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Archive for August, 2018

Inquiring readers,

Many of you have noticed my absence for a long time. If it weren’t for the efforts of Rachel Dodge and Tony Grant, this blog would have remained silent for most of the previous twelve months. Thank you, both, dear friends, for your contributions.

Two years ago I realized my heart and soul were no longer in my work and that it was time to retire.  Since then, I have been in the process of getting my house ready for sale, selling it, and packing my belongings to move to north Baltimore to be near family. Luckily or unluckily, I sold my house the moment my realtor planted the “coming soon” sign on my lawn. This meant that I had to move two months earlier than anticipated, since the new owners were anxious to move into my beloved abode.

My new place, however, was not ready. Currently, all my possessions, save for summer clothes and necessities, are in storage, and so I am living in limbo as a guest with friends until the end of August.

Starting September 1, I will be traveling between Richmond and Baltimore for four months, waiting for my new place to be approved by a house inspector and working remotely at a distance (with frequent travels via I-95 to attend bi-monthly meetings down south). January 1st is the date of my retirement. Ah, the modern life!

As I anticipate my schedule this fall and early winter, my thoughts often turn to Jane Austen. She had immense pleasure of living the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire.

Outside there were fields where Mr Austen farmed and his wife grew potatoes (at that time quite an innovation), formal gardens with a turf walk, sundial, strawberry beds, and a grassy bank down which the young Jane, possibly enjoyed rolling as a child, like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. – http://www3.hants.gov.uk/austen/deane-parsonage/steventon-village.htm, Hantsweb, Hampshire County Council

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

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

The Austens also ran a boarding school for young men out of the parsonage house to augment the reverend’s yearly income of £230. His extensive library of 300 – 500 volumes was amazingly large for that era, since books were frightfully expensive. Rev. Austen encouraged Jane and her sister, Cassandra, to read from his library, an unusual encouragement for females in that time.

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, the British Library

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, The British Library

Jane enjoyed an extremely close relationship with her older sister, Cassandra, and they supported each other in their respective strengths and talents. Jane’s talent, as well as Cassandra’s, were nurtured by their doting family, as evidenced by the History of England, written by Jane and illustrated by Cassandra, and the plays and stories of juvenilia a young and playful Jane wrote for family gatherings.

At the age of 25, after enjoying a bucolic childhood that any woman of her era would have envied, Jane’s parents announced the Reverend’s decision to retire and leave Steventon. It was said that, upon hearing the news, Jane fainted. I can only imagine what went through her mind as she imagined the life she adored evaporating as she saw her family’s possessions reduced to the amount that one or several moving carts could hold.

(See slideshow of 18thcentury carts and wagons in Williamsburg of sample carts. I tend to think the blue covered wagon would be similar to one or two vehicles the Austen family would have contracted to move their belongings: http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring09/carts_slideshow/)

These days I empathize with the painful decisions the Austen family must have made regarding their possessions. After paring my own book collection down from around 4,000 volumes to 600 and getting rid of or giving away 90% of my furniture, and after living almost 30 years near a beautiful river and leaving my favorite house, ever, I can imagine Jane’s despair as beloved friends and family and favorite walking paths and shops were left behind for a city she didn’t particularly love (or so Claire Tomalin surmised). As the moving wagon and carriage that carried the Austen family and their possessions turned the corner away from the parsonage, Jane must have been overcome with nostalgia, sadness, and a bit of fear all at once.

And so for the next five years Jane began a restless, peripatetic lifestyle, one that influenced her inability to write any meaningful work for a long time. (Houses in Bath Where Jane Austen Lived, KleurijkJaneAusten, May 28, 2011)

The Austen family’s first house in Bath was located at number 4 Sydney Place.

“No. 4 Sydney Place was a good, well-proportioned, newly build terraced house. It was well placed outside the crowded centre of Bath, but within easy walking distance over Pulteney Bridge.” – Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life

Canal and walks, Sydney Gardens 19th C.This address, opposite Sydney Gardens, allowed Jane easy access to the walking paths along its beautiful grounds, a sop to her country heart. (See image on the right.)

Map of Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place, Bath

Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place

Map of Bath

Main city of Bath, across the Pulteney Bridge from Sydney Place

“Whether you go to see, or to be seen, At Sydney Gardens you’ll be pleased, I ween, Whatever your taste, for prospects or good cheer, Cascades or rural walks, you’ll find them here…”
– Anon, 27 August 1795, poem in local newspaper
–“The History of Sydney Gardens” by Catherine Pitt, The Bath Magazine

Life in the city of Bath was vastly different from life in the country. In Steventon, Mrs Austen oversaw an extensive garden, and used fresh milk from a milk cow and fresh eggs from her chickens to create simple but good food from scratch. She worked alongside her servants in the kitchen and kitchen garden to provide wholesome meals for her family and young boarders, as well as clean clothes and a tidy house. She was a creative poet and a few of her recipes in verse still survive.

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses…

(Find the rest of this delightful recipe on this blog at https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/a-receipt-for-a-pudding-by-mrs-austen/)

Imagine the shock this country family felt at having to walk to the green grocer daily, acquire milk from cows kept in city stalls and that was often cut with water, all in an age before refrigeration.

 

“When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Has put a spirit of youth in everything.”

yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before “the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd” are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale vendors of the commodity, who have it consigned to them daily from more distant parts to the various railway stations in the metropolis, bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute it to the hundreds of shopkeepers and itinerants, who are anxiously waiting to receive it for re-distribution amongst their own customers. It is evident that a perishable commodity which everyone requires at a given hour, must be so distributed.

” –  — from A History of the Cries of London, Ancient and Modern, by Charles Hindley, Project Gutenberg, p 141

This situation for “not so” fresh milk, meat, and vegetables was as similar for the citizens of London as for a small city, like Bath. The Austen’s maid of all work and Austen women purchased “fresh” food on a daily basis, food that was both expensive and often past its “due date.” (Drinking Milk in Regency London, Jane Austen’s World, 2008)

Obtaining decent food supplies in Bath must have been costly for a family living on a parson’s pension. The incessant street cries of the baker, the milkmaid, and other food sellers, even across the Pulteney Bridge in a quieter section of town, must have cut into Jane’s peaceful hours. No wonder her creative juices stalled after her father’s death, as the family moved from place to place (after his pension to his family had been cut off), and before she and her mother and sister found refuge in Chawton Cottage. (Where Jane Lived, Gotta Keep Movin’ blog.)

I confess I possess not a smidgeon of Jane Austen’s writing genius, but the disruption in my life, starting with the years of my father’s slow dying and his death in 2014, and my sweet dog’s sudden fatal illness in 2016, blocked my creative input, both at work and at home.

To be near family, I am moving from a small city with many friends to the suburb of a much larger city., where I know few people. In the process, I am leaving my favorite, unique foodie haunts, small local theater productions, historic city neighborhoods, a short and easy ride to work, and white water rafting downtown on the James River to live in a land of manicured lawns, malls, congested traffic, and national restaurant chains.

Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA

My river walk along the James

Until I regain my footing in early 2019, I don’t anticipate devoting myself to this blog full-time just yet. Thank you, readers, for your understanding. Thank you, Rachel and Tony, for your support.

Vic

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