Archive for November, 2012

Recording The Young Jane Austen: How Crimson Cats produced an audio book of some of Jane’s Juvenilia by Michael Bartlett, Editor, Crimson Cats Audio Books.

“Madam, You are a Phoenix. Your taste is refined, your Sentiments are noble, and your Virtues innumerable.”

So begins the Dedication to The Beautifull Cassandra, a story that the 12-year old Jane Austen wrote for her sister. Jane’s Juvenilia may be less well known than her later novels but, although these stories lack the sophistication and polish of her adult writing, Jane’s acute observation and her wicked sense of humour are already apparent. Jane, the teenager, cast a very beady eye on the behaviour of grownups who squabbled, eloped and drank too much.

The cover of the audio CD

We decided to publish an audio book of some of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia because we wanted to bring them to a wider audience. The policy of Crimson Cats is to produce audio versions of books that are rather different from the mainstream and books which, as far as we know, have never been done in audio before.

The first stage was to choose the pieces we wanted to use. Crimson Cats publications are mostly all single CDs because this simplifies our production process, but it limits us to a maximum of 79 minutes of material. We wanted a reasonable variety but as some of the Juvenilia are very short (Mr Harley is less than a page long) that was fairly easily achieved.

Now we needed the text. It was not difficult to obtain a printed copy but although Jane Austen is, of course, long since out of copyright the problem with a published text is that if an editor has made changes for any reason, that version may be back in copyright. We did not know, so in the interests of safety we decided to work from the original manuscripts.

The manuscript of one of the pieces we wanted, The History of England, is held in the British Library and much of their material is now on-line. The design of their site and additional notes are, of course, not free to use, but Jane’s actual text is, so a quick download solved that one.

A sample of the script in Jane’s handwriting

The original manuscripts of the other 5 pieces we wanted to use are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and that material was not then available on-line. The staff at the Bodleian were very helpful but, as with most large libraries, they needed to know the shelf reference number before they could help and that took some finding. Once we had it life became easier. For a modest fee they photocopied the material for us and so we had our text, albeit in Jane’s own handwriting which at times took some deciphering. The other stories we chose were The Beautifull Cassandra, Jack and Alice, Mr Harley, Henry and Eliza, and Amelia Webster.

With our script sorted out we turned our attention to the reader. I have been producing radio plays and book readings for many years (many of them with the BBC) so I know a lot of actors personally. For this book I needed someone who sounded young (Jane wrote these pieces when she was between the ages of 12 and 15) but someone who was really that age would not have the experience to read these stories as well as I wanted them done.

The answer was Teresa Gallagher, a very experienced actress and reader, who has the ability to adjust her voice to the young, breathy quality of a teenager but who can also deepen her voice for the older characters. Teresa has won awards for her audio book reading on both sides of the Atlantic and she liked these stories and agreed to record them for us.

We always try to include a brief audio introduction on our CDs to set the book in context and here we were fortunate enough to persuade Jean Bowden, retired curator of the Jane Austen House at Chawton in Hampshire, to write and record the opening track.

Next came the music. We don’t use a lot of music in our audio books as we feel the text is the most important thing. However, it is nice to have some to separate the different tracks and to create the right atmosphere. But what to use that was appropriate?

The Clementi Square piano from the Jane Austen House Museum (Chawton Cottage)

At this point Ann Channon, House Manager at the Jane Austen House, came up with a lovely idea. In the reception area at the House there stands a Clementi square piano, sadly not the one that Jane herself used but an identical one from the same period. A square piano has a wooden frame and so sounds very different from modern pianos. Also in the House they have copies of Jane’s music books containing a range of the pieces she would have played in the evenings. Ann suggested we could play some of this music on their square piano and we jumped at the chance.

We found an experienced pianist, Peter White, who was keen to try playing a square piano so one afternoon we all went down to Chawton. We could not actually record the pieces we wanted until after the House was closed so Peter used the afternoon to practise. It was not long before there was a little crowd of visitors gathered in reception listening to Jane’s favourite music being played on “Jane’s” piano. It was one of those magic moments. Once the House was closed we recorded a number of pieces from which I eventually made the final selection which we use on the CD.

There was one other bonus from that evening. We needed a picture to go on the front of the CD and one of Ann’s colleagues at the House suggested a picture of Jane’s niece, Fanny Knight, which was actually drawn by Jane’s sister, Cassandra. It shows a young woman sitting at a desk writing and was ideal. It was also owned by the House who gave us permission to use it so there was no copyright problem.

So now we had everything we needed. The actual production was very straightforward and most enjoyable because, as always, if you get the script right and find the right actor, then 90% of the creative work is done. The final job was to choose the short audio extracts to go on our web site so that anyone interested in the recording could hear some of it first.

One small problem emerged after publication. We gave the CD the overall title of The Beautifull Cassandra and other Early Writings by the young Jane Austen but we chose to spell “Beautifull” with a double “ll” at the end, which is the way that Jane herself spelled it. We thought this was a nice touch but it has caused endless problems with many people, with varying degrees of courtesy, pointing out our “spelling mistake”.

Even so The Beautifull Cassandra has proved to be one of our most popular titles. One of the things I personally like about it is that these stories are very funny. Jane wrote them to amuse her family and friends and, like all her work, they were written to be read aloud. Jane might have been over-awed by CD and download technology but I like to think that she would have enjoyed listening to this audio book.

The Beautifull Cassandra, like all Crimson Cats publications, is available as a CD or as an MP3 download from our web site: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk

Michael Bartlett
Editor, Crimson Cats Audio Books

Receive a Special 15% Discount if you order the CD from this blog!!

If you buy from our website, Crimson Cat Audio Books,  (either the CD or the MP3 download) when you get to the first stage of the checkout you will see a Voucher box. Enter this code and you will have 15% taken off the price. Code: VIC15JA

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Whenever I stay with my family in north Baltimore, I visit Hampton National Historic Site to walk along its extensive grounds. Construction on Hampton Hall began after 1783 and continued well into the 1800s. The Ridgely family once owned 25,000 acres of land, as well as a number of commercial, industrial, and agricultural interests that allowed them to live well and entertain lavishly. They were able to serve ice cream in July with stored ice, an expensive and time-consuming commodity in 19th century America and Great Britain.

Hampton Mansion. The ice house sits at the right (not visible in this image.) Image @vsanborn

Hampton Mansion’s ice house is located near the circular drive and in front of what once was the laundry. From a distance it resembles a grassy knoll.

Ice House at Hampton NHS. Image @vsanborn

Ice House entrance. Image @vsanborn

The entrance is open to visitors. I clambered down the steep stairs with Alan, a park ranger who kindly guided me down the dark pit.

Image @National Park Service

In winter, slaves or paid workers cut large blocks of ice from frozen ponds on the property. They handed them up the hill on sledges. The ice was shovelled through a hatch into the cone-shaped cavity that extends 34 feet below ground.” – Text, National Park Service

Steep stairs down the ice house. Image @vsanborn

Men entered the cavity through the passage and packed the ice down, often pouring water over it to make it freeze. As the ice melted the mass slid down the cone-shaped pit but stayed compact.” –  Text, National Park Service

When the Ridgelys needed ice, a servant would descend into the pit, chip off what was needed, and hoist or carry the load up a ladder and out the passage.” – Text, National Park Service

Cone shaped cavity, 34 feet deep. Image @vsanborn

At the top right oxen can be seen hauling ice to the ice house. A man is dropping big blocks of frozen ice down a hole. One presumes that no one is standing in the pit below. Image @vsanborn

“Ice” on the sideboard in Hampton Mansion’s dining room. Image @vsanborn

Alan, my guide into the ice house

More on the topic:

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Inquiring readers: Tony Grant from London Calling has been a frequent contributor to this blog, sending posts and images. He lives in Wimbledon and acts as a tour guide, taking visitors on tours to Jane Austen country, the Lakes region, and points of interest all around London and the U.K. Recently, Tony sent in his thoughts about Jane Austen and his wish to delve deeper into other authors and their lives. As an active guide, he knows whereof he speaks. I asked Susannah Fullerton, author, president of JASA, and also a tour guide, to give her response (with Tony’s approval).  Here, then, is their very interesting conversation. I intend to weigh in. Does anyone else have an opinion? If so, please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, to all my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! Drive safely and have a wonderful time with kith and kin.

“Good-Bye to All That,” is an autobiography by Robert Graves. Graves said, “It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.

I was reading a poem by Edward Thomas, (Philip Edward Thomas, 3rd March 1878 – 9th April 1917) recently, entitled, “The Brook.” In the poem Thomas is sitting by a stream and watching a child paddling in the brook. His senses are completely alert to the sights and sounds of insects, the sight of birds and the sounds of birds unseen, the play of sunlight, the rippling tinkling sounds of water and the memories of a past horseman and horse buried under a barrow on the heath nearby. The poem ends,

And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before,” is what she said.

It occurred to me that the child was right. Of course, probably, many people had been to that spot over years and decades. For each of us, however, when we go to a place for the first time that is pristine and natural and remains how it has always been we do experience something for the first time. It is as if nobody has been there or done that, or experienced that before us. We can experience things fresh and new for ourselves when we go somewhere like this, for the first time.

Signpost. Image @Tony Grant

Now lets take a visit to Chawton, Jane Austen’s last home before she died. I wonder if we can actually experience things fresh and new to us on a visit to Chawton and say,“No one’s been here before,” in the way the child in Edward Thomas’s poem did?

I remember standing at the crossroads in Chawton , years ago, for the first time. What I should have experienced, according to Jane Austen pilgrims to Chawton, is a sense of where she lived, a connection with Jane Austen – where she wrote, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, enjoyed the company of Cassandra, Martha, her mother and brothers and neighbours too. Indeed, Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) did all this over two hundred years ago. But can I or any of us get that feeling of, “No one’s been here before.” Do we really get an experience standing at Chawton crossroads next to that much photographed sign post put up in the 1930’s with pointers to the great house, the church and the cottage that it is the Chawton of Jane Austen? Do we really believe that we have a connection with Austen by being there? Isn’t it all in our imaginations because we want to believe?

Chawton Village street. Image @Tony Grant

Chawton high street is full of parked cars with Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Scandinavian makers emblems on them. The road is metalled and covered in tarmac. It has a pavement edged by slate and granite curb stones from Dartmoor. It has concrete and tarmac pavements. Houses surrounding the cottage have a mesh of telecommunication wires leading to each one. People who live in Chawton are all connected to the World Wide Web with broadband like the rest of us. Modern street lights light the streets at night. In the small park opposite the cottage there is a children’s playground with steal clambering structures and swings. The pub opposite, The Greyfriar, is a Fullers pub. They hold a quiz night once a week for locals that probably doesn’t include questions about Jane Austen. Fullers, by the way, is a London brewery situated on the Great West Road, leading out towards Heathrow Airport, close to where Hogarth had his country retreat. These very locals travel to Winchester, Southampton or even commute to London for work every day. Chawton C of E Primary School, just along the road, on the way to The Great House, is an ordinary primary school that teaches the national curriculum. The children are like children anywhere and this is where they live. The Jane Austen connection to them is by the by, not really pertinent to their lives. Although, I am sure, as the school is in Chawton the children will know a lot about Jane Austen, but she will really be just somebody else on their list of famous people and writers to know about. Those children play computer games on their Ipads at home. Chawton is an ordinary place where people live and get on with their ordinary lives, where Jane doesn’t loom much in their minds when they are peeling the potatoes or hoovering their carpets or watching the TV.

Chawton Cottage signs. Image @Tony Grant

Looking at the cottage from the outside, the Jane Austen societies have stuck large obtrusive signs on the walls facing the road. If you look at the structure of the building itself you begin to wonder what of it Jane would actually recognise if she were to come back today. Windows have obviously been bricked up. Was that a result of 18th century window taxes or because at one time the cottage was split into a group of smaller cottages? It has a variety of doors to enter by too which probably weren’t there or were in different locations in Jane’s day.

Staircase. Image @Tony Grant

When you go into the cottage you see modern radiators, electrical wiring, plug sockets and fire exit signs with the requisite fire extinguisher points. These are not subtly hidden or unobtrusive but are very prominent. Many of the display cases, especially upstairs, are bulky and obtrusive. They don’t look good. The staircase itself is not the staircase Jane Austen would have known in her time. The whole house has actually been restructured. The Austen’s might not recognise the place. It’s not really the place they knew.

The visitor’s entrance to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

I always come back to the books and her letters. That is where to find Jane Austen. That is where we are going to get glimpses of the real person if we are attentive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reading Jane’s novels, her letters and the biographies written about her. However all these Jane Austen societies bother me. They worship and idolise her. They focus exclusively on her. They wring every bit of Janenness out of her. They make Chawton a false holy of holies. She was one writer for goodness sake. The world is a diverse and varied place full of great writers that we all need to read and not be partisan about. If I had my way I would get rid of all literary societies connected with all writers and say, just read. Reading develops us and helps us grow. Centering on one writer narrows us.

Penguin Classics

As a paraphrase of Robert Graves, this article “ (Is) my(not so) bitter leave-taking of (Austen) where I (have) recently broken a good many conventions”. We all need to stop squeezing the life out of Jane Austen and get on with real life and the rest of the real literary world. Returning to the essence of the Edward Thomas poem, I feel that my senses need to be open but to other writers without the weighty manufactured image of Jane Austen hovering over my shoulder.

Doesn’t anybody else feel that they would like to get out from underneath the weight of Austen and breath freely again?

Tony Grant

I am going to read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels after Christmas and post reviews. My mate Clive and I are going to do this in tandem. If you want an antidote to all things Jane, don’t stray!!!!!!! Clive and Tone are on their way.

Tony Grant, Wimbledon

Hi Tony,

I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your comments on Vic’s lovely website. Your photo of the Dolphin Hotel looks so nice in my new book, A Dance with Jane Austen. Thanks again for giving me permission to use it when we met.

I’m intrigued by your comments about Jane Austen societies, but don’t agree with you that they are in any way narrowing. My experience is quite the opposite. At JASA we’ve had talks on Jane Austen’s connections with / influence on many other writers – Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Byron, Radcliffe, the Brontes, etc. Such talks immediately send you hurrying off to get to know more about those other writers. We’ve had talks about Jane Austen and various historical figures, so you then want to learn more about them, and of course we’ve had talks and articles about the age in which she lived, so our members then explore music in her time, art and what paintings she knew, they learn about the church in that era, the navy and army, Georgian crime, fashion, food, travel, and the list goes on. I see JASA (and the other literary societies to which I belong) as a wonderful way of extending my reading and my knowledge, not limiting it.

And joining good literary societies is addictive. If you get great pleasure from learning more about one writer, you soon realise that you can do the same with another writer. It does not have to be exclusive – I’m extremely promiscuous indeed when it comes to joining literary groups! I’m part of an Anthony Trollope group (we have trouble knowing what to call our group – ‘The Trollopes’ has dubious connotations – I’d love to hear suggestions??) and we have been making our way through Trollope’s more than 40 novels with enormous pleasure. (Trollope, by the way, was a great admirer of Jane Austen). We have also read biographies of Trollope, biographies of his mother Frances, critical books about his writings, and books about the position of women in Victorian England. It’s a small group but we have all felt so enriched by it. Plus we have great fun, good food and wine, picnics (in places Trollope visited in Australia) and we have all made new friends.

And lastly a fabulous reason to join a literary society is for the social aspects. I have met some of my dearest friends through JASA and other Jane Austen connections. I can honestly say that joining JASA has totally changed my life – and all for the better – so there’s been nothing ‘narrowing’ about my passion for Jane Austen’s novels. Rather than ‘squeezing the life’ out of Jane Austen, my love of her writings has widened my knowledge, increased my appreciation of her books, life and historical era, has taken me around the world, given me new friends and given me intense happiness. The more I turn to her novels, the more I get from them; and the same goes for JASA – Jane Austen keeps giving and giving and I receive so very happily all she has to give in so many ways.

Am I waxing too lyrical??? I think you need to pay a visit to Australia, Tony, so that I can show you in person all you could get from a great literary society. Please come and visit any time!!!! JASA would love to welcome you to sunny Sydney.


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Inquiring readers: Susannah Fullerton and I met in Brooklyn at the annual JASNA meeting, where she was promoting two books and gave two workshop presentations.  Here, then, is our share of our ongoing conversation:

Susannah, it was such a pleasure meeting you at the AGM in Brooklyn. I felt as if we had known each other for years, so instant was our connection. As we talked, I came to realize that you lecture, travel, act as guide, write, and have two books coming out in a HALF year, AND you are a wife, mother, and president of JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia). At the conference you had boundless energy. How and where do you find the time to do it all and look so fresh and enthusiastic? I am in awe.

There’s a lovely quote in Emma when Miss Bates says, ‘It is such a happiness when good people get together – and they always do.” Vic, that’s how I felt when I met you in Brooklyn – an instant recognition that we had masses in common and would get on really well. I do have an incredibly busy life and it has been especially busy these last 2 years with 2 books to write. However, I do find it hard to say ‘no’ to lovely literary projects. I have been President of JASA for 17 years (I’m wondering if that should put me in the Guinness Book of Records?) and I have a fabulous committee, so running the society is a joy. Of course we are all very excited about next year’s big P & P anniversary. My literary tours are great fun. When you yourself get an incredible thrill from walking down the Gravel Walk in the footsteps of Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth, or seeing the topaz crosses at Chawton, or actually standing in the room where Jane Austen died (which I did on 2 of my literary tours) then it’s fantastic to be able to take other people on tours where they can share that same excitement. My tours are with ‘Australians Studying Abroad’, and I don’t only take tours to England but to France, Scotland and the USA as well. It’s all such fun that somehow I find the energy to do it all.

In reference to your interview on Jane Austen in Vermont, you mentioned that the time for a book about dance in Jane Austen’s time was right. I agree with you. What were some of the facts you uncovered that surprised you and that you were anxious to share with the world?

What really surprised me was that no-one had written a book on Jane Austen and dancing before now! I think what you find when you focus on one particular aspect of Jane Austen’s fiction is an increased awareness of how utterly brilliant she was. When I wrote Jane Austen and Crime I found that the tiniest bit of information about something like poaching was used by Austen in a way that had so many wider implications if you knew about the laws and perceptions of poaching at that time. In Mansfield Park Mr Rushworth boasts about his “zeal after poachers”, yet completely fails to stop Henry Crawford from ‘poaching’ his wife – the ‘poaching’ undercurrents in the novel are so brilliantly done. I found the same with dancing – when you learned exactly what behaviour was expected in a ballroom, you became so much more aware of the subtler nuances of dialogue and action. For example, it was not proper etiquette to compliment your partner on their dress or looks, because it was taken for granted that everyone would be nicely dressed at a ball. You shouldn’t praise someone for doing what it was assumed they would do anyway – ie, dress nicely. This gives extra point to Mrs Elton’s behaviour at the Crown Inn ball – of course, no-one compliments her on her dress because they are behaving properly, but Mrs Elton is desperate for such attention so she takes on the task herself: “How do you like my gown? How do you like my trimming? How has Wright done my hair?” etc. The more you delve into any aspect of Austen’s world, the more you find and you come away with an even greater awe of her incredible achievement!

Was there any information in A Dance With Jane Austen that you wished you had expanded upon but simply could not due to lack of space and time?

It could have been nice to have included more particular information about steps for individual dances, but unless you are a Regency dancer yourself, that information might be rather dull on the page – more fun to ‘do’ than to read about, I think.

Authors Diana Birchall (l) and Susannah Fullerton (r) at the Brooklyn AGM

When we were at the AGM, you were promoting your next book as well, Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece. Other authors must be as curious as I am: How did you find the time to write TWO books with such close deadlines? Did you lock yourself in a closet and have food passed to you through a grate?

Just last week I received the most wonderful parcel in the post – two copies of Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and two copies of Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece. These are the UK and American editions of my new book. They are both gorgeous and I was so thrilled I danced round the kitchen with the copies in my arms! The book is dedicated to my daughter “my dearest loveliest Elinor Elizabeth” and she is really thrilled about that. Yes, it was quite a task to finish 2 books so close together. I was just finishing A Dance with Jane Austen when Frances Lincoln suddenly took up my suggestion that a book about 200 years of P & P would be a good idea. I must admit I lay awake most of that night, wondering if I could manage to do it given the tight time frame. But how could I resist? Spending 6 months with Elizabeth and Darcy was pure bliss and no book has given me so much pleasure to write. There were days when I was so involved I forgot to think about cooking dinner. Part of the joy was learning as I went along – discovering new depths and brilliancies in the novel. Just as an example – when I was writing my chapter on Elizabeth Bennet, I stopped to think about how she is first introduced to the reader. Most of us know her so well that it feels she has always been a part of our lives, but what are Elizabeth’s first words in the novel?? I had to go and check because I couldn’t actually remember the very first words she gets to speak in the text. And they are words that contradict her mother! In that age of conduct-book heroines, females who were expected to be obedient to parents, meek, silent and submissive, Elizabeth arrives on the literary scene with a contradiction!! Instantly we know that this woman is going to be different – unlike any heroine before (and of course since as well).

What should readers expect from Celebrating Pride and Prejudice that will make your book stand out from other publications about this novel?

I have tried in my book to give an all-round picture of why this novel has lasted 200 years and goes from strength to strength. I tell of its beginnings; Jane Austen’s struggles to get it out into the world; initial reactions to the book and then reactions as the 19thC continued and went into the 20thC; I have a chapter about the first sentence and why it has become so justly famous; I look at the use of letters in the text; I discuss the translations and how badly the novel fared for a long time in other languages and I look at the challenges faced by translators (would Mr and Mrs Bennet say ‘vous’ or ‘tu’ to each other? They have shared a bed and had 5 children, but still call each other Mr and Mrs – a translator has to make that sort of decision); I look at the extraordinary range of film versions (Dutch, Mormon, Spanish, Italian, Israeli etc); I look at the illustrations it has had foisted upon it over the years – some lovely and some truly terrible (and I include some fabulous pictures as examples) and the different sorts of covers it has been enclosed in; I look at P & P tourism which is now a big industry; I explore the amazing range of merchandise from baby’s nappies to skateboards, cosmetics to clothes pegs, china to jewellery etc. Some of the chapters I most enjoyed writing were about the characters of the novel – I have separate chapters on Darcy and Elizabeth, but then also include chapters on ‘her Relations’ and ‘his Relations’, and one on the ‘Other Characters’. I found that grouping them into ‘his’ and ‘her’ relatives made me think about them in a new way and helped make it clear why hero and heroine had become the sort of people they are.

Anything else you wish to add?

There is a T-shirt which has printed on it “What do you mean Mr Darcy isn’t real??” I think I need to buy that T-shirt! Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins and Lady Catherine, and all the characters of Pride and Prejudice are as real to me as the people I see every day. There is so much to celebrate about this utterly wonderful book by Jane Austen. My way of celebrating was to write a book about why it is so brilliant, and of course I very much hope that many readers will want to buy and read my book to discover just why, 200 years ago, the world became a far better place!

As always, Susannah, it is a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you nothing but the best and hope to see you during your spring tour in the U.S.! – Vic

NOTICE: CONTEST CLOSED. Congratulations Monica! Dear readers: Susannah is graciously giving away a free copy of A Dance With Jane Austen. Please leave your comment stating which Jane Austen character you would most like to dance with and why! The contest is open to all and closes at midnight November 27th, US Eastern Standard Time.

Susannah’s Books:

Preorder Celebrating Pride and Prejudice at this link.

Order A Dance With Jane Austen at this link

Order Susannah’s first book, Jane Austen and Crime, at this link

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I’ve previously discussed the difficulties and dangers of travel in the Regency era in a number of posts on this blog, but the Lancaster Sands in Lanchashire presented a variety of difficulties for even the most knowledgeable traveler. My first introduction to this region was via a William Turner painting, Lancaster Sands, painted ca. 1826. I was struck by the laborers and villagers walking alongside a coach in shallow water. Why would a coach travel so slowly that pedestrians could keep pace?

Lancaster Sands, William Turner. Image @Wiki Paintings. Birminham Museum and Art Gallery

Thumbnail showing truer colors of Turner’s painting.

As it turns out, the crossing over the Lancaster Sands to reach Ulverston was fraught with danger, especially after heavy rains. In the early 19th century travelers crossed this watery passage in the Lake District at low tide, for this was the shorter (but more dangerous) route.

The sands forming the Bay of Morecambe, covered by the sea at high water, are crossed every day by travellers whose time or inclination leads them to choose this route rather than one more circuitous, and nearly thrice the distance, inland. – The Sands, John Roby

The crossing was extremely hazardous due to shifting sands and the timing of the departure had to be perfect:

“Coach services, scheduled to accommodate the changing tides, ran between hotels in Lancaster and Ulverston. In 1820, one traveller relates, he was rudely awakened in his Lancaster hotel at five in the morning when the coach driver burst into his bedroom shouting, “For God’s sake make haste! The tide is down … if you delay we shall all be drowned.” – The Pleasures and Treasures of Britain: A Discerning Traveller’s Companion (Google eBook)David Kemp Dundurn, Jan 12, 1992 – p. 307

Otley Map, Lancaster Sands, 1818. Image @Portsmouth University.

Today, as over 150 years ago,  the Sands Road requires a guide to help travelers negotiate the dangerous tide floods.

Before the railway was made, the old way of crossing the sands from Lancaster to Ulverstone must have been very striking, both from the character of the scenery around and a sense of danger, which cannot but have given something of the piquancy of adventure to the journey. The channels are constantly shifting, particularly after heavy rains, when they are perilously uncertain. For many centuries past, two guides have conducted travellers over them. Their duty is to observe the changes, and find fordable points. In all seasons and states of the weather this was their duty, and in times of storm and fog it must have been fraught with danger. These guides were anciently appointed by the Prior of Cartmel, and received synodal and Peter-pence for their maintenance. They are now paid from the revenues of the duchy. The office of guide has been so long held by a family of the name of Carter, that the country people have given that name to the office itself. A gentleman, crossing from Lancaster, once asked the guide if “Carters” were never lost on the sands. “I never knew any lost,” said the guide; “there’s one or two drowned now and then, but they’re generally found somewhere i’th bed when th’ tide goes out.” A certain ancient mariner, called Nuttall, who lives at Grange, on the Cartmel shore, told me that “people who get their living by ‘following the sands,’ hardly ever die in their beds. They end their days on the sands- and even their horses and carts are generally lost there. I have helped,” said he, “to pull horses and coaches, ay, and, guides too, out of the sands. The channel,” he continued, “is seldom two days together in one place. You may make a chart one day, and, before the ink is dry, it will have shifted.” I found, indeed, by inquiry, that those who have travelled the sands longest, are always most afraid of them ; and that these silent currents, which shimmer so beautifully in the sunshine, have been “the ribs of death” to thousands. – Over Sands to the Lakes by Edwin Waugh, 1860, Internet archive

Today, signs warn visitors about the passage, stating: “This route has natural hazards, seek local guidance.”  The following link shows modern images of the route (Lake Guide Sands Road), which is still crossed today with experienced guides.  A 19th century visitor related that:

It is safest to cross at spring-tides; the water then is more completely drained out, and the force of the tide sweeps the bottom clean from mud and sediment. – The Sands, John Roby

Many who took this route in days of yore, such as William Wordsworth, found the trip to be so memorable that it lived in their memory for a long time. Turner created a number of striking images of the dangerous crossing. In all of them, the pedestrians and riders stayed close to the coach as guides gauged how and where the sands had shifted with the last tides or storms. Brogs, or broken branches of furze, left by previous guides visually led the way. You can see a few of them placed in the lower right corner of Turner’s painting below.

In this dramatic painting, Turner shows the Lancaster coach struggling across the sands and being overtaken by the incoming tide in a rainstorm. (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). One can imagine the panic of the passengers upon seeing the incoming water, and the struggles of the horses as they pulled their heavy loads along the soft sands.

Painter David Cox also painted the Lancaster Sands crossing. His images are less romantic than Turner’s, but dramatic nevertheless:  Lancaster Sands by David Cox, 1835. The route through the sands were ever-changing. The guides tested the way daily, looking for shifts in the channels and for quick sand, but even the most experienced could not prevent the drowning of carriages and coaches and the deaths of people who were caught by the incoming tides or who were trapped in quagmires. Graves in local cemeteries are testament to the many lives that were lost during these crossings.

David Cox, Sketch for Crossing Lancaster Sands. Image @Tate Britain

By the mid-19th century, the railroads provided a safer and faster route. Today, the crossing over the sands is a voluntary one and taken for the experience or thrill, not out of necessity.

Image of a carriage traversing the Sands in high tides from Waugh’s book.

More on the topic:

This site shows modern images of the Lancaster Sands: Sands Road at Low Water

Old Cumbria Gazzeteer: Lancaster Sands Road 

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The two first dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy. – Elizabeth Bennet dancing with Mr. Collins at the Netherfield Ball

Mr. Collins could have used the services of the excellent caller at the Regency Ball at the JASNA AGM in Brooklyn. Had he been able to follow her direction (or had he learned his dance steps as a child, as did most well-bred Regency children), then he would not have made Elizabeth feel such shame about her partner. When I attended my first Regency ball, I felt as delighted as a child in a candy store at Christmas. The costumes and music lent authenticity to the event. Even those in modern dress (like myself) felt welcome.

As you can see from the clip, individuals with a wide range of dancing talent were present. The caller, or calling master, taught the steps, people practiced, and then they danced to the lovely music provided by the trio.

Caller at the Regency Ball

An important social element was the calling of the dance by the leading lady (a position of honor), who would determine the figures, steps, and music to be danced. The rest of the set would listen to the calling dancing master or pick up the dance by observing the leading couple. Austen mentions in her letters instances in which she and her partner called the dance. – Regency Dance, Wikipedia

I love the next clip, in which the caller sensed a lack of concentration on behalf of her audience. Listen to her final words!

With so many people in one room, and (in those days) the heat from the candles, ballrooms tended to become hot. Flimsy gowns provided little advantage for over-heated bodies restrained by corsets; time and again fans came to the rescue, as in this short scene. The poor men simply had to grin and bear it and sweat the night away, for, believe me, an evening of dance with two sets per dance partner, could be quite strenuous.

After learning the various moves, the group danced the set. The musicians (a trio in this instance) then struck up the music and the dancers progressed through the set, the movements beautiful to behold. My humble flip camera did not do much justice to the proceedings, and could capture only a few of the moments. If you have never attended a Regency ball and are a Jane Austen fan, I suggest that you find a group in your area.

This experience makes Austen’s ballroom scenes come alive as I reread the passages. One also experiences the social aspects of the dance – the dancers themselves, the people arranged on the sidelines watching, the musicians, and the outer rooms, where others assembled and talked  or sought refreshment. In former days, game rooms would be set up for those who opted not to dance.

More images below. If anyone knows the names of the people I captured, please send them on! Thank you.

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Dear Mrs. Elton

Inquiring Readers: Yes, you read the title correctly. Author Diana Birchall has resurrected her excellent advice column on behalf of Mrs. Elton. A number of years ago Laurel Ann Nattress, blogger of Austenprose and editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, co-posted on my other blog, Jane Austen Today. We both sent letters to Mrs. Elton/Diana, who replied with cheeky aplomb. (Read the archived columns here). The column entitled “Mrs. Elton Sez” once ran weekly. The renamed column will be featured monthly.

Agony Aunts, or advice columnists, were not unknown in the 18th and 19th centuries and have enjoyed a long tradition. One imagines that Mrs. Elton would have no difficulty dispensing her advice in print. And now, without further ado …

Dear Mrs. Elton,

I am writing to inform you that I have identified you as the Agony Aunt in The Highbury Monthly Gazette. The means by which I came to this conclusion I shall keep to myself. Suffice it to say that your audaciousness knows no bounds. To brazenly appoint oneself as the judge of others and the arbiter of taste and deportment in an insignificant village when all one has done is marry a mere parson is the height of vanity. As his wife it is your DUTY to be a MODEL of humility and Christian love. I command you to take lessons from Mrs. Collins, also a parson’s wife, whose modesty and sense of duty have set her up as a PARAGON of propriety.

I am most seriously displeased with your presumption and shall not end this missive with my good wishes.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh


My dear Lady Catherine,

Picture to yourself my extreme surprise at receiving your late missive!  I do not at all know how to account for that honour, but although the Eltons have not a family name distinguished among the nobility, you may be better acquainted with the name of Suckling.  Yes, my sister, Mrs. Suckling, Miss Selina Hawkins as was, has married into one of the very greatest families in the land; – that is, her husband’s father settled at Maple Grove at no very distant time in the past, but for income, Mr. Suckling has one of the largest in all the country round Birmingham, and drives a barouche-landau.  So I think you must know whom you are addressing, when you give me the favour of a letter, and a letter actually written in your ladyship’s own hand.

The subject of your letter, however, takes me by surprise quite as much as the letter itself.  Agony aunt!  What a very modern term for a very odious thing, to be sure.  I should like to know why you take me for such a creature?  No lady would write for a newspaper, far less a little country organ like the Gazette, and I trust you realize by this time, that it is a lady with whom you have to do.  The Hawkins family, you know – well, there, I need not display my antecedents. That would be vulgar.  Display of all kind is what I have a horror of.  You may take up the Peerage yourself; and see that the Hawkins family are a very ancient Kent line, whose name originated in the word HAVOC.  There has always been a famous solicitor in every generation, but do not run away with the idea that we are tradesmen, for that, my Lady Catherine, I assure you we are not.  One of my cousins was raised to a Barony for his excellence in jurisprudence, and my most illustrious ancestor of all was a Pirate.  Admiral Sir John Hawkins.  He invented the slave trade almost singlehandedly, and was of that enterprising, pushing nature shared by all my – But stay – I did not mean to mention that.  You will kindly overlook it.

And who is this Mrs. Collins of whom you speak?  If I mistake not, she is a country girl whose father really was in trade, until his having a term as mayor of his little village of Meryton, gave him his knighthood – a very recent creation, too.  This is not the sort of person to hold up as example, and I beg to know what Your Ladyship means by it.  My husband Mr. Elton is a far superior sort of clergyman than Mr. Collins, who is, as all the world knows, a half-educated, toadying sort of fellow, and certainly not a Vicar.

Let us return, however, to the subject of Agony Aunt.  I take this term to mean a sort of Dispenser of Advice.  Well, I must inform you, I have never Dispensed Advice; I should be ashamed to do so unasked (although any advice I might give, would be better than any body’s).  From your mentioning the profession, however, I can divine your real intention.  You protest, but I see through you.  I see through to your real meaning, Lady Catherine!  One with my Understanding, and my Resources, will always see through other ladies, no matter how high born; and I now give you to understand that I know that you would love nothing more than to be an Agony Aunt yourself!  You write to me, therefore, seeking advice as to how to begin.  You have, as I can very easily discern, a vast ability to give advice of the best sort, as I do myself, which is why I can recognize this very quality in others.  You would like to make a more formal, more public use of your undoubted talents, and I believe you have come to exactly the right quarter, for who can better tell you how to proceed, than I?  Did I not find a situation as governess, one of the first situations in the country, for my favorite, Jane Fairfax?  As it happened, she did not take it up, for her marriage prevented her; but had she gone to Mrs. Smallridge, only think how happy she would have been!  So make no mistake, I can and will find a situation for you, too.

Would you care to write – anonymously, of course, merely under the by-line of “A Lady,” for the Highbury Monthly Gazette?  I await your reply by return of post.

Yours respectfully,

Augusta Elton

The Vicarage, Highbury

Diana and her cat, Pindar

About Diana Birchall

Diana Birchall grew up in New York City, and was educated at Hunter College Elementary School, the High School of Music and Art, and C.C.N.Y, where she studied history and English literature. She has worked in the film industry for many years and is the “book person” story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. A lifelong student of Jane Austen, whom she calls her writing teacher, Diana is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, a charming and best-selling sequel to Jane Aust­en’s Pride and Prejudice. Originally published by Egerton House Press in England, it is now available in a new reprint edition from Sourcebooks. Diana’s comedy pastiche In Defense of Mrs. Elton,based on characters from Jane Austen’s Emma, was published by the Jane Austen Society in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. It forms part of the “compleat” Mrs. Elton Trilogy, which is collected in the volume Mrs. Elton in America, published by Sourcebooks. Read more about Diana in this link.

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