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By Brenda S. Cox

“Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our Lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.” — Jane Austen’s Prayers I

Jane Austen talks a lot about thankfulness. In all three of her prayers, she gives thanks to God and also prays to be made more grateful for all our blessings. In her novels and other writings, she uses some form of the words thanks or gratitude 722 times! That means each novel probably includes at least a hundred references to thankfulness.

Austen uses thanks in many ways. Surprisingly, she often uses gratitude in talking about marriage proposals and the development of love that leads to marriage.

Thanks for Asking!

An offer of marriage was expected to provoke gratitude, whether the woman said yes or no.

When Emma advises Harriet on how to refuse Robert Martin, she says that Harriet will know how to write “such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires.” (Italics are added, throughout these quotes.) Obviously, propriety required that if a man asked a woman to marry him, she should thank him.

Even if the proposal was unwanted, the woman had to say thank you. Elizabeth Bennet tries to avoid Mr. Collins’s proposal, but still, when he asks, she has to say:

Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me.”

When he insists, she says, “I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible.” Even though she doesn’t want his proposal, she is obligated to thank him for it.

Even for a proposal from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennet had to express gratitude.

There is one exception, though, which might have shocked the original readers.

When Darcy proposes the first time, Elizabeth says to him,

“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly.”

Gratitude was an obligation; the woman was obliged to feel grateful that a man liked her enough to ask her to marry him. But she is so angry at his words, and so prejudiced against his character, that she just can’t thank him for his proposal.

Of course, she soon changes her mind. After she reads his letter, we find that,  “his attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect.” What a switch!

Once Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, her attitude changes from ingratitude to gratitude.

And it continues. When at Pemberley, after talking to Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth “thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before.”

First Comes Gratitude, Then Love and Marriage

Elizabeth’s gratitude, of course, led eventually to love.

Charlotte Lucas had told Elizabeth earlier on in Pride and Prejudice, “There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.”

In other words, the boy likes the girl. She starts to like him back, and shows that she prefers him to other boys. He is “grateful” for that, so he likes her even more. Then she likes him more because he shows he likes her. And so on. This, my friends, is Jane Austen’s theory of how love develops. We see it again and again in her novels.

First, think about this question: For which of Jane Austen’s characters was gratitude the beginning of falling in love?

The obvious ones are Elizabeth Bennet and Henry Tilney. We’ll come back to them later.

Fanny Price

But how about Fanny Price?

Early in Mansfield Park, Edmund shows kindness to little Fanny. Then, “her countenance and a few artless words fully conveyed all their gratitude and delight, and her cousin began to find her an interesting object.”

Fanny and Edmund’s relationship starts growing with gratitude—her gratitude to him awakens his interest in her. Further kindnesses lead to more gratitude—Fanny is by nature a very grateful person. Edmund’s love for her, brotherly at first, grows. It takes a long time, but Edmund finally realizes that the perfect woman for him is right in front of him!

Earlier, though, because gratitude leads to love, both Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram were convinced that Fanny would accept Henry Crawford out of gratitude. Mary tells Henry, “The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her . . . ask her to love you, and she will never have the heart to refuse.” Edmund tells Fanny, “I cannot suppose that you have not the wish to love him—the natural wish of gratitude.” However, Fanny’s gratitude toward Edmund is much greater than her gratitude toward Henry, and it is Edmund she loves.

Gratitude is not enough to cause Fanny Price to accept Henry Crawford.

Harriet Smith

In Emma, “Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition.” All Harriet’s loves are all based on gratitude. First, she is grateful to Robert Martin, who got her walnuts and brought in the shepherd’s son to sing for her. Then she is attracted to Mr. Elton, because Emma says he is attracted to her. Her next love is Mr. Knightley, who rescues her at the dance. She thinks of him with “gratitude, wonder, and veneration.” Of course, Emma thinks Harriet has fallen in love with Frank Churchill, out of gratitude to him for rescuing her from the gypsies. Then when Robert Martin proposes again, Harriet is so grateful that she immediately says yes, not waiting for anyone to dissuade her this time!

NOT Captain Benwick, though

In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is surprised that Benwick has fallen in love with Louisa Musgrove. Wentworth says, “Had it been the effect of gratitude, had he learnt to love her, because he believed her to be preferring him, it would have been another thing. But I have no reason to suppose it so. It seems, on the contrary, to have been a perfectly spontaneous, untaught feeling on his side, and this surprises me.” He is assuming that gratitude is the normal, most obvious reason for love. If it’s not there, that is unusual.

Also in Persuasion, William Elliot is excused for marrying a rich woman because she was “excessively in love with him . . . She sought him.” Gratitude was an obvious and acceptable reason for marriage.

Elizabeth and Darcy

For Elizabeth Bennet also, love begins with gratitude.

After she sees Darcy at Lambton, she lies awake trying to figure out how she feels about him: “But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude.–Gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him . . . Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude—for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed . . . She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him. . .”

Austen later explains, “If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty.” But, she says, if it is “unreasonable or unnatural” that love should come from gratitude and respect, rather than coming from simply seeing the other person, then “nothing can be said in her defence,” except that she had tried love at first sight with Wickham, and it had not gone well.

When Darcy proposes the second time (if you can call it a proposal), Elizabeth tells him her feelings are so different that she can “receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.” What a change from the first time!

Henry and Catherine

In Northanger Abbey, we find the same justification for love. When Henry Tilney proposes to Catherine Morland, they both know she already loves him. He is now “sincerely attached to her,” but “his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude.” Knowing that she was partial to him “had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” Austen adds, “It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.”

Henry Tilney’s love for Catherine begins with gratitude, because she thinks highly of him.

Apparently for Jane Austen, gratitude at being loved by someone else was the best first step toward falling in love yourself.

Gratitude to God for the Engagement

Both Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse also express gratitude after they are engaged. But now they are expressing it to God, though we might not recognize what they are doing.

The word serious in Austen’s time often signalled something religious. According to Stuart Tave’s A Few Words of Jane Austen, serious reflection or meditation actually meant prayer.

After Anne Elliot accepts Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion, she needs “An interval of meditation, serious and grateful.” So, “she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.” This serious, grateful meditation means that Anne is thanking God for finally bringing her and Captain Wentworth back together.

Emma Woodhouse gets engaged, but she’s still worried about Harriet. However, once she heard that Harriet was also engaged, “She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational. . . . The joy, the gratitude, the exquisite delight of her sensations may be imagined. . . . Serious she was, very serious in her thankfulness, and in her resolutions; and yet there was no preventing a laugh, sometimes in the very midst of them.” Have you wondered how she could be both serious and laughing? Serious tells us that her focus is on God. She is rejoicing and thanking God for bringing both herself and Harriet together with the men they loved.

So, the next time you receive a marriage proposal, be sure to tell the person “Thank you” before you answer. And if you decide to say “Yes,” you may want to thank God as well!

Thankfulness

If you want to think more about thankfulness, and its place in some of our favorite classics, I recommend both of Rachel Dodge’s lovely devotional books:

Praying With Jane, and

The Anne of Green Gables Devotional, which is brand-new.

Each includes gratitude as well as other valuable themes we can apply to our lives. And both would make great Christmas presents! Rachel Dodge, of course, writes regularly for Jane Austen’s World.

If you want more ideas for Austen-themed Christmas gifts, you might want to check out my post on Jane Austen Christmas Presents.

Austen’s novels are full of examples of gratitude and ingratitude. These were important issues for her. Who do you think gives the best example of gratitude, or ingratitude, in Austen’s novels?

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The JASNA AGM recently closed its workshops to online viewing. It was held virtually in early October. One workshop that resonated with me was Professor Theresa Kenney’s discussion of Reginald De Courcy as the hero in Lady Susan, an epistolary novel written by Jane Austen in 1794-95, when she was 19 to 20 years of age. I had the pleasure of viewing some pages of the manuscript during the exhibit about Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy in 2009 at The Morgan Library in New York. It was the first time that I saw Jane’s handwriting on a page close up and I felt as thrilled as a teenage groupie seeing her heart throb idol in person. As soon as I returned home I read the novel.

Seven years later, two friends and I saw “Love and Friendship,” in which Kate Beckinsale played the conniving Lady Susan Vernon. Needless to say, after viewing Professor Kenney’s AGM presentation, I rewatched the film and was struck by its faithfulness to Austen’s novella. It helped that the script took advantage of entire swaths of Austen’s dialogue in letters written by the main characters.

Introduction:

Professor Kenney in a talk entitled “Abjuring All Future Attachments: Concluding Lady Susan” spoke about the youthful Austen’s experimentation with Reginald as the hero. His status is not at first obvious. We know about him largely through the strong women swirling around his life and who write about him: his sister, Catherine Vernon; his mother, Lady De Courcy; Catherine’s widowed sister-in-law, Lady Susan Vernon; and Lady S’s confidant, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. These main characters reveal much about themselves as they write their true opinions of others behind their backs against the polite, entirely false conversation they engage in when speaking in person.

Deceptions and manipulations abound:

The central character is beautiful, mature Lady Susan, the daughter of a peer, widow of Vernon (no first name), who must find refuge after her dalliance with the very much married Mr. Mainwaring, in whose house she was a guest. And so Lady S appeals to the only available persons left to her, the reluctant Catherine Vernon, whose marriage she attempted to block to her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon. Catherine is no fool and has taken Lady S’s measure:

…if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr. Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend…She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.- Catherine Vernon to Reginald De Courcy. Letter, VI

Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, having heard no good news about the beautiful widow, and influenced by his sister and mother, is disposed to dislike her, that is until he meets her and she wraps him around her little finger.

And so the fun begins, Austen style:

According to Prof. Kenney, Reginald’s character is more akin to Marianne Dashwood, Edmund Bertram, Harriet Smith, and Edward Ferrars, who fall violently in love with the wrong person and then miraculously recover a short time later to find a love worthy of them. Kenney termed this phenomenon “shifting affections.” Young Reginald is easily influenced in falling in love with the wrong person. At twenty-three he is quite young and still malleable, a fact not lost on the opportunistic Lady Susan or on his mother and sister, who are alarmed. Catherine writes to her mother, Lady De Courcy:

My dear Mother,—You must not expect Reginald back again for some time. He desires me to tell you that the present open weather induces him to accept Mr. Vernon’s invitation to prolong his stay in Sussex, that they may have some hunting together. He means to send for his horses immediately, and it is impossible to say when you may see him in Kent. I will not disguise my sentiments on this change from you, my dear mother, though I think you had better not communicate them to my father, whose excessive anxiety about Reginald would subject him to an alarm which might seriously affect his health and spirits. Lady Susan has certainly contrived, in the space of a fortnight, to make my brother like her. … I am, indeed, provoked at the artifice of this unprincipled woman; what stronger proof of her dangerous abilities can be given than this perversion of Reginald’s judgment, which when he entered the house was so decidedly against her! – Letter VIII

In the next letter, we gain a good sense of Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant and partner in the devious plans intended to ensnare her unsuspecting victim.

My dearest Friend,—I congratulate you on Mr. De Courcy’s arrival, and I advise you by all means to marry him; his father’s estate is, we know, considerable, and I believe certainly entailed. Sir Reginald is very infirm, and not likely to stand in your way long. I hear the young man well spoken of; and though no one can really deserve you, my dearest Susan, Mr. De Courcy may be worth having.Mrs. Johnson to Lady S, Letter IX

This novella is filled with strong women. Two who will move heaven and earth to protect brother and son, and two who behave like a pair of rats intent on devouring the last piece of cheese in an alley. Interestingly, we only hear directly from Reginald in three letters. For much of the novel we see him only through the words and opinions of others, but some of those words are revealing. When his father sends him a letter of alarm due to Lady S’s increasing influence over him, Reginald tries to soothe him.

The father emplores him in Letter XII:

I hope, my dear Reginald, that you will be superior to such as allow nothing for a father’s anxiety, and think themselves privileged to refuse him their confidence and slight his advice. You must be sensible that as an only son, and the representative of an ancient family, your conduct in life is most interesting to your connections; and in the very important concern of marriage especially, there is everything at stake—your own happiness, that of your parents, and the credit of your name.”

To which Reginald answers:

My dear Sir,—I have this moment received your letter, which has given me more astonishment than I ever felt before. I am to thank my sister, I suppose, for having represented me in such a light as to injure me in your opinion, and give you all this alarm…I entreat you, my dear father, to quiet your mind, and no longer harbour a suspicion which cannot be more injurious to your own peace than to our understandings. I can have no other view in remaining with Lady Susan, than to enjoy for a short time (as you have yourself expressed it) the conversation of a woman of high intellectual powers.”

He goes on in a quite lengthy letter to blame his sister’s prejudice for not forgiving Lady S in opposing her marriage to Charles, and is convinced that the world has injured the Lady by questioning her motives, etc. etc. Yet Austen gives this hero short shrift in the narrative. We know very little about his thoughts and reasons for his actions, including being manipulated by Lady S. into feeling bitter towards Frederica, her young daughter, and thinking the girl worthless, even when it becomes clear that she “brightens” in Reginald’s presence.

In other words, Lady S has completely ensnared her sincere young man. He is as gullible with Lady S as Harriet Smith is with Emma, and just as changeable. This shifting of affection and lack of self-knowledge, as Prof. Kenney terms it, defines these characters, who are vastly different from Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy or Anne Elliot and her Captain Wentworth.

To be fair, Lady S does see some of Reginald’s good qualities (besides his inheritance). She writes to Alicia Johnson:

Reginald is never easy unless we are by ourselves, and when the weather is tolerable, we pace the shrubbery for hours together. I like him on the whole very well; he is clever and has a good deal to say, but he is sometimes impertinent and troublesome.”

She also understands her sister-in-law, Catherine, very well: “[Frederica] is in high favour with her aunt altogether, because she is so little like myself, of course.”

The Spell:

The letters ping pong back and forth, with Lady S only baring her true motives to her like-minded friend, Alicia. Mrs. Johnson’s husband, Mr. Johnson, has forbidden her to consort with Lady S, whom he has banned from his house, but Lady S still has Reginald, who is now set on marrying her.

Interestingly, Reginald is the hero in this tale, a weak one to be sure. His main redeeming quality is that when he learns of Lady S’s dalliance with Mr. Mainwaring his blinders fall off. We hear from him twice more and can feel his wrath in two scathing, but youthfully passionate letters:

…I write only to bid you farewell, the spell is removed; I see you as you are. Since we parted yesterday, I have received from indisputable authority such a history of you as must bring the most mortifying conviction of the imposition I have been under, and the absolute necessity of an immediate and eternal separation from you…”

and later:

Why would you write to me? Why do you require particulars? But, since it must be so, I am obliged to declare that all the accounts of your misconduct during the life, and since the death of Mr. Vernon, which had reached me, in common with the world in general, and gained my entire belief before I saw you, but which you, by the exertion of your perverted abilities, had made me resolved to disallow, have been unanswerably proved to me; nay more, I am assured that a connection, of which I had never before entertained a thought, has for some time existed, and still continues to exist, between you and the man whose family you robbed of its peace…”

screenshot of film-manipulated

Screen shot of Love and Friendship, with all females delighted at the results of Reginald’s and Frederica’s marriage.

The Spell is Removed: Young Reggie grows up!

A few more plot strings remain to be tied. Lady S is an execrable mother. She bullies Frederica and presses her to marry Sir Charles Martin, a dimwit, albeit a rich one. Frederica resists, raising her mother’s ire. Catherine, who loves the girl and pities her situation, takes her in. Lady S, it is obvious, loves no one but herself. She has, in the words of Prof. Kenney, “no time for romantic nonsense.” Her motherly instincts are for show only, and after a few months of separation her letters and attentions to her daughter peter out.

Reginald leaves to lick his wounds, but his mother and sister are always looking out for him, as well as Frederica. The author writes in her conclusion, “Frederica was therefore fixed in the family of her uncle and aunt till such time as Reginald De Courcy could be talked, flattered, and finessed into an affection for her.” And, so, Austen demonstrates that Reginald, a hero with the same weak qualities as a Mr. Bingley or Edward Ferrars, is managed by the real power in the family – the women, although, he has in his favor the quality of realizing his deficiencies and, more importantly, he has a heart.

De Courcy and Frederica marry. And so I ask you fair reader: Who had the happier union? Reginald or Lady S?

Conclusion

Inquiring reader, I hope I have persuaded you to read or reread Lady Susan, a novella that surprised me on the first and second reading. I didn’t think that I would like reading a book that consisted of letters, but was so enthralled with the story that I read it in one sitting.

Just think. Jane Austen wrote this novella during a creative spurt in her early life. In 1794-95, she wrote Lady Susan and in 1795 she wrote Elinor and Marianne, the epistolary version of Sense and Sensibility. In 1796, she began writing First Impressions, the precursor to Pride and Prejudice. What a fertile period for a budding author! And what creativity! At 19, 20, and 21 years of age she laid the groundwork for two great novels and one experimental foray into the many complexities of what makes a hero. While, like Mr. Darcy, Reginald has great wealth, which, according to Prof. Kenney gives him alpha status, he is a bit of a wuss, masterfully controlled like a puppet by female relatives. In the end, Lady S is hoist by her own manipulative petard. She has no recourse but to marry Sir Charles Martin to maintain face and a fortune. Uggh. What a fitting ending.

Austen’s three novels, written in such a short time, laid much of the foundation for her greatness. She would rework them over the years, with only one, Lady Susan, published posthumously years after her death. After a lifetime of reading her works, including her Juvenilia, I remain in awe of her immense talent.

Resources:

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Project Gutenberg Online Book

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/946/946-h/946-h.htm

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Librivox Audio

https://archive.org/details/lady_susan_0811_librivox

“Love and Friendship,” Amazon Prime movie

Lady Susan: List of Characters: Austenprose

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For the women of Jane Austen’s position in society, female education was formed mainly at home. While Austen and her sister Cassandra spent a short time away at school, the bulk of their education occurred in the Austen home. In Austen’s novels, we find an interesting variety of educational practices, depending on the home and income of the characters.

As Mr. Darcy famously said in Pride and Prejudice, a truly accomplished woman “must improve her mind by extensive reading” (ch. 8). In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram thinks reading, when “properly directed, must be an education in itself” (ch. 2) Thus, we must assume Austen agreed heartily with these opinions of reading as a vital part of a woman’s education. But what else do her novels tell us about the quality and quantity of education available to upper class women in her time?

Education:

In Austen’s day, the education of genteel women was comprised of a wide range of “accomplishments,” such art, music, dancing, religion, household management, languages, history, and literature. In most households, the education of daughters fell mainly to their mothers and governesses, though some went to private schools to learn certain subjects and accomplishments.

According to Miss Bingley, a truly accomplished woman “must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages.” She should also possess “a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved” (ch. 8).

However, we must keep in mind that educational practices for girls differed greatly from that of boys and varied by family, rank, and income. While some families did place value on book learning for their daughters, most families put greater emphasis on the “ornamental” accomplishments of the day. But what did a female education encompass in Austen’s fictional families? What and by whom were her female characters taught?

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, the Bingley sisters were “educated in one of the first private seminaries in town,” where they most likely focused on ornamental accomplishments (ch. 4). Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, had a governess called Mrs. Younge.

In contrast, Mrs. Bennet seems rather deficient in the education of her daughters: She did not engage a governess, did not ensure that all her girls learned to play and sing, and did not take her daughters “to town every spring” to study art under the “benefit of masters” (ch. 29).

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Elizabeth’s conversation with Lady Catherine provides this account of female education in the Bennet home:

“Compared with some families, I believe we were [neglected]; but such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle, certainly might.”

Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Emma

Emma Woodhouse had a governess after her mother died. However, Miss Taylor’s role in Emma’s education is described as “less as a governess than a friend . . . it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority [had] now long passed away” (ch. 1). Thus, it’s clear that Emma’s education has not been quite as thorough or strenuous as it might have been.

Mr. Knightley encourages Emma to read more widely. However, he notices that she spends more time making lists of books (“and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule”) than actually reading: “I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma” (ch. 5).

As for Harriett Smith, she is a “parlour-boarder” at Mrs. Goddard’s school, which is “a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies” (ch. 3)

Mrs. Goddard’s loving care for her students is described here: “[S]he had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after her to church.”

Northanger Abbey

The descriptions of Catherine Morland’s education are perhaps the most humorous in Austen’s novels: “She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid.” It takes her three months to memorize the “Beggar’s Petition,” but she learns the fable of ‘The Hare and Many Friends’ as quickly as any girl in England” (ch. 1).

Mrs. Morland, who oversees her education, is a “very good woman, but her time “was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves.” Her mother wishes her to learn music, but Catherine gives it up after a year. Her “taste for drawing” is described as “deficient.”

Catherine learns “writing and accounts” by her father and French by her mother, but her “proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. Thus, it’s not surprising that “Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information.”

Sense and Sensibility

In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Jennings provides her daughters with a fashionable education: her daughter Charlotte “spent seven years at a great school in town” (ch. 26). In the Dashwood household, great emphasis is placed on reading and music.

Elinor and Marianne are both well-read, while Elinor takes on the majority of the household management and accounting. Marianne has “the knack of finding her way in every house to the library” (ch. 42). She’s also an accomplished musician.

Marianne Dashwood sings and plays

As for Margaret’s education, we find this clue in a comment Mrs. Dashwood makes to Elinor: “When you and the Middletons are gone, we shall go on so quietly and happily together with our books and our music! You will find Margaret so improved when you come back again!” (Ch. 25).

In contrast, Austen makes a pointed remark about Lucy Steele, saying “her powers had received no aid from education.” Lucy is described as “ignorant and illiterate,” being deficient of “all mental improvements,” and wanting of “information in the most common particulars” (ch. 22). In fact, Lucy’s “want of instruction” prevents Elinor from enjoying their conversation fully, for she pities her for “the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable.”

Mansfield Park

In Mansfield Park, the Bertram girls receive their education “under the care of a governess, with proper masters” (ch. 2). Austen provides this insightful information about their mother’s involvement in their education:

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

As for their father, Sir Thomas is satisfied with knowing his daughters continue “to exercise their memories, practise (sic) their duets, and grow tall and womanly.”

As for Fanny Price, we’re told she is “kept back” by “everybody else” in the family; thus, Edmund’s “attentions” are of the “highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures.” He realizes Fanny is “clever,” has “good sense,” and possesses a “fondness for reading” (ch. 2).

While Miss Lee teaches Fanny French and listens to her “daily portion of history,” Edmund recommends “the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment.” He makes reading “useful” to her by “talking to her of what she read.”

Persuasion

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot visits her “former governess” in Bath (ch. 17). She was sent to school after her mother’s death where she met her friend Mrs. Smith (née Hamilton):

Anne had gone unhappy to school, grieving for the loss of a mother whom she had dearly loved, feeling her separation from home, and suffering as a girl of fourteen, of strong sensibility and not high spirits, must suffer at such a time; and Miss Hamilton, three years older than herself, but still from the want of near relations and a settled home, remaining another year at school, had been useful and good to her in a way which had considerably lessened her misery, and could never be remembered with indifference.

Jane Austen, Persuasion

While we know little about the particulars of Anne’s education at school and at home, Anne is well-read enough to provide Captain Benwick with book recommendations to help round out his interest in poetry: “she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study” (ch. 11).

When asked for particular titles, Anne names “such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment.”

Austen’s Insights

Austen certainly has more to say about her female characters and their education than we might realize at first glance. And as always, she provides insight into her characters’ personalities and backgrounds through the deft comments she makes about their education and accomplishments.

It’s clear that Austen valued a literary education and believed women could read, write, and study. In her own life, Austen proved that women could be well-educated and possess a variety of other accomplishments and talents.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen‘s Regency World. If you enjoyed Rachel’s book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, she just released a new book called The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. For signed copies of either book, visit RachelDodge.com.

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By Brenda S. Cox

Last week we looked at the lady “Rock Stars of the Regency” identified by Dr. Jocelyn Harris at this year’s JASNA AGM.* The other two Regency celebrities, who Jane Austen certainly knew about, but almost certainly never met, were the Prince Regent and Lord Byron. Both were flamboyant, charismatic, and extravagant. Jane Austen certainly did not like the prince, and I doubt she thought very highly of Byron. Let’s take a look at these two gentleman.Then I’ll add another famous gentleman, one I think she might have admired.

The Prince Regent (1762-1830)

As you probably know, King George III’s eldest son became Regent of England during the king’s madness from 1811-1820. When his father died, the Prince Regent became King George IV, until his own death in 1830.

The Prince Regent, later King George IV, by Henry Bone, 1816, public domain, wikimedia

Sometimes called “Prinny,” the Prince of Wales (heir to the throne) was an elegant man with a wide education, excellent artistic taste, and great charm. As a boy, his father insisted that he be taught simplicity and hard work. The prince was whipped severely for any laziness or lying. However, he disappointed his father’s hopes. The prince was known for his faults more than for his strengths.

By the time he was seventeen, he was already involved with several women. A series of many mistresses followed. Although he could not legally marry without his father’s consent, he went through a form of marriage with a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzerbert, in 1785. This quasi-marriage to a Catholic caused him difficulty with Parliament, who were often being asked to pay his bills. (Catholics faced many restrictions at this time, and if the prince were actually married to a Catholic he could not legally become king.)

Prinny constantly ran up amazing debts. He lavishly furnished his mansion, Carlton House, running up almost £270,000 in debt! Parliament helped him defray that debt, partially. He immediately began another project, the even more opulent and fantastically expensive Marine Pavilion at Brighton.

In 1789, the king appeared to be going mad, probably because of the disease porphyria. The prince’s supporters tried to get the prince declared regent. His enemies attacked him as being Catholic, or married to a Catholic, and as a gambler who spent his time with unsavory people. Newspapers condemned the prince as “a hard-drinking, swearing, whoring man” who “at all times would prefer a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon” (quoted in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The king recovered, and the prince did not become regent yet.

To get his debts settled, the prince agreed to marry his cousin Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. Caroline and the prince had one daughter, Charlotte. (Charlotte eventually died giving birth to a stillborn child, so she never inherited the throne.)

The prince’s marriage to Caroline was miserable from the start. The prince soon went back to his mistresses, and Caroline was later also accused of sleeping around, though it was not proven.

The king lapsed back into madness in 1811, and the prince was sworn in as regent. His political policies were unpopular. Oddly, considering that his formerly-beloved Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic, he was strongly against giving any civil rights to Catholics.

In 1820 his father died and he became King George IV. He did not want his wife Caroline to be queen, so he put her on trial for adultery. She was not convicted, but she died a few weeks after his coronation.

George IV’s years of indulgence, gluttony, and drinking took their toll, and he became more and more ill. He died in 1830.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

The Prince Regent was a fan of Jane Austen’s. He requested, via his librarian, that she dedicate Emma to him, and she reluctantly did. He apparently read her books often, and kept a set of them in each of his residences. She did not return his admiration.

Jane Austen reluctantly dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent, at his request.

In 1813, when the Regent was in the midst of a controversy with his wife, Austen wrote about her in a private letter: “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband” (Feb. 16, 1813).

Why did Jane Austen “hate” the Prince Regent? I imagine there were multiple reasons:

  • He treated his wife very badly, avoiding her, flaunting his unfaithfulness to her, slandering her, and finally putting her on public trial. Earlier he had also been unfaithful to his first “wife,” Mrs. Fitzherbert, and even allowed others to slander her in Parliament.
  • He was extravagant, wasting the country’s money. He was a Sir Walter Elliot on steroids, not willing to give up any pleasure, inordinately proud of his position, and always spending far beyond his income.
  • He was known for drinking, gambling, laziness, and of course sexual immorality. He also apparently had little regard for church or religion. Austen did not appreciate such shortcomings.

For more on the Prince Regent: Colleen Sheehan speculates delightfully about all the places in Emma where Jane Austen may have been making fun of the Prince Regent in “Jane Austen’s ‘Tribute’ to the Prince Regent: A Gentleman Ridiculed with Difficulty.” Mr. Knightley, as a true gentleman, contrasts with the Regent. Be sure to follow the link at the end of Sheehan’s article, which takes you to a second article with an entertaining alternate solution to the “courtship” riddle!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” That’s how one of Byron’s lovers, Caroline Lamb, described him. George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron, was as famous and infamous as the Prince Regent.

Lord Byron, replica by Thomas Phillips, circa 1835, based on a work of 1813. © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Byron’s narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, based on his travels in southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, took London by storm in 1812. The upper classes adored him. He was quite cynical about society and its institutions, however. He called his country’s leaders “The Mad—the Bad—the Useless—or the Base” (from an epigram written in 1814).

Byron soon became known as much for his love affairs as for his poetry. An affair with married Caroline Lamb, whom he called a “little volcano,” ended when he got bored with her. She, however, blatantly pursued him everywhere. (Her husband, by the way, later became Lord Melbourne, the prime minister who so much influenced young Queen Victoria.) She even published a popular novel, Glenarvon, based on her marriage and her affair with Byron.

In the following years, Byron continued to write romances about Byronic heroes: broody men with dark secrets, in exotic settings. He also continued to have torrid affairs with married women. He became close friends with his married half-sister Augusta, who he considered the only woman who understood him. It’s possible, but not proven, that he was the father of her daughter Medora, born in 1814.

Perhaps the desire to squash rumors about his relationship with his half-sister contributed to Byron’s decision to get married in January, 1815. He married Annabella Milbanke (niece of Lady Melbourne, Caroline Lamb’s mother-in-law). Apparently they were fond of each other, and Byron “esteemed” her. However, the marriage was a disaster and they separated in January, 1816. She believed he was insane.

They had a daughter, Augusta Ada Byron. (That daughter became Ada Lovelace, one of the developers of the first computer.) One of Byron’s later lovers, Claire Clairmont, gave him another daughter, Allegra. Allegra died of a fever at age five. Byron also had a child with one of his maids, and he provided for her.

Byron spent money extravagantly. He inherited his title and family estates, but they were already deeply encumbered by debt. At first he refused to take payment for his writing (making his publisher rich instead), but by 1814 he began to accept, and even negotiate for, large amounts for the copyrights of his books.

Byron continued traveling, writing, and having affairs. His newer books, including Don Juan, increasingly shocked society. His original publisher finally refused to publish any more of Byron’s books, but Byron quickly found another publisher.

Lord Byron eventually got involved in the Greek struggle for independence, which suited his romantic ideals. He fell ill and died in Greece in 1824.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Byron’s personal life was doubtless repugnant to Jane Austen. His open adultery with a long series of married women, and his taking sexual advantage of maidservants, would both have disgusted her. I imagine she also thought poorly of his extravagance and debts. What about his writing?

Lord Byron was the epitome of the literary movement, Romanticism. He wrote and lived the untamed passions of individual desire, the wildness of nature, imagination, and vision. Jane Austen epitomizes the best of the opposite movement, Rationalism. It emphasized self-control, order, harmony, balance, and logical truth. Austen and Byron did have something in common, though: both used irony and satire to confront flaws in their society, though in different ways.

Austen, like others in her society, read Byron’s books. In 1814 she wrote unenthusiastically, “I have read the “Corsair,” mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.” There is no indication that Byron read Austen’s books. Byron’s wife, however, wrote in 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was “a very superior work . . . the most probable fiction I have ever read.”

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick talk about Lord Byron and Walter Scott and disagree about their merits. They also mention Lord Byron’s “dark blue seas.” Benwick appreciates the “impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony” in Byron’s Giaour and Bride of Abydos. Anne doesn’t think Byron’s poetry is healthy reading for the grieving Benwick. She encourages him to read more prose, especially works by the “best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.”

Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss how to pronounce the title of Lord Byron’s Giaour. (Online dictionaries say it’s something like JOW-er, or jowr. Merriam Webster says it means “one outside the Islamic faith.”)

According to the editors of the Cambridge edition of Persuasion (Janet Todd and Antje Blank), Giaour and Bride of Abydos “have exotic eastern settings, in which despotic rulers murder disobedient women and moody, passionate heroes are consumed with grief and guilt over violent crimes they commit.” They suggest that Anne Elliot’s alternative reading would have included Samuel Johnson’s articles in The Rambler. Johnson recommends (in issues 32 and 47) that in times of calamity, loss, and sorrow, we turn to hard work, diligence, and keeping our minds busy with other things.

I think Anne might also have recommended another of Austen’s favorite writers, William Cowper. Cowper suffered with depression for much of his life. One of the remedies that helped him at various periods was keeping busy with meaningful tasks, especially writing. Both Johnson and Cowper were known for their devotion to God; Byron, on the other hand, was known for his religious skepticism. Both Johnson and Cowper died well before the Regency, so we can’t consider them “Regency rock stars.” However, both were very popular authors that Jane Austen admired.

For more on Lord Byron and Jane Austen, see “Romanticism, a Romance: Jane Austen and Lord Byron, 1813-1815,” and “Jane Austen and Lord Byron: Connections.”

For those who like their history presented as fiction, I enjoyed this novel, based on Byron’s marriage: Dangerous to Know, by Megan Whitson Lee.

Lord Byron” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) offers the next generation’s perspective on Byron’s religious views.

On Samuel Johnson, see “Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library.

On William Cowper, see “William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness,” “’With what intense desire she wants her home’: Cowper’s Influence on Jane Austen,”  and “William Cowper, Beloved of Jane Austen.

William Wilberforce? (1759-1833)

I want to nominate one more “rock star of the Regency”; this time, one that Austen may have admired, though she doesn’t mention him. In an age of corrupt, self-seeking politicians, a mad king, and a profligate Prince Regent, M.P. William Wilberforce lived a life of integrity, devotion to God, and concern for the poor and downtrodden. Wilberforce was much loved and respected in England, even by those who disagreed with him, for his gentle kindness and his persuasive speaking.

Statue of William Wilberforce at St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Wilberforce is best known for leading the fight against the slave trade and slavery. Thomas Clarkson, who Jane Austen said she “loved,” worked with Wilberforce. Clarkson collected evidence and wrote books promoting abolition. Wilberforce and his friends persevered for almost twenty years, against great opposition, until the British slave trade was abolished in 1807. The House of Commons, who had previously voted down Wilberforce’s proposal ten times, this time gave him a standing ovation. The fight continued until slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, as Wilberforce was dying.

In contrast to other “rock stars” of the Regency, Wilberforce lived frugally. He was wealthy, but during his lifetime he gave away most of his wealth to people in need and to various causes he supported. For example, he supported groups working to relieve the miseries of climbing boys (chimney sweeps’ apprentices), to reform prisons, and to prevent cruelty to animals. He helped start the first “free church” in the country, a church in Bath where the poor got the best seats on the main floor rather than being marginalized because they could not pay pew rents. He also financially supported free education for the poor. However, he was not a radical, and he has been criticized for supporting government crackdowns on rioters and protesters, and for opposing labor unions.

Wilberforce was also a leader of the Evangelical movement in the Church of England. (Please note that the word evangelical did not have the same political implications that it has today; it meant, and technically still means, those with certain religious beliefs.) He wrote a best-selling book which challenged the shallow faith of the upper and middle classes of his day.

William Wilberforce’s Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Obviously Jane Austen would have admired Wilberforce’s faith, lifestyle, and integrity. In 1809 her sister was trying to persuade her to read a letter by Evangelical Hannah More, and Austen wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” However, by 1814, her niece was considering marrying an Evangelical. Austen wrote “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” She was not an Evangelical herself, but apparently her attitude toward the Evangelicals was very positive at that point. Wilberforce’s actions and reputation may have been one reason for that change.

For more about Wilberforce, see “William Wilberforce’s Joy”  and “William Wilberforce.”

 

We have now considered Jocelyn Harris’s five “Rock Stars of the Regency,” plus my own nominees for others.

What do you think of them? And what do you think Jane Austen would have thought? Who would you add to this roster?

 

In the presentation for the *Jane Austen Society of America’s Annual General Meeting, the “rock stars” were skilfully played by:

Emma Brodey as Emma Hamilton

Deborah Barnum as Dora Jordan

Linda Troost as Fanny Burney

Christopher Duda as The Prince Regent

Paul Savidge as Lord Byron

Jocelyn Harris, as the narrator, was dressed as Dolly Parton.

“Rock Stars of the Regency” was originally scheduled to be shown at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but instead, of course, it was online.

 

Sources: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

Please note that the thoughts about Austen’s responses to the rock stars are mine, not Dr. Harris’s.

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Who were the famous and admired “rock stars” of Regency England? At the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM) recently, Dr. Jocelyn Harris identified five charismatic celebrities of Regency England. Jane Austen would certainly have known about them.

Dr. Harris chose:

  • Emma Hamilton
  • Dora Jordan
  • Fanny Burney
  • The Prince Regent
  • Lord Byron

Who were these people, and what might Jane Austen have thought about them? As I watched their presentations, I thought that Austen probably didn’t think very highly of some of them. See what you think.

Emma Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton is best known for her love affair with the naval hero Lord Nelson.

George Romney was captivated by Emma Hamilton’s beauty, as were other artists. This shows Emma as Circe.

 

Early in her life, Emma Lyon worked as a housemaid, but her classical beauty and vivacious spirit brought her to the attention of several rich young men. She became the mistress of one, had his child, then moved in with one of his friends. That friend traded her to his rich uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in exchange for becoming his uncle’s heir. Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, married Emma and made her Lady Hamilton in 1791; he was sixty and she was about twenty-six.

In Naples, Emma became known for her dramatic “attitudes.” She wore classical Greek dress and struck a series of poses representing various emotions and classical stories. She was very expressive and visitors loved to watch her. She was also talented at learning languages. She helped her husband, and later Lord Nelson, with diplomacy. After a few years, she became seriously overweight, but apparently was still enchanting.

Emma Hamilton by George Romney, circa 1785 ©National Portrait Gallery, London.   Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Around 1798 Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson fell in love. Both were married to someone else. But they seem to have adored each other. She bore him three children, though only one survived, a daughter named Horatia. Nelson said of her, as she was courageously seeing him off to sea, “Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons.”

Emma’s husband died in 1803, then Admiral Nelson died in 1805. Emma was heartbroken at Nelson’s death. She received a large legacy and annuity, but continued her extravagance until she was imprisoned for debt in 1813. Friends helped her get released. She spent her final days, drunken and bedridden, in Calais, France. Her daughter Horatia tended her until she died in 1815. When Horatia returned to England, she was taken in by Nelson’s sisters, and ended up marrying a curate and having a large family. She acknowledged that Nelson was her father, but refused to acknowledge Lady Hamilton as her mother.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

In her letters (Oct. 11, 1813), Austen says that she is tired of biographies of Nelson, though she hasn’t read any. Perhaps his open adultery diminished his glory in her eyes, though we don’t know for sure. Her brother Frank wrote admiringly of Nelson’s judgment and decisiveness, and his ability to motivate others. He said nothing of Nelson’s moral values, however (Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, 1913, chapter 12).

Austen makes no mention of Emma Hamilton in her writings. Dr. Harris speculates that Mrs. Smith of Persuasion, whose maiden name was Miss Hamilton, might have some connection to Emma Hamilton, or even Emma Woodhouse herself, as Emma Hamilton was also known as a matchmaker and lady bountiful. To me it seems unlikely that Austen would have named either of them after such a scandalous celebrity. In Mansfield Park, fashionable Mary Crawford thinks of adultery as folly to be concealed. However, it seems to me that Austen agrees with her hero and heroine, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, who consider it serious sin. So I don’t think she would have thought very highly of Emma Hamilton.

For more on Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), see “Emma at Home: Lady Hamilton and Her ‘Attitudes,’” which includes further links.

 

Dorothy Jordan

Dorothy Jordan was a famous actress of Austen’s time. In her early years, she shone in a variety of roles, but eventually settled down to become a comic actress. Sarah Siddons (who might be considered another Regency “Rock Star”) was the queen of tragedy, and Dorothy Jordan was the “comic muse.” A woman of several names, she was also called Dora or Dorothea. She was born Dorothy Bland and when her father deserted the family she became Dorothy Phillips. She was commonly known as Mrs. Jordan, though she never married.

Jordan’s parents were a vicar’s daughter who had become a London actress, and an Irish captain whose father, a judge, disinherited him for his liaison with Jordan’s mother. (They may have married, but as minors, the marriage was not valid.) Her father later made a legal marriage in Ireland to another woman.

By 1779, eighteen-year-old Dorothea was working as an actress in Dublin. She was seduced by her manager, conceived his child, and fled when he threatened her with debtor’s prison. (Her manager reminds me of Willoughby with Eliza, only even worse!) She got another job in Leeds, where they called her Mrs. Jordan because she was pregnant (therefore “Mrs.”) and had crossed over the water to get to England from Ireland, like the Israelites crossing the Jordan River in the Bible.

She gradually moved up in her profession, until she was acting in the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. There she became the mistress of Richard Ford, son of the court physician, and had three children with him.

In 1790, Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence (third son of George III), fell in love with her and she became his mistress. He provided her with an annuity of £1200, a carriage, and provision for all her children. However, she continued to act around the country, and she shared her income with the duke. People wondered which of them supported the other!

She bore ten children to the duke and acted as his wife and hostess. However, in 1811 his debts were increasing and he told her they had to separate so he could marry someone rich.

Mrs Jordan from The Life of Mrs Jordan by J Boaden (1831), public domain

Mrs. Jordan continued acting, to great acclaim, and traveling. She was very well-paid, but generous and extravagant. Late in her life, while she was in ill health, her son-in-law defrauded her of much of her money. She died impoverished near Paris, with only about £10 to her name.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Austen mentions Mrs. Jordan in a letter (1801), admiring Cassandra’s resignation when she could not come to London and see Mrs. Jordan. According to Dr. Harris, in 1814, when Jane was looking forward to seeing the play “The Devil to Pay” and expecting to be “very much amused,” Jane was going to see Mrs. Jordan perform. No doubt the sisters, great fans of the theater, much admired Mrs. Jordan’s acting, as everyone else did. We don’t know what Austen thought of Mrs. Jordan’s personal life. Harris speculates that Jordan’s personality, arch, playful, bewitching, and frank, may be reflected in Elizabeth Bennet.

Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a faithful and domestic “wife” to the Duke of Clarence for many years, and popular opinion held that he should not have deserted her. Their children, who received the surname FitzClarence, were of course illegitimate. Fitz-, by the way, simply means “son of,” though from the 1600s it came to be used for illegitimate royal children. (Did the Fitzwilliams of Pride and Prejudice have an illegitimate royal ancestor? Or were they from an older Norman family, perhaps descended from the younger son of a warrior named William? It could be either.) Clarence’s oldest son, by Mrs. Jordan, could not inherit the throne after the Duke of Clarence became King William IV.

In Emma, Emma thinks Harriet is well-born, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. However, it turns out that Harriet is the daughter of a tradesman. Emma thinks, “The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.” Did Jane Austen herself think that that it was acceptable for those with “nobility or wealth” to have illegitimate children? Or was she continuing to make fun of Emma’s snobbishness?

Personally, I think that as a devout Anglican, Austen would not have approved of Mrs. Jordan’s liaison even with a duke. But, she may have felt sympathy for a couple who loved each other but were not legally allowed to marry. And Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a good influence on her Duke. I see no firm evidence either way for Austen’s opinion. She certainly admired Mrs. Jordan as an actress.

For more on Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816), see “Mrs. Dora Jordan—The Comic Muse.

On Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), see “Austen’s Regretted Mischance to see Mrs. Siddons” and “The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons.

 

Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay)

Our third “Rock Star” was a popular novelist like Jane Austen, but Burney was much more well-known in her time than Austen. Burney came from a more conventional middle class background than Emma Hamilton or Dorothy Jordan did. Her father was a well-known music teacher who went on musical tours of Europe; Fanny helped him with the books he wrote.

Her family brought her into contact with some of the leading people of her day, including Samuel Johnson, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, writer Hester Thrale (later Piozzi), bluestockings Elizabeth Montagu and Hannah More, and many others. Austen, of course, did not move in such intellectual or social circles.

Like Jane Austen, Burney published her first book, Evelina, anonymously. Not even her father knew that she had written it until some months after it came out. (He had disapproved of her earlier writing, but liked Evelina.) It was well-reviewed and over 2000 copies sold. Bookstores in fashionable spas and in London had a hard time keeping it in stock. Burney’s next, longer book, Cecilia, was also a great success.

Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) engraved from a painting by Edward Francis Burney (Portraits of Eminent Men and Women, 1873), public domain, wikimedia

After a few years without writing, Burney was offered a place at court, as second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte. Her father persuaded her to accept, for the family’s advantage. However, Burney was miserable with the drudgery and routine of court life. She did have one adventure, though, when King George III, in a fit of madness, chased her around Kew Gardens. After five years she asked to retire due to ill health, and was allowed to go.

At age forty-one, Fanny met a French military officer, D’Arblay. They fell in love and were married. Fanny’s father was unhappy about the match, since Fanny had little money and D’Arblay had none. However, they had a happy marriage. Their son Alexander was born about a year and a half after their wedding.

Fanny continued writing; mostly plays that were not performed in her lifetime (one was performed for one night, but was an immediate failure). Her novel Camilla, though, was another success, and provided enough money for the D’Arblays to build their own home.

While Fanny’s siblings sometimes acted scandalously, she herself lived a conventional, moral life. Her books express solid moral values, while showing the restrictions placed on women. She died in her home in London in 1840. Fanny Burney has been called the mother of English fiction. She was one of the first successful English novelists.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Burney’s novels Cecilia and Camilla are mentioned in glowing terms in Northanger Abbey:

“‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

Jane Austen subscribed to Camilla. (That means that she gave financial support for it before it was published, something like a Kickstarter campaign today.) In her letters, Austen also mentions characters from Burney’s novels. The novels seem to have influenced her own. Harris also speculates that Burney’s experiences at court, recorded in her journals and passed on by Austen’s mother’s cousin Cassandra Cooke (Burney’s neighbor), might be reflected in some of Fanny Price’s experiences in Mansfield Park. Austen obviously admired Fanny Burney’s work, and I think she would have admired Burney personally as well. Jocelyn Harris calls Burney and Austen “sisters of the pen.”

 

Two other women authors of Jane Austen’s day might qualify as “rock stars,” in terms of popularity, even more than Fanny Burney. Maria Edgeworth, whose novel Belinda is mentioned in Northanger Abbey along with Burney’s novels, was the most successful novelist of her time, in terms of sales and income. Hannah More, whose writings Austen doesn’t seem to have cared for, wrote mostly nonfiction, a tremendous range of books for rich and poor, which were wildly popular. She wrote and worked for causes including the abolition of slavery, education for women and for the poor, and better moral values.

For more on Fanny Burney (1752-1840), see “Only a Novel: The Life of Fanny Burney.”  For more on Burney’s novels, and ways they may have influenced Jane Austen, see “Jane Austen a-Shopping with Burney’s Evelina.

On Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), see “Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen’s Forgotten Idol.

On Hannah More, see “Jane Austen’s Novels and Hannah More’s Life—Intersecting Planes” and “Jane Austen, Hanah More, and the Novel of Education.”

 

What do you think of these “rock stars” of Austen’s England? What do you think Austen would have liked and not liked about them? Are there other women of the time that you would nominate?

In Part 2 we’ll look at some gentlemen “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

Source: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

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In Part 1 of this series, we learned about the “morning” portion of a Regency woman’s day including pre-breakfast activities, breakfast foods and drinks, social calls, midday refreshments, and dressing for dinner. Now, we’ll explore the evening portion.

Evening: As we said last time, the typical Regency day consisted of two parts: “morning” and “evening.” Evenings were marked by changing clothes for dinner. For Jane Austen and the heroines in her novels, evenings varied greatly depending on where they were and who they were with. Evenings at home were usually quiet and modest; the Austen family enjoyed reading and talking together in the evening when they were home. Evenings out in company were lively and filled with dinners, games, and dances.

Dinner: Dinner was the largest and most formal meal of the day for people of Austen’s day and proper etiquette was essential. The timing of dinner moved later during Austen’s life, settling at six or seven. It was considered fashionable to delay dinner. The later the meal, the more candles needed; thus, affluent families could afford later dinners.

In company and at home, evening attire was more formal than day wear. Dinners at home tended to be more simple, with one course instead of two. This is undoubtedly when young girls learned proper mealtime etiquette from their mothers. For dinners in company, the food was as “lavish as the host’s budget allowed” (All Things Austen 147).

When dinner was served in company, guests walked into the dining room in couples, with the rank of the ladies determining the order in which they entered: “Where rank was equal, married women went before single women, and older ladies took precedence” (133). Once in the dining room, the hostess sat at the top of the table, the host at the bottom.  The “pre-eminent male guest was seated on the hostess’ right hand, the chief female guest at the host’s right” (134).

lady-catherine-de-bourghs-table

Dinner with Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Pride and Prejudice, 2005.

Dinner Courses: The first course was comprised of a variety of dishes including joints of meat and boiled or roasted fowl. There was always soup and very often a whole fish.  When these were removed, the second course was brought out. For the second course, the same amount of dishes were served, with new meat perhaps, but “the emphasis this time round was on the lighter savoury concoctions like fricassees and patties, together with a selection of fruit tarts, jellies and cream puddings” (43).

Two courses were served in grand households every day and in ordinary households when there was company. We see this in Pride and Prejudice: “Mrs. Bennet had been strongly inclined to ask [Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy] to stay and dine;” however, though she always “kept a very good table, she did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.” (PP)

After the second course was removed, the cloth was cleared and dessert was brought out.  Dessert was usually served with wine and included “tidbits which could be eaten using the fingers” such as “dried fruits, nuts and sweet and spicy confections.” (ATA)

Interestingly, food was not passed around the table as we might do today. Men helped women to the dishes within reach, but servants did not take dishes around the table to serve each guest (as we might see, for example, in Downton Abbey). Sometimes a popular dish might be duplicated on both ends of the table but not always.

After dinner: At home, people often took walks and spent their time after dinner less formally. However, in company, the ladies retired after dinner to the drawing room, again in order of rank. The men stayed behind to drink port and talk uninhibited.

“If this was the hour most looked forward to by many of the men, it could be the most tedious hour for the women, thrown on their own resources in the drawing-room, with neither alcohol nor male company to inspirit the scene.”
-Maggie Lane, Jane Austen and Food

We certainly see this occur in Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s drawing room: “When the ladies returned to the drawing room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermissions till coffee came in” (PP).

Tea: Tea was taken once the men rejoined the women. The ladies poured coffee and tea, and usually some light refreshment was given, such as cake or toast. Men would approach the women for a cup, which often allowed conversations to spark. It’s not surprising that everyone looked forward to this portion of the evening, especially unmarried people.

Evening Entertainment: After tea, at home and in company, men and women spent the evening together. At home, they might read out loud, play the piano, sew, write letters, or read. At Netherfield when Elizabeth is staying to care for Jane, many important scenes and conversations occur in the drawing room after dinner. Mr. Darcy uses that time to write to his sister and read books, while Miss Bingley uses her time trying to get his attention.

In company, music was often performed, as we see in Emma and Sense and Sensibility with playing and singing. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford plays the harp. Cards and games like whist and lottery were also enjoyed by all once the tea table was cleared. At a private ball or at a large enough party in a home, there was usually dancing.

Supper: If a woman’s stays weren’t already about to burst after several courses of dinner, dessert, and tea time, there was supper to look forward to at the end of the evening. At home and in small gatherings, it was a simple meal laid on a smaller table in the drawing room where everyone was gathered. At a ball or larger gathering, supper was a much more substantial meal and must include soup.

Austen herself was known for staying out until the wee hours of the morning after a dance or party, which is why Regency women often slept later in the morning. When they arrived home, women retreated to their rooms. What a relief it must have been, after a long evening of eating, dancing, and socializing, to take down one’s hair, change out of one’s dress, petticoats, and stays, and slip into bed.

This is just a sample of the way Jane Austen’s Regency women might spend their evenings. Next month, we’ll look more closely at women’s issues of the time, such as female education and accomplishments, hygiene and beauty, fashion and cosmetics, and pregnancy and childbirth.

Food for thought: If you could spend an evening with Jane Austen, what activities would you most like to do?

Rachel Dodge is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 2020). Rachel teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen‘s World blog and Jane Austen‘s Regency World magazine. You can visit her at RachelDodge.com.

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“They who buy books do not read them, and … they who read them do not buy them.” – Robert Southey

Introduction:

Circulating libraries benefited Jane Austen and authors of her era in two ways. They rented out books, pamphlets, and magazines economically to people of modest means, like Austen. After books were published, library subscriptions made them available to a wider readership than was previously possible.

A short history of circulating libraries:

Circulating libraries were first mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1740, when Dr. Samuel Fancourt used the words to advertise his store in Salisbury. He had started his library five years before to rent out religious books and pamphlets, then moved his store to London in 1742, where it thrived.

Other already existing London bookshops adopted Fancourt’s commercial library model and its descriptive term. In a little over 30 years, the circulating library had sprung up all over London, as well as Bath and other resort spas, and by 1801 an estimated 1,000 of these libraries had spread all over England. This library concept traveled to British Colonies the world over. A monthly parcel of books could also be ordered by subscription from a London circulating library and shipped to a foreign location, such as a plantation in Ceylon (Parasols & Gloves & Broches & Circulating Libraries,” Mary Margaret Benson).

The difference between subscription and circulating libraries:

An article about subscription vs circulating libraries by JASACT (Jane Austen and all that – in Canberra), explains that the two terms are often confused with each other. Subscription libraries consisted largely of serious book collections that covered specific topics, such as science, history, travel, or theology. Annual fees from male subscribers went towards purchasing books for the collections, which tended to be lofty and not open to the public.

The Roxburghe Club was a club for book lovers established after the sale of the library of the Duke of Roxburghe, which was one of the great libraries of the day, which concluded June 17, 1812. Its membership was men who loved and who could afford books, comprised of a mixed group of aristocrats, businessmen and academics.” – Club London in the Georgian and Regency Eras, Lauren Gilbert

Circulating libraries were established as businesses with the aim of making money from a mass market that consisted of men, the rising middle classes, and women. Instead of focusing on narrow subjects, circulating libraries offered a variety of materials designed to please as many reading tastes as possible (JASACT). These included the novel, which quickly rose in popularity with the fairer sex.

Image of lettering on a building in Bath that was once a Circulating Library and Reading Room on Milsom Street. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Lettering on a building in Bath that was once a Circulating Library and Reading Room on Milsom Street. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

The libraries began to expand from London and leisure resorts to more rural communities across England. Paul Kaufman in an article entitled “The Community Library: A Chapter in English Social History” mentions a circulating library in 1790 operated by Michael Heavisides in Darlington, Durham, a provincial market town. His 16-page catalogue offered only 466 books in 1,014 volumes with a modest list of topics, many of which were not au courant:

All types of fiction predominate, standard and cheapest contemporary types, many with the thinly veiled “history” and “memoir” titles…Shakespeare’s Poems (1 vol.), Milton’s Works, the Odyssey, Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy Ward, translations of Lucan and Ovid, Knox’s Essays, Cook’s Voyages, Spectator, Tatler, and Mirror, Smollett’s History of England (10 vols.), Salmon’s History of England (13 vols.), Thompson’s Poems, Rousseau’s Emile, Berkeley’s Minute Philosopher, Arabian Tales, and two apparently separate Persian Letters.” (The Bodleain.)

While the selection was small, even for regency libraries, Mr. Heavisides was successful enough to run his business for 30 years.

Image of Darlington in 1830

Darlington in 1830

Circulating libraries as consumers:

A new business relationship between booksellers and publishers emerged during the last quarter of the 18th century. Circulating libraries were

…business enterprises, aimed at readers who could not afford to buy books, but who would be willing to pay perhaps half a guinea a year as a subscription fee, and then a few pence rental fee for each volume, or at readers who were away from town-perhaps at a seashore spa!-for a time, as well as those voracious readers who wanted the latest books at bargain prices.” – “Parasols & Gloves & Broches & Circulating Libraries,” Mary Margaret Benson.

The British book industry first began to sell books to the libraries. Publishers then realized they could increase profits by owning a library and renting out their own books.

Image of a circulating library owned by Messrs Lackington Allen & Co, 1809. Image in the public domain

Circulating library of Messrs Lackington Allen & Co, 1809. Image in the public domain

John Lane, who was the proprietor of the Minerva Press, and both the leading publisher of gothic fiction in England and “the principal wholesaler of complete, packaged circulating libraries to new entrepreneurs,” realized that he could make substantial profits from catering to the tastes of readers like Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey. (Lee Erickson, p. 583)

People were quite willing to rent a novel they were unwilling to buy.”- Lee Erickson

Only the rich could afford to purchase books in Austen’s day. Publishers generally did not print their own books. They contracted a printer and estimated the number of copies that would sell. Since paper was expensive (much of it was handmade and then taxed), publishers would order new books when the first estimated run sold out. As the popularity of books and novels rose, so did their price. Between 1810 and 1815 books cost the equivalent of $90 to $100 American dollars today.

Image of a Trade Card of Thomas Clout, Printer. An engraving of a printing press is at the top center of the card. Public domain image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Trade Card of Thomas Clout, Printer. Notice the printing press at the top center of the card. Public domain image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To increase rentals, publishers began printing three-decker novels, also known as leviathans. These 3-volume novels became the standard until almost the end of the 19th century. The advantage of three volumes was that each book was rented out one at a time to a customer. When a reader finished Volume the First, she would turn it in and check out Volume the Second, and so forth. This meant that three customers would read one book at any one time. In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney described a typical three-decker set to his sister, Eleanor:

Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern …”

Image of a three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice bound in a simple publishers board. National Library of Scotland

Three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice bound in simple publishers board. National Library of Scotland

New authors like Jane Austen often took the financial risk of publishing their novels. Jane took this gamble after her father sold her first novel Susan in 1803 for £10 to Benjamin Crosby, who allowed it to languish unpublished on his shelves. Six years later, she wrote the publisher under the pseudonym of Mrs. Ashley Dennis, or M.A.D., for the return of her manuscript. Crosby quickly shot back a reply, saying her MS. would be hers if she paid the same amount for it that he paid her. For Jane that £10 represented almost half her yearly allowance, and so the book remained unpublished until after her death.

Austen learned her lesson from this experience and in 1811 she published Sense and Sensibility on commission, which guaranteed its publication. The novel’s success (which made Austen a profit of £140) ensured that she would not have to self publish again.

The rise of the novel:

What shall we say of certain books, which we are assured (for we have not read them) are in their nature so shameful, in their tendency so pestiferous, and contain such rank treason against the royalty of Virtue…that she who can bear to peruse them must in her soul be a prostitute…” – James Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women

Jane wrote her “pestiferous” novels, as Fordyce called all fiction largely aimed at the female market, at an auspicious time. The leisured upper and rising middle classes’ demand for books increased during a period when their costs went up. In addition, the number of literate people was rapidly expanding. In Jane Austen’s England, Roy and Lesley Adkins wrote:

…it has been estimated that two out of three working men could read to some extent, thought rather fewer had writing skills, and not nearly as many working women could read.” (p 231)

In Emma, Austen wrote about Mr. Martin’s sensible taste in reading and of his neat writing skills, which astonished Emma. Individuals who could not read enjoyed hearing a book read to them during group reading, a form of entertainment that the literate Austen family also followed. Paul Kaufman in “The Community Library” (p. 46) mentioned that reading also became a liberating force for the higher servant level. One imagines that cooks, butlers, housekeepers, and governesses were among them.

Circulating libraries fulfilled an insatiable appetite for subscribers. Library proprietors followed the money and increasingly offered more novels to accommodate female readers, although men generally had little regard for fictional stories. Many, like Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice), a devotee of Fordyce, held them in great contempt. Sir Edward Denham (Sanditon), could hardly contain his disdain for novel reading:

Sir Edward, approaching Charlotte, said, “You may perceive what has been our occupation. My sister wanted my counsel in the selection of some books. We have many leisure hours and read a great deal. I am no indiscriminate novel reader. The mere trash of the common circulating library I hold in the highest contempt. You will never hear me advocating those puerile emanations which detail nothing but discordant principles incapable of amalgamation, or those vapid tissues of ordinary occurrences, from which no useful deductions can be drawn. In vain may we put them into a literary alembic; we distill nothing which can add to science. You understand me, I am sure?”

Pity poor Charlotte having to listen to that drivel. Contrast Lord Denham’s pompous opinions with Henry Tilney’s charming and succinct statement:

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (Northanger Abbey)

It is interesting to note that Austen rewrote Susan (Northanger Abbey) before she began to write her unfinished novel, Sanditon, and that she and her family were avid novel readers. Still, reading fiction belonged largely to the pervue of women. Gothic and romance novels, popularized by Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Ann Radcliffe, were regarded as disposable throwaways only good enough for one-time reading. Few people purchased novels or kept them on their shelves, and so they were cheaply published with a simple binding known as publishers boards. The Prince Regent owned a handsome three-volume book of Emma, but this was the exception, not the rule.

Image of the 3-decker edition for the Prince Regent of Emma.

The Prince Regent’s edition of Emma by Jane Austen, courtesy Deirdre Le Faye via Jane Austen in Vermont.

Despite Fordyce’s dire warnings, by the end of the 18th century fully 75% of books rented out by circulating libraries were novels. Ninety percent of Mr. Heavisides books in his circulating library in Darlington were listed as standard and “cheapest contemporary” fiction.

This short discourse, gentle reader, brings Part One of Circulating Libraries to an end. In the second installment, discussions will center on subscription fees, libraries as social hubs, subscription books, reading rooms, characteristics of large city and small rural libraries, and Jane Austen’s descriptions of circulating libraries in her novels and letters.

Sources:

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Reviewed by Brenda S. Cox

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801 provides fascinating insights into Jane Austen’s England.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, by Mike Rendell, explores 18th century life in England

Richard Hall was a tradesman, a hosier who made stockings in a shop near London Bridge. Like the Coles in Emma, he “was of low origin, in trade,” but moved up in society as he became wealthier. Hall accumulated his fortune through hard work, marriage, inheritance, and investments. From selling silk stockings, he moved into selling fine fabrics, silver buckles, and other fashionable accessories. Hall eventually owned several estates, and retired as a country gentleman. 

I asked the author, Mike Rendell, to tell us more about how he wrote this book.

Rendell says he inherited “a vast pile of old family papers, . . . stuffed into tea chests and boxes in the back of the garage” in his grandmother’s house. He focused on the papers related to Richard Hall and found it “a fascinating voyage of discovery.” 

This trunk was full of papers from the eighteenth century.

Rendell continues, “For instance, if he [Richard Hall] recorded in his diary that he had ‘visited the museum’ it made me research the origins of the British Museum, realizing that he was one of the earliest visitors. Which led on to researching what he might have seen, etc.”

He adds, “Writing my first book opened my eyes to a great deal about the world in which Jane [Austen] was brought up. I love her works – especially P&P and I must admit to binge-watching the entire BBC version in a single sitting, at least twice a year!”

In the context of Richard Hall’s story, Rendell tells us about many aspects of life in the eighteenth century, based on his extensive research. For example:

Religion

Richard Hall was a Baptist, one of the Dissenter (non-Church of England) groups in Austen’s England. This meant that even though Hall loved learning, he was not able to attend university. Oxford and Cambridge, the two English universities, would not give degrees to Dissenters. Hall could have studied in Holland, but his family decided to bring him directly into their hosiery business instead.

Richard Hall’s grandfather and father were Baptists, and Richard attended a Baptist church and listened to sermons by the famous Baptist preacher Dr. John Gill for many years. Richard also collected printed sermons by Dr. Gill. However, it was not until Richard was 36 that he “gave in his experience” and was baptized. Rendell explains that “giving in his experience” meant “explaining before the whole church at Carter Lane in Southwark how he had come to faith in Christ.”

Some of the leaders of the English Baptists of the time are part of Hall’s story, as well as disputes and divisions between Baptist churches.

Hall sometimes attended Anglican churches, and was even a churchwarden for a time. Rendell comments, “The fact that he was a Baptist did not mean that he was unwilling to attend Church of England services – just as long as the gospel was being preached.”

Methodists were another important movement in Hall’s England, though they were still part of the Anglican Church for most of Hall’s lifetime. One of Hall’s relatives, William Seward, became an early Methodist minister, preaching to open-air crowds. Rendell writes that Seward “died after being hit by a stone on the back of the head while preaching to a crowd at Hay-on-Wye, on 22 October 1740 – one of the first Methodist martyrs.”

Silhouette of Richard Hall, probably “taken” (cut out) by his daughter Martha. In 1777 Martha “gave her experience” and was baptized in a Baptist church, as her father had done.

Science

Rendell often explains advances in science that affected Hall’s life (and Jane Austen’s). He writes, “By the standards of his day . . . Richard was a well-educated man. Above all, he was a product of his time – there was a thirst for knowledge all around Richard as he grew up. There were new ideas in religion, in philosophy, in art and in architecture. This was the age of the grand tour, of trade developments with the Far East, and a new awareness of the planets and astronomy as well as an interest in chemistry and physics. It was a time when the landed gentry were experimenting with new farming methods – inspired by ‘Turnip’ Townsend and Jethro Tull – and where a nascent industrial revolution was making its faltering first steps.” Richard wrote down many scientific “facts”—or fictions—some of which are listed in an appendix.

Surprisingly, Richard Hall records several times that he saw the Aurora Borealis in southern England. Apparently, the aurora was sighted many times in Austen’s England, though it has since migrated northward.

Rendell also tells us about an invention that greatly improved transportation: the development of macadam roads. These were named for the Scotsman John McAdam who invented the process. When bitumen (tar) was added in the nineteenth century, such roads were called “tar-macadamised”: a word eventually shortened to “tarmac.”

Travel was quite an adventure in Austen’s time. Richard Hall made this detailed paper cutout of a coach and four, showing one of the fastest means of transportation available at the time. Hall also did cutouts of a coach and four about to crash because of a boulder in the road, and a one-horse coach being held up by a highwayman.

Medicine

Richard Hall’s small daughter was inoculated against smallpox, which meant she was given the actual disease. She had “between two and three hundred pustules.” But Richard writes that about three weeks later, “Through the goodness of God . . . the Dear Baby finally recovered from inoculation.” 

About ten years later, inoculation–giving the patient a hopefully mild case of smallpox–was replaced by vaccination. Dr. Edward Jenner developed this technique, where patients were given cowpox rather than smallpox to develop their immunity. However, Jenner became a member of the Royal Society (of scientists) not for his work on vaccination, but for his observations of cuckoos and their habits! He also experimented with hydrogen-filled balloons. The “naturalists” (not yet called “scientists”) of this age were interested in topics that nowadays we would separate into many different branches of science.

When Hall’s first wife, Eleanor, died of a stroke, he cut this tiny Chinese pagoda in memoriam, with her name, age, and date of death. Rendell says it is “like
lace. It is just an inch and a quarter across and most probably fitted in between the outer and inner cases of his pocket watch. In other words it was worn next to his heart. Very romantic!”

Weather

Hall also noted the weather. In 1783 he refers often “to a stifling heat, a constant haze, and to huge electrical storms which illuminated the ash cloud in a fearsome manner.” These were the effects of a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland, the Laki volcano. This eruption, the most catastrophic in history, caused an estimated two million deaths worldwide, and wiped out a quarter of the population of Iceland. In England, the harvest failed, cattle died, and about 23,000 people died of lung damage and respiratory failure.

Highwaymen were another danger in Austen’s England. In this paper cutting by Richard Hall, a criminal, possibly a highwayman, hangs on the gallows while spectators are unconcerned.

Language

Richard Hall wrote a list for himself of words that sound different than they look. He gives the spelling, then the pronunciation, which helps us see how people in his area and level of society spoke. A few examples:

Apron—Apurn

Chaise—Shaze

Cucumber—Cowcumber

Sheriff—Shreeve

Birmingham—Brummijum

Nurse—Nus

Dictionary—Dixnary

The history of some words are also explained. For example, the word “gossip” was a contraction of “God’s siblings.” Such women helped mothers in childbirth. The “gossips” offered sympathy, kept men away, and chattered in order to keep up the mother’s spirits throughout her labor.

Museums and Exhibitions

Rendell describes several museums and exhibitions that Hall visited. One of the most intriguing is Cox’s Museum, which Hall and his wife visited the year Austen was born. It featured rooms full of “bejewelled automata.” The most famous was a life-size silver swan, still a popular exhibit at the Bowes Museum in Durham (northern England). The Museum says it “rests on a stream made of twisted glass rods interspersed with silver fish. When the mechanism is wound up, the glass rods rotate, the music begins, and the Swan twists its head to the left and right and appears to preen its back. It then appears to sight a fish in the water below and bends down to catch it, which it then swallows as the music stops and it resumes its upright position.” No less a personage than Mark Twain admired this swan and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad.

Richard Hall’s upbringing stressed values which still resonate with many people today. Rendell writes, “. . .from an early age it had been instilled into Richard that there were only three things which could help stop the fall into the abyss of poverty, sickness and death. The first was a strong belief in the Lord, and that without faith you got nowhere. The second was the importance of education. The third was that you got nothing without working hard for it. These were the cornerstones of his upbringing – and of the whole of his subsequent life.”

Richard Hall was an artist of paper cutting. He cut out everyday objects and scenes. Many, like this finely-done rapier, were found among his books and journals.

And Much More

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is full of treasures for those of us who love reading about Jane Austen’s time period. We learn about guilds, clothing, food, disasters, transportation, prices, medical advances, explorers, and much more. 

To Rendell, Richard Hall “came across as a bit of a joyless, pious individual but then I thought: hang on, he had to face exactly the same problems as we do today – illness, worries about the business, problems with a son who was a mischief maker at school, problems with the drains etc etc. When he re-married  he fell out with his children because they didn’t approve of his new bride – and they excommunicated him [avoided and ignored him] for the rest of his life. In that sense his life was just as much of a mess as the ones we lead today!”

While Rendell originally wrote this story for his own family, when he decided to make it widely available he found he needed to promote it. He ended up in a surprising job. He says, “I had never before tried public speaking but quickly found that I loved it – and ended up with a totally new ‘career’ as a cruise ship lecturer (when Covid 19 permits!) travelling the world and talking about everyday life in the 18th Century. . . . These talks include talks about Jane Austen – in particular about the different adaptations, prequels, sequels, etc. of Pride and Prejudice – as well as talks about the venues used in the various films of Jane’s books. I also write articles for Jane Austen’s Regency World. . . . One thing led to another and I have now had a dozen books published, with two more in the pipeline.”

Mike Rendell’s books include topics such as Astley’s Circus (Astley’s is mentioned in Emma and in one of Jane Austen’s letters), Trailblazing Women of the Georgian EraPirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, and more. 18th Century Paper Cutting shows the illustrations used in this article, along with other lovely paper cuttings by Richard Hall. See Mike Rendell’s blog at mikerendell.com for more of Mike’s books and blog posts.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman is available from amazon in the US and the UK. It is offered on kindle unlimited. If you order a paperback copy from Mike Rendell (Georgiangent on amazon.co.uk), he says, “if anyone orders a copy I will ask (through amazon) and see if they want a personal dedication/signed copy before popping it in the post.” (It is listed there as a hardback but is actually a paperback.)

By the way, Rendell pointed out that Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, also did paper cutting (or silhouettes). You can see examples of James’s work in Life in the Country. There is also a well-known silhouette of Jane’s brother Edward being presented to the Knight family; that one was done by a London artist, William Wellings.

The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman gives us valuable insights into the life of an Austen-era tradesman who became a country gentleman. What would you most like to know about the life of such a person?

___________

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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Inquiring readers, I once enjoyed afternoon tea in Fortnum and Mason’s in London. It was an exquisite, elaborate, and unforgettable experience. It was so elegant that I thought of it as high tea, but its presentation and intent had nothing in common with high tea in Jane Austen’s day, or in our present time. This post is meant to complement Rachel Dodge’s excellent post entitled “Jane Austen’s Regency Women: A Day in the Life , Part 1.” 

Afternoon tea:

The tradition of tea in the afternoon as we understand it began in 1840 with the Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857). She requested light food with tea and a few refreshments in mid-afternoon to stave off hunger pangs before dinner, which was served at 8 p.m. The Duchess soon began to invite friends to her rooms to join her in taking tea, and so a tradition began. This custom, which we celebrate to this day, began years after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.

High tea:

High tea was generally known as dinner or supper by the working classes.

For workers in the newly industrialized Britain, tea time had to wait until after work. By that hour, tea was generally served with heartier dishes which were substantially more than just tea and cakes. Workers needed sustenance after a day of hard labor, so the after-work meal was more often hot and filling and accompanied by a pot of good, strong tea to revive flagging spirits.”- Lemm

It seems that the term ‘high tea’ had more in common with furniture than a lofty service.

“Today, the evening meal in working-class households is still often called “tea” but as working patterns have changed yet again, many households now refer to the evening meal as supper. The addition of the word “high” to the phrase “high tea” is believed to differentiate between the afternoon tea that is traditionally served on low, comfortable parlor chairs or relaxing in the garden and the worker’s after-work high tea that is served at the table and seated on high back dining chairs.” – Lemm

Afternoon tea was therefor served on comfortable chairs in a drawing room or lady’s sitting room, or as a refreshment in the garden.

“Afternoon tea, also known as “low tea,” is the most often taken a a low table, like a coffee table in the sitting room before a warm fire. (Of course, it can also be served at a dining table.) High tea gets its name from its tendency to be served at a high table, like a dining table or high counter at the end of the workday.” – Brown

Breakfast:

Jane Austen was in charge of her family’s tea and sugar stores. She made her family’s breakfast at 9 a.m. The simple repast consisted of toast, rolls, or muffins and butter. Jane toasted the bread over a fire using a long handled fork or a metal rack that held the bread in place.

The typical ‘tea and toast’ breakfast that Jane Austen enjoyed was a relatively new invention. Traditionally, British breakfasts had consisted of hearty fare that often included beef and ale.” – Wilson, p. 21

Evening tea:

Tea was also served one or two hours after dinner. The time was variable, because people during the Regency era ate dinner at different times. Some ate early in the afternoon, as Jane Austen’s parents did when they were younger; some at 3 p.m., like the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice; the Bingleys dined at the more fashionable hour of 6 p.m.; and the Duchess of Bedford, a trendsetter, dined at 8 p.m. Kim Wilson quotes Captain Harry Smith in 1814 as saying, “I breakfast at eight, dine at three, have tea in the evening…” People who did not follow the latest fashion in dining kept the earlier dinner hours they and their families had always adhered to.

Confusing the issue further is that people of the time referred to all hours before dinner as ‘morning’, and the period between dinner and teas as ‘afternoon’, even if it fell in what we now call the evening. To them, ‘evening’ started after tea.” – Wilson, p. 91

In the evening after dinner, the assembled guests returned to the drawing-room. Tea was made by the ladies of the house to prevent servants from taking portions of this expensive commodity for their own use. After tea, “…when the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed” (Pride and Prejudice) the diners would play games, such as riddles or charades, or read to each other and partake of other pleasures. In Hartfield, “Mr. and Mrs. Weston and Mr. Elton sat down with Mr. Woodhouse to cards.”- (Emma)

Tea was also provided at balls, when suppers were served at midnight, in private alcoves in pleasure gardens, on visits when “Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea; and when he had drank his tea he was quite ready to go home” (Emma), and at musicales —”The first act was over. Now she hoped for some beneficial change; and, after a period of nothing-saying amongst the party, some of them did decide on going in quest of tea” (Persuasion).

A lady at a public assembly ball was dependent on a gentleman to escort her to the tea-room.

At a grand ball in Bath, Catherine Moreland of Northanger Abbey, and her friend Mrs. Allen, feel awkward and out of place until “they received an offer of tea from one of their neighbors; it was thankfully accepted, and this introduced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered it…”-Martyris

So many unanswered questions remain about tea taking in the Regency era, especially among the working classes and this post does not begin to address them or pretend to. Tea was so universal during this age, that anyone who could afford it (or smuggle it in) drank it, including Emma’s Mrs. Bates, who was “almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.

Sources:

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I find Jane Austen’s daily routines inspiring, don’t you? She was well-rounded and enjoyed a variety of activities to keep her body, mind, and spirit healthy and balanced. She wrote newsy letters, played the pianoforte, prayed with her family, sewed beautifully, and loved brisk walks. Austen’s evenings at home were spent reading, sewing, and talking with her family. Evenings in company meant dinners, game tables, and dancing. And Sundays were set aside for rest and church.

But what else did Austen understand about the everyday lives of Regency women that might help further our enjoyment of her novels? What went on behind (and between) the scenes we love so well? In this series, I’ll cover a variety of topics on Regency women. Let’s start by looking at what women did each morning on a normal day.

Mornings

The Regency day was broken into two parts: Morning and Evening. Morning usually refers to the part of the day before dinner. Women changed their dresses for dinner, marking the evening portion of the day. Thus, when we read Austen’s novels, we must understand that “morning” encompasses what we refer to as morning and afternoon.

Pre-Breakfast: This was the time between rising and breakfast, which was given to various private pursuits and personal hygiene. A married woman or mistress of the house (as in Emma’s case) might use this time to look over menus and address household necessities with a housekeeper or servant. We know Austen used that time to practice the piano, walk in the garden or run short errands, and write letters to friends and family members. It’s easy to see that a lady’s personal time before breakfast was quite pleasant.

Breakfast: Breakfast was eaten around 10 a.m. in most households, as the Middletons and their guests do in Sense and Sensibility before their morning outing, though people in the country tended to eat earlier than those in town. Jane Austen herself was known for eating an earlier breakfast at 9 a.m. Breakfast was a leisurely meal, with food on the side board where people might serve themselves. In London at Mrs. Jennings’ table, we read that breakfast “lasted a considerable time” as it was her “favourite meal.”

Breakfasts in the Regency period were “dainty meals of varieties of bread, cake and hot drinks, served in the breakfast-parlour…and eaten…off…fine china” (Maggie Lane, Jane Austen and Food). However, an early and more substantial breakfast might be taken before traveling a long distance. In Mansfield Park, Henry and Fanny’s brother eat a hearty breakfast before setting out early in the morning: “the remaining cold pork bones and mustard in William’s plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shells in Mr. Crawford’s.”

Coffee, tea, and chocolate were the favorite hot drinks of the time, but tea was a breakfast staple for the Austen family: “Toast was made in front of the fire by the consumers themselves, rather than by their servants” (Lane 31). Jane Austen’s duties at breakfast included “[t]oasting the bread and boiling the water for tea in a kettle.” In Sanditon, we find this detail: “[Arthur] took his own cocoa from the tray . . . and turning completely to the fire, sat coddling and cooking it to his own satisfaction and toasting some slices of bread . . .” (ch. 10).

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Morning Calls: Visiting took up a great portion of the day, usually anywhere from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., depending on each household’s meal times. Normally, it was safest to call between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. for most households. Between visits or on quiet mornings at home, women tended to sew together as we know Austen herself enjoyed doing. In Sense and Sensibility, we’re told that the ladies settled themselves after breakfast “round the common working table.” Their work, of course, was needlework.

Social visits were typically 15 minutes in duration. A shorter visit was considered a snub, as is seen in Emma when she allows Harriet Smith to make a 14-minute visit to the Martins: “The style of the visit, and the shortness of it, were then felt to be decisive. Fourteen minutes to be given to those with whom she had thankfully passed six weeks not six months ago!” (emphasis mine). However, in Pride and Prejudice, emphasis is given to the length of Georgiana Darcy’s visit to Elizabeth at the inn: “Their visitors stayed with them above half-an-hour” (emphasis mine).

Visits were made for a variety of reasons, but special visits to friends and neighbors were made before and after trips away from home; new neighbors were often visited, as we see in Pride and Prejudice when Mrs. Bennet pressured Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley; and new brides were visited by everyone in the neighborhood. When Mr. Elton brings Mrs. Elton home, Mr. Woodhouse says, “Not to wait upon a bride is very remiss. […] I ought to have paid my respects to her if possible. It was being very deficient.”

As a Regency woman, morning visits must have ranged from enjoyable and entertaining to downright bothersome and boring. But one thing we modern readers must keep in mind: Virtually every visit required a reciprocal visit. Once you began visiting someone, it must have been difficult to ever stop!

Luncheon: Lunch did not exist as we know it today. Instead, light refreshments were brought in during the day, often during visit. These light meals were comprised of cold foods and served in whatever room the family was in at the time.  When callers came, the woman receiving a visit rang for refreshments and was expected to offer and serve tea and refreshments, all while carrying on polite conversation.

In Austen’s novels, these midday refreshments are referred to as a “tray,” “cold meat,” “a set-out” or a “cold repast” (Lane 35).  In Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth visits Miss Darcy at Pemberley, we read of “cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season.”

Interestingly, the only time a “lunch” of sorts is mentioned in Austen’s novels is at an inn. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters eat “‘the nicest cold luncheon in the world,’ which consists of ‘a sallad and cucumber’ and ‘such cold meat as an inn larder normally affords’” (Ch. 39). In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby stops for a quick “nuncheon” when traveling from London to Cleveland, consisting of “a pint of porter” and “cold beef.”

Dressing for dinner: At the conclusion of a full day of visiting with friends, neighbors, and family members, Regency women then returned to their rooms to change for dinner. The timing of this change of dress again depended on the hours kept in each home. This provided women time to refresh themselves, arrange their hair, and put on their evening dresses. (I imagine they also took the opportunity to loosen their stays for a bit!)

Evening activities ranged from simple dinners at home to full nights of dinner, dancing, and entertaining—sometimes until the early morning hours—so a Regency woman’s day did not necessarily end when the sun went down. Often, it was just getting started!

Please join me next month in Part 2 of this series as we explore the evening portion of a Regency woman’s day.

Food for thought: If you lived in Jane Austen’s time, what would you spend your time doing before breakfast?

Rachel Dodge is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (November 2020). Rachel teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen‘s World blog and Jane Austen‘s Regency World magazine. You can visit her at RachelDodge.com.

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P&P Book CoverInquiring Readers, On September 15th Chronicle Books will release an edition of  Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters’ Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand, By Jane Austen, Curated by Barbara Heller. I received my lovely copy along with this text:

“This deluxe edition brings to life the letters exchanged among Jane Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice. 

Glassine pockets placed throughout the book contain removable replicas of 19 letters from the story. 

Image of Pride and Prejudice letters with glassine inserts. Image Chronicle Books.

Pride and Prejudice letters with glassine inserts. Image Chronicle Books.

These powerful epistles include Lydia’s announcement of her elopement, Mr. Collins’s obsequious missives, and of course Darcy’s painfully honest letter to Elizabeth.

  • Nothing captures Jane Austen’s vivid emotion and keen wit better than her characters’ correspondence.
  • Each letter is re-created with gorgeous calligraphy.
  • Letters are hand-folded with painstaking attention to historical detail.

Perusing the letters will transport readers straight to the drawing-room at Netherfield or the breakfast table at Longbourn.”

Image of Barbara Heller

Barbara Heller

Purchase the book at Chronicle Books, or at other booksellers, including Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Barnes and Noble.

Find Barbara Heller at BarbaraHeller.org, with information about her process and the scribes and graphic artist who designed the letters.

 

ChattyFeet Winners of Jane Austoe Socks!

In mid-August we held a contest regarding ChattyFeet’s Jane Austoe socks and received a variety of creative answers to our prompts. 

We announced three winners on August 22nd–Denise, Mea, and Mary. Mea proudly sent images of her wearing the socks and holding them. 

Denise, another contest winner, also sent in her images.

 

Denise with her new chattyfeet socks

Denise with her new chattyfeet socks

Denise and her socks view her Darcy and Lizzie figurines.

Denise and her socks view her Darcy and Lizzie figurines.

Vic received a surprise gift from Gil Kahana, the CEO of this funky, wonderful site. It was a literature box set of four outstanding authors: Jane Austoe, Virginia Wool, Ernestoe Hemingway, and Marcel Proustoe. I was thrilled and immediately donned two socks. Guess which author dominated!

Image of Vic wears rival authors on her feet whilst reading Fullerton's A Dance With Jane Austen.

Vic wears rival authors on her feet whilst reading Fullerton’s A Dance With Jane Austen.

The box is as unique as the socks.

ChattyFeet does not stop at literature. Famous artists, scientists, and royals also receive the funky and humorous treatment. Jane Austoe is the latest design to receive foot accolades. 

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Inquiring Readers, I discovered that Susanna Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Austen author, is as much of a fan of Georgette Heyer as I am, perhaps more. This delightful article compares and contrasts the writings of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Susannah also offers a giveaway at the end of her article. Enjoy!

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Regency Buck there’s a delightful scene that takes place in Hookham’s Library in London’s Bond Street. The heroine, Judith Taverner, picks up a novel called Sense and Sensibility, one of the “new publications on offer” and written “By a Lady”. She proceeds to read aloud to her cousin Bernard from the scene when mercenary John Dashwood congratulates his sister Elinor on capturing the romantic interest of Colonel Brandon. John Dashwood is of course mistaken – it is Marianne that interests the Colonel – and it’s a lovely comic moment of misunderstanding. Judith closes the book and says to her cousin, “Surely the writer of that must possess a most lively mind?” This is one of the tributes that Heyer pays to Jane Austen, in her fiction. She knew only too well how very lively was the mind of her favourite novelist.

She’d have loved to have learned more about Jane Austen, but Heyer did not have the wealth of material available to today’s reader. James Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir had been published, and she could also turn to Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, but otherwise she had to pretty much rely on the novels to gain details she could use in her own fiction. There was no superbly researched edition of the letters by Deirdre le Faye, no Tomalin biography, no John Mullan analysis, for Heyer to turn to. But she made the most of what she had and reread the novels frequently. One reviewer of Friday’s Child picked up on this, noting with approval, “The author has read Jane Austen to advantage”.

I think Heyer must have felt, even with the limited biographical material available to her, that she had much in common with Jane Austen. Both women lost adored fathers and had rather troubled relationships with their mothers, both cherished their privacy, both were meticulous when it came to accuracy, and neither suffered fools easily. Both novelists “dearly loved to laugh” and their humour shines through in their fiction.

Sense and Sensibility is a novel about sisters and one can see the influence of this in Heyer’s oeuvre. Frederica is the sensible sister in the novel of that name, while Charis is the emotional and romantic equivalent of Marianne Dashwood. Mary and Sophia Challoner of Devil’s Cub, Horatia and Elizabeth Winwood of The Convenient Marriage are more examples of Austen-influenced sister-pairings, and Heyer shows, just as Austen did in Sense and Sensibility, that second attachments can succeed and that sometimes handsome young men turn out to be rotters.

Heyer learned from Northanger Abbey too, playing with Gothic conventions such as abductions, strange and overbearing ‘villains’, dark and stormy nights, and people being locked in cellars – but, like Austen, she mines Gothic tropes for humour, not for scariness. We find Gothic devices being mocked in The Reluctant Widow, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child, Cousin Kate and Faro’s Daughter.

Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablancain 2008
Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablanca in 2008

Novelist PD James once described Pride and Prejudice as “Mills & Boon, written by a genius”. Certainly, Austen’s novels give us the standard romance plot of ‘boy meets girl – consequent misunderstanding – romantic happiness’. Of course, Austen adds to this standard plot her own unique depth, psychological acuteness, and complexity of character which lifts her books into the realm of genius. Heyer uses this standard plot too – just as Elizabeth Bennet has to listen to Darcy’s “not handsome enough to tempt me”, so does Arabella have to listen to slighting comments from Mr Beaumaris. Like Austen, Heyer shows her couples learning about themselves and their world, often through making mistakes or initial prejudice. Sylvester, like Darcy, will learn to be “properly humbled” by the woman he comes to love, Sherry has to learn from Hero to think of others and not just himself, Freddy Standen in Cotillion must discover that love comes into one’s life in unexpected ways. Heyer shows couples sparring with each other in seeming dislike, just as Elizabeth and Darcy bandy words in the ball room. In Bath Tangle, Lady of Quality, Black Sheep and The Grand Sophy we see young men and women falling in love as they argue, and so often their language has echoes of the language used by Austen’s characters.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, and eyes that speak to each other are important in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy finds himself admiring Elizabeth’s very fine eyes and when Emma’s eyes “invited him irresistibly to come to her”, Mr Knightley doesn’t even try to resist. The eyes of Heyer’s heroines (usually cool grey ones) are often mentioned and are a great part of their attraction to their lovers. Eyes in her novels also sparkle with laughter, for Heyer’s heroines all love to laugh, as do Austen’s (even Fanny Price laughs – once!). Gurgles of laughter, lips twitching in smiles, and sudden bursts of laughter, all remind one of Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter, or of Emma’s smiles.

Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen's six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.
Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen’s six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

“There are just so many similarities in language, character and plot, as one sees again and again how Heyer pays tribute to Jane Austen. To many modern readers, the idea of cousins marrying each other is not appealing (we know of the possible genetic consequences for their children), but we find cousin marriages, which must have been common in the Regency, happening in Mansfield Park and in The Grand Sophy. That Heyer novel has a rather sleepy Spanish woman, a Marquesa, who is surely a Lady Bertram copy-cat, Dr Grant’s obsession with food and wine is mirrored in the wonderfully named Sir Bonamy Ripple of False Colours, and sudden illness, elopements to Scotland, and marital unhappiness (all to be found in Mansfield Park) are found frequently in Heyer. Sir Thomas Bertram and Miles Calverleigh have money from Indian plantations, Tom Bertram and Horatia Winwood are addicted to gaming, Fanny Price and Kitty Charing are taken in by relatives when young, and even Lady Bertram’s lazy pug is comically reincarnated in Friday’s Child. Emma is a rather managing young lady – so is Sophy Stanton-Lacy of The Grand Sophy though Emma has more to learn than Sophy; Miss Bates rarely stops talking long enough to draw breath and we gain such a vivid sense of how exhausting it must be for poor Jane Fairfax to live with her – Maria Farlow in Lady of Quality also has an inexhaustible flow of “nothing-sayings” which exhausts Annis; and Mr Woodhouse’s hypochondria has influenced the vapourish and imagined illness of many Heyer characters. Mrs Elton’s social climbing teaches Mrs Challoner a thing or two, dim-witted Harriet Smith and Belinda of The Foundling have much in common, while Bath Tangle concerns itself with lost love and second chances, just as does Persuasion.

Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer wrote about young women who enter the marriage market, and their novels are centred on romantic relationships. However, both novelists then proceed to de-centre this romance by using comedy, irony and by showing us the realities of marriage. Sometimes love or lust are just not enough, as is obvious from the Bennet marriage. Both writers investigate what W.H. Auden called “the amorous effects of brass” and show how money influences and distorts. And both show us the instability and social concerns of the Regency era (urban poverty, enclosure of land, women lacking dowries, a growing middle class, and soldiers with not enough to do). They give us heroines who must learn to cope on their own while losing homes, income, family and love, both show an unerring sense of place, and they give us so much to laugh over.

I love both of these authors, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for very different reasons. Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels, Heyer historical ones, so she spends more time explaining social detail than does Austen. I love Heyer’s sense of fun and relax into her fiction without feeling challenged or disturbed (which in these Covid times is exactly what I need). But Heyer never provides the acute psychological brilliance that we find in Austen, or the sheer innovation, or the depth of characterisation, or the knowledge that every single time we go back to her books we will learn something new about ourselves or other people. Austen challenges our intellects and makes us think; Heyer soothes and restores. Georgette Heyer would have been the first to admit that her own talents were far inferior to those of her literary mentor – she knew her novels were not in the same class. And yet her novels have huge charm and I am happy to keep going back to them, always with delight. I think that as readers we can rejoice in the differences and enjoy both writers in different ways, and have the fun of finding the echoes of Austen in the pages of Heyer.

Jennie Chawleigh of A Civil Contract reads Mansfield Park after her marriage to Adam. She is consoled by reading in its pages that a man can form a deep and lasting second attachment, and seeing Edmund Bertram begin to forget Mary and think about Fanny brings her comfort. I love such references made by one of my favourite novelists to the writer whose books I adore more than any other. In my view, one can find that both writers are, in the words of Heyer, “complete to a shade”, each in their own inimitable way.

About Susannah Fullerton:

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen – Jane Austen and Crime, A Dance with Jane Austen, Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction. She has also organised 3 Georgette Heyer conferences in Sydney and edited Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade. Please visit her website at https://susannahfullerton.com.au/ She is a ‘Lady Patroness’ of the newly formed International Heyer Society, which publishes a newsletter ‘Nonpareil’ and sends out fascinating posts about all things Heyer. For further information, see https://heyersociety.com/

Bibliography:

A fuller version of this article can be found in Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer, Edited by Rachel Hyland, Overlord Publishing, 2018

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester, ,Penguin, 2011

SPECIAL OFFER!:

Susannah writes a very popular blog, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’, which comes out for free on the first day of each month. This blog provides reading recommendations, keeps you up-to-date concerning film versions of classic novels, discusses a fabulous poem each month, and much more.

If you subscribe to this blog before 31 September, your name will be entered into a draw to win one of these prizes:

  • A signed copy of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade 
Image of the cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
Cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime

  • A 25-page Reader’s Guide to Jane Austen’s Emma

  • Complimentary membership for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 of the International Heyer Society

  • Two of Susannah’s fabulously illustrated video talks: ‘Jane Austen: Her Life and Works’ and ‘The Inimitable Georgette Heyer’ (each talk is about 60 mins)

To enter the draw, simply email Susannah on susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au, reference HEYER, and she will subscribe you to the blog and enter your name in the draw. Winners will be announced at the end of September.

Georgette Heyer links on this blog:

How I Fell In Love With Georgette Heyer, Vic Sanborn, August 7, 2012

Georgette Heyer Posts on Jane Austen’s World

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