Archive for January, 2009

jane-austen-ruined-my-lifeJane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo is a surprisingly fast and fun read, and I found myself unable to put it down at times. The plot revolves around wishful thinking: WHAT IF Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra saved more of her letters than we know about? What if the missing correspondence is hidden somewhere protected from the public?

This knowledge has English professor and devoted Jane Austen scholar Emma Grant salivating. Her academic reputation is in tatters after her husband and his teaching assistant (and paramour) accuse her of plagiarism. Newly divorced and denied tenure, Dr. Grant travels to London hot on the trail of the rumored missing letters. There she meets up with Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot, a Formidable, who tantalizingly allows Emma to read a copied snippet of Jane’s missing letters. Scholar that she is, Emma immediately recognizes Jane’s handwriting and the (seeming) authenticity of the fragment. To be certain, she would have to read a copy of the original.

After extracting a promise of secrecy from Emma, Mrs. Parrot sends her on a series of tasks, in which Emma visits Steventon, Chawton Cottage, Bath … well, you get the drift … all the places that Jane Austen either lived in or traveled to. Emma’s motives for going through all this trouble are the possibilities of handling the actual letters and researching them. Her resulting book would salvage her academic reputation. Traveling with Emma is an old flame who, coincidentally, is staying in the same flat as Emma. Does he know of her secret or is he truly as interested in her as he claims? His presence adds to the mystery and suspense of the plot. The book is a fast read and I found it completely satisfying until the very end. While Emma finds her own definition of a happy ending (which, I will concede, made logical sense), I wanted to scream out “No!” and rewrite that ending. You see, romantic that I am, I do believe that people can have their cake and eat it too.

Beth Pattillo’s latest novel reads less like a Jane Austen sequel and more like a The Da Vinci Code offspring. Consequently it will appeal to a broader audience than most Austenesque books. Having said that, the plot is not wholly original . There are echoes of  Syrie James’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (in which Jane’s lost manuscript is uncovered and in which she describes a lost love) and Lori Smith’s A Walk With Jane Austen (in which Lori visits the places where Jane lived or traveled). The author, whose writing style is elegant and spare, has written eight other popular books, including the award winning Heavens to Betsy. You can visit her at http://www.bethpattillo.com for more information.

3-regency-fansJane Austen Ruined My life, a Guideposts Book, is slated to come out on February 3rd. 978-0-8249-4771-2, $14.99. Order a copy at this link.

I give it 3 regency fans out of 3.

Read Full Post »

Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease, John Collet, 1770-1775

Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease, John Collet, 1770-1775

In this article, Erin McCafferty asked: What was life like for a lady living in the 18th century? Unwilling to speculate, Erin decided to follow the schedule of a rich Dublin socialite named Mary Granville Pendarvis (1700-1788), who married Patrick Delany in 1743 and who was known for throwing glamorous parties. Later in life, she became a particular friend of King George III and Queen Charlotte. The article is full of insights that remind me a wee bit of Bridget Jones’s Diary:

Venturing out in the city centre proves problematic. Narrow doorways were not made for these types of dresses and getting on the bus is a nightmare; I get stuck in the doorway and I can’t sit down so I have to stand up taking up far too much space at rush hour. Mental note to self: Don’t walk to work when wearing 18th-century gown.

Mary is famous today for her botanical collages, which she began to make at the age of 72, and for her autobiography and correspondence. This is her description of  Lord Hillsborough’s house party at his landed estate:

Lord Hillsborough is very well bred, sensible and entertaining, and nothing could be more polite that he was to all his company. Sally and I being the only women, we had the principal share of his address; he is handsome and genteel … we were twelve in company … Lord Hillsborough was very merry and said a great many lively and comical things … After the ladies had given their toasts they were desired to `command the house’; the hint was taken and I said I would upon that liberty go and prepare the tea-table for the gentlemen. Sally and I took a little step out into the garden to look at the prospect, but the weather soon drove us back. Candles lighted, tea-table and gentlemen soon came together. I made the tea. Cribbage was proposed, and I consented to be of the party, thinking it would be some relief to Lord Hillsborough; at ten we went to supper, at eleven to bed; met at nine the next morning at breakfast.

Read Full Post »

Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Georgian Doorways of Rodney Street, Liverpool

Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs. Woffington is a fascinating blog that offers insights about the 18th century. The blog’s author, who lives in England, has been featuring Georgian Liverpool in a series of posts. Click on the following links to read:  Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Image of Georgian Doors (Rodney Street, Liverpool) courtesy Andy Marshall of Fotofacade

Read Full Post »

parterre-kensington_palace_from_the_south_by_kip_1724Kensington Palace Parterre Gardens, From the South, 1724

The ornamental parterre gardens that we so frequently see on the grounds of great mansions and 18th Century gardens, and mentioned in historical novels, grew out of the knot garden. The knot garden was  a medieval form of symmetrical flower bed made up of hedges which separated various plants, such as flowers or herbs. Knot gardens have an intricate woven effect which is very labor intensive. Their hedges must be clipped and manicured daily to maintain their precise shape, thus the knot design grew out of favor. Parterres do not weave in and out and require slightly less trimming, though this is in relative terms. The modern gardener would still find this elaborate design labor intensive.

Wilton House Parterre Garden Design, 1645

Wilton House Parterre Garden Design, 1645

Parterres look their best when viewed from above, if even from a slight angle. The site must be level, in full sun, and visible from the house (preferably from the windows.)  The evergreen hedges, which outline the symmetrical shapes of the garden, look beautiful even in winter. In spring, summer, and fall, the hedges  frame the colorful plantings inside. These could consist of masses of annuals and perennials, or herbs and vegetables if the parterre also serves as a kitchen garden.

Parterre is a French term that describes elaborate gardens designed from engravings and other sources, such as the one on the left. The parterre garden design uses a strict traditional  layout, with a broad central gravel walk that divides paired plats, with each plat subdivided in four.

Parterre diagram

Parterres are created on flat ground and their pattern is very important. They are usually situated in front of the building. According to the design there are three types of parterres-cutwork parterre, embroidered parterre and English style parterres.

  • The first type is made of square or rectangular areas divided by paths in equal-sized flowerbeds. Usually in the center of these patterns there are some topiary elements or fountains.
  • There are also water cutwork parterres in which instead of flowerbeds the patterns are made of pools. According to their name these patterns resemble embroidery. This effect is obtained by using cut boxwood on the background of gravel or turf.
  • The third type (English style parterres) is created of turf. The grass might be formed in squares and in the center there is usually a statue. The other typical look of an English style parterre is created when a turf with elaborate shape is surrounded with gravel. – Thinkquest: According to Location and Position

A modern parterre garden

A modern parterre garden

Read Full Post »


The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion, By John Nott, Published by Printed for C. Rivington at the Bible and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1723

food-18thJohn Nott, the chef for the Duke of Bolton, who resided in St. Jamess’s Street, wrote this charming introduction to his cookbook, which was published in 1723 and is now in the public domain. A learned man, Nott’s French inspired recipes show that vegetables, such as carrots and new varieties of asparagus and spinach, which were brought from overseas, were becoming more plentiful on tables. He also makes frequent mention of marmalades, blanc-manges, creams, biscuits, and sweet cakes.* The cookbook includes two peacock recipes and a collection of 13 red currant recipes.

He seems to have been a fairly-read and intelligent man, and cites, in the course of his work, many celebrated names and receipts. Thus we have:—To brew ale Sir Jonas Moore’s way; to make Dr. Butler’s purging ale; ale of health and strength, by the Viscount St. Albans; almond butter the Cambridge way; to dress a leg of mutton à la Dauphine; to dress mutton the Turkish way; to stew a pike the City way. Dr. Twin’s, Dr. Blacksmith’s, and Dr. Atkin’s almond butter; an amber pudding, according to the Lord Conway’s receipt; the Countess of Rutland’s Banbury cake; to make Oxford cake; to make Portugal cakes; and so on.- Old Cookery Books, W. Carew Hazlitt, 1902

In regard to the cookbook’s title, it is interesting to note that an extravagant use of sugar in recipes was a sign of the wealth and status, as sugar remained a luxury item for most people until well into the 19th century.** Nott told hostesses who served desserts (there should be as many dishes of dessert as courses offered) to make the table arrangement perfectly symmetrical in design and color, and provided an illustration of the ideal dessert “pyramid”.

Nott included bills of fare for every month of the year. Below is the one he created for January. Note the absence of vegetables.

The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, Or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion By John Nott, cook John Nott

Nott’s 18th Century Recipe for Hot Milk Chocolate (said to be rich and delicious):

1 quart milk
4 ounces chocolate without sugar
1/8 ounce fine sugar
1/8 ounce flour or starch
Salt to taste

Mix, dissolve and bring to a boil before serving hot.

Nott’s recipe for a posset, the 18th century version of a nightcap:

“To make a posset: set a quart of milk on the fire; as soon as it boils, take it off, and set it to cool a little; then, having put four spoonfuls of sack [sherry] and eight of ale into a basin with a sufficient quantity of sugar, pour your milk to it; then set it before the fire and let it stand till you eat it.”

More links:

  • Find a recipe at this Historic Foods link for Nott’s lamb pasty and pasty crust. In this 1720’s recipe, the design for the crust was created by Edward Kidder.

*Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine By William Carew Hazlitt, p 49

**Savoring the Past, Shax Riegler

Read Full Post »

Bill Nighy and Marc Warren

Bill Nighy and Marc Warren

Seen over the ether, this post on The official Bill Nighy Experience: The Official Website, offers a detailed explanation of what is in store for Little Green Street for the next two years if truck traffic is allowed unlimited access to a construction site. (Permission has been granted by the powers that be.)  Little Green Street is the only remaining all Georgian Street in London, with original houses and cobblestones. The road is quite narrow, and the street is used as a pass through by pedestrians and school children. Read my other post about the topic in this link.

Little Green Street is under 10 feet wide, as the photo below attests. How on earth lorries and trucks can rumble through continuously throughout the day without  damaging the street with its ancient architecture or affecting the lifestyles of its residents is the question that is being argued. View the rest of the photo set at Flickr.

Littel Green Street Protestors

Little Green Street Protestors

Read Full Post »

vic222paivis-bagsJean Judy makes charm bracelets using images from Jane Austen’s novels.  She custom made the bracelet at left for me, using my favorite colors. These beautiful bracelets were also a hit at the last JASNA annual meeting, where Jean’s bracelets were worn by several members.  View her selection in her Picassa Photo Album and on her blog, where her contact information sits.

Click here to read Laurel Ann’s interview with Jean on Jane Austen Today.

We then travel to Finland, where Päivi’s  colorful folk bags remind me of reticules so popular in the 19th century. Stylish and beautiful, they would add to any modern wardrobe while evoking past times.

Visit Päivi’s Flickr album here and her blog at this link.

Then learn more about regency jewelry and reticules in the following posts:

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: This is my second review this year of a Georgette Heyer book to help you while away the winter doldrums. When SourceBooks sent Frederica my way I went into paroxysms of joy, for I recalled loving the book when I first read it just out of college. Years later I like it even better. frederica

After reading Frederica I thanked my lucky stars that Georgette Heyer was such a prolific writer and that she lived a long life. She wrote over 50 books, most of them quite entertaining, and the knowledge that I still have so many to choose from leaves me quite content (At present I am reading The Convenient Marriage and I have just finished Black Sheep). When I first encountered Frederica I was the same age as the book’s heroine – 24 – and wished for myself a mate as dashing and capable as the Marquis of Alverstoke, the hero.

Frederica’s plot is rather simple. Frederica, a single woman who is raising her younger siblings in the country after their parents’ deaths, has brought her beautiful sister Charis to London so that the latter can attract a rich and eligible husband. Considering herself too old for the marriage mart, Frederica’s self-deprecating, no-nonsense attitude charms 37-year-old Lord Alverstoke, who has despaired of ever finding a woman he can both respect and love.

We meet Lord Alverstoke, a nonpareil and Corinthian of the first order, at a time when he is beset by his two sisters to help them introduce their daughters to Society in a proper and extravagant manner. Both sisters expect him to pay fully for the privilege of hosting their coming out at his mansion. Enter Frederica who, with the slimmest claims upon his purse and loyalty, asks him for a favor. The Marquis, seeing a possibility of riling his unloving sisters, agrees to sponsor the Incomparable Charis, a dimwitted but sweet-natured beauty, at his niece’s coming out ball. Frederica’s plans for her brothers and sister and their unpredictable antics overset the marquis’s self-centered life and manage to bestir him out of his perpetual boredom.

Then came Frederica, upsetting his cool calculations, thrusting responsibilities upon him, intruding more and more into the ordered pattern of his life, and casting him into a state of unwelcome doubt. And, try as he would, he could discover no reason for this uncomfortable change in himself. She had more countenance than beauty; she employed no arts to attract him; she was heedless of convention; she was matter-of-fact, and managing, and not at all the sort of female whom he had ever wished to encourage. Furthermore, (now he came to think of it), she had foisted two troublesome schoolboys on to him, which was the last thing in the world he wanted!

balloonHeyer’s rich detail of life in London during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution sets this novel apart from the others. The book’s events occur after Beau Brummel’s gambling debts drove him to France in 1716-1817, the last year of Jane Austen’s life. This was a heady era of scientific discoveries and invention that changed the world forever. Through young Felix’s brilliant mind we see the wonders of the age unfold in the form of steam engines, scientific collections, and balloon travel. Sixteen-year-old Jessamy’s earnestness in studying to become a man of the cloth represents the burdens that befall a second son who knows he must make his own way in the world, but he is still boyish enough to get into trouble on occasion. And Harry, the eldest brother, set down from Oxford for his antics, is too frivolous to set a good example as heir. Under ordinary circumstances he is more than happy to leave the decision-making to Frederica. Under extraordinary circumstances he is more than likely to bungle events, including endorsing an ill-judged elopement.

Heyer introduces her usual panoply of comedic characters – the selfish sister whose demands on her brother are unreasonable and grating; the foppish dandies in their outrageous attire who flock around the new Incomparable – Charis (she of the dim mind but sweet, unspoiled disposition); the competent and capable male secretary who can be depended upon to take care of complex matters and smooth the way for the marquis, yet who is romantic enough to fall foolishly in love; and the sensible, loving sister who sees immediately which way the wind is blowing when it comes to her brother Alverstoke’s heart. Frederica might not be as beautiful as Charis, but she possesses such style and class that Lady Jersey promptly grants the two girls vouchers for that most exclusive of clubs: Almack’s.

Georgette’s description of the novel to her publisher is telling:

This book, written in Miss Heyer’s lightest vein, is the story of the adventures in Regency London of the Merriville family: Frederica, riding the whirlwind and directing the storm; Harry, rusticated from Oxford, and embarking with enthusiasm on the more perilous amusements pursued by young gentlemen of ton: the divine Charis, too tenderhearted to discourage the advances of her numerous suitors; Jessamy, destined for the Church and wavering, adolescent style, between excessive virtue and a natural exuberance of spirits; and Felix, a schoolboy with a passion for scientific experiment. In Frederica, Miss Heyer has created one of her most engaging heroines, and in the Marquis of Alverstoke, a bored cynic who becomes involved in all the imbroglios of a lively family, a hero whose sense of humour makes him an excellent foil for Frederica. (Jane Aiken Hodge, The Private World of Georgette Heyer)

velocipedeThe plot of this book is simply delightful. Frederica’s “Baluchistan” hound and her two youngest brothers manage to wrap the reader around their paws and grubby fingers with very little effort. More importantly, the trio charms the marquis, whose ennui is legendary.

Georgette is at her best writing about young boys and dogs. We chuckle when Frederica’s dog escapes its leash and runs amuck among the milk cows in Green Park, and laugh when a parade of incensed “victims” follow Frederica and the hound to the front steps of Alverstoke’s door. His aplomb in sizing the situation up in a tenth of a second is worth the book’s purchase. We hold our breath when Felix clings to a rising balloon for dear life as it loosens from its moorings. We feel sympathy for Jessamy – who acts his age for once – for all the damage he causes with his runaway velocipede. Frederica, so honest and serious and self effacing, is a breath of fresh air among the many heroines we encounter in an endless parade of romance novels. Her intelligence and earnestness are a perfect foil to Alverstoke’s light-hearted and self-deprecating banter. We love her all the more because she never quite sees the marquis in the negative light that he knows he deserves, and for her ability to make the best of any situation.

The novel ends on a most satisfying note, and I can think of no better way of spending a chilly winter evening – wrapped in a down comforter with my pooch sleeping by my side – than reading this gem of a book.

Order the book from SourceBooks at this link.

My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

Read Full Post »

Brrr. The coldest days of winter are upon us, prompting me to wonder: “How did people in days of yore keep warm?”

Surrey in winter

Today we can turn up the heat with the merest flick of a switch, but during the 18th and 19th centuries people had to make do in draughty and leaky houses with their high ceilings, ill-fitting windows, and lack of central plumbing and heating. Planning and a great deal of effort went into gathering fuel and maintaining fires in open fire places. Much of the heat escaped up chimneys and draughts were always a problem. Without the aid of room screens and fireplace screens, a  person could feel both hot and cold  at once standing in front of a fire. The upper crust might have had more resources to purchase good quality fuels and hire more people laboring on their behalf, but many a fashionable regency woman wearing a thin muslin gown covered by only a Norwich shawl would  catch a deadly cold or pneumonia from wearing such inadequate covering. This phenomenon was so common in the early part of the 19th century that it was termed “the muslin disease.” – Rakehell.


Travel in winter was not easy. Carriages and conveyances were unheated, and many people sat outside exposed to the elements. A footwarmer and fur blanket over layered winter clothing helped to stave off the cold for those who could afford such luxuries, but most people had to bundle up and deal with the weather as it came. Writing to her husband John  in 1798, Abigail Adams describes winter travel conditions in the colonies, which were not unlike those on most roads in England at the time:

We came five and thirty miles to this Place. From New York our poor Horses have waded and dragged the Carriage through Snow banks and Mud, till I have dreaded their failure. They have Supported the fatigue however a mervaille and even Sloan as lean as a lath has brought along Frank in the Saddle very well. We have yet five and thirty miles to Phyladelphia.

I took a ride in the Sleigh yesterday afternoon towards Milton. The whole Earth looks like mid winter, and the Snow is 4 and 5 foot deep, in Banks driven together and consoladated so that it will lie at the Sides of the Road till next March or April. At Plimouth and Hingham there was very little, not much at Weymouth but the nearer you advance towards Boston the deeper it is. If it had fallen level it would have made excellent travelling.- 25 November


Bundling up in layers of wool, fur, cotton, and linen was the first line of defense. The following passage of people entering an inn describes how they removed their outer wear when traveling:


Meanwhile passengers are busy taking off coats one two and three in succession those were the days of bona fide great coats, nowadays become lessened and merely overcoats.Chins appear out of their many wrappages of silk, and fur caps are bundled into pockets. Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore A Picturesque History of the Coaching Age … By Charles George Harper

People wore layered clothing made of wool, flannel, or fur. Typical winter outerwear included hooded capes, great coats, scarves, cloaks, shawls, scarves, muffs, gloves, mittens, thick socks, stockings, long wraps, caps, hats, and ear mufs. Sitting in open sleighs, carts, and carriages, people would tuck comforters, quilts, or blankets around them, and bring umbrellas to protect them from freezing rain. Fur sets and fur trimming made of beaver, fox, bear, and marten were common. Seal skin coats prevented wind and rain from penetrating to the skin, and swans down muffs kept delicate hands warm and protected. A foot warmer heated with coal would complete the traveling ensemble.

Morning dresses, April 1797

Morning dresses, April 1797

It must be added that people were more accustomed to the ambient temperatures than we are today. When I lived for six weeks in New Zealand in winter in a house without central heat, I quickly became accustomed to the cooler temperatures. (In fact, I now keep my house much cooler than I did before that protracted visit, a fact I quite often forget when guests come over.)

Regency couple skating, c. 1800

Regency couple skating, c. 1800

To return to yesteryear, layered clothing was the key to keeping warm. All but the most fashionable regency women would have worn several petticoats (even 4 or 5), stockings and/or socks, leather boots or shoes, a dress over a chemise, a thick shawl, fingerless mittens, and the ubiquitous cap as they went about their housewively duties. Outdoors, they would have added jackets, scarves, kid gloves, and a hat over their caps to keep warm.

Gentlemen wore drawers and sometimes a girdle known as a stomacher, woolen waistcoasts over muslin or linen shirts, and a coat to complete the indoor ensembles. Their cravats and high shirt points protected necks, tall leather boots protected feet,  leather gloves, beaver hats, and multi-caped greatcoats completed the outdoor ensemble.

Gathering Firewood

Fuel came in the form of firewood, coal, or dried dung, depending on what a family could afford or was most easily available. Chopping wood took effort and was time consuming, and firewood needed to be seasoned to burn most effectively. The scarcity of firewood in deforested regions would force individuals to go far afield to search for logs and kindling.

Wood cutters

Wood cutters

F. L. Hartwell, a civil war soldier, wrote vividly about a soldier’s attempt to keep warm when camped out in mid-winter:

We have been very cold for the past 2 1/2 days as we had a snow & sleet storm from the northeast. we could not keep warm or even comfortable in beed [sic]or out as we could not all get around our fire at once, we have to go a mile from Camp to get wood to burn & green pine at that. How would you like that to burn at home well we have to go 2 times apiece in cold days making each 4 miles travel each day to keep us warm and cook by. – To My Beloved Wife and Boy at Home, p60. (Spelling and underline – the author’s)

Charles Crowe’s recollections in his Peninsular Journal (1812,1813, 1814) were as follows:

16th December

We reached Friera [Ferreirra do Zezere ?], after a tedious march, for we strongly suspected that our guide wilfully led us a circuitous route. Here we found a strong contrast to our last quarters, empty houses divested of everything, even of door and window frames, and our men had very comfortless lodgings. Some Officers had joined us from the rear, and we here mustered seven, all of whom repaired to a large mansion near the town. The owner fled to Coimbra when the French took possession of the country, leaving an old gardner in charge. This man very kindly brought a large quantity of wood for me to burn, for, excepting the kitchen, mine was the only room possessing a fire place. I soon made a good fire and resolved to spend a comfortable evening in writing home, and drying my little wardrobe. But I was soon found out, and five of our comrades came to spend the evening with me, and were so well pleased with so agreeable a companion, to wit, the fire, that they stayed late, and left me with a small store of fuel for the night, which was very cold, the room large, and my blanket damp. My great coat was my only covering, a deal form was my pallet, and my writing case served for bolster and pillow.

The Hearth:

For most households, the kitchen with its large open hearth and constantly burning stoves became the focal point for both family and servants in the evening. It was not unusual for master and mistress of the house to sit in the kitchen with the servants – the women sewing and the men reading – as they sat by the only source of heat and light at night.

18th century Dutch kitchen interior

18th century Dutch kitchen interior

The above illustration of a Dutch interior in a small house is reminiscent of family scenes all over Northern Europe, with the family gathered in one room, along with the family’s pets. The two gentleman in the Cruikshank illustrations below seem to live in rented rooms. One has placed his table/desk near the fireplace, in which a boiling kettle is steaming (no doubt to add to Cruickhank’s satire on jealousy). The sick man sits  in front of an open grate in a high-backed chair, which kept the heat from escaping. Coal fires were common in the city, where soot and smoke helped to create the pollution and fogs for which London was so famously known during the industrial revolution.

American Louis Simond, visiting London in 1810, remarked that ‘the smoke of fossil coals forms an atmosphere, perceivable for many miles’. Marianne, writing to Willoughby on a winter’s day in London would have needed to light a candle even at midday in order to see her pen and paper clearly. – How Clean Was Jane Austen’s London?


mr-woodhouse-2-2The wealthy could afford to have rooms heated when and where they liked, and whether it was cold outside or not. In this photograph, Mr. Woodhouse in the A&E version of  Emma is seen sitting by a fire expressly laid out for him in the drawing room at Donwell Abbey as the rest of the party picked strawberries. Such extravagance for one individual would have been impossible for a majority of the people at that time.  As the 18th century progressed, fireplaces became more efficient. Rumford fireplaces, common from 1796 – 1850, were designed to carry away more smoke and reflect more heat. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland was disappointed to note the brand-new Rumford stove that General Tilney had installed along with other modern improvements.

Comforts of a Rumford Stove, Gillray

Comforts of a Rumford Stove, Gillray

Next week, Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part Two.

Additional links:

Top photograph: Surrey landscape

Read Full Post »

Charing Cross 1807

Charing Cross 1807

The site, The Story of London: A History of England’s Capital, features articles and links on the history of that great city. Featured articles include Mayhew’s London Prostitutes and Crime and Punishment. Pepys in 1663 is another featured column on the sidebar. Registered users receive special privileges (registration is free.)

Read Full Post »

cathy-and-heathcliffInquiring Readers: This tongue in cheek review of Wuthering Heights, showing on PBS January 18th & 25th, has been written in the spirit of fun (and illumination!). In it Dr. Phyl, Oprey’s favorite tele-psychobabbler, analyzes Heathcliff and Cathy. My more serious analysis of Heathcliff (Review Two) sits on Remotely Connected, a PBS blogger site. Enjoy.

Dear Dr. Phyl,

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have had a long and stormy relationship. After Cathy’s death, Heathcliff dealt badly with her loss, seeking revenge. One might say he handled himself in a most ungentlemanlike manner. Miss Emily Brontë, an interested bystander, wrote a book about this unique tale, which I am sending on to you. After you have read Wuthering Heights, would you mind answering a few questions? Wouldn’t you agree that loving someone too much is a bad thing? And aren’t women more prone to going crazy over a lost love than men? In other words, how realistic is this story?

Thanking you in advance, Ms. Place

Dear Ms. Place,

To answer your second point first, let me state categorically that in this day and age men have as much right to go crazy as women. Males might exhibit this character trait differently, but crazy is as crazy does.

In my long career as a tele-psychobabbler, I must say that I encounter an assortment of juvenile behaviors among my featured guests, but few possess even 1/10th of Heathcliff’s charged and emotionally unhealthy obsessions. He is as nuts as they come and I write these words with awe and respect. Seldom has a man with so many problems been able to keep up a normal façade for very long, and Heathcliff managed to fool enough people and hold them in his thrall until he could destroy them.

cathy-at-the-lintonsLet’s get my assessment of Cathy Linton née Earnshaw’s character out of the way. She was merely guilty of acting like a self-centered, spoiled, and willful brat. Tighter lacings and a rigid schedule pursuing ladylike endeavors would have tamed her unruly nature. Had I been her personal psychobabbler, I would have prescribed vigorous exercises in the form of housework and mucking horse stalls to tone down her narcissistic tendencies. That girl was seriously willful and needed to get an inner life. Unfortunately she died before self-actualization became possible.

As for Heathcliff, he suffers from a rare condition called Continuous Revenge Seeker Disorder, or CRSD. Every human suffering from this persistent unvegetative state has died tragically. A childhood trauma precipitates this disease, leaving all CRSD sufferers with an acute sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. Heathcliff’s traumas were manifold. He had to scrounge for a living on the street when he was a mere child.  Then his stepbrother’s jealousy tainted his burgeoning relationship with Mr. Earnshaw, his protector. After that good man’s death, Heathcliff’s life at Wuthering Heights became a nightmare. He had gone from Gypsy child to cherished stepson to servant in the space of a few years and his fragile ego just couldn’t take this constant see-sawing of emotions.  And then Cathy, his soulmate, goes all squirrelly on him and starts coming on to another man. Some people weep and give up; but Heathcliff vowed revenge and felt stronger as a result, a classic trait of the CRSD sufferer.

checking-on-cathyCathy’s obsessively close relationship with Heathcliff sealed the CRSD deal. That poor motherless and loveless boy could no more fight off Cathy’s charms than a hog can resist a nice puddle of mud. It would have been better if he had hooked up with Tess of the D’urbervilles. Now there’s a woman whose miserable experiences and continual bad luck could have coaxed him out of his self-pity, but fate had Cathy in store for this man and that was his downfall. As for his relationship with Cathy, when people start saying things like “you torment me” to each other, that’s just not healthy! Normal couples don’t spend all their time stressing, testing, and obsessing. They keep their neediness to themselves! They GROW UP!

You didn’t mention the Linton siblings in your letter. These two mealy-mouthed milque toasties chose mates that were entirely wrong for them. Hadn’t anyone bothered to teach them the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship? One minute kind, next minute cruel. Gets jealous for no reason. And angry, sulky, or withdrawing. The Lintons began changing their own behavior to keep the peace, and Isabella went so far as to think that her love for Heathcliff would be strong enough to CHANGE him. Talk about unrealistic expectations! Well she got her comeuppance, so you can’t help but feel sorry for her, because for him she was just a means to revenge. What amazes me, Ms. Place, is that this book, which is about a dysfunctional relationship that destroys lives, has become a popular and enduring classic. Now how cockamamie is that? And my guess as to why people aren’t embracing my new book – Normal Thoughts for Ordinary People -with the same enthusiasm as for this over the top gothic drivel is as good as yours.

heights_2After Cathy married Edgar, Heathcliff ran off, got rich, and returned to torment Cathy by pretending to court Isabella. Right there that tells us that bats have entered Heathcliff’s belfry.  The scene in which Ms. Brontë described Cathy dying in Heathcliff’s arms, with him clinging to her and growling at her and telling her things like “haunt me” and “I love my murderer” indicates that Heathcliff’s bats have turned rabid. Honestogod, were these folks for real or were they a figment of someone’s imagination?

I understand that a new production of Wuthering Heights is scheduled to be aired on PBS on January 18th and 25th. I’ll ask my staff to schedule Heathcliff for my show. Considering some of the loony bin guests I’ve had on recently, he will fit right in.


Dr. Phyl

If you missed the first airing of Wuthering Heights, you can view past episodes at this link starting the 19th.

Read Full Post »

The northeast has been in the grip of a cold spell that it has not seen in years, and today is the coldest day our region has experienced in a decade. Time to resurrect a post I featured in 2007: the 1814 Frost Fair. I’ve added a few links and some additional information to the original post:

Frost Fair 1694

Frost Fair 1694

During a mini ice age two hundred years ago, the winters were so cold that the river Thames would freeze in solid sheets of ice. The last time this event occurred was in 1814.  The old London Bridge was bulkier than the new London Bridge built in 1823, and it acted like a dam, blocking the sluggish currents and allowing the water to ice over. After the new bridge was built and the old one was demolished, and after embankments were erected (which narrowed the river channel), the river flowed too swiftly for the waters to freeze.

London Bridte Frost Fair 1814

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814

Since the beginning of the 17th century, a Frost Fair was held whenever the river iced over. This practice lasted for 200 years. People ventured out on the ice, vendors set up stalls, and a variety of entertainments were offered. “…Men and Beasts, Coaches and Carts, went as frequently thereon, as Boats were wont to pass before. There was also a Street of Booths built from the Temple to Southwark, where were Sold all sorts of Goods imaginable, namely, Cloaths, Plate, Earthen Ware, Meat, Drink, Brandy, Tobacco, and a Hundred sorts of other Commodities …” (Print of the Frost Fair) The fairs were widely popular and people arrived from the countryside to join in the festivities. John Evelyn, 17th century chronicler, wrote a colorful description: “Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.”

And this is what they did with the Great Frost. By February, as Lord William Pitt Lennox tells us in his Recollections, the Thames between London Bridge and Blackfriars became a thoroughly solid surface of ice. There were notices at the ends of all the local streets announcing that it was safe to cross the ice, and, as in times of Elizabeth 1, full advantage was taken of this new area and the public interest in it. As before, there now sprang up a Frost Fair. The people moved across the river by way of what was called Freezeland Street. On either side, crowded together, were booths for bakers, butchers, barbers and cooks. There were swings, bookstalls, skittle alleys, toyshops, almost everything that might be found in an ordinary fair. There were even gambling establishments and the ‘wheel of fortune, and pricking the garter; pedlars, hawkers of ballads, fruit, oysters, perambulating pie-men; and purveyers of the usual luxuries, gin beer, brandy-balls and gingerbread.’The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, J.B. Priestley, p 113.

The first recorded Frost Fair was in 1608, and it seems to have been a relatively small affair. Visitors to the fair could play games, eat food, purchase beverages, and visit a variety of stalls. The biggest and most famous Frost Fair occurred in 1683/84, lasting for several months in total and featuring a wide range of diversions. However, contemporaries wrote that this Frost Fair carried a hidden cost; pollution increased greatly due to open fires, for example, and neighboring parks were stripped of game.

The festivals on the ice would have been a pleasant way to wile away an afternoon for English people of all classes. King and nobles visited the Frost Fairs alongside less fortunate members of British society, with many people purchasing souvenirs to commemorate their attendance. What Were the River Thames Frost Fairs? Wise Geek

Frost Fair near the Temple Stairs

Frost Fair near the Temple Stairs

Jane Austen was still alive when the last Frost Fair was held in 1814. She must also have felt the chill of that cold February in which London experienced the hardest frost it had known in centuries. Though the fair lasted for only four days it was made memorable by an elephant, which was led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge. The print below shows how raucous some of the festivities became.


Read more on the topic at these links

Last Image: Collage, City of London

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: