Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Georgian Life’ Category

Fashion Plate (Afternoon Dress for Decr. 1800) LACMA M.86.266.37Just as fire was the centerpiece of most evening gatherings in Jane Austen’s time, candles also played a vital role in Regency life and culture. Today, family members work or read in separate rooms in the evening and go to bed at different times (due to the advent of electricity), but people in Austen’s day lived differently: They sat together to read books, write letters, and socialize in the evening—all by candlelight.

As readers, we should consider Austen’s evening scenes with a careful eye to the lighting. Dinners, dances, card games, and music were all undertaken by candlelight. Many of our favorite scenes—in which Austen brings her heroines and heroes, villains and vicars to life—take place in the evening. Candlelit rooms provide the perfect spot for Emma and Frank Churchill to gossip, for Fanny to sink into the shadows unnoticed, for Lydia and Kitty to romp with the officers, and for Anne Elliot to hide her tears at the piano while the others dance. Indeed, when Darcy watches Elizabeth and Caroline Bingley walking around the drawing-room and quips that their “figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking,” (PP 56) he watches them walk by candlelight after dinner and tea (served later in the evening). Austen uses candle-power (or the lack thereof) to communicate the rank and financial status of her characters as well as set the stage for some of her best scenes.

Candles in Regency Life

In Austen’s lifetime, virtually every task after dusk required candles. Fall and winter months in England are cold and dark with only 8-9 hours of sunlight during some months. It was a mark of wealth to have enough candles to burn in the evening for work and pleasure. In working class homes, people might burn a rushlight (which burned for 20-30 minutes) or simply retire early. In genteel homes, where candles were plentiful, people stayed up later. In her JAW article “Lighting the Dark,” Vic Sanbourn tells us, “Only the more affluent members of society could afford to burn a large number of candles at a time, and their homes were characterized by spacious windows and well placed reflectors and mirrors.” This was common in most of the grand homes in Austen’s novels, which we see when Elinor and Marianne accompany Lady Middleton to a party in London and “enter a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot” (SS 175).

During quiet evenings at home, families and small groups shared the firelight or a few candles together. As Austen states in one of her letters to Cassandra: “We have got the second volume of “Espriella’s Letters,” and I read it aloud by candle-light. (Letters 147). As one might imagine, working by candlelight was not easy on the eyes. Austen alludes to this when Lady Middleton remarks that it might “hurt [Lucy’s] eyes to work filigree by candlelight” and suggests that she “ring the bell for some working candles” (144). And in Northanger Abbey, when General Tilney stays up to read at night, he says his “eyes will be blinding” from reading so late by candlelight (NA 187).

Candles Speak Volumes

Everything in Austen’s novels means something—including the kind and number of candles used in different households. Beeswax candles burned brighter and more efficiently but were more expensive. Tallow candles were cheaper but gave off less light, smoked, and smelled of mutton. In her article “Let there be light! Candles in the time of Jane Austen,” Sue Dell of the Jane Austen’s House Museum says that “[t]allow candles would have been the most common candles in such a home as the Austens’.” She explains: “Even the very wealthy used wax candles sparingly; Jane’s brother, Edward, would have used them for entertaining, but tallow candles would have been used for everyday life” (Dell). In Emma, Mrs. Elton boasts that a certain Mrs. Bragge even has wax candles in her school room (300); however, Dell says this “would have been instantly recognised by contemporary readers as untrue” because “no-one would do such a thing” (Dell). Mrs. Elton also decides she will educate Highbury society and give “one very superior party—in which her card-tables should be set out with their separate candles and unbroken packs in the true style” (290). In affluent and pretentious homes like General Tilney’s in Northanger Abbey, candles are plentiful. When it is time to retire, Miss Tilney rings the bell for candles, which the butler comes to light (187). They each take their candles to bed, but the General stays up to work. In Emma, when they have supper at the ball, Mrs. Bates says, “I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style—Candles everywhere” (329).

Conversely, at the Price home in Mansfield Park, even one candle is hard to come by. When Mr. Price arrives, Austen paints the scene vividly: “with something of the oath kind he kicked away his son’s port-manteau and his daughter’s bandbox in the passage, and called out for a candle; no candle was brought, however, and he walked into the room” (MP 379). Fanny rises to greet him but sits down again “on finding herself undistinguished in the dusk, and unthought of” (379). When a candle is finally brought, Fanny is still forgotten as her father reads the newspaper, “without seeming to recollect her existence. The solitary candle was held between himself and the paper, without any reference to her possible convenience” (382).

Candles Set the Stage

As anyone who has ever camped, had their electricity shut off, or eaten dinner at a romantic restaurant knows, everything looks different by candlelight. Shadows grow and dark corners emerge. The mood changes. Austen uses candles to set the tone in many scenes in her novels, and she capitalizes on the mere lack of a candle to throw rooms into confusion, provide cover for secret goodbyes, send people to bed early, and propel one imaginative young girl into hysterics.

In Austen’s novels, candlelight provides cover for all sorts of things. In a practical sense, candles hide visible flaws as when Mrs. Weston comments on the wallpaper at the Crown Inn in Emma: “[T]his paper is worse than I expected. Look! in places you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn than any thing I could have imagined” (253). Her husband responds that she will “see nothing of it by candlelight. It will be as clean as Randalls by candlelight.”

In a more romantic sense, Austen uses semi-darkness to cover a goodbye between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. We read the following scene in Emma:

[Jane Fairfax] was afterwards looking for her shawl—Frank Churchill was looking also—it was growing dusk, and the room was in confusion; and how they parted, Mr. Knightley could not tell.  He remained at Hartfield after all the rest, his thoughts full of what he had seen; so full, that when the candles came to assist his observations, he must—yes, he certainly must, as a friend—an anxious friend—give Emma some hint, ask her some question. He could not see her in a situation of such danger, without trying to preserve her. (349)

We have no proof that anything more than “certain expressive looks” pass between Frank and Jane as they part under the covering of the dusky room; however, Austen uses this moment to give Mr. Knightley a hint as to the true nature of their relationship while everyone else is busy, before the candles are lit.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen uses a “single lamp” and the light it emits to set the stage for a nervous Catherine Morland in the gothic-style scene she paints on Catherine’s first night at the Abbey. The light from her candle and the fire are, quite humorously, the only thing standing between Catherine and emotional stability. Catherine enters “her room with a tolerably stout heart” at the end of the evening (167). However, once the fire dies down, she is left with only her candle to light the room. When Catherine “snuffs” the candle, meaning to “cut or pinch off the burned part of a candle wick” (Dictionary.com), she accidentally extinguishes it as well. Her response is hilarious:

Alas! It was snuffed and extinguished in one. A lamp could not have expired with more awful effect. Catherine, for a few moments, was motionless with horror. It was done completely; not a remnant of light in the wick could give hope to the rekindling breath. Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury, added fresh horror to the moment. (170)

Catherine’s bravery dissolves once the candle is out. Austen says, “A cold sweat stood on her forehead, the manuscript fell from her hand, and groping her way to the bed, she jumped hastily in, and sought some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes” (170). She is unable to sleep until 3 a.m. The reader chuckles, but Austen is well aware that we understand Catherine’s plight. Though some of us may not like to admit it, we all—at some point in our lives—have jumped under the covers when the wind blew, the curtains moved, and the lights suddenly went out.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Edited by R. W. Chapman, Oxford UP, 1988.

—. Jane Austen’s Letters. Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2011.

Dell, Sue. “Let there be light! Candles in the time of Jane Austen.” Jane Austen’s House Museum, 12 Jan 2016. https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/single-post/2016/1/12/Let-there-be-light-Candles-in-the-time-of-Jane-Austen. Date accessed: 1 October 2017.

Sanborn, Vic. “Lighting the darkness.” Jane Austen’s World, 29 April 2007. https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2007/04/29/lighting-the-darkness-in-the-regency-era/. Date accessed: 1 October 2017.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

At the heart of every household in Jane Austen’s time, a fire burned. Fires provided a fixed source of heat and light, around which people gathered and moved, cooked and cleaned, lived and socialized. And while it’s lovely to imagine that families in Austen’s day gathered together in the evening simply because they enjoyed one another’s company, drawing near the fire on cold, damp days and evenings was a necessity. In a letter to Cassandra in October, Austen says, “It is cold enough now for us to prefer dining upstairs to dining below without a fire” (Letters 151). A warm fire provided heat, comfort, and community; at it, cold feet were thawed, conversations were held, prayers were said, books were read, and tea was made.

Chawton Cottage Fireplace

Chawton Cottage fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge

In her novels, Austen uses fires—and the heat and light that emanate from them—as a centerpiece for household and social activity, and she spins her characters and plots into motion around them in unique and surprising ways. Austen’s ingenious use of fires is fascinating to consider. In many scenes, she uses fires as clever props. However, fires also signify something deeper about the physical, mental, and emotional state of several key characters.

Fires as Clever Props

Let’s first consider the creative way Austen uses fires and fireplaces to move her characters in and out of rooms, group them together, and provide insight into their personalities. Many of these examples are quite humorous:

  • Edmund Bertram goes to the fire on numerous occasions when he is upset and sits down to “stir the fire in thoughtful vexation” (MP 128),
  • Meddlesome Mrs. Norris is, of course, found “fresh arranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared” (MP 273),
  • Reserved Edward Ferrars finds a safe place to talk and read in the small family circle “drawn round the fire” after dinner with the Dashwood women (SS 90),
  • Just the “slight remains” of a fire on a warm day are enough to push an over-heated, hot-and-bothered Frank Churchill over the edge (E 364),
  • In Emma, they have “nothing else to do” and form “a sort of half-circle round the fire,” discussing the fire itself “till other subjects [are] started” (E 320),
  • Fickle Collins changes his mind from Jane to Elizabeth in the matter of a few moments—in the time it takes Mrs. Bennet to stir the fire (PP 71), and
  • When Captain Wentworth wants to cross the room to sit by Anne, he goes first to the fire-place, “probably for the sake of walking away from it soon afterwards” before he goes to sit “with less bare-faced design, by Anne” (P 255).

Fires as Subtle Clues: Marianne Dashwood, Mr. Woodhouse, and Fanny Price

Austen also uses fire to provide significant clues as to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of her characters. During Austen’s lifetime, the spot nearest the fire was reserved for the elderly or infirm, as is seen throughout her novels. Furthermore, giving someone the chair closest to the fire indicated care and concern for their well-being. In the case of Marianne Dashwood, the distracted way she walks to and from the fire signals to Elinor that her mind and heart are in turmoil over Willoughby: “Marianne, too restless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation” (SS 172). In response to Marianne’s visible unhappiness, Mrs. Jennings treats her “with all the indulgent fondness of a parent,” tempting her with delicate foods and giving her the “best place by the fire” (193). However, when the usually healthy and active Marianne later spends a whole day “sitting shivering over the fire with a book in her hand…or in lying, weary and languid, on a sofa,” it’s clear she is suffering from more than emotional distress (307). Elinor hopes that a good night’s sleep will revive Marianne, but Colonel Brandon suspects the danger of something more serious. After a “very restless and feverish night,” the apothecary is sent for and Marianne sinks lower (307).

For Mr. Woodhouse, the very presence or lack of a fire has the power to give him comfort or cause him alarm. In “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!,” Ted Bader argues that Mr. Woodhouse is aging, frail, and perhaps even suffering from “hypothyroidism” based on his diet, physical state, and behavior (Bader). In this case, Mr. Woodhouse’s concern for a fire is actually another clue toward the state of his health. Austen tells us that “Mr. Woodhouse’s tender habits required” a fire “almost every evening throughout the year” (E 351). He talks of fires repeatedly and can only be coaxed to leave his fireside when he is assured of a good fire elsewhere. On the day of the Donwell Abbey outing (on a sunny June day), the concern given to assure Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort and happiness is most touching: “Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party” (357). Emma and their friends wish to include him in the day’s activities, and so, “in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved” (357). This kind of special care is given to someone in delicate health.

In Mansfield Park, a fire for Fanny denotes admittance into the family circle. Fanny finds great comfort in her “little white attic” at Mansfield; however, Mrs. Norris has cruelly “stipulated for there never being a fire” in Fanny’s room (MP 151). This signals to the reader both Mrs. Norris’s true character and Fanny’s station in the Bertram family circle. As Fanny lives there, not quite a family member, not quite a servant, she has no sense of belonging and feels keenly the lack of warmth from the Bertrams. Similarly, when she visits her family in Portsmouth, she again finds herself outside the family circle. In the very place she hopes to find solace, she is again (literally) left in the cold. She finds refuge “sitting together upstairs…quietly employed” with Susan, away from the family and “without a fire” (398). In both homes, she is an outsider. When she is given the luxury of a fire in her room at Mansfield, it reveals the change occurring at Mansfield: “She was struck, quite struck, when, on returning from her walk and going into the East room again, the first thing which caught her eye was a fire lighted and burning. A fire!” (322). This new “indulgence” coincides with her gradual movement into the heart of the family there. As the Bertram sisters continually disappoint Sir Thomas, and Fanny steadily wins his favor, Fanny takes her rightful place as a true member of the family and is treated as such.

Chawton Great House Fireplace

Chawton House fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge.

Fuel Sources in Austen’s England

So what kind of fire did Edmund “stir…in thoughtful vexation” at Mansfield (MP 128)? Many of the examples in Austen’s novels appear to be wood fires, but the “coal fog” of London that lasted well into Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was already present during the Regency period. In All Things Austen, Kirsten Olsen says coal was quickly replacing wood during Austen’s lifetime, due to the “rate at which the English were consuming their natural resources” (Olsen 135). However, Deirdre Le Faye notes in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels that in country houses, the open fireplaces were very large and burnt mostly wood because coal was transported by water, making it “a scared and very expensive fuel” (Le Faye 145).

The question of coal versus wood fires in Austen’s novels can most likely be answered by looking at the size and location of the houses featured, as well as the easiest and most economic fuel available to each. When Mr. Bingley spends a half hour “piling up the fire, lest [Jane] should suffer from the change of room” and suggests that she move “further from the door,” it’s clear he’s piling up wood (PP 54). Catherine Morland’s “spirits” are “immediately assisted by the cheerful blaze of a wood fire” in her room on her first night at the Abbey (NA 167), and the “roaring Christmas fire” in Persuasion must be wood (135). In Mansfield Park, however, the Price family has a coal fire (MP 379). At the Price home, coal was most likely burned because they lived in Portsmouth, a port city, but on the larger estates, away in the quiet countryside, wood was more commonly burned. Matthew White explains that the “growing demand for coal after 1750 revealed serious problems with Britain’s transport system.” A network of canals was build to cut down on the price of coal and by 1815 “over 2,000 miles of canals were in use in Britain” (White). By the time of Austen’s death, coal had become increasingly available even to the country homes of England.

You can follow Rachel Dodge at www.racheldodge.com or on Twitter (twitter.com/RachelEDodge), Instagram (@kindredspiritbooks), and Facebook (facebook.com/racheldodgebooks).

Works Cited

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Oxford UP, 1988.

Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2011.

Bader, Ted. “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!” Persuasions On-Line, vol. 21, no. 2, 2000 http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol21no2/bader.html. Accessed 1 September 2017.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Frances Lincoln, 2002.

Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

White, Matthew. “The Industrial Revolution.” British Library, bl.uk, 14 October 2009, https://www.bl.uk/georgian-britain/articles/the-industrial-revolution. Accessed 1 September 2017.

 

For additional articles related to this topic:

Read more about keeping warm in Regency England here: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/keeping-warm-in-the-regency-era-part-one/

Learn more about coal in Regency England here:
Kane, Kathryn. “Coal: Heat Source or Gemstone?” The Regency Redingote, 3 June 2011, https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/coal-heat-source-or-gemstone/.

Enjoy these entertaining directions to servants on the proper care and lighting of a coal fire:
Boyle, Laura. “Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal.” JaneAusten.co.uk, 20 June 2011, https://www.janeausten.co.uk/directions-how-to-make-a-fire-with-lehigh-coal/.

Find out more about London’s air quality during Jane Austen’s time here:
Sanna, Antonio. “Jane Austen’s London.” Journal of Medical Humanities, 16 April 2017, pp. 1-10. Research Gate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316156566_Jane_Austen%27s_London.

Read Full Post »

Gentle Reader,

This week marks the July 4th holiday in the U.S., which means family gatherings, outdoor picnics, firework celebrations, and, most of all, ice cream! This delicious treat became more and more common at the turn of the 19th century when the method of transporting and storing great big blocks of ice over long distances became economically feasible. 

On July 1, 1808, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra from Godmersham:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

This statement reveals a number of  interesting details about her stay at her rich brother’s (Edward’s) mansion:

  • Ice cream was expensive (vulgar economy). We know our Miss Jane counted her pennies and did not live a life of extravagance, thus her tart observation.
  • Edward spared no expenses in giving his family this luxurious dessert.
  • Treating guests to ices in July during an era without electricity meant that Edward’s estate must have had an ice house to keep the ice frozen.
027

Georgian ices had to be served immediately before they melted. Image by Vic Sanborn: Hampton Mansion

The ice used for Edward’s ices most likely came via a variety of routes – local frozen ponds, rivers, or lakes in winter, or enormous blocks harvested in Norway or Canada, which were then shipped to the UK and transported by barge up canals to their final destinations – The Sweet Things in Life, Number One London Net.

hampton-002

Mound of the ice house on the grounds of Hampton Mansion. Image@Vic Sanborn

There were many forms of ice houses and ways to keep ice frozen, such as in the one I described in a previous post, 1790 Ice House, Hampton Mansion, and the one at Tapeley Park (see image below). Ice houses provided a dark, cool spot that preserved enough of the precious commodity to last until the next frost or ice block delivery.

Ice_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_878045

The 18th century ice house at Tapeley Park, U.K. is above ground. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike modern-day methods of home ice-cream making … the Georgian method of creating a frozen sweet treat was so effective that it could turn liquid solid within 45 minutes. The secret to this 21st-century trouncing wizardry? Two buckets, some ice and a bit of salt. – Would You Eat Ice Cream From 300 Years Ago?, The Telegraph, Alexi Duggin, 2015

After chopping and shaving huge blocks of ice, making ice cream was rather simple:  Use a recipe you love. Fill a bucket with ice. Add ice cream ingredient to a second, smaller bucket and place it inside the larger bucket. Add salt to the ice, and stir regularly. Voila! Liquid is turned solid. Serve immediately before your creation melts.

When I was in my 20’s, my then husband and I used an old-fashioned ice-maker to make the most delicious peach ice cream with the fruit in season. Our ice cream took longer to make, simply because we used more sugar than the Georgian recipes. We cranked and cranked that ice seemingly forever, but it was worth the trouble. When we had company, there was never enough to go around.

Recalling how hot summers were without air conditioning, one can only imagine how refreshing it must have felt to eat something ice cold on a summer’s day in an era with no electricity and when people wore layers and layers of clothing.

 

uc004810.jpg_TJ Recipe hands

Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipe for making vanilla ice cream @ Open Culture.

According to Monticello.org, ice cream began appearing in French cookbooks starting in the late 17th century. 

There “are accounts of ice cream being served in the American colonies as early as 1744.” Jefferson likely tasted his fair share of the dessert while living in France (1784-1789), and it would continue to be served at Monticello upon his return. Open Culture: Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten vanilla ice cream recipe 

Mr. Jefferson’s recipe is a tad hard to read, so I searched for one in an early cookery book and found one from the 1733 edition of Mrs. Mary Eale’s Receipts. It offers this fine recipe, which requires from 16 -18 lbs of ice to be chopped:

To ice CREAM.
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou’d freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten’d; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream

 

Tomorrow, on July 4th, you can be sure I’ll celebrate with a delicious bowl of ice cream. My favorite is still peach ice cream, followed by vanilla, and peppermint in the winter.

Happy holiday, all! Let me know which flavors you prefer and if you’ve ever hand-cranked your own ices.  Vic

More resources: 

 

Read Full Post »

Ah, the internet. I am happy to spend hours searching, researching, and sharing ideas as I crawl through thousands of fascinating sites each week.

The Victoria & Albert Museum website seldom fails to please. Enter this interactive V&A site on Georgian wigs designed which teaches as well as encourages you and your child to create a fashion of the past. We all know about the over-the-top wigs worn by Marie Antoinette and her court. Does hyour child? The V&A gives us an opportunity to design a wig virtually and to share the results with the world. create wig

Before each step, the V&A provides some information about the zaniness of wig creations in the late 18th century. The instructions then ask you to drag out the hair to start your wig.

make wig

I came up with this. Hah! I tried a number of variations. Such fun. This would be a great teaching activity with your children. Let them go NUTS, I say.

decorate

You are then asked to decorate with the usual ornaments – a ship, a fan, feathers, jewels, flowers, bows and tassels. Go crazy! I did.

powder

Add powder in the final step, which I did not find quite as intuitive, and, voila! Your own bewigged work of art.

Could this interactive site have been more sophisticated? Oh, yes, but it’s free. Within the limitations of the site, the activity is quite informative and fun. Bring in a few paintings, caricatures, and illustrations of the day, and you’ve brought a fun history lesson into your child’s life. One can even show some modern influences.

Thibault Carron

Photographer Thibault Carron imagines what modern life would be like if our fashion was from the 18th century in this playful series And if Fashion Was…, the Montreal-based creative juxtaposes scenes from contemporary culture with a woman whose outfit and hairstyle recall a time from centuries past.

I’ve collected quite a few Marie Antoinette images on my Pinterest board, Marie Antoinette’s Hair and Other French 18th Century Inspired Fashion – Splendor during, before, and way after the French Revolution. Some images are historical, others are tongue in cheek.

As an online advent calendar gift, this V&A site can’t be beat. I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season.

Read Full Post »

images

Cooking With Jane Austen, Kirstin Olsen

What can be a better way to celebrate fall and the Thanksgiving holiday than to examine a recipe or two from Kirstin Olsen’s 2005 book, Cooking with Jane Austen? – spending time with family and friends and sharing the food!

I’ll just get my two major complaints about the book out of the way. The font is difficult to read – too fancy for my taste – and the book’s cost: $55.00. I found my copy (in excellent shape) via second hand means, which I recommend.

Now, for the good news. While we know that Jane Austen was spare in her descriptions of food, interiors, and clothing in her novels, she provided enough hints for Ms. Olsen to peruse cookery books of that era. Using a variety of sources, Ms. Olsen found recipes similar and close to those she thought Jane might have known. Elizabeth Raffald’s and Hannah Glasse’s recipes are consulted, as well as those from John Farley, Martha Bradley, and more. Ms. Olsen provides historical context at the start of her book and with each recipe category. Even if you never try out one of the recipes, you can glean much information for your personal interest or to add authenticity to a novel you are writing.

Turnip_Elizabeth Blackwell

Illustration by Elizabeth Blackwell

Boiled Turnips

This recipe for boiled turnips begins with a quote from Mr Woodhouse in Emma (172)

An historic explanation of the popularization of the turnip follows, with a typical description of a recipe from an 18th century cookery book:

Turnips may be boiled in the pot with the meat, and indeed eat best when so done. When they be enough, take them out, put them in a pan, mash them with butter and a little salt, and in that state send them to the table…

Ms. Olsen then provides the modern recipe for today’ cook, which is extremely useful for those of us who wish to recreate a regency meal for our Jane Austen book clubs.

Modern Recipe for Boiled Turnips

1 lb turnips, 3 T. butter, 1 tsp. salt.

Wash and peel the turnips and trim off the tops an bottom. Cut them into 1″ dice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the turnips, boiling them until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Mash the turnips with the butter and salt and serve immediately. (Olsen, p 216)

For my taste, I would prefer boiling the turnips with the meat, as suggested in the 18th century description, much as I prefer making stuffing inside the turkey over making the stuffing separately in the oven. The bird’s natural fat and juices add much more flavor, don’t you think?

Roast Stubble Goose

Goose_thehistoricfoodie

Roast Stubble Goose image found on The Historic Foodie blog

Here’s another recipe to celebrate this season and holiday – Roast Stubble Goose. It starts off  with a quotation from Emma, a novel filled with references to food. (Thank you, Jane.)

Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her. (Emma 28-29.)

Ms. Olsen tells us that a stubble goose is an older bird that fattened on harvest gleanings. In Jane Austen’s time, it was traditionally served with applesauce.

Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for Roasted Stubble Goose starts with:

Chop a few sage leaves and two onions very fine; mix them with a good lump of butter, a teaspoonful of pepper and two of salt. Put it in your goose, then spit it and lay it down, singe it well, dust it with flour; when it is thoroughly hot baste it with fresh butter…

In this section of Cooking With Jane Austen (p 121-126), Ms. Olsen offers old and modern recipes for roast stubble goose, roast green goose, goose with mustard, and roast turkey. The book consists of 414 pages, so there are numerous recipes to try.

Other Jane Austen themed food books that I love include: Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson and The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Dierdre le Faye, both still readily available. Also on this blog: 18th Century Cookery Books and the British Housewife and a review of Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane.

To all my U.S. readers, have a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. While we are thankful for our lives, family, and friends, please give a special thank you to the animals who were sacrificed to nourish us. They “gave” up their most precious gift – their lives.

chickens and pigeons 18th c.

Chickens and pigeons, 18th c. painting

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

The Royal Kitchens at Kew were opened in May 2012 to visitors for the first time in over 200 years. They were virtually untouched since the mid-1700s, during the era of King George III. This introductory video, The Royal Kitchens at Kew: a food history, provides a brief overview of the kitchen in 1788-1789, showing all the features of a typical Georgian kitchen:

The following video helps you step back in time to 6 February 1789 when George III was given his knife and fork back after his first bout of ‘madness’. Using similar cooking utensils as the Georgians, working in a Georgian kitchen, and making the soupe from an 18th century recipe, the chef hopes to recreate food that has the look and taste of cuisine 200 years ago. During this period, soup was often served by the male head of the household. We can easily imagine Rev. Austen or Mr. Bennet performing this office.

Mutton was a staple back in the Georgian era. This video demonstrates how one can make Mutton smoured in a frying panne. I am struck by how easy the ingredients are to come by today. I would love a charcoal stove like the one depicted, but would be afraid to burn my house down!

This video demonstrates the making of a rich chocolate custard tart. During this age, chocolate was used as a drink. Chocolate bars would not be “invented” until the 19th century. I love the chef’s messy style – it reminds me of my own cooking.

The kitchen is closed for the winter and is set to reopen March 29, 2014. To print the Georgian recipes in PDF format, click here.

Read Full Post »

13 vignettes 1790 rowlandson

Image, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

I love this 1790 hand-colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson from the Royal Collection Trust, which depicts 12 vignettes of everyday life and work in Georgian England. Sketches like these offer us a glimpse of ordinary life in the 18th century, much as photos and videos today. These vignettes are drawn from life, and unlike the serious, well-thought out poses of formal portraits, they show people of a bygone era going about their ordinary business.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen wrote of the militia visiting Meryton and Brighton. In her day, soldiers were encamped throughout Great Britain, ready to go to war at a moment’s notice or defend the homeland from invasions. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were enamored with the smart bright uniforms of officers, who they regarded as quite the catch. The men passing through town provided new faces as well as relief from the routine of village life, for village folk (most of whom rarely traveled beyond the confines of their counties) moved in small and familiar social circles, for better or worse. (Mrs. Elton, anyone?)

new recruits

A soldier assessing new recruits for the army

The well-fed officer above assesses new recruits, who are obviously not officer material. One imagines that their lives in the army will not be as cushy as Captain Denny’s or Mr. Wickham’s, and that they would perform the most plebeian tasks.

A woman driving a phaeton

A woman driving a phaeton

High perch phaetons were the race cars of their day and a status of wealth. It is obvious that this woman is a skilled driver, but her escort remains close at hand to ensure her safety.

detail

Detail of the driver with her mannish driving habit, which was created by a tailor, not a seamstress.

Increasingly throughout this century, women were allowed to marry for love, but ensuring one’s future as a wife could be a risky business. What if she married for love and her husband turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, barely able to support his family, as with Fanny Price’s father? Aristocratic women had no choice but to follow family dictates in order maintain the family’s status or improve their fortune. Other families sought to move up social ranks through their daughter’s mate. One wonders  in the image below if the young woman is married to her escort … or if she is simply taking a stroll with her father or uncle? We can only guess.

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

The trio below seems to be promenading along a street (or park). The women look chic in their walking outfits, the younger one wearing a hat with feathers and carrying a fan; the older woman, no doubt, making sure that her charge’s reputation remains spotless. Jane Austen began writing Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at the end of the 18th century, when these garments were fashionable. It’s one of the many reasons why we glimpse such a variety of costumes in various Austen film adaptations. In creating movie costumes, some costume designers choose the era in which Austen wrote the first drafts of those early novels; others choose to dress their actresses in the filmy empire gowns that were popular when the books were published.

4_1790

A solder escorting two women. Is the older woman on the right the mother of the younger woman he is courting, or her governess?

Taking tea was not as formalized a ceremony at the end of the 18th century as it would become later during the 19th century. Tea was quite an expensive commodity, kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house. At Chawton Cottage, Jane was in charge of the tea chest and making tea in the morning. Servants often brewed tea from leaves that had been used by their betters, thereby imbibing a much weaker beverage.

A tea party

A tea party

In this group, the hostess at right dispenses the tea one guest at a time, which her footman delivers to each in turn, with the ladies having been served first. It is an afternoon tea, for the ladies are not dressed for the evening. Mrs and Miss Bates would have been often invited to tea to Hartfield, but rarely to dine, a privilege reserved for more exalted guests, like Mr. Knightley. This was just the way of the world.

An equestrienne about to go on a ride

An equestrian about to go on a ride

It is hard to tell if this young woman is about to ride in Hyde Park or in the country. For both instances, she is suitably dressed.

Sewing, woman's work

An industrious woman sewing

One can only imagine how boring the daily routine was for the average Georgian woman, whose life was constrained by society’s strictures and who was not allowed to “work” for a living. Woman’s work consisted of sewing, overseeing the kitchens, or, as in Mrs. Austen’s case, actively taking a part in cooking, and making wines and preserves. While many ladies of the house did not sully their hands in the kitchen, they actively collected recipes, which they passed down to their cooks. On an interesting note, while tailors made men’s clothes, they did not sew the shirts. This task was left to the women, who hand-stitched shirts for their men and made clothing for their babies and the poor.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made shirts for their brothers, a fact mentioned in letters.

A well-dressed couple

Flirtation: A well-dressed man peers at a woman through his eye-glass. She is without an escort and seems to encourage his perusal.

The image above causes me to believe that the woman being ogled may not be entirely suitable for polite company, or she may well be a widow who cares not a fig about her reputation. Her companion is openly eyeing her through his eye glass. To be sure, they might well be standing in the Pump Room in Bath, where they would be surrounded by a crowd of people. Can you imagine Lizzy Bennet holding still under such scrutiny? Methinks not.

A musical interlude

A musical interlude with two ladies.

Entertainment was left to professional performers, many of whom roamed from town to town, and to talented family members. One can imagine how quiet and uneventful life in the country must have been! Had Emma liked Jane Fairfax, this scene could have shown Jane playing the pianoforte as Emma sang. Women in general contributed much to a family’s entertainment.  Jane Austen wrote comedic plays in her younger years (and made up fanciful stories for her nieces and nephews as a spinster), and her mother wrote poetry. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been a proficient if she had ever bothered to apply herself to the pianoforte (Hah!). Modest Elizabeth Bennet considered her musical skills merely pedestrian, although Mr. Darcy was charmed by her efforts. Marianne Dashwood probably found an outlet for her passions while at the pianoforte. Austen characterized her heroines by their talents. Instead of energetically joining the family during impromptu dances, mousy Anne Elliot made herself useful at the instrument. Mary Crawford’s extraordinary talents with the harp made Edmund Bertram fall even more in love with her, whereas poor Mary Bennet committed one social faux pas after another by failing to understand that her musical talents were painful to witness.

An outing

An outing in the country

Emma’s planned outing to Box Hill was no doubt accompanied by servants, who carried the food, plates, and cutlery and laid out the repast for the party. In this scene, it seems that the soldiers performed the offices of serving the food to the ladies. Except for the boatman, I can find no evidence of servants, unless they are assembled inside the tent, which makes no sense. One soldier plays the flute to his companion, another couple promenades as they talk. A group sits on a blanket, finishing their repast and drinking wine or ale.

Detail

Detail of the tent, inside and out

A dog sleeps peacefully among the assembly and a female guest rests while leaning against the tent. Inside, a man sits at a table. It must have taken some effort to transport all that food and equipment, and I wonder if this was done via the boat and river earlier in the day as the rest of the party walked from the country house (visible in the background) to the picnic site. One thing is for certain, Rowlandson’s contemporaries would have known first-hand how such a picnic was contrived.

detail

Detail of the riverside, with a country house in the background.

A foppish gentleman in the image below examines a bill, while the inn keeper (?) looks on and a servant carries his case. This image must have been duplicated at many roadside inns and coach houses, and would not be unusual today. This scene was labeled “exchanging” money, which explains the merchant’s/innkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

The man below is peering through a telescope at … what? A balloon ascent? Birds? A boat on the horizon? Curious minds want to know.

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the sea shore?

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the seashore?

The last scene depicts vendors selling their wares, either from a stall, from containers on the pavement, or from baskets attached to donkeys. A variety of shoppers, some better dressed than others, are shown examining goods or purchasing items.

Market scene

Street vendors

Our moderns sensibilities are struck by the unhygienic way that food was sold by street vendors back then. There were no disposable plates, so one can only assume that used plates and cups were merely wiped with a wet cloth before food was ladled out to serve another diner. Many individuals lived in small one or two room “apartments” that had no kitchens. For them, eating street food was common … if they had the money.

Street food

Street food

detail

Detail of vendors with donkeys

Items of clothing seem to be sold in the stall, while bulk food (potatoes, grain?) is carried by the donkeys. When the Austen family moved from Steventon to Bath, their diets changed drastically, for they had to depend on food purchased at local markets. They had grown their own vegetables in the country, and owned a cow and a few chickens and pigs. In Steventon, the Austen family could largely eat off the bounty of their land, stretching their budget, but in Bath they depended on food carted in from surrounding farms and milk from anemic city cows who lived in dank stalls and were put out to pasture in public parks. Purchased food was often doctored, and it was almost impossible to eat fresh seafood, unless one lived near the coast. For many reasons, including the matter of finding fresh and affordable food, Jane Austen must have been in shock the entire time she lived in Bath.

More about the image:

Creator: Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) (etcher)
Creation Date:
27 Jun 1790
Materials:
Hand-coloured etching
Dimensions:
38.5 x 28.0 cm
RCIN
810396

Description:
A hand-coloured print with 12 vignettes of everyday life and work. Included in the designs are: Assessing new recruits for the army; carriage driving; promenading; a tea party; horse-riding; a woman with needlework; flirtation; a woman playing the harpsichord whilst another woman sings; a picnic by a river; a man looking through a telescope; an exchange of money between one man and another man and street vendors. Plate 7.

Inscribed in the plate: Pub June 27 1790 by S.W. Fores N 3 Piccadilly. Click here to go to The Royal Collection.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: