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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s image’ Category

Volz BookInquiring readers,

My apologies to author Jessica Volz–who contacted me weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown about her book–for posting my review of her book several months late. She has been so patient that I must thank her for her graciousness. – Vic Sanborn

The highly interesting and informative Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, is no fast walk in the park as far as reading goes, but it is worth the effort since it is filled with new and insightful information. One cannot skip or skim to learn about the way Austen and female writers of her era used visuality in language to communicate hidden meaning. In order to understand how visual language transmitted women’s emotions, issues, and areas of concern in a patriarchal society, I digested Dr. Volz’s words and reflected on how her observations helped me to reassess my understanding of the hidden language these 18th and 19th century authors used.

In her book, Dr. Volz studied the novels of four authors published between 1778 and 1815. Three of those novelists, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, and Burney, enjoyed recognition during Austen’s life, while Austen ultimately found lasting fame as a literary giant. This was a time when women’s views on their rights shifted, greatly helped by the Enlightenment’s campaign for human rights, the influence of the French Revolution in questioning conventional perceptions of women, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary writings. Wollstonecraft wanted male-dominated females to attain power over themselves. While this emancipation would take a longer time than she even envisioned, Wolstonecraft influenced contemporary women authors to employ an approach that “concealed their resistance within an artful narration.” (1. Volz, p. 210.)

Volz’s findings found that in a patriarchal society, when women were expected to behave modestly and correctly and use phrases that were acceptable to their male relatives and husbands, female authors found a linguistic end-around through visual references. They:

…focused on ways their texts reveal the authors’ approaches to issues explored or suggested in the novels, including “women’s difficulties, polite society’s anxieties and the problems inherent in judging by appearances.” – (2. Painting With Words, Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA, 2019.)

Thus, while the novels written by these four authors seemed to outwardly conform to societal standards, their heroines thought for themselves.

While the forms and functions of visuality that women novelists employed to their rhetorical advantage vary, they channeled their thoughts through several distinct visual pathways: visible and ‘invisible’ likenesses, architectural metaphors, the ‘made-up’ social self and communicating countenances.” (Volz, p. 212)

This review discusses some ways in which Dr. Volz examines how Austen employed the forms and functions of visuality. When she sent me her book, she was correct in predicting that I would be the most affected by the chapter that discussed Jane Austen. I’ll start with my first (and still favorite) Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, and heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley, and Mr. Darcy

While Dr. Volz discusses Pemberley well into Chapter 1, I did not begin to truly understand her analysis of Austen’s visuality until I reached this section. I knew Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite fictional heroine from almost the moment I met her at the age of fourteen. Lady Catherine deBourgh expressed the 18th century attitude towards women when she accused Elizabeth of being obstinate and headstrong. In other words, she was not the right sort of lady, especially not for Mr. Darcy.

On that first reading, I instantly understood that Elizabeth’s feelings towards Mr. Darcy were transformed as she walked along the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, viewed the house from afar in its perfect setting, moved throug its exquisite interior, listened to the raptures of his housekeeper as she described her master’s kindnesses, compared a miniature of his youthful self to Mr. Wickham’s (whose actions, as related by the housekeeper, described a cad), and then finally studied a large painted portrait of Mr. Darcy that to Elizabeth seemed true to life and captured her new understanding of his essence.

The architectural metaphors that Volz mentioned explain much in this description of Elizabeth’s leisurely ramble with the Gardiners along Pemberley’s grounds:

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (Pride and Prejudice)

As she views Pemberley’s grounds, Elizabeth can see herself living in this natural setting as its mistress, but she realizes with some sadness that this is no longer possible. To her regret, she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal based on her first impressions. Now that she sees him through a new lens, she recognizes how much their tastes and inclinations have in common. Moreover, she understands that Darcy, like his estate, Pemberley, has no artifice.

The lack of artifice is also how Mr. Darcy views Elizabeth – early in their association, he admires her expressive eyes and the liveliness of her character, which gave her a natural beauty much like the estate grounds he loves.

But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Austen also emphasized Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth’s unorthodox, unladylike walk to Netherfield, which “improved her figure’s picturesque quality and intensified the expressiveness of her eyes.” (Volz, p. 60). His appreciation echoes the ideal of the picturesque in writings by Johann Kaspar Lavater (a Swiss physiognomist, philosopher, and theologian) and William Gilpin in his Observations Relating Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786) which appreciated the irregular features of a person, place, or setting and that “gave them a certain charm and made them desirable subjects for painting.” (Ibid)

JaneAustenSilhouette-Wikimedia

Image, Wikimedia Commons

Volz writes much more about the mastery in which Austen unites Elizabeth and Darcy through visible and invisible likenesses and architectural metaphors. Yet Austen is known for her austere descriptions of person, place or thing. How does this reconcile with visuality? One of the best-known images of Austen is a silhouette used by Jane Austen societies the world over. Early in her book, Volz mentions Austen’s affinity and familiarity with silhouettes. Like her contemporary profilists, “Austen sought to produce verbal ‘shades’ that ‘”convey the most forcible expression of character.”’ (3. Marsh & Hickman, Shades from Jane Austen.)

Austen’s habit of eschewing detail when describing characters’ appearance indicates her preference for using a single telling line that, like the silhouette, supplies ‘infinite expression’ though a profile that is not overshadowed by the particulars within it.” (Volz, p. 36)

For me, this explains Austen’s spare use of details and how this writing style encourage the readers’ imaginations to take hold. As I age, I find new depths in her plots, whose meanings change as my perceptions of the world (and knowledge of her era) change. For example, as a young girl/woman, I couldn’t stand or understand Mrs. Bennet, and found her an irritating though comic character. The more I studied Austen’s era and the circumscribed lives women were forced to live, my sympathy for Mrs. Benne’s poor nerves and her quest to find husbands for her five daughters increased, while my patience with Mr. Bennet (though I never stopped appreciating his wit) waned.

Volz writes that “Austen’s use of an aesthetic vocabulary of character in her fiction directs the reader’s attention to the act of viewing and its ultimate subjectivity in creating couples united in their affections.” So true, but Austen does this so economically and so masterfully, that I am constantly astounded and motivated to reread her novels.

Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele

In Sense and Sensibility, Volz traces the evolution of Elinor’s certainty that Edward Ferrars favors her against her painful, but inexorable understanding that he is engaged to Lucy. The proof is supplied through physiognomic means in the form of a miniature likeness of Edward that he gave to his intended. Does this miniature prove that he loves her? Elinor isn’t sure. While devastated, she is a skillful observer, as painters often are. Why do he and Lucy only see each other twice a year? And why, she wonders, did Lucy never give him her picture?

This plot in Sense and Sensibility reads like a mystery, with Austen using visuality clues to lead Elinor/us to the realization that, by not giving Edward her visual likeness, Lucy’s attachment is tenuous at best. In Lavater’s opinion, a portrait is “more expressive than nature.” One can then deduce that a ring with a lock of Lucy’s hair means little compared to an actual likeness. Elinor can discern no real affection in Lucy’s body language or demeanor towards Edward, but this knowledge gives her no comfort. Only a woman is allowed to end an engagement and Edward is too honorable to go against convention. At the end of the novel, Elinor’s intuition proves to be correct and Edward, unceremoniously dumped by Lucy in favor of his brother, is free to declare himself to the woman he loves.

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith

When it comes to the heroine that no one but Austen will much like, Volz explains that Emma is “as much of a product of Highbury as she is a shaper of it.” (Volz, p. 79). Emma’s status, while high in the ranks of Highbury society, does not detract from the dullness of her daily life as a modest female. In her twenty-one years, she hasn’t visited London, a mere few hours drive away in a carriage, or a seaside resort, or even Box Hill (until the famous scene at the end of the novel). After Miss Taylor became Mrs. Weston, a bored Emma (who took credit for uniting Mr. Weston with her governess) looks for another “project.” When her thoughts turn to Harriet Smith, her imagination and manipulation take over. She will mold Harriet into her vision of a young lady with prospects, even though Harriet is the natural daughter of an unknown somebody.

A famous scene in the novel centers on Emma painting a portrait of Harriet. Volz describes this portrait as an example of the heroine’s self-delusions (the likeness depicts Harriet as Emma would like her to be), and that the friendship among the two women represents something other than themselves. “Emma has redrawn Harriet’s character, which now ‘acts’ as improperly as the eye and hand that have shaped it.” (Volz, p. 80) Needless to say, Emma’s portrayal of Harriet has more to say about the painter than the sitter.

From the start of the alliance, the reader understands that this friendship is woefully out of balance. A weak mouse stands little chance against a powerful cat, and so Emma’s machinations blindly continue, but after Harriet reveals her love for Mr. Knightley, which she (unbelievably) thinks is reciprocated, Emma finally sees ‘the blinders of her own head and heart,’ although Emma feels sorrier for herself in her self-deception than she feels for her deluded friend. “Austen’s visual technique stages for the reader the dramatic shift in the heroine’s vision and perceptions.” (Ibid.) This is true, but Austen’s young heroine still has much to learn before the story ends.

In this section, Volz provides more interesting observations about the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship, which readers will find equally fascinating.

Fanny Price and Mansfield Park

My final thoughts about Volz’s book are about her analysis of Fanny Price. Fanny’s journey as a young girl transported to a strange new house is demonstrated by the rooms she lives in. At first the lonely child cries herself to sleep, but as the novel progresses, the rooms she occupies within the house, first as an outsider and then as an accepted member of the household, correspond with her emotional growth. The more comfortable Fanny feels in her adopted home, the more she blossoms. Fanny’s “acquisition of a new private space within Mansfield serves as a metaphor for her progress towards social acceptance.” (Volz, p. 76)

When Fanny is banished to live with her parents in Portsmouth, she learns how much she has changed and grown. “Aesthetic contrasts teach the heroine and the reader to see that Mansfield’s values are diametrically opposed to those at Portsmouth, with its crowded, agitating interior.” (Ibid.) Mansfield Park has become Fanny’s home, and within it she shines both outwardly and inwardly.

Austen’s evolving views towards ideal landscapes are personified in her descriptions of Pemberley and Mansfield Park:

Whereas Elizabeth’s raptures over Pemberley’s physiognomic display highlight the place’s picturesque irregularity, here [in Mansfield Park], Austen defers to the presentation of organized beauty and agreeable symmetry, implying her own changed view of landscape design.” (Volz, p. 77)

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

Water at Wentworth, Humphry Repton. The second image shows the improvements to the scene

This is not surprising, since one of the premier landscape architects at the time that Austen wrote  Mansfield Park was Humphry Repton, whose work Jane prominently mentions in the novel. Repton’s habit of removing irregularities from a landscape can be viewed in his red books, in which he presented before and after watercolors of his designs to his clients. The “after” watercolors remove any impediments to a perfect view or irregularities (by cutting down trees or adding features, such as a pond or a Palladian bridge).

I should also mention that Volz’s thorough examination of Austen’s visual aesthetic includes the author’s use of free indirect discourse (FID), which characterizes Austen’s writing. Approximately 20-30% of Austen’s narration is FID, in which both the narrator and a character are speaking at once.

Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels relay information about thoughts and speech. […] Austen’s employment of FID was revolutionary, for while earlier authors had used it to some degree, it remained to Austen to take advantage of the wide range of how FID could be deployed to manipulate our ironic understanding of her characters.” (4. Mooneyham White, Discerning Voice Through Austen, JASNA)

In our day and age, many readers no longer recognize the subtleties that 18th/19th century readers understood when reading novels by contemporary female authors. Dr. Volz’s observations help us to analyze their subtext and, in my case, prompted me to rethink my earlier reactions to Austen’s characters.

One can use Dr. Volz’s observations in analyzing other Austen characters on our own – Anne Elliot, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and Henry Tilney, to mention a few. Austen scholars and Austen fans who have delved deeply into her characters’ lives and the history of Regency England will find this book fascinating and a useful reference in their libraries.

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

Image of Dr. Volz from Nineteenth-Century Studies Association

About Dr. Jessica A. Volz:

Dr. Jessica A. Volz of Denver, Colorado is an independent British literature scholar and international communications strategist whose research focuses on the forms and functions of visuality in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women’s novels. Her latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), discusses how visuality — the continuum linking visual and verbal communication — provided women writers with a methodology capable of circumventing the cultural strictures on female expression in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language. The title offers new insights into verbal economy and the gender politics of the era spanning the Anglo-French War and the Battle of Waterloo by reassessing expression and perception from a uniquely telling point of view.

Dr. Volz holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of St. Andrews and a B.A./M.A. in European Cultural Studies and Journalism from Boston University. She was recently named an ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was created to harness the global passion for Jane Austen to fund literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Dr. Volz has also served as the editor of two Colorado legal publications and as a translator for a number of Paris-based companies. In her spare time, she enjoys planning tea parties and plotting novels.

References:

1. Volz, Jessica A. Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney. Anthem Press, Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series, 2020. Print. ISBN:13-978-1-78527-253-0 (pbk).

2. “Painting with Words,” Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney, Jessica A. Volz. Review by Claire Denelle Cowart, JASNA News, 2019. PDF document downloaded May 18, 2020: file:///C:/Users/18046/Downloads/JASNANews_Summer2019_BookReviews.pdf

3. Hickman, Peggy and Marsh, Honoria, Shades from Jane Austen, London: Parry, Jackman 1975, xv-xxii.

4. Mooneyham White, Laura, Discerning Voice through Austen Said: Free Indirect Discourse, Coding, and Interpretive (Un)Certainty, Jane Austen Society of North America, Volu. 37, No1—Winter 2016, Downloaded May 20, 2020: http://jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/vol37no1/white-smith/

Additional:

Coffee, Tea and Visuality: The Art of Attraction in ’‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jessica A.Volz, Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, February 22, 2017, Downloaded May 18, 2020:https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality

Edmundson, Melissa, “A Space for for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park,” Persuasions On=Line, Jane Austen Society of North America, V. 23, No.1 (Winter 2002), Downloaded 5/20/2020: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol23no1/edmundson.html

Lavater, Johann Casper. Essays on Physiognomy: For the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind. Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by or under the inspection of, Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Thomas Holdcroft. 3 vols. 5 bks. London: John Murray 1789-98.

Oesteich, Kate Faber, “Jessica A. Volz – Interview,” Nineteenth-Century Studies Association (NCSA), May 10, 2017. Downloaded May 18, 2020: https://ncsaweb.net/2017/05/10/jessica-a-volz/

Purchase the book:

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Inquiring readers,

Kevin Lindsey, who frequently comments to posts on this blog, forwarded the link to this 5-minute YouTube video. He writes:

As a long time subscriber to your blog, I thought you might be interested in this. It’s from a British group called Crows Eye Production. They create excellent, tasteful, and informative videos on historical clothing. They released this one on Jane & Cassandra Austen today. I thought it really well done, and thought I would share it with you, in case you wanted to pass it along. Below is a link. If you would prefer not to use that just got to YouTube and look up “CrowsEyeProductions”

Enjoy!

More on Regency Fashions: Jane Austen’s World category on fashions

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I’m sure most of Jane Austen’s fans have already heard of a remarkable purchase from eBay – a treasure trove of photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews. The album was assembled by Lord George Augusta Hill who “married two of Austen’s nieces, both daughters of her older brother Edward.” – The Telegraph.

I have previously viewed photographs of Austen’s brothers and her friend, Martha Lloyd in their advanced age and often wondered what Jane Austen truly looked like. She died a decade before the first photograph was ever taken.

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen, National Portrait Gallery

The reason for my curiosity is that only one authenticated watercolor portrait of her (painted from life by her sister Cassandra) exists. There are other portraits purported to be of Jane, but their provenance is not 100% certain. Even Austen’s famous silhouette, used on many websites and in publications, might or might not be of her. The original was tucked in the back of an 1814 edition of Mansfield Park, Volume 2, and inscribed with “L’aimable Jane.”

“As her biographer, R.W. Chapman, said ‘Who would insert, in a copy of Mansfield Park, a portrait of any other Jane than its author?’” – National Portrait Gallery

At best, this statement and the placement of the silhouette is circumstantial proof of the image’s authenticity.

Sadly, modern readers can never view a photographic image of Jane Austen, but we can, due to this photographic find, see one of her favorite niece. Fanny Austen Knight. Fanny was born in 1793, when Jane was 17. Cassandra Austen painted a watercolor of a lovely Fanny when she must have been in her teens.

 

 

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The photo is of a mature Fanny, now Lady Knatchbull, wearing stodgy Victorian garb. Fanny lived a long and privileged life, having married a wealthy baronet. She bore him nine children and lived until the age of 88.

Jane was, by all accounts, a pretty and vivacious girl when she was on the “marriage mart.” We think of her as a country spinster wearing a variety of hand-sewn caps, but her lively intelligence shone through her sparking eyes and bright complexion.

For years I’ve been struck by how closely many people resemble their ancestors, even generations down the line. Anna Chancellor, who played Caroline Bingley in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, is an Austen descendant who can trace her lineage maternally to Edward Austen Knight of Chawton, the very same Edward who offered Chawton Cottage rent free to his mother and two sisters. Jane is Anna’s eight-times great aunt.

Francis "Frank" Austen, brother

Francis Austen,  brother

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen

Anna Chancellor as Caroline Bingley, 1995

Anna Chancellor, descendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These images of Jane, Francis, and Anna show a marked familial similarity in dark, piercing eyes, set of mouth and jaw, and hair color. I often look at Anna’s photos and imagine how Jane would have aged. (Nicely.)

I can’t wait until this album is examined by experts and curated for a future exhibition. Let’s hope this will be sooner rather than later.

Sources:

Lost photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces discovered on eBay reveal how author foretold their lives in plots of her novels, Helena Horton, 11 January 2019 News, The Telegraph. Click on this link.

Possibly Jane Austen, Overview Extended Catalogue Entry, National Portrait Gallery. Click on this link.

In Jane Austen’s Own Words: Advice to Fanny Knight About Love, Jane Austen’s World, March 27, 2009. Click on this link.

Jane Austen: A Family Photo Album, Tony Grant, London Calling. Click on this link to read more about the photographs, view another photo of Fanny Knatchbull and read excerpts from Jane’s letters.

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The REAL Jane Austen_Byrne

Musings from a blogger:

I meant to write a review of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne in February shortly after the book came out, but life intervened – life in the form of visitors, a busy schedule at work and move to new offices, a bum knee that required an operation and recuperation, and the book itself, which – several pages into it – urged me to read it to the last before recommending it (or not) to others. I carried the book every day to work hoping to complete it during lunch, but my best laid plans were inevitably derailed.

In addition to this blog and my interest in Jane Austen and the world she lived in, I have been reading other authors: Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Georgette Heyer, to name a few. David Stockman’s The Great Deformation, a great big bear of a book that holds economic insights that will chill the confidence of avid savers like myself, is my most recent acquisition. And then there’s Netflix. I admit to being a serial viewer of series that I missed seeing: The West Wing, for example, The Walking Dead, and now 30 Rock. Warmer weather now pulls me to spring gardening and walking in the great outdoors.

The real life of Vic Sanborn has been getting in the way of her quest to know more about the real Jane Austen, which is why this blog’s entries have been so spare of late and why I took so long to finish Paula Byrne’s book. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. This image of my copy of The Real Jane Austen will tell you all.

My well thumbed copy of The Real Jane Austen

My well thumbed copy of The Real Jane Austen

One would think that as a devoted Janeite who has read almost all the major biographies and articles about Jane, plus her books and letters and a great number of sequels about her novels and life, that I would have my fill of reading about Miss Austen. But I haven’t.

One acquaintance asked me how I could continue reading books that, on the surface, seemed all so similar. It’s simple, really. I rarely tire of talking about Jane and her works. I love the conversations in our book group. I enjoy attending conferences and meetings about her, listening to Janeite scholars and reading the insights of other bloggers who bring their own unique perspectives to her life and work. No matter how much I learn, I am still eager to know more. Just a slightly different take on her life and novels will provide me with new insights that spur me to uncovering more information. Full-fledged Janeite that I am, I can now publicly confess: I am dotty about Jane Austen and crazy about the Regency era.

My review of The Real Jane Austen

I frankly did not think I would like this book, my preconception coming from the blitz of publicity last year about the lost image of Jane Austen that Paula Byrne discovered. (I much prefer Cassandra’s tiny amateurish watercolour, which I viewed at the National Portrait Gallery.) When I received the book for review, I was mightily sick of the hoopla surrounding the portrait and began reading Dr. Byrne’s biography with some skepticism. Imagine my joy when the book held my interest from the start.

My preferred image of Jane Austen painted by Cassandra Austen. Image @National Portrait Gallery.

My preferred image of Jane Austen painted by Cassandra Austen. Image @National Portrait Gallery.

The Real Jane Austen focuses on specific objects, like the topaz crosses that Jane and her sister Cassandra received from their brother Charles. The conversation segued into a discussion of Charles and Frank Austen’s careers in the Royal Navy, and the lives of sailors in general, including that of William Price in Mansfield Park and those of the sailors in Persuasion. Details of letters and visits home flesh out our knowledge of Jane’s relationship with her brothers, as well as the background for some of the characters in her novels. While life on board ship was harsh, a career in the navy was one way in which the Austen men could seek their fortune through promotions and the spoils of war. At the tender age of eighteen, Frank obtained his lieutenant’s commission.

In some cases, early promotion led to discontent among the crews, particularly when over-enthusiastic young officers meted out punishments to their inferiors. Logbooks taken from Frank’s ships show the severity of the punishments. Forty-nine lashes would be given for theft and a hundred for insolence to a superior officer.”

Janeites who have read Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by John Henry Hubback, Edith C. Hubback, J.H. Hubback would already know many of these sailor details, but they are new for many. Dr. Byrne threads the influences in Jane’s life in such a way that a seasoned Janeite is happily reminded of well-known facts and a new reader is introduced to them in the context of Jane’s life, her letters and novels, and her influences.

Dr. Byrne uses other objects to develop Jane’s biography: a vellum notebook; a card of lace, which led to a discussion of the shoplifting trial of her aunt, Jane Leigh Perrot; the laptop writing box given to her by her father; her royalty check, which confirmed her as a professional writer; and a bathing machine, commonly used by bathers at seaside resorts. While at Lyme, Jane caught a fever and took to bathing to recover, using bathing machines and the services of a dipper named Molly:

Jane Austen enjoyed the experience of being dipped so much that she continued to take advantage: “The Bathing was so delightful this morning and Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired.”

We learn that Jane, while a doting aunt, viewed children much as she did adults – some were simply easier to like than others. Her observation of Anna Lefroy’s girls is not unlike one that I can make of my family members, including myself: “Jemima has a very irritable bad Temper (her Mother says so) – and Julia a very sweet one, always pleased and happy.” Jane fondly thought about her fictional characters and how their lives would unfold, telling her relatives the details of Jane Fairfax’s and Kitty Bennet’s futures, for example – details that we Janeites crave.

There are other pleasant tidbits, of which I shall name a few. They include Tom Fowle’s letter to Cassandra, her fiance who tragically died at sea before he could afford to wed her; Cassandra’s deep romantic nature and her humorous side; the fact that Elizabeth Bridges preferred Cassandra over Jane, whom she did not like; details of Jane’s travels in an age when 90% of the populace sojourned only a few miles from their own community (This proves her to be less provincial than the myth of the isolated, rural spinster); Jane’s knowledge of the larger world, including the Napoleonic wars, slave and opium trades, and life at sea; that serious Frank Austen lacked a sense of humor but that he was quite generous towards the Austen women after Rev. George Austen’s death; and that Henry, Jane’s favorite brother called his sisters and mother “The Dear Trio”.

Frank Austen

Frank Austen

Many of these details are well-known to those of us who have researched Jane’s life for a number of years, but their presentation is delivered in a unique package that ties biographical influences to key moments and objects, and that weaves a view of Jane Austen which is both personal and well-researched. Unlike dry scholarly endeavors, filled with footnotes and references and a dense academic tone, Byrne keeps her wide readership in mind with a writing style that is relaxed and quite readable. There are just enough images to add another layer of depth to our reading experience.

Five out of five regency teacups

Five out of five regency teacups

I recommend The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things highly to readers who are new to Jane Austen’s life and times, as well as to committed Janeites who simply cannot read enough about their favorite author. I imagine there will be some Janeites who will find this biography somewhat repetitive – I am not one of those. My rating is five out of five regency teacups.
Product Details
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (January 29, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061999091
ISBN-13: 978-0061999093

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Gentle readers, this year marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. This blog will feature a variety of posts about the novel and on its author, Jane Austen. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant (London Calling) recently visited the National Portrait Gallery in London and viewed the small watercolour portrait of her painted by Cassandra Austen. In this tribute, Tony demonstrates her star status among other literary superstars.

jane1

Click on this link to see the portrait’s location within the National Portrait Gallery

If you enter the National Portrait Gallery as you walk into the main atrium go up the tall escalator on the left and you come to a foyer area at the top off which there are entrances into two main galleries. On the right is the wonderful gallery displaying the powerfully evocative Tudor monarchs and their statesmen.

On the left are the 18th and 19th century galleries portraying the politicians, monarchs, reformers and writers of that period. It is here , many of you will know, is the tiny portrait of Jane Austen attributed to her sister Cassandra and drawn in 1810 using pencil and watercolours. It is an unprepossessing little picture. It’s great worth is in who it is. But, if you stand back from the plinth with the perspex box on its summit containing Jane and view the whole vista you will notice that Jane is surrounded by a halo of super star writers. She is the centre of the group.

Bottom left is Sir Walter Scott. Moving clockwise next comes Samuel Taylor Coleridge, at the top is John Keats and then as you move down right of Jane, Robert Southey follows and last, bottom right, is Robert Burns. Quite a group, and there she is in the middle, our Jane. If you think I am imagining the halo metaphor, walk behind the plinth with Jane displayed and you will notice that there is nothing on the wall, there is a space. The halo metaphor works. The only thing behind Jane is a handwritten catalogue number on the back of the portrait itself. It reads; “NPG 360, Jane Austen.” It’s written in pencil in a reasonably legible hand. A scrawled note such as somebody might write as a memo to themselves on a post it and stick on their fridge door.

All of these writers were geniuses and there is Jane right at their centre. The men were all Romantics. Jane perhaps ridiculed some aspects of Romanticism in Northanger Abbey but she wrote about romance and its vicissitudes. The men wrote about their emotional response to the world. Jane did not portray her own emotions, just the emotions of her characters.

walter scottSir Walter Scott (1771-1832) painted by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Chivalry!—why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection—the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant —Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.” Ivanhoe

Many of Scott’s novels harked back to a supposed ideal period , the Middle Ages, when chivalry was the moral high ground for men and women fitted into the system as perfect idols worshipped by men. However this was for the aristocracy. Serfdom was really slavery. Serfs were possessions. Scott wrote in Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward and novels such as those about this ideal dreamlike world. It was the ultimate escapism.
coleridgeSamuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) painted by Peter Van Dyke.

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done !
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.
It seemeth him but the skeleton of a ship.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a friend of William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. They promoted Romanticism together which added a more emotional and personal response to the world in addition to the ways of thinking the Age of Enlightenment promoted.

NPG 194; John Keats by William Hilton, after  Joseph SevernJohn Keats (1795 – 1821) painted by Joseph Severn

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

John Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome in February 1821. Joseph Severn, the portrait artist was his best friend and was with him in Rome when he died. Keats was another Romantic poet. When he first started publishing his poetry he was heavily criticised in Blackwood’s Magazine. Those with invested interests in the status quo and couldn’t think imaginatively beyond what they knew, seemed hell-bent on preventing the human race from progressing. It was ever thus.

robert southeyRobert Southey(1774 -1843) painted by Peter Van Dyke.

We pursued our way
To the house of mirth, and with that idle talk
That passes o’er the mind and is forgot,
We wore away the time. But it was eve
When homewardly I went, and in the air
Was that cool freshness, that discolouring shade
That makes the eye turn inward.”

Robert Southey was another of the Romantic poets. He lived in the lakes with Wordsworth and Coleridge and is generally known as one of the Lakeland poets. He is now considered a lesser poet than either Wordsworth or Coleridge. In 1813 he became the poet laureate and Byron lambasted him for this.

NPG 46; Robert Burns by Alexander NasmythRobert Burns (1759 – 1796) painted by Alexander Nasmyth

We’ll gae down by Cluden side,
Thro’ the hazels spreading wide,
O’er the waves that sweetly glide
To the moon sae clearly.
Yonder Cluden’s silent towers,
Where at moonshine midnight hours,
O’er the dewy-bending flowers,
Fairies dance sae cheery.”

Robert Burns is a Scottish national hero. Websites dedicated to him use his name, his picture and his poems in an unashamedly mercenary way. He is probably the most marketed writer in this group and a real money spinner for the Scottish economy. He was actually a great poet it is sometimes worth stopping and remembering. What can be difficult for many readers is the Scottish dialect and use of colloquial phrases in his poems. His poetry is worth spending time with. They require deep emotional investment. They are rich with feelings and emotions. He was a romantic poet more by inclination than belief. It was just him, the way he was.

jane austenJane Austen (1775 – 1817) painted by Cassandra Austen

The first line of Pride and Prejudice goes such:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune , must be in want of a wife.”

However, the last lines of the penultimate chapter of Pride and Prejudice are also worth considering and shed light on Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy in particular.

…….she looked forward with delight to the time they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.”

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Let’s face it. Cassandra Austen’s tiny watercolour of her famous sister simply does not satisfy viewers. Jane Austen’s fans have been dying to find another authentic portrait of their favorite author. Has Dr. Paula Byrne accomplished this task? The Guardian.UK features an article with an imaginary portrait that Dr. Byrne believes was drawn from life.

Jane Austen portrait drawing, in graphite on vellum

The portrait drawing, in graphite on vellum, had been in a private collection for years, and was being auctioned as an “imaginary portrait” of Austen, with “Miss Jane Austin” written on the back. “When my husband bought it he thought it was a reasonable portrait of a nice lady writer, but I instantly had a visceral reaction to it. I thought it looks like her family. I recognised the Austen nose, to be honest, I thought it was so striking, so familiar,” Byrne told the Guardian.

Compare this portrait with images of Jane’s family and of Jane herself.

Cassandra's watercolour of Jane

Captain Charles Austen, Jane's brother

Francis Austen, Jane's brother

George Austen, Jane's father

James Austen, Jane's eldest brother

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18th Century toddler

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

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

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

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

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

Hogarth’s image of a pregnant woman

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

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

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

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

19th century birth, with husband and attendants

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

18th century infant shirt and bonnets, Christie’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holly point lace caps for infants

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

18th c. baby dresses, Sturbridge

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

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

Short gown maternity garment. Image @Fashions of Motherhood

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

Infant gown with removable sleeves, emuseum collection, Colonial Williamsburg

Infant’s gown with removable sleeves

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

Frost on trees in Hampshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking a toddler on leading strings. Image @Williamsburgrose

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

A very fine pudding cap. Image @Metropolitan Museum

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

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

18th Century Doll

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

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

These two tiny 18th century girls are wearing corsets

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

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

 

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