Archive for October, 2007

The Historic Foods website offers a splendid Georgian recipe of gooseberries cut as hops and preserved in syrup.

The first printed version of this once popular recipe is found in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (London: 1727). The instructions seem complex, but the results, as you can see, are visually delightful. In earlier times gooseberries were dried and candied, or made into a sauce served with fish or goose meat.

For a detailed history of the gooseberry, click on the link above.

Watercolour of Gooseberries by Pamela Sweda

Read Full Post »

March 15th – The seamstress came this morning to begin my wardrobe. We were with her for more than two hours and Mama ordered so many new gowns as that I am sure I shall never wear the half of them, but she insists that I must be properly dressed. – From The Journal of a Regency Lady 5

The above quote, though coming from a contemporary author, might well have been written during the regency era. Women’s clothes were made at home during this period by the ladies themselves, their servants, or a professional seamstress. A dressmaker (or mantua maker) would charge about 2 pounds per garment and come to the house for fittings, where she might be served tea. A successful mantua maker who had set up shop in the fashionable part of Town would also provide a pleasant environment in which a lady could relax, serving tea and refreshments to prolong the shopping experience.

In her letters, Jane Austen mentioned a Miss Burton, who made pelisses for her and Cassandra in 1811. The cost of cloth and labor were reasonable, she wrote, but the buttons seemed expensive. Fabrics, increasingly mass produced, became more affordable during the Industrial Revolution, and demand for clothes grew among the newly wealthy middle class women. Young girls who sought work in the cities became seamstresses in homes and sweat shops. A little over twenty years after Jane’s death, the poor working conditions described below were common for seamstresses.

1) EVIDENCE TAKEN BY Children’s Employment Commission, February 1841

Miss — has been for several years in the dress-making business…The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters; in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night. During the fashionable season, that is from April til the latter end of July, it frequently happens that the ordinary hours are greatly exceeded; if there is a drawing-room or grand fete, or mourning to be made, it often happens that the work goes on for 20 hours out of the 24, occasionally all night….The general result of the long hours and sedentary occupation is to impair seriously and very frequently to destroy the health of the young women. The digestion especially suffers, and also the lungs: pain to the side is very common, and the hands and feet die away from want of circulation and exercise, “never seeing the outside of the door from Sunday to Sunday.” [One cause] is the short time which is allowed by ladies to have their dresses made. Miss is sure that there are some thousands of young women employed in the business in London and in the country. If one vacancy were to occur now there would be 20 applicants for it. The wages generally are very low…Thinks that no men could endure the work enforced from the dress-makers.

[Source: Hellerstein, Hume & Offen, Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and the United States, Stanford University Press.]

For other sources on this topic, click on the links below.

Read Full Post »

The Matrimonial Ladder, a visual satire, unfolds through a hand-tinted panorama of engravings with verse representing “Admiration,” “Flirtation,” “Approbation,” “Declaration,” “Hesitation,” “Agitation,” “Acceptation,””Solemnization,” “Possession,” “Rumination,””Alteration,” “Alteration,” “Irritation,” “Disputation,” “Desperation,” “Detestation,” “Separation,” and “Reconciliation.”

[PANORAMA]. E[GERTON], M., [Daniel Thomas]. Matrimonial Ladder! Or Such things are Drawn by M. E. Esqr. Engrav’d by G. Hunt. London: Thos. McLean, 26 Haymarket,1825. (Description and images from David Brass Rare Books, Inc. Please click on link above to enter this amazing rare book site.)

Read Full Post »

And all the time in the dressing-room with its common-looking carpet, Jane’s piano, and the oval glass between the windows, [Jane] was hard at work on First Impressions, with Cassandra once more as critic and confidante. Their niece Anna, James’s daughter, who lived with them until her father’s remarriage, remembered later in life that she heard her two aunts reading the book aloud, with gales of laughter, and had threatened to betray the well-kept secret by picking up the names of the characters and repeating them downstairs.*

When Jane revealed First Impressions, the forerunner of Pride and Prejudice, to the Austen family, they greeted it with enthusiasm, reading it often alone and to each other. A proud papa tried to get his daughter’s three-volume novel published, but nothing came of that first effort, much to our benefit. Had First Impressions been accepted for publication at that time, we would not be reading the edited masterpiece that she eventually wrote. For another glimpse of Jane Austen at work, click here.

*Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, NY, 1972, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, Publishers,p. 49

Read Full Post »

Helpful Readers,

Yesterday I received some extremely interesting questions from a reader about renting Kellynch Hall. Unfortunately, they came at a time when I am entertaining house guests. I cannot apply myself to the task until later this week, except to provide this link to Jane Austen’s Economics. Can anyone answer part or all of the questions below? Your comments are welcome and I thank you ahead of time for helping out.

If you cannot answer the questions but are interested in the topic, here are some links to online articles from the Jane Austen Society of Australia: One is about Kellynch Hall, which contains all the references to it in Persuasion, and one written by Jon Spence about Stoneleigh Abbey, the great house belonging to Mrs. Austen’s side of the family.

Click here for a fun trivia quiz about the Eliots of Kellynch Hall, and here for the website, Kellynch Hall.

Click here for my article, How Rich is Fitzwilliam Darcy? and some material supporting Brad de Long’s words.

Enough dithering, here are the questions:

  1. How much would it cost to live at Kellynch annually? Simply, that is, without sorbet and six liveried footmen–just the way Lady Eliot would have kept the place running in the black.
  2. Just how much rent did Admiral and Mrs. Croft pay for a furnished house of that consequence?
  3. Would the rent pay for building maintenance and upkeep or just the cost of running the house and keeping the servants?
  4. Would Sir Walter’s debts be whittled down by renting Kellynch? Is he making a small profit on the rental? Or just not losing money, treading water so to speak?
  5. It seems that the Crofts took over the charity obligations since Anne “was so sure” of the poor being relieved when the Eliots left for Bath. Was that usual for renters? Why did that duty not fall on the rector or the parish?

Read Full Post »

Recently I’ve been struck by how much stock some people put into Jane Austen’s looks and how much a number of her fans (or critics) NEED her to be pretty. As if beauty would enhance her talent or add pathos to the fact that she never married. As if a plain Jane has somehow less cache than a beautiful spinster who chose independence over marriage.

I’ve said over and over again that I like Jane Austen just as she is, no more and no less. She does not need to have Anne Hathaway’s striking looks to make me appreciate her talent. Besides, beauty and attractiveness are influenced by a number of factors: Physique, facial features, liveliness of wit, excellence of mind, shiny hair, excellent skin and teeth, attractive voice and smile, personality, and the love and admiration of those closest to the individual.

Contemporary accounts of Jane vary according to the person describing her. Those who loved her, like Eliza de Feuillide, practically gushed over her looks. Others, like Philadelphia Walter, were not in the least complimentary. Here is her description of a thirteen-year-old Jane. She evidently preferred Cassandra, who she felt resembled her in feature:

Yesterday I began an acquaintance with my 2 female cousins, Austens. My uncle, aunt, Cassandra & Jane arrived at Mr. F. Austen’s the day before. We dined with them there. As it is pure Nature to love ourselves, I may be allowed to give the preference to the Eldest who is generally reckoned a most striking resemblance of me in features, complexion & manners…The youngest (Jane) is very like her brother Henry, not at all pretty & very prim, unlike a girl of twelve: but it is a hasty judgment which you will scold me for. My aunt has lost several fore-teeth which makes her look old: my uncle is quite white-haired, but looks vastly well: all in high spirits & disposed to be pleased with each other…Yesterday they all spent the day with us, & the more I see of Cassandra the more I admire [her] – Jane is whimsical and affected.*

While Philadelphia was less than complimentary to a young and budding Jane, her brother Henry wrote this touching description just months after Jane’s death:

Preface to Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, By Henry Austen

Her stature was that of true elegance. It could not have been increased without exceeding the middle height. Her carriage and deportment were quiet, yet graceful. Her features were separately good. Their assemblage produced an unrivaled expression of that cheerfulness, sensibility, and benevolence, which were her real characteristics. Her complexion was of the finest texture. It might with truth be said, that her eloquent blood spoke through her modest cheek. Her voice was extremely sweet. She delivered herself with fluency and precision. Indeed she was formed for elegant and rational society, excelling in conversation as much as in composition.

In old age, Egerton Brydges, Madame Lefroy’s brother, recorded his impression of Jane:

My eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight, and delicate but with cheeks a little too full.

By most accounts, Jane had a liveliness of expression and quickness of wit that attracted people to her. Yes, her cheeks might have been too round and she might not have been regarded a great beauty, but she attracted a number of suitors in her youth and was beloved and admired by her family and friends … and an untold number of readers several hundred years after her death.

*From: A Portrait of Jane Austen, David Cecil, 1978, ISBN 0-8090-7811-2

Image: Watercolour portrait of Jane by Cassandra

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Readers:

Lori Smith has kindly offered to send the winner of my new icon contest a copy of her just released book: A Walk With Jane Austen: A Journey Into Adventure, Love, and Faith.

The contest will be open for two weeks, and it is simple: Just send me a copy of your favorite icon of a Jane Austen movie hero or heroine. I will choose the top five, from which you will get to vote for your favorite. Tell me the name of the actor or actress, and the movie. If you did not create the icon, please include the attribution.

My email address sits on the side bar. Or, you may include the icon in a comment. You may also enter as many times as you like.
Here’s a rather large icon I created: Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennett looking contemplative. The overall effect is soft, like a watercolour.

Ready? Set. Go! You have until Sunday, November 4th to send in your icons.

Update: Numerous entries are sitting on my other blog, Jane Austen Today. Click here and check them out. Better yet, send in your own entry!

Read Full Post »

Found on the Soil and Health Library website:

The estimated calorie requirements of a resting man weighing 160 lbs., is 2200 calories. Sleeping twenty-four hours, this man would expend only 1680 calories. The calorie requirements of woman are estimated to be much lower–a seamstress requiring 1800 calories a servant 2800 calories and a wash-woman 3200 calories.

I have no idea when this quote was written, but I imagine that this calculation would probably hold true over the centuries, and would vary depending on the person’s age and size.

Frank Holl, Song of the Shirt, 1875

Read Full Post »

Life in London

Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted. – Jane Austen writing about London to Cassandra, August 23, 1796

Jane wrote her remark a quarter of a century before Pierce Egan published his book, Life in London: Or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. The book, written four years after Jane Austen’s death, is largely a description of debauchery in the Great Metropolis during pre-Victorian days. In fact, George Cruikshank, artist and teetotaller, was so taken aback by the book that he allowed his brother Robert to complete two-thirds of the illustrations. Here’s what an early 20th century critique says of this book of vices:

The remainder [of the book] is mainly drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting and other branches of debauchery, either practised or contemplated by the friends. It is significant that, of the three adventurers, the name of Corinthian Tom appears in the largest type upon the title-page. Tom, indeed, is the hero of the tale. He is the ideal “man about town”; and, however lavishly the author may praise his elegance and accomplishment, he remains the type of the polished blackguard, unworthy to associate with his country cousin, Jerry Hawthorn, the cheery fool to whom he shows “the pleasures of the town,” and only a shade more intolerable than the bestial creature, Bob Logic, who is intended for a model of good-humour and wit.

The following links provide more information about our dissipated heroes Tom and Jerry, and the licentious era to which later generations reacted:

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago Jane Odiwe, author and artist, contacted me about her new venture, Lydia Bennet’s Journal. One email led to another and she graciously agreed to be interviewed. Here then is her interesting and insightful take on illustrating and writing about Jane’s life and novels.

1. Jane, you have such a wonderful light and deft touch with watercolours, a difficult medium at best: Have you always painted? And were you schooled? Where, and for how long?
I have painted as long as I can remember, sitting with my mother at the kitchen table. It was also a love of hers which she passed on to me. I went to art school in Sutton Coldfield, studying at Foundation level and then at Degree level in Birmingham, England, five years all together. Mine was an unusual degree, I was able to indulge my love of History, Art History and Literature whilst specialising in Fine Art. Watercolour and oils are my favourite medium.

2. Have you always been a Jane Austen fan? When did you first encounter her works?
I remember seeing the old black and white version of Pride and Prejudice on television when I was very young and dressing up in my mother’s nightgown. I was very taken with the dancing at the time and all the fashion which I loved. I read the book later but I was inspired to re-read all of Jane’s works after the lovely Pride and Prejudice production starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I think Jane and Elizabeth were my mother’s favourites, as my first names are Jane Elizabeth!

3. In order to create these works, you’ve had to combine a working knowledge of anatomy, history, historical places, Jane’s biography, and an intimate knowledge of her writings. That is quite a feat. Why did you decide to embark on such a difficult and exacting project?
I have always enjoyed reading the biographies written about Jane Austen but there never seemed to be enough pictures and of course, one of the reasons is, that they simply don’t exist. There is the little watercolour painting of Jane Austen in the National Portrait Gallery, the silhouette that is said to be of her and Cassandra’s other painting of Jane, sitting with her back to us but they do not give us a real idea of what she looked like. I was intrigued by her letters and her romance with Tom Lefroy and the first painting I did was of them dancing together. I painted it for the sheer pleasure of ‘seeing’ them together; I think it was an attempt to depict her happiness at being with the young man she seemed to like best. All the written descriptions of Jane seem to bear little resemblance to Cassandra’s painting; I wanted to see a younger Jane at the time when she experienced her first love and was starting to enjoy balls and attention from young men. I based Jane Austen’s portrait on Cassandra’s painting but I admit I wanted to see her smile. She had such a wonderful sense of humour, I wanted to try and show a happier Jane. I never thought of my Effusions of Fancy paintings in terms of an exacting project. I didn’t expect anyone else would ever see them and they were a purely personal tribute. However, when I thought about putting the pictures into a book, I did want to try and change people’s idea that Jane was a quiet spinster in a mob cap and I thought one of the ways I could do that was to attempt a painting of a younger woman with her hair dressed as though she is about to go dancing.
4. Regarding this painting of the Austen family, tell me a bit about your working process. I can see that you studied the actual paintings of each family member. How did you incorporate so many likenesses in one composition? Did you sketch each portrait separately first? Or did you work from an overall composition?
Because we only ever see the portraits of the family members by themselves, I wanted to picture the Austens all together around the table, showing them as the close family I believe them to have been. I started with the silhouettes of Mr and Mrs Austen. Silhouettes give us such a tantalising glimpse of a person without revealing the whole; I had no other reference for Mrs Austen but there is a lovely portrait of Jane’s father, with his white hair, which helped enormously. I used my knowledge of figure drawing and many painting references to find bodies for the heads and tried to bear in mind what I had read about their characters. Henry, for example, is depicted in the only portrait that exists of him as being a very sober looking clergyman with receding hair. Everything I have ever read about him illustrates quite a different character; handsome, fun loving, slightly reckless and witty. I painted another portrait of Henry to see if I could find the ‘handsome’ Henry and incorporated this into the painting. Edward’s portraits at Chawton are wonderful and I have studied them many times. I imagine Edward resembled his mother in looks and also has those ruddy cheeks which Jane is supposed to have had. Edward did not really grow up with the other children as he was sent to live with his richer relations and I wanted to indicate this; he is slightly aloof, not sitting with the immediate family but protective of his mother. Lovely Frank, the seafaring brother who took his mother and sisters into his home after Mr Austen died, has his arms around Henry and his sisters. I imagine him to have been very dependable and loving and wanted to portray this aspect of his character. James, the poet, I think was probably quite earnest and serious. I think he looks lost in his own thoughts. Charles, another sailor looks very dashing in the portraits I
have seen of him, I wanted to show him with a bit of a smile, as though he is about to laugh at something his mother has just said. Jane and Cassandra are talking to each other and laughing at some shared amusement. I really wanted to show how close they were, two young girls having fun and chatting, nineteen to the dozen. I used a painting and a silhouette said to be of
Cassandra for my painting, I believe she was a pretty girl. I would like to do another family portrait one of the days which tells another story, perhaps illustrating a well known event in their lives.

5. Do you feel that all your hard work in this area is paying off? If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?
I’ve ‘met’ so many lovely people as a result of producing my little book and cards, (many through my web site and from different countries) and for me this is my greatest pleasure. If someone writes to tell me that they have enjoyed my work, that is the biggest payoff for me. Other people’s lives are always interesting to me and I like to keep in touch and hear their news.

I wouldn’t do anything differently, I’ve enjoyed the whole process of creating the paintings but perhaps I would like to add or do different versions of the same ideas. It’s essential to keep striving to improve and continue to study, I think. I would like to do a larger version of Effusions of Fancy with more paintings, perhaps telling the story of all of Jane’s life. More time to accomplish everything I would wish would be lovely, but time has a habit of running away!

6. Is this a full time career? Or are you squeezing this extraordinary passion into an already full schedule?
It is a full time career, but I also work with my husband to help earn our bread and butter! He is a graphic designer and he often needs an illustration to help with his work. At this time of year I am usually to be found drawing Christmas trees, baubles, popping champagne bottles etc. for restaurant menus, Christmas cards and invitations etc. After Christmas, it’s Valentine’s day and so it goes on. I really enjoy this type of work. I am very lucky to be able to work with my husband, doing illustrations that I enjoy working on. I get a huge thrill out of seeing my work out in public.

7. Any advice you would give to budding authors/illustrators?
You need to be passionate about your work and have a tough skin. You will face many rejections and possible hurtful comments as well as enjoy success. Try to remember why you started on this journey in the first place, believe in what you do and don’t give up, which is easy to say but not always easy to put into practice!

8. Aside from Lydia Bennett’s Journal, what other projects are you currently working on?
I’ve just completed a little map for Deirdre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Steventon, which was a lovely job to do and at present I am putting together menus for the wonderful Scottish Branch Jane Austen Birthday Lunch in December.

I’m having a great time writing a new novel, which of course is another Jane Austen sequel. It is another ‘Story’ of one of Jane’s characters but this time inspired by Sense and Sensibility. I hope this will be ready in the spring. I’m off to Devon soon to do some research. This is one of my favourite reasons for writing, although I often find it takes over!

In addition to all her other plans and activities, Jane wrote, “I’m also very excited to tell you that my Jane Austen illustrations are to be used in a documentary feature on the DVD of The Jane Austen Book Club. They asked to use about 16 of them, so I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with them.” We can’t either, Jane! Read more about Jane Odiwe and see more of her illustrations on her website, Austen Effusions

Read Full Post »

Walking Dress, 1818

One of my favorite Ackermann illustrations is of this lush walking dress, taken from Ackermann’s Costume Plates: Women’s Fashions in England, 1818-1828, and which I purchased about eight years ago. Introduced by Stella Blum, the book comes with plates and the original captions. This publication provides a glossary; however, the definitions I used below are slightly different, as I found them on the web.

(Double click on image to view a larger version.)

A round dress composed of thin jaconet muslin, over a pale peach-coloured slip: the body of the gown is made high, and is trimmed with triple fall of lace at the throat. The bottom of the skirt is flounced with rich French work, which is surmounted by a rouleau of muslin and this rouleau is headed by fancy trimming. The spencer worn with this dress is composed of white stripe lutestring; the fronts are richly ornamented with braiding. The headdress, a leghorn hat, the brim large, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style; the crown is ornamented with four rouleaux of peach-coloured satin twined with white cord. White kid shoes, and straw-coloured gloves.

(Caption taken from the original Ackermann’s: Ackermann’s Costume Plates: Women’s Fashions in England, 1818-1828, Edited and with an introduction by Stella Blum, page 1, ISBN 0-486-23960-0)

  • Jaconet:a lightweight cotton cloth with a smooth and slightly stiff finish; used for clothing and bandages.
  • Rouleau:a roll of ribbon; anything rolled up in cylindrical form.
  • Lutestring: A plain, stout, lustrous silk, used for ladies’ dresses and for ribbon.
  • Kidskin, kid: soft smooth leather from the hide of a young goat; “kid gloves”

Read Full Post »

I missed the conference in Vancouver, and this link makes me wish I hadn’t. Find a lovely review of the conference and some great photos on Gimletblog, a family site. I simply love the dress Heather had made for the occasion, and the regency wear her husband wore. If you click here and here and here for her posts leading up to the conference, you can follow the progression of the gown. Click here for a peek at her fabulous Jane Austen site, Solitary Elegance.

Update: Can you stand it? Here are a few more views of this gorgeous gown.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: