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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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