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Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

 

Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within woodland near the shore of Southampton Water, not far from The Hamble River and within view of the Isle of Wight.

Google street view entrance Netley

Google street view: Entrance to Netley Castle

I remember my grandmother telling me about a White Lady, who has been seen on occasions wafting through the ruins of Netley. She reputedly had been incarcerated within a bricked up space within the Abbey. Quite a horrific thought. She told me also of the dark presence of a black clad monk that sometimes appeared in the ruined entrances to the cloisters within the Abbey’s precinct.

Abbey Church wall and pillars 1

Netley Abbey’s ruined walls and pillars: Image Tony Grant

Another story tells of a builder at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Abbey’s stones and bricks were being recycled as building material, and how part of the arched window at the western end of the abbey church fell on him, fatally injuring him. Stories like this, imagined and real, were useful in keeping Netley Abbey in a substantial state. These stories became vivid images in the mind of a small boy.

netley3

Netley Abbey arches. Image Tony Grant

My friends and I would walk to Netley or take the green Hants and Dorset bus there. We clambered over the ruins of the Abbey in daylight, imagining what might happen at night, especially in the dim glow of a full moon and with the hooting of owls. Many trees around the Abbey have crows nests high up in their branches and the harsh echo of their shrieking almost always pervades the air around and above the Abbey ruins. I remember our young selves feeling scared and worried but drawn helplessly to this haunted place.

Early History of the Abbey

Netley Abbey is the most complete set of Cistercian monastic ruins in England. Peter de Roches, the Bishop of Winchester founded Netley in 1238. Unfortunately, he died soon after and before building work on the Abbey had begun. However, a group of monks from Beaulieu Abbey in The New Forest arrived in Netley a year later, in 1239, and probably lived in wooden huts while the Abbey was under construction. King Henry III (1216-1272) became the patron of Netley. On one of the remaining stone pillar bases inside the church ruins, a clear inscription shows Henry III’s name.

Plan_of_Netley_Abbey (1)

Map of Netley Abbey ca. 1300 – modern times

The Cistercians were an order founded by Robert Molesme in 1089. He was a Benedictine who felt that the Benedictines had abandoned the life of simplicity the rule of St Benedict stated. He set about rectifying this. The monks set up an Abbey at Citeaux in France that gave them their name, Cistercian. They returned to a life of manual work and prayer and dedicated themselves to the ideal of charity and self-sustenance. This is very much the lifestyle the monks at Netley followed.

Fifteen monks and thirty lay brothers lived at Netley, along with officials and servants. They provided sustenance and shelter to travelers and extensively farmed the land around Netley. Interestingly, only a few miles away St. Mary the Virgin, Hound Parish Church, at nearby Hamble le Rice on the Hamble River, was founded by Benedictines separately from the Cistercians at Netley. Bishop Giffard of Winchester had established a cell of Benedictine monks at Hamble Le Rice by the 12th century. These monks came from the Abbey of Tiron in France. (Images below by Tony Grant.)

In 1536 Henry VIII began the suppression of the monasteries in England. The destruction of the monasteries transformed the power and political structures in England. Henry had cut himself off from Rome and had made himself the head of the church in England. He destroyed the monastery system for the wealth they provided and also to suppress political opposition. The monasteries and the church had been a social and political force that in some ways had been more powerful than the monarchy itself. Church property in England had been home to 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. Henry sold the land to landowners. Some of the buildings became churches of the church of England, such as Durham Cathedral. Many were left to ruin ,such as Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley on the border of England and Wales. The monks who resisted were executed. The majority were pensioned off. Some of the funds Henry gathered were used to set up educational establishments, such as Trinity College Cambridge and Christ Church Oxford. One disastrous result from the dissolution of the monasteries was the destruction of entire monastic libraries, including the loss of many ancient music manuscripts.

The Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries

Netley Abbey however, was not destroyed but given to Sir William Paulet as a reward for his loyal services. He’d held a number of high profile jobs, including the Treasurer to the Royal Household. Sir William turned the Abbey into a private mansion and reused many of the Abbeys existing buildings. The cloisters became a courtyard. He demolished the monk’s refectory and built an elaborate turreted entrance. The mansion remained inhabited until 1704 when the then owner started selling it off for building materials. The Tudor adaptations were mostly removed in the later 19th century, although sections of brickwork can be found within today’s remaining structure.

netleyb

Netley Abbey. Image Tony Grant

The Tudors built with brick and these are the few remaining Tudor parts.

The Abbey’s Role in Gothic Revival Architecture

NPG 6520,Horatio ('Horace') Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford,by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Horatio Walpole

Netley Abbey played an important role in the 18th and 19th century Gothic revival. Horace Walpole, the 4th earl of Orford, visited Netley Abbey on September 18th 1755. His original name was Horatio Walpole, (born Sept. 24, 1717, London—died March 2, 1797). He was the son of England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Horace Walpole was an English writer, connoisseur, and collector who was famous in his day for his medieval horror tale, The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, which initiated the vogue for Gothic romances. He is remembered today as perhaps the most assiduous letter writer in the English language. Walpole wrote to his friend Richard Bentley. He had been staying with his friend, Chute, at The Vyne near Basingstoke. They had departed on a trip to visit Winchester and Southampton. While in Southampton they visited Netley Abbey. Walpole wrote:

“Mr Chute persuaded me to take a jaunt to Winchester and Netley Abbey with the latter of which he is very justly enchanted.”

In his letter, Walpole doesn’t seem to think much about Winchester, “it is a paltry town,” but he enthused about Netley Abbey.

“The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roofs pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy — many trees are sprouted up amongst the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses! A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood: the fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains with two small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill: on each side breaks in the view of the Southampton sea, deep blue, glistering with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calshot castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise.— Oh! the purple abbots, what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, that they seem only to have retired into the world.”

Thomas Gray, English Poet

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771)

Thomas Gray

Horace Walpole goes on to mention that his friend Thomas Gray had visited Netley previously. Gray had written a letter about his visit to Netley to the Rev. N. Nichols:

 “Monday, 19th November 1764.

In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey. There may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees that bend into half a circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man!) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building and have excluded a view too garish and too luxuriant for a holy eye: only, on either hand, they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not, for all the world, pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.”

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is widely known for his, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,”published in 1751.

Gray’s ,”Elegy written in a country churchyard,” was completed in 1750 and first published in 1751.  The poem was completed when Gray was living near St Giles’ parish church at Stoke Poges. It was sent to his friend Horace Walpole, who popularised the poem among London literary circles. Here is an extract that might evoke the atmosphere of Netley.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

John Constable

John Constable, RA (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837)

John Constable

John Constable, 1776 – 1837, is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large exhibition paintings, which were worked up in the studio. His pictures are popular today, but they were not well received in England during his lifetime. His most famous pictures include ,”The Hay Wain,” and a series of paintings, sketches and drawings of Salisbury Cathedral from the water meadows. He painted many pictures in the area of East Bergholt, Suffolk, where he was born and brought up.

Constable and his wife visited Netley Abbey, Hampshire on their honeymoon in 1816. One of the drawings made on that occasion was the basis for this much later watercolour.

Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 by John Constable 1776-1837

Constable Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

It resembles the designs Constable painted in 1833 to illustrate an edition of Gray’s ‘Elegy.’

George Keate

George Keate, another visitor to Netley Abbey, was born on 30 November 1729 at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where his father had property. He was educated by the Rev. Richard Wooddeson of Kingston upon Thames, together with Gilbert Wakefield, William Hayley, Francis Maseres, and others.

On leaving school, Keate was articled as clerk to Robert Palmer, steward to the Duke of Bedford. He entered the Inner Temple in 1751, was called to the bar in 1753, and in 1791 was made bencher of his inn, but never practised the law. In 1850, when his mother died, he inherited his family’s money. For some years he lived abroad, mainly at Geneva, where he knew Voltaire. By 1755 he was in Rome. After settling in England, Keate, began to write. He was in turn poet, naturalist, antiquary, and artist. A founder member of the Society of Artists in 1761, he left it for the Royal Academy in 1768. Keate was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. In 1764 he wrote this poem about Netley Abbey entitled,

The Ruins of Netley Abbey. A Poem.” Here is an extract.

More welcome far the Shades of this wild Wood
Skirting with cheerful Green the seabeat Sands,
Where NETLEY, near the Margin of the Flood
In lone Magnificence a Ruin stands.

How chang’d alas! from that rever’d Abode
Which spread in ancient Days so wide a Fame,
When votive Monks these sacred Pavements trod,
And swell’d each Echo with JEHOVAH’S Name!

Now sunk, deserted, and with Weeds o’ergrown,
Yon aged Walls their better Years bewail;
Low on the Ground their loftiest Spires are thrown,
And ev’ry Stone points out a moral Tale.

Mark how the Ivy with Luxuriance bends
Its winding Foliage through the cloister’d Space,
O’er the green Window’s mould’ring Height ascends,
And seems to clasp it with a fond Embrace.—

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding

In 1826 Copeley Fielding visited Netley Abbey and produced this water colour.

Copeley Fielding Sept 22nd 1826

Copeley Fielding Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (22 November 1787 – 3 March 1855), commonly called Copley Fielding, was an English painter born in Sowerby, near Halifax, and famous for his watercolour landscapes. At an early age Fielding became a pupil of John Varley. In 1810 he became an associate exhibitor in the Old Water-colour Society, in 1813 a full member, and in 1831 President of that body (later known as the Royal Society of Watercolours), until his death.

In 1824, Copley Fielding won a gold medal at the Paris Salon alongside Richard Parkes Bonington and John Constable. He also engaged largely in teaching the art. He later moved to Park Crescent in Worthing and died in the town in March 1855.

Origins of Gothic Novels

1795 Richard Warner wrote a potboiler entitled Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in two volumes, featuring skullduggery at the abbey during the middle ages.

Netley Abbey: A Gothic novel by Richard Warner, 1795

John Mullins, in an article about ,”The Origins of the Gothic,” published in 2014 for the British Library, writes,

“Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the ,”Gothic,”to a novel in the subtitle-“A Gothic Story,” – or, “The Castle of Otranto,” published in 1764. Mullins writes that when Walpole used the word Gothic he meant ,”barbarous,” as well as, “deriving from the middle ages.

150px-Ann_Radcliffe

Anne Radcliffe, Wikipedia Commons

In the 1790s novelists rediscovered what Walpole had imagined. Anne Radcliffe wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) She created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, who threatens the resourceful heroine Emily with an unspeakable fate. Radcliffe’s fiction was the natural target for Jane Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland imposes her ,”Gothic,” thoughts and ideas on the real world of the Tilneys.”

Reading novels and novels of the Gothic genre especially are one of Catherine Morland’s greatest pleasures. When meeting her new friend Isabella Thorpe in the Pump Room, Isabella enquires why Catherine is late.

”But my dearest Catherine what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?”

Catherine had and they began to discuss the plot.

“… and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

These ”same kind” included, Castle of Wolfenbebavch, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine and Horrid Mysteries. Actually the titles alone set a gloomy mysterious dark mood. The enthusiasm of Isabella and Catherine for these novels seem to be echoed by Jane Austen’s tense, breathlessness that emerges from her writing. Is there a tone of cynicism and ridicule too in their listing? Although Austen exaggerates the Gothic genre you can’t help thinking that she must have read all of these novels herself, how else would she know them? Her close mimicking of the genre in Northanger Abbey also points to the realization that she absorbed all the traits of the Gothic genre and was using those effects to her own great delight. I think Jane Austen loved the Gothic genre even as she seems to ridicule it. It was a guilty pleasure to her, perhaps.

Jane Austen – full circle from Netley and Southampton to Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

Jane Austen, watercolour by her sister Cassandra, National Portrait Gallery

In 1806, Jane Austen, her mother Cassandra, her sister Cassandra, her friend Martha Lloyd and her brother, Francis’s new bride, Mary Gibson moved into a house in Castle Square Southampton rented from Lord Landsdown. The previous year, 1805, George Austen her father had died in Bath. Her mother, herself and her sister were in straightened circumstances. They had to rely quite heavily on Jane’s brothers for support. Francis was to be away at sea and his new bride, Mary, was already pregnant. She needed the support of the women in the family. Francis was to sail from Portsmouth but being a naval port it was not entirely suitable for his new wife, and his mother and sisters. Southampton, nineteen miles along the coast, was far more genteel.

The Austens knew Southampton and the surrounding areas well. Jane had visited Southampton on a number of occasions before moving there again in 1806. The family would often take trips into the surrounding areas, going to Beaulieu in the New Forest or take boat trips to the Isle of Wight. They would also go by rowing boat from The Itchen Ferry to Netley. Jane writing to Cassandra from Castle Square on Tuesday 25th October 1808,

“ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I intend to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine but I am afraid there will be rain.”

Edward and George, Jane’s brother Edward’s boys, were staying with Jane at Castle Square. Their mother had died and they were receiving letters from their father about what was to happen. Both boys were naturally upset and Jane took their wellbeing into hand. She appears to have been quite successful keeping the boys occupied with a series of adventures. Netley Abbey must have had an effect on Austen. The Abbey had influenced novelists, poets and artists. Horace Walpole, the originator of the Gothic form, had been impressed by it. We can surmise that her visit to Netley Abbey influenced Jane’s reading of the Gothic novels and so influenced her writing of Northanger Abbey. Or perhaps her fondness for reading Gothic novels influenced her visit to Netley Abbey. It was, after all, a well-known beauty spot.

NorthangerPersuasionTitlePage

Northanger Abbey/Persuasion title page, Wikipedia Commons

Northanger Abbey was ready for publication in 1803 but was not published until December 1817 after Jane’s death in July of that year. From the tone of the letter, we can gather Netley was a well-known place to the Austen family. Prior to 1806, Jane had previously lived or stayed in Southampton: In 1783, when Mrs Crawley moved her school to Southampton from Reading; and also in 1793 at the age of 17 to stay with a cousin, Elizabeth Butler Harris, née Austen. Jane celebrated her 18th birthday at a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street. She may well have been introduced to Netley Abbey on either of those occasions.

Whether Netley Abbey had an influence on Jane’s writing of Northanger Abbey or not, it was a place that had an influence on those connected with the Gothic movement.

Here is a description of Catherine Moorland experiencing Northanger Abbey at night.

“The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of aw; and, when she heard it rage round a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the firs time that she was really in an Abbey.- Yes, these were characteristic sounds;- they brought to her recollection a countless variety of dreadful situations and horrid scenes, which such buildings had witnessed….”

Bibliography:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, first published 1818, (Penguin Classic 2006.)

Jane Austen’s Letters New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition 1995 Oxford University Press.

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding 1787–1855 biography TATE BRITAIN

John Constable 1776–1837 biography TATE BRITAIN

Horace Walpole TO RICHARD BENTLEY, ESQ. Strawberry Hill, September 18, 1755.

George Keate: Wikipaedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Keate

Netley Abbey   English Heritage.

The Origins of the Gothic,” John Mullins published in 2014 for the British Library.

 

 

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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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“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” This line from Mrs. Elton in Emma is quite humorous, but the quote itself holds an eternal truth for most of us. There really is no place like one’s own home.

For Jane Austen, “home” was in Hampshire, a lush, green county in the south of England. She seems to have been happiest there, and it’s no wonder. When I visited there in June, it was as lovely as ever. The narrow country roads wind slowly through gentle hills and are lined with tall trees and thick bushes. Large, green fields stretch out for miles beyond. Here and there, there are houses set far back from the road. The storybook villages that pop up every few miles are complete with thatched roofs, wood and brick buildings, and picket fences around the gardens.

The air is still and quiet there. But for the cars that pass by every so often, it’s like stepping back in time.

STEVENTON

Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life was at the Rectory in Steventon, and it surely brought comfort to her in many ways. She grew up there, was educated there, and spent many happy years with her family there.

Image 1 Rectory Site (1)

Rectory site today. Image Rachel Dodge

The lanes become more and more narrow as you near Steventon. Queen Anne’s Lace grows in profusion and the undergrowth presses close to the road. Trees grow up over the roads to form deep green tunnels of dappled light. Though the Rectory was torn down long ago, one can see the place where it once stood. Today, it is a large green field dotted with white sheep.

Image 2 Steventon Walk to Church

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge.

Driving further up the lane to St. Nicholas Church, where her father Reverend George Austen was the rector, one enters a tunnel of trees that stretches around a bend and out of sight. It’s not hard to imagine Jane and Cassandra walking that beautiful lane on a fair Sunday morning to attend services at the church.

Image 3 Exterior Steventon Church

Exterior of St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Image Rachel Dodge

The church itself is still in use today and looks the same as it would have in Jane’s time, making it quite unique. It is a small, simple church, built around 1200 by the Normans. In the heat of summer, its thick stone walls provide a cool, quiet place to sit and look, ponder, or pray. People from the neighborhood are known to stop by to visit and pray.

Image 4 Interior Steventon Church (1)

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge

Highlight: When we were there, one of the locals showed us how to open the door, which is kept unlocked for any who wish to visit and rest. The church is a place of stillness and beauty with its soft, rose colored-light from the mosaics and stained-glass windows.

Image 5 Wheatsheaf

Wheatsheaf Hotel, Basingstoke. Image Rachel Dodge

Up the road three miles is the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Basingstoke (known as the Wheatsheaf Inn during Austen’s life), where Austen walked to post letters and collect the family mail. Though it has since been expanded and updated, and now houses a lovely hotel and pub, the original building is still visible.

CHAWTON

The Austen family left Hampshire in 1801 when her father retired from his position as rector, and by all accounts, Jane Austen did not find that same home-comfort she had known at Steventon until she came back to Hampshire again years later. In 1809, several years after her father’s death, she moved with her mother and Cassandra into “the cottage” at her brother Edward’s estate in Chawton, Hampshire. Though Austen traveled frequently to visit family and friends during her adult years, Chawton Cottage and its surrounding areas once again became her true home.

Image 6 Jane's House Sign

Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s house sign. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House Museum, or Chawton Cottage, is where Jane lived until she moved to Winchester to seek medical attention toward the end of her life. The lanes, the village, the church, and the areas surrounding Chawton became the happy backdrop for the most prolific period of writing in Austen’s life.

Image 7 Jane's House Front

Front of Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House is open for tours daily and is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens. Baskets of books by Austen sit on benches in the shade for any guest who wants to sit and read. In the kitchen, there is a station set up for making lavender sachets and another where visitors can practice writing with a quill. There are also straw bonnets and dresses for guests to borrow if they wish to enjoy a more authentic experience!

Image 8 Roses Entrance

Entrance to Chawton Cottage with rose bower. Image Rachel Dodge

Inside the home, there are many items that are original heirlooms belonging to the family or are similar to what Jane would have known. I sat and played the piano (left image), which they allow visitors to do if they are pianists. In the dining room, one can see the Knight family’s Wedgwood dinner service, the tea things Jane would have used to make tea, and Jane’s writing desk (right image). Upstairs, guests can view the bedrooms and read more about the history of the family.

Image 9 Piano

Piano, Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 10 desk

Jane Austen’s writing desk. Image Rachel Dodge.

Highlight: At Jane Austen’s House, I met and spoke with a descendant of Austen’s, Jeremy Knight. He grew up at Chawton House (or the “Great House”), as did his daughter Caroline. When I visited, he was standing in the bedroom of Chawton Cottage, where Jane and Cassandra once shared a room, happily sharing Jane Austen’s history with visitors. What a treat! For further information about Chawton Cottage, you can read more here: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/

Image 11 Bed

Bed inside the room that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared. Image Rachel Dodge.

St. Nicholas Church, Chawton is larger and more grand than the church at Steventon. Though it does not look as it did in Austen’s day, one can see the evidence of years of history inside and out. Like the church at Steventon, the church at Chawton is still a working parish church today.

Image 12 Chawton Church Exterior

Exterior, St. Nicholas, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 13 Chawton Church Int

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: If you walk around the back of the church, you can see the graves of Jane Austen’s mother and sister there. (Austen’s grave and memorial are found at Winchester Cathedral in Winchester.) Both women lived long, full lives, unlike our dear Jane.

Image 14 Graves at Chawton

Gravestones of Jane Austen’s mother and sister. Image Rachel Dodge

Chawton House and its gardens are open for public tours today. The Elizabethan era house, originally owned by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, is now a library and study center devoted to women writers. There is also a tea shop inside the house.

Image 15 Chawton Great House Ext

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 16 Chawton House Int

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: Caroline Jane Knight, daughter of Jeremy Knight and 5th great-niece to Jane, released a book in June called Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. It tells her personal story of growing up at Chawton House, the family’s Christmas traditions, baking with her Granny, and helping in the tea room. She is the last Austen descendent to have grown up in the house (before it was sold and later became the Chawton House Library).

Caroline has also formed the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping support literacy in communities in need worldwide. https://janeaustenlf.org/

For more on the history of Chawton House, you can read more here: https://chawtonhouse.org/about-us/our-story/

CELEBRATING 200 YEARS

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death later this month, there are many special events all around Hampshire this summer and throughout the year. The people there are proud of their Austen heritage.

As part of the 200th year celebration, Jane Austen’s House Museum has a special exhibit called “41 Objects.” The number 41 marks the number of years that Jane graced this earth, and the objects can be found in and around the museum. Read here for more: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/41-objects

Image 17 41 Objects Plaque

Chawton Cottage plaque. Image Rachel Dodge

 

Image 18 41 Objects Wedgwood

Wedgwood china, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

One highlight for those visiting Hampshire during the “Jane Austen 200: A Life in Hampshire” celebration is the “Sitting with Jane” park benches. These “Book Benches” are scattered throughout the Hampshire area and are part of a public book trail. Each of the 24 benches focuses on a Jane Austen theme as interpreted by a professional artist. Fans can take photos sitting on the benches and post them to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SittingWithJane. Visit http://www.sittingwithjane.com/ or search @SittingWithJane on Twitter to see the benches or learn more.

 

Image 19 Steventon Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 20 Chawton Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

For a full list of the events and exhibits scheduled for this year, you can read more here: http://janeausten200.co.uk/

If you have the chance to travel to England, visiting Jane’s beautiful Hampshire countryside is a must. Hampshire has all of the charm and beauty of modern British culture alongside a long, rich, and vibrant history of the past.

Other posts about Steventon, Chawton Cottage, and Chawton on this blog – Click here to see posts.

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Last week a colleague at work, who lives in one of the prettier areas of rural Virginia, brought a dozen duck eggs to work. She had purchased them from a local farmer. Several of us pounced on these exotic avian gifts, since most of us obtain eggs from the lowly chicken from local grocers. Curiosity prompted me to compare the duck eggs to the two varieties of chicken eggs in my refrigerator. I only purchase large brown organic, cage-free chicken eggs. In the U.S. egg categories do not necessarily hold true, however. Both the eggs in the center and to the left of center are sold as large eggs. The definition of large seems not to be standard. However, capitalism is alive and well in the Commonwealth.  A dozen eggs on the left sell for $3.99 USD for a dozen, whereas the middle eggs sells for $6.99 USD per carton.
egg sizes

The differences in their sizes are astounding. The duck egg on the right is huge by comparison.

3 eggs

The duck egg made me think of Jane Austen, her mother and her sister. We know that the three women struggled for a number of years after Reverend Austen’s death, moving from house to house, city to city, before settling in Chawton Cottage. As the rector’s wife in Steventon Cottage, during Jane’s childhood, she oversaw a poultry yard with ducks, turkeys, chicken, guinea fowls. The move from city life to Chawton Cottage provided the Austen women with access to a substantial garden once more.

chawton-cottage-garden

Image of the garden at Chawton Cottage by Tony Grant.

 

Studying my duck egg, I wondered how similar it was to the kind Mrs. Austen (or her maid of all work) would have gathered. Apparently, Aylesbury ducks were popular in the UK during the late 18th through 19th centuries. These free ranging ducks ate grubs and any protein of interest, giving their meat and eggs a unique, strong flavor.

_wikimedia

Aylesbury ducks figured prominently in Beatrix Potter drawings. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

My duck egg tasted delicious – not much different from my free-ranging chicken egg, except that one egg took the place of two! I looked at some of my favorite 18th century cookbooks to see how duck eggs were used in recipes. The recipe below is typical of the era, in that few or no measurements were provided. One could assume is that “egg” is the food that the cook happened to have on hand, be it pigeon, quail, grouse, chicken, or duck!! I have one duck egg left and intend to fry it as round as balls!

 

To fry Eggs as round as Balls.

Having a deep frying-pan, and three pints of clarified butter, heat it as hot as for frit­ters, and stir it with a stick, till it runs round like a whirlpool; then break an egg into the middle, and turn it round with your stick, till it be as hard a poached egg; the whirl­ing round of the butter will make it as round as a ball, then take it up with a slice, and put it in a dish before the fire; they will keep hot half an hour, and yet be soft; so you may do as many as you please. You may poach them in boiling water in the same manner.

The Frugal Housewife, Or, Experienced Cook: Wherein the Art of Dressing All Sorts of Viands with Cleanliness, Decency, and Elegance is Explained in Five Hundred Approved Receipts … p. 42, Susannah Carter January 1, 1822, University of Oxford, downloaded at: http://tei.it.ox.ac.uk/tcp/Texts-HTML/free/N09/N09703.html

 

More about ducks:

Ducks a Potted History: https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/ducks-a-potted-history/

Soup Through the Ages: A Culinary History with Period Recipes, Victoria Rumble, foreword by Sandra Oliver, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2009, p. 61, https://goo.gl/QhfJ35

duck eggs from great british chefs

Duck egg recipes from Great British Chefs. Perhaps I should try boiled egg and soldiers!

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Inquiring readers,

In celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma, frequent contributor, Tony Grant, visited Chawton House to view a special exhibit. Read his post about the exhibit on Jane Austen in Vermont in this link. Tony reserved a slew of photos for this blog and added his commentary. I inserted some observations by Constance Hill and Jane’s grand niece to round out this post. Enjoy!

Chawton is a Hampshire village and civil parish. It lies within the area of the South Downs National Park. The 2000 census shows that 380 people live in Chawton.

Google map

Google map of Chawton, and Chawton Cottage and Chawton House in relation to each other.

Chawton village is first mentioned in 1086 in the Domesday Book which was administered from Winchester, the first capital of England, under William the Conqueror,after 1066. The fact that the village lies on a main route from London to Portsmouth by way of Winchester suggests that because of its important position there must have been a Saxon settlement there before 1066 and possibly going back to Iron Age times. The Normans did instigate the creation of new villages such as at West Meon a few miles south of Chawton but most settlements were continued from previous ages. Its location shows it as perhaps a stopping place on a major route but its prime importance would have been farming.

Farming must have been its main importance right up to and after the second world war. Chawton House and its estate has sheep and horses on it to this day. There are still many farms in the area. However the population today is not what it would have been in the past. In previous centuries there would have been representatives of the whole range of the class system.

The Great House

The great house at Chawton owned by the Knight family, image by Tony Grant

The Knight family owned the great house and estate and most famously from the early nineteenth century, Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother. The middle classes would have been represented by Jane Austen and her family and perhaps the local vicar of the parish of St Nicholas and some minor landowners and farmers. Probably the working class and farm labourer class predominated though. There are plenty of small Victorian cottages, Georgian cottages and cottages dating back to the 16th century and before in Chawton and surrounding areas. These would have been accommodation for farm workers. Nowadays though these cottages surrounded by idealistic country gardens, climbing roses and wisteria, looking picture postcard perfect, are owned by wealthy people who work in the City and use them as weekend homes.

There are examples of large Georgian and Victorian mansions in the village. They can only be owned by company directors or wealthy bankers and other people of that ilk. Looking at estate agent web sites for Chawton, a mansion such as the one you can see at the start of the long driveway that leads to Chawton House, is priced at £2,000,000. The small picture postcard cottages start at about £350,000. The prices of the two properties I have quoted are the top and bottom of the range.

The ordinary, everyday worker is excluded. I am sure there are no farm labourers are living in Chawton these days.This is a shame because local customs are lost. The rich diverse local customs formed over time by families living there for their whole lives, generation after generation, is lost and although Chawton looks lovely today it has lost to a certain extent, its heart. It has lost its soul.

car park

Chawton Car Park, Image Google earth

All is not lost. The other day I walked from the car park, opposite Jane Austen’s cottage next to the Greyfriar pub, along the road to Chawton House Library. On my left, through the trees and across the children’s playground a gentleman was sitting astride a motor mower cutting the grass on the village cricket pitch. I could see that the sight screens were in place for a match and the cricket club flag was flying from the club house flagpole.

Sight screen on the cricket pitch

Sight of village cricket pitch. Image by Tony Grant

As I approached the Great House I passed Chawton Village Junior School on my right. Put in mind that this was midweek, a Wednesday, and the time was 12.30. The school was in the middle of its lunch break and a whole mass of children were playing in the playground on climbing frames and ladders. They were yelling and whooping and having the time of their lives. I always feel heart warmed at the sound of children. I have spent my whole working life as a teacher teaching them after all. So really there are three things.

Chawton has a great pub, The Greyfriars, it has a wonderful vibrant school and the village a cricket team. A new heart has been created perhaps? Yes, not all is lost.

junction

Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage is straight ahead. To the right is Cassandra’s Cup, a tea house attached to The Greyfriar pub.

Chawton Cottage, a former steward’s cottage, was previously home to local farmers. Between 1781 and 1787, the house was briefly a public house called The New Inn. This pub was the site of two murders. After the second murder, the house was let by Edward Austen Knight to a Bailiff Bridger Seward. (Wikipedia)

Edward then allowed his mother and sisters to move permanently into the residence. Jane lived there with her mother and sister, Cassandra, and long time family friend Martha Lloyd, from 1809 until May 1817, when she moved to Winchester to be near her physician before her death in June of that year. (Wikipedia

Through the window

View of Jane Austen’s writing desk from the cottage window. Image Tony Grant

Later in the 18th century, Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (who had been adopted by the Knights) succeeded, and in 1809 was able to move his mother and sisters to a cottage in the village. Jane would spend among the most contented, productive years of her life here.

 

trees

A glimpse of the cottage’s garden.

“I remember the garden well,” writes Miss Lefroy [a grand-daughter of the Rev. James Austen]. “A very high thick hedge divided it from the (Winchester) road, and road it was a pleasant shrubbery walk, with a rough bench or two where no doubt Mrs. Austen and Cassandra and Jane spent many a summer afternoon.”

Miss Lefroy recalls her mother’s happy memories with her Aunt Jane, Aunt Cassandra, and grandmother in Chawton.

“As may be supposed a great deal of intercourse was kept up between Steventon and Chawton. Our grandfather was a most attentive son, and one of the pleasures of my mother’s youth was sometimes riding with him to see her grandmother and aunts through the pretty cross roads and rough lanes, inaccessible to wheels, which lay between the two places . . . In her Aunt Jane, who was the object of her most enthusiastic admiration, she found a sympathy and a companionship which was the delight of her girlhood, and of which she always retained the most grateful remembrance . . . But I will copy my mother’s own account.

‘”The two years before my marriage and the three afterwards, during which we lived near Chawton, were the years in which my great intimacy with her was formed; when the original seventeen years between us seemed reduced to seven or none at all. It was my amusement during part of a summer visit to the cottage to procure novels from the circulating library at Alton, and after running them over to narrate and turn into ridicule their stories to Aunt Jane, much to her amusement, as she sat over some needlework which was nearly always for the poor. We both enjoyed the fun, as did Aunt Cassandra in her quiet way though, as one piece of nonsense led to another, she would exclaim at our folly, and beg us not to make her laugh so much.'” – Constance Hill, Jane Austen: her homes & her friends, 1902.

view from chawton cottage

View from Chawton Cottage in the early 19th century painted by Ellen Hill

 

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop fields and its graceful ‘hangers.'”

Chawton Cottage stands at the further end of the village, being the last house on the right-hand side of the way just where the Winchester road branches off from that to Gosport, and where a space of grass and a small pond lie in the fork of those roads.”

 

Chawton has a single church, St Nicholas. A church has stood on the site in Chawton since at least 1270 when it was mentioned in a diocesan document. The church suffered a disastrous fire in 1871 which destroyed all but the chancel. The rebuilt church was designed by Sir Arthuer Blomfield and is now listed Grade 2.” – (Wikipedia)

The two Cassandras

The Knight family is buried in the churchyard. Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried there also.

“The ‘Great House’ and the cottage lie within a few hundred yards of each other, the gates of the park opening upon the Gosport road. The house, a fine old Elizabethan mansion, with its Tudor porch, and its heavy mullioned windows, may be seen by the passer-by, standing on rising ground; while a little below it, in a gentle hollow, lies the old church of Chawton–a small grey stone edifice embowered in trees.”- Constance Hill

chawtoncottage_chawtonhouse

Chawton has only two road exits, one leading to a roundabout connected to the A31 and the A32, and the other to the A339/B3006 Selborne Road.

The village of Chawton lies in a specially beautiful part of Hampshire, about five miles from Gilbert White’s own Selborne, and, like it, famed for its hop field and graceful “hangers”; while within easy reach is the cheerful little town of Alton.” – Hill

 

Selborne Rd

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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.

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