Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s World’ Category

Inquiring readers: One of the activities I have missed the most during this year of the COVID-19 is traveling abroad. In this blog post, Tony Grant takes us on a tour to The Vyne, which is one of England’s grand houses closely associated with Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy!

Image of The_Vyne_House wikipediaThe Vyne, Sherborne St John Hampshire, Image from Wikipedia

The Vyne, is an 18th century mansion near the village of Sherbourne St John. It is just north of the town of  Basingstoke; eight miles from Steventon, which is located south west of Basingstoke; eighteen miles from Chawton; twenty miles north of Winchester; and just over fifty miles from the centre of London. It is a typical grand house that, although its present appearance is 18th century, has been developed and adapted over the centuries to fit different periods. In the late 18th century its proximity to Basingstoke and Steventon put it and the Chute family, who owned it, within Jane Austen’s family local connections. George and Cassandra Austen, after their marriage in Bath, moved to Steventon in 1764 when George and Cassandra Austen first took up the living of Steventon Parish and were set to start their family with their first child, James, born on February 13th, 1765. Jane, the Austen’s eighth child, was born 16th December, 1775. As the vicar of Steventon, George Austen associated with the country gentry and landowners in the area and these included the Chutes at The Vyne in Sherborne St John.

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne was first built as a large Tudor mansion by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain who died in 1540. The King himself, was entertained three times at The Vyne by Lord Sandys. The wealth of the Sandys family declined slowly through the centuries, but the Civil Wars 1642 – 1651 finished the family as an authority in the country and their wealth declined drastically. In 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, who was the Speaker in the House, a role which had great power in Parliament shaping how Parliament debated issues and passed legislation during the last Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was set up after the execution of Charles 1st and continued to a little after Oliver Cromwell’s death and the reinstatement of the monarchy. Chaloner Chute was a very important man in the country. He reduced the size of the original Tudor mansion and modernised it, employing John Webb, a talented pupil of Inigo Jones to redesign it.

Floorplan of The VyneThe floor plan of The Vyne, The National Trust

Chute died in 1659 and not much more was done to the house for the next hundred years. His great grandson, John Chute (1701-76) inherited the house in 1754. John Chute was a talented architect and along with his friend Horace Walpole helped Walpole design the Gothic interiors of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house at Twickenham. Along with Walpole he also redesigned the Gothic interior of the chapel at The Vyne. In his early thirties, he brought back mementoes from his grand tour of Europe which remain in the house today. 

John Chute died without heirs in 1776 and the house passed to his cousin Thomas Lobb (1721-90), the son of a Thomas Lobb of Norfolk who had married Elizabeth Chute (d 1725) in 1720, hence the family connection. This second Thomas Lobb assumed the name of Chute when John Chute died and passed the Vyne to him, thus keeping the family name extant. Thomas (Lobb) Chute married Anne Rachael Wiggett (1733-90) in 1753.

They had two sons, William John Chute (1757-1824) and Thomas Chute (1772-1827). William, who inherited the house in 1790, married Elizabeth Smith in 1794.

Upon his death in 1824 the Vyne passed to his younger brother Thomas, a clergyman. As neither William nor Thomas had issue, the house was left in 1827 to William John Chute’s godson and part of the Wiggett family, William Lyde Wiggett (1800-79). THIS William assumed the name of Chute in 1827 and succeeded to the Vyne in 1842 when Elizabeth Smith Chute passed away.


James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother, became a close and lifelong friend of Tom Chute, William John Chute’s brother. They both loved fox hunting and often rode with the hounds together. On his clergyman’s income, James Austen was able to keep his own pack of hounds. As rector of Steventon, George Austen, Jane’s father, was also a visitor to the Chute family home.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet and the Bennet girls were all a flutter at wealthy landowners, such as Fitzwilliam Darcy, came to live in their neighbourhood. The game was on to get her daughters married into a wealthy strata of society and rise in the world. You had to be ambitious if nothing else and take a chance.

The local clergy were regularly invited to the local landowner’s home for dinner; they became almost a part of the family in many ways. Mr Collins waxed lyrical about his great honour of being invited to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

“She had asked him twice to dine at Rosings and had sent for him only the Saturday before  to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening… she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood.”

We can gather that James Austen became closely associated with the Chute family, first because of his father’s connections and subsequently as the vicar of  Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne was located.  Later he took over the incumbency of Steventon Parish from his father, a mere eight miles from The Vyne, which kept him close to the Chutes and the great house.  

James accumulated parishes throughout his clerical career. Deirdre le Faye enumerates the following. 

“curate of Stoke Charity , Hants, 1788, (the year he completed his studies with an MA from Oxford), the curate at Overton Hants in 1790, the vicar at Sherborne St John in 1791, the curate of Deane in 1791, the vicar of Cubbington in 1792, the perpetual curate of Hunningham in 1805  curate of Steventon (under his father) in 1801 and finally the vicar of Steventon  between 1805 and 1819 (died 1819).” 

Photo of The grave of James and Mary Austen at Steventon

James is buried alongside his wife in Steventon Churchyard. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Jane and Cassandra fully took part in local society, including friendships formed through family associations and connections provided by their father and brothers. Jane often wrote about her acquaintances and the local activities she took part in, including information she knew Cassandra would be interested in, often referring to the Chutes of The Vyne.

Thursday 14th – Friday 15th January 1796

“Friday- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over- My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. William Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom ( Chute)  is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass.”

On Saturday 1st November 1800, Jane went to a ball , presumably at Basingstoke.

“It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples-The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there and all the meaner and more unusual etc etc’s- There was a scarcity of men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were much good for much .- I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Steven Terry, T. Chute and James Digwood and four with Catherine-“

Saturday 9th November 1800

“Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chutes frank and only happened intirely (JA’s spelling) to forget it- but will write soon-“

On Saturday3rd January 1801 Jane saw Tom Chute when she visited Ash Park. On Friday 9th January  a few days later she saw him again at The Deane. These are all houses belonging to the local gentry in Hampshire.

On Monday 22nd April 1805 she hears of Tom Chute’s fall from a horse.

“I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him.”

On the 8th January 1807, Jane adds another news item to her letter to Cassandra

“…. and another that Tom Chute is going to settle in Norfolk.” This was of course where another Chute family property was located, through the Wiggett connection.”

In January 1813, she again refers to the use of Mr Chute’s franks.

And probably most intriguing of all on Wednesday, February 26th 1817 Jane writes,

“I am sorry to hear of Caroline Wiggetts being so ill. Mrs Chute would feel almost like a mother in losing her.”

The reference to using the Chutes’ “frank” refers to using the official postal stamp the Chutes used. It meant that James Austen didn’t have to pay for his letters to be delivered by the postal service. It was paid for by the Chutes. At the time of this last message Jane was still in the process of writing Sanditon and she had a mere few months left to live. Jane died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817. The Chutes remained in her sphere of interest to the last. 

Claire Tomalin makes links between Jane Austen’s real life associations, the Chutes, etc., and some of her novels’ characters. She surmises that William John Chute and Elizabeth Chute nee Smith could have inspired some of her ideas about Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane and Elizabeth Chute did not become great friends but Elizabeth Chute was well read and was an intelligent person from all accounts. There is also the matter of Caroline Wiggett, who was mentioned in the letter above. Caroline was a second cousin of William’s mother and adopted by Elizabeth and William. She was brought up at The Vyne from 1803. From Caroline’s journals we learn that she had a rather lonely childhood at The Vyne. Could she have been an inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park? Tomlin rightly warns us about making too many assumptions. Writers use many experiences from their lives but use them creatively within their works. A writer will not use personal experiences in a factual way, but aspects of their experiences can inevitably be adapted, drawn upon, and used fictionally.

However, what attracts me most about Jane’s letters, which is clearly obvious in the quotations above, is her humorous tone, often teasing, and making fun of those people and situations she writes about. Of course these letters are private letters to her dear sister Cassandra. She and Cassandra would have had their private jokes and opinions, not for publication. Haven’t we all?

Eventually in 1956, upon the death of Sir Charles Chute, the final Chute owner, The Vyne was bequeathed to The National Trust, who take care of the house today. It is open to the public.

Photo of a National Trust membership cardNational Trust Membership card.

A few years ago, Emily, one of our daughters, bought us a National Trust membership as a Christmas present. The trust looks after hundreds of old houses, estates, gardens, coastal paths and wild areas of the British Isles. With membership we get free entry into these estates, gardens and historic houses, which is an amazing thing. 

In March 2017, Marilyn and I went to visit The Vyne. I had heard of the Austen connection, of course, and also the connection with Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the Gothic Revival movement. After university, Emily had worked as an intern at Strawberry Hill House, Walpole’s mansion at Twickenham, and we visited Strawberry Hill with Emily as our guide. We were expecting to see something of the Gothic Revival style of interior design at The Vyne, just as we had seen at Strawberry Hill. 

Photo of Sherborne St John road sign Sherborne St John. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I have focused a lot of this article on the period when the Austens lived at Steventon and on the connections between the Austen family and the Chutes. In an earlier period, Horace Walpole was best friends with John Chute (1701-1776) before William John Chute and Thomas Chute, the Austens’ acquaintances.

The Vyne is rich in objects and paintings brought to The Vyne after John Chute returned from his grand tour of Europe. At 39, John was older than his fellow travellers. His cousin Francis Whitehead, who he went on tour with, was 23, and the friends he made on the tour, including Horace Walpole, were virtually a generation younger.

Photo of Some of John Chute's porcelain collectionPorcelain brought back by John Chute from his Grand Tour. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Marilyn and I entered through the entrance on the south side overlooking the extensive surrounding parkland and the lake.  Each room is attended by a guide. Once you ask a question you are inundated with the most interesting and detailed, in-depth information about the Chutes, the house, and the very room you might be standing in at the given moment.

Photo of the Vyne library, National TrustThe library. Image from The National Trust

We walked through the rooms packed with objects and paintings. The library has two large globes of the world, a fantastic ornate baroque fireplace, full length portraits of the Chutes, and walls with shelf upon shelf of books. I must admit to a quirky disposition when I walk through libraries in old houses. You must not touch the books. They are rare, ancient, bound in leather and cost a fortune. I have an enormous urge, which I have to fight against, to spend time with the said books, take them off the shelves and read them. It is always a difficult time having to merely walk past them. I spent a moment reading the titles on the spines though. 

We walked along the oak gallery, the walls lined with portraits and landscapes. The floor is of oak timbers. The walls are faced with oak wainscoting with an intricate “folded linen” effect carved and finely chiselled into the surface of each panel.  They are similar to the panelling I have seen in the Tudor Palace at Hampton Court and other Tudor mansions around the country. This is a fantastic example of the Gothic Revival on the walls, created in the 18th century and not the 16th century.

Photo of linen fold panelingLinen fold oak panelling. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

The chapel attached to the eastern wing of the house is a sight to behold. It is the epitome of Gothic Revival. We think Jane Austen did visit The Vyne, so there is a good chance she too gasped at what you see today. Horace Walpole advised on the decoration. John Chute employed an Italian craftsman called Spiridore Roma, who worked on the chapel between 1769-1771. He used a technique called trompe l’oeil, to create a three dimensional effect of buttresses, Gothic arched windows, and fan ceilings.

Photo of Trompe l'oeil in the chapel National Trust pictureTrompe l’oeil in the chapel. National Trust image.

I have seen the real thing in Bath Abbey and other medieval churches and cathedrals and it is obvious that this is not the real thing, but this paint effect is very impressive indeed. There are medieval-styled tiles on the floor and stained glass windows–all 18th century reinterpretations of medieval originals. The effect is glorious.

Image of Tudor floor tiles (Gothic Revival)

Image of Tudor Revival Gothic floor tiles, courtesy of Tony Grant

Next to the chapel is the Tomb Chamber. It is set out like a Gothic cathedral chapter house. It has stained glass windows and a stone slab floor, but the centre piece is a table tomb with a reclining white marble statue of Speaker Chute  (Chaloner Chute 1595- 1659) lying full length with his head propped up on an elbow. Horace Walpole wanted to create the emotions derived from Gothic architecture and in this chapel and tomb chamber he aided John Chute, his friend in recreating that Gothic moment.

Photo of Challoner Chutes tombChaloner Chutes tomb. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

After our tour inside the great house Marilyn and I walked in the grounds. We had a wonderful view of the long lake, smooth green lawns, and the massive cedar trees. We went inside the brick summer house and looked up at its web-like beamed ceiling.

Photo of the summer houseThe Summer House. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

We walked through the walled garden where the National Trust is recreating a great houses kitchen garden with a variety of shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.

Photo of the kitchen garden by Tony GrantThe walled kitchen garden. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

 We walked along the Lime Walk and listened to the wind in the branches and birds singing in the canopy.

Photo of The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne

The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Visiting a National Trust property such as The Vyne lifts the spirits, and provides beauty, natural and man-made, that soothes the soul. Afterwards, we drove into the village of Sherborne St Peter nearby and walked to the church where James Austen was vicar.


“The Vyne Hampshire,” published by The National Trust  1998 (revised 2015)

Jane Austen A Life, by Claire Tomalin published by Penguin Books 1997.

Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Third Edition)  Published by Oxford University Press 1997.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen  Published by Penguin Classics 1996

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen  Published by The Penguin English Library 1966

Tony Grant Posts:


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As we enter a new year, it’s intriguing to think about the power of a fresh start. Jane Austen herself seems to have entered into a new season when she came back to the Hampshire countryside in 1809, after leaving Steventon for Bath with her family in 1801.

During her time away from the Hampshire of her youth, Austen’s writing activity slowed and she experienced a period marked by loss and change. But once she and Mrs. Austen and Cassandra moved into the cottage on her brother Edward’s property in Chawton, she started writing prolifically—revising earlier manuscripts, drafting new ones, and beginning her publishing journey.

An Unsettled Season

There are many thoughts on why Austen didn’t write as much during those years, but it’s important to note two important factors. First, not only did Austen move away from her childhood home, but she also experienced grief, including the loss of her dear friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy (December 1804), her own beloved father Reverend Austen (January 1805), and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Austen (1808).

Second, after the Reverend Austen’s death, the Austen women stayed on in Bath, moving several times. They then moved to Southampton in 1806, living first with Francis and Mary Austen and then in Castle Square. The Austen women remained unsettled for quite some time.

Sydney Place in Bath where Austen lived 1801-1804 (photo by Rachel Dodge)

As many of us know firsthand, losing a loved one is at the top of most stress charts. Moving to a new home is thought to be highly stressful as well. It’s possible that the combination of grief and frequent moves may have impacted Austen’s creativity.

A Fresh Start

After living away from the quiet of the Hampshire countryside for so many years, and having moved houses several times, moving to Chawton must have been a relief for the Austen women. It also seems to have provided just the right time and place for Austen’s writing to flourish. Almost as soon as they settled into the house there, Austen began revising and writing at a terrific pace.

It’s also interesting to note that when Austen moved to Chawton she picked back up her manuscript for Sense and Sensibility (originally titled “Elinor and Marianne”), a story about a recently widowed woman and her daughters who go to live in a small cottage on the property of a male relative. The Dashwood women, in need of a fresh start, find their new beginning in Barton. The Austen women found theirs in Chawton.

This intriguing quote from Sense and Sensibility almost seems as though it could have been written from the Austens’ point of view:

The Dashwoods were now settled at Barton with tolerable comfort to themselves. The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding them, were now become familiar, and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with far greater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford, since the loss of their father.

Sense and Sensibility, Ch. 9

To view an image of a contemporary watercolor of Chawton Cottage, as Austen may have known it, you can see it here on the JASNA site, in a fascinating Persuasions article entitled “Chawton Cottage Transfigured” by Joan Austen-Leigh (1982).

At Chawton, Austen revised and published Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813); wrote and published Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815); reacquired Northanger Abbey and wrote Persuasion (both of which were published after her death in 1817); and started “Sanditon.”

St Nicholas Church at Chawton
(photo by Rachel Dodge)

Storing Up Inspiration

It seems that Austen’s time away from her beloved Hampshire countryside actually played an important role in her writing journey. Even if she didn’t write as much during those years, she was evidently storing up experiences, people, places, and inspiration all along the way. Coming “home” to the countryside and settling down sparked new creativity.

There are many factors that may have led to Austen’s fresh spurt of writing at Chawton, but here are a few that come to mind:

  • Feeling at home and settled in their own house
  • Time and space to walk, think, and listen
  • Slower pace and quieter surroundings
  • Familiar scenery, sounds, and walks
  • Extended family, nieces and nephews, and friends nearby
  • New experiences and settings for inspiration (Bath, Southampton, Godmersham, and Lyme Regis)
  • New books to read (at Chawton House and Godmersham Park)
  • The society of local families

One might say that Austen herself was living in her own ideal setting at Chawton: As she wrote to Anna Austen in 1814, “You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life;—3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on” (emphasis mine).

For Austen, perhaps a country village was not only the perfect thing to work on but also the perfect place in which to work. That setting—the “delight” of her life—seems to be where she worked best.

It’s heartening to consider new beginnings like these. After difficulty and heartache, light dawned once more for Austen. And the unsettled years certainly weren’t wasted; they provided Austen with new experiences and fresh inspiration.

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. She is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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This article was researched, written, and designed by LiYuan Byrne, Josephine Chan, Ariana Desai, Carolyn Engargiola, Ava Giles, Macy Levin, Gage Miles, Sophia Romagnoli, Kate Snyder, Oscar Steinhardt, Lauren Stoneman, Alexandria Thomas, Varsha Venkatram, and Dr. Ben Wiebracht.

Introduction to this class project

This article is by the teacher and students of “Advanced Topics: Love Stories” at Stanford Online High School. It is part of a class-wide project to explore the city that so dazzled Catherine Morland, but about which Austen herself had mixed feelings. We started with the 1795 satire “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” – a roughly eight page poem by little-known poet John Matthews. The poem is chock-full of allusions and references to Bath institutions – some still familiar, like the Pump Room and the Royal Crescent; others long forgotten, like the riding school of Jonathan Dash. Working in small groups, the students consulted a wide array of sources to track down these many references, and in so doing reconstruct a typical day in the life of a Georgian visitor to Bath. They looked through old guidebooks to the city, published scholarship on Georgian Bath, old Parliamentary records, newspapers from the time, and much else. They also had the benefit of a virtual visit from two experts familiar to readers of JAW: Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant. Then, they distilled their mountain of research into what we hope is an informative and enjoyable article, one that does justice to the playful spirit of our poem, and indeed, of Northanger Abbey itself.

When Northanger Abbey was finally being prepared for publication in 1817, nearly twenty years after its composition, Austen worried that the novel had missed its moment. Anticipating criticism on that score, she included an “Advertisement” warning that “places, manners, books and opinions have undergone considerable changes.” This was particularly true of the city of Bath, where the first half of the novel is set. The thriving Georgian resort town that Catherine Morland discovers had lost much of its luster by the late Regency as the upper classes, disdainful of the new, middle-class visitors to the city, sought out other retreats (see Akiko Takei, “Sanditon and the Uncertain Prospects of a Resort Business”). Austen’s advertisement is a reminder that her novels, immortal though they may be as works of art, are still very much grounded in time and place.

This semester, my students and I have been working to recover the Bath of the 1790s. Our rather unexpected guide has been a long-forgotten satirical poem that I discovered over the summer: “Bath: An Adumbration in Rhyme” (1795), by the Herefordshire physician and poetaster John Matthews (see the full text here). The poem describes a typical day in the Bath season, from the morning trip to the Pump Room to an afternoon stroll along the Royal Crescent to the inevitable evening ball at the Upper or Lower Assembly Rooms. The poem is hardly fine verse, but it is a fun read, tripping along in four-beat couplets and cracking good-natured jokes about the vanity of Bath life. For readers of Jane Austen, it is also a rich source of information. As Matthews ribs and roasts his way through the town, he touches on many of the places and customs that Catherine herself experiences, often in ways that help us better appreciate Austen’s own treatment of the city.

The students spent almost two months tracking down the allusions in this poem, placing it in its literary and historical context, and drawing connections between it and Northanger Abbey. Our article is truly a collaborative project – both the research and the prose. And, we’re not quite done with Matthews yet! Next semester, we hope to publish a new edition of Matthews’ “Adumbration,” complete with an introduction and annotations, and designed specifically for readers of Jane Austen. For now, we offer you a day in Catherine Morland’s Bath, courtesy of John Matthews!


The Pump Room

Two images. Left: “Comforts of Bath: Pump Room,” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798 (image credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection); The Pump Room, overlooking the baths (image credit: Tony Grant)

Of all the gay cities in Britain renowned,

Dear Bath is the place where most pleasure is found.

There alone is true breeding, politeness, and ease;

You have nothing to do, but each other to please.

There the circle of day is one scene of delight,

From morning to noon, from noon until night;

For if dull in the morning, you open your eyes,

You may run to the Pump Room as soon as you rise,


So the Beaux in their boots, the Belles in their slippers,

Come to walk up and down and peep at the dippers,

For though strange it appears, I’d have you to know,

Whilst you’re drinking above, some are bathing below,

And each glass of water, brought up by the pumps,

Contains the quintessence of half-a-score rumps.

Oh my! Our poem begins with some rather indecorous insinuations. Could it really be true that the supposed healing waters of Bath were literal bath waters, and that lecherous men could watch women bathe from the Pump Room?

In reality, the Pump Room was located at the site of the old Roman baths, where mineral water from hot springs was ingeniously pumped up and served to guests. The water was thought to have curative properties, thus making Bath a popular destination for wealthy invalids. Eighteenth-century aristocrats had the choice between descending below to relax in the baths, or drinking the mineral water in the Pump Room above the pools, giving some the perfect vantage point to peep at the underdressed bathers (cotton tends to mold to the skin!). Matthews’ racy joke that some may have visited the Pump Room to catch a glimpse of others bathing was, surprisingly, true. Fortunately, despite what rumor-mongers like Matthews might say, it was completely untrue that drinking water was pumped up from the baths below, and that those who frequented the Pump Room partook of the “quintessence of rumps”! 

And frequent they did: the Pump Room was a staple of the Bath morning routine. It was a popular, casual meeting place for visitors to “parade up and down for an hour,” conduct private conversations with friends, or search for their crush! Catherine hastens to the Pump Room several times over the course of her stay in Bath, once anxiously checking the Pump Room book to see if Henry Tilney is still in Bath, and another time consulting it for his address. The Pump Room book was a register with the names of everyone currently staying in Bath: a good way to keep tabs on interesting young men or women! All in all, the Pump Room was an important institution in the Bath marriage market. With a register of guests (with addresses), inbuilt opportunities to spy on the opposite sex, and a standard morning routine that nearly everyone followed, the Pump Room treated lovesickness at least as effectively as gout!

The New Arrivals

Image of “Comforts of Bath: Coaches Arriving,” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798 (public domain)

Having there drank enough to banish the spleen,

You go home to breakfast with appetite keen;

But as strong tea is apt to give people the vapours,

After that ‘twill be proper to read the newspapers,

To behold where your own name appears in the list

Of arrivals at Bath, where Sir Sawny MacTwist,

And Lady O’Connor, with Mynheer Van Prow,

All figure away in the very same row.

Sure such honor as this, must make a man vain,

And chase all the megrims that trouble his brain.

Leaving behind the Pump Room and its dubious refreshments, Matthews escorts us back to our rented lodgings for breakfast – one of the few private moments a visitor was likely to enjoy during a day in Bath. There we peruse the newspapers, but not for news. The Bath papers all featured a weekly list of new arrivals in town, organized by rank. For January 7, 1784, to take an example at random, the Bath Chronicle begins the list with “Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire,” proceeds through an array of lesser nobility and gentry, and concludes with (one suspects) a number of spinsters: “Miss Mitchell, Miss Hervey, Miss Praed, Miss Danvers, Miss Portley, &c. &c.” Where you fell in the list, as Matthews hints, was a matter of some concern. 

The famous list of Bath arrivals does, interestingly enough, make an appearance in Austen’s novels, and exactly where you would expect it to. Sir Walter Elliott learns from it that his aristocratic relatives Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret have arrived in Bath. If anyone in Bath were to be studying the list of arrivals, it would be the intensely rank-conscious Sir Walter!


Town and Country

Image of “The Macaroni,” Philip Dawe, 1773 (public domain)

When you’ve with politics done, the beauties to meet,

You may stroll for an hour up and down Milsom Street;

Where the Misses so smart, at ev’ry fine shop,

Like rabbits in burrows, just in and out pop;

Where booted and spurred, the gay macaronies,

Bestride Mandell’s counter instead of their ponies,

Preferring the pleasure of ‘tending the fair,

To breathing the freshness of Lansdown’s pure air;

Besides, ‘tis the tippy’ and more in the flash,

To canter away in the school of old Dash.

Time to sally forth again! From breakfast, Matthews shifts the scene to fashionable Milsom Street, where the best shopping in Bath was to be had. In the shop of the milliner Elizabeth Mandell, we meet a swaggering set of “macaronies” – foppish, overdressed fellows who embody both the pleasure-loving spirit of Bath and its absurd vanity. Despite their flashy spurs, these pompous bachelors are apparently less interested in riding than preening for the ladies. When they do ride, they limit themselves to a trot around the yard of Jonathan Dash’s riding school. Lansdown Hill, a popular and scenic destination nine miles from the city proper, is much beyond their range. Thus the town-bound macaronies will never know the pleasure of “pure air” – one of the few luxuries not for sale in crowded, smelly Bath (more on the aromas of Bath later…).

Matthews suggests that a young man might venture to Lansdown instead of “’tending the fair,” (read: courting the ladies), but as John Thorpe shows, the two could be done at the same time. Careful readers of Northanger Abbey might remember that John Thorpe offers Catherine a ride up Lansdown Hill during their first meeting in Bath. The Tilneys and Catherine, on the other hand, choose to traverse Beechen Cliff – the closer, more natural, and perhaps less frequented location. Jane Austen walked both Lansdown Hill and Beechen Cliff during her time in Bath, and in Northanger Abbey, she may be using the two locations to draw a distinction between Catherine’s two suitors. The hour-to-two-hours-long carriage ride to Lansdown Hill would provide the perfect occasion for Bath gallants hoping to be in close quarters with young women — how scandalous! Mr. Allen questions the propriety of such carriage rides, thinking it “an odd appearance, if young ladies are frequently driven about in them by young men, to whom they are not even related.” It makes sense that the cocksure, indecorous John Thorpe would propose such a thing to Catherine. Henry’s choice of the more respectable walking trip to Beechen Cliff (with his sister accompanying them) may be Austen’s way of offering him as the more thoughtful and substantive option for Catherine.

The Masters of Ceremony

Two images: Left: Etching of Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies for the Upper Rooms, 1782 (© The Trustees of the British Museum); Right: James King, Master of Ceremonies for the Lower Assembly Rooms, 1805 (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Next on the parades, you must walk for a while,

Then to lounge at the pump again is the style;

For at Bath, goddess Trivia has ‘stablished her throne,

And even Pleasure is managed by rules of her own,

And her laws are so good, that ‘twere pity to break ‘em,

So there’s appointed two priests, to make people keep ‘em.

Them her Masters of Ceremony Folly here calls,

Who preside o’er the concerts, the assemblies, and balls;

The one is named Tyson, the other called King,

Who wear each a gold medal, tied fast to a string.

On grave Tyson’s bright bauble, Minerva is seen,

But on King’s (much more proper) is Beauty’s fair Queen;

For Wisdom with Fashion can never be found,

But too often with Folly does Beauty abound.

Baubles? Kings and Queens? What is Mr. Matthews talking about here? Well, Richard Tyson and James King were Masters of Ceremony in Bath, responsible for “presiding over social functions, welcoming newcomers, and enforcing an official code of regulations designed to preserve decorum and promote social interaction” (Gores, Psychosocial Spaces: Verbal and Visual Readings of British Culture, 1750-1820, p. 71). Though it wasn’t part of the official job description, the Masters of Ceremony were also matchmakers, personally visiting everyone who arrived at Bath and then, especially at balls, seamlessly introducing them to each other. Indeed, were it not for Mr. King, who oversaw the Lower Assembly Rooms, Henry and Catherine may never have met at all: “the master of the ceremonies introduced [Catherine] to a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner;- his name was Tilney”! As for the “gold medals,” the Masters of Ceremony were given official medallions for their roles as Arbitres Elegantiarum or “Judges of Style”. Mr. Tyson’s medallion was engraved with the somber Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war, whom the city’s Roman founders associated with the hot springs. Mr. King’s medallion, meanwhile, featured the graceful Venus, goddess of beauty and love. Matthews considers Venus the “more proper” patroness for the city. While there isn’t much wisdom to be found among the fashionable follies of Bath, there is, he concedes, plenty of beauty! (See The New Bath Guide, 1799, p. 67).

This isn’t the only passage, by the way, in which Matthews invokes classical gods and goddesses. The poem abounds with such references. This was characteristic of the eighteenth-century “mock epic” style, which found humor in describing trivial events in a lofty tone. Seen another way, though, the Roman gods may have actually provided an appropriate parallel for Bath life. Despite their power and beauty, the Roman gods had terrible tempers, exploited their inferiors (mortals) for their own gratification, and were generally rather rotten to each other: not a far cry from General Tilney and his rakish elder son.


The Belles of the Ball

Image of “The Fancy Ball at the Upper Rooms, Bath,” by Isaac Cruikshank, 1826 (Public Domain)

Having paraded the Crescent full two hours or more,

For our dinners, ‘tis usual to part about four,

In eating and dressing, employ ‘till near nine,

And then to the ball to repair it is time,

That scene of enchantment, so truly divine,

Where mortals, like angels, transcendently shine.

To attempt to describe it, I fear is in vain:

So much beauty on all sides, quite turns my weak brain.

But I’ll muster up courage, and banish my fears,

For who can be silent, when Witham appears?

In the minuet so graceful, who’ere sees her move

Must than marble be harder or else he must love.

When the Gubbins advance, arrayed with each grace,

You’d swear they were daughters of Aether’s soft race;

And Browne’s diamond eyes, armed with love-piercing darts,

Whenever they’re seen, wound a hundred fond hearts.

Ah, the public ball – the apex of Bath amusement, and a near-daily ritual for some Bath-goers. If, reading Northanger Abbey, it seemed to you as though Catherine was at some ball or other almost every night, you weren’t far off. There were four public balls a week during the Bath season, two at the Upper Assembly Rooms and two at the Lower Assembly Rooms. Each one consisted of two sets of dances: first the more precise minuets, then the livelier and less formal country dances, with a break for tea in between. Benches were set up in the ballroom for those who preferred to watch the dancing, and there was a room set aside for cards as well.

Who are the paragons who dazzle the company in this passage: Witham, the Gubbins’, and Browne? At first, we assumed Matthews had made them up. “Gubbins” in particular didn’t strike us as a plausible name, and we knew from elsewhere in the poem that Matthews delighted in the invention of ridiculous designations (“Lady Flutter,” “Miss Di-Puddle,” “Colonel Mushroom”). However, according to the Bath papers, a certain Hon. Miss Browne, daughter of Lady Browne, did visit Bath several times in the early nineties, and often led the minuets thanks to her high rank. And indeed, it turns out that a pair of sisters by the name of Gubbins also resided at Bath during the time. One, Honora, was a beauty and an accomplished singer, remembered at her death as the “accomplished and lovely Honora Gubbins, whose amiable disposition, vocal powers, and refined taste, were the theme of universal praise.” (The Athenaeum, 1807).

It is interesting to picture these long-forgotten belles of the ball alongside our own, humbler Catherine, who excited no “rapturous wonder, no eager inquiry” upon her debut in Bath. The Hon. Miss Browne and the accomplished and lovely Honora Gubbins may have ruled the ballroom in their day, but it is their unassuming fictional sister, with not much more than a good heart and a love of life to recommend her, who has lived on in the world’s imagination ever since. 

A Mad Dash for Tea

Image of “Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room,” by George Cruikshank, 1818 (public domain)

The minuets over, see the crowd how it presses,

What havoc is made on the ladies’ fine dresses!

Distinction of rank, in a moment is gone,

And all eager for tea in one mass now move on;

Even the peeresses’ selves, for whom benches were kept,

Angry with the torrent, impetuous are swept;

And Mistress O’ Darby, the dealer in butter,

Now sweats by the side of the sweet Lady Flutter,

Who would certainly faint, but her senses so nice,

Are supported by smelling fat Alderman Spice;

Whilst his Worship’s white wig, almost smothers the face

Of her dainty young cousin, the dear Lady Grace.

The Countess of Pharo is forced to huddle

Between Doctor Squirt and his niece, Miss Di-Puddle;

Sir Stephen Newmarket, Sir Simon Profuse,

The Ladies St. Larum, and old Madam Goose;

For Commoners now so saucy are grown,

That Cabbage the tailor, Lady Tombstone,

The Duchess of Basset, and Marquis de Frieze

All bundle together in one loving squeeze.

One of the most memorable moments in a Bath ball was the transition from the first set of dances to tea. Matthews devotes about a tenth of his poem to those few chaotic minutes, and for good reason: they are comedic gold. If the minuet was a picture of Bath society at its best – a graceful display of beauty and breeding – the mad stampede to the tea room was Bath society at its hilarious worst.

The most immediate danger was simply that of being squashed. Even before the rush, it was hard enough navigating the jam-packed ballroom. Mrs. Allen and Catherine Morland are nearly “torn asunder” as they try to squeeze through, and Tobias Smollett’s Matthew Bramble contracts a sort of “sea-sickness” from the churning of the crowd (The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The imagery of waves and currents was common in descriptions of the crowds, perhaps a joke on the bathing sites the city was known for). But when the crowd reached the bottleneck of the tea-room door, all best were off. It was the fortunate lady who escaped with her sartorial integrity intact. Mrs. Allen, Catherine Morland’s chaperone in Bath, is relieved to have “preserved her gown from injury” during the tea-room rush, but few of the ladies in the “Adumbration”’s ball, we suspect, have been so lucky.

Image “The Circular Room, or a Squeeze at Carlton Palace,” by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1825 (image source: Birmingham Museum of Art). A woman faints at the far right.

Then there was the assault on the senses. Little as we see of the phenomenon in BBC period pieces, the Georgians sweat. When they crowded themselves into a poorly ventilated ballroom and danced vigorously for several hours under chandeliers of candles dripping hot wax, on polished wooden floors that trapped heat, they sweat all the more. And Matthews isn’t about to let us forget it: noblemen sweat (“Sir Simon Profuse”) and professional men sweat (“Dr. Squirt”); males sweat and females sweat (“Miss Di-Puddle”). And when they sweat, they smelled. Matthews’ limits himself to a light joke on the subject of stenches: the delicate Lady Flutter nearly faints in the presence of Mistress O’Darby, but rallies, as though by hartshorn, thanks to the even more pungent “Alderman Spice.” Other satirists were less restrained. Smollett’s Matthew Bramble offers this rather gruesome description of the smells of a Bath ball: 

Imagine to yourself a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank armpits, sweating feet, running sores and issues, plasters, ointments, and embrocations, hungary-water, spirit of lavender, assafoetida drops, musk, hartshorn, and sal volatile; besides a thousand frowsy steams, which I could not analyze. Such, O Dick! is the fragrant aether we breathe in the polite assemblies of Bath. (The Expedition of Humphry Clinker)

But Matthews hints at a larger danger in this scene as well: the danger of social mixing. To be sure, some mixing of the classes was part of the charm of Bath. As the 1796 edition of The New Bath Guide puts it, “Ceremony beyond the essential rules of politeness is totally exploded; every one mixes in the Rooms upon an equality.” During a ball, this vision would be fully realized. The flowing currents of the minuet would swirl the visitors together without excessive regard for station or birth. Exciting affairs of the heart would precipitate out of the joyful mixture. The magic certainly works for Catherine and Henry. She is the daughter of a middle-class clergyman in rural Wiltshire; he is the son of a fabulously wealthy landowner living eleven hours away. Their social circles are totally separate. Where is such to pair to meet, but at a public ball in Bath? As Matthews’ crowd squeezes through the doors to the tea-room, however, we get a very different picture of social mixing: duchesses and baronets quite literally colliding with tailors and merchants. The absurd competition for tea and personal space between Mistress O’Darby (who sells butter) and Lady Flutter is a particularly obvious affront to the British class system. Evidently, Mistress O’Darby’s awe and respect for nobility don’t go for much when refreshments are on the line!

Interestingly enough, it was just such an influx of lower-middle-class visitors that eventually drove the gentry and aristocracy out of Bath. We see a little of this snobbery already in Northanger Abbey, when General Tilney declares that there is “nothing to detain me longer in Bath” after two of his upper-crusty friends – a marquis and another general – fail to show up.

Tea Time

Photo of The tea room at the Upper Rooms, Bath (image credit: Charles DP Miller; under creative commons license)

Arrived at the tea room and compliments past,

Behold them sat down into parties at last:

But the tea-table-chat so fully is known,

‘Tis scarcely worthwhile by the Muse to be shown.

There’s such a damned noise and such a cursed clatter,

A bawling for sugar, for cream, and hot water,

None seem very anxious a long time to stay,

But just swallow their tea, and hasten away;

For the young ones, allured by the fiddle’s brisk notes,

Make their mothers and aunts near scald their old throats;

So many a character ‘scapes being dissected,

And Scandal, for once, is for dancing neglected.

After battling their way to the tea-room, Matthews’ ball-goers are finally seated, only for fresh commotions to break out as the guests clamor for their tea. While Matthews emphasizes the noisiness of the scene, the tea-drinking process was actually a rule-bound affair. To enter the tea-room, guests would have to pay an extra sixpence on top of the pricey seasonal subscription that granted them access to the balls. After paying this fee, women had yet another obstacle in acquiring refreshments: they could not eat without a man’s help. The food was generally set at a long table at one end of the room but women, for decorum’s sake, were not permitted to go up and get it. A man had to serve them. During Catherine’s first ball at Bath in Northanger Abbey, she and Mrs. Allen find themselves in this hungry predicament — in the tea-room but with no man to bring them anything. When a gentleman at their table finally notices them and makes an “offer of tea,” no wonder it is “thankfully accepted”!  But even with refreshments secured, tea at a Bath ball was hardly an opportunity for leisure or relaxed conversation. Matthews notes the way ball-goers “swallow their tea, and hasten away” and how the young people “[m]ake their mothers and aunts, near scald their old throats” trying to quickly return to some more intriguing or exciting aspect of the ball (usually the dancing). All in all, Matthews’ view is that tea at a Bath ball was something to be accomplished rather than enjoyed.

What about Austen? To be sure, during her first ball, Catherine mainly yawns her way through the tea break – with no one but Mrs. Allen and a transient, if polite, gentleman neighbor to talk to. But at her second ball, a certain Mr. Tilney changes the equation: the two converse happily through the entire tea break, and dance again when it is over. Tilney provides an escape for Catherine from the otherwise shallow “tea-table-chat”; in fact, the first words we hear from Henry in the novel are a mocking imitation of that chat:

I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.”

This is a sign that Henry both understands how tea-room conversations were done in Bath, and has the wit and originality to do them differently.

The Country Dances

Image 9

Country dance, of all others, best pleases the fair,

When the Belles and the Beaux so agreeably pair,

When each lovesick nymph may hear her dear swain,

In whispering murmurs, declare his sweet pain;

Where the sigh, and the smile, and the soft gentle squeeze,

All contribute the hearts of each other to ease;

Where no prudish aunts, through old-maidenly spite,

Can hinder these symptoms of youthful delight.

But stop, my rash pen, it is time you should cease;

‘Tis dangerous to dwell on such subjects as these.

For if, presumptuous, you venture to trace

In the maze of the dance, who moves with most grace,

You will find it a task, not so easy to tell:

It’s an art wherein beauties so many excel.

But yet, I should hold you not a little to blame,

Forgot you to mention the charming Miss Vane;

The Butlers and Hamilton, Vassal and Mays,

So justly entitled to share in your praise.

Rehydrated and refreshed, the Bath-ites hit the ballroom for one more round of dances! It is no surprise that the country dance “best pleases the fair” as it provides more of a chance to converse, or perhaps flirt, than other ballroom dances such as the minuet. This is because each couple spent a good part of the dance waiting for other couples to complete their movements, allowing for more conversation. Thus, while Catherine and Mr. Tilney have “little leisure for speaking” while dancing a minuet at their first meeting, they are able to have a complete, lively conversation during the country-dances at a later ball. But the country-dances certainly weren’t all talk! The hand-in-hand steps afforded moments of physical intimacy, too. All of which is to say, the “whispering murmurs” and the “soft gentle squeeze” that Matthews hints at here are both quite plausible. 

Matthews also gives us a taste of who might be enjoying the country-dances by singling out five names among the rest of the charming “beauties.” We believe that, as in his account of the minuets, he is referring to real women here. One Elizabeth Vassall, for example, daughter of the wealthy American landowner and loyalist John Vassall, resided in Bath during the early 1790s. But the more suggestive name is Hamilton. Could Matthews be referring to the dazzling Lady Emma Hamilton, best remembered today as the lover of Admiral Nelson, but already famous in the early 1790s for her high-profile affairs and stunning beauty? In the 1780s, she was the subject of a series of paintings by the great portrait artist George Romney, who also painted John Matthews and his wife. And she made a memorable appearance at Bath in 1791, during which she exhibited for the Duchess of Devonshire her “attitudes” – artistic poses meant to evoke characters and scenes from antiquity. But while Lady Hamilton may have been beautiful and graceful, but she was also a socially disruptive character who challenged Georgian notions of respectability and class. The English aristocracy sniffed at her mean origins and were shocked (or pretended to be shocked) by her affairs, even as they gaped at her portraits and devoured the papers for news of her doings. All in all, if the Lady Hamilton is present at Matthews’ ball, it instantly becomes a much spicier affair! 

The Card Room

Image of “Lady Godina’s Rout,” showing various shenanigans in a public card-room, by James Gillray, 1796 (©The Trustees of the British Museum)

But the ballroom’s so hot, ‘tis stifling to stay,

So now to the cardroom, let’s hasten away!

See old Mistress Macardo and Counsellor Gabble,

Young Colonel Mushroom and Alderman Dabble,

At whist down together most lovingly sit;

Was ever a party so happily met?

The first, who though toothless, her prayers never said;

A lawyer the next, who a brief never read;

The third, a field officer, just out of the cradle;

And the last, an old beast who lives but at table.

As the country dances heat up (literally), Matthews escorts us to the cooler air of the card room, where those disinclined to dance could play. He introduces us to a party playing whist, a four-player, trick-building game that, according to historian Daniel Pool, had something of a “stodgy” reputation in Austen’s time (see What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, p. 62-66). Playing largely in silence, a whist party in the card room would have seemed stodgy indeed compared to the spinning, hopping, chatting dancers next door. Nevertheless, in Bath, which attracted so many gouty invalids, seated entertainment was a necessity. Austen’s Mr. Allen heads straight for the card room as soon as he arrives at the Upper Rooms, and doesn’t emerge again until the ball is wrapping up. Hopefully he found a more engaging party there than the one Matthews describes! Among other non-entities, Matthews shows us a lawyer who has never read a brief and a colonel far too young for the rank: more proof of the emptiness of titles among so much of the English upper class.

To Bed

Map of Bath, c. 1780 (public domain)

Though much more of the rooms, the concerts, and play

‘Tis true (if he chose it), the Poet might say.

But as through one day of folly you’ve safely been led,

He’ll wish you good night and retire home to bed.

And so Matthews hits the hay after treating us to this “day of folly.” While he is pretty uniformly critical of Bath life – its vanity and pretentiousness, its overly packed ballrooms and possibly contaminated waters – one can’t help but wonder: did Matthews, in the end, actually like the place? 

On Richard Tyson’s official medallion as a Master of Ceremonies was a strange pairing: the visage of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, and beneath it, the cheeky inscription Dulce est desipere in Loco: “It is sweet to act foolish sometimes.” Wisdom and folly sharing the same medallion? It feels like a contradiction! But if so, it was one that suited late Georgian Bath. If you came to the city in a sour mood, determined to stand aloof, you’d have the pleasure of feeling superior and not much else. But if you came with a friendly sense of humor – able to laugh at the place and yet still join in the fun – then you might find that Bath still did have the power to refresh and renew. Wisdom in folly! John Matthews mocks the town, but given the detail of his descriptions, he clearly took full part in its pleasures as well. Henry Tilney makes fun of Bath dances… while in the very act of dancing, and dancing quite happily! And Catherine, while amused by Henry’s satire, doesn’t let it spoil for a moment her delight in the balls, the concerts, the operas, the walks: somehow the satire only makes them more fun! A lesson for life: sometimes the only people who “get the joke” are the ones willing to be part of it.

Questions to the Reader

Reader, we’re curious what you make of John Matthews’ take on late Georgian Bath? Are Matthews and Austen on a wavelength here? Or does the poem rather show us just how original Austen’s satire in Northanger Abbey was? We’re interested in your thoughts and insights!

A note of Thanks: The authors thank Vic Sanborn and Tony Grant for sharing their abundant knowledge of Georgian Bath; Latinist extraordinaire Dr. Thomas Hendrickson for helping with the Latin; and librarian Anna Levia for showing us the ropes of the Stanford Libraries.

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by Brenda S. Cox

“Here, sir,” taking out his pocket book, “if you will do me the favor of casting your eye over these advertisements which I cut out myself . . .”—Mr. Parker in Sanditon

What did ladies carry in those beautiful little reticules? In Part 1 we looked at some of the items that author Candice Hern has collected. We began with the necessary items: a fan, a vinaigrette, and a coin purse. Then we added some optional items: a perfume étui (a little container for a perfume bottle) and a cosmetics case. What else might ladies have carried in their reticules?


Candice says they carried books in their reticules! That sounds right up my alley. I often carry a book or my Kindle in my purse. But these were very specific kinds of books, made very small to fit in the reticule. Candice showed us two types, pocket books and almanacs.

Pocket Books

The pocket book, perhaps like Mr. Parker’s, was the Regency version of a Day-Timer®. It was about 3” by 5”, usually covered with leather. A foldover flap kept it closed in the reticule. Many publishers produced these, so apparently they were a popular item.

Each began with a title page and a foldout fashion plate. Most pages showed a week’s calendar on one page, opposite a page to list expenses for that week. The lady might list items she bought, losses at cards, and gifts to poor people. A tiny pencil would probably accompany the pocketbook.

Pocket books also included short stories, essays, poetry, and even games. I hope these ladies had good eyes!

This English Ladies Pocket Book was published in Birmingham in 1803. The foldout shows ladies in some interesting bonnets. The book also includes calendar pages, expense pages, and things to read.


Another book that might be in a ladies’ reticule was a miniature almanac (or, as they would have written it, almanack). These were published yearly from 1690 to 1885. You could buy them at stationers’ shops and give them as Christmas gifts. Or, your dressmaker or milliner might give you one if you were a regular customer, as companies today might give out calendars.

These almanacs were either 1 1/8” square, or 1 1/8” by 2 ¼”. They included pictures; calendars showing holidays, phases of the moon, etc.; lists of the Kings and Queens of England and the Lord Mayors and Sheriffs of London; and information about coins and currency.

By the way, do you know why phases of the moon were important? Most evening visiting was done when the moon was full, so there was enough light to travel in your carriage by night. For example, in Sense and Sensibility when Sir John Middleton wants to invite a lot of people over, he wasn’t able to because “it was moonlight and every body was full of engagements.” So the phases of the moon were part of people’s social planning.

This miniature almanac from 1788 shows phases of the moon, dates of holidays, the church calendar, and dates for terms at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The tiny almanac came in a lovely case of tooled and gilded leather, to protect it in the reticule.

What else might have been in a ladies’ reticule?

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending the first few days of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Way up in Upper Camden Place, near where the Elliots lived in Persuasion, Jane Tapley gave a fascinating talk called “Rummaging Through the Reticule.” She added many more ideas on what might have been in the reticule. Of course reticules were not just carried to parties and visits. They were also used for travel; perhaps they had larger ones for that purpose. Besides some of the items Candice showed, Jane Tapley suggested that the reticule might have included:

  • dressy shoes (silk, satin, or starched cotton), so they wouldn’t get dirty or scuffed on the way to and from the party
  • ostrich feather for your hat (so it didn’t blow away on the way)
  • a small chamber pot if the lady was traveling; they would use it in a coach under their skirts, then dump it through a trap door in the bottom of the coach! Or they might bring one going out to dinner. It could also be carried in your muff. It would have been about the size and shape of a gravy boat.
  • cutlery (silver or wood), including a spoon, probably silver, to be used all during your lifetime
  • a cup, fork, corkscrew, and a little pot for mustard, salt, or pepper, all in a small set for traveling or visits
  • traveling drinking cup made of horn or silver

When traveling, a lady might carry her own cutlery and even salt. Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox

  • a small case (or étui) specifically for sewing. It might include a needle case, scissors case, ivory bobbin winder, silver thimble, ivory pincushion, and a little penknife for cutting thread, plus a box of colored beads and a fine needle for beading. A small sewing kit might be called a huswife or a housewife.
  • little lead pencils or a writing set
  • a tiny book like The Merchant of Venice
  • a silhouette of your sweetheart

Little books were made small enough to carry in the reticule. A silhouette was a way to carry a picture with you. (Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox)

  • glasses or magnifying glasses
  • lorgnettes (folding glasses on a string, worn on a chain around the neck)

Glasses, embroidered handkerchiefs, and sewing supplies might also come in handy in your reticule. (Items from Jane Tapley’s collection, photo by Brenda S. Cox)

  • a half sovereign case that carried two half-sovereigns
  • potpourri or pomanders to keep away body odors
  • handkerchiefs with fine embroidery
  • invitations

Now, imagine that you’re going with Jane Austen to an evening party. What will you carry in your reticule, out of these many options? Or, if you’re traveling with her to another town, what would you carry then?

To find out more about her and her work, look for her on:




Regency World

To see more of her lovely collections, go to her Regency Collections.


You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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by Brenda S. Cox

When Emma encountered Mrs. Elton visiting Jane Fairfax, “she saw [Mrs. Elton] with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side,”—Emma, Volume 3, chapter 16, Cambridge edition

If you’ve ever made yourself a Jane Austen-era costume, you know that a reticule is an essential accessory. These lovely small purses hung by a drawstring from the lady’s wrist.

In previous generations, wide skirts had allowed for two huge pockets, one on each hip, to hold essential items. But with the slim new Regency style, there was no longer room for pockets. So the pockets were externalized and made small and beautiful.

If you have a reticule, you realize that it doesn’t hold nearly as much as a modern purse. Nowadays we might put our phone and a credit card, driver’s license, and little cash in the reticule. But what did Jane Austen’s ladies carry in theirs?

Candice Hern recently gave three lovely presentations for the JASNA AGM*. She showed her collection of items an Austen-era lady might have carried in her reticule. First, she pointed out that Jane Austen would probably not have used the word reticule! This little purse was more often called a ridicule.  This was the word used in ladies’ magazines of the time. That’s why, in the quote above from the original 1816 edition of Emma, Mrs. Elton has a purple and gold ridicule, not a reticule.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists sources calling it a ridicule from 1799 to 1999, and sources calling it a reticule from 1801 to 2004. So the terms were used interchangeably for a long time. Both words apparently came from the French word réticule for a small handbag. That word came from the Latin rēticulum for a small meshwork bag. Ridicule may have been a pun on the French word, though no one seems to know for sure.

The only time Jane Austen mentions a reticule, or ridicule, is in the above passage from Emma. Mrs. Elton slips a letter into her ridicule, which is, of course, a showy purple and gold one. Austen may have purposely chosen the form ridicule because Mrs. Elton is so often ridiculous! But modern versions usually change it to reticule.

So, we know that reticules could be used to carry letters. The Cambridge edition of Emma tells me that reticules might also hold handkerchiefs, snuff boxes, or sweets. However, snuff boxes seem to have been a gentleman’s item, so I doubt ladies would have often carried them. (Though some ladies did take snuff, though not as widely as men did.)

Candice Hern tells us that Regency reticules might range from only two inches long up to about ten inches long. So everything that ladies carried began to be made smaller. This created some lovely, tiny treasures.

Here are some of the items Candice showed us, with photos she kindly provided from her collection:

Reticule Essentials: the Fan, the Coin Purse, and the Vinaigrette


For hot evenings in the “crush” of a crowded ball or party, women carried fans. In Austen’s novels, she says Catherine Morland carried a fan at a dance. At Fanny Price’s ball, it seems her brother fanned her with his partner’s fan. Austen talks about her own “white fan” in a letter of Jan. 8, 1799.

Before and after this period, fans were about 10-12 inches long. (This is the length of the fan sticks; the open fan would be almost twice that in width.) But, to fit in the reticule, fans were made smaller, only about 7 inches long. They were most often made from ivory. Some were pierced with a tiny jeweler’s saw, to give a lacy effect. This was called brisé (pronounced bree-ZAY). Here are two of Candice’s (and my) favorites:

This gorgeous brisé fan is made of mother-of-pearl. It would shine and sparkle in a candlelit ballroom. The guard sticks, at each end of the fan, are made of faceted and polished steel. It also sparkles like jewels. Each stick is pierced identically, but the sticks are placed in alternating directions to form a pattern. c. 1810-1815.

The top section of this fan is painted rather than pierced. The birds and butterflies are made of real feathers. The flowers were created with tiny pieces of velvet.

On the lower part, sticks of three different pierced patterns are arranged to form a more complex pattern. The sticks are 6 ½” long. c. 1810-1820, or earlier.

For more lovely fans, see Candice’s website.

Coin Purses

Regency women didn’t have wallets like we carry today. In small reticules, they may have carried loose coins. But in larger reticules they kept coins in a coin purse so they could find them easily. Ladies usually made these purses, which might be beaded, knitted, or netted. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley marvels at the accomplishments of young ladies, who can all “net purses.”

Some coin purses closed with drawstrings, while others had a metal closure at the top. The closure might be made of pinchbeck—a cheap metal alloy that looks golden—or other metals. Ladies also made coin purses for men. Austen’s favorite poet, William Cowper, wrote a poem thanking his cousin for making him a network purse. Gentlemen’s purses were sometimes called miser’s purses.

A lady probably bought the sterling silver frame (dated 1816) for this coin purse, then netted it with pink and silver metallic thread. It is 3 ¾” long, plus the tassel.


If a woman began to swoon, in an airless room or when she learned something unpleasant, a vinaigrette was pulled out of a reticule and waved under her nose. These tiny metal boxes held a sponge soaked in vinegar and perfumed oils, with a grille over the sponge to let out the fumes. The grille might be dotted with holes, or might be pierced in a lovely design. Vinaigrettes were made of various materials and in many shapes and designs; those in Candice’s collection are silver.

The sponge might alternatively be soaked in something sweet-smelling, like rose water or lavender water. Many places in the Regency era stank, and a sweet smell could help the lady tolerate them.

Austen doesn’t mention vinaigrettes, but she does mention smelling salts, which were used similarly. Candice thinks these salts would actually have been a solution in vinegar, kept in a vinaigrette.

Regency vinaigrettes were tiny and delicate; Candice’s range from ½” across to 1 ¾” across.

This vinaigrette is made of silver but gilded inside, so the vinegar did not discolor the silver. It still contained a ratty sponge when Candice bought it. It could be carried in a reticule, or, with the metal ring, attached to a chatelaine: chains used for hanging things to a woman’s belt. Marked 1802, made in Birmingham.

Other Items That Might be Carried in a Reticule: Perfumes and Cosmetics

Perfume étuis

Perfume also counteracted bad smells. In Austen’s age, when bathing was not very common, perfumes were essential. However, perfume bottles were breakable, easily spilled, and too large to carry in a reticule.

So a lady would carry a perfume étui (pronounced ay-twee), a tiny container that could hold a glass vial of perfume and be fastened tightly shut. (Other types of étuis were used to carry sewing materials, writing materials, eating utensils, and other items; the word is French for any portable case.)

Perfume étuis were made of enamel, metal, tortoiseshell, shagreen, or other materials. Shagreen was a cheap option. It was shark’s skin, usually dyed green, with a knobbly texture. Shagreen étuis were probably used by middle-class women, while upper-class women used more expensive materials.

This painted enamel étui with brass fittings is about 2 ½” high. It held a tiny glass bottle of perfume with a screw-on metal top. 1760s to 1780s.

This shagreen étui is only 1 ¾” tall. It holds two tiny bottles of scent, so the lady can choose which she wants to use.

Cosmetic Cases

Some ladies also carried small cosmetic cases in their reticules. These were similar to today’s compacts. When open, the top was a polished mirror, and the bottom might contain rouge and/or lip color, and an applicator.

This 2 ½” wide cosmetic case still had traces of rouge in it when Candice bought it. The applicator brush is made of ivory. The outside of this case is shagreen (dyed shark skin), with silver decoration. 1770s or 1780s.

Next time, in Part 2, we’ll look at some other fun items a woman might have carried in her reticule. What else do you guess a lady might have carried?

*JASNA AGM—the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, which this year was held online in October.

Candice Hern writes Regency-era novels.

To find out more about her and her work, look for her on:




Regency World

To see more of her lovely collections, go to her Regency Collections.

Links in the article above take you to Candice’s articles about specific items.

All images courtesy of Candice Hern, used by permission.

For more information, see also:

Fans: Essential Accessories, including the language of the fan

Reticule: The Regency Purse

A Fashionable Accessory

The Reticule and Purse


You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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Inquiring readers, I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was fourteen years old. The novel was a Christmas gift from my parents. One of the first Christmas songs this Dutch girl learned in English was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a song that was popularized in an arrangement by Frederic Austin in 1909. We all know the tune, but do we know the words as Jane Austen wrote them? After singing the song, please stay to answer a few questions.–Enjoy & Merry Christmas! Vic

Image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, 1995[Verse 1]

On the first day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 2]

Image of Lizzy and Jane Bennet from Jennifer Ehle BlogspotOn the second day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 3]

Pride_and_Prejudice_CH_19-collins proposalOn the third day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 4]

Hugh Thomson illustration of Mr. Bingley entering the Meryton Assembly Ball with his guestsOn the fourth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 5]

Hugh Thomson image of the five Bennet girlsOn the fifth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 6]

Image of Mary Crawford playing harp-C.E.BrockOn the sixth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 7]

On the seventh day of ChristImage of the Colinses visiting Lady Catherine de Bourg, 1995 Pride and Prejudice filmmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 8]

Image of Adrian Lucas as Mr. Bingley, 1995 P&POn the eighth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 9]

On the ninth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to meQuadrille_RegencyW
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 10]

Image of Lydia and Mr. Wickham eloping-she happy, he bored, P&P 1995On the tenth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 11]

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet falling for Mr. Darcy at Pemberley, 1995 film of Pride and PrejudiceOn the eleventh day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 12]

LadyCatherine_&_ElisabethOn the twelfth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
L C’s condescensions
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!


Now, Gentle Readers, I shall pose a few questions. How do you respond to Pride and Prejudice? How are you disposed towards a few characters? (Your opinions are most welcome.) As you can see, I favor the 1995 Firth/Ehle film version of P&P! So, don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

  1. L C’s condescension:  In your estimation, what is the most memorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s condescending statement?
  2. Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening: What events changed Elizabeth’s attitude towards Mr. Darcy? Which one stands out in your mind?
  3. Lydia eloping: How old was Lydia when she ran off with Mr. Wickham? What, in her naivete, did she hope her life would have been like with him, away from her family?
  4. Nine ladies dancing: Think of the ladies Austen mentioned in Pride and Prejudice. Which women would have most likely danced at the Netherfield Ball?
  5. Eight charms of Wickham: Can you name Mr. Wickham’s charms, be they true or false, as Austen described them?
  6. Seven days at Hunsford: How did Lizzy spend her days at Hunsford? What memorable scenes occurred during this time?
  7. Six accomplished women: Who first mentioned six accomplished women? How did the conversation come up and where?
  8. Please name all the five single girls and their primary characteristic (in your opinion).
  9. Four Bingley dances: This phrase refers to an event at the beginning of the novel.
  10. Three various suitors: Name all the suitors you can think of in the novel. Who had three? Who are they?
  11. Two wise Bennet girls: Who are they? How would you personally describe them?
  12. A HERO named Mister Darcy! Why are we so mesmerized by Austen’s most memorable hero? What are the characteristics that make him stand out to you?

After this C.E. Brock composite image of Pride and Prejudice, I’ve added my own observations to a few of the questions. Thank you for participating. May you have a lovely holiday season. Please love and take care of each other in your family, your neighbors, and your community.



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“Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.” Jane Austen, Prayers

This time of year—especially during 2020—many people are in need of comfort and compassion. I find it particularly touching that Jane Austen’s own timeless novels and prayers provide messages of hope that never seem to fade or wear out.

When Marianne Dashwood falls ill in Sense and Sensibility, she is “afflicted” in both body and heart. She doesn’t just need the physical “pangs of disease” assuaged; she needs comfort for her broken spirit. Sick at heart, she also lies sick in bed. It is during these difficult days that we see family members and friends coming to her aid to provide the love and care she needs.

First, Elinor spends her days “attending and nursing” Marianne and “carefully administering the cordials prescribed” (ch. 43). When Marianne worsens on the evening of the third day, Elinor notices her altered condition and stays with Marianne while Mrs. Jennings goes to bed, “knowing nothing of any change in the patient.” Anxious to see Marianne rest quietly, she resolves “to sit with her” as she sleeps. When Marianne’s pulse becomes “lower and quicker than ever,” and she suffers hours of “sleepless pain and delirium,” Elinor anxiously calls for the apothecary, sends Colonel Brandon for her mother, and never leaves her bedside.

Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield)

This example of sisterly love is similar to the type of care Jane and Cassandra Austen provided for their own family members when they were unwell. When their brother Henry became suddenly and severely ill during one of Jane’s visits to him in London, Jane and Cassandra both helped to nurse him. Caroline Austen provides this detail in her memoir, My Aunt Jane: “Aunt Cass. stayed on nearly a month, and Aunt Jane remained some weeks longer, to nurse the convalescent.” And when Jane herself fell ill, Cassandra, along with Mrs. Mary Austen (née Lloyd), to “take a share in the necessary attendance,” went with her and cared for her in Winchester.

Even once Marianne begins to improve, Elinor stays by her side, “with little intermission . . . calming every fear, satisfying every inquiry of her enfeebled spirits, supplying every succour, and watching almost every look and every breath” (ch. 43). It is only when Elinor is absolutely sure that Marianne is peaceful and sleeping soundly that she can “silence every doubt” and finally quit her post.

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Mrs. Jennings, “with a kindness of heart which made Elinor really love her,” also provides as much comfort and practical help as she can during Marianne’s illness: She sends for the Palmers’ apothecary and endeavors, “by her own attentive care, to supply to her the place of the mother she had taken her from.” Elinor quickly finds Mrs. Jennings “on every occasion a most willing and active helpmate, desirous to share in all her fatigues, and often by her better experience in nursing, of material use.”

 The morning after Marianne’s long, difficult night, Mrs. Jennings greets Elinor “[w]ith strong concern, and with many reproaches for not being called to their aid.” Austen tells us “[h]er heart was really grieved.” She is “struck” with concern for Marianne’s life, one who “had been for three months her companion, was still under her care, and . . . was known to have been greatly injured, and long unhappy.” She imagines the “distress” Elinor feels and is awakened to the fact that Marianne must be to Mrs. Dashwood what her own daughter Charlotte is to her: and “her sympathy in HER sufferings was very sincere.”

Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) and Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman)

Finally, Colonel Brandon helps the Dashwood family by staying close at all times and volunteering to bring Mrs. Dashwood to town when Marianne becomes delirious and asks for her mother. When Elinor goes downstairs to the drawing room to ask his advice, “her difficulties were instantly obviated, for with a readiness that seemed to speak the occasion, and the service pre-arranged in his mind, he offered himself as the messenger who should fetch Mrs. Dashwood.”

The entire Dashwood family is greatly relieved by Colonel Brandon’s help:

“The comfort of such a friend at that moment as Colonel Brandon—or such a companion for her mother,—how gratefully was it felt!—a companion whose judgment would guide, whose attendance must relieve, and whose friendship might soothe her!—as far as the shock of such a summons COULD be lessened to her, his presence, his manners, his assistance, would lessen it.”

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

Again, during Marianne’s recovery, Colonel Brandon is never far away. He stays in town, visits often, and only returns home when Marianne is well enough to travel back to Barton Cottage with her family.

True to Jane Austen’s style, this portion of the novel also provides us with a message of hope. It’s not just that Marianne’s health improves; it’s also the idea that the long night of anxious waiting doesn’t last forever. That dark hour for Elinor and Marianne does pass. A new day dawns, their mother arrives, and Marianne heals in body and in spirit. Back at Barton Cottage, she once again finds great delight in music and books, walks and nature. And she is eventually able to move forward, finding a deeper, truer love in her marriage to Colonel Brandon than she previously thought possible.

As we enter into this holiday season, perhaps we can find inspiration and hope in the example set by Austen and her characters. Though things look a lot different this year for many of us, we can still provide comfort and compassion in a variety of creative ways. Like Elinor, we can check in and keep careful watch over those who are vulnerable or lonely. Like Mrs. Jennings, we can sympathize and provide for others with genuine concern and generosity. Or, like Colonel Brandon, we can anticipate needs and jump in to help wherever we’re needed.

This year more than ever, we have the opportunity to help those around us, provide care where needed, and extend small kindnesses. We can write, we can call, and we can meet online. We can send gifts and treats and little surprises. And we can share with others those things which give us the most comfort—whether it be a handwritten card, a prayer, a poem, a verse, a piece of music, a handmade gift, or a copy of one of Austen’s beautiful novels.

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. She is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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I wish you a cheerful and at times even a Merry Christmas.” — Jane Austen

While Christmas festivities were not as commercial as they were during Queen Victoria’s and our time, families in Jane Austen’s era celebrated the holiday with much merriment, many gatherings and parties, and some gift giving. Houses were decorated with evergreens and kissing boughs made of holly, ivy, and mistletoe, although these greens were not brought in until Christmas Eve. On the same night, a large yule log was ceremoniously brought into the house, with the hope that it would last for the rest of the holiday season.

Celebrations lasted from December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, when presents were given, to January 6th , Twelfth Night. On December 25th people attended church service, then ate Christmas dinner. December 26th was known as Boxing Day, when staff and servants were given Christmas boxes and that day off by their benefactors.

The season ended the night of January 5th , the last day of Christmastide, with a Twelfth Night party filled with games and more partying. The revelers ate traditional foods, such as a slice of the elaborately decorated Twelfth Cake, that was topped with enough sugar, sugar figures, and sugar piping to cause a diabetic coma in a horse. (I might have exaggerated slightly.) After the revelers finished partying, superstition dictated that all decorations in the house be taken down and burned, else bad luck would befall the household for the year.

Certain foods marked the season.

Just at this time these shops are filled with large plum-cakes, which are crusted over with sugar, and ornamented in every possible way. These are for the festival of the kings, it being part of an Englishman’s religion to eat plum-cake on this day, and to have pies at Christmas made of meat and plums.” – p. 63, Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text written by English poet Robert Southey as a fictitious Spanish tourist visiting England.

Cartoon of Farmer Giles's Establishment: Christmas Day-1800.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment: Christmas Day-1800. Science Museum Group Collection

In “A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes,” Joanne Major describes the typical foods that were served: Christmas pudding, which started out as plum porridge or pottage (and is also known as plum or figgy pudding); sweet and savory mince pies; Christmas cake; and a savory Yorkshire Christmas-Pie. She includes the following quote in her article:

Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808

At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!

The following description confirms Robert Southey’s observation that there was no food or protein an Englishman wouldn’t eat, including animals and seafood from all parts of the world—turtles from the West Indies, curry powder from India, hams from Portugal, reindeer’s tongues from Lapland, caviar from Russia; sausages, maccaroni, and oil from Italy, which also provided olives along with France and Spain; cheeses from Switzerland; fish from Scotland; mutton from Wales; and game from France, Norway, or Russia (p 60, Mr. Rowlandson’s England). In his observations, Southey remarked that an Englishman would hunt and shoot anything that could be stuck in a pot.

Gout, a prevalent disease of the well-to-do Georgian, was the painful result of an excessive and repeated ingestion of large quantities of protein and alcohol. The large gout-inducing Christmas pie described by Earl Grosvenor was most likely a version of the Yorkshire Christmas-Pie described by Hannah Glasse in her influential cookery book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

To Make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie

“FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowls then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it, will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will bake at least four hours. This crust will take a bushel of flour. In this chapter you will see how to make it. These pies are often sent to London in a box, as presents; therefore, the walls must be well built.”

A post entitled “Yorkshire Christmas Pye” in Epicurus describes how tough it was in 2014 to recreate an 18th Century pie. Back then, teams of cooks would work for days to accomplish the feat. According to the chef and author, not even modern appliances could compete with those bygone techniques. The modern pie, from assembly (8 ½ hrs), to baking (4 hrs), to its presentation at the table, took 12 ½ hours in total.

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page. Photos of the exterior and interior of the Pye made by Ivan Day, whose scrumptuous recreation of Georgian recipes are works of art: Food History Jottings

The Master Chef modified Glasse’s recipe and used the boned meat of the following animals: turkey, goose, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, grouse, and hare. With the added lard in the crust and butter in the filling, I imagine the diner would probably have lacked the energy to push off from the table.

So, inquiring reader, if you are interested in recreating this English pye recipe for Christmas, I encourage you to start dieting on water and vegetables, and exercising on the hour every waking hour to make room for this artery clogging, but very tasty specialty!

“Thank you for the Christmas Cake” was written as a poem by Helen Maria Williams (Read by Tom O’Bedlam)

Patient readers: I apologize for the messy look of the resources list sitting below. The new WordPress “blocks” are wreaking havoc with my ability to publish material on this blog nicely. Obviously I have not learned this “improved” design adequately. I spend more hours fixing problems than writing the article. I assure you, neither Rachel nor Brenda are having this problem. I’ll get the hang of things soon…(I hope.) My comment is this: what was wrong with the old design and, why, if one chooses the classic mode do the blocks keep jumping to the new mode? I’m irked. This is irksome!

  • Some Georgian Christmas Fare!,” December 16, 2011,
    Julie Day, Countryhousereader Blog.
    Great information on Christmas food served at an English
    country house.
    Includes information from
    Bills of Fare for Christmas feasting, 1805 and the suggested meal courses.
  • Christmas: Georgian Style! From Norfolk Tales, Myths & More! This rich source and fascinating blog provides detailed information on a Georgian Christmas in this post.
  • Twelfth Night Cake, British Food and History, January 5, 2019.
    Detailed account of recipes used on that final Christmastide night.
  • The Englishman’s Plum Pudding, History Today, Maggie Black, Volume 31, Issue 12, December 1981. Includes a history of the British Christmas pudding.
  • Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text from Robert Southey,
    Illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson.
    Southey, Robert,
    ISBN 10: 0907462774, Published by Antique Collectors Club Ltd, 1985.
    I loved this book so much (I read it online at the Internet Archive) that I ordered my own copy.
  • Letters from England, Volume 1 (of 3), by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella.
    This link provides the online text on Project Gutenberg of Robert Southey’s
    first volume, written as a Spanish traveler.


Other Christmas posts on this blog:

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Inquiring readers, Susannah Fullerton lives in Australia, a land Down Under, which at this moment is experiencing spring, that blessed season. Recent articles on this blog have referred to her book, “Jane Austen & Crime,” first published in 2004. Susannah presents yet more historical information from her knowledge of this era. Much of the information in this post was new to me.

On a hot Australian summer morning in February, 1844, a man was led forth, closely guarded, from the impressive gates of Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, but already 10,000 people had gathered in the public square in front of the prison, eager to watch the last moments of the condemned man. He was praying as he walked and “appeared to be deeply sensible of the awful position in which he stood. A dark and frowning eternity began to press itself with fearful force upon his mind, while his apparently sincere cries for mercy became more and more earnest as the tragic scene drew on.” He was given a chance to speak some last words to the two clergymen who were present, and then he mounted the scaffold. The noose was placed around his neck, and the man “was launched into another world”.  Church bells tolled his passing nearby. The huge crowd, which included women and children, watched silently, awed by the solemnity of the spectacle and, after the body was cut down and removed to within the prison, they quietly walked away. The event was widely reported the next day in Sydney newspapers, so those who had been unable to attend, could read all about it there.

Image of A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

Jane Austen had died more than 25 years before this horrid event. What possible connection could there be between this man, and the great novelist? Well, his name was John Knatchbull and he was the half-brother of the Edward Knatchbull who married Jane Austen’s favourite niece Fanny Austen Knight. Edward and John’s father, Sir Edward Knatchbull, had twenty children by his three different wives.  Fanny’s family and the Knatchbull family, also from Kent, had known each other for some years before her marriage with Edward united them, and it is quite possible that Jane could have heard something of the ‘difficult’ son of the family. 

John Knatchbull was probably born in 1793 (he was baptized in January of that year) in Kent. As a schoolboy he displayed “vicious inclinations” and when he joined the Navy, he soon found himself treated with contempt by fellow officers, and in financial difficulties. To pay what he owed, he indulged in petty frauds and in 1824 he was tried for the theft of two sovereigns and a blank cheque form. That was enough in value to see him hanged in England, but the judge was lenient on the young man and instead sent him to Botany Bay, the dumping ground for England’s unwanted criminals. John Knatchbull was sentenced to remain in Australia for 14 years before being permitted to return to England. His Kentish family was relieved to be rid of him.

Image of John Knatchbull

The family black sheep failed to behave any better once he was in Australia. In 1831 he was sentenced to death for forgery. But once more the sentence was commuted, this time to seven years of penal servitude on Norfolk Island, about the grimmest place a convict could be sent. In his time on Norfolk Island John took part in two mutinies and tried to poison with arsenic the food prepared for the guards. However, by 1839 he was back in Sydney. In 1844 John Knatchbull was planning to marry, but he needed money. Returning to his brutal ways, he stole from a shopkeeper Ellen Jamieson, then killed her by hacking at her skull with a tomahawk. Her two children were left orphaned and her murderer, who tried to make a plea of insanity, was described by the judge as “a wretch of the most abominable description”.  This time there was no leniency and John Knatchbull was sentenced to hang. Darlinghurst Gaol is still there today (though an art college, not a prison, now does business behind its high stone walls). The square where the 1844 hanging occurred is named Green Square, not for the colour of the grass that grows there but because Mr Green was the name of the hangman.

Image of the Gates of Darlinghurst Gaol

Had Jane Austen still been alive, no doubt she and Fanny would have discussed the shameful story and its horrific outcome. Both women were aware that another member of their family could also have ended up in the Antipodes. Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot had been at serious risk of a trip to Botany Bay, when she was accused of shop-lifting in Bath in 1799. Incarcerated for some months in Ilchester Gaol, Mrs Leigh Perrot had defended herself vigorously and, at her trial, she was acquitted. However, she knew a journey to Australia was highly probable and made plans that her husband James would accompany her if she was sent there. The entire Austen family must, at this worrying time, have speculated about what life in the colony would be like for their relations.

Jane Austen was interested in prisons. In 1813 she visited Canterbury Gaol with her brother Edward, who had to visit the institution as part of his duties as a magistrate. This was a most unusual thing for a Regency lady to do. My book Jane Austen and Crime explains what sort of institution she saw there. Jane Austen’s interest in punishment and imprisonment went into her next novel, Mansfield Park, a novel that is rich in prison imagery and a book that examines various types of imprisonment in its themes.



Photo of the gaol in Canterbury visited by Jane AustenThe gaol in Canterbury, visited by Jane Austen

Anyone who lived in Britain’s Georgian era must have had a strong awareness of crimes and punishments. Hangings, time in the pillory, and other punishments were very public events. Trials were short and brutal, prisons were being much discussed and were undergoing huge changes, and yet some crimes such as smuggling and poaching were regarded much more leniently by the general public. I started to write my book on crimes in Jane Austen’s world and fiction when a bus on which I was travelling stopped by Darlinghurst Gaol and I began to reflect on the Knatchbull story and to wonder what actually constituted a crime in Austen’s day? Was elopement to Gretna Green a crime? What about Maria’s adultery with Henry Crawford – how did the law regard such behaviour? Which of Jane Austen’s characters commit hanging offences, and how does her juvenilia reflect her interest in criminal activity? Which of her characters work as magistrates, who are the lawyers in her fiction, and how did she regard such crimes as duelling and gambling? The result of that moment on a bus was, some years later, my book. Claire Tomalin was kind enough to describe it as “essential reading for every Janeite”. I found it fascinating to see Jane Austen’s world and fiction through the lens of crime – I hope you enjoy and learn from it too.

Photo of Susannah FullertonAbout Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia: Susannah Fullerton is a Canadian-born Australian author and literary historian. She has been president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia since 1996, which is the largest literary society in Australia.

Image of the book cover of Jane Austen & Crime by Susannah FullertonIf you would like to buy Jane Austen and Crime, it is available from https://susannahfullerton.com.au/bookshop/ (signed copies on request) 


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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!


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?


You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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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.


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?


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.


Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Project Gutenberg Online Book


Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Librivox Audio


“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?


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 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.”


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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