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Archive for April, 2013

During the 18th century women wore a long flannel shift while bathing, sometimes with lead weights sewn into the hem to keep the skirts from floating up. (Word Wenches: Keeping It Clean.) In  Worn Through, Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell discusses monkeys in art in a blog entitled Monkeys a la mode. The creatures served as satirical stand-ins for humans, much as dogs did in satirical early 20th century poker paintings.

Bathing_scene

Image @Worn Through. Click on image to go to the source.

I found Chrisman-Campbell’s passage about the bath of particular interest:

The bath scene is a rare and realistic image of an eighteenth-century bathroom and bathing ritual; the monkey kicks off her red-heeled shoes (long before Louboutins, these signified that one had been presented at Versailles, an allusion to the family’s courtly connections) but she will wear her lace-trimmed white linen chemise in the tub.

One wonders how much the habit of wearing a bathing gown in a bath had to do with modesty. The time it took to prepare for a bath was long and arduous. Water had to be hauled from the well, heated in sufficient quantities, and then hauled up the stairs before the water cooled. One did not take a quick bath in such an instance, but would linger in the tub until the water became too cold for comfort. One imagines that a roaring fire kept the room (and bather) warm. In those days, aristocratic women entertained visitors in their dressing rooms while wearing elaborate dressing gowns. As shown in the scene below, they also entertained visitors while bathing.

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Annette Bening and Colin Firth in Valmont

In the  film Valmont, Bening’s Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil uses the bath as a prop to demonstrate her power and sexuality. Her bathing dress enhances her curves and disguises very little. This film clip shows one delicious bath scene.

 

In this image from Mr. Vernon, Martha Washington’s bathing dress is plain and pedestrian by comparison. It is a mystery to me why the bathing dress was worn, for anyone who has walked in the rain knows how quickly wet clothes can cool the skin. One can only imagine the chilling effect of wet cloth in drafty houses.

Bathing gown. Image @ Mount Vernon

Bathing gown. Image @ Mount Vernon

By the late 18th century/early 19th century, bathing dresses were fashionable at seaside resorts. One can readily understand why, for in the image below a man on horseback pulls the bathing machine into the water. The bather peeks out of the door, unwilling to expose herself until all was safe. In fashionable Brighton, men and women bathers were separated and swam from different beaches. Away from prying eyes, some women felt free to bathe nude.

TopILNewsBathingMachine

Tide Coming in Fast and a Jibbing Horse”, a 19th century engraving from the Illustrated London News which shows how a bathing machine was towed in and out of the sea by a man on horseback. Image @The Brighton Swimming Club

As you can see from this 1813 image from the Costumes of Yorkshire, many women still chose modesty over nudity. The dippers were female, and the male rider on horseback kept well away from view.

1813-From-The-costume-of-Yorkshire-illustrated-by-a-series-of-forty-engravings-being-fac-similes-of-original-drawings-500x351

Sea Bathing’ 1813 From “The costume of Yorkshire, illustrated by a series of forty engravings, being fac-similes of original drawings” NYPL Digital Collection

If modesty was the reason for wearing bathing costumes made from linen or cotton, then their purpose failed. As seen in this 1916 photograph, wet fabric didn’t hide the details of the nude body as much as accentuate the curves. The veiling was illusory and the result much sexier than the nude body itself.

bathing suit 1916

Wet suit 1916: Alfred Stieglitz(‘Ellen Koeniger’, 1916, gelatin silver photograph, 11.1 x 9.1, J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

In an interesting aside, this image of a medieval bath from Leeds Castle shows that bathing wasn’t always regarded as a harmful exercise by the British.

Medieval bath, Leeds Castle

Medieval bath, Leeds Castle

Read more about the seaside and seaside fashions on this blog to round out your knowledge of how the Regency folks enjoyed their seaside excursions:

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Nice, informative video about book binding, although I have a minor disagreement with the statement about a book not being important enough to mention the name of an author. Jane Austen’s early editions were by a lady because a gentlewoman simply did not publicly admit to earning a living as a novelist,

Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

Just in case you were interested to know how much your first editions of Jane Austen’s works were worth, this video featuring Adam Douglas, Senior Specialist in Early Literature at Peter Harrington, a rare book dealer in London, introduces a selection of Jane Austen’s first editions and explains how bindings affect value.

We just love how he handles the books. It’s like an aphrodisiac for an Austen fan as he sensually glides his hands over first editions of Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and speaks in reverent and seductive tones! Adam, you are such a Willoughby!

Enjoy!

Laurel Ann

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Sidmouth is now talked of as our summer abode” – Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, January 1801

Sidmouth: A History. Book available at. Click on link.

Sidmouth: A History, edited by Geof Holmes. Book at this link. Click on image for source.

In the summer of 1801, Jane Austen and her sister and parents visited Sidmouth, a seaside Devon town made unexpectedly popular by a visit from King George III in 1791. The Austens came at the invitation of Richard Buller, a newly-wed vicar and former pupil of Jane’s father, Rev. George Austen.

Jane was happy to escape Bath which, even then, she found confining after the freedom of Steventon; and, furthermore, she liked Mr Buller and was satisfied, she wrote, that ‘he would not oppress me by his felicity and his love for his wife…he simply calls her Anna without any Angelic embellishments.’-  Sidmouth, Dawlish, and Weymouth

For a few short weeks there Jane experienced the happiness of new love, although scant proof exists.  Cassandra, according to many accounts, made brief remarks about that visit to her nephews and nieces years after Jane’s death. Her memories, according to David Cecil, author of A Portrait of Jane Austen, are not in complete agreement.

All we can be reasonably sure of is that at Sidmouth Jane met a young gentleman who showed signs of being extremely attracted by her. We do not know his name nor his profession, though there is a suggestion that he was a clergyman. We do know that he was handsome, intelligent and possessed of unusual charm; so much so that Cassandra, who hardly ever praised anybody, praised him warmly and even thought him good enough for her sister Jane. – Cecil, p. 97

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion.

Morning Dress, 1797, from Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion. Click on image for source.

Jane was apparently as smitten with the young man as he was with her. After only two or three weeks acquaintance, in which Cassandra was convinced that their attraction towards each other had blossomed into love, the young man had to leave to meet an obligation.

It was understood that he would soon come back and join the family again. Cassandra had no doubt that he would then state his intentions and that Jane would receive them favourably. – Cecil, p. 97

Sadly, this hope did not come to fruition. Before the budding lovers could meet again, the young man’s brother wrote to say that he had died suddenly. We know no more about the story. Jane’s letters are missing for many months afterwards – either she was so grief stricken that she was unable to write or her letters were destroyed by Cassandra. We will never know.

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

“Her sister and Bingley standing together.” Isobel Bishop image @Morgan Library

We can only surmise that Harris Big-Wither, Jane’s next suitor who did propose (and was accepted one evening and rejected the following morning) did not live up to Jane’s standards for a husband, not in the way that her mysterious lover had. While rich and able to support Jane and her family, Harris lacked looks, intelligence and charm. (“Mr Wither was very plain in person – awkward, and even uncouth in manner – nothing but his size to recommend him” – The Suitor: Harris Big-Wither, JASA.)

Jane’s doomed love affair occurred in a small seaside town in Devon that had increased in popularity after the King’s visit. Until 1800, Sidmouth was a fishing village situated on the Channel, between Lyme and Exmouth, one hundred and sixty-two miles from London. By 1801, Sidmouth offered an elegant ball room, tea-room, and some shops. By the mid-19th century there were seven or eight bathing machines, which were private property. Several rows of good houses were built by the gentry, a numbers of whom made it their summer residence. The market-days were Tuesday and Saturday, with no coaches or waggons going regularly to or from this small resort. In an 1814 panorama, one can see the Georgian verandas and awnings  and the fashionable dandies and well-dressed ladies parading up and down the esplanade.

Sidmouth 1803 engraving

Sidmouth, 1803 engraving. Fronticepiece.

For the Frontispiece the Author is indebted to the friendly and elegant pencil of Hubert Cornish, Esq.; and he feels happy in thus acknowledging his obligations, for a drawing of one of the most interesting bathing-places in the kingdom.

The view is taken at low water, and from Salcombe-hill, which rises on the east side of the town; A part only of Sidmouth is included; but the Beach, and the distinguishing features of its coast, are sketched with fidelity and spirit.

The cliffs of Torbay are seen in the western distance—High Peak succeeds; and Peak-hill, with its signal-post, near which runs the road to Exmouth, exhibits the western side of Sidmouth valley. Peak-house, the residence of Mr. Baruhr, and the elegant cottage of Miss Floyd, are seen above the town. – An Excursion from Sidmouth to Chester, 1803, Google ebook

Sidmouth during Jane Austen's day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.

Sidmouth during Jane Austen’s day. Image@Sidmouth Library. Click on image.

The town consists of about three hundred houses and, in the census taken by order of Parliament in the year 1803, was said to contain twelve hundred and fifty-two inhabitants. This number, according to the census in 1813, was increased to above 1600. Beginning from what is termed Mill-cross, at the north end of the town, and ending at the beach, its length is about the third part of a mile. For rather more than half of this space it is, principally, one street; the remainder is divided into two branches like the letter Y. In the eastern branch, which seems rather the best of the two, are shops of almost every description, and two of the inns of the town, the London Inn and the New Inn. In the western branch of the main street is the Post-office. Both branches of the Y, as well as the main stem, contain lodging-houses, very various both in size and price. – The Beauties of Sidmouth, 1816

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Sidmouth today. Image @ Google Maps

Today, much of the Regency architecture remains and one can readily imagine Jane and her beau walking along the coast, inhaling the bracing sea air and feeling the ocean breezes. Years later Jane mentioned Sidmouth briefly, for William Elliot had visited the town before visiting Lyme and meeting Anne in Persuasion.

Years after her death:

Sidmouth became an epicentre of the craze for cottages ornées – gentlemen’s residences designed in faux rustic style. Look at the thatched roofs on the seafront. When the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning came to Sidmouth in 1832, the house she rented had previously been occupied by the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia. Sidmouth had found its form.  – Sidmouth mans the barricades

Sidmouth's Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Sidmouth’s Esplanade today. Image @Google maps.

Another version of Jane’s romance with a stranger has recently surfaced. In Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, author Andrew Norman asserts that the young clergyman was called Samuel Bicknall. According to the Daily Mail, a British rag, “Not only were her dreams of marrying Sam thwarted, but the match was sabotaged by her own beloved sister, Cassandra, who also lusted after him.”

Oh, dear (and how contrary to our knowledge of Jane’s and Cassandra’s deep love and respect for each other!)  I ordered this seemingly spiteful book for my Kindle. More on Mr. Norman’s assertions later!

Read more on the topic:

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My short visit to Williamsburg resulted in a lot of pix and short videos. For those who have never visited Colonial Williamsburg, this renovated Virginia city evokes the 18th century just prior to the American Revolution. I visited on a glorious April day, just when the shops were about to close, and saw workers dressed in Colonial garb ending their day and closing up shop. I witnessed a juxtaposition of old/new, with modern-day people re-enacting chores and professions as if they lived during Thomas Jefferson’s and Benjamin Franklin’s time. This very short 18-second clip shows a female silversmith apprentice. My camera panned to her shoes, which she admitted were quite worn, perhaps more than was authentic!

From 1699-1780 there were 15, possibly 16, silversmiths in Williamsburg. There was a strong preference among wealthy planters for importing large silverware from London. – Silversmith

I walked further down the street and saw this shopkeeper locking up the Prentis and walking home.  Prentis shops in and around the historic section sell hand crafted goods made in the traditional way. Other than the absence of horses and carts, the scene could have been lifted straight out of the 18th Century.

This clickable map shows what a pitifully small section I walked (from the Capitol to Botetourt street and the two parallel streets to the Duke of Gloucester Street). I have seen most of Williamsburg over the years, for I celebrated one of my wedding anniversaries in this city and got to explore it quite a bit then.

Workers near the tavern

Workers in back of Shields Tavern

I concentrated on walking in portions of Williamsburg that I had not much explored before, which was the section closest to the Capitol.

Sign of the furniture maker

Sign of the cabinet maker

Many of the walkways are covered by either gravel or crushed oyster shells, a common commodity in Virginia’s tidewater area.

The furniture maker's workshop

The cabinet maker’s workshop

The cabinet maker is situated on Nicholson Street, which is parallel to the main drag, the Duke of Gloucester Street, where the Barber and Peruke Maker’s shop can be found.

Barber and Peruke Maker

Barber and Peruke Maker

You can see images of the shop interiors if you click on the tour and find the shop you are interested in.
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A peruke is a periwig, popular with men during the 18th and 19th centuries.
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Here is the official Williamsburg link to the Barber and Peruke Maker

Working gent

Working gent

While I met him on the porch of the Barber and Peruke Maker, this gentleman was simply making a delivery and did not work there.

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This building was quite new to me. No wonder, since it was reconstructed a mere 4-5 years ago. It has been at least 8 years since I last wandered around the historic district.

Chatting outside the coffee house

Chatting outside the coffee house

I loved this man’s pose.

Outside the milliner's shop

Outside the milliner’s shop

The milliner’s hats can be purchased at the store or at a stall in the market place.

Inside the milliner's shop

Inside the milliner’s shop

One needs to purchase a series of tickets before entering a shop. Since I had not done so, I could only peek through the windows (made with hand blown glass). Thus the rather fuzzy image of the shop keeper tidying up before closing the store.

Chatting to tourists about life as a black man in Colonial Virginia

Chatting to tourists about life as a black man in Colonial Virginia

All the workers in Williamsburg are willing to chat with tourists. I took this image when this man was in deep discussion with someone, who was peppering him with questions. I admired his patience.

A comely maid walks home after a long day.

A comely maid walks home after a long day.

The sun shone through the trees on what I consider a perfect spring evening. In a few short weeks, hot humid days will descend upon Virginia.

All the staff are friendly and willing to pose

All the staff are friendly and willing to pose

At the end of a long day, the workers returning to their real 21st century lives walk through a quiet town towards their parked cars. The following video captures only the sound of the birds and breezes. The loudest music comes from the male cardinal who, this time of year, is quite loud in claiming his territory. You  can also hear the phoebe. The sheep are Leicester long haired sheep.

Every day the sound of fifes and drums pierce the air. I had wondered where all the visitors had gone. Why, to watch the marching band and to walk with them!

Colonial Williamsburg’s field musicians are drawn from a waiting list of young community applicants. Boys and girls begin their education in military music at age 10 and practice weekly for the next eight years, until after they have graduated from high school. These young people talk with the public about the role of music in the 18th-century military. They teach younger members the music and history lessons needed to continue the tradition of the field musicians. – About the Fives and Drums

If you look closely at this video you will see that the kids do not break formation, even though they are walking over horse droppings. Where are the street sweepers when you need them! (The street sweeper below is lamenting the advent of the machine!)

street sweeper and machine

Note to readers: although the era so dramatically demonstrated at Williamsburg is from the 18th century through 1776, the customs and costumes would have been familiar to Jane Austen’s parents at the time of her birth. One can easily imagine Reverend Austen and his wife Cassandra wearing similar clothes as they raised their growing family in Steventon.  Their parsonage had a cow (and a pig and chickens, no doubt), a well and kitchen garden, and the means to make cream and butter, wines and preserves, and other household goods that are so well demonstrated in Williamsburg!

My other Williamsburg posts:

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Guides in front of the Governor's Palace, Williamsburg

Guides in front of the Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg

My very short visit to Colonial Williamsburg this week provided me with an immersion in 18th century Colonial life. The time frame captured by this historic city is 1760-1776. The costumes worn by the guides would have been similar to the dress worn by Jane Austen’s parents around the time of her birth. The Capitol building (rebuilt 1934) is a site of historic events, including Thomas Jefferson’s first attempt at a bill for religious freedom. Today, immigrants are naturalized here in a ceremony held once a year.

Walking towards the Capitol building in Williamsburg, I met four guides, three women and a man, dressed in Colonial costume. All graciously posed for my camera (see 21-second video above), turning and posing to show their mob caps, bonnets, and aprons, and the construction details of their dress. The young lady who wore her apron up explained that she had not been taught to tuck it up, and that she did it naturally. This made sense, as there are many images from the past that show women wearing their aprons in this way, which allowed them to carry items inside the tucked section.

This 6-second video is of the Capitol.

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After a meeting in Williamsburg today, I stayed to wander the streets of this restored colonial city as the sun sank. It was a beautiful evening. The tourists were thinning and I wandered in areas without car or bus traffic. I was struck by the natural sounds – birds singing, insects buzzing, water gurgling in a stream, the fifes and drums of a marching band, and a horse clopping along a gravel road. Except for the runner walking, I was transported back in time. Here’s the first video of my walk. More to come later.

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The House Servant’s Directory: An African American Butler’s 1827 Guide by Robert Roberts is the first books written by an African American to have been published in the

Gore Place, Waltham MA

Gore Place, Waltham MA. Image @Wikipedia

United States by a major publisher. Roberts worked as a butler and major domo for Christopher Gore (a U.S. Senator and governor of Massachusetts) from 1825-1827 at Gore Place. Robert’s book, a remarkable feat, was also popular, for it was to have two more printings in 1828 and 1834. His advice gives us a glimpse into the life of an early 19th century butler.

Here are his instructions for taking care of a gentleman’s clothes:

if your gentleman’s clothes should happen to get wet or muddy, hang them out in the sun or before the fire to dry. Do not attempt to brush them when wet, or you will surely spoil them, but as soon as they are perfectly dry, take and rub them between your hands where there are any spots of mud, then hang them on your clothes horse, which you must have for the purpose; then take a rattan and give them a whipping, to take out the dust, but be careful and don’t hit the buttons, or you will be apt to break or scratch them.

Image @Wikipedia

Image @Wikipedia

He goes on to describe how one should then carefully brush the coat, starting with the back of the collar, moving to the shoulders, and then to the sleeves and cuffs.  Roberts’ instructions for folding the coat are equally meticulous and given so that “you will find the coat folded in a manner that will gain you credit from any gentleman, and will keep smooth for any journey.” Clothes, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were quite expensive, and taking care of them and keeping them in good shape was a major undertaking.

Man's suit, American. 1810-1820. Museum of Fine Art

Man’s suit, American. 1810-1820. Museum of Fine Art

Hats were another part of a gentleman’s wardrobe that required great care lest they begin to look shabby. A soft camels hair brush is the preferred instrument to brush hats with, for it will not injure fur or scratch it off. Wet hands should be handled with great care or “you will put it out of form.” Using a silk handkerchief and holding the hat carefully (hand inside and fingers extended) “rub it lightly all round, the way the fur goes”. Roberts was most likely talking about beaver hats, which were quite the rage and expensive.

Hat 1820-1830, Snowshill Manor. Image @Nationa Trust/Richard Blakey

Hat 1820-1830, Snowshill Manor. Image @Nationa Trust/Richard Blakey

There are some people that think brushing a hat while it is wet, certainly spoils it; but it is quite the contrary; for the hatters themselves always brush and finish off their hats while damp, so as to give the fur a brilliant appearance. Likewise they set them to their regular shape while damp. I have received these instructions myself, from one of the best hat manufacturers in London.”

This last statement demonstrates Roberts’s worldly and educated background. It is no wonder that his advice still holds up well today.

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Over a year ago I read a fabulous blog post on the Regency Redingote entitled  Boy to Man: The Breeching Ceremony. The article is thorough and I was quite satisfied with its information until I ran into this quote, written by Jane Austen in 1801 to her sister Cassandra:

Mary has likewise a message: she will be much obliged to you if you can bring her the pattern of the jacket and trousers, or whatever it is that Elizabeth’s boys wear when they are first put into breeches; so if you could bring her an old suit itself, she would be very glad, but that I suppose is hardly done.”

This short passage told me much more about the topic and I decided to pursue it further.

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikipedia

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons

During the 18th century boys and girls were dressed alike in baby clothes during their infancy and in petticoats as toddlers. In Beechey’s image, our modern eyes would not identify the infant as a boy unless he was labeled as such.

John Russel, Boy with spaniel. Image @ Christie's.

John Russel, Boy with spaniel. Image @ Christie’s.

At some point, the boys** would be placed in skeleton suits or a form of pantaloons and a frilly tunic. Their hair was still worn long and they still lived in the nursery, if the household was wealthy enough, or were overseen by women – their mothers, older sisters, grandmothers, aunts, nursemaids, etc.

Fathers rarely stepped inside the nursery, the province of women.

Fathers rarely stepped inside the nursery, the province of women. In this idealized scene, the infants are guided on leading strings and a special “cage” that enabled toddlers to learn to walk. Image, source unknown. (Does anyone know the provenance?)

Between the age of 4-6, they would have their hair shorn and graduate to wearing trousers. This important event was marked by a breeching ceremony, a significant milestone in a young boy’s life. I can liken it to my first communion at the age of six. It was an event so important and memorable that I can still vividly recall my pretty white dress and veil, and the details of receiving my first communion wafer and celebrating the occasion with close family and friends. I felt different after that day, and in that way can relate to the pride that 18th and 19th century boys must have felt as they changed into the clothes that marked their first step to manhood.

The modern eye would regard these two children as girls. Lydia Elizabeth Hoare (1786–1856), Lady Acland, with Her Two Sons, Thomas (1809–1898), Later 11th Bt, and Arthur (1811–1857) by Thomas Lawrence   Date painted: 1814–1815. Image @National Trust Collection

The modern eye would regard these two children as girls. Lydia Elizabeth Hoare (1786–1856), Lady Acland, with Her Two Sons, Thomas (1809–1898), Later 11th Bt, and Arthur (1811–1857)
by Thomas Lawrence
Date painted: 1814–1815. Image @National Trust Collection

The breeching ceremony had little to do with social status and was practiced across all class lines. The rich could afford any amount of new clothes for their children, made by tailors or seamstresses, no doubt, but at the start of the Industrial Revolution, the cost of clothing was still prohibitive for even the gentry, the class to which Jane Austen’s family belonged. As Jane Austen so often mentioned in her letters, clothes were generally remade and recycled rather than discarded. Ribbons, buttons, lace, or other embellishments were added to update a garment, and sleeves were reshaped or cut down to size, and hems raised or lengthened as current fashion required. If the garment was no longer suitable for one person, it could be cut down to size for someone who was smaller. The refashioned garment was worn and patched until it was given to the poor or used as rags.

Jane Austen’s comments about her sister-in-law’s request to Cassandra to bring back a pattern to share or an old suit for her boy’s breeching ceremony now makes sense. The women of the house sewed the clothes (for mass production of garments and textiles was still in the future), and shared patterns and borrowed sartorial ideas from each other. Hand me downs were de rigeur, I am sure, for most parents of that era with large families could scarcely afford new clothes for each of their many children.

Thomas Lawrence English (Bristol, England 1769 - 1830 London, England) Sir Walter James, Bt., and Charles Stewart Hardinge, 1829. Image @Harvard Art Museums

Thomas Lawrence
English (Bristol, England 1769 – 1830 London, England)
Sir Walter James, Bt., and Charles Stewart Hardinge, 1829. Image @Harvard Art Museums

Regardless of social standing, all boys,  even those from the lower sorts, would receive a new pair of breeches around the age of six (four to six, to be more precise). The breeching event provided a cause for private celebration, to which family and friends were invited. For the parents, this ceremony also acknowledged that their child had survived past infancy. In an age when so many children died before reaching their majority (almost a fourth of them would die before the age of 10), the breeching ceremony might well have been the only significant event in a young boy’s life. In addition, he received a set of brand new clothes – a milestone indeed!

To put a perspective on how a parent felt about this event, Samuel Taylor Coleridge proudly writes of his son Hartley’s breeching ceremony in 1801:

Hartley was breeched last Sunday — & looks far better than in his petticoats. He ran to & fro in a sort of dance to the Jingle of the Load of Money, that had been put in his breeches pockets; but he did [not] roll & tumble over and over in his old joyous way — No! it was an eager & solemn gladness, as if he felt it to be an awful aera in his Life. O bless him! bless him! bless him!” – Samuel Coleridge to Robert Southey, November 9, 1801

Portrait of Two Boys in Green and Red Velvet Suits by Ramsay Richard Reinagle

Portrait of Two Boys in Green and Red Velvet Suits
by Ramsay Richard Reinagle

What a vivid description! Relatives and friends, including the godparents, showered the young boy with coins and gifts. This ceremony marked an important occasion in which the boy left the world of women (nursery). After this momentous event, his father would become more involved with his upbringing or he would be mentored by other men in his life. He might be placed in a nearby boarding school with the young sons of other gentry, such as the one that Rev. Austen ran, for example, or in a more prestigious school if his parents were richer. Opposed to a young boy of the same age, a little girl’s life remained essentially the same – she would learn the art of running a household and catching a suitable man, but her young male counterpart would learn the art of running an estate or, if he was a second son, the skills required to make his way in life. (Click here for a modern image of breeches.)

THE CHILDREN OF RICHARD CROFT, 6TH Bt.,c.1803, by John James Halls, R.A.  In this image one can see the three stages of boyhood - petticoats, skeleton suit, and jacket, shirt, and trousers.

THE CHILDREN OF RICHARD CROFT, 6TH Bt.,c.1803, by John James Halls, R.A. In this image one can see the three stages of boyhood – petticoats, skeleton suit, and jacket, shirt, and trousers.

**The type of clothing that young boys wore after the breeching ceremony depended on the century. During the 17th century, children’s clothes looked like miniature versions of adults. Young boys wore waistcoats, shirts, breeches, stockings and leather shoes. But by the time Jane Austen and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote their remarks in 1801, childhood was extended. Little boys wore skeleton suits until the age of nine, and then were graduated into more adult like clothing. Sons of the working class and poor did not wear skeleton suits, but wore clothing that resembled that of their farmer and laborer fathers.

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Thanks to Netflix, my houseguests and I are watching the Vicar of Dibley and savoring each episode, for we are viewing the last season, in which (be still my beating heart) Richard Armitage plays Geraldine’s swain Harry, and Jane Austen’s novels become a point of discussion. Dawn French as Geraldine is at the top of her comedic game in this series, which was woefully short and had too few episodes to please this Dibley addict.

In the The Handsome Stranger, Harry and Geraldine discuss a scene in Sense and Sensibility. (Click on image.)

Richard Armitage and Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley

Richard Armitage and Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley

If you have a Netflix account or can watch the videos streaming somewhere, I highly recommend this funny, warm-hearted series. The fact that the Vicar is a Jane Austen fan put more icing on the cake for me.

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The REAL Jane Austen_Byrne

Musings from a blogger:

I meant to write a review of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne in February shortly after the book came out, but life intervened – life in the form of visitors, a busy schedule at work and move to new offices, a bum knee that required an operation and recuperation, and the book itself, which – several pages into it – urged me to read it to the last before recommending it (or not) to others. I carried the book every day to work hoping to complete it during lunch, but my best laid plans were inevitably derailed.

In addition to this blog and my interest in Jane Austen and the world she lived in, I have been reading other authors: Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Georgette Heyer, to name a few. David Stockman’s The Great Deformation, a great big bear of a book that holds economic insights that will chill the confidence of avid savers like myself, is my most recent acquisition. And then there’s Netflix. I admit to being a serial viewer of series that I missed seeing: The West Wing, for example, The Walking Dead, and now 30 Rock. Warmer weather now pulls me to spring gardening and walking in the great outdoors.

The real life of Vic Sanborn has been getting in the way of her quest to know more about the real Jane Austen, which is why this blog’s entries have been so spare of late and why I took so long to finish Paula Byrne’s book. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. This image of my copy of The Real Jane Austen will tell you all.

My well thumbed copy of The Real Jane Austen

My well thumbed copy of The Real Jane Austen

One would think that as a devoted Janeite who has read almost all the major biographies and articles about Jane, plus her books and letters and a great number of sequels about her novels and life, that I would have my fill of reading about Miss Austen. But I haven’t.

One acquaintance asked me how I could continue reading books that, on the surface, seemed all so similar. It’s simple, really. I rarely tire of talking about Jane and her works. I love the conversations in our book group. I enjoy attending conferences and meetings about her, listening to Janeite scholars and reading the insights of other bloggers who bring their own unique perspectives to her life and work. No matter how much I learn, I am still eager to know more. Just a slightly different take on her life and novels will provide me with new insights that spur me to uncovering more information. Full-fledged Janeite that I am, I can now publicly confess: I am dotty about Jane Austen and crazy about the Regency era.

My review of The Real Jane Austen

I frankly did not think I would like this book, my preconception coming from the blitz of publicity last year about the lost image of Jane Austen that Paula Byrne discovered. (I much prefer Cassandra’s tiny amateurish watercolour, which I viewed at the National Portrait Gallery.) When I received the book for review, I was mightily sick of the hoopla surrounding the portrait and began reading Dr. Byrne’s biography with some skepticism. Imagine my joy when the book held my interest from the start.

My preferred image of Jane Austen painted by Cassandra Austen. Image @National Portrait Gallery.

My preferred image of Jane Austen painted by Cassandra Austen. Image @National Portrait Gallery.

The Real Jane Austen focuses on specific objects, like the topaz crosses that Jane and her sister Cassandra received from their brother Charles. The conversation segued into a discussion of Charles and Frank Austen’s careers in the Royal Navy, and the lives of sailors in general, including that of William Price in Mansfield Park and those of the sailors in Persuasion. Details of letters and visits home flesh out our knowledge of Jane’s relationship with her brothers, as well as the background for some of the characters in her novels. While life on board ship was harsh, a career in the navy was one way in which the Austen men could seek their fortune through promotions and the spoils of war. At the tender age of eighteen, Frank obtained his lieutenant’s commission.

In some cases, early promotion led to discontent among the crews, particularly when over-enthusiastic young officers meted out punishments to their inferiors. Logbooks taken from Frank’s ships show the severity of the punishments. Forty-nine lashes would be given for theft and a hundred for insolence to a superior officer.”

Janeites who have read Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by John Henry Hubback, Edith C. Hubback, J.H. Hubback would already know many of these sailor details, but they are new for many. Dr. Byrne threads the influences in Jane’s life in such a way that a seasoned Janeite is happily reminded of well-known facts and a new reader is introduced to them in the context of Jane’s life, her letters and novels, and her influences.

Dr. Byrne uses other objects to develop Jane’s biography: a vellum notebook; a card of lace, which led to a discussion of the shoplifting trial of her aunt, Jane Leigh Perrot; the laptop writing box given to her by her father; her royalty check, which confirmed her as a professional writer; and a bathing machine, commonly used by bathers at seaside resorts. While at Lyme, Jane caught a fever and took to bathing to recover, using bathing machines and the services of a dipper named Molly:

Jane Austen enjoyed the experience of being dipped so much that she continued to take advantage: “The Bathing was so delightful this morning and Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired.”

We learn that Jane, while a doting aunt, viewed children much as she did adults – some were simply easier to like than others. Her observation of Anna Lefroy’s girls is not unlike one that I can make of my family members, including myself: “Jemima has a very irritable bad Temper (her Mother says so) – and Julia a very sweet one, always pleased and happy.” Jane fondly thought about her fictional characters and how their lives would unfold, telling her relatives the details of Jane Fairfax’s and Kitty Bennet’s futures, for example – details that we Janeites crave.

There are other pleasant tidbits, of which I shall name a few. They include Tom Fowle’s letter to Cassandra, her fiance who tragically died at sea before he could afford to wed her; Cassandra’s deep romantic nature and her humorous side; the fact that Elizabeth Bridges preferred Cassandra over Jane, whom she did not like; details of Jane’s travels in an age when 90% of the populace sojourned only a few miles from their own community (This proves her to be less provincial than the myth of the isolated, rural spinster); Jane’s knowledge of the larger world, including the Napoleonic wars, slave and opium trades, and life at sea; that serious Frank Austen lacked a sense of humor but that he was quite generous towards the Austen women after Rev. George Austen’s death; and that Henry, Jane’s favorite brother called his sisters and mother “The Dear Trio”.

Frank Austen

Frank Austen

Many of these details are well-known to those of us who have researched Jane’s life for a number of years, but their presentation is delivered in a unique package that ties biographical influences to key moments and objects, and that weaves a view of Jane Austen which is both personal and well-researched. Unlike dry scholarly endeavors, filled with footnotes and references and a dense academic tone, Byrne keeps her wide readership in mind with a writing style that is relaxed and quite readable. There are just enough images to add another layer of depth to our reading experience.

Five out of five regency teacups

Five out of five regency teacups

I recommend The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things highly to readers who are new to Jane Austen’s life and times, as well as to committed Janeites who simply cannot read enough about their favorite author. I imagine there will be some Janeites who will find this biography somewhat repetitive – I am not one of those. My rating is five out of five regency teacups.
Product Details
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (January 29, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061999091
ISBN-13: 978-0061999093

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Image copyright @Venn Studios 2013

Image copyright @Venn Studios 2013

Congratulations to the four winners of the previous two books contests, which ended on April 1 and April 3 respectively. They are Raquel M. for Jane Austen’s World, Brenda B for The Jane Austen Handbook, and Rosalie A. and Monica Z. for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It was fun to read your comments! Continuing our Pride and Prejudice celebration is this Kickstarter project which aims to produce a new fine-art silhouette print of Jane Austen. The project details (and gently amusing video) can be be found by clicking on the image below or this link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/443052805/jane-austen-poster-print-and-pride-and-prejudice-c.

Jane Austen Poster

Image copyright @Venn Studio 2013

As a companion piece to the silhouette, a ‘pamphlet series’ will also be produced featuring much-loved characters from the book. Each pamphlet will feature a delightful illustration by Hugh Thomson – the talented artist commissioned to produce a series of drawings for the 1894 publication of Pride and Prejudice. The back of each pamphlet will contain a literary synopsis outlining the characters and their personalities. Each individual pamphlet measures 165mm x 78mm.

Jane Austen character pamphlets

Image copyright @Venn Studio 2013

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