tied fast to a string.

On grave Tyson’s bright bauble, Minerva is seen,

But on King’s (much more proper) is Beauty’s fair Queen;

For Wisdom with Fashion can never be found,

But too often with Folly does Beauty abound.

Baubles? Kings and Queens? What is Mr. Matthews talking about here? Well, Richard Tyson and James King were Masters of Ceremony in Bath, responsible for “presiding over social functions, welcoming newcomers, and enforcing an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction” (Gores, Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, p. 71). Though it wasn’t part of the official job description, the Masters of Ceremony were also matchmakers, personally visiting everyone who arrived at Bath and then, especially at balls, seamlessly introducing them to each other. Indeed, were it not for Mr. King, who oversaw the Lower Assembly Rooms, Henry and Catherine may never have met at all: “the master of the ceremonies introduced [Catherine] to a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner;- his name was Tilney”! As for the “gold medals,” the Masters of Ceremony were given official medallions for their roles as Arbitres Elegantiarum or “Judges of Style”. Mr. Tyson’s medallion was engraved with the somber Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war, whom the city’s Roman founders associated with the hot springs. Mr. King’s medallion, meanwhile, featured the graceful Venus, goddess of beauty and love. Matthews considers Venus the “more proper” patroness for the city. While there isn’t much wisdom to be found among the fashionable follies of Bath, there is, he concedes, plenty of beauty! (See The New Bath Guide, 1799, p. 67).

This isn’t the only passage, by the way, in which Matthews invokes classical gods and goddesses. The poem abounds with such references. This was characteristic of the eighteenth-century “mock epic” style, which found humor in describing trivial events in a lofty tone. Seen another way, though, the Roman gods may have actually provided an appropriate parallel for Bath life. Despite their power and beauty, the Roman gods had terrible tempers, exploited their inferiors (mortals) for their own gratification, and were generally rather rotten to each other: not a far cry from General Tilney and his rakish elder son.

Evening

The Belles of the Ball

Image of “The Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms, Bath,” by Isaac Cruikshank, 1826 (Public Domain)

Having paraded the Crescent full two hours or more,

For our dinners, ‘tis usual to part about four,

In eating and dressing, employ ‘till near nine,

And then to the ball to repair it is time,

That scene of enchantment, so truly divine,

Where mortals, like angels, transcendently shine.

To attempt to describe it, I fear is in vain:

So much beauty on all sides, quite turns my weak brain.

But I’ll muster up courage, and banish my fears,

For who can be silent, when Witham appears?

In the minuet so graceful, who’ere sees her move

Must than marble be harder or else he must love.

When the Gubbins advance, arrayed with each grace,

You’d swear they were daughters of Aether’s soft race;

And Browne’s diamond eyes, armed with love-piercing darts,

Whenever they’re seen, wound a hundred fond hearts.

Ah, the public ball – the apex of Bath amusement, and a near-daily ritual for some Bath-goers. If, reading Northanger Abbey, it seemed to you as though Catherine was at some ball or other almost every night, you weren’t far off. There were four public balls a week during the Bath season, two at the Upper Assembly Rooms and two at the Lower Assembly Rooms. Each one consisted of two sets of dances: first the more precise minuets, then the livelier and less formal country dances, with a break for tea in between. Benches were set up in the ballroom for those who preferred to watch the dancing, and there was a room set aside for cards as well.

Who are the paragons who dazzle the company in this passage: Witham, the Gubbins’, and Browne? At first, we assumed Matthews had made them up. “Gubbins” in particular didn’t strike us as a plausible name, and we knew from elsewhere in the poem that Matthews delighted in the invention of ridiculous designations (“Lady Flutter,” “Miss Di-Puddle,” “Colonel Mushroom”). However, according to the Bath papers, a certain Hon. Miss Browne, daughter of Lady Browne, did visit Bath several times in the early nineties, and often led the minuets thanks to her high rank. And indeed, it turns out that a pair of sisters by the name of Gubbins also resided at Bath during the time. One, Honora, was a beauty and an accomplished singer, remembered at her death as the “accomplished and lovely Honora Gubbins, whose amiable disposition, vocal powers, and refined taste, were the theme of universal praise.” (The Athenaeum, 1807).

It is interesting to picture these long-forgotten belles of the ball alongside our own, humbler Catherine, who excited no “rapturous wonder, no eager inquiry” upon her debut in Bath. The Hon. Miss Browne and the accomplished and lovely Honora Gubbins may have ruled the ballroom in their day, but it is their unassuming fictional sister, with not much more than a good heart and a love of life to recommend her, who has lived on in the world’s imagination ever since. 

A Mad Dash for Tea

Image of “Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room,” by George Cruikshank, 1818 (public domain)

The minuets over, see the crowd how it presses,

What havoc is made on the ladies’ fine dresses!

Distinction of rank, in a moment is gone,

And all eager for tea in one mass now move on;

Even the peeresses’ selves, for whom benches were kept,

Angry with the torrent, impetuous are swept;

And Mistress O’ Darby, the dealer in butter,

Now sweats by the side of the sweet Lady Flutter,

Who would certainly faint, but her senses so nice,

Are supported by smelling fat Alderman Spice;

Whilst his Worship’s white wig, almost smothers the face

Of her dainty young cousin, the dear Lady Grace.

The Countess of Pharo is forced to huddle

Between Doctor Squirt and his niece, Miss Di-Puddle;

Sir Stephen Newmarket, Sir Simon Profuse,

The Ladies St. Larum, and old Madam Goose;

For Commoners now so saucy are grown,

That Cabbage the tailor, Lady Tombstone,

The Duchess of Basset, and Marquis de Frieze

All bundle together in one loving squeeze.

One of the most memorable moments in a Bath ball was the transition from the first set of dances to tea. Matthews devotes about a tenth of his poem to those few chaotic minutes, and for good reason: they are comedic gold. If the minuet was a picture of Bath society at its best – a graceful display of beauty and breeding – the mad stampede to the tea room was Bath society at its hilarious worst.

The most immediate danger was simply that of being squashed. Even before the rush, it was hard enough navigating the jam-packed ballroom. Mrs. Allen and Catherine Morland are nearly “torn asunder” as they try to squeeze through, and Tobias Smollett’s Matthew Bramble contracts a sort of “sea-sickness” from the churning of the crowd (The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The imagery of waves and currents was common in descriptions of the crowds, perhaps a joke on the bathing sites the city was known for). But when the crowd reached the bottleneck of the tea-room door, all best were off. It was the fortunate lady who escaped with her sartorial integrity intact. Mrs. Allen, Catherine Morland’s chaperone in Bath, is relieved to have “preserved her gown from injury” during the tea-room rush, but few of the ladies in the “Adumbration”’s ball, we suspect, have been so lucky.

Image “The Circular Room, or a Squeeze at Carlton Palace,” by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1825 (image source: Birmingham Museum of Art). A woman faints at the far right.

Then there was the assault on the senses. Little as we see of the phenomenon in BBC period pieces, the Georgians sweat. When they crowded themselves into a poorly ventilated ballroom and danced vigorously for several hours under chandeliers of candles dripping hot wax, on polished wooden floors that trapped heat, they sweat all the more. And Matthews isn’t about to let us forget it: noblemen sweat (“Sir Simon Profuse”) and professional men sweat (“Dr. Squirt”); males sweat and females sweat (“Miss Di-Puddle”). And when they sweat, they smelled. Matthews’ limits himself to a light joke on the subject of stenches: the delicate Lady Flutter nearly faints in the presence of Mistress O’Darby, but rallies, as though by hartshorn, thanks to the even more pungent “Alderman Spice.” Other satirists were less restrained. Smollett’s Matthew Bramble offers this rather gruesome description of the smells of a Bath ball: 

Imagine to yourself a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank armpits, sweating feet, running sores and issues, plasters, ointments, and embrocations, hungary-water, spirit of lavender, assafoetida drops, musk, hartshorn, and sal volatile; besides a thousand frowsy steams, which I could not analyze. Such, O Dick! is the fragrant aether we breathe in the polite assemblies of Bath. (The Expedition of Humphry Clinker)

But Matthews hints at a larger danger in this scene as well: the danger of social mixing. To be sure, some mixing of the classes was part of the charm of Bath. As the 1796 edition of The New Bath Guide puts it, “Ceremony beyond the essential rules of politeness is totally exploded; every one mixes in the Rooms upon an equality.” During a ball, this vision would be fully realized. The flowing currents of the minuet would swirl the visitors together without excessive regard for station or birth. Exciting affairs of the heart would precipitate out of the joyful mixture. The magic certainly works for Catherine and Henry. She is the daughter of a middle-class clergyman in rural Wiltshire; he is the son of a fabulously wealthy landowner living eleven hours away. Their social circles are totally separate. Where is such to pair to meet, but at a public ball in Bath? As Matthews’ crowd squeezes through the doors to the tea-room, however, we get a very different picture of social mixing: duchesses and baronets quite literally colliding with tailors and merchants. The absurd competition for tea and personal space between Mistress O’Darby (who sells butter) and Lady Flutter is a particularly obvious affront to the British class system. Evidently, Mistress O’Darby’s awe and respect for nobility don’t go for much when refreshments are on the line!

Interestingly enough, it was just such an influx of lower-middle-class visitors that eventually drove the gentry and aristocracy out of Bath. We see a little of this snobbery already in Northanger Abbey, when General Tilney declares that there is “nothing to detain me longer in Bath” after two of his upper-crusty friends – a marquis and another general – fail to show up.

Tea Time

Photo of The tea room at the Upper Rooms, Bath (image credit: Charles DP Miller; under creative commons license)

Arrived at the tea room and compliments past,

Behold them sat down into parties at last:

But the tea-table-chat so fully is known,

‘Tis scarcely worthwhile by the Muse to be shown.

There’s such a damned noise and such a cursed clatter,

A bawling for sugar, for cream, and hot water,

None seem very anxious a long time to stay,

But just swallow their tea, and hasten away;

For the young ones, allured by the fiddle’s brisk notes,

Make their mothers and aunts near scald their old throats;

So many a character ‘scapes being dissected,

And Scandal, for once, is for dancing neglected.

After battling their way to the tea-room, Matthews’ ball-goers are finally seated, only for fresh commotions to break out as the guests clamor for their tea. While Matthews emphasizes the noisiness of the scene, the tea-drinking process was actually a rule-bound affair. To enter the tea-room, guests would have to pay an extra sixpence on top of the pricey seasonal subscription that granted them access to the balls. After paying this fee, women had yet another obstacle in acquiring refreshments: they could not eat without a man’s help. The food was generally set at a long table at one end of the room but women, for decorum’s sake, were not permitted to go up and get it. A man had to serve them. During Catherine’s first ball at Bath in Northanger Abbey, she and Mrs. Allen find themselves in this hungry predicament — in the tea-room but with no man to bring them anything. When a gentleman at their table finally notices them and makes an “offer of tea,” no wonder it is “thankfully accepted”!  But even with refreshments secured, tea at a Bath ball was hardly an opportunity for leisure or relaxed conversation. Matthews notes the way ball-goers “swallow their tea, and hasten away” and how the young people “[m]ake their mothers and aunts, near scald their old throats” trying to quickly return to some more intriguing or exciting aspect of the ball (usually the dancing). All in all, Matthews’ view is that tea at a Bath ball was something to be accomplished rather than enjoyed.

What about Austen? To be sure, during her first ball, Catherine mainly yawns her way through the tea break – with no one but Mrs. Allen and a transient, if polite, gentleman neighbor to talk to. But at her second ball, a certain Mr. Tilney changes the equation: the two converse happily through the entire tea break, and dance again when it is over. Tilney provides an escape for Catherine from the otherwise shallow “tea-table-chat”; in fact, the first words we hear from Henry in the novel are a mocking imitation of that chat:

I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.”

This is a sign that Henry both understands how tea-room conversations were done in Bath, and has the wit and originality to do them differently.

The Country Dances

Image 9

Country dance, of all others, best pleases the fair,

When the Belles and the Beaux so agreeably pair,

When each lovesick nymph may hear her dear swain,

In whispering murmurs, declare his sweet pain;

Where the sigh, and the smile, and the soft gentle squeeze,

All contribute the hearts of each other to ease;

Where no prudish aunts, through old-maidenly spite,

Can hinder these symptoms of youthful delight.

But stop, my rash pen, it is time you should cease;

‘Tis dangerous to dwell on such subjects as these.

For if, presumptuous, you venture to trace

In the maze of the dance, who moves with most grace,

You will find it a task, not so easy to tell:

It’s an art wherein beauties so many excel.

But yet, I should hold you not a little to blame,

Forgot you to mention the charming Miss Vane;

The Butlers and Hamilton, Vassal and Mays,

So justly entitled to share in your praise.

Rehydrated and refreshed, the Bath-ites hit the ballroom for one more round of dances! It is no surprise that the country dance “best pleases the fair” as it provides more of a chance to converse, or perhaps flirt, than other ballroom dances such as the minuet. This is because each couple spent a good part of the dance waiting for other couples to complete their movements, allowing for more conversation. Thus, while Catherine and Mr. Tilney have “little leisure for speaking” while dancing a minuet at their first meeting, they are able to have a complete, lively conversation during the country-dances at a later ball. But the country-dances certainly weren’t all talk! The hand-in-hand steps afforded moments of physical intimacy, too. All of which is to say, the “whispering murmurs” and the “soft gentle squeeze” that Matthews hints at here are both quite plausible. 

Matthews also gives us a taste of who might be enjoying the country-dances by singling out five names among the rest of the charming “beauties.” We believe that, as in his account of the minuets, he is referring to real women here. One Elizabeth Vassall, for example, daughter of the wealthy American landowner and loyalist John Vassall, resided in Bath during the early 1790s. But the more suggestive name is Hamilton. Could Matthews be referring to the dazzling Lady Emma Hamilton, best remembered today as the lover of Admiral Nelson, but already famous in the early 1790s for her high-profile affairs and stunning beauty? In the 1780s, she was the subject of a series of paintings by the great portrait artist George Romney, who also painted John Matthews and his wife. And she made a memorable appearance at Bath in 1791, during which she exhibited for the Duchess of Devonshire her “attitudes” – artistic poses meant to evoke characters and scenes from antiquity. But while Lady Hamilton may have been beautiful and graceful, but she was also a socially disruptive character who challenged Georgian notions of respectability and class. The English aristocracy sniffed at her mean origins and were shocked (or pretended to be shocked) by her affairs, even as they gaped at her portraits and devoured the papers for news of her doings. All in all, if the Lady Hamilton is present at Matthews’ ball, it instantly becomes a much spicier affair! 

The Card Room

Image of “Lady Godina’s Rout,” showing various shenanigans in a public card-room, by James Gillray, 1796 (©The Trustees of the British Museum)

But the ballroom’s so hot, ‘tis stifling to stay,

So now to the cardroom, let’s hasten away!

See old Mistress Macardo and Counsellor Gabble,

Young Colonel Mushroom and Alderman Dabble,

At whist down together most lovingly sit;

Was ever a party so happily met?

The first, who though toothless, her prayers never said;

A lawyer the next, who a brief never read;

The third, a field officer, just out of the cradle;

And the last, an old beast who lives but at table.

As the country dances heat up (literally), Matthews escorts us to the cooler air of the card room, where those disinclined to dance could play. He introduces us to a party playing whist, a four-player, trick-building game that, according to historian Daniel Pool, had something of a “stodgy” reputation in Austen’s time (see What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, p. 62-66). Playing largely in silence, a whist party in the card room would have seemed stodgy indeed compared to the spinning, hopping, chatting dancers next door. Nevertheless, in Bath, which attracted so many gouty invalids, seated entertainment was a necessity. Austen’s Mr. Allen heads straight for the card room as soon as he arrives at the Upper Rooms, and doesn’t emerge again until the ball is wrapping up. Hopefully he found a more engaging party there than the one Matthews describes! Among other non-entities, Matthews shows us a lawyer who has never read a brief and a colonel far too young for the rank: more proof of the emptiness of titles among so much of the English upper class.

To Bed

Map of Bath, c. 1780 (public domain)

Though much more of the rooms, the concerts, and play

‘Tis true (if he chose it), the Poet might say.

But as through one day of folly you’ve safely been led,

He’ll wish you good night and retire home to bed.

And so Matthews hits the hay after treating us to this “day of folly.” While he is pretty uniformly critical of Bath life – its vanity and pretentiousness, its overly packed ballrooms and possibly contaminated waters – one can’t help but wonder: did Matthews, in the end, actually like the place? 

On Richard Tyson’s official medallion as a Master of Ceremonies was a strange pairing: the visage of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, and beneath it, the cheeky inscription Dulce est desipere in Loco: “It is sweet to act foolish sometimes.” Wisdom and folly sharing the same medallion? It feels like a contradiction! But if so, it was one that suited late Georgian Bath. If you came to the city in a sour mood, determined to stand aloof, you’d have the pleasure of feeling superior and not much else. But if you came with a friendly sense of humor – able to laugh at the place and yet still join in the fun – then you might find that Bath still did have the power to refresh and renew. Wisdom in folly! John Matthews mocks the town, but given the detail of his descriptions, he clearly took full part in its pleasures as well. Henry Tilney makes fun of Bath dances… while in the very act of dancing, and dancing quite happily! And Catherine, while amused by Henry’s satire, doesn’t let it spoil for a moment her delight in the balls, the concerts, the operas, the walks: somehow the satire only makes them more fun! A lesson for life: sometimes the only people who “get the joke” are the ones willing to be part of it.

Questions to the Reader

Reader, we’re curious what you make of John Matthews’ take on late Georgian Bath? Are Matthews and Austen on a wavelength here? Or does the poem rather show us just how original Austen’s satire in Northanger Abbey was? We’re interested in your thoughts and insights!

A note of Thanks: The authors thank Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant for sharing their abundant knowledge of Georgian Bath; Latinist extraordinaire Dr. Thomas Hendrickson for helping with the Latin; and librarian Anna Levia for showing us the ropes of the Stanford Libraries.

by Brenda S. Cox

“Here, sir,” taking out his pocket book, “if you will do me the favor of casting your eye over these advertisements which I cut out myself . . .”—Mr. Parker in Sanditon

What did ladies carry in those beautiful little reticules? In Part 1 we looked at some of the items that author Candice Hern has collected. We began with the necessary items: a fan, a vinaigrette, and a coin purse. Then we added some optional items: a perfume étui (a little container for a perfume bottle) and a cosmetics case. What else might ladies have carried in their reticules?

Books

Candice says they carried books in their reticules! That sounds right up my alley. I often carry a book or my Kindle in my purse. But these were very specific kinds of books, made very small to fit in the reticule. Candice showed us two types, pocket books and almanacs.

Pocket Books

The pocket book, perhaps like Mr. Parker’s, was the Regency version of a Day-Timer®. It was about 3” by 5”, usually covered with leather. A foldover flap kept it closed in the reticule. Many publishers produced these, so apparently they were a popular item.

Each began with a title page and a foldout fashion plate. Most pages showed a week’s calendar on one page, opposite a page to list expenses for that week. The lady might list items she bought, losses at cards, and gifts to poor people. A tiny pencil would probably accompany the pocketbook.

Pocket books also included short stories, essays, poetry, and even games. I hope these ladies had good eyes!

This English Ladies Pocket Book was published in Birmingham in 1803. The foldout shows ladies in some interesting bonnets. The book also includes calendar pages, expense pages, and things to read.

Almanacks

Another book that might be in a ladies’ reticule was a miniature almanac (or, as they would have written it, almanack). These were published yearly from 1690 to 1885. You could buy them at stationers’ shops and give them as Christmas gifts. Or, your dressmaker or milliner might give you one if you were a regular customer, as companies today might give out calendars.

These almanacs were either 1 1/8” square, or 1 1/8” by 2 ¼”. They included pictures; calendars showing holidays, phases of the moon, etc.; lists of the Kings and Queens of England and the Lord Mayors and Sheriffs of London; and information about coins and currency.

By the way, do you know why phases of the moon were important? Most evening visiting was done when the moon was full, so there was enough light to travel in your carriage by night. For example, in Sense and Sensibility when Sir John Middleton wants to invite a lot of people over, he wasn’t able to because “it was moonlight and every body was full of engagements.” So the phases of the moon were part of people’s social planning.

This miniature almanac from 1788 shows phases of the moon, dates of holidays, the church calendar, and dates for terms at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The tiny almanac came in a lovely case of tooled and gilded leather, to protect it in the reticule.

What else might have been in a ladies’ reticule?

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending the first few days of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Way up in Upper Camden Place, near where the Elliots lived in Persuasion, Jane Tapley gave a fascinating talk called “Rummaging Through the Reticule.” She added many more ideas on what might have been in the reticule. Of course reticules were not just carried to parties and visits. They were also used for travel; perhaps they had larger ones for that purpose. Besides some of the items Candice showed, Jane Tapley suggested that the reticule might have included:

  • dressy shoes (silk, satin, or starched cotton), so they wouldn’t get dirty or scuffed on the way to and from the party
  • ostrich feather for your hat (so it didn’t blow away on the way)
  • a small chamber pot if the lady was traveling; they would use it in a coach under their skirts, then dump it through a trap door in the bottom of the coach! Or they might bring one going out to dinner. It could also be carried in your muff. It would have been about the size and shape of a gravy boat.
  • cutlery (silver or wood), including a spoon, probably silver, to be used all during your lifetime
  • a cup, fork, corkscrew, and a little pot for mustard, salt, or pepper, all in a small set for traveling or visits
  • traveling drinking cup made of horn or silver

When traveling, a lady might carry her own cutlery and even salt. Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox

  • a small case (or étui) specifically for sewing. It might include a needle case, scissors case, ivory bobbin winder, silver thimble, ivory pincushion, and a little penknife for cutting thread, plus a box of colored beads and a fine needle for beading. A small sewing kit might be called a huswife or a housewife.
  • little lead pencils or a writing set
  • a tiny book like The Merchant of Venice
  • a silhouette of your sweetheart

Little books were made small enough to carry in the reticule. A silhouette was a way to carry a picture with you. (Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox)

  • glasses or magnifying glasses
  • lorgnettes (folding glasses on a string, worn on a chain around the neck)

Glasses, embroidered handkerchiefs, and sewing supplies might also come in handy in your reticule. (Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox)

  • a half sovereign case that carried two half-sovereigns
  • potpourri or pomanders to keep away body odors
  • handkerchiefs with fine embroidery
  • invitations

Now, imagine that you’re going with Jane Austen to an evening party. What will you carry in your reticule, out of these many options? Or, if you’re traveling with her to another town, what would you carry then?

To find out more about her and her work, look for her on:

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To see more of her lovely collections, go to her Regency Collections.

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

by Brenda S. Cox

When Emma encountered Mrs. Elton visiting Jane Fairfax, “she saw [Mrs. Elton] with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side,”—Emma, Volume 3, chapter 16, Cambridge edition

If you’ve ever made yourself a Jane Austen-era costume, you know that a reticule is an essential accessory. These lovely small purses hung by a drawstring from the lady’s wrist.

In previous generations, wide skirts had allowed for two huge pockets, one on each hip, to hold essential items. But with the slim new Regency style, there was no longer room for pockets. So the pockets were externalized and made small and beautiful.

If you have a reticule, you realize that it doesn’t hold nearly as much as a modern purse. Nowadays we might put our phone and a credit card, driver’s license, and little cash in the reticule. But what did Jane Austen’s ladies carry in theirs?

Candice Hern recently gave three lovely presentations for the JASNA AGM*. She showed her collection of items an Austen-era lady might have carried in her reticule. First, she pointed out that Jane Austen would probably not have used the word reticule! This little purse was more often called a ridicule.  This was the word used in ladies’ magazines of the time. That’s why, in the quote above from the original 1816 edition of Emma, Mrs. Elton has a purple and gold ridicule, not a reticule.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists sources calling it a ridicule from 1799 to 1999, and sources calling it a reticule from 1801 to 2004. So the terms were used interchangeably for a long time. Both words apparently came from the French word réticule for a small handbag. That word came from the Latin rēticulum for a small meshwork bag. Ridicule may have been a pun on the French word, though no one seems to know for sure.

The only time Jane Austen mentions a reticule, or ridicule, is in the above passage from Emma. Mrs. Elton slips a letter into her ridicule, which is, of course, a showy purple and gold one. Austen may have purposely chosen the form ridicule because Mrs. Elton is so often ridiculous! But modern versions usually change it to reticule.

So, we know that reticules could be used to carry letters. The Cambridge edition of Emma tells me that reticules might also hold handkerchiefs, snuff boxes, or sweets. However, snuff boxes seem to have been a gentleman’s item, so I doubt ladies would have often carried them. (Though some ladies did take snuff, though not as widely as men did.)

Candice Hern tells us that Regency reticules might range from only two inches long up to about ten inches long. So everything that ladies carried began to be made smaller. This created some lovely, tiny treasures.

Here are some of the items Candice showed us, with photos she kindly provided from her collection:

Reticule Essentials: the Fan, the Coin Purse, and the Vinaigrette

Fans

For hot evenings in the “crush” of a crowded ball or party, women carried fans. In Austen’s novels, she says Catherine Morland carried a fan at a dance. At Fanny Price’s ball, it seems her brother fanned her with his partner’s fan. Austen talks about her own “white fan” in a letter of Jan. 8, 1799.

Before and after this period, fans were about 10-12 inches long. (This is the length of the fan sticks; the open fan would be almost twice that in width.) But, to fit in the reticule, fans were made smaller, only about 7 inches long. They were most often made from ivory. Some were pierced with a tiny jeweler’s saw, to give a lacy effect. This was called brisé (pronounced bree-ZAY). Here are two of Candice’s (and my) favorites:

This gorgeous brisé fan is made of mother-of-pearl. It would shine and sparkle in a candlelit ballroom. The guard sticks, at each end of the fan, are made of faceted and polished steel. It also sparkles like jewels. Each stick is pierced identically, but the sticks are placed in alternating directions to form a pattern. c. 1810-1815.

The top section of this fan is painted rather than pierced. The birds and butterflies are made of real feathers. The flowers were created with tiny pieces of velvet.

On the lower part, sticks of three different pierced patterns are arranged to form a more complex pattern. The sticks are 6 ½” long. c. 1810-1820, or earlier.

For more lovely fans, see Candice’s website.

Coin Purses

Regency women didn’t have wallets like we carry today. In small reticules, they may have carried loose coins. But in larger reticules they kept coins in a coin purse so they could find them easily. Ladies usually made these purses, which might be beaded, knitted, or netted. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley marvels at the accomplishments of young ladies, who can all “net purses.”

Some coin purses closed with drawstrings, while others had a metal closure at the top. The closure might be made of pinchbeck—a cheap metal alloy that looks golden—or other metals. Ladies also made coin purses for men. Austen’s favorite poet, William Cowper, wrote a poem thanking his cousin for making him a network purse. Gentlemen’s purses were sometimes called miser’s purses.

A lady probably bought the sterling silver frame (dated 1816) for this coin purse, then netted it with pink and silver metallic thread. It is 3 ¾” long, plus the tassel.

Vinaigrettes

If a woman began to swoon, in an airless room or when she learned something unpleasant, a vinaigrette was pulled out of a reticule and waved under her nose. These tiny metal boxes held a sponge soaked in vinegar and perfumed oils, with a grille over the sponge to let out the fumes. The grille might be dotted with holes, or might be pierced in a lovely design. Vinaigrettes were made of various materials and in many shapes and designs; those in Candice’s collection are silver.

The sponge might alternatively be soaked in something sweet-smelling, like rose water or lavender water. Many places in the Regency era stank, and a sweet smell could help the lady tolerate them.

Austen doesn’t mention vinaigrettes, but she does mention smelling salts, which were used similarly. Candice thinks these salts would actually have been a solution in vinegar, kept in a vinaigrette.

Regency vinaigrettes were tiny and delicate; Candice’s range from ½” across to 1 ¾” across.

This vinaigrette is made of silver but gilded inside, so the vinegar did not discolor the silver. It still contained a ratty sponge when Candice bought it. It could be carried in a reticule, or, with the metal ring, attached to a chatelaine: chains used for hanging things to a woman’s belt. Marked 1802, made in Birmingham.

Other Items That Might be Carried in a Reticule: Perfumes and Cosmetics

Perfume étuis

Perfume also counteracted bad smells. In Austen’s age, when bathing was not very common, perfumes were essential. However, perfume bottles were breakable, easily spilled, and too large to carry in a reticule.

So a lady would carry a perfume étui (pronounced ay-twee), a tiny container that could hold a glass vial of perfume and be fastened tightly shut. (Other types of étuis were used to carry sewing materials, writing materials, eating utensils, and other items; the word is French for any portable case.)

Perfume étuis were made of enamel, metal, tortoiseshell, shagreen, or other materials. Shagreen was a cheap option. It was shark’s skin, usually dyed green, with a knobbly texture. Shagreen étuis were probably used by middle-class women, while upper-class women used more expensive materials.

This painted enamel étui with brass fittings is about 2 ½” high. It held a tiny glass bottle of perfume with a screw-on metal top. 1760s to 1780s.

This shagreen étui is only 1 ¾” tall. It holds two tiny bottles of scent, so the lady can choose which she wants to use.

Cosmetic Cases

Some ladies also carried small cosmetic cases in their reticules. These were similar to today’s compacts. When open, the top was a polished mirror, and the bottom might contain rouge and/or lip color, and an applicator.

This 2 ½” wide cosmetic case still had traces of rouge in it when Candice bought it. The applicator brush is made of ivory. The outside of this case is shagreen (dyed shark skin), with silver decoration. 1770s or 1780s.

Next time, in Part 2, we’ll look at some other fun items a woman might have carried in her reticule. What else do you guess a lady might have carried?

*JASNA AGM—the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, which this year was held online in October.

Candice Hern writes Regency-era novels.

To find out more about her and her work, look for her on:

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Regency World

To see more of her lovely collections, go to her Regency Collections.

Links in the article above take you to Candice’s articles about specific items.

All images courtesy of Candice Hern, used by permission.

For more information, see also:

Fans: Essential Accessories, including the language of the fan

Reticule: The Regency Purse

A Fashionable Accessory

The Reticule and Purse

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

IDress in the Age of Jane Austennquiring readers, Today is one of celebration for those of us who honor Christ’s birth. This is a year of challenge for so many in our communities whose jobs and families have been affected by COVID-19. Inspired by the Georgians in times past, I do what I can in my community and for those in need. Austen describes this community/family/friend caring so well in her novels, a theme that Rachel Dodge covered in a recent post , and Brenda Cox in a post entitled “Thankfulness in Jane Austen’s Novels.”

Charity and the sharing of bounty with the less fortunate was an appropriately pious response to the season.” — Hilary Davidson

One book I purchased this year was written by Hilary Davidson entitled Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. Yale Books offers a blog post with information from this book entitled “A Jane Austen Christmas.” Enjoy!

Image of Wool cape, last third of the eighteenth century, The Met Museum, New York. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1969.

Wool cape, Met Museum 

The team of Jane Austen’s World blog: Vic Sanborn, Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox.

Other Christmas posts on this blog: Click here to view many choices!

 

Inquiring readers, I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was fourteen years old. The novel was a Christmas gift from my parents. One of the first Christmas songs this Dutch girl learned in English was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a song that was popularized in an arrangement by Frederic Austin in 1909. We all know the tune, but do we know the words as Jane Austen wrote them? After singing the song, please stay to answer a few questions.–Enjoy & Merry Christmas! Vic

Image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, 1995[Verse 1]

On the first day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 2]

Image of Lizzy and Jane Bennet from Jennifer Ehle BlogspotOn the second day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 3]

Pride_and_Prejudice_CH_19-collins proposalOn the third day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 4]

Hugh Thomson illustration of Mr. Bingley entering the Meryton Assembly Ball with his guestsOn the fourth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 5]

Hugh Thomson image of the five Bennet girlsOn the fifth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 6]

Image of Mary Crawford playing harp-C.E.BrockOn the sixth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 7]

On the seventh day of ChristImage of the Colinses visiting Lady Catherine de Bourg, 1995 Pride and Prejudice filmmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 8]

Image of Adrian Lucas as Mr. Bingley, 1995 P&POn the eighth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 9]

On the ninth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to meQuadrille_RegencyW
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 10]

Image of Lydia and Mr. Wickham eloping-she happy, he bored, P&P 1995On the tenth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 11]

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet falling for Mr. Darcy at Pemberley, 1995 film of Pride and PrejudiceOn the eleventh day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 12]

LadyCatherine_&_ElisabethOn the twelfth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
L C’s condescensions
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

________________

Now, Gentle Readers, I shall pose a few questions. How do you respond to Pride and Prejudice? How are you disposed towards a few characters? (Your opinions are most welcome.) As you can see, I favor the 1995 Firth/Ehle film version of P&P! So, don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

  1. L C’s condescension:  In your estimation, what is the most memorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s condescending statement?
  2. Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening: What events changed Elizabeth’s attitude towards Mr. Darcy? Which one stands out in your mind?
  3. Lydia eloping: How old was Lydia when she ran off with Mr. Wickham? What, in her naivete, did she hope her life would have been like with him, away from her family?
  4. Nine ladies dancing: Think of the ladies Austen mentioned in Pride and Prejudice. Which women would have most likely danced at the Netherfield Ball?
  5. Eight charms of Wickham: Can you name Mr. Wickham’s charms, be they true or false, as Austen described them?
  6. Seven days at Hunsford: How did Lizzy spend her days at Hunsford? What memorable scenes occurred during this time?
  7. Six accomplished women: Who first mentioned six accomplished women? How did the conversation come up and where?
  8. Please name all the five single girls and their primary characteristic (in your opinion).
  9. Four Bingley dances: This phrase refers to an event at the beginning of the novel.
  10. Three various suitors: Name all the suitors you can think of in the novel. Who had three? Who are they?
  11. Two wise Bennet girls: Who are they? How would you personally describe them?
  12. A HERO named Mister Darcy! Why are we so mesmerized by Austen’s most memorable hero? What are the characteristics that make him stand out to you?

After this C.E. Brock composite image of Pride and Prejudice, I’ve added my own observations to a few of the questions. Thank you for participating. May you have a lovely holiday season. Please love and take care of each other in your family, your neighbors, and your community.

1024px-Scenes_from_Pride_and_Prejudice

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

This time of year—especially during 2020—many people are in need of comfort and compassion. I find it particularly touching that Jane Austen’s own timeless novels and prayers provide messages of hope that never seem to fade or wear out.

When Marianne Dashwood falls ill in Sense and Sensibility, she is “afflicted” in both body and heart. She doesn’t just need the physical “pangs of disease” assuaged; she needs comfort for her broken spirit. Sick at heart, she also lies sick in bed. It is during these difficult days that we see family members and friends coming to her aid to provide the love and care she needs.

First, Elinor spends her days “attending and nursing” Marianne and “carefully administering the cordials prescribed” (ch. 43). When Marianne worsens on the evening of the third day, Elinor notices her altered condition and stays with Marianne while Mrs. Jennings goes to bed, “knowing nothing of any change in the patient.” Anxious to see Marianne rest quietly, she resolves “to sit with her” as she sleeps. When Marianne’s pulse becomes “lower and quicker than ever,” and she suffers hours of “sleepless pain and delirium,” Elinor anxiously calls for the apothecary, sends Colonel Brandon for her mother, and never leaves her bedside.

Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield)

This example of sisterly love is similar to the type of care Jane and Cassandra Austen provided for their own family members when they were unwell. When their brother Henry became suddenly and severely ill during one of Jane’s visits to him in London, Jane and Cassandra both helped to nurse him. Caroline Austen provides this detail in her memoir, My Aunt Jane: “Aunt Cass. stayed on nearly a month, and Aunt Jane remained some weeks longer, to nurse the convalescent.” And when Jane herself fell ill, Cassandra, along with Mrs. Mary Austen (née Lloyd), to “take a share in the necessary attendance,” went with her and cared for her in Winchester.

Even once Marianne begins to improve, Elinor stays by her side, “with little intermission . . . calming every fear, satisfying every inquiry of her enfeebled spirits, supplying every succour, and watching almost every look and every breath” (ch. 43). It is only when Elinor is absolutely sure that Marianne is peaceful and sleeping soundly that she can “silence every doubt” and finally quit her post.

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Mrs. Jennings, “with a kindness of heart which made Elinor really love her,” also provides as much comfort and practical help as she can during Marianne’s illness: She sends for the Palmers’ apothecary and endeavors, “by her own attentive care, to supply to her the place of the mother she had taken her from.” Elinor quickly finds Mrs. Jennings “on every occasion a most willing and active helpmate, desirous to share in all her fatigues, and often by her better experience in nursing, of material use.”

 The morning after Marianne’s long, difficult night, Mrs. Jennings greets Elinor “[w]ith strong concern, and with many reproaches for not being called to their aid.” Austen tells us “[h]er heart was really grieved.” She is “struck” with concern for Marianne’s life, one who “had been for three months her companion, was still under her care, and . . . was known to have been greatly injured, and long unhappy.” She imagines the “distress” Elinor feels and is awakened to the fact that Marianne must be to Mrs. Dashwood what her own daughter Charlotte is to her: and “her sympathy in HER sufferings was very sincere.”

Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) and Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman)

Finally, Colonel Brandon helps the Dashwood family by staying close at all times and volunteering to bring Mrs. Dashwood to town when Marianne becomes delirious and asks for her mother. When Elinor goes downstairs to the drawing room to ask his advice, “her difficulties were instantly obviated, for with a readiness that seemed to speak the occasion, and the service pre-arranged in his mind, he offered himself as the messenger who should fetch Mrs. Dashwood.”

The entire Dashwood family is greatly relieved by Colonel Brandon’s help:

“The comfort of such a friend at that moment as Colonel Brandon—or such a companion for her mother,—how gratefully was it felt!—a companion whose judgment would guide, whose attendance must relieve, and whose friendship might soothe her!—as far as the shock of such a summons COULD be lessened to her, his presence, his manners, his assistance, would lessen it.”

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

Again, during Marianne’s recovery, Colonel Brandon is never far away. He stays in town, visits often, and only returns home when Marianne is well enough to travel back to Barton Cottage with her family.

True to Jane Austen’s style, this portion of the novel also provides us with a message of hope. It’s not just that Marianne’s health improves; it’s also the idea that the long night of anxious waiting doesn’t last forever. That dark hour for Elinor and Marianne does pass. A new day dawns, their mother arrives, and Marianne heals in body and in spirit. Back at Barton Cottage, she once again finds great delight in music and books, walks and nature. And she is eventually able to move forward, finding a deeper, truer love in her marriage to Colonel Brandon than she previously thought possible.

As we enter into this holiday season, perhaps we can find inspiration and hope in the example set by Austen and her characters. Though things look a lot different this year for many of us, we can still provide comfort and compassion in a variety of creative ways. Like Elinor, we can check in and keep careful watch over those who are vulnerable or lonely. Like Mrs. Jennings, we can sympathize and provide for others with genuine concern and generosity. Or, like Colonel Brandon, we can anticipate needs and jump in to help wherever we’re needed.

This year more than ever, we have the opportunity to help those around us, provide care where needed, and extend small kindnesses. We can write, we can call, and we can meet online. We can send gifts and treats and little surprises. And we can share with others those things which give us the most comfort—whether it be a handwritten card, a prayer, a poem, a verse, a piece of music, a handmade gift, or a copy of one of Austen’s beautiful novels.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She is 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. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

I wish you a cheerful and at times even a Merry Christmas.” — Jane Austen

While Christmas festivities were not as commercial as they were during Queen Victoria’s and our time, families in Jane Austen’s era celebrated the holiday with much merriment, many gatherings and parties, and some gift giving. Houses were decorated with evergreens and kissing boughs made of holly, ivy, and mistletoe, although these greens were not brought in until Christmas Eve. On the same night, a large yule log was ceremoniously brought into the house, with the hope that it would last for the rest of the holiday season.

Celebrations lasted from December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, when presents were given, to January 6th , Twelfth Night. On December 25th people attended church service, then ate Christmas dinner. December 26th was known as Boxing Day, when staff and servants were given Christmas boxes and that day off by their benefactors.

The season ended the night of January 5th , the last day of Christmastide, with a Twelfth Night party filled with games and more partying. The revelers ate traditional foods, such as a slice of the elaborately decorated Twelfth Cake, that was topped with enough sugar, sugar figures, and sugar piping to cause a diabetic coma in a horse. (I might have exaggerated slightly.) After the revelers finished partying, superstition dictated that all decorations in the house be taken down and burned, else bad luck would befall the household for the year.

Certain foods marked the season.

Just at this time these shops are filled with large plum-cakes, which are crusted over with sugar, and ornamented in every possible way. These are for the festival of the kings, it being part of an Englishman’s religion to eat plum-cake on this day, and to have pies at Christmas made of meat and plums.” – p. 63, Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text written by English poet Robert Southey as a fictitious Spanish tourist visiting England.

Cartoon of Farmer Giles's Establishment: Christmas Day-1800.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment: Christmas Day-1800. Science Museum Group Collection

In “A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes,” Joanne Major describes the typical foods that were served: Christmas pudding, which started out as plum porridge or pottage (and is also known as plum or figgy pudding); sweet and savory mince pies; Christmas cake; and a savory Yorkshire Christmas-Pie. She includes the following quote in her article:

Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808

At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!

The following description confirms Robert Southey’s observation that there was no food or protein an Englishman wouldn’t eat, including animals and seafood from all parts of the world—turtles from the West Indies, curry powder from India, hams from Portugal, reindeer’s tongues from Lapland, caviar from Russia; sausages, maccaroni, and oil from Italy, which also provided olives along with France and Spain; cheeses from Switzerland; fish from Scotland; mutton from Wales; and game from France, Norway, or Russia (p 60, Mr. Rowlandson’s England). In his observations, Southey remarked that an Englishman would hunt and shoot anything that could be stuck in a pot.

Gout, a prevalent disease of the well-to-do Georgian, was the painful result of an excessive and repeated ingestion of large quantities of protein and alcohol. The large gout-inducing Christmas pie described by Earl Grosvenor was most likely a version of the Yorkshire Christmas-Pie described by Hannah Glasse in her influential cookery book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

To Make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie

“FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowls then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it, will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will bake at least four hours. This crust will take a bushel of flour. In this chapter you will see how to make it. These pies are often sent to London in a box, as presents; therefore, the walls must be well built.”

A post entitled “Yorkshire Christmas Pye” in Epicurus describes how tough it was in 2014 to recreate an 18th Century pie. Back then, teams of cooks would work for days to accomplish the feat. According to the chef and author, not even modern appliances could compete with those bygone techniques. The modern pie, from assembly (8 ½ hrs), to baking (4 hrs), to its presentation at the table, took 12 ½ hours in total.

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page. Photos of the exterior and interior of the Pye made by Ivan Day, whose scrumptuous recreation of Georgian recipes are works of art: Food History Jottings

The Master Chef modified Glasse’s recipe and used the boned meat of the following animals: turkey, goose, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, grouse, and hare. With the added lard in the crust and butter in the filling, I imagine the diner would probably have lacked the energy to push off from the table.

So, inquiring reader, if you are interested in recreating this English pye recipe for Christmas, I encourage you to start dieting on water and vegetables, and exercising on the hour every waking hour to make room for this artery clogging, but very tasty specialty!

“Thank you for the Christmas Cake” was written as a poem by Helen Maria Williams (Read by Tom O’Bedlam)

Patient readers: I apologize for the messy look of the resources list sitting below. The new WordPress “blocks” are wreaking havoc with my ability to publish material on this blog nicely. Obviously I have not learned this “improved” design adequately. I spend more hours fixing problems than writing the article. I assure you, neither Rachel nor Brenda are having this problem. I’ll get the hang of things soon…(I hope.) My comment is this: what was wrong with the old design and, why, if one chooses the classic mode do the blocks keep jumping to the new mode? I’m irked. This is irksome!

Resources:
  • Some Georgian Christmas Fare!,” December 16, 2011,
    Julie Day, Countryhousereader Blog.
    Great information on Christmas food served at an English
    country house.
    Includes information from
    Bills of Fare for Christmas feasting, 1805 and the suggested meal courses.
  • Christmas: Georgian Style! From Norfolk Tales, Myths & More! This rich source and fascinating blog provides detailed information on a Georgian Christmas in this post.
  • Twelfth Night Cake, British Food and History, January 5, 2019.
    Detailed account of recipes used on that final Christmastide night.
  • The Englishman’s Plum Pudding, History Today, Maggie Black, Volume 31, Issue 12, December 1981. Includes a history of the British Christmas pudding.
  • Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text from Robert Southey,
    Illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson.
    Southey, Robert,
    ISBN 10: 0907462774, Published by Antique Collectors Club Ltd, 1985.
    I loved this book so much (I read it online at the Internet Archive) that I ordered my own copy.
  • Letters from England, Volume 1 (of 3), by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella.
    This link provides the online text on Project Gutenberg of Robert Southey’s
    first volume, written as a Spanish traveler.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61122/61122-h/61122-h.htm

Other Christmas posts on this blog:

Inquiring readers, Susannah Fullerton lives in Australia, a land Down Under, which at this moment is experiencing spring, that blessed season. Recent articles on this blog have referred to her book, “Jane Austen & Crime,” first published in 2004. Susannah presents yet more historical information from her knowledge of this era. Much of the information in this post was new to me.

On a hot Australian summer morning in February, 1844, a man was led forth, closely guarded, from the impressive gates of Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, but already 10,000 people had gathered in the public square in front of the prison, eager to watch the last moments of the condemned man. He was praying as he walked and “appeared to be deeply sensible of the awful position in which he stood. A dark and frowning eternity began to press itself with fearful force upon his mind, while his apparently sincere cries for mercy became more and more earnest as the tragic scene drew on.” He was given a chance to speak some last words to the two clergymen who were present, and then he mounted the scaffold. The noose was placed around his neck, and the man “was launched into another world”.  Church bells tolled his passing nearby. The huge crowd, which included women and children, watched silently, awed by the solemnity of the spectacle and, after the body was cut down and removed to within the prison, they quietly walked away. The event was widely reported the next day in Sydney newspapers, so those who had been unable to attend, could read all about it there.

Image of A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

Jane Austen had died more than 25 years before this horrid event. What possible connection could there be between this man, and the great novelist? Well, his name was John Knatchbull and he was the half-brother of the Edward Knatchbull who married Jane Austen’s favourite niece Fanny Austen Knight. Edward and John’s father, Sir Edward Knatchbull, had twenty children by his three different wives.  Fanny’s family and the Knatchbull family, also from Kent, had known each other for some years before her marriage with Edward united them, and it is quite possible that Jane could have heard something of the ‘difficult’ son of the family. 

John Knatchbull was probably born in 1793 (he was baptized in January of that year) in Kent. As a schoolboy he displayed “vicious inclinations” and when he joined the Navy, he soon found himself treated with contempt by fellow officers, and in financial difficulties. To pay what he owed, he indulged in petty frauds and in 1824 he was tried for the theft of two sovereigns and a blank cheque form. That was enough in value to see him hanged in England, but the judge was lenient on the young man and instead sent him to Botany Bay, the dumping ground for England’s unwanted criminals. John Knatchbull was sentenced to remain in Australia for 14 years before being permitted to return to England. His Kentish family was relieved to be rid of him.

Image of John Knatchbull

The family black sheep failed to behave any better once he was in Australia. In 1831 he was sentenced to death for forgery. But once more the sentence was commuted, this time to seven years of penal servitude on Norfolk Island, about the grimmest place a convict could be sent. In his time on Norfolk Island John took part in two mutinies and tried to poison with arsenic the food prepared for the guards. However, by 1839 he was back in Sydney. In 1844 John Knatchbull was planning to marry, but he needed money. Returning to his brutal ways, he stole from a shopkeeper Ellen Jamieson, then killed her by hacking at her skull with a tomahawk. Her two children were left orphaned and her murderer, who tried to make a plea of insanity, was described by the judge as “a wretch of the most abominable description”.  This time there was no leniency and John Knatchbull was sentenced to hang. Darlinghurst Gaol is still there today (though an art college, not a prison, now does business behind its high stone walls). The square where the 1844 hanging occurred is named Green Square, not for the colour of the grass that grows there but because Mr Green was the name of the hangman.

Image of the Gates of Darlinghurst Gaol

Had Jane Austen still been alive, no doubt she and Fanny would have discussed the shameful story and its horrific outcome. Both women were aware that another member of their family could also have ended up in the Antipodes. Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot had been at serious risk of a trip to Botany Bay, when she was accused of shop-lifting in Bath in 1799. Incarcerated for some months in Ilchester Gaol, Mrs Leigh Perrot had defended herself vigorously and, at her trial, she was acquitted. However, she knew a journey to Australia was highly probable and made plans that her husband James would accompany her if she was sent there. The entire Austen family must, at this worrying time, have speculated about what life in the colony would be like for their relations.

Jane Austen was interested in prisons. In 1813 she visited Canterbury Gaol with her brother Edward, who had to visit the institution as part of his duties as a magistrate. This was a most unusual thing for a Regency lady to do. My book Jane Austen and Crime explains what sort of institution she saw there. Jane Austen’s interest in punishment and imprisonment went into her next novel, Mansfield Park, a novel that is rich in prison imagery and a book that examines various types of imprisonment in its themes.

 

 

Photo of the gaol in Canterbury visited by Jane AustenThe gaol in Canterbury, visited by Jane Austen

Anyone who lived in Britain’s Georgian era must have had a strong awareness of crimes and punishments. Hangings, time in the pillory, and other punishments were very public events. Trials were short and brutal, prisons were being much discussed and were undergoing huge changes, and yet some crimes such as smuggling and poaching were regarded much more leniently by the general public. I started to write my book on crimes in Jane Austen’s world and fiction when a bus on which I was travelling stopped by Darlinghurst Gaol and I began to reflect on the Knatchbull story and to wonder what actually constituted a crime in Austen’s day? Was elopement to Gretna Green a crime? What about Maria’s adultery with Henry Crawford – how did the law regard such behaviour? Which of Jane Austen’s characters commit hanging offences, and how does her juvenilia reflect her interest in criminal activity? Which of her characters work as magistrates, who are the lawyers in her fiction, and how did she regard such crimes as duelling and gambling? The result of that moment on a bus was, some years later, my book. Claire Tomalin was kind enough to describe it as “essential reading for every Janeite”. I found it fascinating to see Jane Austen’s world and fiction through the lens of crime – I hope you enjoy and learn from it too.

Photo of Susannah FullertonAbout Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia: Susannah Fullerton is a Canadian-born Australian author and literary historian. She has been president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia since 1996, which is the largest literary society in Australia.

Image of the book cover of Jane Austen & Crime by Susannah FullertonIf you would like to buy Jane Austen and Crime, it is available from https://susannahfullerton.com.au/bookshop/ (signed copies on request) 

 

You are welcome to sign up to Susannah’s free monthly newsletter, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’. To sign up, email susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au and

your name will be entered in a draw ON DECEMBER 20TH to win one of the following prizes:
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullterton.
  • An additional copy of the book from Vic Sanborn for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
  • A 1-year subscription to ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, an exciting programme of zoom / video talks which will take you around the world with 12 fabulous novels.
  •  1 video talk of your choice from Susannah’s website
Please quote the password KNATCHBULL to have your name entered in the draw for prizes.
To join in the fun with ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, visit https://susannahfullerton.com.au/tea-with-a-book-addict/ 

Image of Tea with a Book Addict and travel the world with great books with Susannah Fullerton

Other posts by Susannah Fullerton on this blog:

Readers: all other posts by Susannah on this blog and her writings about Jane Austen can be found at this link that tag her name: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/susannah-fullerton/

 

By Brenda S. Cox

“Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our Lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.” — Jane Austen’s Prayers I

Jane Austen talks a lot about thankfulness. In all three of her prayers, she gives thanks to God and also prays to be made more grateful for all our blessings. In her novels and other writings, she uses some form of the words thanks or gratitude 722 times! That means each novel probably includes at least a hundred references to thankfulness.

Austen uses thanks in many ways. Surprisingly, she often uses gratitude in talking about marriage proposals and the development of love that leads to marriage.

Thanks for Asking!

An offer of marriage was expected to provoke gratitude, whether the woman said yes or no.

When Emma advises Harriet on how to refuse Robert Martin, she says that Harriet will know how to write “such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires.” (Italics are added, throughout these quotes.) Obviously, propriety required that if a man asked a woman to marry him, she should thank him.

Even if the proposal was unwanted, the woman had to say thank you. Elizabeth Bennet tries to avoid Mr. Collins’s proposal, but still, when he asks, she has to say:

Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me.”

When he insists, she says, “I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible.” Even though she doesn’t want his proposal, she is obligated to thank him for it.

Even for a proposal from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennet had to express gratitude.

There is one exception, though, which might have shocked the original readers.

When Darcy proposes the first time, Elizabeth says to him,

“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly.”

Gratitude was an obligation; the woman was obliged to feel grateful that a man liked her enough to ask her to marry him. But she is so angry at his words, and so prejudiced against his character, that she just can’t thank him for his proposal.

Of course, she soon changes her mind. After she reads his letter, we find that,  “his attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect.” What a switch!

Once Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, her attitude changes from ingratitude to gratitude.

And it continues. When at Pemberley, after talking to Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth “thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before.”

First Comes Gratitude, Then Love and Marriage

Elizabeth’s gratitude, of course, led eventually to love.

Charlotte Lucas had told Elizabeth earlier on in Pride and Prejudice, “There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.”

In other words, the boy likes the girl. She starts to like him back, and shows that she prefers him to other boys. He is “grateful” for that, so he likes her even more. Then she likes him more because he shows he likes her. And so on. This, my friends, is Jane Austen’s theory of how love develops. We see it again and again in her novels.

First, think about this question: For which of Jane Austen’s characters was gratitude the beginning of falling in love?

The obvious ones are Elizabeth Bennet and Henry Tilney. We’ll come back to them later.

Fanny Price

But how about Fanny Price?

Early in Mansfield Park, Edmund shows kindness to little Fanny. Then, “her countenance and a few artless words fully conveyed all their gratitude and delight, and her cousin began to find her an interesting object.”

Fanny and Edmund’s relationship starts growing with gratitude—her gratitude to him awakens his interest in her. Further kindnesses lead to more gratitude—Fanny is by nature a very grateful person. Edmund’s love for her, brotherly at first, grows. It takes a long time, but Edmund finally realizes that the perfect woman for him is right in front of him!

Earlier, though, because gratitude leads to love, both Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram were convinced that Fanny would accept Henry Crawford out of gratitude. Mary tells Henry, “The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her . . . ask her to love you, and she will never have the heart to refuse.” Edmund tells Fanny, “I cannot suppose that you have not the wish to love him—the natural wish of gratitude.” However, Fanny’s gratitude toward Edmund is much greater than her gratitude toward Henry, and it is Edmund she loves.

Gratitude is not enough to cause Fanny Price to accept Henry Crawford.

Harriet Smith

In Emma, “Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition.” All Harriet’s loves are all based on gratitude. First, she is grateful to Robert Martin, who got her walnuts and brought in the shepherd’s son to sing for her. Then she is attracted to Mr. Elton, because Emma says he is attracted to her. Her next love is Mr. Knightley, who rescues her at the dance. She thinks of him with “gratitude, wonder, and veneration.” Of course, Emma thinks Harriet has fallen in love with Frank Churchill, out of gratitude to him for rescuing her from the gypsies. Then when Robert Martin proposes again, Harriet is so grateful that she immediately says yes, not waiting for anyone to dissuade her this time!

NOT Captain Benwick, though

In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is surprised that Benwick has fallen in love with Louisa Musgrove. Wentworth says, “Had it been the effect of gratitude, had he learnt to love her, because he believed her to be preferring him, it would have been another thing. But I have no reason to suppose it so. It seems, on the contrary, to have been a perfectly spontaneous, untaught feeling on his side, and this surprises me.” He is assuming that gratitude is the normal, most obvious reason for love. If it’s not there, that is unusual.

Also in Persuasion, William Elliot is excused for marrying a rich woman because she was “excessively in love with him . . . She sought him.” Gratitude was an obvious and acceptable reason for marriage.

Elizabeth and Darcy

For Elizabeth Bennet also, love begins with gratitude.

After she sees Darcy at Lambton, she lies awake trying to figure out how she feels about him: “But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude.–Gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him . . . Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude—for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed . . . She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him. . .”

Austen later explains, “If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty.” But, she says, if it is “unreasonable or unnatural” that love should come from gratitude and respect, rather than coming from simply seeing the other person, then “nothing can be said in her defence,” except that she had tried love at first sight with Wickham, and it had not gone well.

When Darcy proposes the second time (if you can call it a proposal), Elizabeth tells him her feelings are so different that she can “receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.” What a change from the first time!

Henry and Catherine

In Northanger Abbey, we find the same justification for love. When Henry Tilney proposes to Catherine Morland, they both know she already loves him. He is now “sincerely attached to her,” but “his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude.” Knowing that she was partial to him “had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” Austen adds, “It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.”

Henry Tilney’s love for Catherine begins with gratitude, because she thinks highly of him.

Apparently for Jane Austen, gratitude at being loved by someone else was the best first step toward falling in love yourself.

Gratitude to God for the Engagement

Both Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse also express gratitude after they are engaged. But now they are expressing it to God, though we might not recognize what they are doing.

The word serious in Austen’s time often signalled something religious. According to Stuart Tave’s A Few Words of Jane Austen, serious reflection or meditation actually meant prayer.

After Anne Elliot accepts Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion, she needs “An interval of meditation, serious and grateful.” So, “she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.” This serious, grateful meditation means that Anne is thanking God for finally bringing her and Captain Wentworth back together.

Emma Woodhouse gets engaged, but she’s still worried about Harriet. However, once she heard that Harriet was also engaged, “She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational. . . . The joy, the gratitude, the exquisite delight of her sensations may be imagined. . . . Serious she was, very serious in her thankfulness, and in her resolutions; and yet there was no preventing a laugh, sometimes in the very midst of them.” Have you wondered how she could be both serious and laughing? Serious tells us that her focus is on God. She is rejoicing and thanking God for bringing both herself and Harriet together with the men they loved.

So, the next time you receive a marriage proposal, be sure to tell the person “Thank you” before you answer. And if you decide to say “Yes,” you may want to thank God as well!

Thankfulness

If you want to think more about thankfulness, and its place in some of our favorite classics, I recommend both of Rachel Dodge’s lovely devotional books:

Praying With Jane, and

The Anne of Green Gables Devotional, which is brand-new.

Each includes gratitude as well as other valuable themes we can apply to our lives. And both would make great Christmas presents! Rachel Dodge, of course, writes regularly for Jane Austen’s World.

If you want more ideas for Austen-themed Christmas gifts, you might want to check out my post on Jane Austen Christmas Presents.

Austen’s novels are full of examples of gratitude and ingratitude. These were important issues for her. Who do you think gives the best example of gratitude, or ingratitude, in Austen’s novels?

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

The JASNA AGM recently closed its workshops to online viewing. It was held virtually in early October. One workshop that resonated with me was Professor Theresa Kenney’s discussion of Reginald De Courcy as the hero in Lady Susan, an epistolary novel written by Jane Austen in 1794-95, when she was 19 to 20 years of age. I had the pleasure of viewing some pages of the manuscript during the exhibit about Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy in 2009 at The Morgan Library in New York. It was the first time that I saw Jane’s handwriting on a page close up and I felt as thrilled as a teenage groupie seeing her heart throb idol in person. As soon as I returned home I read the novel.

Seven years later, two friends and I saw “Love and Friendship,” in which Kate Beckinsale played the conniving Lady Susan Vernon. Needless to say, after viewing Professor Kenney’s AGM presentation, I rewatched the film and was struck by its faithfulness to Austen’s novella. It helped that the script took advantage of entire swaths of Austen’s dialogue in letters written by the main characters.

Introduction:

Professor Kenney in a talk entitled “Abjuring All Future Attachments: Concluding Lady Susan” spoke about the youthful Austen’s experimentation with Reginald as the hero. His status is not at first obvious. We know about him largely through the strong women swirling around his life and who write about him: his sister, Catherine Vernon; his mother, Lady De Courcy; Catherine’s widowed sister-in-law, Lady Susan Vernon; and Lady S’s confidant, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. These main characters reveal much about themselves as they write their true opinions of others behind their backs against the polite, entirely false conversation they engage in when speaking in person.

Deceptions and manipulations abound:

The central character is beautiful, mature Lady Susan, the daughter of a peer, widow of Vernon (no first name), who must find refuge after her dalliance with the very much married Mr. Mainwaring, in whose house she was a guest. And so Lady S appeals to the only available persons left to her, the reluctant Catherine Vernon, whose marriage she attempted to block to her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon. Catherine is no fool and has taken Lady S’s measure:

…if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr. Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend…She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.- Catherine Vernon to Reginald De Courcy. Letter, VI

Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, having heard no good news about the beautiful widow, and influenced by his sister and mother, is disposed to dislike her, that is until he meets her and she wraps him around her little finger.

And so the fun begins, Austen style:

According to Prof. Kenney, Reginald’s character is more akin to Marianne Dashwood, Edmund Bertram, Harriet Smith, and Edward Ferrars, who fall violently in love with the wrong person and then miraculously recover a short time later to find a love worthy of them. Kenney termed this phenomenon “shifting affections.” Young Reginald is easily influenced in falling in love with the wrong person. At twenty-three he is quite young and still malleable, a fact not lost on the opportunistic Lady Susan or on his mother and sister, who are alarmed. Catherine writes to her mother, Lady De Courcy:

My dear Mother,—You must not expect Reginald back again for some time. He desires me to tell you that the present open weather induces him to accept Mr. Vernon’s invitation to prolong his stay in Sussex, that they may have some hunting together. He means to send for his horses immediately, and it is impossible to say when you may see him in Kent. I will not disguise my sentiments on this change from you, my dear mother, though I think you had better not communicate them to my father, whose excessive anxiety about Reginald would subject him to an alarm which might seriously affect his health and spirits. Lady Susan has certainly contrived, in the space of a fortnight, to make my brother like her. … I am, indeed, provoked at the artifice of this unprincipled woman; what stronger proof of her dangerous abilities can be given than this perversion of Reginald’s judgment, which when he entered the house was so decidedly against her! – Letter VIII

In the next letter, we gain a good sense of Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant and partner in the devious plans intended to ensnare her unsuspecting victim.

My dearest Friend,—I congratulate you on Mr. De Courcy’s arrival, and I advise you by all means to marry him; his father’s estate is, we know, considerable, and I believe certainly entailed. Sir Reginald is very infirm, and not likely to stand in your way long. I hear the young man well spoken of; and though no one can really deserve you, my dearest Susan, Mr. De Courcy may be worth having.Mrs. Johnson to Lady S, Letter IX

This novella is filled with strong women. Two who will move heaven and earth to protect brother and son, and two who behave like a pair of rats intent on devouring the last piece of cheese in an alley. Interestingly, we only hear directly from Reginald in three letters. For much of the novel we see him only through the words and opinions of others, but some of those words are revealing. When his father sends him a letter of alarm due to Lady S’s increasing influence over him, Reginald tries to soothe him.

The father emplores him in Letter XII:

I hope, my dear Reginald, that you will be superior to such as allow nothing for a father’s anxiety, and think themselves privileged to refuse him their confidence and slight his advice. You must be sensible that as an only son, and the representative of an ancient family, your conduct in life is most interesting to your connections; and in the very important concern of marriage especially, there is everything at stake—your own happiness, that of your parents, and the credit of your name.”

To which Reginald answers:

My dear Sir,—I have this moment received your letter, which has given me more astonishment than I ever felt before. I am to thank my sister, I suppose, for having represented me in such a light as to injure me in your opinion, and give you all this alarm…I entreat you, my dear father, to quiet your mind, and no longer harbour a suspicion which cannot be more injurious to your own peace than to our understandings. I can have no other view in remaining with Lady Susan, than to enjoy for a short time (as you have yourself expressed it) the conversation of a woman of high intellectual powers.”

He goes on in a quite lengthy letter to blame his sister’s prejudice for not forgiving Lady S in opposing her marriage to Charles, and is convinced that the world has injured the Lady by questioning her motives, etc. etc. Yet Austen gives this hero short shrift in the narrative. We know very little about his thoughts and reasons for his actions, including being manipulated by Lady S. into feeling bitter towards Frederica, her young daughter, and thinking the girl worthless, even when it becomes clear that she “brightens” in Reginald’s presence.

In other words, Lady S has completely ensnared her sincere young man. He is as gullible with Lady S as Harriet Smith is with Emma, and just as changeable. This shifting of affection and lack of self-knowledge, as Prof. Kenney terms it, defines these characters, who are vastly different from Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy or Anne Elliot and her Captain Wentworth.

To be fair, Lady S does see some of Reginald’s good qualities (besides his inheritance). She writes to Alicia Johnson:

Reginald is never easy unless we are by ourselves, and when the weather is tolerable, we pace the shrubbery for hours together. I like him on the whole very well; he is clever and has a good deal to say, but he is sometimes impertinent and troublesome.”

She also understands her sister-in-law, Catherine, very well: “[Frederica] is in high favour with her aunt altogether, because she is so little like myself, of course.”

The Spell:

The letters ping pong back and forth, with Lady S only baring her true motives to her like-minded friend, Alicia. Mrs. Johnson’s husband, Mr. Johnson, has forbidden her to consort with Lady S, whom he has banned from his house, but Lady S still has Reginald, who is now set on marrying her.

Interestingly, Reginald is the hero in this tale, a weak one to be sure. His main redeeming quality is that when he learns of Lady S’s dalliance with Mr. Mainwaring his blinders fall off. We hear from him twice more and can feel his wrath in two scathing, but youthfully passionate letters:

…I write only to bid you farewell, the spell is removed; I see you as you are. Since we parted yesterday, I have received from indisputable authority such a history of you as must bring the most mortifying conviction of the imposition I have been under, and the absolute necessity of an immediate and eternal separation from you…”

and later:

Why would you write to me? Why do you require particulars? But, since it must be so, I am obliged to declare that all the accounts of your misconduct during the life, and since the death of Mr. Vernon, which had reached me, in common with the world in general, and gained my entire belief before I saw you, but which you, by the exertion of your perverted abilities, had made me resolved to disallow, have been unanswerably proved to me; nay more, I am assured that a connection, of which I had never before entertained a thought, has for some time existed, and still continues to exist, between you and the man whose family you robbed of its peace…”

screenshot of film-manipulated

Screen shot of Love and Friendship, with all females delighted at the results of Reginald’s and Frederica’s marriage.

The Spell is Removed: Young Reggie grows up!

A few more plot strings remain to be tied. Lady S is an execrable mother. She bullies Frederica and presses her to marry Sir Charles Martin, a dimwit, albeit a rich one. Frederica resists, raising her mother’s ire. Catherine, who loves the girl and pities her situation, takes her in. Lady S, it is obvious, loves no one but herself. She has, in the words of Prof. Kenney, “no time for romantic nonsense.” Her motherly instincts are for show only, and after a few months of separation her letters and attentions to her daughter peter out.

Reginald leaves to lick his wounds, but his mother and sister are always looking out for him, as well as Frederica. The author writes in her conclusion, “Frederica was therefore fixed in the family of her uncle and aunt till such time as Reginald De Courcy could be talked, flattered, and finessed into an affection for her.” And, so, Austen demonstrates that Reginald, a hero with the same weak qualities as a Mr. Bingley or Edward Ferrars, is managed by the real power in the family – the women, although, he has in his favor the quality of realizing his deficiencies and, more importantly, he has a heart.

De Courcy and Frederica marry. And so I ask you fair reader: Who had the happier union? Reginald or Lady S?

Conclusion

Inquiring reader, I hope I have persuaded you to read or reread Lady Susan, a novella that surprised me on the first and second reading. I didn’t think that I would like reading a book that consisted of letters, but was so enthralled with the story that I read it in one sitting.

Just think. Jane Austen wrote this novella during a creative spurt in her early life. In 1794-95, she wrote Lady Susan and in 1795 she wrote Elinor and Marianne, the epistolary version of Sense and Sensibility. In 1796, she began writing First Impressions, the precursor to Pride and Prejudice. What a fertile period for a budding author! And what creativity! At 19, 20, and 21 years of age she laid the groundwork for two great novels and one experimental foray into the many complexities of what makes a hero. While, like Mr. Darcy, Reginald has great wealth, which, according to Prof. Kenney gives him alpha status, he is a bit of a wuss, masterfully controlled like a puppet by female relatives. In the end, Lady S is hoist by her own manipulative petard. She has no recourse but to marry Sir Charles Martin to maintain face and a fortune. Uggh. What a fitting ending.

Austen’s three novels, written in such a short time, laid much of the foundation for her greatness. She would rework them over the years, with only one, Lady Susan, published posthumously years after her death. After a lifetime of reading her works, including her Juvenilia, I remain in awe of her immense talent.

Resources:

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Project Gutenberg Online Book

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/946/946-h/946-h.htm

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Librivox Audio

https://archive.org/details/lady_susan_0811_librivox

“Love and Friendship,” Amazon Prime movie

Lady Susan: List of Characters: Austenprose

For the women of Jane Austen’s position in society, female education was formed mainly at home. While Austen and her sister Cassandra spent a short time away at school, the bulk of their education occurred in the Austen home. In Austen’s novels, we find an interesting variety of educational practices, depending on the home and income of the characters.

As Mr. Darcy famously said in Pride and Prejudice, a truly accomplished woman “must improve her mind by extensive reading” (ch. 8). In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram thinks reading, when “properly directed, must be an education in itself” (ch. 2) Thus, we must assume Austen agreed heartily with these opinions of reading as a vital part of a woman’s education. But what else do her novels tell us about the quality and quantity of education available to upper class women in her time?

Education:

In Austen’s day, the education of genteel women was comprised of a wide range of “accomplishments,” such art, music, dancing, religion, household management, languages, history, and literature. In most households, the education of daughters fell mainly to their mothers and governesses, though some went to private schools to learn certain subjects and accomplishments.

According to Miss Bingley, a truly accomplished woman “must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages.” She should also possess “a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved” (ch. 8).

However, we must keep in mind that educational practices for girls differed greatly from that of boys and varied by family, rank, and income. While some families did place value on book learning for their daughters, most families put greater emphasis on the “ornamental” accomplishments of the day. But what did a female education encompass in Austen’s fictional families? What and by whom were her female characters taught?

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, the Bingley sisters were “educated in one of the first private seminaries in town,” where they most likely focused on ornamental accomplishments (ch. 4). Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, had a governess called Mrs. Younge.

In contrast, Mrs. Bennet seems rather deficient in the education of her daughters: She did not engage a governess, did not ensure that all her girls learned to play and sing, and did not take her daughters “to town every spring” to study art under the “benefit of masters” (ch. 29).

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Elizabeth’s conversation with Lady Catherine provides this account of female education in the Bennet home:

“Compared with some families, I believe we were [neglected]; but such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle, certainly might.”

Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Emma

Emma Woodhouse had a governess after her mother died. However, Miss Taylor’s role in Emma’s education is described as “less as a governess than a friend . . . it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority [had] now long passed away” (ch. 1). Thus, it’s clear that Emma’s education has not been quite as thorough or strenuous as it might have been.

Mr. Knightley encourages Emma to read more widely. However, he notices that she spends more time making lists of books (“and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule”) than actually reading: “I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma” (ch. 5).

As for Harriett Smith, she is a “parlour-boarder” at Mrs. Goddard’s school, which is “a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies” (ch. 3)

Mrs. Goddard’s loving care for her students is described here: “[S]he had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after her to church.”

Northanger Abbey

The descriptions of Catherine Morland’s education are perhaps the most humorous in Austen’s novels: “She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid.” It takes her three months to memorize the “Beggar’s Petition,” but she learns the fable of ‘The Hare and Many Friends’ as quickly as any girl in England” (ch. 1).

Mrs. Morland, who oversees her education, is a “very good woman, but her time “was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves.” Her mother wishes her to learn music, but Catherine gives it up after a year. Her “taste for drawing” is described as “deficient.”

Catherine learns “writing and accounts” by her father and French by her mother, but her “proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. Thus, it’s not surprising that “Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information.”

Sense and Sensibility

In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Jennings provides her daughters with a fashionable education: her daughter Charlotte “spent seven years at a great school in town” (ch. 26). In the Dashwood household, great emphasis is placed on reading and music.

Elinor and Marianne are both well-read, while Elinor takes on the majority of the household management and accounting. Marianne has “the knack of finding her way in every house to the library” (ch. 42). She’s also an accomplished musician.

Marianne Dashwood sings and plays

As for Margaret’s education, we find this clue in a comment Mrs. Dashwood makes to Elinor: “When you and the Middletons are gone, we shall go on so quietly and happily together with our books and our music! You will find Margaret so improved when you come back again!” (Ch. 25).

In contrast, Austen makes a pointed remark about Lucy Steele, saying “her powers had received no aid from education.” Lucy is described as “ignorant and illiterate,” being deficient of “all mental improvements,” and wanting of “information in the most common particulars” (ch. 22). In fact, Lucy’s “want of instruction” prevents Elinor from enjoying their conversation fully, for she pities her for “the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable.”

Mansfield Park

In Mansfield Park, the Bertram girls receive their education “under the care of a governess, with proper masters” (ch. 2). Austen provides this insightful information about their mother’s involvement in their education:

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

As for their father, Sir Thomas is satisfied with knowing his daughters continue “to exercise their memories, practise (sic) their duets, and grow tall and womanly.”

As for Fanny Price, we’re told she is “kept back” by “everybody else” in the family; thus, Edmund’s “attentions” are of the “highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures.” He realizes Fanny is “clever,” has “good sense,” and possesses a “fondness for reading” (ch. 2).

While Miss Lee teaches Fanny French and listens to her “daily portion of history,” Edmund recommends “the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment.” He makes reading “useful” to her by “talking to her of what she read.”

Persuasion

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot visits her “former governess” in Bath (ch. 17). She was sent to school after her mother’s death where she met her friend Mrs. Smith (née Hamilton):

Anne had gone unhappy to school, grieving for the loss of a mother whom she had dearly loved, feeling her separation from home, and suffering as a girl of fourteen, of strong sensibility and not high spirits, must suffer at such a time; and Miss Hamilton, three years older than herself, but still from the want of near relations and a settled home, remaining another year at school, had been useful and good to her in a way which had considerably lessened her misery, and could never be remembered with indifference.

Jane Austen, Persuasion

While we know little about the particulars of Anne’s education at school and at home, Anne is well-read enough to provide Captain Benwick with book recommendations to help round out his interest in poetry: “she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study” (ch. 11).

When asked for particular titles, Anne names “such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment.”

Austen’s Insights

Austen certainly has more to say about her female characters and their education than we might realize at first glance. And as always, she provides insight into her characters’ personalities and backgrounds through the deft comments she makes about their education and accomplishments.

It’s clear that Austen valued a literary education and believed women could read, write, and study. In her own life, Austen proved that women could be well-educated and possess a variety of other accomplishments and talents.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen‘s Regency World. If you enjoyed Rachel’s book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, she just released a new book called The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. For signed copies of either book, visit RachelDodge.com.

By Brenda S. Cox

Last week we looked at the lady “Rock Stars of the Regency” identified by Dr. Jocelyn Harris at this year’s JASNA AGM.* The other two Regency celebrities, who Jane Austen certainly knew about, but almost certainly never met, were the Prince Regent and Lord Byron. Both were flamboyant, charismatic, and extravagant. Jane Austen certainly did not like the prince, and I doubt she thought very highly of Byron. Let’s take a look at these two gentleman.Then I’ll add another famous gentleman, one I think she might have admired.

The Prince Regent (1762-1830)

As you probably know, King George III’s eldest son became Regent of England during the king’s madness from 1811-1820. When his father died, the Prince Regent became King George IV, until his own death in 1830.

The Prince Regent, later King George IV, by Henry Bone, 1816, public domain, wikimedia

Sometimes called “Prinny,” the Prince of Wales (heir to the throne) was an elegant man with a wide education, excellent artistic taste, and great charm. As a boy, his father insisted that he be taught simplicity and hard work. The prince was whipped severely for any laziness or lying. However, he disappointed his father’s hopes. The prince was known for his faults more than for his strengths.

By the time he was seventeen, he was already involved with several women. A series of many mistresses followed. Although he could not legally marry without his father’s consent, he went through a form of marriage with a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzerbert, in 1785. This quasi-marriage to a Catholic caused him difficulty with Parliament, who were often being asked to pay his bills. (Catholics faced many restrictions at this time, and if the prince were actually married to a Catholic he could not legally become king.)

Prinny constantly ran up amazing debts. He lavishly furnished his mansion, Carlton House, running up almost £270,000 in debt! Parliament helped him defray that debt, partially. He immediately began another project, the even more opulent and fantastically expensive Marine Pavilion at Brighton.

In 1789, the king appeared to be going mad, probably because of the disease porphyria. The prince’s supporters tried to get the prince declared regent. His enemies attacked him as being Catholic, or married to a Catholic, and as a gambler who spent his time with unsavory people. Newspapers condemned the prince as “a hard-drinking, swearing, whoring man” who “at all times would prefer a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon” (quoted in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The king recovered, and the prince did not become regent yet.

To get his debts settled, the prince agreed to marry his cousin Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. Caroline and the prince had one daughter, Charlotte. (Charlotte eventually died giving birth to a stillborn child, so she never inherited the throne.)

The prince’s marriage to Caroline was miserable from the start. The prince soon went back to his mistresses, and Caroline was later also accused of sleeping around, though it was not proven.

The king lapsed back into madness in 1811, and the prince was sworn in as regent. His political policies were unpopular. Oddly, considering that his formerly-beloved Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic, he was strongly against giving any civil rights to Catholics.

In 1820 his father died and he became King George IV. He did not want his wife Caroline to be queen, so he put her on trial for adultery. She was not convicted, but she died a few weeks after his coronation.

George IV’s years of indulgence, gluttony, and drinking took their toll, and he became more and more ill. He died in 1830.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

The Prince Regent was a fan of Jane Austen’s. He requested, via his librarian, that she dedicate Emma to him, and she reluctantly did. He apparently read her books often, and kept a set of them in each of his residences. She did not return his admiration.

Jane Austen reluctantly dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent, at his request.

In 1813, when the Regent was in the midst of a controversy with his wife, Austen wrote about her in a private letter: “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband” (Feb. 16, 1813).

Why did Jane Austen “hate” the Prince Regent? I imagine there were multiple reasons:

  • He treated his wife very badly, avoiding her, flaunting his unfaithfulness to her, slandering her, and finally putting her on public trial. Earlier he had also been unfaithful to his first “wife,” Mrs. Fitzherbert, and even allowed others to slander her in Parliament.
  • He was extravagant, wasting the country’s money. He was a Sir Walter Elliot on steroids, not willing to give up any pleasure, inordinately proud of his position, and always spending far beyond his income.
  • He was known for drinking, gambling, laziness, and of course sexual immorality. He also apparently had little regard for church or religion. Austen did not appreciate such shortcomings.

For more on the Prince Regent: Colleen Sheehan speculates delightfully about all the places in Emma where Jane Austen may have been making fun of the Prince Regent in “Jane Austen’s ‘Tribute’ to the Prince Regent: A Gentleman Ridiculed with Difficulty.” Mr. Knightley, as a true gentleman, contrasts with the Regent. Be sure to follow the link at the end of Sheehan’s article, which takes you to a second article with an entertaining alternate solution to the “courtship” riddle!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” That’s how one of Byron’s lovers, Caroline Lamb, described him. George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron, was as famous and infamous as the Prince Regent.

Lord Byron, replica by Thomas Phillips, circa 1835, based on a work of 1813. © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Byron’s narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, based on his travels in southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, took London by storm in 1812. The upper classes adored him. He was quite cynical about society and its institutions, however. He called his country’s leaders “The Mad—the Bad—the Useless—or the Base” (from an epigram written in 1814).

Byron soon became known as much for his love affairs as for his poetry. An affair with married Caroline Lamb, whom he called a “little volcano,” ended when he got bored with her. She, however, blatantly pursued him everywhere. (Her husband, by the way, later became Lord Melbourne, the prime minister who so much influenced young Queen Victoria.) She even published a popular novel, Glenarvon, based on her marriage and her affair with Byron.

In the following years, Byron continued to write romances about Byronic heroes: broody men with dark secrets, in exotic settings. He also continued to have torrid affairs with married women. He became close friends with his married half-sister Augusta, who he considered the only woman who understood him. It’s possible, but not proven, that he was the father of her daughter Medora, born in 1814.

Perhaps the desire to squash rumors about his relationship with his half-sister contributed to Byron’s decision to get married in January, 1815. He married Annabella Milbanke (niece of Lady Melbourne, Caroline Lamb’s mother-in-law). Apparently they were fond of each other, and Byron “esteemed” her. However, the marriage was a disaster and they separated in January, 1816. She believed he was insane.

They had a daughter, Augusta Ada Byron. (That daughter became Ada Lovelace, one of the developers of the first computer.) One of Byron’s later lovers, Claire Clairmont, gave him another daughter, Allegra. Allegra died of a fever at age five. Byron also had a child with one of his maids, and he provided for her.

Byron spent money extravagantly. He inherited his title and family estates, but they were already deeply encumbered by debt. At first he refused to take payment for his writing (making his publisher rich instead), but by 1814 he began to accept, and even negotiate for, large amounts for the copyrights of his books.

Byron continued traveling, writing, and having affairs. His newer books, including Don Juan, increasingly shocked society. His original publisher finally refused to publish any more of Byron’s books, but Byron quickly found another publisher.

Lord Byron eventually got involved in the Greek struggle for independence, which suited his romantic ideals. He fell ill and died in Greece in 1824.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Byron’s personal life was doubtless repugnant to Jane Austen. His open adultery with a long series of married women, and his taking sexual advantage of maidservants, would both have disgusted her. I imagine she also thought poorly of his extravagance and debts. What about his writing?

Lord Byron was the epitome of the literary movement, Romanticism. He wrote and lived the untamed passions of individual desire, the wildness of nature, imagination, and vision. Jane Austen epitomizes the best of the opposite movement, Rationalism. It emphasized self-control, order, harmony, balance, and logical truth. Austen and Byron did have something in common, though: both used irony and satire to confront flaws in their society, though in different ways.

Austen, like others in her society, read Byron’s books. In 1814 she wrote unenthusiastically, “I have read the “Corsair,” mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.” There is no indication that Byron read Austen’s books. Byron’s wife, however, wrote in 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was “a very superior work . . . the most probable fiction I have ever read.”

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick talk about Lord Byron and Walter Scott and disagree about their merits. They also mention Lord Byron’s “dark blue seas.” Benwick appreciates the “impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony” in Byron’s Giaour and Bride of Abydos. Anne doesn’t think Byron’s poetry is healthy reading for the grieving Benwick. She encourages him to read more prose, especially works by the “best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.”

Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss how to pronounce the title of Lord Byron’s Giaour. (Online dictionaries say it’s something like JOW-er, or jowr. Merriam Webster says it means “one outside the Islamic faith.”)

According to the editors of the Cambridge edition of Persuasion (Janet Todd and Antje Blank), Giaour and Bride of Abydos “have exotic eastern settings, in which despotic rulers murder disobedient women and moody, passionate heroes are consumed with grief and guilt over violent crimes they commit.” They suggest that Anne Elliot’s alternative reading would have included Samuel Johnson’s articles in The Rambler. Johnson recommends (in issues 32 and 47) that in times of calamity, loss, and sorrow, we turn to hard work, diligence, and keeping our minds busy with other things.

I think Anne might also have recommended another of Austen’s favorite writers, William Cowper. Cowper suffered with depression for much of his life. One of the remedies that helped him at various periods was keeping busy with meaningful tasks, especially writing. Both Johnson and Cowper were known for their devotion to God; Byron, on the other hand, was known for his religious skepticism. Both Johnson and Cowper died well before the Regency, so we can’t consider them “Regency rock stars.” However, both were very popular authors that Jane Austen admired.

For more on Lord Byron and Jane Austen, see “Romanticism, a Romance: Jane Austen and Lord Byron, 1813-1815,” and “Jane Austen and Lord Byron: Connections.”

For those who like their history presented as fiction, I enjoyed this novel, based on Byron’s marriage: Dangerous to Know, by Megan Whitson Lee.

Lord Byron” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) offers the next generation’s perspective on Byron’s religious views.

On Samuel Johnson, see “Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library.

On William Cowper, see “William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness,” “’With what intense desire she wants her home’: Cowper’s Influence on Jane Austen,”  and “William Cowper, Beloved of Jane Austen.

William Wilberforce? (1759-1833)

I want to nominate one more “rock star of the Regency”; this time, one that Austen may have admired, though she doesn’t mention him. In an age of corrupt, self-seeking politicians, a mad king, and a profligate Prince Regent, M.P. William Wilberforce lived a life of integrity, devotion to God, and concern for the poor and downtrodden. Wilberforce was much loved and respected in England, even by those who disagreed with him, for his gentle kindness and his persuasive speaking.

Statue of William Wilberforce at St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Wilberforce is best known for leading the fight against the slave trade and slavery. Thomas Clarkson, who Jane Austen said she “loved,” worked with Wilberforce. Clarkson collected evidence and wrote books promoting abolition. Wilberforce and his friends persevered for almost twenty years, against great opposition, until the British slave trade was abolished in 1807. The House of Commons, who had previously voted down Wilberforce’s proposal ten times, this time gave him a standing ovation. The fight continued until slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, as Wilberforce was dying.

In contrast to other “rock stars” of the Regency, Wilberforce lived frugally. He was wealthy, but during his lifetime he gave away most of his wealth to people in need and to various causes he supported. For example, he supported groups working to relieve the miseries of climbing boys (chimney sweeps’ apprentices), to reform prisons, and to prevent cruelty to animals. He helped start the first “free church” in the country, a church in Bath where the poor got the best seats on the main floor rather than being marginalized because they could not pay pew rents. He also financially supported free education for the poor. However, he was not a radical, and he has been criticized for supporting government crackdowns on rioters and protesters, and for opposing labor unions.

Wilberforce was also a leader of the Evangelical movement in the Church of England. (Please note that the word evangelical did not have the same political implications that it has today; it meant, and technically still means, those with certain religious beliefs.) He wrote a best-selling book which challenged the shallow faith of the upper and middle classes of his day.

William Wilberforce’s Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Obviously Jane Austen would have admired Wilberforce’s faith, lifestyle, and integrity. In 1809 her sister was trying to persuade her to read a letter by Evangelical Hannah More, and Austen wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” However, by 1814, her niece was considering marrying an Evangelical. Austen wrote “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” She was not an Evangelical herself, but apparently her attitude toward the Evangelicals was very positive at that point. Wilberforce’s actions and reputation may have been one reason for that change.

For more about Wilberforce, see “William Wilberforce’s Joy”  and “William Wilberforce.”

 

We have now considered Jocelyn Harris’s five “Rock Stars of the Regency,” plus my own nominees for others.

What do you think of them? And what do you think Jane Austen would have thought? Who would you add to this roster?

 

In the presentation for the *Jane Austen Society of America’s Annual General Meeting, the “rock stars” were skilfully played by:

Emma Brodey as Emma Hamilton

Deborah Barnum as Dora Jordan

Linda Troost as Fanny Burney

Christopher Duda as The Prince Regent

Paul Savidge as Lord Byron

Jocelyn Harris, as the narrator, was dressed as Dolly Parton.

“Rock Stars of the Regency” was originally scheduled to be shown at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but instead, of course, it was online.

 

Sources: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

Please note that the thoughts about Austen’s responses to the rock stars are mine, not Dr. Harris’s.

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

Who were the famous and admired “rock stars” of Regency England? At the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM) recently, Dr. Jocelyn Harris identified five charismatic celebrities of Regency England. Jane Austen would certainly have known about them.

Dr. Harris chose:

  • Emma Hamilton
  • Dora Jordan
  • Fanny Burney
  • The Prince Regent
  • Lord Byron

Who were these people, and what might Jane Austen have thought about them? As I watched their presentations, I thought that Austen probably didn’t think very highly of some of them. See what you think.

Emma Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton is best known for her love affair with the naval hero Lord Nelson.

George Romney was captivated by Emma Hamilton’s beauty, as were other artists. This shows Emma as Circe.

 

Early in her life, Emma Lyon worked as a housemaid, but her classical beauty and vivacious spirit brought her to the attention of several rich young men. She became the mistress of one, had his child, then moved in with one of his friends. That friend traded her to his rich uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in exchange for becoming his uncle’s heir. Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, married Emma and made her Lady Hamilton in 1791; he was sixty and she was about twenty-six.

In Naples, Emma became known for her dramatic “attitudes.” She wore classical Greek dress and struck a series of poses representing various emotions and classical stories. She was very expressive and visitors loved to watch her. She was also talented at learning languages. She helped her husband, and later Lord Nelson, with diplomacy. After a few years, she became seriously overweight, but apparently was still enchanting.

Emma Hamilton by George Romney, circa 1785 ©National Portrait Gallery, London.   Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Around 1798 Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson fell in love. Both were married to someone else. But they seem to have adored each other. She bore him three children, though only one survived, a daughter named Horatia. Nelson said of her, as she was courageously seeing him off to sea, “Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons.”

Emma’s husband died in 1803, then Admiral Nelson died in 1805. Emma was heartbroken at Nelson’s death. She received a large legacy and annuity, but continued her extravagance until she was imprisoned for debt in 1813. Friends helped her get released. She spent her final days, drunken and bedridden, in Calais, France. Her daughter Horatia tended her until she died in 1815. When Horatia returned to England, she was taken in by Nelson’s sisters, and ended up marrying a curate and having a large family. She acknowledged that Nelson was her father, but refused to acknowledge Lady Hamilton as her mother.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

In her letters (Oct. 11, 1813), Austen says that she is tired of biographies of Nelson, though she hasn’t read any. Perhaps his open adultery diminished his glory in her eyes, though we don’t know for sure. Her brother Frank wrote admiringly of Nelson’s judgment and decisiveness, and his ability to motivate others. He said nothing of Nelson’s moral values, however (Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, 1913, chapter 12).

Austen makes no mention of Emma Hamilton in her writings. Dr. Harris speculates that Mrs. Smith of Persuasion, whose maiden name was Miss Hamilton, might have some connection to Emma Hamilton, or even Emma Woodhouse herself, as Emma Hamilton was also known as a matchmaker and lady bountiful. To me it seems unlikely that Austen would have named either of them after such a scandalous celebrity. In Mansfield Park, fashionable Mary Crawford thinks of adultery as folly to be concealed. However, it seems to me that Austen agrees with her hero and heroine, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, who consider it serious sin. So I don’t think she would have thought very highly of Emma Hamilton.

For more on Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), see “Emma at Home: Lady Hamilton and Her ‘Attitudes,’” which includes further links.

 

Dorothy Jordan

Dorothy Jordan was a famous actress of Austen’s time. In her early years, she shone in a variety of roles, but eventually settled down to become a comic actress. Sarah Siddons (who might be considered another Regency “Rock Star”) was the queen of tragedy, and Dorothy Jordan was the “comic muse.” A woman of several names, she was also called Dora or Dorothea. She was born Dorothy Bland and when her father deserted the family she became Dorothy Phillips. She was commonly known as Mrs. Jordan, though she never married.

Jordan’s parents were a vicar’s daughter who had become a London actress, and an Irish captain whose father, a judge, disinherited him for his liaison with Jordan’s mother. (They may have married, but as minors, the marriage was not valid.) Her father later made a legal marriage in Ireland to another woman.

By 1779, eighteen-year-old Dorothea was working as an actress in Dublin. She was seduced by her manager, conceived his child, and fled when he threatened her with debtor’s prison. (Her manager reminds me of Willoughby with Eliza, only even worse!) She got another job in Leeds, where they called her Mrs. Jordan because she was pregnant (therefore “Mrs.”) and had crossed over the water to get to England from Ireland, like the Israelites crossing the Jordan River in the Bible.

She gradually moved up in her profession, until she was acting in the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. There she became the mistress of Richard Ford, son of the court physician, and had three children with him.

In 1790, Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence (third son of George III), fell in love with her and she became his mistress. He provided her with an annuity of £1200, a carriage, and provision for all her children. However, she continued to act around the country, and she shared her income with the duke. People wondered which of them supported the other!

She bore ten children to the duke and acted as his wife and hostess. However, in 1811 his debts were increasing and he told her they had to separate so he could marry someone rich.

Mrs Jordan from The Life of Mrs Jordan by J Boaden (1831), public domain

Mrs. Jordan continued acting, to great acclaim, and traveling. She was very well-paid, but generous and extravagant. Late in her life, while she was in ill health, her son-in-law defrauded her of much of her money. She died impoverished near Paris, with only about £10 to her name.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Austen mentions Mrs. Jordan in a letter (1801), admiring Cassandra’s resignation when she could not come to London and see Mrs. Jordan. According to Dr. Harris, in 1814, when Jane was looking forward to seeing the play “The Devil to Pay” and expecting to be “very much amused,” Jane was going to see Mrs. Jordan perform. No doubt the sisters, great fans of the theater, much admired Mrs. Jordan’s acting, as everyone else did. We don’t know what Austen thought of Mrs. Jordan’s personal life. Harris speculates that Jordan’s personality, arch, playful, bewitching, and frank, may be reflected in Elizabeth Bennet.

Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a faithful and domestic “wife” to the Duke of Clarence for many years, and popular opinion held that he should not have deserted her. Their children, who received the surname FitzClarence, were of course illegitimate. Fitz-, by the way, simply means “son of,” though from the 1600s it came to be used for illegitimate royal children. (Did the Fitzwilliams of Pride and Prejudice have an illegitimate royal ancestor? Or were they from an older Norman family, perhaps descended from the younger son of a warrior named William? It could be either.) Clarence’s oldest son, by Mrs. Jordan, could not inherit the throne after the Duke of Clarence became King William IV.

In Emma, Emma thinks Harriet is well-born, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. However, it turns out that Harriet is the daughter of a tradesman. Emma thinks, “The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.” Did Jane Austen herself think that that it was acceptable for those with “nobility or wealth” to have illegitimate children? Or was she continuing to make fun of Emma’s snobbishness?

Personally, I think that as a devout Anglican, Austen would not have approved of Mrs. Jordan’s liaison even with a duke. But, she may have felt sympathy for a couple who loved each other but were not legally allowed to marry. And Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a good influence on her Duke. I see no firm evidence either way for Austen’s opinion. She certainly admired Mrs. Jordan as an actress.

For more on Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816), see “Mrs. Dora Jordan—The Comic Muse.

On Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), see “Austen’s Regretted Mischance to see Mrs. Siddons” and “The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons.

 

Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay)

Our third “Rock Star” was a popular novelist like Jane Austen, but Burney was much more well-known in her time than Austen. Burney came from a more conventional middle class background than Emma Hamilton or Dorothy Jordan did. Her father was a well-known music teacher who went on musical tours of Europe; Fanny helped him with the books he wrote.

Her family brought her into contact with some of the leading people of her day, including Samuel Johnson, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, writer Hester Thrale (later Piozzi), bluestockings Elizabeth Montagu and Hannah More, and many others. Austen, of course, did not move in such intellectual or social circles.

Like Jane Austen, Burney published her first book, Evelina, anonymously. Not even her father knew that she had written it until some months after it came out. (He had disapproved of her earlier writing, but liked Evelina.) It was well-reviewed and over 2000 copies sold. Bookstores in fashionable spas and in London had a hard time keeping it in stock. Burney’s next, longer book, Cecilia, was also a great success.

Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) engraved from a painting by Edward Francis Burney (Portraits of Eminent Men and Women, 1873), public domain, wikimedia

After a few years without writing, Burney was offered a place at court, as second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte. Her father persuaded her to accept, for the family’s advantage. However, Burney was miserable with the drudgery and routine of court life. She did have one adventure, though, when King George III, in a fit of madness, chased her around Kew Gardens. After five years she asked to retire due to ill health, and was allowed to go.

At age forty-one, Fanny met a French military officer, D’Arblay. They fell in love and were married. Fanny’s father was unhappy about the match, since Fanny had little money and D’Arblay had none. However, they had a happy marriage. Their son Alexander was born about a year and a half after their wedding.

Fanny continued writing; mostly plays that were not performed in her lifetime (one was performed for one night, but was an immediate failure). Her novel Camilla, though, was another success, and provided enough money for the D’Arblays to build their own home.

While Fanny’s siblings sometimes acted scandalously, she herself lived a conventional, moral life. Her books express solid moral values, while showing the restrictions placed on women. She died in her home in London in 1840. Fanny Burney has been called the mother of English fiction. She was one of the first successful English novelists.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Burney’s novels Cecilia and Camilla are mentioned in glowing terms in Northanger Abbey:

“‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

Jane Austen subscribed to Camilla. (That means that she gave financial support for it before it was published, something like a Kickstarter campaign today.) In her letters, Austen also mentions characters from Burney’s novels. The novels seem to have influenced her own. Harris also speculates that Burney’s experiences at court, recorded in her journals and passed on by Austen’s mother’s cousin Cassandra Cooke (Burney’s neighbor), might be reflected in some of Fanny Price’s experiences in Mansfield Park. Austen obviously admired Fanny Burney’s work, and I think she would have admired Burney personally as well. Jocelyn Harris calls Burney and Austen “sisters of the pen.”

 

Two other women authors of Jane Austen’s day might qualify as “rock stars,” in terms of popularity, even more than Fanny Burney. Maria Edgeworth, whose novel Belinda is mentioned in Northanger Abbey along with Burney’s novels, was the most successful novelist of her time, in terms of sales and income. Hannah More, whose writings Austen doesn’t seem to have cared for, wrote mostly nonfiction, a tremendous range of books for rich and poor, which were wildly popular. She wrote and worked for causes including the abolition of slavery, education for women and for the poor, and better moral values.

For more on Fanny Burney (1752-1840), see “Only a Novel: The Life of Fanny Burney.”  For more on Burney’s novels, and ways they may have influenced Jane Austen, see “Jane Austen a-Shopping with Burney’s Evelina.

On Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), see “Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen’s Forgotten Idol.

On Hannah More, see “Jane Austen’s Novels and Hannah More’s Life—Intersecting Planes” and “Jane Austen, Hanah More, and the Novel of Education.”

 

What do you think of these “rock stars” of Austen’s England? What do you think Austen would have liked and not liked about them? Are there other women of the time that you would nominate?

In Part 2 we’ll look at some gentlemen “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

Source: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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?

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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.

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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