Jane Austen was born on a bitterly cold night on December 16, 1775.
Little is known about birthday celebrations on one’s natal day during the Regency era. Jane makes no mention of them, as far as I know, in her letters and novels. Please correct me if I am wrong. Common sense tells us that family members recognized this important day, but how? Perhaps a special meal was made and a handsome present or two were given. In Persuasion, Jane described a Christmas celebration in Uppercross, which gives us a sense of how a boisterous family celebrated an important event:
On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.
The rich might have made more of a fuss for a loved one’s birthday – gifting a girl with a diamond brooch or a pearl pendant or the young heir with a sporty phaeton.
In celebration of Jane Austen’s 240th birthday, I’ve made a list of the gifts that people exchanged in Jane’s day, and came up with a variety of items that her family and friends might have given her:
- Brother Edward, a plump goose and a brace of pheasants from his lands
- Brother Charles, a gift of exotic spices and tea from the West Indies.
- Sister Cassandra, an exquisite embroidered shawl made from fine cloth given by brother Frank.
- Her friend, Madame Lefroy, a year’s subscription to a circulating library.
- Brother Henry, several music sheets of songs that were the current rage in London.
- Her mother, a clever poem in her honor, and her father, ink, goose quills, and paper for her literary pursuits.
- Her good friend Martha, special recipes to prepare Edward’s gifts of food.
An other article about Jane’s birthday on this blog: