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Archive for November, 2017

Inquiring readers,

I had the immense pleasure recently of visiting The Breakers, the summer “cottage” of the Cornelius Vanderbilt family in Newport, R.I. Before walking through its marbled halls, I could only imagine the conspicuous consumption this enormous house represented in the gilded age. I was not disappointed.

The social life in Newport during the Edwardian era represented the last gasp of outrageous luxurious living* before income taxes ended the Beau Monde’s competitive spending sprees. The mansion’s, er cottage’s, lavish details of marble, gilt, carved mahogany, and ivory – of furniture, draperies, rugs, and exquisite china – were achieved in only 2 years by a dedicated army of designers, cabinet makers, carpet makers, weavers, gilders, woodworkers, and the like.

Walking through the immense two-story butler’s pantry reminded me of Downton Abbey and how much I miss that series. Has it been only a year since we viewed Carson, head butler, decanting wine and counting the silver plate in his Butler’s Pantry and overseeing the male servants with an unflinching eye?

Make it a general rule always to have every thing in its proper place, as nothing looks worse than to see every thing topsy turvy; this is an English phrase, but the meaning is, to see every thing in its wrong place; for the beauty of a good servant is to have a proper place for every thing that is used in common, that he may know where to lay his hand upon it, when it is wanted; this will be greatly to your advantage. – Robert Roberts, Robert’s Guide for Butlers & Other Household Staff, 1827

I venture to state that The Breakers’ pantry outstrips Downton Abbey’s in size and grandiosity. Let’s visit this late Victorian/pre-Edwardian room (images below) and compare it to our memory of Carson’s domain. I then invite you to join other readers in a poll to share your opinion.

This Thursday in the U.S. we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. May you and yours the world over be blessed with loving family and friends. I feel so very lucky in that respect and so did my favorite author, Jane Austen.

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Downton Abbey had bells. The Breakers employed electricity. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

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The family and guests transmitted their needs and wants in a system reminiscent of Downton Abbey’s. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

Like the servants in Downton Abbey, the servants in the Breakers knew exactly where in the “cottage” the request had originated. To listen to servant first person accounts about their service at The Breakers, click on this link to the Newport Preservation Society’s page.

Transition from kitchen to butler's pantry.

Flower arrangements were created in the room that connected the kitchen to the butler’s pantry. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

In the image below imagine around 20 sets of china dishes kept in the cabinets in the 2nd story mezzanine.

The family silver was locked up in a safe – all pieces were counted daily because of their value.

Butler's Pantry at the Breakers

Walking into the Butler’s Pantry at The Breakers with its second story mezzanine is breathtaking. Image by Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World.

Cold foods were kept on ice until served. Hot foods were kept in a warmer.

Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen's World

Warm foods were kept in a warmer. Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World

The butler was in charge of decanting the wine. Robert Roberts suggested the following way to clean cut glass decanters:

…you must have a brush to brush the lint which your glass cloth may leave in the cutting, or rough work, then give them a good polish with your shammy leather, and put them away in their proper places…

Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen's World

The footmen and butler had plenty of room to clean the china, silverware, and prepare the trays for guests and family. Image: Vic Sanborn, Jane Austen’s World

The silver was inventoried every evening. The butler kept the key to the wine cellar and had charge of its valuable contents.

*Conspicuous consumption has returned in spades, as witnessed by images displayed by billionaires and their progeny on Facebook pages and the media.

The Breaker’s butler’s pantry vs. Downton Abbey’s

(polls)


The Breaker’s butler’s pantry vs. Downton Abbey’s

(polls)

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Jane Austen’s Music Library – Broadwood Junction in concert at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York City, October 28, 2017, with musicians Francis Liu; violin, Patrick T. Jones; fortepiano; Sarah Stone; cello and Lucy Dhegrae; mezzo soprano, by Patricia N. Saffran.

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Photo courtesy of Broadwood Junction – at the square piano

The concert opened with a passage read from Jane Austen’s Emma which included the mysterious arrival of an expensive square piano, a gift from an unknown donor, to the Fairfax household that could not afford such a piano, “a very elegant looking instrument-not a grand, but a large-sized square piano-forte.” In the early 1800s, the instrument described would have been a tastefully decorated Broadwood square piano with a damper pedal and would have cost £35, or £2,408 today.

broadwood square piano

Broadwood square piano.

The musicians proceeded to explain that their own Broadwood square piano was out of commission and Patrick T. Jones would be playing on a borrowed German fortepiano. The group, which consists of alumni from Juilliard’s Historical Performance program, was formed when a Broadwood square piano from 1809 was spotted at an estate auction in Virginia, and they quickly snapped it up. Broadwood square pianos, with their quiet sound, had been mass produced for the home. Violinist Francis Liu then explained that the program would consist of Jane Austen’s own music books, some of which she copied herself in a refined readable hand from borrowed sheet music. Her music library is now on-line for the public to read at the University of Southampton, UK, website.

The first piece was George Kiallmark’s Robin Adair, Theme and Variations for Piano of the Scottish song, and with Lucy Dhegrae then singing Robin Adair.

Ignaz Pleyel’s Trio was next from 1793, originally scored for harpsichord. This was followed by Thomas Arne’s beautiful Cymon and Iphigenia, cantata for tenor originally, and instruments. In between pieces, the musicians read more passages from Jane Austen about music, from novels and letters.

Except for the popular and noisy “The Battle of Prague” by Frantisek Kotzwara, the remaining pieces by Joseph Wölfl, James Hook and several Anonymous vocal selections revealed a lack of musical development. This phenomenon was explained by Francis Liu, “This music is kitsch and entertaining. It was the music that people from good families could easily perform at home. Usually, there would be a girl with good posture at the piano singing. Rarely, a man would accompany her, perhaps on a flute, but not a violin which would have required more skill.”

It is curious that Jane Austen, one of the most sophisticated novelists of all time, would have been enamored of such simple music. When asked after the concert, Mr. Liu explained further, “In a good family, a girl couldn’t play like a professional musician. She wouldn’t have played music performed in the theaters.” That would have put her in the category of demi-monde. It was an aristocratic dictate in society that those from better families could not appear too professional. For gentlemen the exception was to be a  clergyman or an officer, such as a skilled soldier or cavalryman. Women would have been at risk of making a good marriage, a main theme in Jane Austen novels, if they revealed they had genuine musical talent.

Two lovely Jane Austen youtube selections are on YouTube-

 

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