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Archive for June, 2013

Nobody could catch cold by the sea; nobody wanted appetite by the sea; nobody wanted spirits; nobody wanted strength. Sea air was healing, softening, relaxing — fortifying and bracing — seemingly just as was wanted — sometimes one, sometimes the other. If the sea breeze failed, the seabath was the certain corrective; and where bathing disagreed, the sea air alone was evidently designed by nature for the cure.” ― Jane Austen, Sanditon

Inquiring readers, I have spent this week at the seaside with my extended family, an unusual occurrence for us, but one that a Regency traveler would have easily understood. The great grandparents are resting in a cool spot, while grandparents and parents have taken the grandchildren and great grandchildren to the beach. A lady’s companion and an auntie (me) are also in attendance, doing what is required to maintain family unity, feed the masses, and provide comfort and mobility for the elders.

A Calm, 1810, Gillray

A Calm, James Gillray, 1810

Life near the sea shore today is different than depicted in this 19th century image by James Gillray. Or is it really?  We still come to the beach to relax and holiday with friends and family, and to enjoy the bracing sea air and the entertainments that are available for the entire family. While modern sea-goers are more scantily dressed, we still enjoy sitting on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking along the seashore, watching ships or dolphins pass by, eating fresh seafood, reading the latest best sellers, and ogling others.

While we no longer swim behind bathing machines that have been pulled into the waters by sturdy horses, we use other equipment to make our swims more enjoyable – floats and surf boards or paddle boards. Like the women in the image, many of us wear hats for protection from the sun and sit under beach umbrellas. We comb the sands for shells and the waters for clams and crabs.

My family frequently vacations at Bethany Beach in Delaware, where my brother owns a vacation house. Each year, new vacation resorts seem to spring up on what once were cornfields and farmlands. If it weren’t for my GPS system, I would get lost, for so many of the landmarks I once knew are disappearing. It was much the same in Jane Austen’s day, when fashionable sea resorts also sprang up to satisfy the masses.  London became a convenient day’s ride from the coast as roads improved, and the benefits of fresh air and sea water were appreciated for invalids and healthy alike. In this passage from Sanditon, Mr. Parker’s and Mr. Heywood’s topic of discussion is similar to the one I had with my family as we lamented the increasingly crowded conditions and traffic jams, even as we confessed our addiction to the sea:

“Yes, I have heard of Sanditon,” replied Mr. Heywood. “Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the sea and growing the fashion. How they can half of them be filled is the wonder! Where people can be found with money and time to go to them! Bad things for a country, sure to raise the price of provisions and make the poor good for nothing, as I daresay you find, Sir.”

“Not at all, Sir, not at all,” cried Mr. Parker eagerly. “Quite the contrary, I assure you. A common idea, but a mistaken one. It may apply to your large, overgrown places like Brighton or Worthing or Eastbourne, but not to a small village like Sanditon, precluded by its size from experiencing any of the veils of civilization; while the growth of the place, the buildings, the nursery grounds, the demand for everything, and the sure resort of the very best company, those regular, steady, private families of thorough gentility and character who are a blessing everywhere, excite the industry of the poor and diffuse comfort and improvement among them of every sort. No, Sir, I assure you, Sanditon is not a place …”

“I do not mean to take exception to any place in particular,” answered Mr. Heywood. “I only think our coast is too full of them altogether. But we had not better try to get you …”

“Our coast is abundant enough. It demands no more. Everybody’s taste and everybody’s finances may be suited. And those good people who are trying to add to the number are, in my opinion, excessively absurd and must soon find themselves the dupes of their own fallacious calculations. Such a place as Sanditon, Sir, I may say, was wanted, was called for. Nature had marked it out , had spoken in most intelligible characters. The finest, purest sea breeze on the coast, acknowledged to be so, excellent bathing, fine hard sand, deep water ten yards from the shore, no mud, no weeds, no slimy rocks. Never was there a place more palpably designed by nature for the resort of the invalid, the very spot that thousands seemed in need of! The most desirable distance from London! One complete, measured mile nearer than Eastbourne, Only conceive, Sir, the advantage of saving a whole mile in a long journey. But Brinshore , Sir, which I daresay you have in your eye, the attempts of two or three speculating people about Brinshore this last year to raise that paltry hamlet, lying as it does between a stagnant march, a bleak moor, and the constant effluvia of a ridge of putrefying seaweed, can end in nothing but their own disappointment. “

Alas, our sojourn at the beach has ended. We must pack up our belongings and return to our daily routines. Would that vacation had lasted a week longer!

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Part One of this four-part series left me salivating to meet Darcy’s aunt, for up to now we have experienced her only through Mr. Collins’s observations, which, the astute reader has come to surmise, MUST be suspect. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter Anne stops by to visit Hunsford in her carriage, Charlotte announces to the group that they are invited to dine at Rosings. Even if Mrs. Collins hadn’t opened her mouth, Lizzy would have realized that something was up, what with an ecstatic Mr. Collins performing cartwheels and Irish jigs in the background and his chest puffed up with so much consequence and triumph that he nearly topples over from imbalance.

He cannot stop gloating about Lady CdeBs graciousness and affability, and pops up here and there like a Regency era whack-a-mole as the ladies and Sir William Lucas prepare for their walk to Rosings, constantly admonishing them with  – “Lady CdeB wants this” – ” Lady CdeB expects that” – ” Lady CdeB says” — until he has Sir William and his daughter Maria quaking in their boots and practically passed out from fear.

Only Lizzy remains unperturbed. Mere stateliness of money or rank do not overly impress her, and this is one of the many reasons why this heroine, conceived in the late 18th century, retains her appeal over two hundred years after her conception. Her attitude is so modern that we readily understand the motives of this educated, independent-minded woman, who, despite having some serious socio-economic cards stacked against her (she has no legal rights under British law and her dowry is but a mere pittance), refuses to buckle under pressure or kowtow to Society’s dictates. Unlike many fictional heroines of her day, she will chance fate and wait for a man she can respect AND love. You go girl!

Much to our chagrin, Jane Austen continues to delay that first meeting between Lizzy and Mr. Collins’s benefactress. Jane first takes us over hill and dale to enjoy the beautiful vistas and prospects and forces us to listen to more of Mr. Collins’s blathering until we readers begin to skim-read with impatience. Then Rosings comes into view and Jane swiftly takes us inside the manse’s impressive entrance hall and to the room where Lady CdeB receives her visitors (the Hunsford party and us). Our hostess rises to greet us with great condescension and for a second we wonder if she might not be all that Mr. Collins promised. Much to our delight, the lady is MORE than was advertised. (Thank you, thank you, Ms. Austen.). Lizzy calmly  takes in the scene and inspects Lady CdeB.

Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as  to make her visitors forget their inferior rank.”

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years. Painting by Gainsborough.

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years: Haughty and Handsome. Painting by Gainsborough.

In fact, the lady’s demeanor brought everything Mr. Wickham had said about her to Lizzy’s mind. Undaunted, Lizzy turns her inquisitive gaze upon the daughter, in whose pale, sickly, Gollum-like features and timid presence she finds nothing remarkable. Her inner bad-girl is immensely satisfied that such a mousy specimen is destined to become Mr. Darcy’s bride.

While Lizzy scarcely bats an eye at the sight of Lady CdeB, Sir William  is unable to speak, his tongue cleaving  to the dry roof of his mouth, while Maria is seriously considering rolling over and playing dead. Lady CdeB is more than happy to show off her silver and fine plate and chef’s talents to this humble group, for “the dinner was exceedingly handsome. ” This is about as detailed a description of outer appearances as Jane Austen ever gives. We have no idea of what the guests wore, what dishes were served, and how many servants were in attendance. Such details are unimportant in the grand scheme of Jane’s masterful study of the human character.

Mr. Collins is completely in his element, scraping and bowing and prattling while carving the meat, an honor he finds so great that  it has eliminated any vestige of restraint. As he babbles nonstop, Sir William, having recovered his severe case of nerves, echoes the unfiltered stream of utterances. Lady CdeB laps up their compliments without a sense of irony.  No Mr. Bennet she!

Lizzy, meanwhile, sits unnoticed on the side and twiddles her thumbs, waiting for an opening in the conversation. This fails to come, for Lady CdeB is too busy relating the opinions of “Me, Myself, and I”, an overpowering and determined trio intent on delivering their viewpoint on every subject.

In the drawing room Lady CdeB continues her one-sided discussions, giving Charlotte advice on all matters pertaining to  household management, including the care of her poultry and cows, of all things. Then, just before poor Lizzy falls asleep from boredom, the Lady zeroes in on our heroine, firing off a series of questions.

  • How many sisters do you have?
  • Are they younger or older?
  • Are they handsome?
  • Any chance of them marrying soon?
  • Are they educated as a young lady ought to be?
  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What year and make is your father’s carriage?

Lizzy hides her outrage but feels all the impertinence of this inquiry. Lady CdeB attempts to rattle her again. “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins,” she drops, before abruptly switching the topic. Seasoned interrogators use this technique to catch their subjects off guard, but our Lizzy remains unflappable:

“Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Do your sisters play and sing?”

“One of them does.” (Mary. Hah!)

Undeterred, Lady CdeB keeps  the chandeliers spotlighted over Lizzy’s head and continues her inquisition:

You ought all to have learned, the Miss Webbs all play.”

Still trying to rattle Lizzy’s chain, she resorts to insulting Mrs. Bennet’s mothering skills. The reader guffaws from the irony of it all.

“What, you don’t draw? Strange, but your mother should have taken you to town for the benefit of masters.”

“No Governess! How is that possible. You must have been neglected.”

And on and on she goes. Elizabeth plasters a polite smile on her face and refuses to cower. I recall reading this passage with the speed of a Ferrari on an open road  racing to the finish. I so enjoyed the heady ride Jane Austen was taking us on that I had to read how it ended as swiftly as possible! (In fact, I finished my first reading of P&P in one sitting, then reread it a short time later, slowly savoring each word.)

Lady CdeB asks one more question —

Are any of your younger sisters OUT, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, ALL.”

“ALL?!!” You could have thrown the feathers on top of Lady CdeB’s aristocratic head for a loop when Lizzy calmly explains the fairness of her mother’s decision.  “You give your opinion decidedly for so young a person, ” she sniffs, but the reader already knows the score:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, One

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings, Zilch

GO TEAM LIZZY!”

After this scene one can only conclude that Lost in Austen got it right when the series transported Elizabeth Bennet to the future and had her land on her feet,  embracing smart phones, automated teller machines, and iPads as if to the Internet born. In this time travel fantasy series the viewer can readily imagine Jane’s prototype of a modern heroine wanting to free herself from the restraints of her era. In my estimation, Lost in Austen lost its way when it followed the story line of boring Amanda Price discovering life in the past in favor of Lizzy’s more interesting journey into the future.

As for Lady CdeB, I will next examine her as a Proficient. Read Part One of the Lady CdeB series here.

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One of the benefits of gathering images for Pinterest is that one’s awareness of the minute differences in fashions from year to year improves. Daily exposure to thousands of fashion images from the Georgian era have taught me to notice the nuances of style and line. These images are one-sided, since very few articles of clothing from the lower classes survive. With rare exceptions, most museum quality fashions were made for the wealthy, and one must keep in mind when studying these images that fashions for the upper classes were vastly different from those of the working poor or laboring classes. Men’s trousers are a perfect example of class distinction.

a dandy fainting

In this caricature, you can see a contemporary rendering of short, loose trousers; formal breeches; and a form-fitting pantaloon.

By the turn of the 19th century, breeches, pantaloons and trousers worn by all men were sewn with a flap in front called a fall front. This flap was universally held in place by two or three buttons at the top. No belts were worn. Instead, breeches, pantaloons and trousers were held up by tight-fitting waists, which were adjusted by gusset ties in back of the waist. Seats were baggy to allow a man to rise comfortably from a sitting position. As waists rose to the belly button after 1810, suspenders were used to hold the garment up.

Trousers, top flap

Trousers with top flap open

Bfreeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches with flap front closed. Image @Met Museum

Breeches silk - 18th century - part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust

Breeches silk – 18th century – part of a wedding suit. From the Ham House collection, Surrey. Image @National Trust. Note that the front flap has only two buttons.

Breeches, or short pants worn just below the knee, were popular during the 18th century. During the Regency era, they were worn largely as evening wear or at court, a practice that was to continue until the mid-century.

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

Detail of buttons at the knee. Breeches image @Met Museum

By the 1820s, breeches had fallen out of favor for day wear and were considered either too old-fashioned or effeminate a garment. As the 19th century progressed only liveried male servants, most specifically footmen, continued to wear breeches.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810.

Full Dress of a Gentleman, 1810. @Costume Institute of Fashion Plates, Met Museum

In their heyday, breeches were made from a variety of materials. For the upper classes, buckskin breeches were considered to be proper casual attire for mornings or life  in the country. Silk  breeches were reserved for the evening and more formal occasions. White stockings were worn with white breeches, and black or white stockings with black breeches. Tradesmen and hunters wore breeches made of  leather or coarse cloth.

Country attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and hessian boots.

Country or morning attire of buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and riding boots.

Around the 1790s, the tail coat changed and breeches began to be lengthened below the knees to accommodate the longer tails, gradually giving way to slimmer fitting, longer pants, or pantaloons, that ended at the ankle. Pantaloons were close-fitting and sometimes buttoned all the way down the leg. Fabrics were knitted or, like kerseymere and nankin, cut on the bias, so that the garment would hug the leg.

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

1809 image of man wearing pantaloons. Image @Republic of Pemberley

These slim pants were often worn with Hessian boots. To help maintain a smooth look, some pantaloons had a fabric loop that went under the foot, as in the image below. Gusset ties are evident in this image.

1830 linen pantaloon 1830-40 met

Pantaloons were recommended for men whose legs were both slim and muscular. The idea was to show off a good leg. If men possessed deficiencies in musculature, a slight degree of stuffing was recommended, although padding, it was assumed, would be used with the greatest care and circumspection. Interestingly, stockings worn under pantaloons were kept in place by the tightness of the design and fabric.

Padding was added to make the ideal 1819 male figure.

Some dandies added padding to attain the ideal 1819 male figure.

Caricaturists had a field day with men whose physiques looked outlandish in pantaloons.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

French illustration of British gentlemen. Note the unflattering way that pantaloons hug the figure on the left.

This detail of a public domain image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a Regency dandy who cuts a fine figure in his pantaloons. No stuffing or corsets needed here.

A fine figure of a man

A fine figure of a man

Overalls were a form of extended breeches used largely by military men, but first worn by men in the American frontier. They covered the leg, stockings, and buttoned over shoes, much like spats. They were a practically garment for traveling and walking over rugged terrain, and were quickly adopted by the British army.

Trouser, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Overall, 1793. Image @Met Museum

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Capt. John Clayton Cowell, 1st Battalion, 1st (or the Royal) Reg’t of Foot, ca. 1796

Trousers were first worn by sailors and working men before 1800, and were adopted by the fashionable set around 1810.

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers

Scene in Hyde Park in 1817 shows a combination of trousers and pantaloon worn by the soldier.

Originally known as “slops”, trousers were loose-fitting and ended at the ankle. As trousers were adopted, long stockings with decorative clocks were replaced by half-hose, all but destroying the stocking industry, which had thrived since breeches had become fashionable.

A sailor's slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rpwlandson's "Wapping"

A sailor’s slops ended at the ankle. Detail of Rowlandson’s “Wapping”, ca. 1807

Caricatures had a field day showing dandy’s in short wide-legged trousers, as in the image below.

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers

An exquisite wearing wide legged trousers with a high waist that came up to the navel.

Closer fitting trousers were slit up the seam for a few inches above the ankle. This allowed the foot to get through the pant leg. (Breeches and pantaloons were buttoned on the side.) Early in the 19th century, they were appropriate only for day wear.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

cotton trousers from 1800, Image @Met Museum, with slits up the seams.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief.

Tight trousers create a dilemma for this dandy, who cannot pick up his handkerchief. Notice the very high waist.

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers with a fall front, 1820. Image @Augusta Auctions

Trousers were made of wool, linen or cotton. They could also be strapped.

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

The Marquis of Worcester walks in profile with his half-clipped poodle. He wears top-hat, double-breasted tail-coat with a rose in his buttonhole, and strapped trousers. Jan 1 1823. Image@ British Museum

By the 1840s, they had replaced pantaloons. The waist is high in the above trousers, which were probably kept up with suspenders.

The well trousered genteman

The well trousered gentleman, ca. 1830s-40s.

Knee pants with black silk stockings were an essential evening accessory until 1850s when long trousers finally took over. Up until the 1850s, the tie could be black or white, but by the ’60s, white or off-white was the most common choice.

1850's ballroom scene.

1850’s ballroom scene.

In the 1850s long trousers finally replaced breeches for appropriate evening attire.

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I find this painting of Queen Hortense under a pergola in Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine-Jean Duclaux arresting on many levels. As a lover of the Regency era, the scene and its occupant are an embodiment of my romantic ideas about the era. I don’t care whether art critics regard the work as great or minor – there’s something about the quality of light (is it sunrise or is it the hour of the golden light – just before sunset?) … the solitary position of the sitter, whose back is turned to us … the beautiful clothes and scenery … the lively dog with a tail that bookends the feathers to the hat at right.

La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux

La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. Credits © Napoleonmuseum, Thurgau, Switzerland

In 1813 the Napoleonic Wars were still raging on the Continent. British tourism to Europe had halted. Before the wars, the Grand Tour was a requirement for a young heir. Many rich girls and their chaperons also paid homage to France, Greece, and Italy, taking in the culture and fashions and bringing back objects d’art with Neoclassical influences. All of that had halted. Starved of Parisian influence, British fashions had begun to look to English history for influences and British and French fashions had begun to diverge.

This scene is quiet, almost elegiac. I wanted to write about my own response to the painting before looking up any information on it and am glad I did. It seems that just before she sat for this portrait, Queen Hortense, who is Josephine de Beauharnais’s daughter, had just lost her good friend, Adèle de Broc, who had drowned in front of her:

on 10 June, the two ladies went for a stroll near the Grésy waterfall. “I went first, the board was unsteady. I turned around: Good Lord! What a terrible sight! My friend, taken away by the current, had disappeared from view… Her lifeless body was retrieved […] She was no more! What despair! Once again I found myself more alone than ever, without my friend who had helped me through all my hardships!” – Napoleon.org

In an effort to assuage Hortense’s grief, the painter François Fleury Richard was summoned. He arrived with his pupil, Atoine-Jean Duclaux, and while the master sketched the young queen playing music, the student painted the lady from behind. Duclaux had just turned thirty when he painted Hortense. His family had been driven out of Lyonnais during the terror to Burgundy, where the family lived on charity. In his youth he knew terror and the harsh realities of the guillotine. The painter’s early background and his knowledge of Hortense’s grief add to my enjoyment of this painting.

Hortense sits in shadow under a dark and oppressive roof, but she is bathed in golden light – a sign of hope? The little dog is there to comfort her or to draw attention  away from her reverie and sad thoughts. “Here I am,” he seems to say, “notice me. ” Dogs  in art mean fidelity and loyalty. They have also been associated with death and as guardians of the Other World, assuring us safe passage to the other side. Ostrich feathers, while quite a fashionable adornment during this era, are also symbols of truth in Egyptian art. It is interesting to see how the feathers are given the same visual weight as the dog’s tail. reaction to it.

One more thing: Hortense’s pose reminds me of my favorite view of Jane Austen, painted by her sister, Cassandra. It, too, is taken from behind. I love the mystery of both positions.

Jane Austen by Cassandra

Jane Austen by Cassandra

I am curious to know your thoughts about this painting and its many layers of visual enjoyment and interpretation.

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The blog, Carla-at-Home features an interesting post on the progression of Regency fashion. The images were taken from John Peacock’s book: Costume 1066 – 1966, A Complete Guide to English Costume Design and History (copyrighted 1986). Mr. Peacock was the senior costume designer for BBC Television when the book was printed. Here is one of the images. Click on the link above to visit the site and see the rest of them. You can see that over time the hemlines raised to show the ankle and how increasingly intricate the hems became. Also, the English bosom tended to be covered up during the day, but at night even shy ladies showed their assets.

Image @Carla-at-Home. Click on image to view a larger version.

1800- 1811. Image @Carla-at-Home. Click on image to view a larger version.

Below are images of some dresses that were prevalent between 1800-1811. The gowns are classic and tend to be free of frills. The hems in the fashion plates below are longer than in the modern image above. Earlier in the century even the day gowns still sported trains. Hats were embellished with ribbons and feathers, but not with many fruits or flowers.  In these fashion images, bosoms are covered during the day and exposed in the evening. The waist rises until it can go no higher, as in the 1806 image. In the 1810 image, you see that waists start to lower again. Gloves are often made of kid, but can also be fashioned from fabric.

Ladies Monthly Museum, afternoon dress, 1800

Ladies Monthly Museum, afternoon dress, 1800

The fashion plates of 1800 and 1801 show round gowns with skirts that are fuller than later fashions that sported a more columnar silhouette. (See 1804, 1805).

Nicholas Heidelof, morning gowns. 1801

Nicholas Heidelof, morning gowns. 1801

The period between 1800 and 1811 was a time of turmoil for Jane Austen. She was 25 in 1800, perilously close to sitting on the shelf, and a confirmed spinster at 36 when her brother, Edward, gave the Chawton Cottage to his mother and sisters and their friend, Martha Lloyd, to live in, providing them with some stability and security. During these 11 years, Jane was to live in all the places she was ever to call home, except for the last one in Winchester, where she died in 1817. During her prime adulthood, she and her sister Cassandra would have worn fashions that were similar to (but remarkably plainer and less costly than) the fashions depicted in the fashion plates below.  The Austen family lived in Steventon until 1801 and then moved to Sydney Place in Bath until 1804. In 1802, Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to Jane (then 27), who accepted him in the evening and rejected his suit the following morning.

1802 Ladies Monthly Museum

1802 Ladies Monthly Museum

1803 must have brought Jane some joy, for her novel, Susan, was sold to the publisher Crosby for £10. She was to be a published author. Sadly, the novel (to be renamed Northanger Abbey after Jane’s death) languished on Crosby’s shelves for 10 years.

Mirroir de la Mode, undress, 1803

Mirroir de la Mode, morning gown, 1803

Fashions of London and Paris, 1804. @Museum of London

Fashions of London and Paris, 1804. @Museum of London

After the lease in Sydney Place ran out in 1804,  the Austens moved to Green Park buildings. A few months later,  Rev. George Austen died suddenly in January 1805.

Fashions of London and Paris, evening dresses, 1805. @Museum of London

Fashions of London and Paris, evening dresses, 1805. @Museum of London

Their income severely reduced, the women found lodging in Gay Street, Bath from 1805 to 1806. The Jane Austen Centre is located at this building today. During this sad time, I can’t quite imagine Jane attending a ball in the Bath Assembly Rooms wearing an evening gown with an exposed bosom, such as the dresses worn by the women below.

La Belle Assemblee, opera and drawing room gowns, 1806

La Belle Assemblee, opera and drawing room gowns, 1806

In the first half of 1806, the Austen women lived for a short time in Trim Street, then lived a peripatetic life from 1806 through 1807, visiting friends and family, and always on the move.

John Bell, full dress, roxborough jacket, 1807

John Bell, full dress, roxborough jacket, 1807

They landed in Southampton in March of 1807 at the invitation of Frank Austen, who was newly married. Jane, Cassandra, their mother and friend Martha Lloyd, and new sister-in-law, Mary Austen (nee Gibson),  lived there until July, 1809. With money in short supply, the womens’ gowns must have been simple and largely refashioned from older gowns that were still wearable and sturdy.

La Belle Assemblee, walking dresses, 1808

La Belle Assemblee, walking dresses, 1808

Fabric was quite expensive in an era before easy mass production, which is why clothes were recycled. There were occasions when the Austen women needed to purchase cloth for new clothes, but the quality wasn’t always guaranteed. In this letter to Cassandra, written while she lived in Southampton, Jane complains about a tradesman in that city:

As for Mr Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation; how is your blue gown? – Mine is all to peices. – I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a Touch. – There is four shillings thrown away.”

Sadly, the Austen women were in no position to fritter away their money, and this poorly made cloth must have been a low blow for Jane’s finances.

Ackermann, walking dresses, 1809

Ackermann, walking dresses, 1809. The overdress with lace edging at the hem is lovely.

In 1809, Edward Austen invited his mother, sisters, and Martha to live in  Chawton Cottage, which began an era of fruitful creativity for Jane and her writing.

Ackermann, walking and morning dresses, 1810

Ackermann, walking and morning dresses, 1810

As you can see, the classically simple fashions depicted in these fashion plates were popular during a time when Jane Austen’s life was in a state of constant uprooting and confusion. She did not regain her equilibrium as a writer until she was settled in Chawton Cottage. When Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, Jane might well have worn a more simple version of the elegant gowns depicted in this last Ackermann plate.

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Gilbert Gottfried Reads Jane Austengilbert-gottfried-300x249

Ever heard of The Irrelevant Show? I wouldn’t have until I noticed that Gilbert Gottfried, the original voice of the Aflack duck, read Sense and Sensibility using his *ahem* unique comic’s voice.

Imagine Gilbert living 200 years ago and reading by candlelight at night with that voice. It does not bear to think about. Here’s the link to the CBC player. Gilbert’s reading starts after the introduction. Thankfully, his reading is blissfully short.

julie ann cooperFried and Prejudice

On a more serious note, story teller Julie Ann Cooper will stage a retelling of Pride and Prejudice on Friday, June 14th at 7 PM at Theatre Absolute, a converted chip shop in Coventry. This event is part of the Literally Coventry Book Festival, which runs from June 10 to 15 this year. Click here to learn more.

 

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Steventon. Every Janeite has heard of this sleepy little village in Hampshire and the parsonage in which Jane lived over half her life. Situated in the chalk hills of North Hants, about seven miles from Basingstoke. As with Chawton, I “traveled” through narrow lanes to St. Nicholas church, where Reverend Austen held Sunday service, married parishioners, and baptized babies, and where members of the Austen family were laid to rest.

Drive to St. Nicholas

Drive to St. Nicholas. Google street view.

Edward Austen Leigh, Jane’s nephew, described the area as somewhat tame but well clothed with woods and hedgerows. The soil is poor, and while there is an abundance of timber, there are no large trees.

narrow winding lane

The narrow winding lanes curve naturally and offer pleasant nooks and corners. Google street view.

Approach to the church on the left

Approach to the church, which sits on the left, behind the tree. Google street view.

St. Nicholas as seen from the road, with the graves of the Austen family to the right.

St. Nicholas as seen from the road, with the graves of the Austen family to the right. Google street view.

St. Nicholas church. Image @Tony Grant

St. Nicholas church, first mentioned in records in 1238. Image @Tony Grant

Interior of St. Nicholas

Interior of St. Nicholas. Two of the three arches have been closed in. Image @Tony Grant

Detail of interior

Detail of the arch to the right in the above image. Image @Tony Grant

St. Nicholas's stained glass window

St. Nicholas’s stained glass window, which dates from 1883. Image @Tony Grant

Gargoyle

Gargoyle. Image@Tony Grant

Another view of the lane near the church

Another view of the lane near the church. One can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking through this country, wearing pattens during rainy weather to protect their delicate shoes, clutching their red hooded cloaks, and umbrellas.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house.

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

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