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BrideofNorthangerBirchall

Inquiring readers: Author Diana Birchall has written her latest addition to the Austenesque fiction canon. This post is a review of Catherine Tilney’s (née Morland’s) continuing adventures in Northanger Abbey. No matter how hard Henry Tilney’s young bride tries to retain her calm, she somehow becomes entangled in yet another Gothic adventure.

As the novel opens, Henry Tilney and Catherine happily anticipate their wedding, but before the ceremony, Henry must share important information with his intended – that for generations the Tilney family has suffered a dreadful family curse which results in the wife of the eldest son meeting with an untimely end. Catherine quickly dismisses the idea, since Henry is the second son.

The happy couple are married surrounded by family and friends, absent General Tilney, who is still angered that his son wed an ordinary chit with only £3,000 to her name. Nevertheless, the young couple settle into connubial bliss in Woodston Parsonage, the lovely cottage Catherine fell in love with the moment Henry showed it to her. Even better, it is situated 20 miles or so from Northanger Abbey. Life is good for the young Tilneys until the couple visit General Tilney. During her visit at NA, Catherine sees a lady in grey at night wandering the halls. She fights fear in favor of logic, but then receives an ominous missive:

Bride of Northanger, beware the Maledict, that falleth upon you. Depart the Abbey in fear and haste, and nevermore return.”

And, so, the plot thickens, with Ms. Birchall bending, twisting, and turning it upside down until we readers becomes dizzy from guessing where the tale will end. Along the way, we are treated to an assortment of some of Austen’s finest characters. Birchall connects their stories to Austen’s by adhering to their psychological states, and personal quirks and behaviors in the original novel.

While paying homage to Austen, Birchall writes in her own light and lovely style. She characterizes John Thorpe as deliciously sleezy and slimy. His sister, Isabella, is still a slutty, scheming vixen. General Tilney is mean and avaricious and unpleasant all around. Captain Tilney feels no shame for his boorish behavior or lack of empathy for anyone. Eleanor Tilney is saccharinely sweet and nondescript. I found her viscount husband, Charles, much more interesting. As a budding Gilbert White, he studies butterflies with the same zest as Captain Tilney collects whores. We even meet the Allens in Bath, along with Catherine’s sister, Sarah, who lives with them.

To this mix, Birchall adds a dash of curses, and tales of mad monks and maledictions, and the mysterious lady in grey. The Bride of Northanger reminded me in many ways of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This Austen variation is a perfect gift for a budding young Janeite (or yourself). After purchasing it, I recommend curling up on a sofa near a crackling fire for a few hours of blissful reading.

About Diana Birchall:

Diana Birchall worked for many years as a story analyst for Warner Bros Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading popular manuscripts went side by side with a lifetime of Jane Austen scholarship, and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and as close study of the secret of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of The Bride of Northanger, published by White Soup Press, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, both published by Sourcebooks, as well as In Defense of Mrs. Elton, published by JASNA, and hundreds of short stories.   Her plays have been performed in many cities, with “You Are Passionate, Jane,” a two person play about Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte being featured at Chawton House Library.

Find out more about Diana by following her on Facebook and Twitter @Dianabirchall

The Bride of Northanger Blog Tour Banner Fina

 

Jane Austen’s World is part of the #Janeite Blog Tour of The Bride of Northanger, a Jane Austen Variation by Diana Birchall.

Learn more about the tour and follow the participating blogs.

The doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15, 2019, to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction are featuring guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall
White Soup Press (2019)
Trade paperback & eBook (230) pages
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0981654300

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Thank you, Laurel Ann, for including me in this tour.

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

My Memories of Netley Abbey

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

 

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

Google street view entrance Netley

Google street view: Entrance to Netley Castle

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

Abbey Church wall and pillars 1

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

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

netley3

Netley Abbey arches. Image Tony Grant

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

Early History of the Abbey

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

Plan_of_Netley_Abbey (1)

Map of Netley Abbey ca. 1300 – modern times

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

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

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

The Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries

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

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Netley Abbey. Image Tony Grant

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

The Abbey’s Role in Gothic Revival Architecture

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

Horatio Walpole

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

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

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

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

Thomas Gray, English Poet

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771)

Thomas Gray

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

 “Monday, 19th November 1764.

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

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

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

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

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

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

John Constable

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

John Constable

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

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

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

Constable Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

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

George Keate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding

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

Copeley Fielding Sept 22nd 1826

Copeley Fielding Painting of Netley Abbey, Tate Gallery

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

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

Origins of Gothic Novels

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

Netley Abbey: A Gothic novel by Richard Warner, 1795

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

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

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Anne Radcliffe, Wikipedia Commons

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

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

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

Catherine had and they began to discuss the plot.

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

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

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

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

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

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

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

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

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

NorthangerPersuasionTitlePage

Northanger Abbey/Persuasion title page, Wikipedia Commons

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

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

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

Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding 1787–1855 biography TATE BRITAIN

John Constable 1776–1837 biography TATE BRITAIN

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

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

Netley Abbey   English Heritage.

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

 

 

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Inquiring readers: While I am at JASNA’s meeting in NYC this weekend, I leave you with this delightful description of Catherine Morland as a very young girl. I have often wondered how much Jane Austen described her own character. After all, she lived with a house full of boys and must have played cricket with them and slid down the slope behind Steventon Rectory during the snow! Interestingly, Jane Austen wrote the description in one long paragraph, which my images break up. I love the tongue-in-cheek quality of her depiction of Catherine, yet she manages to describe exactly what a young lady’s accomplishments OUGHT to be.

**A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number. (Portait of Sir William Young and family, Johann Zoffany.) Walker Art Gallery

Description of Catherine Morland

A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without color, dark, lank hair, and strong features,— so much for her person. And not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind.

Embroidered 18th century handkerchief. “The ball once struck off, Away flies the boy, To the next destind post, And then home with joy.” *Image @CNN

She was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket, not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, — nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed, she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief, — at least so it was conjectured, from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. Such were her propensities. Her abilities were quite as extraordinary.

Girl sketching, by Henry Raeburn. c. 1811 Image @Sudley House

Catherine Morland’s Accomplishments

She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching her only to repeat the “Beggar’s Petition;” and after all, her next sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherine was always stupid,— by no means: she learnt the fable of “The Hare and many Friends” as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinnet; so, at eight years old, she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine’s life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another.

Dancing Masters Ball, 1794, Isaac Cruikshank. Childrens balls were arranged so that children could practice their dancing lessons. Image: Courtesy of Yale University, Lewis Walpole Digital Image Library Call Number 794.8.27.1

Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!— for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper; was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.

Below: Catherine as I envision her when she meets Henry Tilney


Head of a girl
Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Citations:
*Did baseball begin in 18th-century England?, By Simon Hooper, CNN, June 9, 2010 8:29 a.m. EDT

**A portrait of Sir William Young and his large family shows a picture of 18th century wealth in a fashionably bucolic setting. A “conversation piece”, this depiction was meant to tell a story. The artist, Johann Zoffany, helped develop this type of piece, positioning the sitters as if they are actors. The family is wearing a type of fancy dress, 17th century costumes inspired by century-old portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck . This type of nostalgia was extremely popular in Britain around 1770.  Michael Henry Adams, A Queen for Today! Huffington Post, April 22, 2009.

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Inquiring Readers: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is now available through Sourcebooks. I will be reviewing this fabulous, intelligently written book later this week. Meanwhile, enjoy my interview with Ms. Smith about her Latin American adventure as she discusses Jane Austen’s novels en Español with Latin American book groups. All readers of this blog from any country can enter a contest to win a copy of this charming book. Please click on this link and leave your comment. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. Contest is now closed!

Amy, I love that Jane Austen, a spinster who didn’t travel far or frequently in her lifetime, is so beloved the world wide over. Which country surprised you most in terms of her popularity there and why?

I found translations of Austen left and right in bookstores in Argentina. I met plenty of people there who’d read Austen and liked her or who’d seen film adaptations of her novels and enjoyed them. And the Jane Austen Society of Buenos Aires was the first Austen society in South America. But sometimes it’s hard not to be influenced by stereotypes about people — I’d heard that Chileans were “the English of South America,” so somehow I thought Austen would be popular in Chile. But when I was living in Santiago, the capital (which I absolutely loved), a number of people told me Austen’s not very well known in Chile.

As for Argentineans, I’d heard over and over from people in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and other places that Argentineans are, well, pretty arrogant. Other latinos kept passing on jokes like, “When Argentineans see lightening, what do they think is happening? They think it’s God, taking their picture!” So, I guess I got the idea that Argentineans might think Austen was stuffy or old fashioned or some such thing. But she’s popular, at least in Buenos Aires, according to my experiences.

What aspects of that particular culture do you think Jane would have enjoyed the most?

Bookstores, bookstores, bookstores. I had great experiences in bookstores all over Latin America, but Argentina — and Buenos Aires specifically — really is the bookstore capital of South America. It’s so easy for us now to take for granted that we can get our hands on just about any book we want, any time. We’ve got access to bookstores, next-day delivery with websites, and good public libraries. And electronic readers have made it easier than ever — just order whatever book you want, wherever you are on the planet! But imagine what it must have been like for an imaginative, inquisitive reader like Austen — how often did she ever set foot in a bookstore? How often could she afford to pay for books from a circulating library? How many books did her family or friends or neighbors actually own? I think Austen would have fainted from sheer pleasure at the sight of bookstore after bookstore on Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires.

Librerias Libertador: One of my favorite bookstores on Corrientes, in Buenos Aires

Jane Austen fans cross all religious boundaries. Can you identify any characteristics that Janeites share across the world, besides their obvious love for Jane Austen’s novels?

I honestly can’t speak for many places beyond Latin America (although I might try a next project in some other interesting countries!). But I suspect that there’s a kind of optimism that people — especially women — love about Austen. Her leading ladies find love, not in spite of being strong and intelligent, but because of it. That’s a pretty appealing idea in a world were, in many places, women are still told they’d better not appear too smart, or they’ll scare men off.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in writing this book?

I actually started the book while I was still traveling, although I didn’t finish it until after my trip was done. I wrote the first portion on Guatemala while I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was living well away from the tourist area, renting a partially-finished house that had glass in only one or two windows, so it was pretty noisy — street vendors would cruise by with loudspeakers, selling ice cream, vegetables, you name it. The people across the street had a huge bird caged outside their house that shrieked and chattered like a demon. And animals would wander in at will — there was one very persistent cat that kept making me jump out of my skin by appearing under my writing table with no warning.

There were animals all over the place in that neighborhood — no leash laws for dogs, and some of the neighbors had roosters and other farm animals. When I wanted a break from writing, I’d wander out to buy groceries or take my clothes to the laundromat. I always carried them in a plastic bag, and there was this goat a few houses down from me that was only tied up about half of the time. When it was loose, it usually ignored me, but when I had that plastic bag with laundry, it would come bolting after me — maybe its food came in a plastic bag, and it thought I had something good to eat? Or maybe it knew I had laundry and really wanted to eat my socks. Who knows. Sometimes I actually miss that goat — laundry day’s not the same without it.

A friendly neighborhood rooster from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Thank you, Amy, for your wonderful insights and good luck with your book. (I just love the cover!) Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about All Roads Lead to Austen?

Amy Elizabeth Smith

I had two main sources of inspiration for this book — Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and my own Jane Austen students at the University of the Pacific, in California. Readers can enjoy All Roads as a fun opportunity to sit back and be an armchair traveler, but I’d also love it if the book inspired some other international journey I could sit back and read about. Austen in China? Turkey? Belgium? Bora Bora? I’d love to see somebody else take on a journey like this with Jane. Even if they don’t want to write a whole book about it — I’d love to have people share reading-on-the-road stories on my website (http://allroadsleadtoausten.com/). Consider that an official invitation! And thanks so much for letting me visit here at Jane Austen’s World!

To Enter the Contest: Please make sure to leave your comment on Jane Austen Today at this link. The first two comments left on this post will be included in the random number generator drawing at midnight EST USA time on June 11. Please leave all other comments on Jane Austen Today. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. 

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Inquiring readers:  Once again, Tony Grant, who lives in London, has written his unique insights about historical events in that great city. This week he concentrates on John Murray, the publisher of four of Jane Austen’s six completed novels. Tony’s contributions to this blog are unique in that he includes his photographs of modern London and mingles them with more traditional illustrations. Read Tony’s blog, London Calling, at this link.

Image @Wikimedia Commons

John Murray
Bookseller and Publisher
Born 1st January 1737
Died 6th November 1793
Lived and conducted business here.
1768 – 1793

On Tuesday 13th March, my son Sam and I had a day out in central London. My brother Michael, who lives in Grenaa on Jutland, is over here with thirty students. Michael teaches mathematics in a further education college in Grenaa. He has lived in Denmark for over thirty years. A couple of weeks ago he phoned me and asked if I could do a Dickens tour of London for his students. On Tuesday Sam and I walked the route I will take Michael’s students. A Dickens walk is difficult. There are so many places in London that have strong links with Dickens.

Image @Wiki Spaces. Click on site.

It is more about what to leave out than what to include. Connecting them all in a walk that will take just over an hour would be impossible. I looked carefully at a map of London to see what places could be linked most appropriately. I think I have chosen a rout that includes many of the main sites connected with Dickens working life in London. I have decided to begin at Hungerford Bridge the site of Hungerford Steps and Warren’s Blacking Factory where Charles Dickens worked as a young child sticking labels on bottles of black polish.

The Blacking Factory where Dickens worked. Image @The Mirror. Click here to see more.

The walk will be along The Strand, past The Adelphi Theatre, to Wellington Street, the Lyric Theatre and then on to Covent Garden before walking on to The Old Curiosity Shop, Lincolns Inn , Chancery Lane, Holborn High Street, past Grays Inn and finally ending at 48 Doughty Street, one of the houses Dicken’s lived in and now The Dickens Museum. Sam and I felt very pleased with ourselves. The walk flowed nicely, punctuated with plenty of Dicken’s sites and the timing was about right. We retraced ours steps, this time continuing down Chancery Lane to the Strand and turning left until we got to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in Fleet Street.

Fleet Street and The Royal Courts of Justice. Image @Tony Grant

Dickens, some of his characters and many other writers and famous people have graced these premises. After a pub lunch in the cellared depths of this ancient establishment we tracked back along Fleet Street towards The Royal Courts of Justice. I just happened to glimpse a small plaque attached to a pillar to one side of a narrow alleyway leading to a small courtyard behind. It read:

Image @Tony Grant

I stopped in my tracks. I thought this must be Jane Austen’s publisher. However the dates did not tally. Jane’s first novel, published by John Murray, was Emma in 1815, long after the final date of death on the plaque. I took photographs of the plaque and courtyard at the end of the alleyway and pictures of Fleet Street, running along outside. When I got home I researched John Murray and found the John Murray publishing firm website.

THIS IS A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PUBLISHING FIRM OF JOHN MURRAY.

The first John Murray, who lived from 1737 to 1793, started his working life as a Lieutenant in the Marines. Life as a marine officer in the 18th century was spent on board naval men of war and consisted of travelling the world to defend the British Empire. It wasn’t a particularly well paid or thought of profession. In Mansfield Park , Fanny’s mother, Frances , the younger Ward sister,

British marine, 1775. Image @Mock Attack

…….married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a Lieutenant of Marines, without education, fortune, or connections, did it very thoroughly.”

John Murray must have had a natural inclination towards business and when he acquired a publishing and bookselling business in Fleet Street in 1768 he made it into a successful business now passed down through the generations. The fact that he acquired a publishing business must mean that it was left to him, perhaps in a will. As a lieutenant of marines it is doubtful he would have had the finances to buy it and it seems a strange choice of business for somebody with his background. He must have acquired it through inheritance and an accident of fate.

The John Murray office was in Falcon Court. Image @Tony Grant

As an indication of his business acumen he was one of the first publishers to actually consider the quality of the writing he published. He also used his many contacts to help sell large quantities of his books. He was a canny businessman though and hedged his bets by also selling game, which would have included deer, pheasants and rabbits; the produce of country sports. He had a go at selling paste jewels and lottery tickets too.

John Murray (or MacMurray, as the name was originally spelt), having bought the stock and goodwill of William Sandley, who had turned banker, began at the ‘Falcon,’ otherwise No. 32 Fleet Street, that remarkable and prosperous career which has culminated in the great publishing house of Murray. In Smiles’ book on the Murrays will be found an exhaustive account of the inception, by Lieutenant MacMurray, of this great firm. – Fleet Street and the Press

Image @Tony Grant

He was astute enough to go with what was most profitable. Books worked for him though. I suppose if the selling of game, he was virtually a butcher as well as a bookseller, paste jewellery or the selling of lottery tickets had provided more income for him the publishing side may well have not contiued and Jane would not have had her publisher in the next John Murray but may well have been buying venison from him instead.

Image @Tony Grant

John Murray II. Image @Austenonly. (Published with permission from Julie Wakefield.)

John Murray’s son John Murray II began to develop the business. He was successful at signing Walter Scott who helped him, among others, such as the secretaries of the admiralty, John Wilson Croker and Sir John Barrow and writers such as Robert Southey and Charles Lamb to publish The Quarterly Review. This journal continued until 1967. In 2007 it was revived. The concept behind it is

to draw upon a wide range of opinions to provide counter-intuitive writing for people who like to think, and to enhance literary, philosophical and political debate.”

50 Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

In it’s early years it tried to counter social reforms. It was rather conservative in it’s views but it did back the abolition of slavery although advocating a slow approach to the process.

50 Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

In 1812, John Murray II published Childe Harold by Byron and it was a great success. This gave Murray the confidence to mortgage some of his copyrights and purchase 50 Albemarle Street, which has remained the home of the publishing firm for the last two hundred years.

Albemarle Street. Image @Tony Grant

John Murray drawing room. Image @Playwright in the cages

The drawing room in Albemarle Street has been the meeting place for some of the most famous writers in English history. By 1815, and after the Battle of Waterloo, everybody wanted to be published by John Murray. It seems therefore that Henry Austen, Jane’s banker brother, must have had no little influence in obtaining Murray as his sister’s publisher. She was an unknown country girl. Why should he take her on? On the other hand he might have had great literary sense and was in the habit of reading unsolicited scripts.

Jane Austen's brother, Henry.

Jane herself was very business like with John Murray. She wrote to him on Monday 11th December 1815 from Hans Place, Henry’s house in London:

Dear Sir,

As I find that Emma is advertised for publication as early as Saturday next, I think it best to lose no time in settling all that remains to be settled on the subject, & adopt this method of doing so, as involving the smallest tax on your time.

In the first place, I beg you to understand that I leave the terms on which the Trade should be supplied with the work, entirely to your judgement entreating you to be guided in every such arrangement by your own experience of what is most likely to clear off the Edition rapidly, I shall be satisfied with whatever you feel to be the best.-“

She appears to be quite the pragmatist. It is significant to note that Murray would publish four of her six completed novels: Emma and Mansfield Park while she was alive, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey after her death.

Image @Austenprose. Click on link to read post.

In the nineteenth century, the John Murray firm began publishing a series of travel books called the Murray Handbooks, which were authored by many of the great explorers of the time. The men included Sir John Franklin, who, in 1847, died exploring the North West Passage. He had also spent many years mapping the coast line of Canada. Murray also published David Livingstone, the explorer of the heart of Africa; Sir John Barrow, who wrote about South Africa; Heinrich Schlieman, the excavator and discoverer of Troy; and Isabella Bird, who visited north America and the pacific Islands. Her trips were financed by her father to help her counteract depression and backache. Both symptoms were cured in her travels: John Murray published “The Englishwoman in America,” and “Six Months in The Sandwich Islands,” both written by her about her travels.

Scientists and inventors chose to be published through John Murray. They included Charles Babbage, Malthus and Lyell who wrote in 1830 “Principles of Geology,” which later inspired Charles Darwin. In 1859, the firm published Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and Samuel Smiles’ Self Help.

John Murray III was one of the official publishers of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde park in 1851. This exhibition promoted the industrial, economic, and military might of the Empire, although all nations were invited to contribute exhibits.

Great Exhibition

The proceeds form the exhibition were later used to create, The Albert Hall, The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, and The Victoria and Albert museum. This area of London today is still called “Albertropolis,” because Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, sponsored The Great Exhibition and the forming of the Kensington Museums. John Murray faced some opposition from some quarters when he published Queen Victoria’s letters after she died.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria announce the opening of the Great Exhibition. Image @Getty Images.

In 1917 John Murray bought the rival publisher Smith Elder, and so added Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to their list.

John Murray, IV. Image @John Murray Archive

In the 1930’s John Murray IV entered the firm and built up an impressive list of twentieth century writers including John Betjamin, Osbert Lancaster and Freya Stark amongst others.

In 2002 John Murray was sold to Hodder Headline, which in turn became part of Hachette UK. The company continues to publish and prosper continuing with new ideas and new authors in all fields.

As a footnote, if there is anybody reading this thinking that they would like to be published by John Murray they have a note on their website:

Submissions

Owing to the amount of time devoted to assessing solicited or commissioned work John Murray is no longer able to accept any unsolicited manuscripts or synopses, or to enter into any correspondence about them. The best way to go about getting published is to find a literary agent, who can give you advice about your work and who will know the best publishers for the kind of book you are writing.

You can find a list of literary agents in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published by A&C Black, or in The Writer’s Handbook or From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake, both published by Pan.

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The Bodleian Library in Oxford recently exhibited a sampler (along with other items) for one day to celebrate World Book Day on March 1. This linen cross stitch sampler, purportedly made by a 12-year-old Jane Austen in 1787, was displayed for the very first time. The stitching has become frayed and undone, so that the sampler appears to have been made in 1797. A stylized border with flowering trees surround the words to the psalm, “Praise the Lord O my soul.”

The sampler was purchased in 1996 for over £2000. According to the sale catalogue, the “present owner, who lives in Gloucestershire, received the sampler as a present, folded inside a tobacco tin.” A note on the back of the frame states that an early owner was “related to Jane Austen the novelist” and that she had “received it as a memento” of Austen’s life. (Such a practice was very common after a person died. Letters and personal items were given to close friends and family members as a remembrance.)

I must add that this sampler’s provenance is doubtful. The provenance cannot be directly traced to Jane Austen, and “an early owner related to Jane Austen” simply does not provide enough reliable information.

Sampler detail. Image @Jane Austen Centre Gift Shop*

Jane Austen prided herself on her precise sewing skills. This sampler shows a more inexperienced hand than a seamstress in her later years. (I must add that a sampler I made at a similar age does not look nearly half as good.)

Jane mentions a young needlewoman in Northanger Abbey. Henry Tilney remarks upon the age difference between Catherine Morland and himself:

“I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!”

To which she responds:  “Not very good I am afraid.”

More on the topic

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We’ve all come to associate Regency women’s fashion with delicate white muslin fabrics – sprigged muslin, spotted muslin,  checked and striped muslin, and embroidered muslin. Henry Tilney, the hero in Northanger Abbey, was well-acquainted with muslins through his sister, who wore only white.

Sheer white muslin gown with whitework embroidery. Image @Vintage Textile

In the 17th century and until the late 18th century, England imported muslin, a thin cotton material, from India.  The British East India Company traded in Indian cotton, silk fabrics, and Dacca (Dhaka or modern-day Bangladesh) muslins. Muslins from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were also imported. The delicate cloth, which first originated in the Middle East in the 9th century, was perfect for clothing and curtains in hot, arid countries. – Muslin: Encyclopedia Britannica

Muslin gown, 1816

Muslin was a finely woven light cotton fabric in plain weave without a pattern, and had identical warp and weft threads. The fabric selection is quite flexible, coming in a wide variety of weights and widths. It accepts dyes and paints so successfully that today it is often used for theatrical backdrops and photographic portraits. One observation must be made: muslins of the past were made of much finer, more delicate weave than today’s muslins. –  How Is Muslin Fabric Made?

Buttons on a modern muslin fabric

Muslin gown circa 1815, Bath museum

An important feature of muslin fabrics is its ability to drape. Regency fashions were based on robes and garments from antiquity. The ability to drape and maneuver the fabric on the figure was an important feature of this cloth. Today, designers use muslin as a test garment for cutting and draping a design before creating the final dress from more expensive fabrics.

Another excellent feature of muslin is its ability to take dye, paints, and embroidery. The cloth accepted many patterns, motifs and designs that made it versatile and unique. Textile as Art

Plus the white fabric was a mark of gentility. White was difficult to keep clean or required constant cleaning. It was one thing for an aristocratic lady like Eleanor Tilney to wear white, but another for a maid to presume to wear such a high maintenance garment. Mrs Norris, that awful woman from Mansfield Park, approved of Mrs. Rushworth’s housekeeper’s action of turning away two housemaids for wearing white gowns.

Muslin evening dress. Image @Metropolitan Museum of Art

Embroidery transformed the simple white muslin gown into works of art. Whitework embroidery was particularly striking, but colored threads could be equally beautiful. The draping quality of the cloth lent itself well to columnar-shaped empire waist gowns.

Indian sprigged muslin gown, 1800. Image@Kelly Taylor Auctions Trouvais

Muslin was imported from the Far East for centuries. Then the weavers in west Scotland, who were proficient in spinning fine cottons such as linen, cambric, and lawn, began to pay attention to weaving a finer, more delicate cloth.

Sheer muslin gown, 1800. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

Muslins, therefore (plain for the most part in Glasgow, and fancy ornamented in Paisley),were among the earliest and principal cotton fabrics produced on the looms of the west of Scotland. About the year 1780 James Monteith, the father of Henry Monteith, the founder of the great printworks at Barrowfield, and of the spinning and weaving mills at Blantyre, warped a muslin web, the first attempted in Scotland; and he set himself resolutely to try to imitate or excel the famous products of Dacca and other Indian muslin-producing centres. As the yarn which could then be produced was not fine enough for his purposes, he procured a quantity of “bird-nest” Indian yarn, “and employed James Dalziel to weave a 6-4th 12” book with a handshuttle, for which he paid him 2Id. per ell for weaving;. It is worthy of remark that the same kind of web is now wrought at 2|d. per ell The second web was wove with a-fly shuttle, which was the second used in Scotland. The Indian yarn was so difficult to wind that Christian Gray, wife of Robert Dougall, bellman, got 6s. 0 J. for winding each pound of it. When the web was finished Mr Monteith ordered a dress of it to be embroidered with gold, which had presented to Her Majesty Queen Charlotte.”1

1817 Muslin day dress. Image @Bowes Museum

Once fairly established, the muslin trade and various other cotton manufactures developed with extraordinary rapidity, and diverged into a great variety of products which were disposed of through equally numerous channels. Among the earliest staples, along with plain book muslins, came mulls, jacconets or nainsooks, and checked and striped muslins. Ginghams and pullicats formed an early and very important trade with the West Indian market, as well as for home consumption. These articles for a long period afforded the chief employment to the hand-loom weavers in the numerous villages around Glasgow and throughout the west of Scotland. The weaving of sprigged or spotted muslins and lappets was subsequently introduced, the latter not having been commenced till 1814. Although the weaving of ordinary grey calico for bleaching or printing purposes has always held .and still retains an important place among Glasgow cotton manufactures, it has never been a peculiar feature of the cotton industry; and the very extensive bleaching and print-works of the locality have always been supplied with a proportion of their material from the great cotton manufacturing districts of Lancashire. – p 501, The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature, Volume 6, Thomas Spencer Bayne, 1888.

Embroidered muslin round gown, 1795. Image @Cathy Decker

More on the topic:

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18th century robe a la Francaise. Image @Rijksmuseum

During the 18th century and much of the Regency era, trains were popular on evening and court dresses, and at times on walking gowns. The length of the train shortened as the 18th century progressed, but even shorter trains swept over lawns and grounds and sidewalks. This fashion turned out to be quite expensive, for after several short walks, the fabric would be quite soiled or would need replacement. Oliver Goldsmith wrote in Citizen of the world (1760):

Nothing can be better calculated to increase the price of silk than the present manner of dressing. A lady’s train is not bought but at some expense, and after it has swept  the public walks for a very few evenings, is fit to be worn no longer, more silk must be bought in order to repair the breach, and some ladies of peculiar economy are thus found to patch up their tails eight or ten times in a season.”

One imagines that the delicate muslin trains of the Regency era were as easily wrecked by wear and tear, and that only the rich could afford such an extravagant consumption. There were ways to save one’s train. In 1996’s Emma, Gwynneth Paltrow is seen holding up her train during the dance.

Emma's train is attached to her wrist.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen described how Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland pinned up each others trains.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together.”

1800 sprigged muslin gown. Image @Christies

One can only conclude that trains (or tails, as Goldsmith called them) were an extravagance that the ordinary working woman did not indulge in wearing, for until mass production made cloth more affordable, the added lengths of cloth, plus the constant need for laundering and patching, would make this fashionable feature prohibitively high for most women.

Note: That Isabella and Catherine met  “in defiance of wet and dirt” meant something, for shoes and fabrics were so delicate at the time, that ladies tended to stay indoors on rainy days.


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Available March 8, also as a Kindle book

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan, will be available for purchase on March 8. Ms. Sullivan, who many readers know as the editrix of Austenblog, has graciously consented to answer a few questions. Like her books and blog, her information is filled with wit and insight.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Margaret.

Hello to readers of Jane Austen’s World and thanks for having me!

1. How long did it take you to write The Jane Austen Handbook? Was it self-published at first? Who distributed the book? (I know that it sat proudly on the shelves of the gift shop at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath.)

It has always been published by Quirk Books! Just now it has a new cover. Also Quirk books are now being distributed by Random House. Before they were mostly in gift stores (Like the JA Centre–and my friend Julie Tynion sent me a photo of the book on the shelves of the gift shop at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. I think they heard my SQUEEEEE at the International Space Station.) The coolest place I think anyone told me they saw the book was the gift shop of the QE2, while she was still a cruise ship.

As to how long it took me to write it, I had six weeks between the offer and the due date for the first draft, so it was a pretty frantic time. However, the editor and I had worked out an outline so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch, and there were rewrites a little bit later, especially the section on dancing, which I think is my favorite and was greatly expanded in the rewrite stage.

I was working full-time while I was writing it as well, which in retrospect was not the smartest idea. At least near the end I should have taken some time off. I was worn out!

2. Did you approach Quirk Books or did they approach you in publishing this edition of your book?

They approached me. They already had a line of handbooks such as the Batman Handbook, the Spiderman Handbook, etc., which were usually geared towards big summer films. They wanted to do something more literary, and decided to do a Jane Austen Handbook to go along with the release of Becoming Jane. (And yes, I do realize that I am Irony’s Plaything in that regard.) The editor told me she found the blog and thought I would be a good candidate, and “stalked me online” for a few days before approaching me.

Jason Rekulak, Godfather of the Jane Austen Zombie Revolution (like I said, Irony’s Plaything), called me last year and said Random House was interested in re-releasing the book, and it was due for a reprint anyway, but they wanted a different cover. Et voila! Random House’s distribution is, I believe, more focused on traditional bookstores. Also, as a great enthusiast for ebooks, I’m really pleased that at last the Handbook will be available in digital, and I confess I’m also curious to see what the ebook will look like.

3. In regard to writing and publishing, what advice would you give a newbie writer?

As to advice for aspiring authors, I would say to always endeavor to be professional. Jane Austen was extremely professional in her dealings with publishers and fans. Then she abused them with great spirit among her friends. ;-) She was also very professional in the way she approached her craft. She worked at it and was an excellent self-editor, and knew what made a story enjoyable and what was good writing. It distresses me when authors let their emotions get the better of their professional demeanor. Bad reviews happen, and part of the job is learning to accept them, even when they hurt or don’t seem fair. Act like you’ve been there. Shoving your Published Author status in people’s faces seems vulgar to me. And once you arrive, help those who come after you!

4. You’ve been visible on the blogosphere since *cough* its dark ages. Am I right in thinking that your began Austenblog in 2004? What was being the queen of the Jane fandom like back then?

Yes! I created AustenBlog during the very hot July 4th weekend of 2004, and had an official launch later that month. Back then we were excited about a new film version of P&P! Once again: Irony’s Plaything!

I certainly wasn’t the queen of the Austen fandom then, nor am I now. ;-) I don’t think there is a queen. It’s much too anarchic a group. If they don’t like something or their desires aren’t being met, they’ll go make a website or online community of their own, especially now with all the great online tools available. Also nobody really knew about AustenBlog at first. It’s always been movies that attracted the most attention, so when the last bunch of films were being made and shown was when we first attracted a lot of attention. (Say it with me: Irony’s Plaything!)

5. Tell us about the changes in Jane fandom since then and what you think of future trends for Austen aficionados.

I think the main difference is that the fandom is becoming more diverse and I think as a whole not so “particularly friendly to very severe, very intense application,” as Mr. Tilney would say. Their Jane Austen fandom goes along with lots of other interests, some inter-related and some not. There are still obsessives as well, and I’m pleased to see more people having fun with their fandom and allowing themselves to be sometimes silly with it. It’s interesting, while JASNA tends to attract the more devoted fans, I’ve noticed a bit of a culture shift over the past ten years or so. The members are becoming a little more popular culture-oriented, or at least more aware of the popular culture aspects of the fandom, even if that’s not necessarily their cup of tea. Costuming has become a lot more popular. At my first AGM in 2000, only a handful of people dressed in period costume for at least part of the conference, and in the past couple of years it’s really taken off. I think the programs are becoming more diverse, too–there is something for everyone. Janeiteism is a big tent, and I celebrate it, even while I sometimes deplore the fringier groups. ;-)

6. Your love for Henry Tilney is well known. What are the qualities about this hero that attract you so? Which scene in Northanger Abbey in particular do you find memorable?

NA was the fifth of the six novels that I’d read (MP was last) and when this charming, funny guy showed up, I was instantly attracted to his obvious intelligence and wit and general coolness, but it seemed to me that in the other four novels I’d read, the funny, charming guy turned out to be the villain. Thus, I spent the whole book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Imagine my joy when I got to the end and realized it was not only fun to love Henry Tilney, it was the right thing to do.

Henry is not only charming, but honorable. He’s very human and really not as perfect as I’d like to pretend, but he is kind to Catherine, and besides his sister is practically the only person in the book who never condescends to her or treats her like she’s stupid or tries to trick her. If his conversation sometimes goes over her head, it’s paying her a compliment in a way–the compliment of rational companionship, if I may borrow a little from Miss Dashwood!

I have many favorite scenes, but I’ve picked one out, from Vol. II, Ch. I:

Henry smiled, and said, “How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people’s actions.”

“Why? — What do you mean?”

“With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person’s feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered? — but, How should I be influenced, what would be my inducement in acting so and so?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

“Me? — yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“Bravo! — an excellent satire on modern language.”

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

“Shall I indeed? — Do you really desire it? But you are not aware of the consequences; it will involve you in a very cruel embarrassment, and certainly bring on a disagreement between us.”

“No, no; it shall not do either; I am not afraid.”

“Well, then, I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good-nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good-nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

Catherine blushed and disclaimed, and the gentleman’s predictions were verified. There was a something, however, in his words which repaid her for the pain of confusion; and that something occupied her mind so much that she drew back for some time, forgetting to speak or to listen, and almost forgetting where she was…

For all those who say that Henry isn’t really in love with Catherine, read that scene. He is not going to pay her profuse compliments that she might not trust to be real; and when he does pay her a compliment, he does it subtly, with humor, and with that “something” that gives Catherine the collywobbles. You can practically smell the pheromones flying back and forth. That man’s in love–and so is Catherine! I think in that scene her love for Henry turns the corner from a girlish crush to a deeper and more adult feeling.

7. My assumption is that you have been to England and visited a number of places that Jane Austen lived in and visited herself. Do you have any extraordinary memories that you’d like to share with us?

I traveled to the UK in October 2005 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar–I’m a big Age of Sail fan as well–with my Horatian buddies (we Hornblower fans call ourselves Horatians). While in Portsmouth I walked the ramparts, like Fanny Price, and saw the ruins of the Marine chapel where they went to church (and also was amused to see a hair stylist shop run by one Andrew Price in downtown Portsmouth–nice to see the Prices are still in town, even if they are in trade). I felt very close to Captain Wentworth and his friends there. In London, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to visit Jane’s portrait, and the British Library to see her writing desk and the manuscripts for History of England and the canceled chapters of Persuasion.

We also went to Bath, and it was a real thrill. I kept running into Jane’s characters around every corner, especially as my two favorite books are the two Bath books, Persuasion and NA. I remember walking up Milsom Street, getting to the top of the street, looking up, and seeing “Edgar’s Buildings” engraved on the wall. Walking through Laura Place, down Pulteney Street, out to see 4 Sydney Place where the Austens lived, were all amazing–especially to know that in many ways they were nearly the same as in Jane Austen’s time. I also loved going up to Camden Place and seeing how utterly perfect it was to be the home of Sir Walter Elliot. All of Bath was, quite literally, at his feet; and yet it was built on unsteady land, and did not have the proper neoclassical regularity–it was all off-center. Perfect! And a really funny moment was when we were taking the bus uptown, and asked the bus driver to let us know when we were near Camden Crescent. He looked at our cameras and, clearly not a Janeite, said, “Taking pictures, luv? You should go over to Lansdowne Crescent instead. For my money, it’s the prettiest crescent in Bath.” I wonder what Sir Walter and Miss would have said to that! It was such a delightfully Austenian moment.

And of course we went to Chawton and Steventon. They were the places I felt closest to Jane herself. Chawton was charming, so peaceful and quiet, and inspiring for a writer. Finding Steventon was not easy–it was kind of like trying to find Shangri-La. The GPS sent us to Berkshire, which of course is totally the wrong direction. We drove despairingly around Basingstoke trying to find a local who could direct us, but we were a mile away from Steventon at one point and locals just looked at us blankly when we asked if they could give us directions. Finally we found a helpful person who gave us excellent directions, and arrived at the church in late afternoon just as the rain was letting up. I loved both St. Nicholas’ churches, in Chawton and Steventon–I loved that they were both still obviously working churches, and not just tourist attractions. Jane would have really appreciated that, I think. (And thanks to Mike for driving and his lovely pianoforte playing at Chawton, and Kathleen for the companionship, snark, and hosting me in London! I should have just let you guys ring the churchbell at Steventon.)

Margaret Sullivan at JASNA, 2008. Image @Laurie Viera Rigler

Margaret, it was a pleasure to interview you! I’ve seen your book and intend to review it soon. I can’t wait to read it. Vic

Thanks for the interview! This was really fun!

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Downton Abbey, a PBS Masterpiece Classic mini-series, is as much a tale about the servants below stairs as about the noble Earl of Grantham and his family who employed them. With the recent airing of the updated version of Upstairs Downstairs in Great Britain, I am sure a debate will long rage about which series portrayed their eras and class differences better. In both cases, the viewer is the winner.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle, an “Elizabethan Pile”) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

No matter how expertly this mini-series of Downton Abbey tries to portray this bygone era, it is nearly impossible to capure life in an Edwardian country house exactly as it once was. The viewer should be aware that we can glimpse only a faint, musty, museum shadow of the complex and thriving community that a great English estate once supported.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Crawleys and the servants of Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

It is a well-known fact that grand country houses could only be run with a great deal of help. As early as the 18th century, Patrick Colquhoun estimated that there were around 910,000 domestic servants (in a population of 9 million). By 1911, the number of domestic servants had risen to 1.3 million. Eighty percent of the land during the Edwardian era was owned by only 3% of the population, yet these vast estates were considered major employers.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl (Hugh Bonneville) and his heir, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), survey his vast estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the grander and larger houses, the ratio of servants (both indoor and outdoor) to the family could approach 1:7 or 1:10, but as the industrial revolution introduced improvements in laundering, lawn maintenance, and cooking, the number of servants required to run a great estate was greatly reduced.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl and his heir, Matthew Crawley, survey the cottages and outer buildings on his estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After World War One and the rise in taxes for each servant employed, many great families no longer kept two sets of house staff. They began to bring servants from their country house to their house in Town, leaving only a skeleton crew behind to maintain the family seat in their absence.

Grounds of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)

Country estates were designed to showcase the owner’s wealth via collections of art, furniture and other luxurious possessions, such as carriages, lawn tennis courts, and the like. The main house sat at the end of a long and winding drive through acres of beautifully landscaped park lands.

Downton Abbey.

The Duke is greeted by both the family and the servants. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The spectacle did not end there, for approaching the house, guests would see a grand facade or an equally imposing flight of stairs that led to the first floor (or both). In Downtown Abbey, the family awaited the arrival of the Duke of Crowborough (Charlie Cox) along with their servants, who were arrayed in line according to their station.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The servants await their new masters at Norland. Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Such a display of staff was also evident in the 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, when Fanny and Robert Dashwood arrived to claim Norland Park.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Grand interior hall of Downton Abbey, floor leading to the private rooms. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Once introductions had been made, the guests would ascend the imposing stairway and enter an equally impressive high-ceilinged hall that contained yet another grand staircase, which led to the private rooms upstairs. The ladies customarily brought their own maids, who would also require lodging. (In Gosford Park, a poor female relation had to make do with one of the hostesses’ house maids to help her with her dress and hair.)

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Thomas (Rob James-Collier), the first footman, is chosen to act as valet to the duke. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The guests’ servants were expected to enter the house through a separate, back servant’s entrance, and shared quarters with the regular staff. The host supplied his own butler or footmen to help serve as valet to his male guests.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Earl of Grantham’s impressive library/study. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

A host’s willingness to lavishly entertain his guests did not necessarily reflect the family’s daily schedule:

In 1826 a German visitor to England remarked that: it requires a considerable fortune here to keep up a country house; for custom demands… a handsomely fitted-up house with elegant furniture, plate, servants in new and handsome liveries, a profusion of dishes and foreign wines, rare and expensive desserts… As long as there are visitors in the house, this way of life goes on; but many a family atones for it by meagre fare when alone; for which reasons, nobody here ventures to pay a visit in the country without being invited, and these invitations usually fix the day and hour… True hospitality this can hardly be called; it is rather the display of one’s own possessions, for the purpose of dazzling as many as possible.(3)” – The Country House: JASA

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Travel in winter, Henry Alken, 1785

Guests stayed for a long time for a variety of reasons. In the 17th and 18th centuries, travel over a long distance was laboriously slow and difficult, for roads were notoriously poor and dangerous. Long visits, such as Cassandra Austen’s visits to her brother Edward in Godmersham Park, became a custom. Even during the Edwardian age, when travel was much improved, guests tended to stay for the weekend (Saturday through Monday). In Downton Abbey, the Duke of Crowborough arrived amidst much hope and anticipation, until he discovered that the estate had been entailed to a third cousin not the earl’s daughter, whom he had come to woo, and he cut his visit to one short day and evening, making an excuse that did not hold water.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Catherine Morland (Katherine Schlessinger) and Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), Northanger Abbey 1986

Even during the 18th century, when long-term guests were expected, some overstayed their welcome, like Jane Austen’s anti-heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, whose hostess (sister-in-law) despised her but was forced to tolerate her because she was ‘family.’ Desirable guests, like Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, were invited to extend their visit. In Catherine’s instance, Eleanor Tilney, a motherless young lady who lived without a female companion, found the young girl’s company delightful. By the time General Tilney discovered that Catherine was no heiress, she had been with the Allens in Bath and the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey for a total of 11 weeks. As previously noted, Edwardian hosts, while generous, expected house guest to stay for only three days. During this time every luxury was lavished upon them, but it was considered bad form if they stayed longer than arranged or without invitation.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast was a substantial meal served at 9:30 a.m. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

At set times, Edwardian guests would congregate in the common rooms, which included the drawing room, music room, dining room and breakfast room, the library or study, the gallery (where ancient family portraits were hung), the billiard room, and the conservatory. Vast lawns and gardens were laid out for promenading; guests could ride or walk through the parklands to view picturesque follys or dine alfresco (outdoors), take tea under an awning, or paint a vista or two.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Taking tea alfresco. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The reputation of a host rested on the entertainments, which helped to pass the time – walking, riding, shooting (in winter), and hunting (in fall) for outdoor activities; and card parties, musicales, and dances for indoor festivities. A fox hunt, such as the one depicted in Downton Abbey, required riding skill and stamina, for the chase would take riders over hills and dales, and hedges, and over long distances for much of the day.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The hunt required riding skills and stamina.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Billiards made an appearance during the 17th century, and by the 19th century billiard rooms had become a staple. Private libraries offered a variety of books and periodicals. In the summer, Edwardians enjoyed lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, and golf (by the men).

The male guests in Regency House Party (2004) could pretty well behave and move around as they pleased.

Ladies and gentlemen tended to spend the day apart. Male guests were more active and could engage in almost any activity during the day, except at the time reserved for dinner, when they were expected to show up. In an Edwardian house, men did not escort their female dining partners into the dining room. Rather, after the host served cocktails in the drawing room a half hour before the meal, the group moved to the dining room where they were seated according to a set pattern, with guests sitting between members of the family and their neighbors.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The new heir of Downton Abbey (Dan Stevens) sits next to his hostess, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After dinner, the ladies would remove to the drawing room, which became increasingly larger and more feminine over time, while the gentleman relaxed at the dining room table, drinking port, smoking their cheroots, and discussing manly topics.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The drawing room at Downton Abbey was large and feminine. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

While an 18th century gentlemen would have talked about horse flesh and carriages, Edwardian guests would have included automobiles and their rapidly changing technology, road improvements, and the availability of petrol as well.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Transportation was changing rapidly at the turn of the 20th century. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike the gentlemen, a lady’s day was more restricted and confined. She spent her day following a set routine, starting with breakfast, and wearing appropriate outfits and getting into them and out of them. Mothers spent some time overseeing the nannies and the care of their children (if they were brought along). Ladies, married or not, would also receive visitors, sew, gossip, read, walk, participate in charity work, observe the men at sport (if invited) or take a ride in the carriage. They did join in on more active, outdoor games at set times during the appropriate season, such as cricket, croquet, lawn tennis, lawn bowling, and the like, but they would have been properly dressed for the occasion.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The head maid (Joanne Froggatt) dresses Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) hair for dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Imagine poor Eleanor Tilney in the late 18th century, alone in a grand house without female companionship, having no-one to talk to and forced to live a constricted life. No amount of walking, charity work, practicing the piano, or overseeing the household would have made up for her boredom, and thus Catherine Morland’s companionship was so welcome.

Manor House (2002), dressing Lady Olliff-Cooper. Image @PBS

In Regency House Party (the 2004 mini-series), the modern women who portrayed Regency ladies chafed under the strict rules of protocol, forced chaperonage, and daily tedium. A lady’s routine did not much improve during the Edwardian era, although towards the end of this period changing one’s gown for afternoon tea became obsolete.

Tea gown, circa 1908. Image @Vintage Textiles

In Manor House, the 2002 mini-series set in the Edwardian era, Lady Olliff-Cooper’s spinster sister, the lowest-ranking member of the family, had so little to do and so little say in how she could spend her time, that Avril Anson (who in real life is a professor) left the series for a few episodes to maintain her sanity.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) eye their rival before dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Lady Olliff-Cooper … [needed] to change her clothes five or six times a day. And very few of these dresses would be what today we’d call practical. Not only did each meal carry its own dress code, but if she needed to receive a visitor, pay a call or go riding, she’d have to change both her clothes and often her hairstyle as well.” Manor House, clothes

Anna Olliff-Cooper, who portrayed the lady of the house in Manor House, spent an enormous amount of her day changing into new gowns and having her hair dressed. She would stand passively as her maid did all the work. Anna noted how constricting the dresses were, and cried as she described how the tight sleeves of her gowns prevented her from raising her arms above her shoulders or from closely hugging her eleven-year old son. Even the fashions conspired to keep a women passive!

The Dinner Party, 1911, Jules Alexandre Grun

After they had finished their cigars and port, the gentlemen were obligated to rejoin the ladies for cards or music, or both, to while away the evening. The Duke’s behavior in Downton Abbey was egregious, for instead of joining the group for the rest of the evening, he went to bed early. The house party would stay up until 10:30 or so (unless a grand ball had been arranged, and then the guests would stay up until the wee hours of the morning).

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Male conversation after dinner over port and cigars. The duke and earl have a frank conversation. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In either case, the last people in the house to retire for the night would be the servants, but their lives and schedule will be described in another post.

Look for Downton Abbey, Part One to air on PBS Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, January 9th! Once again PBS will host a twitter party! Stay tuned for details.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

End of the day at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

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Until a cold felled me low this week, I had refrained from rewatching Northanger Abbey 1986, which I had a tough time sitting all the way through the first few times around. This film has left me feeling frustrated for its lost opportunities and many misses, and I wonder if the director and script writer wish today that they could change some of the creative decisions they made almost a quarter of a century earlier. In this film, we see the story unfold from young Catherine Morland’s (Katherine Schlesinger’s) point of view. This means we get a lot of Gothic novel fantasies made up by script writer Maggie Wadey, and hardly any Jane Austen at all.

Isabella Thorpe and her mother wear outfits, hats, and hairdos that seem inspired by Von Heideloff prints

The production values are quite stunning, considering how old this BBC adaptation is and how poorly made films for television were in that era. Costumes designed by Nicholas Rocker are the fashion equivalent of beautiful meringues and chocolate bonbons (how could any of these women, except Mrs. Allen or Eleanor Tilney have afforded such luxurious gowns?). Despite the breathtaking settings and authentic backdrops, this 90-minute film adaptation with its strange synthetic music manages to entirely miss the satiric point of Jane Austen’s wonderful take on the gothic novel. And someone should have told the makeup department to lay off the heavy mascara and lipstick on all the ladies.

1795 Von Heidoloff fashion plate

Although the length of this adaptation is a mere 90 minutes, script writer Maggie Wadey added scenes and characters that detracted from the story or overwhelmed it, and that replaced moments in the book that were important to drive the plot forward and understand the characters better.

While Jane Austen made it clear that young Catherine had quite an imagination, these over the top film scenes were jarring and took away valuable cinematic time from good story telling.

I also found major problems with the musical score. The four musical clips embedded in this post and written by composer Ilona Sekacs in no way evoke the Regency era.  Click to hear the theme for the DVD – a 47 second music clip.

Catherine's Gothic dreams drive the music

Sekacs’ synthesized music and odd vocalizations from a female choir concentrate almost solely on giving us an eerie sense of ” Gothic doom”. Unfortunately, the composer uses the  “Lah da dah-Ooh” chorus throughout the film, and occasionally throws in a Gregorian Chant for good measure. Only during the ball scenes and at a musicale in Northanger Abbey are we allowed to hear music made with traditional instruments and that might have been heard during the Regency era.

An occasional tinkle from a pianoforte would have added greatly to a Georgian era atmosphere

I can only surmise that Ilona Sekacs was influenced by Vangelis, who had won an Academy Award for his score for Chariots of Fire five years before this production. Although Chariots was a period film, Vangelis’ electronic score sounded fresh and sweeping as 1920’s male runners practiced their speed against a back drop of endless beaches, rolling waves, and big sky. His score was a huge success in the early 80’s and he was rewarded for it. Alas for Jane Austen lovers, electronic synthesizers do not work as effectively in evoking a Bath drawing room, or as a backdrop for such Regency pastimes as walking, taking the waters, and carriage rides.

Bodiam Castle, built 1385

As the opening credits roll by, Catherine’s views Northanger Abbey from the carriage (to the accompaniment of this musical clip, which features male and female chanters and trumpets blaring). The Abbey is actually Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century keep with a water moat, and a well-known tourist destination.

Bodiam Castle's grounds from the air

I instantly sat up and took notice, for I have visited Bodium Castle. It was a ruin during Jane Austen’s day and was only partially rebuilt in 1829, a good twelve years after her death. According to Jane’s novel, Northanger Abbey was surrounded by extensive gardens, and I wondered how the director would pull off the scene where the general boasted of his fruit trees.  Imagine my surprise when I saw Catherine and Miss Tilney walking towards a side entrance of an entirely new building with different architectural details and nary a moat in sight. “Badly done”, as Mr. Knightley would have said. Bad transition, indeed.

A stroll through the gardens of Northanger Abbey

But I have jumped ahead of myself, for there are other earlier errors for which I cannot forgive this production. Take Henry Tilney (Peter Firth), for instance. At the Assembly Ball, he bumps into Catherine and Mrs. Allen (a delightful Googie Withers) without a proper introduction from the Master of Ceremonies. Except for Henry’s comments about muslins, his fey but wise sense of humor is almost entirely missing at the start of this film.

Henry Tilney bumps into Catherine Morland and Mrs Allen.

I must admit that I do not like Firth‘s portrayal of Henry Tilney and could never see him as this character. But even so, Henry’s charming conversation was given short shrift, and he appears only long enough for Catherine to develop an interest in him before disappearing. Click here to view a YouTube clip (and hear period appropriate music) of Henry’s first meeting with Catherine.

James Morland introduces John Thorpe

Where Henry’s role was severely diminished, John Thorpe’s presence early in the film was largely retained.  Mrs. Allen and Catherine do not bump into Mrs. Thorpe as they walk through Bath, as Jane Austen had written. Rather, as you can see in this YouTube clip, Catherine’s brother, James, visits the Allens and makes the introduction. Catherine then meets Isabella, overplayed by Cassie Stuart.

Isabella Thorpe, pretty but calculating

Because of the film’s short length, Isabella’s overly forward and friendly manner seems doubly rushed. The second time she meets Catherine, she reveals her love for James and her wish to marry him, and the next thing you know, James goes racing off to his father to beg for his permission to marry her.

John's loud coat should clue Catherine about his character

But once I again I digress.  John Thorpe (Jonathan Coy) is suitably sleazy (can’t you tell from his hideously striped suit?) and even Catherine leaves her Gothic fantasies long enough to be appalled by his boorishness. Thorpe’s early scenes are quite effective and then … he disappears. Except for a few mentions later, he literally falls off the face of the DVD, but not before he participates in one final scene in the hot baths, where Catherine, Isabella, Mrs. Allen, and Eleanor Tilney gather to bathe in the hot mineral waters. The party enters the baths to the strains of odd discordant music. An entire chorus is now crowding in on Catherine’s brain, and she can only stare wide-eyed around her.

Mrs. Allen and Catherine in the hot bath

But Catherine, who has a full and active day ahead of her, can bathe for only a short time. She makes a walking date with pretty Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), who happens to be there. After sweating for some time in a hot and humid room, Catherine and Isabella emerge from the building with every curl in place and looking fresh in their beautiful unwrinkled, delicate muslin walking dresses. Isabella begins to fret over Catherine’s excessive attention to Eleanor. It is at this point that the uninitiated will start to lose an important thread of the story, for unless the viewer has already read the book, she will have no idea why John and Isabella are so determined to have Catherine accompany them to Clifton.

Bath is a beautiful setting as always

The plot has been so compressed and muddled, that the motivation that drives these characters is a bit murky.  The uninitiated will wonder: Why is John so interested in Catherine? Why is Isabella jealous of Eleanor? Why, indeed.

As John meets the ladies outside the hot baths he reveals that he has rearranged Catherine’s walking date with Eleanor, which sets Catherine’s temper off and sends her running through the streets towards General Tilney’s house.

In my opinion, this would have been a good time to insert Vangelis’s oscar-winning score for Chariots of Fire, since a run through Bath by a Jane Austen heroine is now rapidly becoming a Jane Austen TV adaptation tradition. (See Persuasion 2007.)

Catherine interrupts the Tilneys

Catherine rushes past the footman as he opens the Tilney’s front door, enters the house alone, and barges into the drawing room to apologize to Eleanor for John’s arrogance. All the while, she still looks fresh as a daisy.

The General meets his unexpected guest

She meets General Tilney (Robert Hardy), who is simply delighted with Catherine and who encourages her to go on an outing with Henry and Eleanor as soon as possible. (The uninitiated will wonder: “why is he so intrigued with this rather simple, uninteresting girl?” Why indeed.) And so Catherine hurries off with the Tilney siblings to … Beechen Cliff ? Why, no! Jane Austen’s chosen spot for discussing the picturesque wasn’t deemed good enough and so the actors were taken to another location.

A walk along a sculpted lake instead of Beechen Cliff

And thus they are filmed walking through a picturesque setting, with a lake and temple folly and weeping willows (so very 18th century refined), to talk about the picturesque.

A lake with temple folly

Instead of gazing at Bath from the heights of Beechen Cliff, the viewers are treated to the sight of Henry rowing the ladies across the waters.

At the end of this important scene (for Henry recognizes Catherine’s natural, unassuming, yet unformed airs), the music crescendos and the viewers hear 31 seconds of neo-jazz/Grecian tragedy music with a greek chorus and New Orleans saxophone.

In this image, the description of Catherine rings true: ""Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl-she is almost pretty today."

At this juncture I must share the following comment, just to soften my own harsh critique. Jules, a very well spoken person, had this to say in 2005:

Ilona Sekacz wrote the score for a BBC TV version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ with Peter Firth. The music stood out a mile. A wonderful, haunting voice with a pulsing rhythm that has has stayed with me since I first saw the programme back in the 80s (I think). I could hum it now. I have tried to find this music but it has disappeared into cyberspace. Such a shame, it was so memorable. I bought the video years ago just to get the music. It’s not out on DVD but I transferred my VHS so I’ll never lose it.

I love this woman’s music, it’s unique and inspiring.

Isabella flirts with Captain Tilney and gets her comeuppance

Ok, so to each his own. I’ve gone on long enough about how much I dislike the film. In swift succession, Isabella flirts with Captain Frederick Tilney, prompting James to end their engagement; Catherine visits Northanger Abbey and makes a fool of herself trying to find intrigue and uncover a murder most foul,

Catherine rides with Henry to Northanger Abbey

and General Tilney discovers she’s as poor as a church mouse and casts her out of his house.

The general learns that Catherine is poor

Because time is so compressed in this film, Catherine is cast out of Northanger Abbey without explanation. The uninitiated will have no idea what has transpired, because no explanation was given at first. And because the camera does not follow her on her ride alone back home on a public stage without adequate resources, the uninitiated remain clueless about Catherine’s mature demeanor during that long journey alone and how dastardly the General treated her by forcing her to go unescorted, thereby placing her in harm’s way. Henry Tilney soon discovers he can’t live without her and comes after her on his steed. And because he comes across in this film as a prosy old bore, not a sharp-witted, dashing hero, the uninitiated will wonder what Catherine actually saw in him.

Henry comes for Catherine

Did I find anything of redeeming value in this film? Yes, but those comments shall have to wait for another critique. A production that added a marchioness who provided General Tilney with the latest gossip (and perhaps some sport in his bed), but that prevented Henry Tilney from saying some of his best lines deserves little praise.

Why was the marchioness (Elaine Ives-Cameron)added?

How would Lady Catherine de Bourgh have critiqued the film, I wonder?

“I send no compliments to the director or script writer. They deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”

I must explain that this film was one of the main reason why I did not read Northanger Abbey until the very last of Jane’s novels. The story as told in this film is quite awful, so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I finally met Jane Austen’s actual characters in print.

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Inquiring readers: In March I learned from David Cordess that he had created a blog, Following Jane. The blog would be his journal as he read all of Jane Austen’s books in six months. David has completed Northanger Abbey and is now reading Sense and Sensibility.

Here are a few of his observations about NA (going backward):

I finished Northanger Abbey and can honestly say that I’ve discovered the depth and range of the female perspective. Jane sure does know how to encompass and present readers with a quality character. Perhaps that’s why she’s so loved…. Because readers can connect to her characters.

It was interesting to follow along in a story to a female’s perspective. The complexity of how she processes her life, love, and relationships was fascinating to read from a limited, almost 1st person, point of view

I never thought that I’d be romancing my wife and thinking about the validity of my relationships when I opened to page 1 of NA.

Austen has such a way of influencing, enticing, and inviting readers into this authentic and perspective world of society and life. Anyway… those are my thoughts for now.

Once Isabella breaks up w/ James, Catherine comes alive. I can see how pieces of the puzzle begin to connect and how her character makes a drastic leap forward in decisions, relationships, and truth of her own emotions and feelings. A woman coming into her own… Thanks Jane for finally giving your protagonist worth and validity.

Enough quotations from his blog . To actually read David’s progress, go to his website and follow him as he Follows Jane. I also want to share a wonderful comment left on my March post by a Dutchman named Henk (Henk actually left two comments – thank you):

The first four months of this year were dedicated entirely to Jane Austen. I finished with reading P&P a few weeks ago.
The first week of May we introduced good friends of us to England, by camping in the New Forest.
I had made clear before, that one day would be for me, to visit the Jane Austen House in Chawton and the cathedral in Winchester.

Standing at her grave 8 years ago put me on the feminine side of reading, and opened many windows for me, never to be closed again.

They went with us, including their two daughters, 18 and 20.
They were really interested, and because the oldest girl had expressed her recent interest in English reading, I bought P&P for her. ( The book ).

All this was not without emotion, I dare say.

I am 56, and have three sisters a bit older than me.
Somehow the presence of Jane was all around in the house, and how nice it would have been to make a cup of tea for Jane, while she was writing, or walk with her to the kitchen to talk while doing some cooking. The things that brothers do with sisters on the few occasions they meet each other.
I might have a spell till Fall doing other things not JA-related.
But one does not keep a Lady ( Susan ) waiting too long.

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