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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Novels’ Category

Inquiring readers,

Today is Valentine’s day, a perfect time to revisit some of Jane Austen’s most romantic and memorable quotes.

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own…I have loved none but you.” – Captain Wentworth, Persuasion

The driving force behind this quote was a talented and witty, yet ordinary-looking spinster. The sentiments expressed in her novels were remarkable given that Austen lived in an era when money and status were considered primary reasons for courtship and marriage.

This caricature, created in 1805, poked fun at the era’s courtship conventions, much like Jane Austen did through characters like Mr. Elliot, Mr. Collins, and Henry Crawford, all of whom followed current courtship conventions but misread their heroines exceedingly.

receipt image

Image in the public domain, U.S. Library of Congress

Receipt for Courtship – Text

Two or three dears, and two or three sweets;
Two or three balls, and two or three treats;
Two or three serenades, given as a lure;
Two or three oaths how much they endure;
Two or three messages sent in a day;
Two or three times led out from the play;
Two or three soft speeches made by the way;
Two or three tickets for two or three times;
Two or three love letters writ all in rhymes;
Two or three months keeping strict to those rules,
Can never fail making a couple of fools.

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” – Mr. Darcy’s sarcastic comment to Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

1024px-1805-Gillray-Harmony-before-Matrimony

Image in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons

This 1805 caricature entitled “Harmony before Matrimony” of a courting couple would have the young lady assume that a proposal would soon be in the offing. The artist made sure that the viewer understood this through iconography: the cupid in the oval painting, which also shows two courting doves, the two roses in a vase featuring a Chinese couple, the two fish, the two playful cats, a wall sconce made of cupid’s arrows, the two flaming torches, and the butterfly reflected in the mirror making two. The couple sit on a carpet of roses, the music book, “Duets de L’Amour,” is held by the courting swain, while on the table lies an open copy of Ovid’s “Art of Love.” In this scene, all is harmonious, all is good, but those familiar with the caricatures of the engraver James Gillray know that not “all” is what it seems.
The second companion cartoon “Matrimonial Harmonics” depicts life after marriage: Cupid is dead in the funereal image, two parrots sit in their cage with their backs to each other, a dog barks at a hissing cat, the husband covers his ear as his baby screeches in the maid’s arms, and his wife sings alone at the piano forte. It is a scene of inharmonious conflict, one often described by Jane Austen (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, John and Frances Dashwood, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and wife Lydia).

If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” ― George Knightley, Emma

Jane’s Heroes were men of few words as this quote by Mr. Knightley attests. A number of Jane Austen’s heroes were men of few words, but Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Pricem two long-suffering heroines, also had difficulty expressing their emotions.

Thomas_Gisborne_Joseph_Wright_Derby

Image in the public domain, wikimedia commons.

This 1786 painting of The Rev. and Mrs. Thomas Gisborne, of Yoxhall Lodge, Leicestershire by Joseph Wright of Derby depicts a sober couple much in the vein of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars or Fanny Price and Edmund Bertrum. The year the portait was painted precedes Jane’s era, but the calmness of the scene and the sober mien of a couple who clearly come from the gentry class remind me very much of how I envisioned both couples. Neither seem to be the type to behave in in unseemly manner at an assembly ball.

In Jane’s novels, lovers who behaved badly often expressed good insights tinged with regret.

“Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of any body else. — Isabella, Northanger Abbey

and

Yes, I found myself, by insensible degrees, sincerely fond of her; and the happiest hours of my life were what I spent with her.— Mr. Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility

Johan Christian and his wife-Engelke Jens Juel 1797 Statens Museum for Kunst

Thumbnail of Johan and Engelke Christian, 1797, by Jens Juel



Older sensible couples who weathered married life and its vicissitudes and remained happy together play prominent roles in Austen’s plots. One senses that Admiral and Mrs Croft who befriend Anne Ellito in Persuasion must have observed the kind attention that Caption Wentworth paid her when he thought no one was looking.

The sensible older couple in Pride and Prejudice are Mr & Mrs Gardiner. He is silly Mrs. Bennet’s brother and a relation over whom Elizabeth did not need to blush. Their calmness and common sense helped to unite Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth after many missed opportunities.

An_old,_rich_couple_enjoy_the_latest_fad_in_baton-powered_en_Wellcome_V0011705

Wellcome Collection image in the public domain by G. di Cari?

Romantic gestures change for many older couples. Over the years they are comfortable with each other. With age, often physical comfort and health have priority over more youthful pursuits. In her novels Jane Austen ignored the prurient, yet she lived in the Georgian age where social and political cartoons or satire were often graphic. Families took care of each other in sickness and health. They bathed their sick and tended to their every need. One wonders what was in Jane’s private letters to Cassandra regarding the more ordinary tasks of life.

The above image shows the sweetness of an older couple enjoying in tandem the latest fad in Baton-powered enemas. They seem happy and content and at ease with each other!

Jane, however, never found such a mate for life.

To you I shall say, as I have often said before, Do not be in a hurry, the right man will come at last.” – Jane Austen’s Letter to Fanny Knight

Following Jane’s advice, Fanny married for keeps. She bore 9 children to Sire Edward Knatchbull a baronet, to whom she was married for 26 years until his death.

Jane’s heroines were astute about pledging their love. Elizabeth Bennet failed to see through Wickham’s falsehoods at first, but common sense prevailed. Anne Elliot was never quite enamored of slimy William Elliot, for her heart belonged to the infinitely superior Caption Wentworth. One of Anne’s more memorable quotes is:

“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.” – Persuasion

One can only surmise that rather than settle for marriage to just any man, Jane Austen chose good company over a less than perfect union.

Jane’s heroes were equally steadfast and saw through foibles, insecurities, and prejudices of the women they loved, especially when their first impression was. They, like Mr. Darcy, waited patiently for the right moment to reveal their true feelings:

“My real purpose was to see you, and to judge, if I could, whether I might ever hope to make you love me.”— Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

In my opinion, none of Jane’s true heroes and heroines were ridiculous or maudlin. They chose well and understood the meaning of true love.

More on the topic: 

 

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Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the topic:

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

 

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Inquiring readers, Rachel Dodge has once again submitted a superb article. This time she describes the fathers in Jane Austen’s novels. This Sunday marks Father’s Day in the U.S. I lost my own father four years ago. This article once again proves that my father, in every way, was superior to those described by Jane, making me realize how lucky I am and how smart my mother was to choose him.

 

In life, Jane Austen enjoyed a close relationship with her father. After his death, Austen wrote these words to her brother Francis: “His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” (Austen-Leigh 18). In the same letter, she refers to him as “an excellent Father” and writes of “the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him” (144).

But what of the fathers in Austen’s novels? While some of them show exemplary characteristics, others leave much to be desired.

In Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot is described as “a conceited, silly father” (5) and a “foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him” (248). He is more interested in his reflection in the mirror than in fathering his three daughters.

In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney runs a tight ship and dislikes delays. Walks cannot be put off, because he is “hurried for time” and mealtimes must be punctual: In one scene, he is “impatient when his eldest son is late” and expresses “displeasure . . . at his laziness” when he finally comes down to breakfast (154). In another scene, General Tilney is described as “pacing the drawing-room, his watch in his hand, and having, on the very instant of their entering, pulled the bell with violence, ordered ‘Dinner to be on table directly!’” (165).

Royalty free image of Mr. Bennet by illustrator Hugh Thomson

1985 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co.

In the Bennet household, Mr. Bennet prefers the quiet of his library to the daily activities of family life: “In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there” (71).

In Emma, though Mr. Woodhouse is good-natured and “everywhere beloved” (7), he is most comfortable at home. He’s described on one hand “as a most affectionate, indulgent father” (5), but we also learn that while Emma “dearly loved her father . . . he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful” (7). Austen further explains the intricacies of Mr. Woodhouse here: “He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms” (20).

In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram is a “truly anxious father,” but he is not “outwardly affectionate” to his children (19). Austen tells us that the “reserve of his manner represse[s] all the flow of [his children’s] spirits before him” (19). Later in the novel, Sir Thomas sees “how ill he had judged” in raising his daughters and that he had “increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence” (463). He feels his “grievous mismanagement” and realizes that his daughters “had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice” (463). In his case, Sir Thomas reflects upon, softens, and corrects his own manner.

QUIZ: Which Father is Which?

Finally, the fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels have plenty of interesting advice for their children and fascinating perspectives on the world around them. Test yourself to see if you can guess which father is represented in the following quotes (answer key below):

  1. On One’s Complexion: “I should recommend Gowland, the constant use of Gowland, during the spring months. [She] has been using it at my recommendation, and you see what it has done for her. You see how it has carried away her freckles.”
  2. On Matters of Love: “Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.”
  3. On Being Out of Doors: “It is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”
  4. On Early Marriages: “I am an advocate for early marriages, where there are means in proportion, and would have every young man, with a sufficient income, settle as soon after four-and-twenty as he can.”
  5. On the Dangers of Reading: As he had been “found on the occasion . . . with some large books before him, [they] were sure all could not be right, and talked, with grave faces, of his studying himself to death.”
  6. On the Subject of Daughters: “They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but [she] has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
  7. On a Father’s Role in Parenting: “[He] was a sportsman, [she] a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. [She] had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while [his] independent employments were in existence only half the time.”
  8. On the Care of Ladies in Crowds and Street Crossings: “Come, girls; come . . . come . . . take care of yourselves; keep a sharp lookout!”
  9. On Being Agreeable: “[He], though so charming a man, seemed always a check upon his children’s spirits, and scarcely anything was said but by himself; the observation of which, with his discontent at whatever the inn afforded, and his angry impatience at the waiters, made [her] grow every moment more in awe of him, and appeared to lengthen the two hours into four.”
  10. On Girls Receiving Letters from Lovers: “Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire. [Her parents] never did—they had been too kind to exact any promise; and whenever [their daughter] received a letter, as, at that time, happened pretty often, they always looked another way.”

As you reflect on Austen’s literary fathers, may these examples increase your appreciation of the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and mentors for whom you are most thankful today.

Answer Key: 1) Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion, 146. 2) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 137-8. 3) Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, 48. 4) Sir Thomas Bertram, Mansfield Park, 317. 5) Mr. Musgrove, Persuasion, 82. 6) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 5. 7) Sir John Middleton, Sense and Sensibility, 32. 8) Mr. Price, Mansfield Park, 403. 9) General Tilney, Northanger Abbey, 156. 10) Mr. and Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey, 250.

About the Author

Rachel Dodge is a Christian author, college English instructor, and Jane Austen speaker. A true Janeite at heart, she loves books, bonnets, and ball gowns. For more of Rachel’s literary ramblings, you can follow her at http://www.racheldodge.com or on Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/).

Works Cited:

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

Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh. Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.

 

 

 

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Inquiring readers, Rachel Dodge and frequent contributor to this blog has written a wonderful post for you this Mother’s Day. Enjoy!

 

The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.” –Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen never had children of her own, and she never wrote a conduct manual for mothers, but her novels certainly speak volumes about her opinion on the state of motherhood in 18th-century England—and specifically that of the landed gentry.

In her novels, the majority of Austen’s mothers can be broken down into three general categories: The Spectator, the Matchmaker, and the Manager.

 

The Indulgent Spectator

[She] never thought of being useful to anybody.” –Mansfield Park

In this category, Austen presents us with lenient and uninvolved mothers like Lady Middleton, Lady Bertram, and Mrs. Price.

In Sense and Sensiblity, Lady Middleton is a mother described as having the “advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round” (32). She insists on bringing her “troublesome boys” (55) with her to most of her social engagements, and their actions speak volumes: “Lady Middleton seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves” (34).

In Mansfield Park, Austen says Lady Bertram is a mother who “might always be considered as only half-awake” (343). She is most often described as “indolent” (four times) and most often found sitting on the sofa (eight times). Lady Bertram spends “her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience” (19-20). As to the “education of her daughters,” she pays “not the smallest attention.” She is of little “service to her girls” in this regard, considering it “unnecessary” because they are “under the care of a governess, with proper masters, and could want nothing more” (20).

1985 edition of Mansfield Park, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co

1985 edition of Mansfield Park, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co

Lady Betram’s sister, Mrs. Price, is described similarly: “Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s” (390). Upon visiting home, Fanny’s “disappointment in her mother was [great]; there she had hoped much, and found almost nothing” (389). In describing her home management, Austen says Mrs. Price’s days are “spent in a kind of slow bustle; all was busy without getting on, always behindhand and lamenting it, without altering her ways; wishing to be an economist, without contrivance or regularity; dissatisfied with her servants, without skill to make them better” (389). Mrs. Price, the mother of nine children, is termed “a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end . . .” (390). With such an aunt and such a mother, it’s a wonder Fanny turns out so well.

 

The Meddling Matchmaker

 the pains which they, their mothers (very clever women), as well as my dear aunt and myself, have taken to reason, coax, or trick [Henry] into marrying, is inconceivable!” –Mansfield Park

In this category, we find mothers like Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings who live to make matches. Both women make the business of matchmaking the main focus of their lives.

Mrs. Bennet, from the 1985 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co

Mrs. Bennet, from the 1985 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co

For Mrs. Bennet, marrying off her daughters is the “business of her life” (5). With five daughters and an entailed estate, Mrs. Bennet is always on the look-out: “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” (3-4). Mrs. Bennet even comes up with elaborate schemes to achieve her goal, such as the day when Jane is invited to Netherfield and Mrs. Bennet sends her off on horseback, in the hopes that it might rain and she might be asked to stay the night. It all goes according to plan: “This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!” (31). Only when Jane and Elizabeth marry well does Mrs. Bennet finally experience the joyful relief of sweet success: “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters” (385).

In Sense and Sensibility, Austen gives us this description of Mrs. Jennings: “She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world” (36). In the role of matchmaking busybody, Mrs. Jennings is “zealously active.” Upon offering to take Elinor and Marianne to London, she says, “I have had such good luck in getting my own children off my hands that [your mother] will think me a very fit person to have the charge of you” (153). She takes her role as surrogate mother seriously while in London: “if I don’t get one of you at least well married before I have done with you, it shall not be my fault. I shall speak a good word for you to all the young men, you may depend upon it” (153-4).

 

The Business Manager

She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother–in–law on the occasion, talking to her so expressively of her brother’s great expectations, of Mrs. Ferrars’s resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in.” –Sense and Sensibility

The mothers in this category, such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Ferrars, possess money and power, and they use both to rule over their offspring. Lacking in motherly affection or compassion, their matchmaking is purely strategic.

Lady Catherine is described as “a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features” (162), the only living parent of Miss de Bourgh, the heir to the de Bourgh estate. As Mr. Darcy’s aunt, and “almost the nearest relation he has in the world,” she believes she is “entitled to know all his dearest concerns” (354). With both Pemberley and Rosings at stake, she takes her role quite seriously. She believes it’s her duty to “unite the two estates” by ensuring the marriage of her daughter to Mr. Darcy (83). For this reason, upon hearing news of Mr. Darcy’s probable engagement to Elizabeth Bennet, Lady Catherine “instantly resolve[s] on setting off” to confront Elizabeth at Longbourn, that she “might make [her] sentiments known” and pressure Elizabeth into giving up Mr. Darcy (353).

Similarly, Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility is a “very headstrong proud woman” (148) who uses money to try to control her sons. In order to pressure Edward to marry well, she “told him she would settle on him the Norfolk estate, which, clear of land-tax, brings in a good thousand a-year; offered even, when matters grew desperate, to make it twelve hundred” (266). When he won’t comply, she threatens his ruin: “his own two thousand pounds she protested should be his all; she would never see him again; and so far would she be from affording him the smallest assistance, that if he were to enter into any profession with a view of better support, she would do all in her power to prevent him advancing in it” (267). When Edward persists in honoring his engagement to Lucy, Edward is “dismissed for ever from his mother’s notice.” Mrs. Ferrars settles the estate “which might have been Edward’s” upon his brother Robert (268).

 

The Fond, Caring Mother

 With only these examples of motherhood, one might think Austen had nothing good to say on the topic of mothers. Thankfully, Austen’s novels do provide us with redemptive motherly moments as well.

In Emma, Austen tells us that Miss Taylor “had fallen little short of a mother in affection” in her care of young Emma (5). In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Dashwood is described as possessing “tender love for all her three children” (6). In Northanger Abbey, when Mrs. Morland worries that Catherine’s low spirits and inactivity stem from Catherine’s worldly experiences, she cautions her on that subject, saying, “there is a time for everything—a time for balls and plays, and a time for work. You have had a long run of amusement, and now you must try to be useful” (240). And Mrs. Gardiner is described in Pride and Prejudice as “an amiable, intelligent, elegant woman, and a great favourite with all her Longbourn nieces” (139). She gives mother-like advice to Elizabeth, “a wonderful instance of advice being given on such a point, without being resented” (145).

In Persuasion, Austen presents a handsome picture of motherhood in Mrs. Musgrove. She loves her own children, worries that her grandchildren are being spoiled, and cares for the Harville children while Mrs. Harville nurses Louisa. At Christmas, the Musgroves bring the Harville children home with them and “receive their happy boys and girls from school” (129). Austen describes Mrs. Musgrove’s home at Christmas as “a fine family-piece.” There, Mrs. Musgrove is surrounded by “the little Harvilles,” a group of “chattering girls” at a table “cutting up silk and gold paper,” and “riotous boys” holding “high revel” near “tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies” (134).

Finally, Austen gives us a glimpse into the future when she describes Jane Bennet’s natural motherly instincts: “The children, two girls of six and eight years old, and two younger boys, were to be left under the particular care of their cousin Jane, who was the general favourite, and whose steady sense and sweetness of temper exactly adapted her for attending to them in every way—teaching them, playing with them, and loving them” (239).

On a day when we celebrate mothers everywhere, let us thank all of the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and mentors who have guided and loved us through the various seasons of our lives. If you’d like to read further about Jane Austen’s own mother, Cassandra Austen, please visit these links: (link to a selection of Vic’s other articles on Cassandra Austen, etc.)

You can follow Rachel and her literary ramblings at www.racheldodge.com or on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/) or Facebook.

Works Cited

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

 

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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.

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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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