Archive for October, 2010

What can be more appropriate than to discuss body snatching on the very weekend of All Hallow’s Eve, when witches and goblins and ghosts wander throughout the night? This post will offer a variety of facts about grave robbers, resurrectionists, and sack-em-up gentlemen who haunted cemeteries, waiting for a fresh body to snatch.

Anatomical Lecture, Thomas Rowlandson

Since the 15th century, British anatomists have been on the hunt for fresh cadavers to dissect and study. By the 18th century medical students were expected to gain practical knowledge of the human body through dissection as a pre-requisite for becoming licensed surgeons. It was the custom to study the corpses of criminals who had been executed for murder, but with the proliferation of medical schools, demand for anatomical specimens outpaced the supply. Medical students turned to stealing corpses for their own use, and thus, during this early period of body snatching, grave robbers belonged primarily to the class of ‘gentlemen’.

Reconstruction of Inigo Jones's Barber Surgeons anatomy hall, 1636

“By 1820 statutes defining crimes with capital punishments numbered over two hundred. In the words of barrister Charles Phillips, “We hanged for everything- for a shilling- for five shillings- for five pounds- for cattle- for coining- for forgery, even for witchcraft- for things that were and things that could not be”. An act of Parliament during 1752 further outraged the public by making hanging in chains or dissection of those condemned to death for murder mandatory. – Canadian Content

Executions of murderers provided fresh fodder for anatomists

“The gruesome trade [of Resurrectionists] was driven by laws which only permitted the bodies of executed criminals to be used for medical science at the height of the Enlightenment. But with only about 50 executions being carried in London every year and a lack of refrigeration meaning that specimens rapidly putrefied, demand for about 500 bodies each year far outstripped supply.” – The Independent

Thomas Rowlandson, The Persevering Surgeon

The laws for grave robbing had not quite caught up with the times, for those who carried away an unclothed body could not be touched, but if they so much as took one sock or piece of clothing with it, they could be hung. The corpse was hastily stuffed in a sack, and hauled to the nearest medical school before the robbery was detected.

Rowlandson, The Resurrectionists, 1775

Medical students and their professors snatched bodies throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but due to a lucrative business, an entirely new criminal element emerged: the resurrection men or gang of grave robbers. Many of these men made quite a tidy living. Resurrectionists were so efficient and became so indispensible to anatomists, that prominent physicians and surgeons would often exert their influence to keep them out of jail:

Detail of The Resurrrectionists by Rowlandson

“Typically, a member of the gang, or his wife, would spend the day loitering in a likely graveyard waiting for a funeral…At night, two members of the gang would appear and, after carefully laying a sheet on the ground, would uncover the head portion of the grave, dumping the loose dirt on the sheet. The body would be pulled from the coffin head first with ropes, the shroud stuffed back in the grave, and the dirt carefully replaced.” – Body Snatching: A Grave Medical Problem, p 401

The business of selling bodies was such a good money maker that some people even kidnapped and murdered children in order to sell their bodies to the highest bidder.  One such prolific grave robber was John Bishop, who was actually tried and convicted of murdering a 14 year old boy for the purposes of selling him to a surgeon. All together Bishop admitted to stealing between 500 and 1000 corpses and of murdering 3 people to sell their bodies, although that number could be higher.  – Histatic blog

Lamp in Mallusk Cemetery for relatives who stood watch over the dead.

Look out posts in cemeteries were common, and relatives took turns watching the graves to protect their recently buried loved ones. “In the centre of the ancients have it all to themselves. Here we are in a bygone age. There is a thin iron standard with a lamp frame — a famous relic of the body-snatching days. They had no watch-house here, and so the relatives of the recently-interred lighted the lamp and sat by the graveside every night for the usual period.” –  Mallusk Burying Ground

Iron grill to detract body snatchers

The families of the dead tried to purchase robber-proof coffins made with metal. There was a catch, however. Only the very rich owned the land in perpetuity in which they were buried. While their vaults could be secured and reinforced, ordinary people were buried in plots of land that were reused time and again. Thus, wrought iron and metal coffins designed to stave off grave robbers made the practice of recycling bodies in one plot impossible, and many cemeteries began to refuse such reinforced coffins.

Inventions to protect the dead.**

“Opposition to the body-snatchers took many forms. Mourners often set spring guns and other booby traps over fresh graves to discourage the body-snatchers, and it was not uncommon for relatives to mount a night watch over a fresh grave for 2 or 3 weeks until the body had decomposed sufficiently to be useless for dissection.” – A Grave Medical Problem, p. 403

Resurrectionists at work

In Richmond, Virginia, 19th century Resurrectionists had only 10 days in which to procure a newly buried body. If the robbers waited longer, the body would be too putrid to be useful. The best months for grave robbing and dissection in Richmond were between October and March, when the weather was cool enough to slow down the rate of decomposition.

Robbing a body under stealth of night

One assumes that the bodies were dead before they were delivered to anatomists. This was not always the case, as in this incident in 1816, when the subject delivered to Mr. Brooke’s Theatre of Anatomy was still very much warm and alive:

“October 21st Marlborough Street.  It was stated yesterday that a most extraordinary affair happened at Mr Brooke’s The Theatre of Anatomy Blenheim Street. On Sunday evening a man, having been delivered there as a subject, a technical name for a dead man for dissection in a sack, who, when in the act of being rolled down the steps to the vaults, turned out to be alive, and was conveyed in a state of nudity to St James’s Watch house.

Curiosity had led many hundreds of persons to the watch house, and it was with difficulty the subject could be conveyed to this Office, where there was also a great assemblage. The Subject at length arrived. He stated his name to be Robert Morgan, by trade a smith. John Bottomley, a hackney Coachman, was charged also with having delivered Morgan tied up in the Sack. The Subject appeared in the sack in the same way in which he was taken, with this difference, that holes had been made to let his arms through.

The evidence of Mr Brookes afforded much merriment. He stated that on Sunday evenin,g soon after seven o clock, his servant informed him, through the medium of a pupil, that a coachman had called to inquire if he wanted a subject from Chapman, a notorious resurrection man. Mr B agreed to have i,t and in about five minutes afterwards a Coach was driven up to the door, and a man answering to the description of Bottomley brought Morgan in a sack as a dead body, laid him in the passage at the top of the kitchen stairs, and walked away without taking any further notice. On Harris witness’s servant taking hold of the subject’s feet, which protruded through the bottom of the sack, he felt them warm and that the subject was alive.

Here the prisoner Morgan, who seems to have enjoyed the narrative with others, burst out into a fit of laughter.

Mr Burrowes, the Magistrate – ” Is it usual, Mr Brookes, when you receive a subject, to have any conversation with the parties who deliver it?”

Mr Brookes – ” Sometimes, but dead bodies are frequently left, and I recompense the procurers at my leisure.”

Mr Brookes resumed his evidence, and stated that he put his foot upon the sack ,upon being called by his servant, and kicked it down two steps, when the subject called out: “I m alive,”  and forcing half his naked body out of the sack threw the whole house into alarm. –  Social England Under the Regency, Vol 2, John Ashton, 1816, p 114

Burke and Hare turned to killing their victims in order to supply medical schools with fresh fodder

William Burke and William Hare, infamous body snatchers from Edinburgh, Scotland, delivered bodies that were remarkably fresh. It turns out that in their zeal to earn a quite comfortable living, they murdered at least 17 victims.

Partial account of the bodies Burke disposed of and sold*

Over time, anatomists began to recognize the bodies the two men delivered but kept silent about their suspicions. Burke tempted fate one time too often. On Halloween night in 1827, he met Mrs. Docherty at a bar and persuaded her to drink with him at his lodgings. After much jollying and merriment, he killed the woman (his favorite method was suffocation, so as not to leave a mark).

Burke and Hare hard at work

But Burke was so drunk and addled that he was unable to dispose of her body in a timely manner. His landlady and neighbors discovered poor Mrs. Docherty’s body the following day, and Burke was made to stand trial. The public was incensed upon learning that Burke and Hare killed their subjects, and from then on the act of killing people to obtain biological specimens for anatomists was known as Burking.

Burking became a verb. Click on image to read the article

Burke and Hare were arrested in 1828. Hare turned king’s evidence, and Burke was found guilty and hanged at the Lawnmarket, the Royal Mile, on the 28th January 1829. Burke’s body was publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College and his skeleton, death mask, and items such as a leather wallet made from his tanned skin are now displayed at the Royal College of Surgeon’s museum. –   Burke and Hare

Execution of William Burke

The story is so fascinating, that it has been filmed and covered in the press repeatedly. Watch this preview of a film on Burke and Hare by John Landis that will make its debut in the UK first.

Over time, public outrage over body snatching and the abuses with the Royal College of Surgeons and the hospitals in relation to the resurrectionist trade became such that Parliament passed the Anatomy Act in 1832, which sanctioned the delivery of the corpses of any unclaimed dead to anatomy schools. During this period, hospitals were considered death houses, and all but the most desperately ill people avoided going to them. People also avoided dying in workhouses for fear of having their bodies claimed for dissection. While the practice of dissection was legitimized by this act, poor people were still fearful of having their bodies “snatched”, albeit legally.

Burke's skeleton on view. As justice would have it, his body was studied by anatomists.

More on the topic:

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Inside of Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 19th Century

I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all, my new and recurring readers, for stopping by this blog and reading my thoughts about Jane Austen and her Regency world. This week my site counter rolled past 2 million hits. I find the number simply mind-boggling, especially since over half of you are staying long enough to read a post or two.

In 2006, when I began writing for this blog I only meant to maintain an archive for my Janeite group. Providing occasional information became an obsession, and I now research the Regency period daily. Much to my delight and surprise, people began to stop by to read my pithy thoughts and to leave their comments.

By way of thanks, I am offering a book entitled Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 19th Century by Taschen, which features costumes from the incomparable Kyoto Costume Institute. My online friend, Laurel Ann from Austenprose, gave me this book last year and I love it. I thought one of my readers would like to have their very own copy too.

For the opportunity to win the book, please leave a comment telling me what topics you’d like to read on this blog in the future, or which topics you would like me to revisit. I am sad to say that I can send this hefty book only to my readers in Canada or the United States, but everyone is welcome to leave their thoughts. Deadline for an opportunity to win is November 10, 2010.

With a humble heart, I thank you all for stopping by. Vic

CONTEST CLOSED, and Shelli is the winner!! Thank you ALL for your fabulous suggestions and your heartfelt comments.

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I recently received The Jane Austen Pocket Bible by Holly Ivins and have had occasion to use it a number of times. It is a small, compact, hard cover book filled with useful information about Jane’s life, novels, characters, movie adaptations, and the like.

Sprinkled throughout the chapters are facts and quotations, such as:

Pocket Fact:

“Some of Jeane’s earliest encouragement for her writing came from her neighbour Anne Lefroy, or Madame Lefroy as she was known. Anne was a lively and intelligent woman who was a great reader of Milton, Pope and Shakespeare, and was even known to write poetry herself…”

In Her Own Words:

“Our family are great Novel-readers and not ashamed of being so.” (Letter to Cassandra, 1798)

The book is divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction (including a timeline of her life and  how she wrote)
  • History and context, including a timeline of major historical events during this era.
  • Places Austen lived
  • Influences and literary context
  • Austen’s novels
  • Characters in Austen’s novels
  • Love, romance, and marriage in Austen’s novels
  • Film and TV adaptations of Austen’s novels
  • Glossary

Next time I visit England, I will bring this compact treasure trove with me. More than a guide, this handy reference will inform me and help me to recall important facts as I visit the places where she lived and worked. Outside of travel, this guide allows me to quickly look up facts as I write my posts.

I’ve taken the attractive paper cover off, for the book tucks in quite nicely in my briefcase or handbag, and its hard red cover is sturdy enough to withstand the wear and tear of travel.

I recommend this book to teachers, students, and Janeites whose interest in Jane Austen is never ending.

Other references:

Margaret Sullivan’s Jane Austen Handbook is delightful. Read my review here.

Joan Klingel Ray wrote Jane Austen for Dummies. Too large to take along on journeys, it nevertheless is a handy reference in any Jane Austen library. Read my review here.

I want to especially thank @sussexbestwalks, who I follow on Twitter, for arranging to send this book to me. What a lovely read and find. Order the book at this link.

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Definition of an Allemande -Music:
An allemande (also spelled allemanda, almain, or alman) (from French “German”) is one of the most popular instrumental dance forms in Baroque music, and a standard element of a suite, generally the first or second movement.

Definition of an Allemande – Dance:

A 17th and 18th century court dance developed in France from a German folk dance: a dance step with arms interlaced.

The name ‘country dance’ has nothing to do with country as opposed to town, but comes from the French ‘contre-danse’, describing the way in which the dancers start by standing up facing each other in two long rows, men on one side and girls on the other. The leading couple would then move off down the row, the other couples falling in behind them; there was no fancy footwork involved, but the dancers would weave their way in a variety of patterns across the floor, linking arms or hands with their partners s the figure required – the ‘allemande’figure involved a ‘a great deal of going hand in hand, and passing the hands over heach other’s heads in an elegant manner’. – Jane Austen, The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye, p. 104.

More on the topic:

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Watch the series. Sherlock! online starting Monday, October 25

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) needs a place to stay

I was never a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan. The films seemed stilted and the detective as conceived by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was too old-fashioned to suit me. The only person I cared for was Dr. Watson. Sometimes I would feel a vague interest in a tale or two, but I never related to this strange but knowledgeable sleuth … until Benedict Cumberbatch arrived on the scene.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

There's room for him in an apartment on Baker Street

Benedict as Sherlock Holmes is close to perfect as the edgy, modern, sociopathic detective. Sherlock’s odd ticks and quirks, his quick mind and uncanny ability to read a person’s life story based on a few clues are used to great effect in introducing his character, that of Dr. Watson, and the London police force, with whom he shares a “don’t care if you hate me” attitude.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

The catch? His roommate will be Sherlock Holmes, a fanatic when it comes to sleuthing

To Sherlock, a crime spree is like Christmas — only made better by the possibility that these crimes may be the work of a devious serial killer. The game is on, and before it is over, Sherlock will put his life on the line — all to keep from being bored to death.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Suicide or murder? The fourth victim gives Holmes a crucial clue.

A Study in Pink, a take on A Study in Scarlett, Doyle’s first Holmes mystery, is the first of three offerings in the last series this year for PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! The script is witty, the action fast paced, and the final solution a mix of classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Princess Bride, in which Wallace Shawn as Vizzini challenges Cary Elwes (Westley) into a deadly contest in which Westley must decide on which cup holds the poison.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

Rupert Graves as Lestrade consults Holmes out of desperation

Will Sherlock outwit the serial killer? Will Watson cure himself of his psychosomatic limp and save his new apartment mate?


Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

The lighting and camera angles are divine

Will the viewer remain absolutely entertained by this intelligent, witty, and fast-paced script? Kudos go to the cinematography, which is visually exciting. I am only sorry that we will be treated to three measly scripts this season. PBS, for next year please order up a half dozen or more.

Sherlock! Jane Austen's World

We enter Holmes's mind via captions

The characters:

Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch
Dr. John Watson, Martin Freeman
DI Lestrade, Rupert Graves
Mrs. Hudson, Una Stubbs
Molly Hooper, Louise Brealey
Sgt. Sally Donovan,Vinette Robinson
Ella, Tanya Moodie
Helen, Siobhán Hewlett
Sir Jeffrey Patterson, William Scott-Masson
Margaret Patterson, Victoria Wicks
Gary, Sean Young
Jimmy, James Duncan

Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Watson (Freeman) are a perfect match

Read more about the series:

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Olivia Williams as Jane Austen

Even the most sheltered person will have been bombarded by these recent headlines:

Jane Austen had a helping hand!

Jane Austen had an editor!

Jane Austen had a spell checker!

Jane Austen couldn’t spell!

Jane Austen would have flunked English!

Jane Austen’s notes messy!

Each headline that rolled off my RSS reader became increasingly more ridiculous. What can we expect next?

Jane Austen did not write her own novels!

Jane Austen is really a male.

Jane Austen is a fraud!

So Jane Austen’s Emma and Persuasion were heavily proofed and edited. SO WHAT!? The source for all this brouhaha is Professor Kathryn Sutherland, who, after studying 1,100 of Jane’s handwritten manuscripts up close came to the conclusion that Jane had HELP.

Professor Sutherland of the Faculty of English Language and Literature claims her findings refute the notion of Austen as “a perfect stylist”. It suggests, she continues, that someone else was “heavily involved” in the editing process. She believes that person to be William Gifford, an editor who worked for Austen’s publisher John Murray II. – BBC news

Now any fan of Jane Austen knows that while John Murray might have published Emma and Persuasion, William Edgerton oversaw the publication of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park. Since her first published novel, she was actively involved in reworking her novels and perfecting them.

Professor Sutherland clarified her statements and also came to the conclusion that Jane was experimental in her writing and that she was innovative and willing to try new things, and that she placed a great emphasis on dialog. Eh, yeah. And, duh, wasn’t that obvious to begin with? It’s one of the reasons why Jane’s novels translate so well to film – her characters are defined by their speech.

As for using an editor, as far as I know any writer worth their salt turns their work over to an editor and proofer before their work is published. During the writing process, Jane was known to bounce ideas off her sister Cassandra. Her family expressed their opinions about her characters and stories, and she would certainly be influenced by those she trusted.

Many writers I know belong to writing groups in which their first drafts are scrutinized, dissected, and discussed. After such a discussion, the writer is free to take their advice or ignore it.  This, for many, is part of the creative writing process. Would such a group claim authorship of a book published under an individual writer’s name? Of course not. While they were instrumental in making that book happen, one would never claim after the fact that the writer’s role in crafting that novel was in any way diminished. I’m not saying that Professor Sutherland made these claims, but certain reporters have certainly taken up that way of thinking.

The headline that declared that Jane Austen’s notes were messy made me guffaw out loud. If any of you saw my first draft of anything, you would declare that I am illiterate. In addition, if you saw my first draft in my own handwriting, you would KNOW I am illiterate. Some writers in a creative frenzy, wanting to capture their thoughts quickly on paper before losing the thought, will actually write in a hurry, crossing out words, spilling ink, and forgetting their spelling and grammar.

As for preparing a work for publication, during her lifetime, Jane was heavily involved in rewriting her novels. She visited London and stayed with her brother Henry to prepare her Emma manuscript, and one imagines that she worked closely with William Gifford, the editor. The fact that she changed publishers and that John Murray, whose association with Byron made the poet a star, was significant for Jane. She had high hopes for her salability when making this move. Sadly, she would live long enough to see only one of her works published by this man, for Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously.

Now, for the reporters’ sakes  (for they really were showing their ignorance with those ridiculous headlines,) let’s go over a turbo review of the history of spelling and grammar for the English language.*

1) Spelling was a free for all and writers wrote names and words according to how they sounded. The same name might be spelled a hundred different ways, such as Smith, Smyth, Smythe, Smithe, and so forth.

2) In 1712 Jonathan Swift wanted to create an Academy of the English Language that would provide people with grammatical and spelling rules. He was turned down by Parliament. Nevertheless, grammar books and spelling books began to appear in increasing numbers.

3) In 1755 Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language.

4) In 1762, Robert Lowth wrote an Introduction to English Grammar.

5) The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first proposed in 1859. This seminal work would lay to rest any confusion about the meaning of English words and their origin by systematically studying every word since the year 1000AD, and including meanings, spelling variations, parts of speech, pronunciation, etc. for each one of them. James Murray began the project in 1879, but it was not until 1928 that the first edition was published.

So, gentle reporters: There was a reason for Jane Austen’s creative spelling. She lived in a time of flux for the English language and it took a while for the dust to settle and for linguists and grammarians to see eye to eye on how the English language should be systematized, regulated, and presented in dictionaries and grammar books. To those who profess that Jane’s spelling would have flunked her out of English, I say “Phoey!”

Use a translation device to read the next two worthy articles:

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These days, centering a plot around Jane Austen as a vampire is as common as pre-packed sliced cheese, and so I approached Jane and the Damned with a jaundiced point of view. I must make a confession, however. I have been addicted to vampire novels and films about these bloodsuckers since my early 20’s, starting with Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Ann Rice’s Vampire Lestat series; Gary Oldman as the ancient bloodsucker; the cheeky tv series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and more recently True Blood and to a lesser extent, Twilight.

If an author or film director asks me to enter their vampire world, all I want in return is a rollicking good ride. In Jane and the Damned, author Janet Mullany does just that. Jane Austen, budding young writer, is turned into a vampire on a whim by William, a mature vampire and her dance partner at a local assembly ball. She begins to feel strange immediately.

Jane shares her awful knowledge with her father, who, while horrified at the news of his daughter having been bitten by one of the Damned, keeps a calm head. He trundles his family (wife Cassandra and daughter Cassandra and Jane) off to Bath so that Jane can take “the cure.” This treatment of taking the Bath waters is not guaranteed, for it might well kill Jane (and has killed many human seeking to rid themselves of the Vampiric poison inside them), but it is the only solution. They must rush against time before Jane’s human side disappears forever, for the longer they wait, the less successful and more painful and deadly the cure.

Rev Austen and Jane decide to keep Jane’s “condition” a secret from her mother and sister, saying only that Jane’s uncertain health requires that the family must remove to Bath immediately. As bad luck would have it, just as they settle into that Georgian city, the French invade England, and their lives are turned topsy-turvy.

Jane’s new life is conflicted on two fronts. First, she does not want to turn into a vampire. Second, she longs to taste human blood. And so her vampire adventure begins.

Going against vampire etiquette, Jane’s maker, William, has abandoned her to her fate. In Ms. Mullany’s vampire empire, the bear leader (or Creator) must guide an initiate into the intrecacies of becoming a vampire. The first feeding is problematic, since a full-blooded human takes a while to turn into one of the walking dead. A new vampire has not enough knowledge to wade through the many intricacies of vampire life without making a number of blunders. Enter Luke, who decides to act as Jane’s bear leader.

Handsome, witty, and wise in the way of Henry Tilney, Luke oversees Jane’s transformation with a hands-off approach, for he is ever aware that William has first claim on Jane and could change his mind at any time.

I have described the plot in more detail than is usual for one of my reviews, for this book is so filled with plots, sub-plots, and details that the story never peters out. Jane and the Damned feels rich, not thin, and Janet Mullany skillfully keeps juggling all the story threads she has tossed into play for a lively read. While I’ve disliked previous Jane Austen monster books, this one kept my interest for the following reasons:

1.) A thoroughly plotted back story. Mullany’s vampire empire and its mythology are well thought out. In the world Janet Mullaney has constructed, the monsters’ presence in Regency England, their ethics and mores, and their desire to rid Britain of the French make perfect sense.
2.) Internal conflict. Throughout the plot our heroine constantly struggles between her human self and vampire self, and this internal war adds to the external tension of a plot that is filled with action, romance, and historical detail. Jane must make a gutwrenching decision: to embrace her vampire life and leave her earthly family or to reclaim her human soul at the risk of death (and the chance for eternal life and happiness with the man she loves.)
3.) Desire and sensuality. In her new life, Jane yearns to be human, yet her desire for human blood overpowers her common sense, and as the novel progresses, she can no longer resist the charms of her hero. Sensuality begins to invade Jane’s life, whose awakening from sheltered spinsterhood to mature woman kept sparking my interest. (BTW, Ms. Mullany does not confuse sensuality with x-rated descriptions of the sexual act, for which I am grateful.)
4.) Boredom and ennui. Eternal life is not all that it’s cracked up to be. After a few centuries as one of the undead, a vampire is hard pressed to find anything new to do or interesting to experience. Janet Mullany has not neglected this important aspect of vampiric existence.
5.) Epic battle. In this instance, the army of the Damned has decided to defeat the French, who have invaded England (a real threat in those days) and who are bivoacked in Bath. Historical details of life in a war zone in the late 18th century are spot on, and author Mullany does not flinch from showing the seedier side of war: death, starvation, and occupation.

In short, Janet Mullany (right) addresses almost every fault I have found with other recent vampire novels set in the Regency era. Her vampire empire is so well crafted that she did not need to ride Jane Austen’s magical publicity coattails to make the story more palatable or salable. And yet, the thought of Jane Austen as an action heroine who comes into her own as she fights the French and surrenders to her own sensual longings is irresistible.

Add to the mix Ms. Mullany’s extensive knowledge about the Regency era and Jane Austen’s life (I love her depiction of Mrs. Austen), and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read. Do I recommend Jane and the Damned to everyone? No. But if you are a vampire junkie like me, you will be quite happy with your purchase.

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Gentle reader, This post was written by Tony Grant of London Calling, whose association with this topic is mentioned at the bottom.

I’ve been reading a book recently called, The British Museum is falling Down, by David Lodge. One of the main threads of the story is that Roman Catholic, Adam Appleby, a research student, husband and father of three and with possibly one more on the way, goes off one night into the surreal and ethereal world of a smog bound London to visit an old lady in Bayswater who knew the writer, Egbert Merrymarsh. The author he is researching for his thesis. There is the possibility she has an unknown manuscript by this writer that would make Adam’s thesis shed new light and insights into the writers work and life. Within this world of smog, where he can hardly see in front of his own nose, he stumbles into sexual temptation, meat cleaver wielding characters from a sort of hades underworld and his strongly anti contraception, Irish parish priest, who he has a conversation with inside a shop that sells whips, corsets, chains and belts to be used for sexual gratification. The priest remains unaware of the shops purpose. The whole scenario had me laughing out loud. The story is a morality play but one hell of a funny one.

What makes it funny? Trying to explain humour is a death knell. Humour happens!!! And we enjoy it. To analyse it takes the humour away and the joke is lost. However a few pointers might be; humour is created when, misunderstandings lead to a series of unlikely mishaps, which often can be related to ourselves. The use of highly unlikely and ridiculous metaphors and similes with a strong ring of truth also can create humour. Negative statements cancelling each other out to make something positive or direct, can create a chuckle of recognition. Unlikely scenarios and happenings being put side by side can be funny. Opposing statements creating a third view. But, we must be taken by surprise to really laugh out loud.

Word play of every sort is what jokes are made from. Jane Austen was good at this. Throughout her letters and often in her novels there are examples of what people describe as waspishness. Sometimes this can be hurtful or even insulting to the person she talks about, if that person were to hear or read what Jane said about them. Some of them did, because she wrote the letter directly to them. Cassandra, Martha Lloyd and her own mother, Mrs Austen, did not escape.


Jane's Ballroom


Sunday 10th January 1796 to Cassandra written from Steventon.

Jane has just turned 21 the month before. This is the first letter we have of hers and one of her most famous because in this letter she extols the virtues of Tom Lefroy but it is not towards Tom she turns her twist of humour, it is towards another young man. She is relating to Cassandra the events of a ball at Ashe the night before.

“ I danced twice with Warren last night, and once with Charles Watkins, and, to my inexpressible astonishment, I entirely escaped John Lifford. I was forced to fight for it however.”

Bad breath, body odour, an inexpressibly boring way of talking, I wonder what it was?

Sunday 9th November 1800 to Cassandra from Steventon.

“Earle Harwood has been giving uneasiness to his family, & Talk to the neighbourhood; – in the present instance he is only unfortunate & not at fault.- About ten days ago, in cocking a pistol in the guard-room at Marcou, he accidently shot himself through the Thigh. Two young Scottish surgeons in the island were polite enough to propose taking off the Thigh at once but to that he could not consent; & accordingly in his wounded state was put on board a cutter & conveyed to Haslar Hospital at Gosport; where the bullet was extracted & where he now is I hope in a fair way of doing well.”

The more you consider this story you begin to think, how? what? did he really? were they going to? Sometimes telling a story straight is enough.

Here is one of my favourite quotes in a letter to Cassandra. I wonder how Cassandra was left feeling? The speed of this delivery is enough to bring a smile.


Jane's letters


Friday 31st May 1811

“ I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive. We shall have pease soon- “

A double negative if I am not mistaken. A master of the art.


Castle Square today


Wednesday 28th December 1808 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“ We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding house, & and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow inmates, Mrs Drew & Miss Hook, Mr Wynne and Mr Fitzhugh, the latter is brother to Mrs Lance, & very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, & poor man is so totally deaf, that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, & talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough.”

From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. That’s almost a scene from Monty Python.


Chessil House, the home of the Lances.


Mrs Lance, who was mentioned in the last quotation comes under Jane’s scrutiny a few times over the two years the Austens are in Southampton. Mrs Lance was the wife of a well to do merchant and local politician, who owned a beautiful mansion and grounds just outside of Southampton at Bitterne Park. Two roads are named after the Lances to this day. The house no longer exists.


Little Lances Hill. On part of the Lance's estate.


Just after Jane, Mrs Austen and Martha move to Southampton they receive cards from Mrs Lance inviting them to tea. A mutual friend has informed Mrs Lance of the Austens coming to Southampton.

Thursday 8th January 1807 from Southampton to Cassandra.

“ We found only Mrs Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring beside a grand pianoforte did not appear.”

Synical, waspish,how would you describe that comment? Poor Mrs Lance obviously thought a lot of her pianoforte. Maybe she mentioned nothing else. Mrs Lance did have daughters and they appear in other letters and especially in Jane’s description of a ball at The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton’ s High Street.

Tuesday 24th January 1809 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“The room was tolerably full, & the ball opened by Miss Glyn; – the Miss Lances had partners, Capt. Dauvergne’s friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an Officer to flirt with, & Mr John Harrison was deputed by Capt. Smith being himself absent, to ask me to dance, – Everything went well you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs Lance’s neckerchief in behind,& fastened it with a pin.”

What on earth was going on there? Can you imagine the scene?


The Dolphin Hotel. Jane Austen attended balls here.


There is another ball Jane describes that took place at The Dolphin. Her sharp observation is in evidence here.

Friday 9th December 1808 from Castle Square to Cassandra.

“The room was tolerably full & there were perhaps thirty couple of Dancers; – the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! – It was the same room we danced in 15 years ago! – I thought it all over – &in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. – We paid an additional shilling for Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining & very comfortable room. – There were only four dances and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances ( one of them too named Emma!) should have partners only for two.- You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance – but I was…..”

This is not what you might term funny but perhaps confrontational in the style of Lenny Bruce. It’s confessional and opinionated. The emotions and the thoughts waver between memory, sadness, melancholy, joy and happiness. Jane is contemplating her past and her present.

I couldn’t possibly finish without a quote about, “The Americans.” Jane is staying with Henry at Hans Place. Henry hasn’t been well. Jane has been privy to a conversation between Henry and some of his banker friends, or, Henry has related their thoughts and beliefs to her.


Jane's handwriting


Friday 2nd September 1814 from Hans Place to Martha Lloyd.

“ His view and the view of those he mixes with, of Politics is not cheerful – with regard to an American War I mean; – they consider it as certain, & as what is to ruin us. The Americans cannot be conquered, & we shall all be teaching them the skill in War, which they may now want. We are to make them good Sailors & Soldiers & gain nothing ourselves. – If we are to be ruined, it cannot be helped – but I place my hope of better things on a claim to the protection of Heaven, as a Religious Nation, a nation in spite of much evil improving in religion, which I cannot believe the Americans to possess.”

Powerful Lenny Bruce type stuff again. Confessional.

Any talk shows over there that could accommodate our Jane?

There are so many instances of Jane’s wit, humour, waspishness and deep intelligence throughout her letters. One of you could write a post with the same title as this and choose entirely different quotations. I can only regard what I have written here as a taste, a mere flavour. The letters are worth reading. Although they were thoroughly culled by Cassandra after Jane’s death, they do give us a deep insight into her thoughts, worries, beliefs, hopes and joys. Letters are very direct things. It’s the writer’s immediate voice talking to you.


The white houseis 18th century. Jane would have seen this on the other side of the valley from Chessil House.


PS. The white house on the opposite side of the valley to where the Lances lived is my old school in Southampton still run today by the, de La Mennais Brothers, a French order from Brittany. It was their boarding school I went to at Cheswardine Hall in Shropshire – A connections between me and Jane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.

Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.

When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.

The stories are truly original.

The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!

The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.

Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.

Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.

Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.

Jane Austen would have approved.

The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.

Sarah Waters at Chawton House, July 2009. Image @Chawton House

In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.

In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.

The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.

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From the desk of Shelley DeWees… Gentle reader, guest writer Shelley DeWees, blog author of Uprising, writes book reviews for me. A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart is her first review for this blog. Welcome on board, Shelley.

A collection of stories designed to awaken the holiday spirit, A Darcy Christmas is a quick read showcasing veteran and amateur Austen spinoff writers. In the beginning, I was excited. I really wanted to be seduced by the magic imagery of the winter festivities, feel the warmth of some imaginary fire, manifest the taste of hot chocolate on my tongue while gazing at grainy photographs and luxuriating in a wool blanket…but success wasn’t to be mine.

The first problem was easy to spot: the short stories are printed in the wrong order. Books are like sandwiches in the way they should be designed. The fillings are important, yes, but they can be made to be better with the introduction of really delicious bread. Is your PB & J not to your liking? Too much jelly? Not enough peanut butter? Is the crunchy peanut butter a bit too crunchy? We all have our preferences. However, they seem to go by the wayside if the bread, beautiful in its simplicity and perfect in its splendor, is amazing. Who cares if the jelly to peanut butter ratio is off when the bread is wonderful?

If the first short story had in fact been the second, and Christmas Present by Amanda Grange had been the opening glimpse into Christmas à la Darcy, perhaps the subpar fillings would’ve been less noticeable. Instead, the book begins on its weakest leg, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart. As a fledgling author, Ms. Eberhart deserves commendation for her first publication. That being said, her portion of A Darcy Christmas was wholly unoriginal, insipid, and fraught with characters whose predictability astounded me. The connection to Charles Dickens’ timeless classic was, in my humble opinion, more than should’ve been allowed. Darcy essentially fills the shoes of Scrooge and does some soul searching, this time about whether he should renew his offer of marriage to Elizabeth (and with a little less snobbery, hmm?). The ghosts visit him, they show him the same humdrum imagery we’ve come to expect from the original story, and he has an easily-foreseeable revelation. Though a story about Darcy’s inner broodings over the loss of Elizabeth would be interesting, this one fell short and needn’t have taken place during Christmas at all.

Amanda Grange’s Christmas Present represented a noticeable uptick in the book’s procession. The story is engaging and sweet as we watch Elizabeth and Darcy bring their first child into the world, and the imagery is full-on wintery goodness. Familiar characters make their appearances including Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Kitty and Mary Bennet, and Bingley and Jane who have also become new parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet emerge too, albeit with Mrs. Bennet’s overly prominent vulgar comments and an odd social presence that seems a bit far-fetched. Beyond that though, everything is copacetic. Darcy and Elizabeth have no worries on the horizon and thus, no reason for their story to continue. This ever-positive view of their life together seems to have saturated the imaginations of all brilliant authors including Sharon Lathan, whose contribution rounds out A Darcy Christmas.

Her story, which shares the same title as the book, is another rendition of Darcy-and-Elizabeth-lived-happily-ever-after. Elderly and rich beyond measure, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are busy hanging a family portrait when they begin to look back on their days, first as infatuated lovers and then as a cohesive couple. We see Darcy brooding over his first proposal, quietly but thoroughly berating himself, followed by a picture-perfect honeymoon scene, the birth of 5 children, the death of Mr. Bennet, and the marriage of their oldest son. There are, of course, few problems. In fact, the only recognizable woe comes in the form of a slightly disfigured daughter who is otherwise healthy, spunky, and smart.

It is at this point that I let out an audible sigh positively reeking of been-there-read-that. Isn’t there anything else that Darcy and Elizabeth could do with their lives? What about “Darcy and Elizabeth: The China Years”? Or how about a story where they lose all their money, move to a slum, and learn their true love for eachother as they slowly move forward? Though I realize that Jane Austen’s writings are most assuredly focused on the upper class, I tire of the same ‘ol “Everything is Perfect” spinoffs where Christmas means finery and feasts, gifts, treasures, and luxuries. A Darcy Christmas embodies some of the worst qualities of the holiday season, overconsumption and stuff-mongering among them.

And so it was that I felt no kinship with Christmas because of this book, no sudden urge for eggnog, no desire to buy things for my best Janeite friends or to call my Mom just because. This book left me wanting for a real story of life as a Regency twosome, with all the ups and downs that were part of everyone’s daily existence (even the very rich people of English high society). I’m tired of the “Look how happy we are!” stories that seemingly have no substance, no vulnerable underbelly, no challenge to them. A Darcy Christmas was a disappointment, not only as a vehicle for the Christmas spirit but as a statement of values as well.

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Bootmaker, 1845


He wore green trousers and a red jacket and his hat was leather with a narrow brim and a purple band all around the crown. He was sitting on a wooden stool, hammering away at a pair of boots that he was making, with the tools of his trade all laid out beside him: the lap-stone, the stirrup, the whet-board, the pincers and the nippers. As he worked he sang a little song to himself, to go with the rhythm of the hammering:

A Gentle Craft that hath the Art,
To steal soon into a Lady’s Heart.
Here you may see what Guile can do,
The Crown doth stoop to th’ Maker of a Shoe.

The Other End of the Rainbow, David Gardiner


16th Century Shoemaker Shop


In the Middle Ages, tradesmen formed guilds that protected their trades. Those who worked with fine leather were known as Cordwainers,  named after the very finest leather that was imported from Cordoba, Spain. In later years, those who processed leather formed their own guild, but  shoemakers retained the name of Cordwainer. Cobblers were distinct from Cordwainers, for they only repaired shoes, but over the years, this distinction began to weaken.  – Cordwainers: History.


18th Century Shoe Shop


At the time, the shoemaking trade consisted of division according to the type of shoes made: men’s, women’s, and shoes for workers, such as night-soil men and slaughterhouse men. There were different operations performed by different persons: cutting leathers, sewing uppers, and joining heel and sole. And there were production sites, such as shop masters and cellar, garret and stall masters. Shoe masters employed many people in large operations that hired many workers (there were only 600 or 700 of these), but over 30,000 individuals worked as journeymen, countryworkers, apprentices and cheap garret masters.*


Shoe Seller, 1840


By the 18th century, most boot and shoemakers barely made a subsistence wage. The majority of individuals who made shoes worked for very low wages, about 9s or 10 s a week. Many could barely afford their own lodging, and if they did, the accommodations were mean and poor.  The wages, while low for men, were even lower for women – who worked in shoe closing and shoe binding – and for children.*


Blind bootlace seller, Mayhew


The life of a shoemaker was a hard scrabble life, for their trade depended on leather, the purchase of which required money or credit. Some shoemakers were known to stretch their goods by reducing the thickness of the leather used for heels and soles. Others, desperate to feed their families, would steal food or clothing and be jailed or, worse, hung after they were caught.*  -*London Hanged: crime and civil society in the eighteenth century, Peter Linebaugh


19th century shoe cobbler


Yet the shoemaking business was not totally abysmal:


Shoes over the 18th Century**


Shoemaking flourished in the 18th century, and boot- and shoe-makers were the most numerous of all Salisbury craftsmen throughout the 19th century and until the First World War. It was said that in the later 19th century ‘in hundreds of houses the shoe-binders, the closers and finishers were busy week in week out’. The business with the longest history is Moore Brothers, whose origins can be found in William Moore, boot and shoemaker in 1822 and 1830, and Henry Rowe, established in Catherine Street in 1842, who had moved by 1867 to Silver Street. By 1875 these premises were occupied by Rowe, Moore and Moore, a firm which subsequently became James and William Moore Brothers. The firm moved to its present premises in the New Canal at the end of the 19th century.  – Salisbury Economic History Since 1621


Yellow silk shoes with buckles, French, c. 1760's. @Bata Shoe Museum


Early in the Georgian era the fashion for high heels (as much as 3″) made it difficult for cobblers to make “paired lasts” for left and right shoes. The “last” of the shoe is footprint of the shoe, which can be straight or without a left or right side. Many of the 18th and 19th century shoes and boots were produced on straight lasts. As the person wore the shoes, they “molded” to the foot, creating a left side and right side over time. –  The Bootmaker


1810-1820 woven straw shoes


After the French Revolution, shoe heels began to disappear, symbolizing that everyone was born on the same level. Delicate silk uppers began to be replaced by more affordable, sturdier leathers.


1891 silk shoe made with straight lasts***.


But the shoes continued to be made with straight lasts, a technique that continued into the 20th century.


Vintage shoe lasts


As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there being no difference between the right and the left shoe. Breaking in a new pair of shoes was not easy. There were but two widths to a size; a basic last was used to produce what was known as a “slim” shoe. When it was necessary to make a “fat” or “stout” shoe the shoemaker placed over the cone of the last a pad of leather to create the additional foot room needed. – Fashion Through Time, History of Your Shoes


Shoemaker's shop, 1849


Tools used by bootmakers and cobblers included: awls for punching holes in leather; hot burnishers that rubbed soles and heels to a shine; sole knives that shaped soles; stretching pliers which stretched the leather upppers; marking wheels to mark where the needle should go throught the sole, and size sticks to measure the foot. “By 1750 shoemakers were making shoes in different sizes for anyone who wanted to buy them. Before that they only made shoes on special order.” – Tradesmen/shoemaker.



Pattens went out of fashion in the early 19th century. Jane Austen recalled their noise on cobblestones in Bath. It was common for women to trip while wearing this awkward device.


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Life in the Victorian Country House is a beautifully illustrated book that is best described visually (See my video below). Filled with historical details and archived photographs of Britain’s landed families and their day-to-day lives, which depended on the work of their household servants and outdoor staff, this book considers the relationships between those who live above stairs and those who meet their needs and live below stairs.

The table of contents:

  • The Country House and its Occupants
  • Victorian and Edwardian Households
  • Growing Up in the Country House
  • Out of Doors
  • The London Season and Other Pelasures
  • The End of an Era

About the author: Pamela Horn formerly lectured on economic and social history at Oxford Poyltechnic, now Oxford Brookes University, for over twenty years. She has written a number of books on Victorian social history, including The Rise and fall of the Victorian Servant and Ladies of the Manor.

The relationship between master and servant, and wealth and land are outlined so well that it was hard to put the book down. I give it a strong recommendation. Three out of three regency fans.

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