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Inquiring readers: One reason I love Tony Grant’s submissions is the wonderful original images that he takes of the sites he discusses – in this instance, Bath and Persuasion, Jane Austen’s final and arguably her best novel. Enjoy the article, as well as Tony’s photographic images.

I think Persuasion is Jane Austen’s most mature novel. It deals with patriarchy, misogyny, narcissism, snobbery, class structure, schemes to move up the class ladder, and the consequences of moving down the class ladder.  It also portrays the strength of a good woman. Persuasion begins to subvert the old ways of doing things. The novel covers the whole gamut of life and shows what it is to be a Georgian, with resonances for our own time in the status of women.

The Baronetage_internetarchive

The Baronetage from the Internet archive

Persuasion starts with Sir Walter Elliot perusing his favorite book, The Baronetage, which is about primogeniture – a system where the family’s fortune was left to the eldest son when the father died. Primogeniture lasted for centuries and was an example of patriarchy that encouraged misogyny, but society and the world were changing during Austen’s era.

The Elliot’s ancestry is described in The Baronetage and Sir Walter reads the entry concerning his family obsessively. He is exceedingly vain about his position in life and his looks. As Jane describes him: “Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character.”

After Lady Elliot’s death, Sir Walter spends beyond his means, a foolish habit that will lead to his financial ruin if he does not curb his lifestyle. His agent, Mr. Shepherd, strongly advises Sir Walter to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to Bath to save what little of his inheritance remains. Once there, the ever vain and critical Sir Walter encounters few women who meet his exacting standards of beauty:

“He had frequently observed as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five and thirty frights; and once as he stood in a shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without their being a tolerable face among them.”

The Baronetage

Sir Walter’s social maneuverings in Bath are dictated by the principles laid out in The Baronetage. In Georgian society there was some movement within the middle classes and the lower aristocracy. Sir Walter is in danger of being reduced in importance because of his financial difficulties, brought about after his wife’s death. Lady Elliot had kept Sir Walter’s expenses in check and he soon faced financial ruin without her sensible influence.

The Baronetage lists a still-born son for Sir Walter and Lady Elliot. Ever conscious of the succession of his line, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne count for nothing as far as inheritance goes.  Sir Walter, therefore, desires to renew relations with Mr. William Elliot, his godson and heir. This relationship, however, has a “very awkward history,” with Mr. Elliot, in a most ungentleman-like fashion, abandoning his courtship of his cousin Elizabeth in favor of marriage to an older, rich woman of no distinction. Consequently, the family ceased all contact with the presumptive heir.

Sir Walter also discovers that his cousin, Viscountess Dalrymple, has arrived in Bath. Because of a past misunderstanding – he had ignored the news of her husband’s death – he lost contact with her.  Sir Walter now thinks it an excellent idea to boost the importance of himself and his family by renewing contact with the Viscountess.  An association with her would elevate the Elliots in the eyes of Bath Society.

Sir Walter has no regard for people of no importance and with no influence. He pours scorn on his youngest daughter, Anne, regarding her friendship with an old school acquaintance, Mrs. Smith, who lives in a poor area of Bath. Anne has none of her father’s social ambitions. She would rather spend an evening with Mrs. Smith, who is widowed and impoverished. Mrs. Smith, who is careful with her limited finances, is a cheerful, intelligent and kind person, qualities that attract Anne but mean nothing to Sir Walter.  Anne continues her relationship with Mrs. Smith despite her father’s protestations, and doesn’t think associating with Viscountess Dalrymple a good idea at all.

Bath’s Urban Geography and Status

Urban geography plays an important role in Persuasion. When it comes to Bath, status depends on where you live and in what street.

Sir Walter Elliot and his three daughters, along with Mrs. Clay, the snaggle-toothed, widowed daughter of Mr. Shepherd, and a mere companion to Elizabeth, move to Camden Place, a fine Georgian terrace in the northern part of Bath. This terrace overlooks the rest of Bath, an ideal place for snobbish Sir Walter to look down upon the city. The geographic location fits Sir Walter’s belief in himself, both morally and emotionally.

Westgate Buildings are situated close to the Roman Baths at the bottom of the hill in town. Mrs. Smith lodges in two rooms amongst the shops and makes do in the hustle and bustle and turmoil of town noises and traffic.

Mr. Elliot and friends stay in Marlborough Buildings, a terrace of fine houses that slope down steeply from the west side of The Royal Crescent, the most salubrious address in Bath. Mr. Elliot visits Sir Walter in Camden Place after a visit in Landsdowne Crescent. Landsdowne Crescent is also one of the northern crescents above Bath, directly north of The Royal Crescent, to the west of Camden Place and on an equal footing to Camden Place.

Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret, stay in style in Laura Place. Laura Place is a set of four elegant terraces that surround a lozenge shaped “circus” with “Laura Fountain,” in the centre.

Great Pulteney Street leads off it towards Sydney Gardens and the Holbourne Museum. To the west of Laura Place is Pulteney Bridge, once known as Old Bridge, over which Lady Russell and Anne Elliot pass into Bath.

As one passes over the bridge and the River Avon, one almost immediately encounters Bath Abbey.

The Lower Assembly Rooms are a little to the left. Mrs. Smith’s lodgings in Westgate Buildings are also close to the Abbey, but in the town.

Laura Place is outside the town, on the opposite banks of The Avon, in an area of splendid elegance and wide avenues. Obscurely, Camden Place is high on the hills directly above Laura Place where Sir Walter can certainly keep an eye on things.

Lady Russell, an old friend of Lady Elliot, is a sensible, wise person who takes a sort of unofficial care of the Elliots after the death of their mother, especially of Anne, for whom she has a special fondness. She personally brings Anne to Bath after Sir Walter, Mary and Mrs. Clay have already settled in. Lady Russell, a widower, occupies a town house in Rivers Street, which is close to Camden Place. The street is comprised of elegant town houses, probably smaller than those of Camden Place. Rivers Street suits Lady Russell. It is a place of genteel comfort for a sensible person of means who lives according to her fortune and within her budget.

 

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Anne Elliot

Lady Russell is one of the more stable, pleasant and thoughtful characters in Persuasion. She is “… of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for.”

Anne Elliot, her protegee, had “an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with the father or sister: “

To Lady Russell Anne was “…a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favorite and friend. Lady Russell loved them all; but it was only in Anne that she could fancy the mother to revive again.”

Compared to Anne, Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret “…were nothing. There was no superiority of manner, accomplishment or understanding. Lady Dalrymple had had acquired the name of,” a charming woman,” because she had a smile and a civil answer for everybody. Miss Carteret, with still less to say, was so plain and so awkward, that she could never have been tolerated in Camden Place if it were not for her birth.”

Self-serving Mr. Elliot recognizes Anne’s outstanding qualities. She smiled and said, “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company…”

Persuasion and the changing order

There is something subversive going on in Persuasion. Underlying the novel is The Baronetage and Sir Walter’s rule of life, which lead to the cause of Elizabeth’s pain. Hereditary, class, position are the yardsticks by which Sir Walter lives, but adherence to the old order doesn’t do him or Elizabeth the best of service.

Anne, Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Smith and the three naval captains, Wentworth, Harville and Benwick either overtly or inadvertently create the vision of a new world, where affection and love are the primary drivers. Ordinary people were being noticed. The Industrial Revolution 1760 to 1740 had social and economic ramifications far beyond its time. Wilberforce and his cronies were campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Science was making great bounds forwards. Gilbert White, who died in 1793 and who lived at Selborne, a mere three miles from Chawton, Austen’s final home, changed the course of science through his direct observations of wildlife in nature, which set the scientific strategy for Darwin’s first voyage on the Beagle in 1833, a mere 15 years after Jane Austen died. Persuasion seems to presage these developments through the relationships and views challenged and promoted in the novel.

Probably more controversial, especially for the time Jane Austen was writing, are the echoes of The French Revolution. Ideas espoused by the Revolution were bound to be heard and discussed in Britain by such men as Charles James Fox. But what about the women?

Louisa Musgrove’s jump from The Cobb in Lyme onto the cobbled pavement below and striking her head, rendering her unconscious, is suggestive of women like Anne Elliot taking charge and making a decisive contribution over and above men. This theme is similar to the political and social ideology women were advocating in France.

“Is there no one to help me?” were the first words which burst from Captain Wentworth, in a tone of despair, and as if all his own strength were gone.

“Go to him, go to him,” cried Anne [to Captain Benwick], “for heaven’s sake go to him. I can support her myself. Leave me and go to him. Rub her hands, rub her temples; here are salts,- take them, take them.” Captain Benwick obeyed…… everything was done that Anne had prompted…”

 

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Surely this scene is in the spirit of Charlotte Corday, Pauline Leon and Theroigne de Mericourt, who agitated for full citizenship for women. Three Royal Naval Captains who commanded Royal Naval men of war became helpless in this emergency, and only a woman, Anne Elliot, direct and assertive, took charge.

Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion was published in 1818 after her death. Anne Bronte’s novel, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, was published thirty years later in 1848. Both deal with moral issues and patriarchy. The difference between the two is stark. Jane Austen holds a mirror up to society and says: this is the way things are. Nothing really terrible happens in Persuasion. Jane Austen portrays a very gentle revolution.  The Tennant of Wildfell Hall deals with misogyny, patriarchy, and the terrible abuse of a woman. Anne Bronte’s writing is disturbing and visceral; mind and heart changing. Jane Austen’s writing is gently comic, but it’s also getting us there.

Find Tony Grant’s blog, London Calling, at this link. http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

 

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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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Christmas with Jane Austen

Many Austen fans enjoy thinking about how Jane and her family celebrated Christmas. They wonder, did she give gifts, “deck” the halls, or have a Christmas tree? As most Austen fans know, many of the Christmas traditions we might picture actually became popular during the Victorian Era. However, there are plenty of Regency Christmas traditions that are still familiar today and others that can add to our enjoyment of the holiday season.

Christmas Celebrations in Jane Austen’s Novels

In each of Austen’s novels, Christmas is mentioned. It was, as it is today, a time for festive dances, parties, and dinners. As Mr. Elton says in Emma, “This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them…” (E 115). In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley writes to Jane, saying, “I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings” (PP 117).

Just as we do today, the people of Austen’s time enjoyed seasonal foods, drinks, and decorations. In Persuasion, Austen paints a festive Christmas scene:

“On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. […] Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.” (P 134)

Most of us have witnessed a similar scene at a large Christmas party or family gathering, where children are playing and laughing, great quantities of food are set out, and people are talking so loudly it’s hard to keep up a conversation.
Christmas was also a time for families to gather together. Children away at school came home for the holidays. Extended family traveled to visit one another. Emma personally looks forward to Christmas because it means her sister Isabella’s family will visit for a week: “many a long October and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband, and their little children, to fill the house, and give her pleasant society again” (E 7).

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner come to Longbourn with their children to visit: “On the following Monday, Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn” (PP 139). At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth writes to her aunt Gardiner and says, “You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas” (383). Thus, a new family tradition begins.

And for a young girl like Catherine Morland, Christmas increased the likelihood of getting cornered by an older relative. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine worries about what “gown and what head-dress she should wear” because “her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before” (NA 73). The main message of that lecture: “Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim” (73).

Regency Christmas Traditions

“Photo by Rachel Dodge.” (link “Rachel Dodge” to http://www.racheldodge.com)

Rachel Dodge Book Photo

Photo of the book cover of A Jane Austen Christmas by Maria Grace @Rachel Dodge  (linked)

In her book A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, Maria Grace shares details about the Christmas traditions that Jane would have experienced. She explains that the Christmas season itself started “a week before Advent […] and extended all the way through Twelfth Night in January” (Grace 1). She covers the types of foods and sweets they ate—including a delightful history and explanation of plum pudding—and provides descriptions of holiday drinks, quaint parlor games, and seasonal dinner parties, card parties, and balls. She also talks about the charitable traditions of the time, like St. Thomas Day and Boxing Day, as well as the Christmas carols Jane might have known, such as The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (31).

Gift giving, according to Grace, became more popular toward the end of the Regency period, when ads began to run “in periodicals suggesting novel ideas for gifts” (43). However, people did give gifts during Austen’s lifetime on St. Nicholas Day, Christmas Day, and Twelfth Night, typically from “those lower in status to those above them” (42) and between social equals “like friends and family” (43).

Church attendance was a focal point for most Regency families on Christmas Day. In Kirsten Olsen’s All Things Austen, she says, “At church, a special sermon was delivered, and communion was offered” (203). In Austen’s family, that meant that her father Reverend Austen would preach and her family would all go to church on Christmas Day.

Though Regency families didn’t decorate their homes to the extent that we do today, Olsen notes that “[h]ouses were decorated with holly and other green foliage” (Olsen 203). As for Christmas trees, they didn’t become prevalent in England until later: “Christmas trees only became popular after The Illustrated London News published a picture of Victoria and Albert with a family Christmas tree in 1848” (Grace 33).

First_Christmas_Tree_in_Britain_1846_Illustrated_London_News

Illustration Caption: “Lithograph in The Illustrated London News in the winter of 1848,” Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like to add a new Regency tradition to your holiday season or throw an Austen-inspired Christmas party, books such as A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace are full of wonderful details. I picked up my copy at this year’s JASNA AGM, but it’s available on Amazon as well.

Christmas in Hampshire

In Chawton, Jane Austen’s House Museum (link to https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/whats-on) has its own special tradition this time of year. The museum celebrates the Christmas season and Jane’s birthday at their “Annual Open day” on December 16. The museum offers free admission and mince pies for all visitors. This year, visitors can also create free Christmas crafts inspired by the Austen family coverlet currently on display at the museum.

Works Cited

  • Austen, Jane. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Edited by R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Grace, Maria. A Jane Austen Christmas; Regency Christmas Traditions. White Soup Press, 2014.
  • Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

Other blog posts on this site citing Regency Christmas traditions: Click on this link for a variety of traditions and foods during this era

 

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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.

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Dear Readers,

Once again I found myself traveling between Richmond and Baltimore to visit family. In theory, the route over I-95 should take only 2 hours and 45 minutes. Hah! This time the trip took 5 hours due to heavy traffic and a thunderstorm or two. While driving, I love to listen to my favorite news, comedy, and satire shows. I had forgotten to load my iPod with new podcasts and had nothing of interest on the radio, but I did have a back-up plan.

Jane Austen to the rescue!

I am never far away from listening to my favorite author, whether walking, driving, reading, or working and have listened to all of the following:

Naxos Audio Books:

Naxos CDs are beautifully packaged and produced. Mine came as a gift from the company over 10 years ago, and I am proud to advertise these great products.

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Image @ Vic Sanborn

Most of Jane Austen’s books for Naxos are read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson, whose voice acting is as good as her characterizations on film. I listened to the first half of the unabridged version of Persuasion and was transported by Juliet’s voice as Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth, Sir Walter Elliot, and all the other beloved characters in this book. Each time I listen to Jane’s prose, I learn something new. Her descriptions of Lyme were so vivid that I just knew she wrote them from memory. I could “see” the street leading straight down to the water, and the waves breaking up over the lower cobb.

Jane’s love for the navy and Mrs. Croft’s characterizations of life at sea must have come from the many tales her two sailor brothers told her or wrote to her in their letters. Her characters are so familiar by now that I felt that I was visiting family as I traveled to see my family.

Juliet Stevenson, if you recall, played Mrs. Elton in 1996’s Emma with Gwynneth Paltrow. Watch her introductory scene in these two YouTube clips:

Emma, The New Bride, Mrs. Elton (Juliet Stevenson

You can listen to an audio sample of Juliet reading Persuasion in this link: https://www.naxosaudiobooks.com/persuasion-unabridged/

Juliet did not read Pride and Prejudice, however. Emilia Fox, who played Georgiana Darcy in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, was given this honor. Her voice is somewhat lighter than Julia’s, but her voice acting is equally as impressive. Listen to an audio sample by her in this link: https://www.naxosaudiobooks.com/pride-and-prejudice-unabridged/

Another exception includes Lady Susan, a 2 CD, 2 ½ hour unabridged novel read by Nigel Anthony, Carole Boyd, Kim Hicks, Jonathan Keeble, Ruth Sillers, Patience Tomlinson, and Harriet Walter (who played Fanny Dashwood in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility and reflected on Jane Austen in a Morgan Library film in 2009. https://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=NA222812

As an aside, fans of Richard Armitage will be delighted with his Naxos reading of Sylvester by Georgette Heyer (Listen to a sample in this 9 minute clip: http://richardarmitageonline.com/sylvester/Sylvester-Sample.mp3).

sylvester

Richard Armitage reads Sylvester. Image @ Vic Sanborn

If you’ve ever heard his voice overs for the Winter Olympics on BBC (listen to ski jumping: http://richardarmitageonline.com/olympics/BBCWinterOlympics2010-trailer-SkiJumping.mp3) you know that Richard is as delightful to listen to as look at! (Listen to all trailers here: http://richardarmitageonline.com/olympics/olympics-introduction.html.

But I digress.

Naxos is not the only audible way to listen to Jane Austen.

Amazon:

indexThe Jane Austen BBC Radio Drama Collection: Six BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisations – Abridged, Audiobook, CD by Jane Austen (Author), Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, & Julia Stevenson, Jenny Agutter, Julia McKenzie, and Eve Best (Readers) has received 4 ½ stars out of 5 from reviewers. These dramatizations cost around $35.00. You can listen to an excerpt of Mansfield Park in an audio clip on this page, then click on listen.

The reviewers love this collection, except in the way it is boxed. All the CDs are boxed together and it is hard to find individual novels. As one listener puts it: “each disk is on top of the next; to use the last one all the other disks need to be handled.”

In addition, Amazon prime offers customers free movies (many Jane Austen related) and Kindle ebooks specials.

overdriveThe local library – online:

From my armchair, hotel room, or any place with an internet connection, I am able to borrow eBooks, audiobooks and streaming videos using the OverDrive app. The website states: “Available 24/7, now the library comes to you.” After some practice, I am able to check out any e-item that is available.

librivoxLibrivox:

This nonprofit project for providing free audio books of the classics has been one of my favorites for a long time. Back in 2008, I wrote a post about some of my favorite readers, such as Karen Savage, whose recordings have a professional quality. One has to be aware with librivox, since many recordings are performed by amateurs (think of authors who read their own novels – most are squirmingly awful). But librivox offers ALL the classics for free. I demonstrate this site to teachers who work with ESL students or adults who are improving their literacy skills. It is so much easier for them to improve their reading, comprehension, and fluency skills when listening to the words while reading them.

playawayPlayaway:

These stand-alone pre-loaded devices (one audio book each) are ready to use after inserting one battery. One does not need the internet or other devices to listen to the tapes. I own Mansfield Park. My only complaint is the earbuds, which are hard and distort the sound..

Favorite Podcasts on Player.fm

This is such an interesting site! It aggregates all the podcasts on a particular topic and allows you to listen either on your computer or laptop, and device by downloading an app. The player.fm topic I chose was Jane-Austen. Click on the link to view all the offerings. Many are from librivox, but others come from a variety of sources.

favorite podcast

Ah, 21st century technology! Thank you for making Jane Austen available in any format any way that I want to be with her. I feel blessed for spending so many worthwhile hours listening to her novels, reading her books, viewing videos based on her books, and looking for images of her life and family.

 

 

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Eligible_SittenfeldIn 2011, The Austen Project approached best-selling author Curtis Sittenfeld to write a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which she entitled Eligible (out in bookstores now). On Thursday, April 21, 2016, Diane Rehm, one of my favorite radio hosts, interviewed Sittenfeld regarding her new novel. As the interview wore on it became obvious to me that 1) this author, who  had not read Pride and Prejudice since she was a teenager, should have done more research about the economic and social situation of the Bennets, Darcys, and Bingleys in Regency England, and how this impacted their actions, and that  2) Diane Rehm and Sittenfeld had little understanding of the economic impact that Austenesque films, television shows, book adaptations, blogs, online forums, and fan fiction have on today’s book and entertainment industry.

After listening (impatiently) to the interview, I wrote this comment on Ms. Rehm’s website, which also features a link to the interview and a 4-page excerpt of the novel.

I author the Jane Austen’s World blog, which examines the Regency era during Jane Austen’s time. I looked forward to this interview, since I listen to the Diane Rehm Show and am a Jane Austen fan. I am no fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, however. Reading the excerpt of “Eligible” and listening to Ms. Sittenfeld read from her book left me strangely cold. Austen’s fans are drawn to her novels because of her enormous talent in describing her characters with humor, or satire, or barbed arrows in her swift, spare, and witty style. Her words fairly sparkle off the page and her main protagonists seem like living creatures. In this instance, the dialogue seems strangely flat, I recognize the names of the characters, but not their essence.

I don’t care how many best sellers a novelist has written, most (many, all) are unable to adapt Austen’s works and write something better or wittier. I am thinking of P.D. James and her awful “Death Comes to Pemberley” and Colleen McCullough’s appallingly bad “The Independence of Mary Bennet,” both of which became best sellers because of their authors’ fame, not because of the excellence of the adaptations. In fact, I was able to purchase both books online for $1.00. Both were in remarkably fresh condition, as if they had been warehoused for a while.

Another sense I got from the interview was Ms. Sittenfeld’s inability to understand her audience – the Jane Austen fan. Chip Bingley participated in the novel’s version of “The Bachelor.” Really? Sittenfeld and Rehm devoted a good portion of the interview to this topic. I felt my mind drifting and my interest in the novel vanishing. I suppose Cincinnati is as good a place as any to fill in for Meryton, but I am not convinced.

I will review [the book] on my blog and withhold judgment for the time being. I am not optimistic that I will change my mind.

In my opinion, only Emma Thompson has channeled Jane Austen successfully in recent years. Much of the script of 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, while staying true to Austen’s intent, are really Emma’s words as the film’s script writer. Some scenes and details are added, since films are a visual medium, yet I left the theater feeling as if I had watched a movie whose script was written by Jane Austen.

This review in The Guardian by Ursula K. LeGuin (an author I admire enormously) starts out by saying:

It was badly done’ – to quote Mr Knightley – an ill-judged rendering of Jane Austen’s most famous work…

Those words are kind compared to the rest of LeGuin’s review, which includes this interesting statement:

I wondered what could possess a writer to tie her novel so blatantly and rigidly to a very well-known one – taking the general plot and the name of every character, so that comparison with the original becomes as unavoidable as it is crushing…We are in a period of copycatting, coat-tail-riding, updating and mashup; rip-off is chic, character theft from famous predecessors is as common as identity theft via credit cards…

In her interview with Rehm, Sittenfeld explains her modus operandi,

when I started rereading “Pride And Prejudice,” I did think, oh, I have so many ideas. This would be such a delightful way to spend a few years.” ….My approach was to basically keep the plot or keep the architecture of the novel and also to keep the names because I didn’t want readers to be distracted, thinking, well, who’s who?…

Sittenfeld enjoyed her years of writing the novel, contacted only occasionally (with no pressure) from the publisher, and writing according to a strict outline and timeline, often with Pride and Prejudice propped on her lap for quick reference to remind her of major plot lines that described both character and setting.

In another recent review, Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, describes the same situation that Sittenfeld and Rehm had gone over during their interview – how Chip Bingley, a physician and bachelor on the reality show “Eligible,” found fame courting 24 women on national television. Lizzie is now 38 and her sister Jane is 40 – today’s versions of single women about to enter that twilight world of spinsterhood.

Eligible is supposed to be an act of homage, an act of admiration. It’s not supposed to be an improvement upon ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I don’t think ‘Pride and Prejudice’ needs to be improved on. I think it’s a wonderful, perfect novel.”- Sittenfeld, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.

In this respect, Sittenfeld recognizes Jane Austen’s  unmatched talent as an author completely, but does she? Really? Higgins calls Sittenfeld’s verbal exchanges among the Bennets “sharp;” Ursula LeGuin describes them as mean-spirited.

As for me, I shall purchase the novel way after its sell date, read it, and write a review based on my reaction to Sittenfeld’s adaptation of my favorite novel of my favorite author. Meanwhile, I can only go by the interview I heard and the short excerpt I read.

As for Diane Rehm and my total love for her show – one disappointing interview in hundreds, well, that gives her a great track record IMO.

Inquiring readers: Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, would like to add his thoughts to the discussion in this comment:

I have only ever read one so called spin off novel and that was The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Her book adds to the world of great literature dealing with important and deep issues. Whether it is a true spin off, mash up, is questionable. It is such a rich and important book. If the so called spin off genre could achieve what she achieved in adding to our experience of the human condition I would read those sort of books but until then they are not for me. Jane Austen engages us with the world within the strictures of her time but also in a way that is relevant to all times.She really doesn’t need to be messed with. I wonder what she would think.The book you describe sounds like a sad attempt at making money on the coat tails of a popular author. I am not one to burn books but we could have quite a conflagration if all the mash ups, spin offs, fan fictions etc were piled up and set light to… ha!Ha!
( I must admit a secret regret, I did read one fan fiction take on Pride and Prejudice a few years ago because it was written by an acquaintance . But I try to forget that experience.)

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Inquiring readers: Here’s another delightful contribution from the ever creative Tony Grant. If you can’t get enough of his work and photographs, visit his blog, London Calling, where he shares his images from his many trips all over Great Britain. A little over 200 hundred years ago (December, 2015), Emma was first published. This is the first of a number of articles related to that novel on this blog this year.

Emma, written by Jane Austen between 21st January 1814 and the 29th March 1815, is unique amongst her six published novels because it’s entire setting is one small country town, the fictitious Highbury and Hartfield, located in one county, Surrey. Other places, real and fictitious are mentioned and have roles in the story too but most of those, apart from London, are located in Surrey as well. All Austen’s other novels move between at least two major locations, Bath, London, Lyme Regis and so on. Her two unfinished novels, Sanditon and The Watsons also have one major location each, Sanditon, a fictitious seaside resort of the sort that were being developed in the Georgian period on the south coast and at other coastal places. In the case of The Watsons, it is another novel that starts in Surrey and specifically in and around, a real town this time, Dorking. The Turnpike Road and The White Hart Inn are real locations in and around Dorking. The Watsons was not developed beyond this setting.

The places mentioned in Emma that are real include Box Hill, the River Mole, Richmond, Kingston, Weymouth, Cobham and London of course. The fictitious places are Highbury and Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, Rosings and Maple Grove. Randalls, might refer to an actual house called Randalls near Leatherhead not far from Box Hill.

Many people think Leatherhead (images above) is the template for Highbury and Hartfield. However, if you ever have the time to travel around Surrey villages and towns, there are similarities between them all. A grand house and estate is often located outside the town. There are a variety of still existing Georgian town houses ranging from those that would have housed well to do middle class businessmen to cottages for the working man and his family. All towns have an ancient church, probably first built in the middle ages, along with a rectory.Many of the rectories, interestingly look Georgian in design, however many of them are much older, probably Tudor in construction, constructed with great oak beams, with Georgian fronts added. All towns have old inns and what were once assembly rooms.

For instance, Cobham is mentioned in Emma. In one scene with Mr Knightly, Emma extolls the virtues of Mr Weston,

“ … ever since his particular kindness last September twelve month in writing that note, at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlet fever at Cobham, I have been convinced that there could not be a more feeling heart nor a better man in existence.-“

Cobham is located not far from Leatherhead and Box Hill. I have walked around it often and the little bits of information about Highbury and Hartfield that Austen puts into the novel fit Cobham just as well as Leatherhead or a number of other towns and villages in Surrey. I think Highbury and Hartfield therefore is a sort of generic Surrey county town. It is after all the relationships between the characters that matter in the novel.

Jane Austen gives details describing the miles from Highbury and Hartfield to various places. It is 16 miles from London, 9 miles from Richmond and 7 miles from Box Hill. How more detailed could you be? These coordinates actually give you a spot on the Leatherhead to Kingston Road at a crossroads called, Malden Rushett. There are a couple of Victorian cottages there and nowadays a garden centre. It is mostly still surrounded by fields as it would have been in the early 19th century. The road comes from Dorking just south of Box Hill and passes through Leatherhead on its way to Kingston. It would, without doubt, have been the road that Mr Knightley and Mr Martin travelled along to get to the markets in Kingston. Also Frank Churchill / Weston, would have travelled this way to go to Richmond, which is further north of Kingston on the banks of the River Thames.

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One can see the relation between Kingston Upon Thames and Richmond in this Google map image

Perhaps the mileage Austen gives us for the location of Highbury and Hartbury is all part of her play on words and riddles that permeate Emma. The mileage gives us the impression that this must be a real place that actually exists, although it doesn’t actually exist. Her choice of names real and fictional play games with us too. However, we can start to interpret the words and names she uses. For instance the derivation of, bury, used as a suffix to the name of a town comes from Old English. It means ,burh, or fortified place. A fortified place can be interpreted as defensive and insular. Then we have a “High,” protected place and,” Hart,” which could refer to the,” heart,” but also a hart is a sort of deer. Is Jane referring to the heart of Englishness, the heart of what it means to be a community? Although Emma might be seen as an insular novel, just centered on the people of a generic Surrey town, it also refers to all towns and all communities. We can think about our own social groups and work colleagues and neighbours. I would not be surprised if our immediate associations number a similar number as the community described within the scope of Emma. Jane Austen not only plays with the names of places but also her characters. George Knightly, for instance, might refer to George IV the monarch and the name Knightly to a chivalrous connection. King, country and nobility of the true Englishman was an important concept, especially at the time Jane was writing Emma. It was published in the year that Waterloo was fought and won. It is also interesting to note Franck Churchill asking how much it would take for him to become a “citizen,” of Highbury and Hartfield. This is an oblique reference to France and the enemy the French. He is subtly made into the enemy. There are enough real places referred to in the novel for any visitor to Surrey today to explore and walk the streets and fields Jane Austen herself walked. We know that in 1814, Jane Austen visited her relatives, the Cookes, at Great Bookham and probably visited Box Hill with them. Maybe she decided to place one her major scenes on the hill at that time.

Richmond (above) in the 18th and 19th century was a place for the well off and the aristocracy as it was in previous centuries and still is today. Nearby was located Kew Palace, where “mad” King George III lived with his family, and set amongst beautiful grounds planted with trees and shrubs brought from various corners of the British Empire. Richmond Green in the centre of Richmond is to this day surrounded by grand houses and a beautiful theatre that originates from Georgian times. Along the Thames near Richmond the river is lined by grand houses and the estates of the aristocracy going back to Stuart times. Frank Churchill and his adopted family are wealthy and this is the place for them.

When Frank Churchill at last arrives in Highbury he meets Emma for the first time.

“Their subjects in general were such as belong to an opening acquaintance. On his side were the enquiries, – “Was she a horse woman? -Pleasant rides? -Pleasant walks? -Had they a large neighbourhood? – Highbury perhaps afforded society enough?-There were several pretty houses in and about it-Balls-had they balls?-Was it a musical society?”

A person who knows Richmond well is aware of the almost cynical comparisons Frank Churchill is making. He appears to be polite but every reader would know then that Highbury could not compare with Richmond.

Kingston upon Thames (above) , further down river from Richmond and about two miles closer to the fictional Highbury than Richmond, was a very different sort of place. It had three markets, a large important cattle market, a central general market selling vegetables, meat, fish and selling general merchandise. There was also a small apple market. Kingston was important as a coaching inn stop. The Castle Inn was the largest and most prestigious inn overlooking the main market area. The inn itself no longer exists but the building occupying its site contains the original Castle Inn staircase constructed in 1537.

Kingston Market17th century staircase Jane probably walked up

Original Castle Inn staircase. Image @Tony Grant

It is a massive carved dark oak construction. Jane probably walked up its creaky steps and in her imagination, Mr Knightley and Mr Martin too. Kingston was the sort of place that Mr Martin and indeed Mr Knightly would visit regularly. The main central market still exists and there are buildings around it which originate from Georgian and much earlier times. The Druids Head pub is the only original 18th century coaching inn still in the market place. The shape and layout of the central market today would be recognized by both Jane Austen, who stopped in Kingston on her way to London often, and also her characters, Mr Martin and Mr Knightley. Austen writes an amusing scene in Emma, when Jane Fairfax is given the opportunity to play the pianoforte that was just delivered and Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, and Emma were crammed into Miss Bates’s living room. This crammed indecorous scene creates a comical picture, when Mr Knightley rides past and Miss Bates rushes outside to also invite him in too. He is about to comply with the request, but when he learns about all the others already inside he says in a loud voice, so that everybody can hear

“…….No, not now, I thank you. I could not stay two minutes. I must get on to Kingston as fast as I can.”

It might be the thought of adding to the already crowded interior that put him off, or it might have been the desire to avoid certain people at that time.

Kingston was a frequent place Jane Austen travelled through or stopped at on her way to London from Chawton to stay with her brother Henry. She experienced its atmosphere, its sights and its sounds. In a letter to Cassandra from Henrietta Street, dated Wednesday 15-Thursday 16 September 1813, Jane Austen writes.

“ had a very good journey-Weather and roads excellent- the three first stages for 1s-6d and our only misadventure the being delayed about a quarter of an hour at Kingston for Horses, and being obliged to put up with a p belonging to a Hackney Coach and their coachman which left no room on the barouche box for Lizzy who was to have gone her last stage as she did the first:- consequently we were all 4 within, which was a little crowd;- We arrived at quarter past 4-…”

Leatherhead,is supposed, by some people, to be the template for Highbury and Hartbury. It certainly has some of the features mentioned in Emma but I think also other towns and villages in Surrey have similarities with Highbury and Hartbury too. Its proximity to Box Hill and also the Kingston Road from Dorking does lend it some credence. The part of Surrey in Emma is the Vale of Mickleham, the area between Leatherhead and Dorking, including Box Hill.

Jane Austen describes the view:

“The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

It was a sweet view – sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”

I have a theory, though. Cobham is mentioned in Emma in a rather unusual way. It is mentioned by Emma when praising,

“that excellent Mr Weston.”

Mr Weston had shown Emma his, “particular kindness last September twelvemonth in writing that note , at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlett fever at Cobham.”

There are some strange things about this. Why would he write the note so late at night? Was the note sent during the night? Why was it so important for Emma to know?

A few things occur to me. First, Emma is informed by Mr Weston that there is no scarlett fever at Cobham which means it is alright to go there. Is it alright for my flight of fancy to go there too? I am sure scarlet fever was not a good thing to catch in the 18th century. Jane’s first experience of Southampton, for example, when she was eight years of age attending Mrs Cawley’s school with Cassandra and her cousin Jane Cooper. The children caught an illness from troops landing in the town and Southampton had to be quarantined, so it must be a relief to the surrounding communities that Cobham is free of it but there is no other reference to anybody in the novel going to Cobham or wanting to go there. Its only addition to the story is that it shows Mr Martin’s rather obscure way of being marvellous. Why mention Cobham in this random way? Is this an aside, a joke with the reader, suggesting that Jane Austen used Cobham as the real template for Highbury and Hartfield? If you go to Cobham, which, incidentally, is only about two or three miles north west of Leatherhead and so not far from Boxhill, Kingston, and all the other places mentioned, it has many of the features of Highbury and Hatfield, including a grand manor and estate at Painshill, about one mile from the centre. The River Mole also runs nearby. It is a small village and much more compact than Leatherhead and would suit the closer community that Highbury and Hartfield seems to suggest rather than the larger town of Leatherhead. But that is just my surmise. Again, I must mention my previous observation that Highbury and Hartfield are really a sort of generic English town with features that you could find in most towns and villages in the 18th century. Quite often the same features are recognisable in many such places nowadays too.

The river mole at leatherhead

The River Mole at Leatherhead. Image @Tony Grant

Jane Austen’s knowledge and experience of Surrey is extensive. She would have known may places in Surrey well. Jane Austen visited Great Bookham in 1799 and 1814.  Great Bookham is about a mile south west of Leatherhead and not far from Box Hill. She went there to visit her mother’s relatives, the Reverend Samuel Cooke and his family. He was rector of Cotsford  in Oxfordshire and vicar of Great Bookham. He was married to Cassandra Leigh, Mrs George Austen’s cousin. The Reverend Cooke was Jane Austen’s godfather. It has been suggested that while she stayed at Great Bookham she visted Box Hill and thus got the idea for that important location in Emma.

the-town-of-dorking-below

Town of Dorking from Box Hill. Image @Tony Grant

In her letters to Cassandra, Jane relates many trips she takes from Steventon and later Chawton to London to visit Henry. The journeys she makes are invariably along roads and through places in Surrey. Some other places in Surrey that Jane mentions are Painshill, Epsom, Claremont Park, Dorking, Guildford, Farnham, and the Hogs Back Hill. Dorking is very interesting from the point of view of Janes writing. Her unfinished novel, The Watsons, takes place almost entirely in Dorking. As it does not really feature in Emma I will not elaborate on it.

Jane Austen almost creates an intellectual game in Emma. The names of places suggest other meanings. Donwell, for instance. Does it suggest that Mr Knightley, who has a very patriotic name and suggests a chivalrous and ”knightly” character, has “DONE WELL,”? A very corny joke. Even her first readers in the early 19th century would have groaned at that, I am sure. She mixes real and imaginary places in her setting making all places sound convincing. She gives concrete directions to a place that does not exist, namely Highbury and Hartbury. She apparently relates the story of a small close community in a way that seems specific to them but is really universal in its descriptions of types of people and their interactions. Jane Austen sets up all these dichotomies. She really is playing with our minds in many ways and on different levels.

Sources:

 

 

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