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Fashion Plate (Afternoon Dress for Decr. 1800) LACMA M.86.266.37Just as fire was the centerpiece of most evening gatherings in Jane Austen’s time, candles also played a vital role in Regency life and culture. Today, family members work or read in separate rooms in the evening and go to bed at different times (due to the advent of electricity), but people in Austen’s day lived differently: They sat together to read books, write letters, and socialize in the evening—all by candlelight.

As readers, we should consider Austen’s evening scenes with a careful eye to the lighting. Dinners, dances, card games, and music were all undertaken by candlelight. Many of our favorite scenes—in which Austen brings her heroines and heroes, villains and vicars to life—take place in the evening. Candlelit rooms provide the perfect spot for Emma and Frank Churchill to gossip, for Fanny to sink into the shadows unnoticed, for Lydia and Kitty to romp with the officers, and for Anne Elliot to hide her tears at the piano while the others dance. Indeed, when Darcy watches Elizabeth and Caroline Bingley walking around the drawing-room and quips that their “figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking,” (PP 56) he watches them walk by candlelight after dinner and tea (served later in the evening). Austen uses candle-power (or the lack thereof) to communicate the rank and financial status of her characters as well as set the stage for some of her best scenes.

Candles in Regency Life

In Austen’s lifetime, virtually every task after dusk required candles. Fall and winter months in England are cold and dark with only 8-9 hours of sunlight during some months. It was a mark of wealth to have enough candles to burn in the evening for work and pleasure. In working class homes, people might burn a rushlight (which burned for 20-30 minutes) or simply retire early. In genteel homes, where candles were plentiful, people stayed up later. In her JAW article “Lighting the Dark,” Vic Sanbourn tells us, “Only the more affluent members of society could afford to burn a large number of candles at a time, and their homes were characterized by spacious windows and well placed reflectors and mirrors.” This was common in most of the grand homes in Austen’s novels, which we see when Elinor and Marianne accompany Lady Middleton to a party in London and “enter a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot” (SS 175).

During quiet evenings at home, families and small groups shared the firelight or a few candles together. As Austen states in one of her letters to Cassandra: “We have got the second volume of “Espriella’s Letters,” and I read it aloud by candle-light. (Letters 147). As one might imagine, working by candlelight was not easy on the eyes. Austen alludes to this when Lady Middleton remarks that it might “hurt [Lucy’s] eyes to work filigree by candlelight” and suggests that she “ring the bell for some working candles” (144). And in Northanger Abbey, when General Tilney stays up to read at night, he says his “eyes will be blinding” from reading so late by candlelight (NA 187).

Candles Speak Volumes

Everything in Austen’s novels means something—including the kind and number of candles used in different households. Beeswax candles burned brighter and more efficiently but were more expensive. Tallow candles were cheaper but gave off less light, smoked, and smelled of mutton. In her article “Let there be light! Candles in the time of Jane Austen,” Sue Dell of the Jane Austen’s House Museum says that “[t]allow candles would have been the most common candles in such a home as the Austens’.” She explains: “Even the very wealthy used wax candles sparingly; Jane’s brother, Edward, would have used them for entertaining, but tallow candles would have been used for everyday life” (Dell). In Emma, Mrs. Elton boasts that a certain Mrs. Bragge even has wax candles in her school room (300); however, Dell says this “would have been instantly recognised by contemporary readers as untrue” because “no-one would do such a thing” (Dell). Mrs. Elton also decides she will educate Highbury society and give “one very superior party—in which her card-tables should be set out with their separate candles and unbroken packs in the true style” (290). In affluent and pretentious homes like General Tilney’s in Northanger Abbey, candles are plentiful. When it is time to retire, Miss Tilney rings the bell for candles, which the butler comes to light (187). They each take their candles to bed, but the General stays up to work. In Emma, when they have supper at the ball, Mrs. Bates says, “I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style—Candles everywhere” (329).

Conversely, at the Price home in Mansfield Park, even one candle is hard to come by. When Mr. Price arrives, Austen paints the scene vividly: “with something of the oath kind he kicked away his son’s port-manteau and his daughter’s bandbox in the passage, and called out for a candle; no candle was brought, however, and he walked into the room” (MP 379). Fanny rises to greet him but sits down again “on finding herself undistinguished in the dusk, and unthought of” (379). When a candle is finally brought, Fanny is still forgotten as her father reads the newspaper, “without seeming to recollect her existence. The solitary candle was held between himself and the paper, without any reference to her possible convenience” (382).

Candles Set the Stage

As anyone who has ever camped, had their electricity shut off, or eaten dinner at a romantic restaurant knows, everything looks different by candlelight. Shadows grow and dark corners emerge. The mood changes. Austen uses candles to set the tone in many scenes in her novels, and she capitalizes on the mere lack of a candle to throw rooms into confusion, provide cover for secret goodbyes, send people to bed early, and propel one imaginative young girl into hysterics.

In Austen’s novels, candlelight provides cover for all sorts of things. In a practical sense, candles hide visible flaws as when Mrs. Weston comments on the wallpaper at the Crown Inn in Emma: “[T]his paper is worse than I expected. Look! in places you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn than any thing I could have imagined” (253). Her husband responds that she will “see nothing of it by candlelight. It will be as clean as Randalls by candlelight.”

In a more romantic sense, Austen uses semi-darkness to cover a goodbye between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. We read the following scene in Emma:

[Jane Fairfax] was afterwards looking for her shawl—Frank Churchill was looking also—it was growing dusk, and the room was in confusion; and how they parted, Mr. Knightley could not tell.  He remained at Hartfield after all the rest, his thoughts full of what he had seen; so full, that when the candles came to assist his observations, he must—yes, he certainly must, as a friend—an anxious friend—give Emma some hint, ask her some question. He could not see her in a situation of such danger, without trying to preserve her. (349)

We have no proof that anything more than “certain expressive looks” pass between Frank and Jane as they part under the covering of the dusky room; however, Austen uses this moment to give Mr. Knightley a hint as to the true nature of their relationship while everyone else is busy, before the candles are lit.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen uses a “single lamp” and the light it emits to set the stage for a nervous Catherine Morland in the gothic-style scene she paints on Catherine’s first night at the Abbey. The light from her candle and the fire are, quite humorously, the only thing standing between Catherine and emotional stability. Catherine enters “her room with a tolerably stout heart” at the end of the evening (167). However, once the fire dies down, she is left with only her candle to light the room. When Catherine “snuffs” the candle, meaning to “cut or pinch off the burned part of a candle wick” (Dictionary.com), she accidentally extinguishes it as well. Her response is hilarious:

Alas! It was snuffed and extinguished in one. A lamp could not have expired with more awful effect. Catherine, for a few moments, was motionless with horror. It was done completely; not a remnant of light in the wick could give hope to the rekindling breath. Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury, added fresh horror to the moment. (170)

Catherine’s bravery dissolves once the candle is out. Austen says, “A cold sweat stood on her forehead, the manuscript fell from her hand, and groping her way to the bed, she jumped hastily in, and sought some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes” (170). She is unable to sleep until 3 a.m. The reader chuckles, but Austen is well aware that we understand Catherine’s plight. Though some of us may not like to admit it, we all—at some point in our lives—have jumped under the covers when the wind blew, the curtains moved, and the lights suddenly went out.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Edited by R. W. Chapman, Oxford UP, 1988.

—. Jane Austen’s Letters. Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2011.

Dell, Sue. “Let there be light! Candles in the time of Jane Austen.” Jane Austen’s House Museum, 12 Jan 2016. https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/single-post/2016/1/12/Let-there-be-light-Candles-in-the-time-of-Jane-Austen. Date accessed: 1 October 2017.

Sanborn, Vic. “Lighting the darkness.” Jane Austen’s World, 29 April 2007. https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2007/04/29/lighting-the-darkness-in-the-regency-era/. Date accessed: 1 October 2017.

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At the heart of every household in Jane Austen’s time, a fire burned. Fires provided a fixed source of heat and light, around which people gathered and moved, cooked and cleaned, lived and socialized. And while it’s lovely to imagine that families in Austen’s day gathered together in the evening simply because they enjoyed one another’s company, drawing near the fire on cold, damp days and evenings was a necessity. In a letter to Cassandra in October, Austen says, “It is cold enough now for us to prefer dining upstairs to dining below without a fire” (Letters 151). A warm fire provided heat, comfort, and community; at it, cold feet were thawed, conversations were held, prayers were said, books were read, and tea was made.

Chawton Cottage Fireplace

Chawton Cottage fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge

In her novels, Austen uses fires—and the heat and light that emanate from them—as a centerpiece for household and social activity, and she spins her characters and plots into motion around them in unique and surprising ways. Austen’s ingenious use of fires is fascinating to consider. In many scenes, she uses fires as clever props. However, fires also signify something deeper about the physical, mental, and emotional state of several key characters.

Fires as Clever Props

Let’s first consider the creative way Austen uses fires and fireplaces to move her characters in and out of rooms, group them together, and provide insight into their personalities. Many of these examples are quite humorous:

  • Edmund Bertram goes to the fire on numerous occasions when he is upset and sits down to “stir the fire in thoughtful vexation” (MP 128),
  • Meddlesome Mrs. Norris is, of course, found “fresh arranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared” (MP 273),
  • Reserved Edward Ferrars finds a safe place to talk and read in the small family circle “drawn round the fire” after dinner with the Dashwood women (SS 90),
  • Just the “slight remains” of a fire on a warm day are enough to push an over-heated, hot-and-bothered Frank Churchill over the edge (E 364),
  • In Emma, they have “nothing else to do” and form “a sort of half-circle round the fire,” discussing the fire itself “till other subjects [are] started” (E 320),
  • Fickle Collins changes his mind from Jane to Elizabeth in the matter of a few moments—in the time it takes Mrs. Bennet to stir the fire (PP 71), and
  • When Captain Wentworth wants to cross the room to sit by Anne, he goes first to the fire-place, “probably for the sake of walking away from it soon afterwards” before he goes to sit “with less bare-faced design, by Anne” (P 255).

Fires as Subtle Clues: Marianne Dashwood, Mr. Woodhouse, and Fanny Price

Austen also uses fire to provide significant clues as to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of her characters. During Austen’s lifetime, the spot nearest the fire was reserved for the elderly or infirm, as is seen throughout her novels. Furthermore, giving someone the chair closest to the fire indicated care and concern for their well-being. In the case of Marianne Dashwood, the distracted way she walks to and from the fire signals to Elinor that her mind and heart are in turmoil over Willoughby: “Marianne, too restless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation” (SS 172). In response to Marianne’s visible unhappiness, Mrs. Jennings treats her “with all the indulgent fondness of a parent,” tempting her with delicate foods and giving her the “best place by the fire” (193). However, when the usually healthy and active Marianne later spends a whole day “sitting shivering over the fire with a book in her hand…or in lying, weary and languid, on a sofa,” it’s clear she is suffering from more than emotional distress (307). Elinor hopes that a good night’s sleep will revive Marianne, but Colonel Brandon suspects the danger of something more serious. After a “very restless and feverish night,” the apothecary is sent for and Marianne sinks lower (307).

For Mr. Woodhouse, the very presence or lack of a fire has the power to give him comfort or cause him alarm. In “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!,” Ted Bader argues that Mr. Woodhouse is aging, frail, and perhaps even suffering from “hypothyroidism” based on his diet, physical state, and behavior (Bader). In this case, Mr. Woodhouse’s concern for a fire is actually another clue toward the state of his health. Austen tells us that “Mr. Woodhouse’s tender habits required” a fire “almost every evening throughout the year” (E 351). He talks of fires repeatedly and can only be coaxed to leave his fireside when he is assured of a good fire elsewhere. On the day of the Donwell Abbey outing (on a sunny June day), the concern given to assure Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort and happiness is most touching: “Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party” (357). Emma and their friends wish to include him in the day’s activities, and so, “in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved” (357). This kind of special care is given to someone in delicate health.

In Mansfield Park, a fire for Fanny denotes admittance into the family circle. Fanny finds great comfort in her “little white attic” at Mansfield; however, Mrs. Norris has cruelly “stipulated for there never being a fire” in Fanny’s room (MP 151). This signals to the reader both Mrs. Norris’s true character and Fanny’s station in the Bertram family circle. As Fanny lives there, not quite a family member, not quite a servant, she has no sense of belonging and feels keenly the lack of warmth from the Bertrams. Similarly, when she visits her family in Portsmouth, she again finds herself outside the family circle. In the very place she hopes to find solace, she is again (literally) left in the cold. She finds refuge “sitting together upstairs…quietly employed” with Susan, away from the family and “without a fire” (398). In both homes, she is an outsider. When she is given the luxury of a fire in her room at Mansfield, it reveals the change occurring at Mansfield: “She was struck, quite struck, when, on returning from her walk and going into the East room again, the first thing which caught her eye was a fire lighted and burning. A fire!” (322). This new “indulgence” coincides with her gradual movement into the heart of the family there. As the Bertram sisters continually disappoint Sir Thomas, and Fanny steadily wins his favor, Fanny takes her rightful place as a true member of the family and is treated as such.

Chawton Great House Fireplace

Chawton House fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge.

Fuel Sources in Austen’s England

So what kind of fire did Edmund “stir…in thoughtful vexation” at Mansfield (MP 128)? Many of the examples in Austen’s novels appear to be wood fires, but the “coal fog” of London that lasted well into Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was already present during the Regency period. In All Things Austen, Kirsten Olsen says coal was quickly replacing wood during Austen’s lifetime, due to the “rate at which the English were consuming their natural resources” (Olsen 135). However, Deirdre Le Faye notes in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels that in country houses, the open fireplaces were very large and burnt mostly wood because coal was transported by water, making it “a scared and very expensive fuel” (Le Faye 145).

The question of coal versus wood fires in Austen’s novels can most likely be answered by looking at the size and location of the houses featured, as well as the easiest and most economic fuel available to each. When Mr. Bingley spends a half hour “piling up the fire, lest [Jane] should suffer from the change of room” and suggests that she move “further from the door,” it’s clear he’s piling up wood (PP 54). Catherine Morland’s “spirits” are “immediately assisted by the cheerful blaze of a wood fire” in her room on her first night at the Abbey (NA 167), and the “roaring Christmas fire” in Persuasion must be wood (135). In Mansfield Park, however, the Price family has a coal fire (MP 379). At the Price home, coal was most likely burned because they lived in Portsmouth, a port city, but on the larger estates, away in the quiet countryside, wood was more commonly burned. Matthew White explains that the “growing demand for coal after 1750 revealed serious problems with Britain’s transport system.” A network of canals was build to cut down on the price of coal and by 1815 “over 2,000 miles of canals were in use in Britain” (White). By the time of Austen’s death, coal had become increasingly available even to the country homes of England.

You can follow Rachel Dodge at www.racheldodge.com or on Twitter (twitter.com/RachelEDodge), Instagram (@kindredspiritbooks), and Facebook (facebook.com/racheldodgebooks).

Works Cited

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Oxford UP, 1988.

Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2011.

Bader, Ted. “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!” Persuasions On-Line, vol. 21, no. 2, 2000 http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol21no2/bader.html. Accessed 1 September 2017.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Frances Lincoln, 2002.

Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

White, Matthew. “The Industrial Revolution.” British Library, bl.uk, 14 October 2009, https://www.bl.uk/georgian-britain/articles/the-industrial-revolution. Accessed 1 September 2017.

 

For additional articles related to this topic:

Read more about keeping warm in Regency England here: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/keeping-warm-in-the-regency-era-part-one/

Learn more about coal in Regency England here:
Kane, Kathryn. “Coal: Heat Source or Gemstone?” The Regency Redingote, 3 June 2011, https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/coal-heat-source-or-gemstone/.

Enjoy these entertaining directions to servants on the proper care and lighting of a coal fire:
Boyle, Laura. “Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal.” JaneAusten.co.uk, 20 June 2011, https://www.janeausten.co.uk/directions-how-to-make-a-fire-with-lehigh-coal/.

Find out more about London’s air quality during Jane Austen’s time here:
Sanna, Antonio. “Jane Austen’s London.” Journal of Medical Humanities, 16 April 2017, pp. 1-10. Research Gate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316156566_Jane_Austen%27s_London.

Jane Austen on the Go

Dear Readers,

Once again I found myself traveling between Richmond and Baltimore to visit family. In theory, the route over I-95 should take only 2 hours and 45 minutes. Hah! This time the trip took 5 hours due to heavy traffic and a thunderstorm or two. While driving, I love to listen to my favorite news, comedy, and satire shows. I had forgotten to load my iPod with new podcasts and had nothing of interest on the radio, but I did have a back-up plan.

Jane Austen to the rescue!

I am never far away from listening to my favorite author, whether walking, driving, reading, or working and have listened to all of the following:

Naxos Audio Books:

Naxos CDs are beautifully packaged and produced. Mine came as a gift from the company over 10 years ago, and I am proud to advertise these great products.

IMG_0072

Image @ Vic Sanborn

Most of Jane Austen’s books for Naxos are read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson, whose voice acting is as good as her characterizations on film. I listened to the first half of the unabridged version of Persuasion and was transported by Juliet’s voice as Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth, Sir Walter Elliot, and all the other beloved characters in this book. Each time I listen to Jane’s prose, I learn something new. Her descriptions of Lyme were so vivid that I just knew she wrote them from memory. I could “see” the street leading straight down to the water, and the waves breaking up over the lower cobb.

Jane’s love for the navy and Mrs. Croft’s characterizations of life at sea must have come from the many tales her two sailor brothers told her or wrote to her in their letters. Her characters are so familiar by now that I felt that I was visiting family as I traveled to see my family.

Juliet Stevenson, if you recall, played Mrs. Elton in 1996’s Emma with Gwynneth Paltrow. Watch her introductory scene in these two YouTube clips:

Emma, The New Bride, Mrs. Elton (Juliet Stevenson

You can listen to an audio sample of Juliet reading Persuasion in this link: https://www.naxosaudiobooks.com/persuasion-unabridged/

Juliet did not read Pride and Prejudice, however. Emilia Fox, who played Georgiana Darcy in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, was given this honor. Her voice is somewhat lighter than Julia’s, but her voice acting is equally as impressive. Listen to an audio sample by her in this link: https://www.naxosaudiobooks.com/pride-and-prejudice-unabridged/

Another exception includes Lady Susan, a 2 CD, 2 ½ hour unabridged novel read by Nigel Anthony, Carole Boyd, Kim Hicks, Jonathan Keeble, Ruth Sillers, Patience Tomlinson, and Harriet Walter (who played Fanny Dashwood in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility and reflected on Jane Austen in a Morgan Library film in 2009. https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=NA222812

As an aside, fans of Richard Armitage will be delighted with his Naxos reading of Sylvester by Georgette Heyer (Listen to a sample in this 9 minute clip: http://richardarmitageonline.com/sylvester/Sylvester-Sample.mp3).

sylvester

Richard Armitage reads Sylvester. Image @ Vic Sanborn

If you’ve ever heard his voice overs for the Winter Olympics on BBC (listen to ski jumping: http://richardarmitageonline.com/olympics/BBCWinterOlympics2010-trailer-SkiJumping.mp3) you know that Richard is as delightful to listen to as look at! (Listen to all trailers here: http://richardarmitageonline.com/olympics/olympics-introduction.html.

But I digress.

Naxos is not the only audible way to listen to Jane Austen.

Amazon:

indexThe Jane Austen BBC Radio Drama Collection: Six BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisations – Abridged, Audiobook, CD by Jane Austen (Author), Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, & Julia Stevenson, Jenny Agutter, Julia McKenzie, and Eve Best (Readers) has received 4 ½ stars out of 5 from reviewers. These dramatizations cost around $35.00. You can listen to an excerpt of Mansfield Park in an audio clip on this page, then click on listen.

The reviewers love this collection, except in the way it is boxed. All the CDs are boxed together and it is hard to find individual novels. As one listener puts it: “each disk is on top of the next; to use the last one all the other disks need to be handled.”

In addition, Amazon prime offers customers free movies (many Jane Austen related) and Kindle ebooks specials.

overdriveThe local library – online:

From my armchair, hotel room, or any place with an internet connection, I am able to borrow eBooks, audiobooks and streaming videos using the OverDrive app. The website states: “Available 24/7, now the library comes to you.” After some practice, I am able to check out any e-item that is available.

librivoxLibrivox:

This nonprofit project for providing free audio books of the classics has been one of my favorites for a long time. Back in 2008, I wrote a post about some of my favorite readers, such as Karen Savage, whose recordings have a professional quality. One has to be aware with librivox, since many recordings are performed by amateurs (think of authors who read their own novels – most are squirmingly awful). But librivox offers ALL the classics for free. I demonstrate this site to teachers who work with ESL students or adults who are improving their literacy skills. It is so much easier for them to improve their reading, comprehension, and fluency skills when listening to the words while reading them.

playawayPlayaway:

These stand-alone pre-loaded devices (one audio book each) are ready to use after inserting one battery. One does not need the internet or other devices to listen to the tapes. I own Mansfield Park. My only complaint is the earbuds, which are hard and distort the sound..

Favorite Podcasts on Player.fm

This is such an interesting site! It aggregates all the podcasts on a particular topic and allows you to listen either on your computer or laptop, and device by downloading an app. The player.fm topic I chose was Jane-Austen. Click on the link to view all the offerings. Many are from librivox, but others come from a variety of sources.

favorite podcast

Ah, 21st century technology! Thank you for making Jane Austen available in any format any way that I want to be with her. I feel blessed for spending so many worthwhile hours listening to her novels, reading her books, viewing videos based on her books, and looking for images of her life and family.

 

 

Exploring Jane Austen’s Prayers, by Rachel Dodge

As we reflect this month on the beautiful written treasures Jane Austen left behind her in this world, we also celebrate the wonderful life that she lived. Though she has been gone 200 years now, her novels are a continual gift we can enjoy again and again. And though we never knew her personally, we feel as though we have met her through the lives of her characters.

But what was Austen like? As we read her novels and letters, we see her sense of humor and her incredible intellect, but we often long to know more about what she thought and how she felt. We know that she was a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, and friend and that she lived a simple but full life. However, it is her personal life that is perhaps the most intriguing to us today.  

The Prayers of Jane Austen

The Prayers of Jane Austen. Image Rachel Dodge

One way we can better understand Austen’s rich inner life is by looking at one of the other treasures she left behind—her prayers. Though Austen may have written additional prayers in her lifetime, three prayers were kept by Cassandra with these words written on them: “composed by my ever dear Sister Jane” (Stovel). The date of her prayers is unknown, but many Austen scholars note that the writing style and handwriting is similar to her adult writing. Framed copies of her prayers hang in the churches at Steventon and Chawton, as well as in her bedroom at Chawton Cottage (Jane Austen’s House Museum).

Austen Framed Prayer

A Prayer by Jane Austen. Image Rachel Dodge.

Austen’s father, the Reverend George Austen, was an Anglican clergyman, and religion played a large and important role in their family life. By all accounts, the Reverend Austen took his role as the spiritual leader of his parish seriously and was a devout and capable clergyman. Austen’s letters and prayers suggest that she, too, was quite devout in her faith. It does not appear that she went through the rituals of the Church of England out of mere duty.

With the exception of Mansfield Park, Austen doesn’t openly discuss matters of faith in her novels, even though they all include characters who are clergyman (some of whom—think Mr. Collins or Mr. Elton—are not the most exemplary representatives of the church). In Mansfield Park, however, matters relating to religious activity and the clergy are discussed in more detail. In particular, Fanny comments on the habit of daily prayer being given up by families:

“It is a pity,” cried Fanny, “that the custom should have been discontinued. It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one’s ideas of what such a household should be! A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer, is fine!” (MP 86)

Steventon Plaque (1)

Steventon church plaque. Image Rachel Dodge.

In the evening, the Austen family often enjoyed reading together from novels, poetry, and sermons, as well as from the delightful pieces that Jane wrote. Before going to bed, they also had family prayers. While we don’t know the exact details of what their devotions entailed, Austen wrote the following to Cassandra in a letter: “In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home” (Austen Letters). It is possible that her prayers could have been shared during these gatherings.

Austen’s prayers closely echo the prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the liturgy of the Anglican Church. She would have grown up hearing the prayers in it at church services and likely during morning and evening prayers at home. The BCP contains prayers for Sunday services, special services, and morning and evening prayers. Each of Austen’s prayers is roughly thirteen sentences long and is written in the beautiful and elaborate style of the BCP prayers.

Interior Steventon Church

Interior Steventon Church. Image Rachel Dodge.

Each of Austen’s “evening prayers” expresses heartfelt reflection on the day that has passed, sincere gratitude for the many blessings given, and specific requests for continued safety, health, travel mercies, and comfort. The first prayer begins with the words, “Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips.” This highlights the beautiful language of the prayers and the heartfelt reverence they evince. While each prayer is personal in nature, asking for God’s aid to live lives that are loving and gracious, they also express kind concern for those ill or traveling, as well as widows, orphans, and prisoners. Each prayer ends with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Austen’s prayers suggest a sweetness and sincerity that is hard to miss. Like her novels, there is much more to Austen’s prayers than just eloquent words. They are not only beautiful—they are deeply heartfelt and founded on biblical principles. It is important that we do not gloss over them too quickly because of their length or language. Taking a closer look can teach us much about Austen’s inner life and faith. To read the prayers themselves, please follow these links:

Helen LeFroy Winchester Cathedral

Helen LeFroy at a private JASNA ceremony at Jane Austen’s grave, Winchester Cathedral, 2007. Image Rachel Dodge.

When Austen died, Cassandra wrote this to her niece Fanny Knight:

“I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.” (July 18, 1817)

As we consider all that has come and gone in the 200 years since Austen’s death, we can all give thanks for the gifts she left behind her and reflect upon the rich life she led—a life full of family, friends, fiction, and faith.

Further suggested reading:

Bruce Stovel also wrote an article in Persuasions that gives a detailed history of Austen’s prayers and how they fit into her life and novels. To read Stovel’s article, “‘A Nation Improving in Religion’: Jane Austen’s Prayers and Their Place in Her Life and Art,” please follow this link: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number16/stovel.htm

In recent years, books such as Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter by Irene Collins (2007) and The Spirituality of Jane Austen by Paula Hollingsworth (2017) have provided a deeper look into Austen’s spiritual life and faith. Terry Glaspey also released a beautiful gift book called The Prayers of Jane Austen (2015) that provides a short introduction to Ausen’s prayers and the prayers themselves, along with illustrations from the Regency period.

To read the full text of Cassandra’s letter and more articles about Austen’s final illness and passing, please follow this link: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/cassandra-writes-about-jane-austens-death-july-18-1817/

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters, Edited by Deirdre Le Faye. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. Mansfield Park, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

“Letters of Jane Austen — Brabourne Edition.” Pemberley.com, 2011, http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/brablt17.html.

Stovel, Bruce. “‘A Nation Improving in Religion’: Jane Austen’s Prayers and Their Place in Her Life and Art,” Persuasions, 16 (1994): 185-196.

Other posts on this blog about Jane Austen’s death: Click here

DevotionHello readers at Jane Austen’s World! My name is Meg Kerr, and I’m thrilled to be here with you. First, I’d like to thank Vic for allowing me to contribute this guest post on my new book, Devotion. Devotion explores events after Pride and Prejudice ends through fan-favourite characters including Georgiana Darcy and Mrs. Bennet. I think you’ll find it an interesting read, as I’ve added several unexpected twists.

Also, in celebration of Jane Austen’s 200th anniversary, I’m offering Devotion for FREE  beginning today until July 18th.

To get your free copy of Devotion, click here to visit the giveaway page!

Q: What prompted you to write Devotion?

A: I wanted to know what happened after Pride and Prejudice ended! Not what happened to Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley – I was satisfied that they were happy in their marriages and that domestic bliss was their lot. No, I wanted to know about Mary and Kitty and Lydia Bennet, and Caroline Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy.

Austen gives us some hints: Lydia “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her”; Caroline Bingley “paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth”; “Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home”; Mary “was obliged to mix more with the world”; Kitty became “less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid.” That’s not enough, not by a long shot! So, I wrote my first book entitled Experience.

Then it turned out that Georgiana needed a book all to herself for her adventures—so I wrote Devotion. Georgiana falls under the spell of one of those bad boys that Austen loved to feature in her novels (think Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford), a very attractive young man named John Amaury. With Austen giving me advice on how to handle a love affair between a gently raised young lady and a bad boy, you can imagine that Georgiana finds herself in some peril!

Q: What aspects about Austen and her life did you find most interesting while writing Devotion?

A: Let me start by saying that as a reader I don’t want to know about a writer’s personal life. I want to know the writer through her or his writing. That’s how her or his mind touches mine. So, I won’t talk about Austen’s life; I try not to know much about it.

But her mind is another thing.

When I was researching Experience, I knew I wanted to put Colonel Fitzwilliam on stage so I idly checked out his family’s earldom. (Remember he is the second son of an earl.) To my amazement, the Fitzwilliam family did indeed have an earldom. They were the Earls of Tyrconnell, an Irish title. They had lost it for treason long before Pride and Prejudice takes place, but still, there it was.

I think that was the first time I realized that there is more to Austen than appears on the surface (wonderful though that surface is).

Recently I was chatting with Professor Lorrie Clark (an Austen expert and a very active JASNA member) about Mansfield Park. Pride and Prejudice lovers abhor Mansfield Park because Austen championed the wispy Fanny Price over the Elizabeth Bennet-like Mary Crawford. Lorrie pointed me to a paper she had written* that explores the influence on the novel of the writings of (very minor) 18th century British philosopher the Earl of Shaftesbury. To say that my jaw dropped when I read the paper would be an understatement!

There are depths to Austen. That’s part of what makes her novels so endlessly re-readable. No one can step twice into the same river. And no one can read the same Jane Austen novel twice. It’s always a different book.

* “Remembering Nature: Soliloquy as Aesthetic Form in Mansfield Park” (Eighteenth-Century Fiction 24, no. 2 (Winter 2011–12)

Q: Why will fans of Jane Austen want to read Devotion?

A: If they’re like me, they’ll want to read Devotion to find out what happened next. But that by itself is not a sufficient inducement. After all there’s lots of “fan fiction” to dip into. I’m too shy and embarrassed to say anything myself, so let me quote from Professor Lorraine Clark’s foreword to Devotion:

Meg Kerr’s two novels to date offer pleasures of recognition beyond familiarities of character, plot, and even scenes (for instance, the Bennets once more arguing about new tenants at Netherfield Park, or Lady Catherine arguing with yet another young lady attempting to steal her daughter’s rightful suitor) … We recognize the genre of 18th century novels themselves—French as well as English—structurally replete with letters and most of all conversations, Jane Austen’s specialty. We are pleasurably immersed in 18th century English diction from start to finish—in cadences and turns of phrase too often missing even from movie “reproductions” of Austen’s novels. Meg Kerr’s ear for dialogue characteristic of each particular speaker, and emphasis on “conversation” over description or plot, has been my own most unexpected pleasure in reading these books.

If you’re so inclined, Devotion will be available as a FREE digital download beginning today until July 18th as my way to commemorate the life and literary contributions of Jane Austen. You’ll find the link to get your copy near the top of this post. I’d love to hear your feedback on the book!

About Devotion:

In this sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Georgiana Darcy, now twenty years old and completely lovely, is ripe for marriage. Her brother has carefully selected her future husband, but the arrival of a long-delayed letter, and a secret journey, bring Georgiana into the arms of an utterly wicked and charming young man whose attentions promise her ruin. At the same time, events in Meryton are creating much-needed occupation for Mrs. Bennet and a quandary for Lydia Bennet’s girlhood companion Pen Harrington; and the former Caroline Bingley is given — perhaps — an opportunity to re-make some of her disastrous choices. Meg Kerr, writing effortlessly and wittily in the style of Jane Austen, sweeps the reader back to the year 1816 for a reunion with many beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice and an introduction to some intriguing characters.

About Meg Kerr:

What do you do when you live in the twenty-first century but a piece of your heart lies in the nineteenth? If you are author Meg Kerr you let your head and hand follow your heart. With her love of country life—dogs and horses, long walks in the woods and fields, dining with family and neighbours and dancing with friends, reading and writing and the best conversation—and her familiarity with eighteenth and nineteenth century history and literature, Meg has a natural gift to inhabit, explore and reimagine the world that Jane Austen both dwelt in and created, and to draw readers there with her.

Hello readers at Jane Austen’s World! My name is Meg Kerr, and I’m thrilled to be here with you. First, I’d like to thank Vic for allowing me to contribute this guest post on my new book, Devotion. Devotion explores events after Pride and Prejudice ends through fan-favourite characters including Georgiana Darcy and Mrs. Bennet. I think you’ll find it an interesting read, as I’ve added several unexpected twists.

Also, in celebration of Jane Austen’s 200th anniversary, I’m offering Devotion for FREE on beginning today until July 18th.

To get your free copy of Devotion, click here to visit the giveaway page!

Vic: What prompted you to write Devotion?

Meg: I wanted to know what happened after Pride and Prejudice ended! Not what happened to Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley – I was satisfied that they were happy in their marriages and that domestic bliss was their lot. No, I wanted to know about Mary and Kitty and Lydia Bennet, and Caroline Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy.

Austen gives us some hints: Lydia “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her”; Caroline Bingley “paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth”; “Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home”; Mary “was obliged to mix more with the world”; Kitty became “less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid.” That’s not enough, not by a long shot! So, I wrote my first book entitled Experience.

When it turned out that Georgiana needed a book all to herself for her adventures—so I wrote Devotion. Georgiana falls under the spell of one of those bad boys that Austen loved to feature in her novels (think Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford), a very attractive young man named John Amaury. With Austen giving me advice on how to handle a love affair between a gently raised young lady and a bad boy, you can imagine that Georgiana finds herself in some peril!
Vic: What aspects about Austen and her life did you find most interesting while writing Devotion?

Meg: Let me start by saying that as a reader I don’t want to know about a writer’s personal life. I want to know the writer through her or his writing. That’s how her or his mind touches mine. So, I won’t talk about Austen’s life; I try not to know much about it.

But her mind is another thing.

When I was researching Experience, I knew I wanted to put Colonel Fitzwilliam on stage so I idly checked out his family’s earldom. (Remember he is the second son of an earl.) To my amazement, the Fitzwilliam family did indeed have an earldom. They were the Earls of Tyrconnell, an Irish title. They had lost it for treason long before Pride and Prejudice takes place, but still, there it was.

I think that was the first time I realized that there is more to Austen than appears on the surface (wonderful though that surface is).

Recently I was chatting with Professor Lorrie Clark (an Austen expert and a very active JASNA member) about Mansfield Park. Pride and Prejudice lovers abhor Mansfield Park because Austen championed the wispy Fanny Price over the Elizabeth Bennet-like Mary Crawford. Lorrie pointed me to a paper she had written* that explores the influence on the novel of the writings of (very minor) 18th century British philosopher the Earl of Shaftesbury. To say that my jaw dropped when I read the paper would be an understatement!

There are depths to Austen. That’s part of what makes her novels so endlessly re-readable. No one can step twice into the same river. And no one can read the same Jane Austen novel twice. It’s always a different book.

* “Remembering Nature: Soliloquy as Aesthetic Form in Mansfield Park” (Eighteenth-Century Fiction 24, no. 2 (Winter 2011–12)

Vic: Why will fans of Jane Austen want to read Devotion?

Meg: If they’re like me, they’ll want to read Devotion to find out what happened next. But that by itself is not a sufficient inducement. After all there’s lots of “fan fiction” to dip into. I’m too shy and embarrassed to say anything myself, so let me quote from Professor Lorraine Clark’s foreword to Devotion:

Meg Kerr’s two novels to date offer pleasures of recognition beyond familiarities of character, plot, and even scenes (for instance, the Bennets once more arguing about new tenants at Netherfield Park, or Lady Catherine arguing with yet another young lady attempting to steal her daughter’s rightful suitor) … We recognize the genre of 18th century novels themselves—French as well as English—structurally replete with letters and most of all conversations, Jane Austen’s specialty. We are pleasurably immersed in 18th century English diction from start to finish—in cadences and turns of phrase too often missing even from movie “reproductions” of Austen’s novels. Meg Kerr’s ear for dialogue characteristic of each particular speaker, and emphasis on “conversation” over description or plot, has been my own most unexpected pleasure in reading these books.

About Devotion:

In this sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Georgiana Darcy, now twenty years old and completely lovely, is ripe for marriage. Her brother has carefully selected her future husband, but the arrival of a long-delayed letter, and a secret journey, bring Georgiana into the arms of an utterly wicked and charming young man whose attentions promise her ruin. At the same time, events in Meryton are creating much-needed occupation for Mrs. Bennet and a quandary for Lydia Bennet’s girlhood companion Pen Harrington; and the former Caroline Bingley is given — perhaps — an opportunity to re-make some of her disastrous choices. Meg Kerr, writing effortlessly and wittily in the style of Jane Austen, sweeps the reader back to the year 1816 for a reunion with many beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice and an introduction to some intriguing characters.

Meg KerrAbout Meg Kerr:

What do you do when you live in the twenty-first century but a piece of your heart lies in the nineteenth? If you are author Meg Kerr you let your head and hand follow your heart. With her love of country life—dogs and horses, long walks in the woods and fields, dining with family and neighbours and dancing with friends, reading and writing and the best conversation—and her familiarity with eighteenth and nineteenth century history and literature, Meg has a natural gift to inhabit, explore and reimagine the world that Jane Austen both dwelt in and created, and to draw readers there with her.

“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” This line from Mrs. Elton in Emma is quite humorous, but the quote itself holds an eternal truth for most of us. There really is no place like one’s own home.

For Jane Austen, “home” was in Hampshire, a lush, green county in the south of England. She seems to have been happiest there, and it’s no wonder. When I visited there in June, it was as lovely as ever. The narrow country roads wind slowly through gentle hills and are lined with tall trees and thick bushes. Large, green fields stretch out for miles beyond. Here and there, there are houses set far back from the road. The storybook villages that pop up every few miles are complete with thatched roofs, wood and brick buildings, and picket fences around the gardens.

The air is still and quiet there. But for the cars that pass by every so often, it’s like stepping back in time.

STEVENTON

Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life was at the Rectory in Steventon, and it surely brought comfort to her in many ways. She grew up there, was educated there, and spent many happy years with her family there.

Image 1 Rectory Site (1)

Rectory site today. Image Rachel Dodge

The lanes become more and more narrow as you near Steventon. Queen Anne’s Lace grows in profusion and the undergrowth presses close to the road. Trees grow up over the roads to form deep green tunnels of dappled light. Though the Rectory was torn down long ago, one can see the place where it once stood. Today, it is a large green field dotted with white sheep.

Image 2 Steventon Walk to Church

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge.

Driving further up the lane to St. Nicholas Church, where her father Reverend George Austen was the rector, one enters a tunnel of trees that stretches around a bend and out of sight. It’s not hard to imagine Jane and Cassandra walking that beautiful lane on a fair Sunday morning to attend services at the church.

Image 3 Exterior Steventon Church

Exterior of St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Image Rachel Dodge

The church itself is still in use today and looks the same as it would have in Jane’s time, making it quite unique. It is a small, simple church, built around 1200 by the Normans. In the heat of summer, its thick stone walls provide a cool, quiet place to sit and look, ponder, or pray. People from the neighborhood are known to stop by to visit and pray.

Image 4 Interior Steventon Church (1)

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge

Highlight: When we were there, one of the locals showed us how to open the door, which is kept unlocked for any who wish to visit and rest. The church is a place of stillness and beauty with its soft, rose colored-light from the mosaics and stained-glass windows.

Image 5 Wheatsheaf

Wheatsheaf Hotel, Basingstoke. Image Rachel Dodge

Up the road three miles is the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Basingstoke (known as the Wheatsheaf Inn during Austen’s life), where Austen walked to post letters and collect the family mail. Though it has since been expanded and updated, and now houses a lovely hotel and pub, the original building is still visible.

CHAWTON

The Austen family left Hampshire in 1801 when her father retired from his position as rector, and by all accounts, Jane Austen did not find that same home-comfort she had known at Steventon until she came back to Hampshire again years later. In 1809, several years after her father’s death, she moved with her mother and Cassandra into “the cottage” at her brother Edward’s estate in Chawton, Hampshire. Though Austen traveled frequently to visit family and friends during her adult years, Chawton Cottage and its surrounding areas once again became her true home.

Image 6 Jane's House Sign

Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s house sign. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House Museum, or Chawton Cottage, is where Jane lived until she moved to Winchester to seek medical attention toward the end of her life. The lanes, the village, the church, and the areas surrounding Chawton became the happy backdrop for the most prolific period of writing in Austen’s life.

Image 7 Jane's House Front

Front of Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House is open for tours daily and is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens. Baskets of books by Austen sit on benches in the shade for any guest who wants to sit and read. In the kitchen, there is a station set up for making lavender sachets and another where visitors can practice writing with a quill. There are also straw bonnets and dresses for guests to borrow if they wish to enjoy a more authentic experience!

Image 8 Roses Entrance

Entrance to Chawton Cottage with rose bower. Image Rachel Dodge

Inside the home, there are many items that are original heirlooms belonging to the family or are similar to what Jane would have known. I sat and played the piano (left image), which they allow visitors to do if they are pianists. In the dining room, one can see the Knight family’s Wedgwood dinner service, the tea things Jane would have used to make tea, and Jane’s writing desk (right image). Upstairs, guests can view the bedrooms and read more about the history of the family.

Image 9 Piano

Piano, Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 10 desk

Jane Austen’s writing desk. Image Rachel Dodge.

Highlight: At Jane Austen’s House, I met and spoke with a descendant of Austen’s, Jeremy Knight. He grew up at Chawton House (or the “Great House”), as did his daughter Caroline. When I visited, he was standing in the bedroom of Chawton Cottage, where Jane and Cassandra once shared a room, happily sharing Jane Austen’s history with visitors. What a treat! For further information about Chawton Cottage, you can read more here: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/

Image 11 Bed

Bed inside the room that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared. Image Rachel Dodge.

St. Nicholas Church, Chawton is larger and more grand than the church at Steventon. Though it does not look as it did in Austen’s day, one can see the evidence of years of history inside and out. Like the church at Steventon, the church at Chawton is still a working parish church today.

Image 12 Chawton Church Exterior

Exterior, St. Nicholas, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 13 Chawton Church Int

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: If you walk around the back of the church, you can see the graves of Jane Austen’s mother and sister there. (Austen’s grave and memorial are found at Winchester Cathedral in Winchester.) Both women lived long, full lives, unlike our dear Jane.

Image 14 Graves at Chawton

Gravestones of Jane Austen’s mother and sister. Image Rachel Dodge

Chawton House and its gardens are open for public tours today. The Elizabethan era house, originally owned by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, is now a library and study center devoted to women writers. There is also a tea shop inside the house.

Image 15 Chawton Great House Ext

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 16 Chawton House Int

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: Caroline Jane Knight, daughter of Jeremy Knight and 5th great-niece to Jane, released a book in June called Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. It tells her personal story of growing up at Chawton House, the family’s Christmas traditions, baking with her Granny, and helping in the tea room. She is the last Austen descendent to have grown up in the house (before it was sold and later became the Chawton House Library).

Caroline has also formed the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping support literacy in communities in need worldwide. https://janeaustenlf.org/

For more on the history of Chawton House, you can read more here: https://chawtonhouse.org/about-us/our-story/

CELEBRATING 200 YEARS

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death later this month, there are many special events all around Hampshire this summer and throughout the year. The people there are proud of their Austen heritage.

As part of the 200th year celebration, Jane Austen’s House Museum has a special exhibit called “41 Objects.” The number 41 marks the number of years that Jane graced this earth, and the objects can be found in and around the museum. Read here for more: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/41-objects

Image 17 41 Objects Plaque

Chawton Cottage plaque. Image Rachel Dodge

 

Image 18 41 Objects Wedgwood

Wedgwood china, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

One highlight for those visiting Hampshire during the “Jane Austen 200: A Life in Hampshire” celebration is the “Sitting with Jane” park benches. These “Book Benches” are scattered throughout the Hampshire area and are part of a public book trail. Each of the 24 benches focuses on a Jane Austen theme as interpreted by a professional artist. Fans can take photos sitting on the benches and post them to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SittingWithJane. Visit http://www.sittingwithjane.com/ or search @SittingWithJane on Twitter to see the benches or learn more.

 

Image 19 Steventon Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 20 Chawton Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

For a full list of the events and exhibits scheduled for this year, you can read more here: http://janeausten200.co.uk/

If you have the chance to travel to England, visiting Jane’s beautiful Hampshire countryside is a must. Hampshire has all of the charm and beauty of modern British culture alongside a long, rich, and vibrant history of the past.

Other posts about Steventon, Chawton Cottage, and Chawton on this blog – Click here to see posts.

Gentle Reader,

This week marks the July 4th holiday in the U.S., which means family gatherings, outdoor picnics, firework celebrations, and, most of all, ice cream! This delicious treat became more and more common at the turn of the 19th century when the method of transporting and storing great big blocks of ice over long distances became economically feasible. 

On July 1, 1808, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra from Godmersham:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

This statement reveals a number of  interesting details about her stay at her rich brother’s (Edward’s) mansion:

  • Ice cream was expensive (vulgar economy). We know our Miss Jane counted her pennies and did not live a life of extravagance, thus her tart observation.
  • Edward spared no expenses in giving his family this luxurious dessert.
  • Treating guests to ices in July during an era without electricity meant that Edward’s estate must have had an ice house to keep the ice frozen.
027

Georgian ices had to be served immediately before they melted. Image by Vic Sanborn: Hampton Mansion

The ice used for Edward’s ices most likely came via a variety of routes – local frozen ponds, rivers, or lakes in winter, or enormous blocks harvested in Norway or Canada, which were then shipped to the UK and transported by barge up canals to their final destinations – The Sweet Things in Life, Number One London Net.

hampton-002

Mound of the ice house on the grounds of Hampton Mansion. Image@Vic Sanborn

There were many forms of ice houses and ways to keep ice frozen, such as in the one I described in a previous post, 1790 Ice House, Hampton Mansion, and the one at Tapeley Park (see image below). Ice houses provided a dark, cool spot that preserved enough of the precious commodity to last until the next frost or ice block delivery.

Ice_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_878045

The 18th century ice house at Tapeley Park, U.K. is above ground. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike modern-day methods of home ice-cream making … the Georgian method of creating a frozen sweet treat was so effective that it could turn liquid solid within 45 minutes. The secret to this 21st-century trouncing wizardry? Two buckets, some ice and a bit of salt. – Would You Eat Ice Cream From 300 Years Ago?, The Telegraph, Alexi Duggin, 2015

After chopping and shaving huge blocks of ice, making ice cream was rather simple:  Use a recipe you love. Fill a bucket with ice. Add ice cream ingredient to a second, smaller bucket and place it inside the larger bucket. Add salt to the ice, and stir regularly. Voila! Liquid is turned solid. Serve immediately before your creation melts.

When I was in my 20’s, my then husband and I used an old-fashioned ice-maker to make the most delicious peach ice cream with the fruit in season. Our ice cream took longer to make, simply because we used more sugar than the Georgian recipes. We cranked and cranked that ice seemingly forever, but it was worth the trouble. When we had company, there was never enough to go around.

Recalling how hot summers were without air conditioning, one can only imagine how refreshing it must have felt to eat something ice cold on a summer’s day in an era with no electricity and when people wore layers and layers of clothing.

 

uc004810.jpg_TJ Recipe hands

Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipe for making vanilla ice cream @ Open Culture.

According to Monticello.org, ice cream began appearing in French cookbooks starting in the late 17th century. 

There “are accounts of ice cream being served in the American colonies as early as 1744.” Jefferson likely tasted his fair share of the dessert while living in France (1784-1789), and it would continue to be served at Monticello upon his return. Open Culture: Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten vanilla ice cream recipe 

Mr. Jefferson’s recipe is a tad hard to read, so I searched for one in an early cookery book and found one from the 1733 edition of Mrs. Mary Eale’s Receipts. It offers this fine recipe, which requires from 16 -18 lbs of ice to be chopped:

To ice CREAM.
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou’d freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten’d; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream

 

Tomorrow, on July 4th, you can be sure I’ll celebrate with a delicious bowl of ice cream. My favorite is still peach ice cream, followed by vanilla, and peppermint in the winter.

Happy holiday, all! Let me know which flavors you prefer and if you’ve ever hand-cranked your own ices.  Vic

More resources: 

 

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