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Archive for January, 2019

I’ve just discovered the beneficial qualities of chamomile tea. This was quite by accident. I suspect I might be developing an allergy to food, specifically tomatoes or onions or spicy foods containing these ingredients. I only know that for weeks I’ve been subjected to frequent stomach and intestinal upsets and so I began to search for tried and true methods of relief. As a Janeite I asked: “What would Jane have done?”

Women during the Georgian era, including the Austen women, made their own medicinal remedies for all sorts of ailments. Many recipes were handed down in the family over the generations, others were acquired in Cookery Books.

chamomile2

Thumbnail image from Cup & Leaf

One common easy-to-make remedy for an assortment of ills was herbal tea or tisane. I looked up information online, found teas that aided digestion, then checked my tea shelf and found four of the suggested herbal teas for indigestion: chamomile tea, green tea, ginger tea, and hibiscus tea. (There are more.)

I chose the chamomile as being a likely candidate, for I like the taste. After a few days my indigestion largely calmed down. According to the Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage from Chadds Ford Historical Society,

Chamomile [is] infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomach aches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.” Link to  Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage PDF doc

In European records, medicinal use of Chamomile was practiced for centuries.

Ancient physicians prescribed herbal teas regularly to aid in digestion and help relieve symptoms of the common cold and flu. Before the advent of cold medicines and antibiotics, herbal teas were often the only way to treat illnesses.” – Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel

Chamomile tea is commonly infused from a plant known as Matricaria recutita. The tea is made from the dried flower, not the stems and leaves. The brew is delicate and yellowish and has a lovely floral or fruity aroma. It is often flavored with mint leaves or shaved fresh ginger, but I like it plain. Three cups a day did the trick.

Image of Bingleys teas, chamomile flowers, and favorite teapot/cup

A product description for “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves” on Bingley’s Teas can be seen on my large monitor screen. Chamomile flowers screenshot sits on my laptop (love my standing desk). Sitting on the top ledge are my favorite tea pot/cup and an annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice (I recommend the DK Illustrated Classic edition for newcomers to the Jane Austen oeuvre, like my sister-in-law). Image by Vic Sanborn.

The tea’s success in reducing my symptoms prompted me to research 18th century recipes. So far I’ve had no success, but that means nothing (there should be references that a dedicated researcher would find). I also looked up to see if Jane Austen mentioned the brew in her letters, but found no references. Still, the flower, which looks like a daisy, is common in Europe and easy to grow in an herb garden. One cannot help but surmise that Mrs. Austen and her two daughters knew exactly how to make a cuppa with freshly harvested chamomile flowers.

Cropped illustration of Mrs. Bennet by Hugh Thompson

Hugh Thompson illustration

While I could not find references to Jane’s having made chamomile tea (its properties, aside from soothing intestinal ailments include reducing anxiety, tension, and headaches and promoting sleep), I did find this delightful product description by Bingley’s Teas for a modern tea named “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves.”  

At last there is compassion for what poor Mrs. Bennet suffers with her nerves! A tisane of chamomile, peppermint, passion flower, rosehips, and lavender, sooth the most agitated of moments in a delicious cup. We recommend a touch of local honey for added bliss!”

As for chamomile tea’s efficacy,

The National Institutes of Health funded a study at the University of Pennsylvania on people with generalized anxiety disorder where the anxiety interferes with their lives. Chamomile was shown to to have promising results in reducing the participants’ anxiety.” – The Tea Maestro

Sources:

  • Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel, October 4, 2016, The National Herald, click on this link. 
  • Introduction to chamomile, PDF document from abc.herbalgram.org. Click on this link.
  • Tea Time at Reverie: Compassion For Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves Herbal Tea from Bingley’s Teas, pA bibliophile’s Reverie. Click on this link.
  • The Health Benefits of Chamomile Tea, The Tea Maestro. Click on this link.
  • How to Make Chamomile Tea: 5 Recipes From Simple Tea to a Hot Toddy, Cup & Leaf. Click on this link.
  • Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future, Janmejai K Srivastava, Eswar Shankar,and Sanjay Gupta, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 11-1-2010. Click on this link.

 

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I’m sure most of Jane Austen’s fans have already heard of a remarkable purchase from eBay – a treasure trove of photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews. The album was assembled by Lord George Augusta Hill who “married two of Austen’s nieces, both daughters of her older brother Edward.” – The Telegraph.

I have previously viewed photographs of Austen’s brothers and her friend, Martha Lloyd in their advanced age and often wondered what Jane Austen truly looked like. She died a decade before the first photograph was ever taken.

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen, National Portrait Gallery

The reason for my curiosity is that only one authenticated watercolor portrait of her (painted from life by her sister Cassandra) exists. There are other portraits purported to be of Jane, but their provenance is not 100% certain. Even Austen’s famous silhouette, used on many websites and in publications, might or might not be of her. The original was tucked in the back of an 1814 edition of Mansfield Park, Volume 2, and inscribed with “L’aimable Jane.”

“As her biographer, R.W. Chapman, said ‘Who would insert, in a copy of Mansfield Park, a portrait of any other Jane than its author?’” – National Portrait Gallery

At best, this statement and the placement of the silhouette is circumstantial proof of the image’s authenticity.

Sadly, modern readers can never view a photographic image of Jane Austen, but we can, due to this photographic find, see one of her favorite niece. Fanny Austen Knight. Fanny was born in 1793, when Jane was 17. Cassandra Austen painted a watercolor of a lovely Fanny when she must have been in her teens.

 

 

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The photo is of a mature Fanny, now Lady Knatchbull, wearing stodgy Victorian garb. Fanny lived a long and privileged life, having married a wealthy baronet. She bore him nine children and lived until the age of 88.

Jane was, by all accounts, a pretty and vivacious girl when she was on the “marriage mart.” We think of her as a country spinster wearing a variety of hand-sewn caps, but her lively intelligence shone through her sparking eyes and bright complexion.

For years I’ve been struck by how closely many people resemble their ancestors, even generations down the line. Anna Chancellor, who played Caroline Bingley in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, is an Austen descendant who can trace her lineage maternally to Edward Austen Knight of Chawton, the very same Edward who offered Chawton Cottage rent free to his mother and two sisters. Jane is Anna’s eight-times great aunt.

Francis "Frank" Austen, brother

Francis Austen,  brother

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen

Anna Chancellor as Caroline Bingley, 1995

Anna Chancellor, descendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These images of Jane, Francis, and Anna show a marked familial similarity in dark, piercing eyes, set of mouth and jaw, and hair color. I often look at Anna’s photos and imagine how Jane would have aged. (Nicely.)

I can’t wait until this album is examined by experts and curated for a future exhibition. Let’s hope this will be sooner rather than later.

Sources:

Lost photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces discovered on eBay reveal how author foretold their lives in plots of her novels, Helena Horton, 11 January 2019 News, The Telegraph. Click on this link.

Possibly Jane Austen, Overview Extended Catalogue Entry, National Portrait Gallery. Click on this link.

In Jane Austen’s Own Words: Advice to Fanny Knight About Love, Jane Austen’s World, March 27, 2009. Click on this link.

Jane Austen: A Family Photo Album, Tony Grant, London Calling. Click on this link to read more about the photographs, view another photo of Fanny Knatchbull and read excerpts from Jane’s letters.

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Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was as fabulous and unforgettable as mine. One of my favorite holiday gifts was a gift certificate from Barnes & Noble, which helped me to complete all six annotations by Harvard University Press of Jane Austen’s best known novels. I quickly purchased Northanger Abbey, which I’ve been perusing since receiving it a few days ago.

Image of the covers of Northanger Abbey (front) and Emma (back) by Jane Austen and published by Harvard University Press.
Susan J. Wolfson, professor in the Department of English at Princeton University, edited this edition, which has an extensive 60-page introduction. The book’s format follows the five other annotations – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion – with Jane Austen’s text in the center and the annotated commentary placed on the far right on uneven pages or far left on even pages.  Descriptive images of Bath, a poste chaise, or fashions of the day provide a visual punch to this annotation, as do the well-chosen images in the other books.

Image of Pages 112 and 113 with Jane Austen's text, annotations, and an image of Bath from a private road leading to Prior Park.

Two-page spread of pages 112 & 113 of Northanger Abbey, annotated edition.

For readers who were lucky enough to receive gift cards for books, I cannot recommend these gorgeous hard-cover books enough.

Image of a stack of Jane Austen's six novels, annotated editions by Harvard University Press.

More on the topic:

  • The Jane Austen Annotated Editions: Harvard University Press (includes information about all six editions)
  • This blog’s reviews of the Harvard University Press’s annotated editions of Jane Austen’s Novels: Click here

 

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