Archive for May, 2008

It is ironic that a novel filled with clues similar to those found in a good mystery tale can spin off a film whose clues stand out like a red cape in front of a bull. Jane Austen deftly sprinkled hints about Jane Fairfax’s relationship with Frank Churchill throughout Emma. One has to read the novel twice to find her subtle inferences, and even then one might miss a few. The 1996 film version of Emma, written by Andrew Davies, leaves no stone unturned and drops its clues with such a heavy hand that midway through the film you want to shout – “enough!” Jane and Frank exchange frequent glances, are seen at the piano together in Mrs. and Miss Bates’ apartment, and argue on the terrace at Donwell Abbey. We even see Jane crying after their tiff as she walks through a field hatless. Tsk. Tsk. At least Mr. Davies did not sex up this particular film adaptation.

While I like this film overall, and gave it a favorable review when it was shown during PBS’s presentation of The Complete Jane Austen earlier this year, it did have a cringe worthy moment. Mr. Knightley, forcefully played by Mark Strong, proposes to Emma and says afterwards: “I held you in my arms when you were three weeks old”. Kate Beckinsale as Emma replies before they kiss: “Do you like me now as well as you did then?” Eww! The unfortunate image these words evoke are not at all what Jane intended. Here is how her Mr. Knightley proposes, which is just as it ought to be:

“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.”—She could really say nothing.—”You are silent,” he cried, with great animation; “absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.”

Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma:”—he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.—”If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.—You hear nothing but truth from me.—I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.—Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.—But you understand me.—Yes, you see, you understand my feelings—and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.”

Jane DID bring up the differences in ages, but earlier in her novel, when 21-year-old Emma and 37-year-old Mr. Knightley attended a family gathering soon after Mr. & Mrs. John Knightley arrive for a visit. The conversation occurs some time after Mr. Knightley had chastised Emma for influencing Harriet in declining Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal. In this scene, Emma and Mr. Knightley speak as long-standing friends and as relations through marriage:

Emma: “What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree.”

Mr. Knightley: “If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike.”

Emma: “To be sure—our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes,” said he, smiling—”and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born.”

Emma: “A material difference then,” she replied—”and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?”

Mr. Knightley: “Yes—a good deal nearer.”

Emma: “But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently.”

Mr. Knightley: “I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years’ experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now.” – Emma, Chapter 7, Volume One

Since watching this film adaptation, I have often wondered why Mr. Davies inserted those words about Emma as a baby into the script at what should have been a supremely romantic moment. Thankfully the Harvest Ball almost made up for his faux pas, almost, but not quite. Although the scene ends the movie on a perfect note, Jane never wrote it for her novel.
Score: Jane Austen, 100; Andrew Davies, Good try.

For more posts about Emma, 1996, click on the links below:

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What could be more magnificent to a Georgian gentleman than a fine stallion with fiery eyes and beautiful confirmation (musculature), a thoroughbred horse known to have won an important race and who could sire other champions? George Stubbs, a painter who specialized in horse and dog portraiture, painted Whistlejacket on commission for the Marquess of Rockingham in 1762. When it isn’t on loan to another museum (this oil painting is on exhibit in York through August) this arresting, iconic, and almost life-sized image hangs in the National Gallery in London.

Whistlejacket was foaled in 1749, and his most famous victory was in a race over four miles for 2000 guineas at York in August 1759. Stubbs’s huge picture was painted in about 1762 for the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Whistlejacket’s owner and a great patron of Stubbs. According to some writers of the period the original intention was to commission an equestrian portrait of George III, but it is more likely that Stubbs always intended to show the horse alone rearing up against a neutral background. (Description of the painting on the National Gallery website, image from Wikimedia Commons)

George Stubbs was born in 1724 in Liverpool. Largely a self-taught painter, his fame among aristocratic horseman and sportsmen as a painter of animals was at his height when Jane Austen began to write First Impressions. The artist’s interest in horse and human anatomy equalled his interest in painting, and he studied the subject to such an extent that he was commissioned to illustrate a book on midwifery in 1751 by Dr. John Burton. His ground-breaking book, the Anatomy of a Horse, was published in 1766. Stubbs, whose paintings hung in the private collections of the great houses of his aristocratic patrons, and who was highly regarded in these circles, as well as among the naturalists of his day, did not find general fame until he was rediscovered in the 20th century. To this day, most of Stubbs’s painting remain in private collections.

The origin of the name, Whistlejacket, is interesting. In Yorkshire, the local name for the treacle/gin drink was ‘whistle-jacket’. When made with brandy instead of gin, the color of the drink would have resembled the color of this palomino stallion’s coat.

The painting is more like a candid photograph, capturing the essence of the horse’s beauty and energy in a split-second shot. The horse is sensuous with its chestnut gleam and rounded, muscular form. Whistlejacket’s eye does not meet the viewer’s; instead, it seems to look inward, contemplating. (Art Straight From the Horse’s Mouth)

To read more about George Stubbs (1724-1806), click on the links below:

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This plain dress made in Vermont circa 1825 is a rarity: a homespun dress that survived being cut into pieces for rags. The rough plain weave wool fabric was hand dyed and hand sewn. Most of us save our prettiest gowns for posterity, but we rarely save our every day dresses. Beautiful examples of ball gowns and richly decorated party dresses survive, but this gown, just sold on Vintage Textiles, is worth more than its weight in gold for the mere fact that it survived in such good condition. Hurry over to the site to view the many images of this dress before the link is discontinued. Oh, dear, the link has already been taken down.

Vintage Textiles, as you know, is one of my favorite sites. The visual displays of the clothes for sale are unparalleled, and each item comes with a provenance and rich description. I would suggest that you visit this site often if you are interested in the fashions of the era. Many of the pieces are surprisingly affordable, especially the accessories. I was devastated to read that one bride had purchased a vintage lace gown from Vintage Textiles and had it redesigned into a modern wedding dress. While the dress was pretty, she had ruined a one-of-a-kind, historical gown.

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Inquiring Readers,

When I read Professor Ellen Moody’s comments regarding Jane Austen Regrets 2007, I realized we were in complete agreement about the movie. She includes historical and literary details that set her essays apart from most movie reviews. Ellen has graciously allowed me to publish her thoughts on this blog.

Dear all,

It’s been asked how accurate is this film as a biography. That’s a hard question to answer because it depends on how you read Austen’s letters; and the letters themselves represent a minority of the letters she wrote and they are censored (clipped, abridged, cut — and we all know how one word left out can make a very great change in tone, not to omit literal meaning).

I rewatched it last night (thanks to my good friend, Judy, who sent me a video of the movie as it played on British TV). Alas, it too seems to be 84 minutes. It’s reported on IMDb that the movie is 90 minutes altogether; since scenes are so short (sometimes lasting 11seconds nowadays) and the camera cuts to and fro from scene to scene, 6 minutes is not nothing to lose (if 6 are indeed lost — bringing up the question which 6 and why were these cut?)

I think the real question is how unhappy was Austen’s life. The film presented her as very unhappy basically, even though she had freedom to write. Olivia Williams did the part with great tact and intuition and irony and made the state much more believable than the shallow imbecility (and glamorized victimhood complete with the crew adoring our heroine at the end) of ‘Becoming Jane’. We should recall first that (as Mary Lefkowitz among others in her lives of the classic poets says), it’s common for popular biography to present the life of a genius in any area as miserable; she suggests this comes out of envy, a desire for compensation (that is, most or many people’s lives are thwarted and unhappy and it makes them feel better to see the genius suffer too, a sense of alienation from someone different) and her classic case is the myths surrounding Euripides and she has a number of modern ones too.

A perceptive article on the recent spate of biopic movies shows that to a movie they all attribute the genius’s insight to loss of love. It must be a love affair that motivates the writing; nothing else will do, and in the case of a woman, she must be helped, inspired by the man she loved. Shakespeare in Love. Moliere. Dear Jane led to write by Tom Lefroy.

This one did show these paradigms in spades. Jane is different and thus alone so must be unhappy. Jane must have been in love and lost and thus we see where she got her stories.

Still I think it better than that; smarter. It seemed to suggest she was unhappy beyond this simply because she was dissatisfied with the choices offered her, whatever these were. She urges Fanny to marry, but she herself won’t take what’s on offer because she doesn’t want it.

It would have been more believable as a real depiction of a real life if there had been less physical beauty all around her, but that’s too much to ask in a heritage film I suppose. And we did get the new poverty: Austen used to be presented as richer than she was; the recent spate of films about her characters show them as much poorer than Austen imagined, and now she has come down to live in a farm-like cottage (below) with Cassandra in barely clean clothes too.

But we do see that her relations with her relatives are less than comforting — too bad they had only the mother; what about the aunt? What about the uncle? And we got only two brothers. Was there some salary limit so the pathology of family life had only minimal representation? (The 07 films have all been very minimalist in budget.) It is true there is strain in the letters from the mother, and from the mother’s leftover writing we see that she was very materialistic.

I’ve thought Austen was not happy in the way that’s common in lives. She had to live on a small allowance; she couldn’t travel about without a man or post (beneath her); the little evidence we have about her family, the manuscript of her leftover chapters of Persuasion and her letters show she was under some pressure to write conventionally (she had thought she was safe over the moral about the mother’s advice in Persuasion but not so, her mother resented the book somehow or other). She had to write for 3 decades before she could get anything in print, and then she wasn’t exactly getting huge sums (but then that was rare). The man who wrote back about Northanger Abbey was very nasty over it: she must give him the 10 pounds before he returns the NA manuscript and if she publishes, he’ll sue. I guess he wasn’t impressed by her connections, wasn’t afraid at all of offending her. Her close woman friend may have betrayed her (by sending the young man she was attracted to away) and then she died early (from a carriage accident); another was a governess in her brother’s house; her sister-in-law and cousin, Eliza, died before her. Her father died leaving her mother and sisters and her without an adequate income. Most of all she died young and in great pain and the sickness was a while coming on.

As to the specifics the film made it’s claim for — as I read the letters with common sense — there is no iota of evidence that Austen ever had a deep feeling love affair with any specific man, none whatsoever, and certainly not with Bridges (Hugh Bonneville, left) nor he for her; he did marry and had a passel of children and as far as we know did not go after Austen with his grief from the loss of her. Family members, such as Cassandra, told of a romance around 1802-4 in the west country where the man said he would meet Austen again next year but died. He is strangely omitted from the film — too vague? It does seem Austen had a crush or liking for Tom LeFroy and he for her, but this was easily quashed: he was sent away to make sure he didn’t get any further involved with a girl with no dowry, a fringe person who needed better connections, couldn’t offer them.

James Macavoy as Tom LeFroy and Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane

The story of Harris Bigg-Wither was told by someone else, and it does have the ring of truth. None of these three is a deep romance; the two last are anything but. Reading supercarefully I have noticed that in a couple of instances when older Austen was attracted to an amusing or congenial man, like the apothecary. She jokes about the clergyman. But if there was anything serious in it, Cassandra destroyed the evidence, and the tone of the letters is such that lots of people haven’t seen anything in the couple of instances I’ve noticed. One was an apothecary, and to be sure, this writer picked that up.

But to say Austen was deeply regretful at the end of her life that she hadn’t married. Nonsense. Her letters are filled to to the brim with dislike of endless pregnancies. Absolutely typical:

Anna has not a chance of escape; her husband called here the other day, & said she was pretty well but not equal to “so long a walk; she must come in her “Donkey Carriage.”–Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.—I am very sorry for her.–Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children.–Mrs Benn has a 13th… (Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Le Faye 336, Letter dated Sunday 23- Tuesday 25 March 1817

She preferred to write and to read and had she married it would have been all over for her. She had 3 sisters-in-laws constantly pregnant all of whom died young in childbirth. She writhed under the control of her brothers because she couldn’t travel. The story to be told is of a woman who decided not to marry because in her circumstances, it would have been a slavery forever she couldn’t stand. She regretted not being able to make more money.
She writhed at dying young. She grieved over not being able to finish Persuasion properly.

The movie does include the incident with the Regents’ librarian (Jason Watkins as Rev. Clarke at left). We see from her letters she was “taken” up by the Regents’ librarian and show the library. He was a rare literary person she met (if third rate) and he treated her seriously and it was to him she wrote a letter where she expressed some worry that Emma showed she was running out of material in a more sophisticated way than she usually discusses her work. She also makes a striking comment on how court life is a form of slavery she wouldn’t be able to stand. She did make fun of him, but she makes fun of lots of people and sometimes (frequently if we are candid) maliciously. She hardly ever has a good word for a fellow novelist. She was afraid to meet famous novelists in public arenas; she wasn’t used to it and knew she had little to make them respect her in the ordinary wordly way. So she refused an invitation to a party where she would have met Madame de Stael (Wikipedia image at right) even though (a rare instance) she praised Corinne highly (better than Milton she said).

I did like how her friendship for Madame Bigeon was presented, and there was an allusion to Isabelle de Montolieu — the woman who is said to have written Raison et Sentiments. Since I have Montolieu’s text of Caroline de Lichtfield on my site, a biography and her preface to Persuasion the translation, I liked that. But why not Miss Sharpe? Where was Martha who lived with them and married Frank? Where Frank? Who I think Austen did love very much (if only as a sister probably) — at least deeply enough to make the name Frank a repeating one and have Janes fall in love with Frank clandestinely, and have sailors central to her books. Why did we not get Anna? who wrote too. Nor her nephew?

Again why were so many people left out? Maybe to make the interpretation of love as central stick.

I thought as a movie it held together movingly though and was intelligently done. If you know little about Austen’s life, it at least is not complacent like the old 3 part BBC “life and works” type thing, and may just lead the viewer to go back to her letters or find a decent biography.


Click here for Ellen’s other posts on this blog:

Click here for Ellen’s blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog Too and her main website.

Click here for my review of Miss Austen Regrets

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Book: Sense and Sensibility. Topic: John Dashwood’s promise to his father on his deathbed.

In this series of posts on ‘Jane’s Own Words’, I will simply let Jane speak for herself. The reasoning Fanny Dashwood uses to justify why John should not support his step mother and half sisters in the first Chapter of Sense and Sensibility, and how he comes to agree with her, is sheer genius, and is as harshly comic a passage as I have ever read. First, the death bed scene…

From Chapter One: Sense and Sensibility:

[Mr. Dashwood’s] son was sent for, as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr. Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.

Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of the family; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature at such a time, and he promised to do everything in his power to make them comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance, and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much there might prudently be in his power to do for them.

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was; he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself; more narrow-minded and selfish.

When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousand pounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother’s fortune, warmed his heart and made him feel capable of generosity. “Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.” He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.

Click here to continue: Read Fanny’s self-serving justifications in convincing her weak-willed husband to relinquish his promise to his dying father to take care of Mrs. Dashwood and his half-sisters. To my way of thinking this is one of the funniest, most biting, and accomplished passages in any literary work.

Click here to read all my posts on Sense and Sensibility

Image created through Big Huge Labs. John Dashwood (James Fleet) and Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkisnon) from Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

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Letters, Letter-writing and Other Intimate Discourse by Wendy Russ at Wendy.com includes links to Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne edition, on the Republic of Pemberley, and Austen on Epistolary letters, also from The Republic of Pemberley. The reason I am pointing you to Wendy’s site is the number of links she provides to letter writing in general.

One of the most moving and memorable letters I have ever read, which she also includes, is by Sullivan Ballou. He is the Civil War soldier who wrote  the memorable letter to his wife before he died. If you have not read it, I recommend that you do, for his words echo what is in a soldier’s heart when he is poised for battle and thinks of his beloved. Here is a portion of that letter, which is so appropriate for Memorial Day:

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.”

I cry every time I read this letter, and when I think of a true hero (pardon me, Mr. Darcy), I think of Mr. Ballou. Here is a 3 minute YouTube link if you would like to listen to his beautiful words instead.

Image of Fanny Knight by Cassandra Austen.

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Invariably, when we think of Regency fashion, we think of the empire style and a white muslin gown, such as this lovely, modern example from A Fashionable Past. Please click on the link to learn the details about the creation of this gown and spencer jacket.

Muslin today is a much coarser cloth than it was two hundred years ago. The following quotes are from several sources, some from the web and one from A Frivolous Distinction by Penelope Byrde.

… muslin was a somewhat sheer, very soft, drapey cotton fabric, sometimes with a rather loose weave, and almost invariably white – closer to cambric, or a slightly softer, looser version of what is now sold as voile or fine batiste. Think of a cross between a fine handkerchief and cheesecloth, if you can! (Jessamyn’s Regency Page)

However well muslin might wash it was, nevertheless, not very practical to wear light-coloured gowns, as Mrs. Allen complained in Northanger Abbey: ‘open carriages are nasty things. A clean gown is not five minutes wear in them. You are splashed getting in and getting out.’ White gowns could only really be indulged in by those with means and leisure; they were certainly a mark of gentility but might also be considered unsuitable in certain circumstances. In May 1801 Jane Austen wrote from Bath of a Mrs and Miss Holder: ‘it is the fashion to think them both very detestable, but they are so civil, & their gowns looks so white and so nice (which by the bye my Aunt thinks an absurd pretension in this place) that I cannot utterly abhor them’. In Mansfield Park Mrs Norris commends a housekeeper who ‘turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns’. (Byrde, p 16-17)

A renewed interest in the styles of classical Greece and Rome began in the last half of the 18th century. This revival of classicism had a tremendous influence, transforming not only fashion but also architecture and the decorative arts in Europe and North America. The simpler clothing of ancient Greece and Rome inspired women’s fashions. For example, a dress called a chemise was adopted to give women a supposedly natural look and to replace the ostentatious and ornate styles that preceded the French Revolution. Fashion, Valerie Steele

The chemise—named after an undergarment it resembled—was made of white muslin, had a high waist just under the bosom, and hung fairly straight to resemble a classical column. No petticoats or hoops were worn underneath it, and many fashionable women stopped wearing corsets as well. Over time, the chemise revealed more and more of a woman’s body. Today this style of dress is commonly known as the Empire style because it was especially popular during the Consulate and empire of Napoleon I of France, which began in 1799.Encarta Encyclopedia

La Belle Assemblee, 1807

Where doubt may be about this or that hue being becoming or genteel (as it is very possible it may neither be the one nor the other), let the puzzled beauty leave both, and securely array herself in simple white. That primeval hue never offends, and frequently is the most graceful robe that youth and loveliness can wear. (The Mirror of Graces, 1811, p22)

Click here for more links about white gowns:

Click here for my other posts on fashion

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Cranford producers realized that Knutsford, the Chesire market town in which Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel is set, has become too modern to serve as a realistic background for a movie based upon the novel. Lacock to the rescue!

Pride and Prejudice 1995 required a picturesque village. The crew went to Lacock and renamed it Meryton! (Third image below)

Emma 1996 required a piano to be hoisted to the second floor of an old and narrow apartment. A house in Lacock fit the bill!

With streets that have remained essentially unchanged for centuries and with the absence of arial wires and satellite dishes, Lacock in Wiltshire has become a hot location for period films. Movies that have been filmed there and that you may recognize are: Pride and Prejudice 1995, Emma 1996, Moll Flanders, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Harry Potter, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Wolf Man, Lark Rise to Candleford, and Cranford. The pictures in this Lacock link were taken in April 2007, prior to a Cranford shoot. The jail in the middle of the road which held young Harry’s father is made of fiberglass.

One can imagine how disruptive these frequent location shoots can be for Lacock’s residents, even though they are compensated. Locals were given £100 if their houses were affected during filming, and they could make extra cash by serving as extras. Aceshowbiz (See photos above and below.)

Town residents stand to make more off Harry Potter 6, but the inconveniences will be greater. High Street and Church Street will close during filming, and the bus stop outside the George Inn will be relocated. Businesses that break closure rules will risk a fine of £1,000. (Swindon Advertiser). For the “privilege” of hosting the Harry Potter crew again, Warner Brothers will pay the village £30,000, which will be split between the Abbey owners National Trust and Lacock Parish Council. The movie-making teams will be allowed to return for four days in October to shoot scenes between 5 PM and 5 AM with Daniel Radcliffe.

When town resident Mary Little, 55, learned that part two of Cranford would be filmed in Lacock, she said: “It would be lovely to work with the cast and crew again – it was brilliant the first time around.

“Hopefully Dame Judi will come back, especially after she pledged her support to help save the post office.

“Everyone in the village quite enjoys the buzz of having stars coming here and us appearing in films and the TV.”

The Talbot family is the main reason why this picturesque village, which dates back to Saxon times, stayed so quaint and old-fashioned. Laycock’s landlords since the mid-19th century, the family refused to let the railway in! Their most famous son is Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography.

Lacock’s history is a long and proud one. The medieval abbey dates back to 1232, and during the Middle Ages the small village became a prosperous and thriving community through its wool industry. Situated on the ‘cloth road’ from London and the River Avon, it had access to the sea at Avonmouth near Bristol. The village was also located on a direct route between London and Bath, and it became a popular stop for travelers. To this day, Lacock remains a small village:

Gaining residence in one of the 89 houses, which date back to the 16th century, is no mean feat. The National Trust has a written letting policy, favouring people with family connections in the village. Having children is also an advantage. Graham Heard, National Trust property manager for Lacock, said: “We have to be selective. People who apply to live here should contribute to community life, so commuters are far from ideal.

Despite having a population of only about 350, Lacock still boasts five pubs, a village hall, a church, a primary school and a local store complete with post office.” (This is Wiltshire)

For Cranford, the village’s Red Lion pub in the High Street was turned into Johnson’s Store. Its ground floor frontage was given a face-lift with a coat of dark gray paint and dry goods were placed in the windows. (Radio Times)

To read more information about Lacock, and to see more images, click on the links below:

It’s Lights Camera and Action in Lacock

Lacock: A Hive of Filming Activity

Picture tour of Lacock

Lacock: National Trust Village and Abbey

Lacock Images


Lacock Abbey

Breathtaking Wiltshire Images

DjD Chronology

Hay in Art: Fox Talbot’s photograph

Wiltshire on Film

Old photos of Lacock: Francis Firth

Walker’s Web Lacock to Bowden Hill, 5.5 miles

Filming in Lacock

Lacock Village: Popular Film Location, Ripple Effects

Lacock, Wiltshire: Britain Express

Quintessentially English: History of Lacock

Sophie Hoffman: European Destination

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As I noted in an earlier review of Cranford, the plot of this Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation revolves around change. Episode Three, to be aired on PBS this Sunday, carries this point further. The two physicians, one of the old school and one trained with new techniques, his head filled with knowledge of the latest medical advances, take center stage as they try to save their patients from the dreaded diseases that rarely afflict civilized society today: croup, whooping cough, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever. Young Dr. Harrison redeems himself time and again by applying new solutions to old problems, thereby saving patients who would not have survived their ordeal with traditional remedies.

In Jane Austen’s time, or the early part of the 19th century, there was a clear distinction between a doctor, surgeon, and apothecary. Doctors were gentlemen of the old school and deemed socially acceptable. They were often invited to dine with the families they treated, or spend the night as guests.

Doctors and physicians occupied the highest rung on the social ladder. Such citizens were considered gentleman because 1) their training did not include apprenticeship and 2) the profession excluded, supposedly, manual labor. Doctors were permitted to dine with the family during home visits, while other practitioners took dinner with the servants. A physician’s fee was wrapped and placed nearby, for theoretically gentleman did not accept money for their work.

Illustration of Lecture Hall from the Glasgow Looking Glass, 1825-1826

A young man embarking on a medical career would attend a prestigious school at Cambridge and Oxford. There he would study Greek and Latin, and, rather than practice on patients, he would observe medical procedures in a lecture hall. Chances were that he received his license without ever having any clinical experience at all.

Cartoonists and satirists, such as Hogarth and Rowlandson, showed little mercy towards doctors and their poor attempts at treating patients. Even the life-saving vaccine for small pox was treated with some humor and derision by James Gilray, since the innoculant came from a cow.

The Cow Pock, James Gillray, 1802

Accepted practices of the day did not include washing hands or changing soiled clothes or bandages, so that doctors often spread illnesses or caused infections. Bleeding through cutting or leeches was an accepted form of treatment:

The most common way of treating a high fever, for example, was to cut open a vein and drain blood from the patient — and not in a small way: a good doctor was expected to cut deep enough that the patient’s blood would spurt into the air with every heartbeat! To make matters worse, the most commonly prescribed “drug” of the time was the toxic element mercury, usually in the form of mercuric chloride.

Surgery was extremely painful, and anesthesia in the form of ether did not appear until 1846. Until that time, doctors relied on mandrake, alcohol, opium, and cannabis for pain relief. (Cocaine was only available in the New World.) Non drug methods of pain relief included cooling the patient or affected area, hypnosis, nerve compression, and blood letting. Because surgeons actually treated the patient by performing physical labor – a trade, so to speak – they occupied a lower rung on the social ladder.

Apothecaries, who learned their profession through apprenticeship and who were definitely considered to be in “trade”, ranked even lower on the social scale. As a group they had “seceded from the Worshipful Company of Grocers, and were incorporated as a separate city livery company in 1617, were supposed to stay in their shops and dispense the prescriptions written by the physicians.” [Apothecaries, Physicians and Surgeons, Roger Jones]

In regions where doctors were scarce, apothecaries also made house calls and treated patients, but largely they mixed drugs and dispensed them, and trained apprentices. A drug’s efficaciousness was hit or miss. By sheer accident, some effective substances were discovered: digitalis, quinine, and calamine, to name several; and a number of proven herbal remedies helped to relieve symptoms. Generally, however,

The technology of making drugs was crude at best: Tinctures, poultices, soups, and teas were made with water- or alcohol-based extracts of freshly ground or dried herbs or animal products such as bone, fat, or even pearls, and sometimes from minerals best left in the ground—mercury among the favored. The difference between a poison and a medicine was a hazy differentiation at best: In the 16th century, Paracelsus declared that the only difference between a medicine and a poison was in the dose. All medicines were toxic. It was cure or kill.

The life of a country doctor was an itinerant one. The 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters aptly depicted a doctor’s long day, in which he rose at dawn to make his rounds and see patients, often returning exhausted past sunset on his equally weary horse.

Illustration, George du Maurier, 1913

By the end of the 19th century, the medical field had become more professional and organized. Scientific breakthroughs, which included anesthesia, rabies vaccinations, techniques for immunization, sterilization of medical equipment, and an understanding of the origins of infections and of the bacterial world, helped to move the field forward.

Find more links below about medicine during this era:

Images: Photo stills from Cranford and Sense and Sensibility (bleeding Marianne Dashwood); James Gillray cartoons

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Update: Watch Return to Cranford online at this link through February 16, 2010.

The folks at PBS Masterpiece are giving away 20 Cranford novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. For an opportunity to win one of these books, all you need to do is click here and sign up for a free Masterpiece e-newsletter.

Update: In addition, the site is offering a behind the scenes video, as well as streaming videos of Parts One and Two. After Sunday you can view all of Cranford online until May 23rd.

After May 23 you will have to make do with YouTube clips of the movie with foreign subtitles.

Part 3 of Cranford will be shown this Sunday on your local PBS station at 9 pm.

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The Gardens of Jane Austen’s England are a series of photos taken on a tour group in 2007. Click on the site to find images of Jane Austen’s houses and locations of her film adaptations.

The Royal Horticultural Society writes about the Royal pavilion’s restored Regency gardens, and defines the Regency garden style in this short article.

Beautiful black and white photographs of the architectural details of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire are featured in Art and Architecture. Stoneleigh Abbey was the county seat of Cassandra Austen’s (nee Leigh’s) family. (Click on family tree to see the connection.)

Famed landscape architect Humphry Repton worked on the gardens at Stoneleigh Abbey. These images show the mansion and its surroundings before and after Repton’s changes, in which the house becomes integral to a natural looking landscape.
Jane Austen’s Life and Works in Google Earth is an amazingly detailed site that lists every location Jane visited, lived in, or mentioned in her novels. Download Google earth, and see images of these sites as taken from above. Find a direct link to the site here.

Mansion Illustrations from: Humphry Repton at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, by Edward Malins, Garden History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 21-29, Published by: The Garden History Society.

Mother and child illustration: Maternal love, from: Kate Greenaway. Language of flowers. London: G. Routledge and Sons, [1884]

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Until the mid-19th century, light was a precious commodity, and the cost of lighting a dark room well and to one’s satisfaction was an extravagance that few could afford. Recent film adaptations of Cranford and Sense and Sensibility point out precisely how light (or the need for it) affected people’s day and night routines. Near the start of Cranford, Mary Smith and the two Jenkyns sisters are shown huddled near the light of a single candle. To maximize their ability to read or do needlework in the evening, the three women sit near the fireplace in order to see better. Even so, there is barely enough light to work, and one can imagine how hot it must have been in such an enclosed environment on warm nights. This scene was not necessarily reserved for the poor or those who lived on a strict budget. In “Artificial Lighting Prior to 1800 and Its Social Effects”, W.T. O’Dea mentions the observations George Crabbe’s son made of a yeoman’s family:

The extent to which even the better class households were deprived of adequate illumination can be appreciated from description, such as one in the life of the Rev. George Crabbe. His son, the biographer, speaks of a visit to the house of his great-uncle at Parham in Suffolk in 1791. Although the great-uncle was of yeoman stock he enjoyed the not inconsiderable income of about eight hundred pounds per annum. On most occasions “The family and their visitors lived entirely in the old-fashioned kitchen along with the servants. My great-uncle occupied an armchair, or in attacks of gout, a couch on one side of a large open chimney. Mrs. Fovell sat at a small table, on which, in the evening, stood one small candle, in an iron candlestick, plying her needle by the feeble glimmer surrounded by her maids, all busy at the same employment…”

Appearances must be kept, as Mrs. Gaskell so aptly describes in her popular tale. When Miss Matty notices that one candle has become shorter than the other, she lights the taller one and snuffs out the short one. In this way, both ends are kept at around the same length. As soon as company arrives, both candles are lit, prompting Miss Pole to exclaim how bright it is as she enters.

Dr. Harrison’s first evening in Cranford is not only a solitary one, but he sits in virtual darkness. His maid of all work stops by holding a single candle, which illuminates her face and little else, for the rest of the room remains in pitch darkness. During the long days of summer, most working people went to bed at sunset and rose by day light. The poor also burned rushlights, which were much less expensive than a candle and gave off a good clear light. Gilbert White wrote in 1789 in The Natural History of Selborne that while a single candle cost a halfpenny and burned for only two hours, eleven rushlights that cost only a farthing would burn for around half an hour each. There was also the danger of fire. One had to be careful to work so close to an open flame with delicate cloths or paper, and take care not to burn the edges of one’s cap as one bent near the light.

The situation was different for the wealthy as shown in this image of the Dashwoods eating at Norland in Sense and Sensibility 2007. This extravagant use of candles for one family for one evening meal (probably exaggerated in the film) represents one month’s supply of lighting for a less economically secure family. The rich could also afford mirrors, which reflected light back into the rooms, and it was the custom to place candelabras near reflective surfaces for just that effect. The diningroom scene points out how far Mrs. Dashwood fell down the economic ladder when she faced having to live on an income of 500 pounds per year. Sense and Sensibility 1996 stays faithful to the family’s new economic situation. The ladies are shown sitting by a window sewing or doing their work, or outside if the weather permitted.

Windows were designed to let in maximum light, some of them reaching from floor to ceiling, or stretching the entire length of the room. Even when the windows were large, as was the case in Cleveland, the Palmers’ estate, the interiors would become quite dark on a rainy or overcast day. Furniture placement was also crucial, and groupings arranged in front of fireplaces or windows took maximum advantage of the light, whatever its source.

The choice for a room and its function depended on location and orientation. The morning room, I imagine, either faced east or south to take advantage of the earliest rays of the sun, but the best, most steady light, as every painter knows, comes from windows that face north. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, upon entering Longbourn observed to Mrs. Bennet: “This must be a most inconvenient sitting room for the evening, in summer; the windows are full west.” Lady Catherine makes a good point. Although such a room would take advantage of the waning sun, it would also become unbearably hot on a sunny summer’s day.

Working in poor light adversely affected eyesight. Mrs.Gaskell observed in the Life of Charlotte Bronte that by 1850 Charlotte’s weak eyesight “rendered her incapable of following any occupation but knitting by candle-light.” W. T. O’ Dea conjectured that “the absence of effective, inexpensive artificial illuminants after the day’s work was done must have had a profound influence not only on the quality of arts, crafts and handiwork but also on the persistence of illiteracy among the majority even after the introduction of printing.”

I shall end this post with a quote from Northanger Abbey, where Catherine Morland is exploring her guest chambers by the light of a single candle. She has just found a note and her imagination is working over time, but alas she will have to wait until morning to read its contents:

The dimness of the light her candle emitted made her turn to it with alarm; but there was no danger of its sudden extinction; it had yet some hours to burn; and that she might not have any greater difficulty in distinguishing the writing than what its ancient date might occasion, she hastily snuffed it. 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.

Find out more on the topic of lighting in my two other posts:

Source: “Artificial Lighting Prior to 1800 and Its Social Effects”, W.T. Odea, Folklore, Vol 62, No 2, (June, 1951), pp 312-324.

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