Archive for March, 2007

A new Assembly Room and Hotel in the Mall (now the Clifton Club) was opened in 1811. This “spacious and elegant” building contained “a noble reception saloon and tea room, with convenient lobbies, a billiard room etc” and “every accommodation for both families and individuals, even to sets of apartments/drawing rooms, a coffee room, a shop for pastry and confectionery, with an adjoining room for soups, fruits and ices; hot, cold and vapour baths”. In all, the hotel had 70 bedrooms and 20 sitting rooms. (For the fascinating story of its architect see History – Clifton’s Famous and Infamous No. 1 on this website.) The man behind the development was John Lewis Auriol, a wealthy Huguenot, and it is his coat of arms that appears on the pediment.

The Assembly Rooms with its ballroom soon became the focal point for social life of Clifton society. Local artist Rolinda Sharples has captured for all time the atmosphere of a ball in the Rooms in about 1820.

From Clifton at Play

Self portrait of painter Rolinda Sharples with her mother

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Landed Gentry

Men who inherit the responsiblities of the landed gentry, like Edward Austen Knight, depicted above, (or a Mr. Bingley or Mr. Darcy), are mainly preoccupied in preserving their inheritance for their heirs. This requires continuous oversight on their part, and day-to-day adminstration of servants and farm workers, usually with the help of a land steward or bailiff.

A landholder’s duties include improvements on the manor house, estate lands, farms, cottages and other buildings and keeping them in good repair, collecting rents, draining land or damming streams and rivers, and deriving income from livestock or timber, or selling off portions of land if needed (though this was seldom done.)

The Chawton Estate

Note: Jane’s third eldest brother, Edward, had been adopted as a boy by rich relations with no children of their own. He took their name of Knight and in time inherited three large landed estates: Chawton and Steventon in Hampshire and Godmersham Park in Kent. Jane and Cassandra often visited Edward and his large family in Kent and enjoyed the social life of the Knights and their wealthy neighbours in beautiful mansions and houses. (From the Alliance of Literary Societies. Please click on bold words above.)

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Is this a life likeness of Jane Austen at 14 or 15 or isn’t? That is the question about the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen by 18th-century British artist Ozias Humphry. The painting will be auctioned on April 19 at Christie’s in New York for over a half million dollars.

The Rice family claims that this image of Jane,with her simple white muslin gown and simple yet elegant hairstyle, was painted around 1788 or 1789. Below sits an image of the Frankland sisters, which was painted in 1795, at least 7 years later than the Rice portrait. Notice that the waist sits lower than the empire waist, and that the sash displays a prominent bow. The sisters’ hair is curly, and quite elaborate. These characteristics show up in the next image as well.

This image of Marie Antoinette and her children in 1787 shows fashions that are not much different than those of the Langland Sisters. The waist sits lower than an empire waist, and the sash is wide, with a noticeably large bow tied in the back. Examine the hairstyles of both mother and daughter, the Duchesse d’Angouleme. Marie is wearing the powdered wig so popular during this period, while the Duchess’s hair is crimped and quite stylized.
The 1803 image below of a young girl by Louis Leopold Boilly echoes the purported image of Jane in this post. We know that children in those days wore fashions similar to adults, and I would say that this dress more closely resembles the one worn by the girl in the Rice Portrait than those worn by the Langland Sisters or Marie Antoinette. Observe the child’s relaxed curly hairstyle and her simple kid slippers.

So, gentle readers, you decide. Is the Rice portrait authentic? Provenance is important in determining a painting’s authenticity, but even if this portrait has remained in the family’s possession for over 200 years, who can prove that this is indeed an image of a very young Jane Austen?

I wish it were, but does wishing ever make anything come true? “Rice and his family never doubted the lively girl wearing a long white dress and carrying a parasol was their ancestor. Yet, in 1948, a leading Austen scholar dismissed the authenticity of the portrait, saying the style of costume the subject wears does not match the date.” (Quoted from the Yahoo article below).

Based on the wealth of paintings and drawings we have at our disposal, I would have to agree with this scholar, although obviously Christie’s auction house doesn’t. Read this article, “My Dear it is a Matter of Dress and Sensiblity,” written in 2003 by Jack Malvern in the Times Online. The author makes a clear case for authenticity.

So my question to you is: Do you think this is an early portrait of Jane?

Read more about the Rice portrait at these sites:

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/23/arts/design/23voge.html

Yahoo article:


Art Works Gallery: http://www.artworksgallery.co.uk/book.html

BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6484281.stm

Jane Austen Images on the JASNA website: http://www.jasa.net.au/images/austen.htm

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Seraphic Secret includes a quiz in their post, The Annoted Jane from a book titled So You Think You Know Jane Austen: A literary quiz book.
Take a partial quiz here.
And find the answers here.

Buy the book at Amazon.com.

Here is a quote from a March 16, 2007 New York Times article:

This challenging quiz book, intended for professional-grade Austen readers only, arranges questions, in four ascending levels of difficulty for each novel. Some questions are short, factual and to the point, like “How old is Darcy?” (The answer is 28.) Others require interpretation. Why, for instance, does Wickham elope with Lydia, since he is a mercenary cad and she has no fortune? The authors, John Sutherland and Deirdre Le Faye, need more than a page to answer this one.

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On the details of dress…

Ornaments and trimmings of silver are to be preferred before gold when intended for the fair beauty. The white lustre of the first of these costly metals harmonizes better with delicacy of skin than the glaring effulgence of the gold. By a parity of reasoning, gold agrees best with the brunette, as its yellow and flaming hue lights up the fire of her eyes, and throws her complexion in the brightest contrast.

Written by A Lady of Distinction, Mirror of Graces, 1811, p 129.

Read more on Rundell and Bridge Silver in the Georgian Index

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Found on the blogosphere, are these three Jane Austen related posts on Good Girl, Bad Boy, a blog by Dr. Stephen Ogden, English lecturer, British Columbia

On Jane Austen’s Popularity

Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice

British Class System


Jane Austen and Popular Culture

Jane Austen, Why the Fuss? (BBC)

An Unbecoming View of Jane Austen

There’s Something About Jane

Jane Austen’s Enduring Appeal

When Austen Was Cool

Recent Publications on Jane Austen

Spin Offs Keep Jane Austen Alive

Fitzwilliam Darcy, the Gentleman Series

The Persuasive and Provincial Jane Austen

Jane Austen: An Internet Bibliography from literaryhistory.com

Jane Austen: Classics Network

Recreating Jane Austen

A Romantic Classic

See Bridget Jones photos here.

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Jane Austen and her heirs could have made quite a comfortable living in commercial trade if she had lived in this day and age. Here are some wares you can purchase with her image.

Jane Book Bag from Lunimary Graphics in Purcelville, Virginia, not far from my neck of the woods.

Also find the J.A. action figure, finger puppet, mugs, little thinker, and J.A. cards.

Various Jane memorabilia can be purchased at:

Jane Austen Gift Shop

The Library of Congress Shop

Shakespeare’s Den

The Cafe Press

The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild

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