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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Blog’ Category

Blog Tour Kick-Off!

Inquiring readers,

It is my privilege to kick off the blog tour of Rachel Dodge’s book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen on Jane Austen’s World blog. (See calendar of the tour below.) Jane wrote masterfully insightful, funny, witty, as well as unflattering and acerbic observations of family members, acquaintances, and village characters in her private letters and novels, but, as Ms. Dodge describes in her book, she was also a religious, wise, talented, and complex woman who was hard to pigeon hole. Rachel’s book discusses Jane’s faith and rich inner life. Below, find my discussion with Ms. Dodge, who gave much thought to answering my questions.

Dodge_RachelQ: How did writing and researching Praying with Jane change your insights about Jane as a person and a writer?

 I definitely feel like I understand Jane better as a result of writing and researching Praying with Jane. I spent days, weeks, and months pouring over her letters and novels; examining and researching her prayers; and reading through the Austen family papers and memoirs. Each day when I put my research materials away, I was tired but happy because I felt as if I had spent the day with Jane! Her words were in my mind constantly. I listened to the cadence of her prayers, reflecting on her words and the meaning behind them. I studied her life and her faith, learning from her family’s home life and spiritual traditions. I even incorporated some of her habits into my own life, such as writing down my own prayers each morning in my journal.

PrayingwithJanecoverI put Praying with Jane together in a subtle, chronological order, which gave me the sense that I was watching her life unfold as I wrote. I saw her through her father’s eyes in his letter when she was born. I pictured walking up the lane to church, kneeling for prayers, reciting prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, and gathering with the family to read in the evening. I saw the changes that occurred in her life, from the Steventon years of a full house brimming with children to the Chawton years when it was just the ladies at home. I viewed her from the perspective of her nieces and nephews in their letters and memoirs, , with whom she was “the general favourite . . . her ways with them being so playful, and her long circumstantial stories so delightful” (Austen-Leigh). I read Cassandra’s letters about Jane’s final days here on Earth as though I was sitting beside her bed. I included an epilogue in the book called “A Lasting Legacy” because I wanted to honor the profound impact her life and writing has had on me and countless others.

 

 

 

 

Q: How did your research change your personal feelings towards Jane?

In my academic work, I’ve always referred to Jane Austen by her last name, but after working on the manuscript for this book for several months, she soon became Jane to me. She was no longer a famous author; she was a person. Referring to her as “Jane” in the book, and even selecting the title Praying with Jane is evidence of the bond I felt with her after such an intense study of her life, faith, and prayers. I feel a certain kinship with her now as a result of my studies.

I also understand her desire to live life well, to consider how she spent each day, and to think about how her actions or words might affect others. In one of her prayers, she says this: “Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.” Her words are personal and relatable. I think we’ve all had moments when we thought too highly of ourselves or judged others too quickly or harshly.

In the book’s introduction, I say this: “Reading Jane’s prayers is a bit like looking into her heart. In them, we get to know another side of Jane’s personality—a more serious and reverent side. They reveal a genuine, practical faith in Jesus Christ. Every line displays a balance of robust belief and tender intimacy. And like her novels, Jane’s prayers contain meaning that reaches far beyond eloquent words or graceful phrases. They are personal and reflective, passionate and thorough.” Exploring Jane’s prayers is a wonderful way to get to know her better.

Q: Did writing this book give you a desire to reread her books from a new perspective?

Absolutely! Jane’s novels took on new meaning for me as I read, studied, and wrote about her prayers and her spiritual life. Rereading her novels over the past two years with the lines of her prayers in the back of my mind has given me a brand new perspective on her writing. Though her novels are not overtly religious or “preachy,” they each contain moral lessons, religious themes, and biblical undertones.

Jane appears to have taken her faith quite seriously. We can see from the reverent language and tone of her prayers that she meant what she wrote. For example, her first prayer has this opening line: “Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips.” This tells us she wanted to pray from the heart. She wasn’t the type to say or do one thing on Sunday and then live differently the rest of the week. Her faith was part of who she was. It makes sense, then, that her writing, which also flowed from her heart, might include spiritual themes. Anytime I can read Jane’s novels in a new light, I find it fascinating!

Q: What’s one question you wish you could ask Jane in person if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I would ask Jane why she loved to write. I’m so curious to know what writing felt like to her. She obviously enjoyed it. She had a lot of fun with her characters and plots. Lines came to her as she was sitting quietly with her needlework. I’d like to take a long walk with her and ask all about her writing process. I want to know the story behind each of her novels and how she came up with her delightful characters.

Q: What did you learn about Jane’s inner life? What drove her?

Most of us who love Jane Austen want to know what made her tick. Getting to know Jane’s spiritual side did that for me. I like knowing that she prayed each morning and evening on her own, prayed with her family each day, read devotional literature and sermons, and attended church on Sunday. I appreciate the way she lived out her faith in her daily life as a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I think love for her family drove her. She wasn’t the type to lock herself away, not to be disturbed, because she was busy writing. She wrote letters, played with her nieces and nephews, spent time with her family and neighbors, played the piano, traveled, read novels, cared for others, and enjoyed a lifelong friendship with Cassandra. Jane is a wonderful example of a well-rounded woman of faith for me.

I also admire that Jane Austen’s faith held fast during even the most difficult moments in her life. It was a firm foundation for her when she was ill. Her deep belief in a loving, gracious Father and the promise of an eternity spent in Heaven provided comfort in her final days on earth. She was taught to love and know God at an early age and she did “not depart from it” in her adult life (Proverbs 22:6). The storms of life seem to only have drawn her closer to God. She believed in the Bible and lived by it. She had a well spring of joy in her life that came from deep within and did not depend on her circumstances. Perhaps she was merely a naturally happy person, but I believe her faith, which the Bible calls a river of “living water,” was a source of inner joy and contentment for her (John 7:38).

Q: Do you think her faith played any part in her decision to remain single and pursue the non-ladylike ambition of a writing career?

If Jane’s faith did play any part in her decision to remain single, I’d say it’s only because her faith undergirded much of what she did in her life. I think she was quite content with her life, her family, and her writing. Jane understood what it meant to be loved—as a daughter, sister, and friend. I think she could have enjoyed great happiness in marriage to the right man, but I believe “only the deepest love” could have induced her to marry, much like her character Elizabeth Bennet.

Thank you, Vic, for hosting my book and for kicking off this blog tour. Thank you readers of Jane Austen’s World for your time and interest. It is my hope and prayer that Praying with Jane will help you know Jane better . . . and the God she loved.

About Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen: For more than two hundred years, Jane Austen and her novels have charmed readers from around the world. While much has been written about her fascinating life, less is known about Jane’s spiritual side. In this 31-day devotional, Austen’s faith comes to life through her exquisite prayers, touching biographical anecdotes, and illuminating scenes from her novels. Each reading also includes a thematically appropriate Scripture and a prayer inspired by Jane’s petitions.

PURCHASE PRAYING WITH JANE HERE

About the author: Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen’s World blog. She is passionate about prayer and the study of God’s Word. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in Northern California with her husband and two children. You can find her online at RachelDodge.com.

Rachel’s website, Facebook or Twitter pages:

Online Reading Group: Starting November 1, Rachel is hosting a “31 Days of Praying with Jane” Facebook group. Here’s the link if you’d like to join her online reading group for the month of November: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1037743546402251/

Works Cited:

Austen-Leigh, James Edward. Memoir of Jane Austen, 1870.

Blog Tour Dates:

October 31 – Praying with Jane, My changed Relationship with Jane, Jane Austen’s World, Vic Sanborn

November 1 – Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge,  So Little Time, So Much to Read!, Candy Morton

November 2 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer (Review and Giveaway)Laura’s Reviews, Laura Gerold

November 3 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel Dodge, Burton Book Review, Marie Burton

November 4 – Blog Tour: Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel DodgeBLOGLOVIN‘, Sophia Rose

November 5 – Guest Post: Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge and Book Giveaway! Jane Austen in Vermont, Deborah Barnum

November 6 – Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Praying with Jane by Rachel DodgeCalico Critic, Laura Hartness

November 7 – Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel Dodge,  A Bookish Way of Life, Nadia Anguiano

November 8 – Book Spotlight: Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge, Diary of an EccentricAnna Horner

November 9 – Review of Praying with JaneBecoming, Nichole Parks

November 10 – Praying with Jane: A new devotional based on the prayers of Jane AustenMy Jane Austen Book Club, Maria Grazia

November 11 – Praying with Jane Blog Tour: Interview and GiveawaysMy Love for Jane Austen, Sylvia Chan

November 12 – Laughing with Lizzie, Sophie Andrews

November 13 – Book Review: Praying with JaneFaith, Science, Joy … and Jane AustenBrenda Cox

Previous reviews:

Praying with Jane Blog Tour: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/praying-with-jane-blog-tour/

Praying with Jane, Michelle Ule: https://www.michelleule.com/2018/09/28/jane-austen/

Jane Austen in Vermont: https://janeausteninvermont.blog/2018/10/05/guest-post-praying-with-jane-by-rachel-dodge/

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Inquiring readers: While I meant to write a post about muslin caps, my thoughts went in quite a different direction. My lovely mom just celebrated her 93rd birthday and she and Jane Austen have been much on my mind lately.

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

Jane Austen, painted by her sister Cassandra

Ladies during Jane Austen’s time were as thrifty and resourceful as my great aunts and great grandmother were in repurposing their clothes and fabrics. My mother, who endured first-hand the horrors of World War II, (one grandfather and two uncles died in a Japanese concentration camp), and subsequent years of poverty as an exile from her home country, is as thrifty as Jane’s mother, Cassandra, ever was – saving every button and piece of scrap, be it paper or cloth, recycling and repurposing clothes, darning woolen socks and stockings, knitting and sewing with scraps, and making ends meet until the fabric could be used only as a rag for cleaning. (Even then, that rag was used until its very useful end.)

Mom

Mom in the early 50s.

I recall my single mom during my childhood in The Netherlands, tired after a day’s work, bent over her knitting and sewing in the evening, making sure that my brother and I were properly clothed. Oh, how I envied my cousin in California, who wore a variety of beautiful bespoke clothes! My sweaters were reworked from old yarn and I recall feeling self-conscious and, well, second-hand, compared to my dazzling relative.

These days I revere my mother for her fortitude in facing a multitude of challenges with an unwavering eye towards the future. Since those hard times, she has led a blessed life and bestowed on my brother and me the love and strength of family and a perfect father who adopted us and loved us as if we were his own. As a family, we’ve led the charmed life of successful immigrants in the U.S. and will always be grateful for the opportunity this country gave us.

Lately I have come to realize that I am an avid Jane Austen fan because of my mother’s example. One Christmas when I was 14, my mom gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice and I fell instantly in love with Elizabeth Bennet and her creator. Not only did Mom introduce me to Jane Austen, but I was inspired by how my mother’s life’s struggles and sense of humor in so many ways echoed Jane’s.

Jane’s life as a spinster in an age when spinsterhood meant real hardship and worry for women of her class echoed Mom’s struggle as a divorcee in an age when divorce was unacceptable. Jane’s peripatetic wanderings after her dear father died reminds me of Mom’s constant search for a safe and affordable place to live. Mom moved us so much, across three continents every few years, that people mistook us for army brats. Jane’s constant worry over money and her courage in pursuing her craft and honing her talent remind me of my mother, who had the temerity to leave my biological father in favor of a better life and to pursue, single-mindedly, a goal that her friends and relatives felt was impossible for a single mother without a high school education to realize. They tried to dissuade her from what they considered an unreachable goal – one that we as a family surpassed beyond, as Mom states to this day, “our wildest dreams.”

Could Jane Austen have described her posthumous fame any better?

Ever the optimist, Mom bucked the system alone (afraid but with nothing to lose). She has a native intelligence and an eye for human nature – a gentle eye filled with humor. We always laughed – at the table, in the car, at and with others. Her second husband, my real father, had the dry sarcastic wit of Mr. Bennet, but Mom was/is raucously funny and insightful. People from all walks of life are attracted to her bright, sunny, and somewhat irreverent disposition. And, so, through her, I was introduced to the panoply of human kind – to the sort of characters who inhabit Jane Austen’s novels – to the many foibles Miss Austen understood and described in her novels and which I instantly recognized, even at 14. Dad was Mr. Bennet, but Mom was Jane Austen.

When my ex left our 26-year marriage, accusing me, among other things, of being “just like your mother,” he did not realize how honored I felt at hearing a comment that was meant to be a stinging barb. Frankly, I wish I were more like my mom. For now, I’ll just worship her and Jane Austen and count myself lucky for knowing both, one intimately and one at a distance.

One last comparison to Jane Austen I must mention is my mom’s faith, which imbues her life. While we know of at least 3 prayers Jane wrote, we also can divine, given she was a minister’s daughter and a woman of her time, that her faith was extremely important to her and quite personal in nature…just like my mother’s.

IMG_0154

Mom today surrounded by her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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horizontal blog tour

Inquiring readers:

Jane Austen’s World blog is participating in a tour of Stephanie Barron’s new book, Jane and the Waterloo Map, wherein our favorite author turns sleuth in this Regency-era mystery. I have interviewed Stephanie Barron, author of this delightful mystery, and wished I had asked more questions!

book coverIt is November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning…

1. Vic: Hi Stephanie, Thank you for allowing me to interview you! I have so many questions, but a limited time to talk to you. Please describe your book and tell us why readers will be intrigued with your latest mystery.

Stephanie: The thirteenth Jane Austen mystery combines a well-documented period in her life—the autumn of 1815, when she was staying with her ailing brother Henry in London and preparing Emma for publication—with the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo in English politics and society. That November, Jane was invited to the Prince Regent’s London home, Carlton House, and asked (ordered) to dedicate Emma to the Prince. I have her stumbling over the body of a Waterloo veteran in the Carlton House library, so I think the story gets off to a great start.

2. Vic: My Janeite group loves your novels and have read your books since JANE AUSTEN AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR.  How did you originally come up with the idea of a Jane Austen mystery series?

Stephanie: I had studied the Napoleonic/Regency period in college, and was a lifelong reader of Austen—I began with Pride and Prejudice at age 12—but I had never thought of writing what is now called “Austenesque” fiction. At the time I wrote the first Jane mystery, I was also writing a contemporary police procedural series set on Nantucket Island under my married name, Francine Mathews. This was twenty-two years ago, during the winter of 1994. I was rereading Austen’s novels and reflecting on the richness of her language, and how difficult it was to persuade some readers to wrestle with the complexity of that language in order to experience the story. I thought it would be challenging and fun to attempt to use Austen’s distinct voice in a novel, and encourage contemporary readers to engage its complexity—by giving them a murder to solve. From that moment, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to go whole-Austen-hog and use her actual characters. But I personally think that each of us has an inner sense of her characters that we may not always like to see violated by another person’s version. So I decided instead to use Jane herself as my detective. I went to her letters, first and foremost, for a detailed record of her days—and was delighted to find that there were gaps in that record I could fill with fiction.

3. Were you surprised at how receptive readers were with the idea of Jane Austen as sleuth?

Stephanie: Yes. I was honestly afraid that the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor would be dismissed or ridiculed as either a travesty of her style or an attempt at exploitation. It was a relief when the book was generally embraced. Although I should say that I did receive a few incensed and irate letters. There will always be folks who lack a sense of humor.

4. Vic: What did you enjoy most in doing research for JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP?

I have a deep and abiding interest in the Napoleonic Wars, dating from my first exposure to War and Peace when I was ten years old. To be able to wallow in accounts of the battle of Waterloo was quite self-indulgent. I also loved studying the old prints of Carlton House, which appears to have been an elegant and beautifully-designed place, sadly demolished only a few years after Jane saw it.

5. Vic: Tell us a little about your writing day. Are you a disciplined author or do you need to be inspired, by a deadline, for example, or a great idea?

Stephanie: I am a highly disciplined writer. It’s impossible to draft, complete, and promote twenty-six novels over twenty-three years without being disciplined, particularly if one is also raising children and dogs. I alternate work on the Jane Austen series with standalone historical espionage novels that require a totally different degree of research and construction. I frankly tell aspiring writers, however, that it is much easier to be disciplined when you have a contract from a publisher—because then the work is no longer a wistful dream, but your job, with expectations you must meet and editors you regard as your employers. I know that I have been profoundly fortunate to be able to work at home for the past two decades, on my own schedule, pursuing my cherished impulses and ideas, and yet be paid for my work.

6. Vic: Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite and why?

PersuasionStephanie: Persuasion. I regard it as the apogee of her work. Anne Elliott is the most perceptive and profound of her heroines. It’s one of the first novels in the English cannon in which a period of depression is portrayed, as well the emergence from depression and into full engagement with life—which occurs in parallel to Anne’s reviving romance with Wentworth, not as a direct result of it. It is also the most perfectly edited of Austen’s works, probably because she had grown in technique as a writer by the time she embarked on it—she was self-editing as she wrote, and the finished work is tightly plotted and beautifully honed, not a word wasted.

7. Vic: Would you like to add anything else for my readers?

Stephanie: Only that I’d love to hear from them. I can be found on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

8. Vic: It’s a pleasure to chat with you, Stephanie.  I must admit that PERSUASION is also my favorite Jane Austen novel (a preference I discovered in my, ahem, mature years). My sentimental favorite shall always be PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. You were twelve when you first read the book; I was fourteen. Sigh. Good luck with JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP, and thank you so much for these illuminating answers.
Stephanie: The pleasure was all mine!

Inquiring readers:

Click on this link to follow the blog tour from February 2, 2016 – February 22, 2016.

barronAbout the Author:

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Stephanie’s Twitter handles are: @SBarronAuthor; @Soho_Press.  Her Twitter hashtags are: #WaterlooBlogTour, #JaneAusten, #HistoricalMystery, #RegencyMystery, #Reading, #AustenesqueMystery #Austenesque #Giveaway

Grand Giveaway Contest

prizes

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes:

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!

 

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book coverAmateur sleuth Jane Austen returns in Jane and the Waterloo Map, the thirteenth novel in Stephanie Barron’s delightful Regency-era mystery series.

Award winning author Stephanie Barron tours the blogosphere February 2 through February 22, 2016 to share her latest release, Jane and the Waterloo Map (Being a Jane Austen Mystery). Twenty popular book bloggers specializing in Austenesque fiction, mystery and Regency history will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts and book reviews from this highly anticipated novel in the acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of Ms. Barron’s book and other Jane Austen-themed items, will be open to those who join the festivities.

Index imageTour Schedule

February 02  My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)

February 03  Laura’s Reviews (Excerpt)

February 04  A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

February 05  The Calico Critic (Review)

February 06 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)

February 07  Reflections of a Book Addict (Spotlight)

February 08  Mimi Matthews Blog (Guest Blog)

February 09  Jane Austen’s World (Interview)

February 10  Just Jane 1813 (Review)

February 11  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)

February 12  History of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Guest Blog)

February 13  My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)

February 14  Living Read Girl (Review)

February 14  Austenprose (Review)

February 15  Mystery Fanfare (Guest Blog)

February 16  Laura’s Reviews (Review)

February 17  Jane Austen in Vermont (Excerpt)

February 18  From Pemberley to Milton (Interview)

February 19  More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

February 20  Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)

February 21   A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life (Guest Blog)

February 22   Diary of an Eccentric (Review)

About the Author:

barron

Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Purchase Books at These Sites:

  • Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Jane-Waterloo-Being-Austen-Mystery/dp/1616954256/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1451778725&sr=8-1

  • Barnes & Noble Link:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jane-and-the-waterloo-map-stephanie-barron/1121860459?ean=9781616954253

  • Book Depository Link:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Jane-and-the-Waterloo-Map-Stephanie-Barron/9781616954253

  • IndieBound Link:

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781616954253

  • Goodreads Link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25489249-jane-and-the-waterloo-map

  • iTunes Link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/jane-and-the-waterloo-map/id993475556?mt=11

  • Publishers Page:

Jane and the Waterloo Map

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

prizes

Fabulous giveaway prizes associated with this blog tour.

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In the second episode of At Home With the Georgians: A Woman’s Touch, Amanda Vickery mentioned metamorphic furniture and (remarkably) turned a desk into a bed. A visitor to Tony Grant’s excellent post left this question: What is metamorphic furniture?

Modern example of metamorphic furniture: hall table/card table

Tony answered the question admirably. This mechanical furniture, wide-spread in Georgian times, had a dual use. A small folding staircase could be transformed into chair or desk, such as a writing table, library table, or card table. These pieces of furniture were great space savers, as I can attest. Only last week I transformed my faux-Georgian hall table into a card table for my guests. I never guessed until Tony’s post that I owned an example of mechanical furniture. Sweet!

The only change I would make in the video (besides the annoying lilt in my voice) is to make sure that the next time I film an example of my furniture, it is thoroughly dusted and cleaned! Extra points if you can spot my pooch in one of the scenes. His hang dog expression tells me that he was out of sorts, having been told to stay put.

This Victorian piano at the Brooklyn Museum pulls out into a bed. Fascinating. The video is available to view until March 2011.

READ MORE: If your interest in the topic is piqued, Clive Taylor (who also left a comment on the previous post) has written a dissertation on the topic (click here to read The Regency Period Metamorphic Chair) and sells metamorphic library chairs/stairs in his shop, Parbold Antiques.

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“Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.”
– William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Decorating one’s house with natural boughs has been a Christmas tradition since Celtic times. Boughs of holly with their bright red berries were especially coveted. (Read Mythology and the Folklore of Holly.) One understands how easily people in rural areas could obtain these bright green leaves, but what about those who lived in London? This image of a holly cart pulled by a donkey provides a solution.

Note that the customer purchases a small amount of boughs. Christmas decorations in the 19th century were modest to none compared to ours. In this 18th-century print of a coffee house or chocolate shop, one can see small leaves of holly placed in each window pane and a bough hanging from the center of the ceiling. (One cannot imagine that mistletoe would  be hung in a public setting.)

Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

In this image of a lavish family dinner by Cruikshank, not a single bough of holly decorates the room. Most likely a wreath had been hung on the front door or some boughs had been hung from the ceiling. With holly hard to obtain in metropolitan areas, one imagines that the spare use of decorations was as much from necessity as from tradition.

Image: Art.com

This image by Cruikshank of a family celebrating Christmas during early Victorian times  shows a few boughs inserted into the chandelier, a roaring fire, and the Christmas pudding about to be served to the hostess. This year, I have taken the Regency approach to decorating my house, emphasizing the season with just a few well placed decorations. And I love it.

Other Christmas Posts on this blog:

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18th Century toddler

Gentle Readers; This post is in honor of Jane Austen’s 235th birthday. I have joined a group of bloggers in a blogfabulous celebration, and their links will sit at the bottom of this post. Leave your comments on our blogs for an opportunity to win an array of unique prizes! Copyright @Jane Austen’s World

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 during one of the harshest winters that would be recorded in recent memory in England. A premature cold wave prompted naturalist Gilbert White to observe that the trees in Selborne were looking “quite naked” as early as November 11th. Despite the cold snap, there would still be periods of mild weather. The day that Mrs. George Austen went into labor with her 7th child, White noted, “Fog, sun, sweet day.”

During the latter half of the 18th century, all but a handful of births occurred in the home, but by 1775, the practice of midwifery had changed. Physicians were rapidly taking over obstetrics, replacing the midwive and relegating her to work with only the lower classes or those who lived in areas where a doctor or even an apothecary were not available.

In fact, many women of that era gave birth without the services of a doctor or midwife. Steventon Rectory, the Austen family home, lay seven miles away from the nearest village of Basingstoke, and so on the eventful night that baby Jane was born, the Austen family did not bother to summon a physician.

An 18th century pregnant woman’s corset could be loosened from both front and back. Image from @What clothes reveal: the language of clothing in colonial and federal America, by Linda Baumgarten

Hogarth’s image of a pregnant woman

Mrs. Austen gave birth to her second daughter in her own bedroom. She was attended, I surmise, by female friends and family members, such as her sister-in-law, Philadelphia, which was the tradition of the time. As a matter of course (and sisterhood), female friends and relatives helped to assist in the birth. In England, women who lay in bed while giving birth would lie in a Sims position, or on the side with their knees curled up. One historical source speculated that having a baby in bed could be a messy event and doubted that many women before the age of plastic would risk sullying their sheets and precious feather mattresses by remaining in bed during the final stages of the birth process. This made sense to me, and so I searched for alternate images.

Birthing stools or chairs with sloping backs, which allowed gravity to help pull the baby through the birth canal, had been used for centuries.

16th century woodcut of woman giving birth. The chair is sloped to allow her to lean back.

Birthing attendants also used various positions during labor, as in this 19th century image, which shows an American frontier scene, with the husband holding his wife in a half seated, half leaning position as the midwive and two female companions assisted with the birth.

19th century birth, with husband and attendants

No one recorded precisely how many hours Mrs. Austen took to deliver baby Jane, but one can imagine that during her labor a cozy fire warmed the bedroom on that bitterly cold night,  twine and scissors lay on a nearby table, plenty of fresh water and linen rags stood at the ready, and baby linens were laid near a cradle.  Jane’s birth, which was expected in November, was swift and uneventful. Soon after she entered the world, baby Jane was cleaned, dressed and placed next to her mother in bed or inside her cradle, and wrapped snugly in a long quilted gown and a mantle. 

18th century infant shirt and bonnets, Christie’s

Reverend George Austen baptised his new daughter on December 17th in his home, as he had done with his other children. Then, as Mrs. Austen rested, he wrote notes announcing the birth to friends and acquaintances. For the only time in her life, he publicly called his new daughter “Jenny.” (One wonders if during private family time this nickname stuck.)

On April 5th, baby Jane was formally christened in St. Nicholas church, wearing a square-necked, sleeveless gown of fine cotton that probably opened in front. She would also have been wrapped in a pretty christening blanket.

18th century silver rattles, baby walker, and oak cradle. 

In 1775, fewer babies were swaddled, but the practice took a long time to die off.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the medical profession recommended a less constraining form of swaddling. In this type of swaddling, often practiced by the middle classes, the infant was able to move its legs and the arms were kept free from restraints, although mothers were still advised to keep the swaddling band to support the baby’s back. Baby clothing also became more comfortable.” – Swaddling, FAQ

Babies wore linen clouts, the 18th century form of a thick cloth diaper, which was pinned with straight pins (ouch) or tied with with lacings. The clout was covered by a pilcher, a garment that offered another layer of protection. Today’s pilcher has a plastic lining to prevent urine from leaking through. (Do recall from a previous post, that the 18th century attitude towards urine was different than ours in that urea was regarded as a disinfectant.)

Cap, napkin and pilch. Image @Sharon Ann Burnston’s website

While Georgian attitudes towards sanitation differed from ours, parents did recognize that a baby’s tiny bald head needed extra protection in cold, drafty houses. Caps decorated with hollie point lace protected a baby’s fragile head

Holly point lace caps for infants

Tiny linen shirts and long quilted bed gowns that opened in the front and extended beyond their legs (long clothes) warmed their tender bodies. These baby linens were also decorated with hollie point lace. (Hollie point was a whitework embroidery technique that was popular in the middle ages for church lace, and that was used after the 17th century for baby garments and baby blankets.)

18th c. baby dresses, Sturbridge

During this age of Industrial Revolution, ready-made baby items became more easily available and affordable. Childbed linens and baby clothes could now be purchased in shops or warehouses. Recycling of old clothes and cloths was definitely practiced, and it is without doubt that Mrs. Austen re-used Cassie’s outgrown clothes and bedlinens for baby Jane. Aside from needing a goodly number of clouts, the Austens would already possess most of the baby items their tiny daughter would need.

A day after giving birth to baby Jane, Mrs. Cassandra Austen was pronounced out of danger. Finally able to relax (even from her daily duties, which were overseen by friends or her sister-in-law, Philadelphia, perhaps) she would begin a lying in period to regain her strength. The mother, while resting during the lying in period, would be visited by her female friends, who would help look after the baby or help the mother through the grieving period (if the infant died.) This lying in period traditionally lasted a month, but for some sturdier (more impatient) mothers this period would last only a few weeks. Mothers whose infants died might not emerge for several months more. Ever the good hostess, biscuits and tea would be served to entertain visitors at set times.

Short gown maternity garment. Image @Fashions of Motherhood

Mrs. Austen would open her short gown (which fastened in front) and suckle Jane. But as with all their children, the Austens would send the new baby away to be fostered, a remarkable act of faith in a year when almost half of the more than 20,000 recorded deaths in England were those of infants. I have read articles in which a contemporary writer asserts that a Georgian parents’ grief over a child’s death was not as acute as ours, since so many infants died during that period. But much historical evidence shows that such a sweeping statement is simply not true. Georgian parents loved their children as much as today’s parents and grieved deeply for them. While they were painfully aware of the horrendous mortality rates for infants, this foreknowledge did not assuage their profound sense of loss when a child died.

Infant gown with removable sleeves, emuseum collection, Colonial Williamsburg

Infant’s gown with removable sleeves

Despite the possibility of their child not surviving infancy, the Austens had been in the habit of sending their children away just three months after their births to “a good woman at Deane”, a village close to Steventon. Giving a child over to a wet nurse had once been a common custom, but by 1775 this habit was fading as fast for the gentry as the use of a midwife. For the first crucial months, however, Mrs. Austen would breast feed baby Jane and take care of her personally.

Frost on trees in Hampshire

Baby Jane’s first winter on earth was bitter cold. Gilbert White noted that severe weather, with severe frost and snow, affected most of Europe from 9th Jan through 2nd Feb, 1776, and that the Thames was frozen for some time. A stormy February followed. The prolonged cold spell was broken by interludes of mild temperatures and melting snow, but these did not last long. Snow fall was often considerable, with frequent drifting, and daytime temperatures often dipped below freezing.

St. Nicholas (Chawton) across the fields. Image @Tony Grant

With such a prolonged cold snap, was it any wonder that the Austens kept baby Jane at Steventon until April 5th of that year? In contrast, Cassandra, who was born on January 9, 1773, had been with her foster mother for eight weeks by June 6th. While Edward-Austen Leigh wrote somewhat disapprovingly of his grandparents’ habit of fostering out their children, they must have made the right choices, for all the Austen children survived their infancy. Despite his censure, Edward observed that little Jane’s parents did not neglect her: “The infant was daily visited by one or both of its parents, and frequently brought to them at the parsonage, but the cottage [at Deane] was its home.”

Baby Jane might have resembled Gen Cadwallader’s daughter, 1772, by Peale

Author Irene Collins in Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter, identifies “the good woman at Deane” as Elizabeth Littleworth, the wife of a farmworker at Cheesedown, located between Deane and Steventon. These country folks remained close to the Austens for years, for in 1789 Jane acted as godmother to their eldest grandchild and stood as witness to the wedding of John Littleworth’s brother. Like the Martins in Emma, the Littleworths belonged to a lower social station, and the Austens, however grateful for their services, would not have socialized as equals with them.

Child wih leading strings, stays with cardboard stiffening, and child wearing a pudding cap

The Austen children stayed with the Littleworths until they started to walk and talk and could “be regarded as rational beings.” Henry returned to Steventon Rectory at fourteen months, and Cassy and Jane were returned when they reached two years of age.

Walking a toddler on leading strings. Image @Williamsburgrose

When baby Jane was ready to walk and crawl (about the time when she would be returned to her family) her mother would change her out of long clothes into short clothes. Short clothes were ankle length and allowed chubby legs the freedom of movement they needed to practice toddling. Toddlers also wore clothes with “leading strings” and pudding caps, which were padded.

A very fine pudding cap. Image @Metropolitan Museum

These caps, a sort of bumper guard, if you will, prevented injury to a toddler’s head if it fell or bumped into objects as it learned to walk (or so it was hoped).

“Like many mothers at the time, Mrs. Austen recorded her children’s progress in terms of dress. When Cassandra was taken out of her long gown and put instead into ‘petticoats’ (a frock and slip which finished at the ankles), her mother regarded it as a sign that she had left babyhood and would soon be learning to walk. From the petticoat stage, there was little change in girls’ clothing, except that the waistline of the frock went higher and the neckline lower.” – Irene Collins in Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter

18th Century Doll

Toddler Jane and her older sister Cassie also wore corsets. Yes, you read the word correctly. The tiny corsets, stiffened with cardboard, were thought to promote posture and help with walking.

Putting stays on young girls and boys was not seen as harsh, but rather as insurance that their figures would develop the correct form, with chest out and shoulders down. While boys usually wore stays only in early childhood, they were considered essential for females throughout their lives. – Philadelphia Museum of Art

These two tiny 18th century girls are wearing corsets

Since these early days, tiny Cassy and baby Jane, barely three years apart, developed a lifelong bond. Cassy most likely played with her younger sister as she would a doll and looked over her. By all accounts, their childhood at Steventon Rectory was happy and relaxed, with the children called by pet names, eating meals at the table, and visiting friends and relatives with their parents. Luckily for the Austen children, attitude towards childhood had begun to change and children were no longer dressed or perceived to be small adults. They were allowed to dress as children and, if they did not live in dire poverty, live a relatively carefree childhood compared to the children from generations before.

Would Mrs. Austen and her two daughters have resembled the Archibald Bulloch family? Painted in 1775 by Henry Bendridge, High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

 

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