Archive for February, 2007

A walking-dress cannot be constructed too simply. All attractive and fancy articles should be confined to the carriage-dress, or dinner and evening apparel. We shall here particularly address the order of females who may not have the luxury of a carriage, and yet be within the rank of gentlewomen. This class composes treble the number of those of whom fortune has bestowed the appendages of equipages and retinue. We shall in our observations particularly aim at increasing their respectability, by leading them to adopt a style of adornment which, while it combines fashion and elegance, shall be remarkable only for its neatness and simplicity.

Written by a Lady of Distinction in “The Mirror of Graces,” 1811, p. 113

February 1811
April, 1811

October, 1811

October, 1811

November, 1811

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London Fog

From “An American in Regency England,” Louis Simonds writes in March 5, 1810

“It is difficult to form an idea of the kind of winter days in London; the smoke of fossil coals forms an atmosphere, perceivable for many miles, like a great round cloud attached to the earth. In the town itself, where the weather is cloudy and foggy, which is frequently the case in winter, this smoke increases the general dingy hue, and terminates the length of every street with a fixed grey mist, receding as you advance.”

Mr. Simond’s also writes:

“The inhabitants of London, such as they are seen in the streets, have, as well as the outside of their houses a sort of dingy, smoky look; not dirty absolutely–for you generally perceive clean linen–but the outside garments are of a dull, dark cast, and harmonize with mud and smoke. Prepossessed with a high opinion of English corpulency.”

In fact, by the 1800’s more than a million London residents were burning coal, and winter fogs became a frequent and pervasive nuisance. How can we tie in these London fogs to Jane Austen’s works? Here’s an excerpt from an interesting online essay:

Escaping the Fog of Pride and Prejudice

The words of the title of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, shroud the main characters, Elizabeth and Darcy in a fog. The plot of the novel focuses on how Elizabeth and Darcy escape the fog and find each other. Both characters must individually recognize their faults and purge them. At the beginning of the novel, it seems as if the two will never be able to escape the thick fog. The scene at the Netherfield ball makes the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy much more climactic because the pride and prejudice of both increases greatly during the night….

Elizabeth later declines a proposal from Darcy. He proposed, while his pride and love for Elizabeth were still conflicting. His proposal was like Collins’, he felt he was giving Elizabeth a great honor. He told her of his struggle to overcome his dislike of Elizabeth’s family. The proposal is so unromantic that Elizabeth returns a harsh rejection. This is when Darcy recognizes his pride and begins to purge it. As a truer character is revealed before Elizabeth, she her own prejudice towards him and quickly loses it. The marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy is such a great one because each had to conquer numerable obstacles to be able to accept the other. The Netherfield ball introduced many of the obstacles which made the marriage seem impossible.

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A lady’s necessities, such as a fan, scent bottle and handkerchief, were carried in a small bag, or reticule, which was often circular or losenge-shaped. Mrs. Elton in Emma had a purple and gold reticule in which she had carried a letter. For carrying coins, a popular purse was was the ‘stocking’, or ‘miser’s purse’; long and narrow in shape, with an opening in the centre, it had two rings to close it and ornaments at either end. Many of these were knitted, netted, or crocheted, and making purses was a popular pastime; Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice considered netting a purse a female ‘accomplishment.’

P 150, Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style, Susan Watkins.

Also see:

The Costumer’s Manifesto

The Georgian Index

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History of Valentine’s Day

The reason behind Valentines Day celebration dates back to the Roman Empire. During the 3rd century, Rome was engaged in many unpopular wars, and Emperor Claudius II was having trouble persuading soldiers to join his military. He believed this was due to men’s attachments to their lovers or families so he outlawed all marriages in Rome.
Enter St. Valentine, a Roman priest.

Valentine thought the Emperor’s decree was unjust and began performing secret marriages for young lovers. When his actions were finally discovered, he was imprisoned.

While in prison, Valentine supposedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is used today. This is considered the first valentine. Click here for the source of this information.

In the 14th century Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated with loved ones and a large feast was organized to mark the day. Valentine greetings were said or sung, but by the 15th Century beginning to be put into writing. In 16th century began the custom of exchanging gifts between lovers with the passing of paper Valentine. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day celebrations took off around the 17th century. The oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The valentine is now part of a collection in the British library in London, England.

Initially, valentines were usually handmade and given anonymously. During the 1800s much larger hand-painted copperplates molded in the shape of hearts replaced paper e-cards. In later years, the copperplates gradually gave way to woodcuts and carvings and lithographs. By the middle of the 18th century, Valentine’s Day become popular amongst the masses and it became a common tradition for all social classes to secretly exchange small tokens of lover or handwritten love notes called Valentine. Despite the existence of the pre-printed card, the majority of valentines were one of a kind and made by hand. Consequently, few exist today.By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small gifts or handwritten notes on that day.
By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters. Cheaper postage rates helped contribute to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.


The History.Behind.Valentines.Day

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Talking to Jane Austen

An interesting and comprehensive site for Jane Austen Fans has her answering questions, such as the one listed below. Click on Talking to Jane Austen to enter.

What relevance do your stories hold for the modern day teenager?(Pam, aged 25+ from Barstable in Essex)

Dear Pam,

Modern day teenagers are, of course, much wiser than I am and I would no doubt have much to learn from them, and possibly much to envy them – female freedoms are on the increase, I gather!

And note how ‘sarky’ I was to sister Cassandra about the “one damn pregnancy after another” situation for even privileged ladies in the married state in my time (all my major novels ended with marriage): “Poor animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty!” I wrote of a favourite niece. Happy endings, indeed!

Perhaps there is something to learn from me, after all, but pick your novel with care.

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine, my ingenuous heroine, is genteel, but a country girl and in some ways a gullible ninny come up to town (Bath, actually).

Catherine’s honesty and essential sanity and goodwill do not prevent a good deal of suffering, especially when she appears to have been cast off by the Tilney family, and ‘saved’ only by the last-minute loyalty of her (slightly patronising) boyfriend Henry.

The other novels might appeal in offering dilemmas and life-choices in what seems a different social scene. In Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, pairs of sisters – Marianne and Elinor Dashwood and Jane and Elizabeth Bennet – have to negotiate their way in a patriarchal, patronising society without losing their essential human dignity, selling themselves or selling themselves short. Their exposure and vulnerability through economic pressures is quite well depicted, I think.

Marianne is dumped by her apparently dashing but quite callous young fellow Willoughby and finds chastened protection with the good old Colonel. Elinor goes through hell with skulking Edward, but gets him in the end, for what the glum fellow is worth. Elizabeth endures intolerable pressures to get her Darcy only on terms that preserve her pride, and her sense of deep concern for trusting sister Jane. Jane keeps smiling through as her true love Bingley is twitched away by his designing family while her family, by contrast, seems to do all it can to devalue itself and make itself ridiculous. Oh, the trials and tribulations of young love!

If you do happen to be privileged, look at Emma and you will unlearn arrogance, a desire to patronise the older or weaker members of society, and cease to be manipulative and self-regarding – if you were in the first place. Mind you, I loved Emma – faultless in spite of all her faults.

Yours truly,


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Ophelia’s Valentine’s Song

Valentine’s Day has been a celebration for lovers since the medieval period.

Jane Austen would certainly have known Ophelia’s Song, written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber- door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.

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Fashionable London Addresses

Grosvenor Street, near Park Lane (right)

Grosvenor Square (Left)

“One’s address was a symbol of status. Maria obtained ‘one of the best houses in Wimpole Street’; the Johan Dashwoods (Sense and Sensibility) were well situated in Harley Street; while the Bingleys (Pride and Prejudice) found equally upper-crust accommodations in Mr. Hurst’s house in Grosvenor Street. By contrast, the Gardiners, who were in trade, lived in Gracechurch Street, in the commercial district of London and within sight of Mr. Gardiner’s warehouse.” From: Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style by Susan Watkins.Wimpole Street

“The Georgian period in London coincided very neatly with the Palladian Revival in architecture and art. Lord Burlington, in his 1715 design of Burlington House in Piccadilly, played a major role in popularizing this classical style which became the norm for much of the century. A few years later, in 1725, Lord Burlington was at it again, with his remodeling of Chiswick House, then a country retreat but now part of the greater London sprawl.

At the same time Grosvenor Square was laid out in Mayfair, part of the Grosvenor family’s development of that aristocratic district. More London squares followed, notably at Berkeley Square (design by William Kent). Kent was also responsible for building the Treasury Building(1733), and the Horse Guards (1745).” From: (Britain Express)

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It is an historical fact that the Prince Regent and Beau Brummel had a falling out. The actual events are not known for sure, but here are two knowledgeable sources that speculate as to the nature of the rift.In The Most Polished Gentleman, Cynthia Campbell writes, “There had been frequent minor quarrels in the past; one was in the Pavilion, when, as Captain Gronow recounts, Brummell had thrown his snuffbox onto the fire after the Bishop of Winchester had unthinkingly helped himself from it. The Regent, who, Gronow said, had a great reverence for Bishops, considered this action an unforgivable insult. They were never close after this, although they continued to meet.” p.133

In The Wits and Beaux of Society, Grace Wharton and Philip Wharton write,”A quarrel did take place between George the Prince and George the Less, but of its causes no living mortal is cognizant: we can only give the received versions. It appears, then, that dining with H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Master Brummell asked him to ring the bell. Considering the intimacy between them, and that the Regent often sacrificed his dignity to his amusement, there was nothing extraordinary in this. But it is added that the Prince did ring the bell in question—unhappy bell to jar so between two such illustrious friends!—and when the servant came, ordered ‘Mr. Brummell’s carriage!’ Another version palms off the impertinence on a drunken midshipman, who, being related to the Comptroller of the Household, had been invited to dinner by the Regent. Another yet states that Brummell, being asked to ring the said bell, replied, ‘Your Royal Highness is close to it.’ No one knows the truth of the legend, any more than whether Homer was a man or a myth. It surely does not matter. The friends quarrelled, and perhaps it was time they should do so, for they had never improved one another’s morals; but it is only fair to the Beau to add that he always denied the whole affair, and that he himself gave as the cause of the quarrel his own sarcasms on the Prince’s increasing corpulency…”

Carlton House


Cynthia Campbell goes on the say, “There was a final encounter. While waiting for their carriages after the opera, in a great crush, they came close. An eyewitness reported that Brummell was about to bump into the Regent. “In order to stop Brummel, therefore, and prevent an actual collision, one of the Prince’s suite tapped him on the back, when he immediately turned sharply round, and saw there was not more than a foot between his nose and the Prince of Wales’. I watched with intense curiosity, and observed that his countenance did not change in the slightest degree nor did his head move; they looked straight into each other’s eyes, the Prince evidently amazed and annoyed. Brummell, however, did not quail or show the least embarrassment. He receded quite quietly, and backed slowly step by step till the crowd closed between them, never once taking his eyes off those of the Prince….

By 1816 Brummell had such heavy gambling losses that he had to leave England to escape arrest for debt. He lived for many years in Calais, and later in Caen. With sad irony, the old age of the prince of dandies, the paragon of cleanliness, was one of imbecility, decrepitude, and disease. “His habits were so loathsome that an attendant could hardly be found for him.” He died in a Caen asylum in 1840.

For a humorous doggerel recounting the rift, click on the link below:

Prince Regent According to Albert Igginbottom

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