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Archive for the ‘Regency Life’ Category

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

Afternoon tea:

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

High tea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast:

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

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

Evening tea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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Inquiring readers, 

Last April Brenda Cox shared a thought-provoking post about  a Jane Austen Sampler. Click here to read the article. Mrs. Cox writes that Deirdre Le Faye, an expert on Jane Austen, believes that the stitcher was another Jane Austen, probably a second cousin of the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Mrs. Cox has continued her research into this fascinating topic, and writes:

A few years ago, I bought a printed copy of the “Jane Austen sampler” at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. In 2018 I posted thoughts on my blog about that “Jane Austen Sampler.” However, I had no idea whether “our” Jane Austen had stitched it or not.

Then Deirdre Le Faye saw that post and directed me to her article for the Jane Austen Society. She speculated, for various reasons, that the sampler may have been done by a cousin of Jane Austen’s. In 2019 I wrote about her ideas in Jane Austen’s World. At the end of that article I asked if some genealogist might try to track down the history of the sampler.

Now the plot continues to thicken. Months later, Alden O’Brien, curator of the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. saw those posts and wrote to me for details. She then did extensive research based on her specialties: the history of needlework and genealogical research. Exactly what we needed!

Ms. O’Brien posted her conclusions which I highly recommend you read: “Is This Jane Austen’s Sampler?

Sampler purportedly embroidered by Jane Austen

In summary:

For it to be “our” Jane Austen’s sampler, we need to assume that it originally said 1787 and stitches were pulled out to make it say 1797. Deirdre Le Faye thought this was highly unlikely. Alden O’Brien thinks it even more unlikely. From the photos we have (which admittedly are not great), there is no evidence in the fabric that stitches were removed. And O’Brien compared it to Cassandra Austen’s sampler which includes all the numbers. Presumably the sisters would have been using the same style of numbers. The “9” in the “Jane Austen sampler” looks much like Cassandra’s 9, but not completed. Cassandra’s 8 is a different shape, so it’s unlikely that the original said 1787.

Even more conclusively, O’Brien was able to trace the provenance given for the sampler. She found clear records from the sampler’s previous owners back to a Jane Austen who would have been about 12-14 in 1797, the right age for making such a sampler. It appears that this Jane grew up to marry the owner of a pub. One of her sons was a servant, and her daughter married an oyster fisherman. So she was from a lower social class than the author Jane Austen. O’Brien points out that even young women of this class often went to schools where they might produce samplers like this one.

The Mr. Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who once owned the sampler is claimed to be “a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” However, from this evidence, it appears he actually was a grandson of this (alternate) Jane Austen.

So, the bad news is that the sampler almost certainly was not sewn by the author Jane Austen. Still, it did come from her time period. And unraveling the mystery has been a story in itself!

 

 

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Photo of Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Crystal Clarke as Miss Lambe

Miss Lambe, introduced in Episode 1 at the assembly ball, is an intriguing character – a new one for Jane Austen that she intended to explore in depth before she abandoned her manuscript due to illness. By the Regency era, the British Empire had spread the world over. The term “Black” in England during that time denoted any skin color other than “white.”  This included people from Africa and the East Indies and West Indies, such as Antigua, the land of Georgiana Lambe’s birth.

Georgiana is the ward of Sidney Parker, who, after she voices her displeasure at his power over her, reminds her that her father wanted her to take a place in polite society, that she was far richer than all of them put together. Neither relish his role, but both understand that because of her fortune she must be managed.  It’s a mystery how Sidney achieved this position, but we’ll assume that an explanation of how his work in the West Indies led him to become Georgiana’s guardian will be given in future episodes.

The viewer instantly understands Georgiana’s views on her position when she angrily lashes out at Sidney that she is “not your slave to be served up as your general amusement.” She gestures dramatically and adds in mock tones, “Here’s a negress, rich and black as treacle. – feast your eyes!”

Photo of actress Anne Reid as Lady Denham

Anne Reid as Lady Denham

In the quest to cozy up to Georgiana, Lady Denham hosts a luncheon to introduce her to Sanditon society. Instead of behaving like a gracious hostess, she says the crudest, uncivil statements imaginable. As Georgiana makes her entrance, Lady D. turns to Sir Edward Denham, who is in need of a wife with a fortune, and says, “Edward, there’s your quarry. Hunt her down!”

Before anyone takes a bite of food, she addresses Georgiana, gesturing to a pineapple that was placed at the center of the table in her honor. Offended, Georgiana employs a thick island accent to indicate that pineapples are not grown in Antigua. The pair are off to a bad start. 

During the soup course, Lady D asks, “Miss Lambe, what are your views on matrimony? —“An heiress with a 100,000 must be in want of a husband.”

And we’re off to the insult races!

Georgiana gives her a sideways glance: “I don’t care to be any man’s property.”

“Oh, hoity toity! … Was not your mother a slave?”

Pregnant pause.

“She was. But being used as a thing and liking it are not the same, my lady.”

“No, I’m beginning to think that you’re a very opinionated young lady, Miss Lambe.”

Georgiana wins the riposte, but she remains deeply unhappy and unsuccessfully attempts to escape to London by coach. Charlotte happens upon a despondent Georgiana standing dangerously close to the sea cliff’s edge and crying. She comforts her and the two lonely young women become friends. 

Episode 3 presents many new revelations and developments, which will be addressed in a later review.  Miss Lambe makes only two appearances. The first in a painting class to demonstrate her rebelliousness, and the other in a scene with Sidney to show her contrition for bad behavior. The episode ends with Georgiana examining a locket with a portrait of a young Black man and kissing it before finishing a letter.

My, oh, my! How the plot has thickened.

I’ve concentrated on Georgiana Lambe in this week’s review because she is such an unusual character in the Jane Austen canon. Jane visited her brother Henry in London on many occasions and to meet with her publishers. She would have noticed the many Blacks who lived in Britain, most notably in London and major port cities. By some estimates, around 15,000 Blacks lived in England at the end of the 18th century, 20% of whom were women. Around 10,000 Blacks lived in London. 

Slavery was legal in Britain until 1772. While servitude there was preferred over life on a West Indies plantation, Black lives were not easy. After the slaves were freed, males and females found work as servants. During the Napoleonic wars, many Black males enlisted in the navy and army. Once the wars were over, these sailors and soldiers were no longer enlisted and stayed in the port cities they knew so well. 

Portrait of The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer, and their slave, Caesar Shaw, ca 1744. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Overt racism was rampant. Servants of the rich were beautifully dressed, but treated like possessions (much like a brood stallion or a rare antique vase.) Portraits would show noble women and a Black servant, be it a child or adult, sitting at the edge of the painting, which served to increase the contrast of the female’s creamy white skin to the ebony complexion of the other sitter. The power differential between males and their Black servants was also evident.

In 1847’s Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery created two characters – Mr. Sambo, the Sedley’s male servant, and Miss Swartz, which means black in German and Dutch. Miss Swartz was described as a “rich, woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt’s,” as well as a Belle Sauvage, a dark paragon, and a dark object of conspiracy. George Osborne, her suitor, described her as “elegantly decorated as a she chimney-sweep on May-day.” 

George might not have given Miss Swartz respect, but he and his family had a healthy regard for her money, which made her an acceptable prize. Lady Denham viewed Miss Lambe with much of the same interest and contempt, but this did not fool Miss Lambe, who was proudly not for sale. Her personal experience of society’s disdain for Blacks (such as in the stage coach scene) fuels her anger, combativeness, and sadness. She has nothing to lose by meeting the offensiveness of others head on.

The Advertisement for a Wife, illustration by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive

The Advertisement for a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson. Internet Archive. University of California Libraries. No visible notice of copyright; stated date is 1903.

For The Third Tour of Dr. Syntax In Search of a Wife: A poem by William Combe, Thomas Rowlandson illustrates  “The Advertisement for a Wife, in which a Black woman is placed prominently at the front and center of a group of spinsters. Dr. Syntax had asked an acquaintance, Mrs. Susanna Briskit, an “eccentric creature full of vivacity,” to help him find a wife. She embarked on a “scheme of fun” and invited a room full of loud, insistent females and their chaperones to apply for the position. The scene as written by Combe is funny and I imagine the inclusion of a Black lady heightened the comedy, but probably had a cruel undertone.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), David Martin. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain

Not all is misery for Georgian Blacks.  This portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin in the late 18th century depicts a genuine friendship between the two women. Dido, an heiress, was born illegitimately  in the British West Indies of a British navy captain, Sir John Lindsey, and Maria Belle, an African woman whom he captured from a Spanish ship. Dido was sent to England as a child and brought up by Sir John’s uncle, Lord Mansfield and his wife, who were childless. Elizabeth Murray, Dido’s cousin, was motherless. The two girls were raised together, but Dido, while beloved, was not always invited to dine with guests. In the film “Belle,” Dido expresses the same sentiments as a governess–her position was too high to eat with servants and too low to eat with guests. Dido eventually married, had 3 children, and died in 1804 at 42. Compared to most of her Black contemporaries, she led an idyllic life. 

Portrait of Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough, National Gallery of Canada. Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain.

There were other success stories, such as the boxer Bill Richmond, or Ignatius Sancho. Born on a slave ship, Sancho became a protege of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. While working in their household, he had access to their books and taught himself to read. Today he is celebrated as a writer, composer, shopkeeper and abolitionist. 

It would have been interesting to know how Jane Austen would have fully developed Miss Lambe and what information she learned about the West Indies and Blacks in the navy from her sailor brothers.

Post Note: In The World of Sanditon (see sidebar), Sara Sheridan writes of Austen’s romantic entanglement with Dr. Samuel Blackall, a minister. In a letter to Frank, her brother, Austen describes him as “a piece of perfection.” Nothing was to come of her infatuation. Years later, Blackall married a Miss Lewis of Antigua.

Sheridan concludes that this story “provides an intriguing real-life parallel to the world of Sanditon, as does the idea of a love interest with West Indian connections.”

More sources:

The First Black Britons: Sukhdev Snadhu, History, BBC,2011-02-17. Downloaded 2/20/2020.

Black People in Late 18th Century Britain: Histories and Stories, English Heritage. Downloaded 2-20-2020

Black lives in England: Historic England Blog, Research tab. Downloaded 2-20-2020.

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Inquiring readers,

Many of you have noticed my absence for a long time. If it weren’t for the efforts of Rachel Dodge and Tony Grant, this blog would have remained silent for most of the previous twelve months. Thank you, both, dear friends, for your contributions.

Two years ago I realized my heart and soul were no longer in my work and that it was time to retire.  Since then, I have been in the process of getting my house ready for sale, selling it, and packing my belongings to move to north Baltimore to be near family. Luckily or unluckily, I sold my house the moment my realtor planted the “coming soon” sign on my lawn. This meant that I had to move two months earlier than anticipated, since the new owners were anxious to move into my beloved abode.

My new place, however, was not ready. Currently, all my possessions, save for summer clothes and necessities, are in storage, and so I am living in limbo as a guest with friends until the end of August.

Starting September 1, I will be traveling between Richmond and Baltimore for four months, waiting for my new place to be approved by a house inspector and working remotely at a distance (with frequent travels via I-95 to attend bi-monthly meetings down south). January 1st is the date of my retirement. Ah, the modern life!

As I anticipate my schedule this fall and early winter, my thoughts often turn to Jane Austen. She had immense pleasure of living the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire.

Outside there were fields where Mr Austen farmed and his wife grew potatoes (at that time quite an innovation), formal gardens with a turf walk, sundial, strawberry beds, and a grassy bank down which the young Jane, possibly enjoyed rolling as a child, like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. – http://www3.hants.gov.uk/austen/deane-parsonage/steventon-village.htm, Hantsweb, Hampshire County Council

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

The old rectory site where the parsonage once stood. A well (inside the enclosure in back of the tree) is the only visible remnant of that house. Image @Tony Grant

The Austens also ran a boarding school for young men out of the parsonage house to augment the reverend’s yearly income of £230. His extensive library of 300 – 500 volumes was amazingly large for that era, since books were frightfully expensive. Rev. Austen encouraged Jane and her sister, Cassandra, to read from his library, an unusual encouragement for females in that time.

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, the British Library

Image of a page of the History of England by Jane Austen and illustrated by Cassandra Austen of Henry the 4th, The British Library

Jane enjoyed an extremely close relationship with her older sister, Cassandra, and they supported each other in their respective strengths and talents. Jane’s talent, as well as Cassandra’s, were nurtured by their doting family, as evidenced by the History of England, written by Jane and illustrated by Cassandra, and the plays and stories of juvenilia a young and playful Jane wrote for family gatherings.

At the age of 25, after enjoying a bucolic childhood that any woman of her era would have envied, Jane’s parents announced the Reverend’s decision to retire and leave Steventon. It was said that, upon hearing the news, Jane fainted. I can only imagine what went through her mind as she imagined the life she adored evaporating as she saw her family’s possessions reduced to the amount that one or several moving carts could hold.

(See slideshow of 18thcentury carts and wagons in Williamsburg of sample carts. I tend to think the blue covered wagon would be similar to one or two vehicles the Austen family would have contracted to move their belongings: http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring09/carts_slideshow/)

These days I empathize with the painful decisions the Austen family must have made regarding their possessions. After paring my own book collection down from around 4,000 volumes to 600 and getting rid of or giving away 90% of my furniture, and after living almost 30 years near a beautiful river and leaving my favorite house, ever, I can imagine Jane’s despair as beloved friends and family and favorite walking paths and shops were left behind for a city she didn’t particularly love (or so Claire Tomalin surmised). As the moving wagon and carriage that carried the Austen family and their possessions turned the corner away from the parsonage, Jane must have been overcome with nostalgia, sadness, and a bit of fear all at once.

And so for the next five years Jane began a restless, peripatetic lifestyle, one that influenced her inability to write any meaningful work for a long time. (Houses in Bath Where Jane Austen Lived, KleurijkJaneAusten, May 28, 2011)

The Austen family’s first house in Bath was located at number 4 Sydney Place.

“No. 4 Sydney Place was a good, well-proportioned, newly build terraced house. It was well placed outside the crowded centre of Bath, but within easy walking distance over Pulteney Bridge.” – Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life

Canal and walks, Sydney Gardens 19th C.This address, opposite Sydney Gardens, allowed Jane easy access to the walking paths along its beautiful grounds, a sop to her country heart. (See image on the right.)

Map of Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place, Bath

Sydney Gardens and Sydney Place

Map of Bath

Main city of Bath, across the Pulteney Bridge from Sydney Place

“Whether you go to see, or to be seen, At Sydney Gardens you’ll be pleased, I ween, Whatever your taste, for prospects or good cheer, Cascades or rural walks, you’ll find them here…”
– Anon, 27 August 1795, poem in local newspaper
–“The History of Sydney Gardens” by Catherine Pitt, The Bath Magazine

Life in the city of Bath was vastly different from life in the country. In Steventon, Mrs Austen oversaw an extensive garden, and used fresh milk from a milk cow and fresh eggs from her chickens to create simple but good food from scratch. She worked alongside her servants in the kitchen and kitchen garden to provide wholesome meals for her family and young boarders, as well as clean clothes and a tidy house. She was a creative poet and a few of her recipes in verse still survive.

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses…

(Find the rest of this delightful recipe on this blog at https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/a-receipt-for-a-pudding-by-mrs-austen/)

Imagine the shock this country family felt at having to walk to the green grocer daily, acquire milk from cows kept in city stalls and that was often cut with water, all in an age before refrigeration.

 

“When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Has put a spirit of youth in everything.”

yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before “the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd” are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale vendors of the commodity, who have it consigned to them daily from more distant parts to the various railway stations in the metropolis, bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute it to the hundreds of shopkeepers and itinerants, who are anxiously waiting to receive it for re-distribution amongst their own customers. It is evident that a perishable commodity which everyone requires at a given hour, must be so distributed.

” –  — from A History of the Cries of London, Ancient and Modern, by Charles Hindley, Project Gutenberg, p 141

This situation for “not so” fresh milk, meat, and vegetables was as similar for the citizens of London as for a small city, like Bath. The Austen’s maid of all work and Austen women purchased “fresh” food on a daily basis, food that was both expensive and often past its “due date.” (Drinking Milk in Regency London, Jane Austen’s World, 2008)

Obtaining decent food supplies in Bath must have been costly for a family living on a parson’s pension. The incessant street cries of the baker, the milkmaid, and other food sellers, even across the Pulteney Bridge in a quieter section of town, must have cut into Jane’s peaceful hours. No wonder her creative juices stalled after her father’s death, as the family moved from place to place (after his pension to his family had been cut off), and before she and her mother and sister found refuge in Chawton Cottage. (Where Jane Lived, Gotta Keep Movin’ blog.)

I confess I possess not a smidgeon of Jane Austen’s writing genius, but the disruption in my life, starting with the years of my father’s slow dying and his death in 2014, and my sweet dog’s sudden fatal illness in 2016, blocked my creative input, both at work and at home.

To be near family, I am moving from a small city with many friends to the suburb of a much larger city., where I know few people. In the process, I am leaving my favorite, unique foodie haunts, small local theater productions, historic city neighborhoods, a short and easy ride to work, and white water rafting downtown on the James River to live in a land of manicured lawns, malls, congested traffic, and national restaurant chains.

Riverside Drive, Richmond, VA

My river walk along the James

Until I regain my footing in early 2019, I don’t anticipate devoting myself to this blog full-time just yet. Thank you, readers, for your understanding. Thank you, Rachel and Tony, for your support.

Vic

Sources:

 

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At the heart of every household in Jane Austen’s time, a fire burned. Fires provided a fixed source of heat and light, around which people gathered and moved, cooked and cleaned, lived and socialized. And while it’s lovely to imagine that families in Austen’s day gathered together in the evening simply because they enjoyed one another’s company, drawing near the fire on cold, damp days and evenings was a necessity. In a letter to Cassandra in October, Austen says, “It is cold enough now for us to prefer dining upstairs to dining below without a fire” (Letters 151). A warm fire provided heat, comfort, and community; at it, cold feet were thawed, conversations were held, prayers were said, books were read, and tea was made.

Chawton Cottage Fireplace

Chawton Cottage fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge

In her novels, Austen uses fires—and the heat and light that emanate from them—as a centerpiece for household and social activity, and she spins her characters and plots into motion around them in unique and surprising ways. Austen’s ingenious use of fires is fascinating to consider. In many scenes, she uses fires as clever props. However, fires also signify something deeper about the physical, mental, and emotional state of several key characters.

Fires as Clever Props

Let’s first consider the creative way Austen uses fires and fireplaces to move her characters in and out of rooms, group them together, and provide insight into their personalities. Many of these examples are quite humorous:

  • Edmund Bertram goes to the fire on numerous occasions when he is upset and sits down to “stir the fire in thoughtful vexation” (MP 128),
  • Meddlesome Mrs. Norris is, of course, found “fresh arranging and injuring the noble fire which the butler had prepared” (MP 273),
  • Reserved Edward Ferrars finds a safe place to talk and read in the small family circle “drawn round the fire” after dinner with the Dashwood women (SS 90),
  • Just the “slight remains” of a fire on a warm day are enough to push an over-heated, hot-and-bothered Frank Churchill over the edge (E 364),
  • In Emma, they have “nothing else to do” and form “a sort of half-circle round the fire,” discussing the fire itself “till other subjects [are] started” (E 320),
  • Fickle Collins changes his mind from Jane to Elizabeth in the matter of a few moments—in the time it takes Mrs. Bennet to stir the fire (PP 71), and
  • When Captain Wentworth wants to cross the room to sit by Anne, he goes first to the fire-place, “probably for the sake of walking away from it soon afterwards” before he goes to sit “with less bare-faced design, by Anne” (P 255).

Fires as Subtle Clues: Marianne Dashwood, Mr. Woodhouse, and Fanny Price

Austen also uses fire to provide significant clues as to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of her characters. During Austen’s lifetime, the spot nearest the fire was reserved for the elderly or infirm, as is seen throughout her novels. Furthermore, giving someone the chair closest to the fire indicated care and concern for their well-being. In the case of Marianne Dashwood, the distracted way she walks to and from the fire signals to Elinor that her mind and heart are in turmoil over Willoughby: “Marianne, too restless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation” (SS 172). In response to Marianne’s visible unhappiness, Mrs. Jennings treats her “with all the indulgent fondness of a parent,” tempting her with delicate foods and giving her the “best place by the fire” (193). However, when the usually healthy and active Marianne later spends a whole day “sitting shivering over the fire with a book in her hand…or in lying, weary and languid, on a sofa,” it’s clear she is suffering from more than emotional distress (307). Elinor hopes that a good night’s sleep will revive Marianne, but Colonel Brandon suspects the danger of something more serious. After a “very restless and feverish night,” the apothecary is sent for and Marianne sinks lower (307).

For Mr. Woodhouse, the very presence or lack of a fire has the power to give him comfort or cause him alarm. In “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!,” Ted Bader argues that Mr. Woodhouse is aging, frail, and perhaps even suffering from “hypothyroidism” based on his diet, physical state, and behavior (Bader). In this case, Mr. Woodhouse’s concern for a fire is actually another clue toward the state of his health. Austen tells us that “Mr. Woodhouse’s tender habits required” a fire “almost every evening throughout the year” (E 351). He talks of fires repeatedly and can only be coaxed to leave his fireside when he is assured of a good fire elsewhere. On the day of the Donwell Abbey outing (on a sunny June day), the concern given to assure Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort and happiness is most touching: “Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party” (357). Emma and their friends wish to include him in the day’s activities, and so, “in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved” (357). This kind of special care is given to someone in delicate health.

In Mansfield Park, a fire for Fanny denotes admittance into the family circle. Fanny finds great comfort in her “little white attic” at Mansfield; however, Mrs. Norris has cruelly “stipulated for there never being a fire” in Fanny’s room (MP 151). This signals to the reader both Mrs. Norris’s true character and Fanny’s station in the Bertram family circle. As Fanny lives there, not quite a family member, not quite a servant, she has no sense of belonging and feels keenly the lack of warmth from the Bertrams. Similarly, when she visits her family in Portsmouth, she again finds herself outside the family circle. In the very place she hopes to find solace, she is again (literally) left in the cold. She finds refuge “sitting together upstairs…quietly employed” with Susan, away from the family and “without a fire” (398). In both homes, she is an outsider. When she is given the luxury of a fire in her room at Mansfield, it reveals the change occurring at Mansfield: “She was struck, quite struck, when, on returning from her walk and going into the East room again, the first thing which caught her eye was a fire lighted and burning. A fire!” (322). This new “indulgence” coincides with her gradual movement into the heart of the family there. As the Bertram sisters continually disappoint Sir Thomas, and Fanny steadily wins his favor, Fanny takes her rightful place as a true member of the family and is treated as such.

Chawton Great House Fireplace

Chawton House fireplace. Image Rachel Dodge.

Fuel Sources in Austen’s England

So what kind of fire did Edmund “stir…in thoughtful vexation” at Mansfield (MP 128)? Many of the examples in Austen’s novels appear to be wood fires, but the “coal fog” of London that lasted well into Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was already present during the Regency period. In All Things Austen, Kirsten Olsen says coal was quickly replacing wood during Austen’s lifetime, due to the “rate at which the English were consuming their natural resources” (Olsen 135). However, Deirdre Le Faye notes in Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels that in country houses, the open fireplaces were very large and burnt mostly wood because coal was transported by water, making it “a scared and very expensive fuel” (Le Faye 145).

The question of coal versus wood fires in Austen’s novels can most likely be answered by looking at the size and location of the houses featured, as well as the easiest and most economic fuel available to each. When Mr. Bingley spends a half hour “piling up the fire, lest [Jane] should suffer from the change of room” and suggests that she move “further from the door,” it’s clear he’s piling up wood (PP 54). Catherine Morland’s “spirits” are “immediately assisted by the cheerful blaze of a wood fire” in her room on her first night at the Abbey (NA 167), and the “roaring Christmas fire” in Persuasion must be wood (135). In Mansfield Park, however, the Price family has a coal fire (MP 379). At the Price home, coal was most likely burned because they lived in Portsmouth, a port city, but on the larger estates, away in the quiet countryside, wood was more commonly burned. Matthew White explains that the “growing demand for coal after 1750 revealed serious problems with Britain’s transport system.” A network of canals was build to cut down on the price of coal and by 1815 “over 2,000 miles of canals were in use in Britain” (White). By the time of Austen’s death, coal had become increasingly available even to the country homes of England.

You can follow Rachel Dodge at www.racheldodge.com or on Twitter (twitter.com/RachelEDodge), Instagram (@kindredspiritbooks), and Facebook (facebook.com/racheldodgebooks).

Works Cited

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Oxford UP, 1988.

Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2011.

Bader, Ted. “Mr. Woodhouse is not a Hypochondriac!” Persuasions On-Line, vol. 21, no. 2, 2000 http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol21no2/bader.html. Accessed 1 September 2017.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Frances Lincoln, 2002.

Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

White, Matthew. “The Industrial Revolution.” British Library, bl.uk, 14 October 2009, https://www.bl.uk/georgian-britain/articles/the-industrial-revolution. Accessed 1 September 2017.

 

For additional articles related to this topic:

Read more about keeping warm in Regency England here: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/keeping-warm-in-the-regency-era-part-one/

Learn more about coal in Regency England here:
Kane, Kathryn. “Coal: Heat Source or Gemstone?” The Regency Redingote, 3 June 2011, https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/coal-heat-source-or-gemstone/.

Enjoy these entertaining directions to servants on the proper care and lighting of a coal fire:
Boyle, Laura. “Directions how to make a fire with Lehigh coal.” JaneAusten.co.uk, 20 June 2011, https://www.janeausten.co.uk/directions-how-to-make-a-fire-with-lehigh-coal/.

Find out more about London’s air quality during Jane Austen’s time here:
Sanna, Antonio. “Jane Austen’s London.” Journal of Medical Humanities, 16 April 2017, pp. 1-10. Research Gate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316156566_Jane_Austen%27s_London.

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St. James’s Park offered some of the freshest, most wholesome milk during a Georgian London summer – the frothy hot liquid, or new milk, was drawn at the request of customers from cows that had grazed on the park’s lawns.

An estimated 8,500 cows were kept for milk near London.* Farmers milked their herds and carted in the milk to dairy retailers from as much as 20 miles away.

St James's Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

St James’s Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

In idealized scenes, artists give us an insight into contemporary customs. A milkmaid is milking a cow in St. James’s Park as a young boy in a skeleton suit waits with his empty cup. The party consists of a soldier and a mother with two other children, a boy and a girl. These two have already received their share of milk, with the mother helping the younger child sitting on her lap. It is hard to tell if it is a girl or a boy, for in their early years both sexes were dressed similarly.

One is struck by the tin cups on display at the wood table. There are no washing facilities nearby, and one can only assume that these cups are reused by strangers. A more finicky person would probably bring their own cup to the park. In this instance, a basket filled with hay is placed next to the table, ostensibly as fodder for the cow.

The following illuminating passage c0mes from Henry Mayhew’s account of London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 (Tufts Digital Library:

The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James’s Park. The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs—the milk being drawn warm from the cow’s udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, spice, &c.—is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part of their business, no lengthened notice is required.

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply their trade in the park. There are stands in the summer, and as many cows, but in the winter there are only cows. The milk-vendors sell upon an average, in the summer, from eighteen to quarts per day; in the winter, not more than a of that quantity. The interrupted milking of the cows, as practised in the Park, often causes them to give less milk, than they would in the ordinary way. The chief customers are infants, and adults, and others, of a delicate constitution, who have been recommended to take new milk. On a wet day scarcely any milk can be disposed of. Soldiers are occasional customers.

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the following account:

It’s not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, though some thinks it’s a gay time in the Park! I’ve often been dull enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I’ve served a good many such. They’re mostly young women, I think, that’s de- licate, and makes the most of it. There’s twenty women, and more, to one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass’s milk either, I think. Let them go on a milkwalk to cure them—that’s what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I’ve seen the nurse-girls frightened to death about the mugs. I’ve heard one young child say to another: ‘I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a mechanic, who came and shook hands with her.’ The girl was as red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there’s a deal of brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park. The greatest fools I’ve sold milk to is servant-gals out for the day. Some must have a day, or half a day, in the month. Their mistresses ought to keep them at home, I say, and not let them out to spend their money, and get into nobody knows what company for a holiday; mistresses is too easy that way. It’s such gals as makes fools of themselves in liking a soldier to run after them. I’ve seen one of them—yes, some would call her pretty, and the prettiest is the silliest and easiest tricked out of money, that’s my opinion, anyhow—I’ve seen one of them, and more than one, walk with a soldier, and they’ve stopped a minute, and she’s taken something out of her glove and given it to him. Then they’ve come up to me, and he’s said to her, ‘Mayn’t I treat you with a little new milk, my dear?’ and he’s changed a shilling. Why, of course, the silly fool of a gal had given him that there shilling. I thought, when Annette Myers shot the soldier, it would be a warning, but nothing’s a warning to some gals. She was one of those fools. It was a good deal talked about at the stand, but I think none of us know’d her. Indeed, we don’t know our customers but by sight. Yes, there’s now and then some oldish gentlemen— I suppose they’re gentlemen, anyhow, they’re idle men—lounging about the stand: but there’s no nonsense there. They tell me, too, that there’s not so much lounging about as there was; those that’s known the trade longer than me thinks so. Them children’s a great check on the nusses, and they can’t be such fools as the servant-maids. I don’t know how many of them I’ve served with milk along with soldiers: I never counted them. They’re nothing to me. Very few elderly people drink new milk. It’s mostly the young. I’ve been asked by strangers when the Duke of Wellington would pass to the Horse-Guards or to the House of Lords. He’s pretty regular. I’ve had 6d. given me—but not above once or twice a year—to tell strangers where was the best place to see him from as he passed. I don’t understand about this Great Exhibition, but, no doubt, more new milk will be sold when it’s opened, and that’s all I cares about.

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)  Milkmaids in St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey beyond  oil on panel

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)
Milkmaids in St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey beyond
oil on panel,  Christie’s.

Benjamin West’s scene of St. James’s Park evinces a more majestic tone, with the industrious maids in the center and an assembly looking on or promenading into view, such as the soldiers on the right escorting their ladies. The hard working milk maids are merely the servants of cowkeepers, as Henry Mayhew’s passage explains.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Although this painting is quite formal, the details are similar to those described in the Mayhew passage. The milk maid is on her knees, not sitting on a stool, and some people have brought their own vessels in the shape of cups or buckets. The majority are women and children, who wait patiently on benches as the maid fills their orders. The rest of the herd can be seen in the background, awaiting their turn to supply milk, for only two cows are being actively milked.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Customers come from a variety of social backgrounds. A small child sits and drinks her milk on a bench by a table, others wait in line with their mothers or governesses. One maid holds a flask on top of her head in a classic pose that one suspects is more of a nod to classic sources than contemporary British customs.

St. James's Park, detail3, West

St. James’s Park, detail3, West

I simply had to add this detail of West’s painting, for the soldiers and their female companions are described in detail in the Mayhew passage. They also remind me of the immature and idealized view that Lydia had of herself when in Wickham’s company – that of a lady who cut an elegant impression next to a man in uniform.

st. James's and Green Park

As one can see from a map of the era, the lawns are not huge.  St. James’s Park consists of 58 acres that were originally purchased from Eton College by Henry the 8th in 1532. I have not read any sources regarding the regular maintenance of these parks, but imagine that grazing sheep and cows kept the grasses under control, but, anyone who has ever wandered through a cow pasture knows how much dung cows can leave behind!

Cow Keeper's Shop 1825 George Scharf

Cow Keeper’s Shop, 1825, George Scharf

George Scharf’s Cow Keeper’s Shop in London shows where city cows were kept – indoors. These creatures were fed indoors in back street yards and fared badly compared to their country cousins. Their milk was of a poorer quality, which came as a shock to country-bred Jane Austen, when her family move from Steventon to Bath. In many instances, unscrupulous retail milk-dealers seeking to increase their profits thinned the milk with water. Roy and Lesley Adkins in their splendid book, Jane Austen’s England, describe how cow-houses were furnished with water pumps. Milk was diluted in front of the customers. In some instances, merchants did not bother to use “clean” water (the only safe water in those days was boiled), but watered milk from a horse’s trough or, worse, from streams that had been fouled by animal dung and urine.*

The milk was next taken to the retailers’ homes and left for a day, so that the cream rose to the surface to be skimmed off. The deteriorating milk was then sold as fresh, while the cream was sold separately…” (Adkins, page 105)

Ironically, the deterioration of milk was at its highest when the fashionable set came to Town for the winter season, and at its freshest when the Beau Monde returned to their country estates for the summer.

Milk maids, George Scharf

Milk maids, George Scharf

In Scharf’s image, milkmaids  and a milkman are preparing for a day of sales. Pyne’s illustration clearly shows the five-gallon pails hanging from a wooden yoke,  the vessels that transported the milk into other containers, and the cups that were used to sell milk to individual buyers. Much of this milk was used largely for cooking.

milk woman, william henry pyne, 1805

Milk woman, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The milk maid’s cry, which proudly (and ironically) proclaimed the fine quality of her milk, was shortened to Milk Below and eventually to Milko!

Milk Below.

Rain, frost, or snow, or hot or cold,

I travel up and down,

The cream and milk you buy of me

Is best in all the town.

For custards, puddings, or for tea,

There’s none like those you buy of me.

From A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern [with woodcuts by T. and J. Bewick]. (Google eBook)

 More on this topic:

 

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jane austen and food Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane is not a cookbook with recipes, but a well-researched, highly informative, and entertaining historical discussion about food, mealtimes, manners, and housekeeping in the age of Jane Austen. Lane examines Austen’s letters regarding food and drink, and how she uses both to define the characters in her novels.

Today, the Jane Austen and Food’s hardcover edition, which was first published in 1995, can be purchased on Amazon in hardcover or paperback for $85 to $129! But the kindle edition from Endeavor Press is available for a mere $2.99 – and it contains the same content as the hardcover and paperback editions. (Keep in mind that kindle apps are available for those who do not own kindles. I have downloaded the book on my iPad and android devices, for example.)

Let me explain what a bargain you will be getting with the kindle version of Maggie Lane’s thoroughly enjoyable and informative book. Jane Austen’s treatment of food yields new insights in which she creates character and establishes her moral values in her novels:

In Steventon, the glebe lands (which added to about 3 acres) supplied the Rectory with pork, mutton, wheat, peas, barley, hops, and oats and hay for the horses. The surplus in produce contributed up to £300 per year to the Austen’s income. They made their own mead and wines and preserved foods that were produced with foods in season. The only commodities that were purchased were expensive items like tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices, and dried fruits.

No gentleman, single or widowed, could run his own home. He depended upon a paid housekeeper to oversee his hearth for good dinners, or, like Mr Bingley, he required a sister to keep house for him. Mr. Rushworth depended upon his mother, while Mr. Collins was in need of a wife.  When Mrs. Austen was kept away in 1770 for a month to look after her sister in childbirth, Mr. Austen wrote that “I must bear … [for] about three weeks longer, at which time I expect my housekeeper’s return.” Jane never took the responsibility of a household completely, although she assisted whenever she was needed. Composing for her was difficult during such times, and she wrote, “Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.”

In terms of food and its purchase, the Austen’s move to Bath was a shock. Slow transportation changed the quality of the food that Jane and her family were accustomed to, and the very fact that they had to purchase all their produce made them anxious, for they had lost sources of revenue in the form of farm produce, pupils, and Reverend Austen’s clerical stipend. Milk was of a poor quality due to the cows being kept in unhygienic barns, and food, purchased at the bakers, grocers, butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers was quite expensive. In addition, its cost  fluctuated.

Mrs. Austen in particular never lost her love for working in a garden. She did so at Steventon and later at Chawton Cottage, where she dug up her own potatoes and delighted in her flower borders. According to one of her great-grand-daughters: “She wore a green round frock like a day-laborer’s.”

At Chawton Cottage, the Austen women were able to find their footing again, growing their own fruit and vegetables, rearing poultry, keeping bees, baking bread, and making wine and brewing beer. Villagers recalled in later years that their dog, Link, would carry home a pail of milk in his mouth. It must be emphasized that, although Jane Austen worried about financial security, she and her sister and mother were comfortable enough to eat well and, like Emma Woodhouse, to dispense charity to those less fortunate than themselves. If Jane envied others, it was for their freedom from perpetual contrivance. In the sale of her novels, she found some relief from such worry.

In later chapters, Maggie Lane describes the history of tea, coffee, and chocolate, and how these fashionable drinks were imbibed before and during Jane Austen’s day. Austen herself only mentioned chocolate twice in her letters, but Mrs Austen during her visit to Stoneleigh Abbey wrote that their breakfast at her ancestral home consisted of “Chocolate Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, brad and Butter, and dry toast for me.”

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper are described, but Lane emphasizes that Jane barely mentions these daily events in her letters and novels. She gives scant details, especially as to the preferences of her heroines, most of whom are not concerned with the daily details of food. There are hints here and there in her novels: Willoughby takes porter at an inn during midday, and Frank Churchill imbibes spruce beer on a hot day at Donwell.

Dinner times are moved up as the Regency era progresses. In 1798, Jane writes to Cassandra that they dine at half after three, and by 1808, “we never dine now till five.” This was a gradual shift in dinner-time that took place with most families during this era, although dinner in town (London) was taken fashionably later. In addition, dinners in the early 19th century were far less splendid than those in the latter part of the century. Edward Austen-Leigh noted that there was a “far less splendid appearance than it does now.” By the time Jane wrote Mansfield Park, silver forks emerged, as well as napkins and finger glasses. In 1808 Jane wrote, “My mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate – a whole tablespoon and a whole dessertspoon, and six whole teaspoons – which makes our sideboard border on the magnificent.”

I could go on and on describing the enormous amount of information in this ebook. Lane goes on to discuss in great detail the attitudes towards food and domesticity in Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park – all of which excited this reader. The characters of Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Grant, Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Norris, Mr. Price, and General Tilney are elaborated in great detail in their obsession (or not) with food and general housekeeping details.

tea cups ratingIs Jane Austen and Food worth the cost of $2.99? Oh, yes. Definitely.!I paid so much more for my hardback copy several years ago and do not regret its purchase. I give this ebook a rating of 5 out of 5 Regency teacups.

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This image by Nancy Rosin (2007) from victoriantreasury.com  is of a puzzle purse dated February 14, 1816! By clicking on the link, you can read about these wonderful puzzle purses, and how and why they were made. (Sweethearts exchanged them as early as the 1790s.) Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!

Valentine puzzle purse, February 14, 1816

Valentine puzzle purse, February 14, 1816. Image by Nancy Rosin

Please note: the ads placed below my posts are from WordPress. I do not make money from writing this blog, but will occasionally accept promotional materials for review.

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A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Image @Wikipedia

Happy New Year, gentle readers. I hope to write more for my blog in 2014. Thank you for your loyal readership. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your comments and thoughts.

In winter weather, what can be a better way to pass the time than to curl up under a blanket with a good book? I’d like to recommend two books for you to purchase with the gift  money you (hopefully) received this holiday season. Both books are necessary additions in the libraries of confirmed Janeites and Jane Austen lovers, or so it is my belief. (Note: Contest closed. Congratulations Janice Jacobson!)

Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks.

The first is the 4th installment of  an incomparable anthology series of Jane Austen’s novels. Sense and Sensibility: An Annoted Edition is published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and edited by noted scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks. This lush book could easy be confused for a coffee table book – the cover is so beautiful and the color images inside are of the highest quality, but the annotations are anything but superficial. Dr. Spacks’ research adds dimension to Jane Austen’s words and to an era that is long gone, and whose customs have become foreign to our modern understanding. Her observations include a comparison of characters within the novel – “Miss Steele is as acquisitive in a small way as the John Dashwoods are in a grander fashion”. She also draws a similarity between two novels, nothing that Willoughby is similar to Henry Crawford in that both men have fallen in love with the women they targeted for a light flirtation and amusement.

In her introduction, Dr. Spacks elaborates on the 18th century definition of sensibility, which was understood to be derived from the nervous system. Hence, fragile nerves, irritability, hysteria, tremors, fainting spells, and sickness at heart were closely associated with the term (as with Marianne Dashwood’s and Mrs. Bennet’s histrionics). Spacks’s introduction also delineates how Austen conceived of the book and how Elinor and Marianne cannot easily be pigeon-holed into the two separate categories. As they grow in understanding, both women possess elements of the other’s characteristic. As most of us know, Jane Austen wrote the first draft (known as Elinor and Marianne) by the time she was 20 years old. The book, written first in epistolary form, did not assume the third person narrative until 1811. Perhaps this is the reason why a number of passages in the book seem to lack detail or were uneven.

Sense_Sensibility_Spacks

Publicity materials for this annotated edition explain that:

In her notes, Spacks elucidates language and allusions that have become obscure (What are Nabobs? When is rent day?), draws comparisons to Austen’s other work and to that of her precursors, and gives an idea of how other critics have seen the novel. In her introduction and annotations, she explores Austen’s sympathy with both Elinor and Marianne, the degree to which the sisters share “sense” and “sensibility,” and how they must learn from each other. Both manage to achieve security and a degree of happiness by the novel’s end. Austen’s romance, however, reveals darker overtones, and Spacks does not leave unexamined the issue of the social and psychological restrictions of women in Austen’s era.

One get the strong sense that Spacks prefers Willoughby as a hero over Edward, whose character is rather tepid and static. Colonel Brandon’s mature patience doesn’t fare much better in some of the annotations, which also include extensive descriptions of manners, mores, and historical facts. Mundane customs are described, such as the games of whist and cassino.

Home, hearth, and space play important roles in this novel.The country side affects Edward more than Willoughby, who regards the land merely as a place in which to hunt. Edward will eventually live off the land, and happily so. Ennui, or inertia, is also evident in the novel’s characters. Spacks quotes the scholar, Isobel Armstrong, who observed that “a long, patient but sapping wait is the fate of many in this novel; Edward, Elinor, Colonel Brandon, even the unsympathetic Steeles.” Perhaps this is the reason why so few of us think of Edward as a strong hero. His character lacks decisive action. When he does make a decision, as with his unfortunate choice of fiancee, he seems stuck and unable to make a move when encountering a road block. The conniving Lucy spends considerable time waiting for Edward and hoping that Mrs. Ferrars will come around to accepting her. Most of her machinations (that of seducing Robert Ferrars) occur off the novel’s pages and we hear about her success in marrying Robert only through word of mouth.

My one complaint about this edition is that the annotations seem spare compared to Pride and Prejudice, the first annotated book edited by Dr. Spacks. To be fair, Sense and Sensibility is not as highly ranked on most reader’s lists as Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, or Emma. It is the earliest of Jane Austen’s published novels, which may explain why the number of annotations seem to be fewer in this book. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this edition, which costs $35, a bargain considering the the number of colored illustrations and information contained therein.

Northanger Abbey is the next novel to be annotated. It will come out in spring of 2014. I cannot wait for it to be published. 

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

The next book on my recommended buy list is Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins. Actually, I should amend my ranking, for both books are equal in my estimation. The publisher sent an uncorrected proof of  Jane Austen’s England when I was in the throes of taking care of my parents this past summer and fall, and so I read the book piecemeal, hoping to find the time to give it the review it deserved. My copy is earmarked and underlined. I have read many passages twice. Roy and Lesley Adkins have accomplished a remarkable job of research and writing that informs as well as entertains. I realize that many of you have read a number of histories associated with Jane Austen’s age and some of you will find the information repetitive. In addition, you can easily find many of the sources used for this book on the Internet or for purchase.

This book is divided into topics that follow the lives of Jane Austen and her characters. While the historic territory that the Adkins go over is not unique, their presentation is organized in such a way that all we need to do is to turn to Breeding or Toddler to Teenager to Wealth and Work and Medicine Men to find out more about the daily habits of the Austens, Jane’s characters, or the socio-economic conditions of those who lived during the Regency era. The Adkins do not subject us to mere romantic assumptions, but relate the harsh reality of life for the majority of people living during that age. The chapter on Filth minces few nice words. This was an era when outhouses abutted to sculleries, cholera was spread through contaminated water, and cesspits drained into watercourses. Men and women were known to urinate and defecate in streets. While our dear Jane did not write about these indelicacies, she must have witnessed such actions and known of many more contemporary customs that would turn our heads today. In her novels, she ignored the harsh realities of war and famine, common occurrences in her day, and assumed that her readers would seamlessly fill in the details of daily life while she concentrated on her character studies.

Topics in Jane Austen’s England  include kidnapped children, superstitions and folk wisdom, the use of Almanacs (useful for planning evening parties during a full moon), boundary stones, funeral customs, tax burdens of the rich and poor, Frost Fairs, animal fighting, animal abuse, hunting, cricket, horse races, regattas, amateur theatricals, London theatres with their noisy audiences, the cost of music tickets (two weeks wages for a servant), ballad sellers, public houses, taking snuff, state lotteries, the cessation of the Grand Tour during the Napoleonic Wars, the danger and challenges of travel and transportation, boot scrapers, toll roads, toll booths, turnpikes, surveying,  mapping England, medicine, apothecaries, the royal navy, and more. Whew!

Even though I finished the book late last month, I struggle to remember all the fascinating details that this 300+ page book contains.

For a New Year’s gift, I am holding a book giveaway of a hard back copy of Jane Austen’s England until midnight, January 7, 2014. All you need to do is leave a comment about an interesting fact you know about Regency life or Jane Austen’s era. Participants are confined to the U.S. and Canada. (So sorry!) Winners will be chosen by a random number generator. You may enter as often as you like, provided that you share another interesting bit of information about Jane Austen’s England each time you make a comment.

Happy New Year, all. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

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My blog has been silent again. Just as my schedule was letting up a bit, my father fell ill. In Jane Austen’s time, extended families lived in one village and often under the same roof. Healthy family members or friends took care of the sick, elderly, and very young. In this age, when sons and daughters and siblings live far apart, taking care of a loved one is not as convenient. I took time off from work, more to help my 88 year-old mother than my father, who was in the hospital, and to take some stress off my brother, who was starting a challenging and demanding new assignment. We thought Dad had suffered a stroke. In the 18th century, his condition would have been described as apoplexy, or “paralysis caused by stroke. Sudden deprivation of all the internal and external sensation and of all motion unless of the heart and thorax.” ( Glossary of Old Medical Terms Used in the 18th and 19th Centuries)

As he came out of a restaurant bathroom, my dad forgot to walk. I happened to be there, worried that he was taking so long. He began to slur his words and hallucinated that his father, who has been dead for 40 years, was joining us for dinner. We rushed him to the emergency room, where he wound up in good hands, receiving excellent diagnostic care. After four days of tests, he was transferred to a rehab hospital for the elderly to receive 10 days of speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

Stroke (apoplexy) satirical art work. 1822 copy of a Charles Aubry original. Click here to go to Fine Art America to read the details.

Stroke (apoplexy) satirical art work. 1822 copy of a Charles Aubry original. Click here to go to Fine Art America to read the details.

Back in the old days, those who suffered apoplexy or stroke were not so lucky. Many died within hours of the event, if not a few weeks later. Blood letting was one cure that was thought to be effective, although in most cases the practice was harmful and weakened the patient.

Some of those who survived successive attacks, especially the young, were mistaken for being mad. Romance author, Laura Kinsale, has written a remarkable book entitled Flowers From the Storm, in which a hedonistic and haughty duke is placed by his family into a mental institution after a major stroke. His sudden inability to communicate and lack of physical control is described in detail by this talented author in a story that, 15 years after I first read it, still stands out in my mind. I imagine the fate that this fictional Duke suffered was shared by many actual people of that era.

In our case, Dad benefited from modern medicine. An MRI showed previous minor strokes, but a CAT scan proved that this was not the reason for his illness. Dad’s illness was a “neurological event” that has been attributed to the progression of his Parkinson’s disease, once known as shaking palsy; the effects of a new medication, which made him hallucinate; the poisonous interaction among the 16 some medications he was taking per day; the slow advancement of his dementia; lack of exercise; and simply old age.

Two hundred years ago, I would have lived close enough to my parents to help on a daily basis. These days, Dad will be depending on home visits from medical personnel and the loving attentions of his wife.

My, how times have changed.

More on the topic:

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Ring in a boxInquiring readers, dear friend Tony Grant (London Calling) has written an article to help jump start my re-entry into blogging. I love this post, for I am a huge Kelly Clarkson fan, and I was happily astounded to learn that she was a Janeite. Who knew that the simple girl from Texas with the huge voice would make it so big in the music industry that one day she would outbid a host of collectors for Jane Austen’s cabochon blue stone ring? Since her winning bid, the ring has lived in limbo, as Tony’s tale will recount, but now it is safely in British hands again, thanks to a committed group of people.

Kelly’s other association with Jane Austen is peripheral. She sang a song for the hit movie, Love Actually, in which a number of actors who starred in Jane Austen films appeared: Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I have placed the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tony’s tale.

It is possible that you might have heard about a certain ring that hit the headlines worldwide recently.

American singer Kelly Clarkson, a 31 year old singer from Fort Worth Texas, bought a small gold ring with a smooth turquoise stone set in it at Sotheby’s Auction for around £150, 000. The news hit the headlines because this ring had been the property of Jane Austen. British government officials, the Jane Austen Society and readers of Jane Austen across the known world were aghast.

Kelly Clarkson

A number of issues came to the fore. First, a ring, which is of British national importance, because of its provenance, was about to be taken out of Britain; secondly it was going to a pop star, who although she professed her love of Jane Austen, was really just buying it, because she could. A holding order was placed on the ring by the British Government preventing it leaving the country. A few months were given for a British buyer to raise the funds to purchase it back from Miss Clarkson.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage , the home of Jane Austen for the last eight years of her life, came forward to raise the necessary money. An anonymous benefactor provided most of the funds required within a short space of time and petitions and activity,  amongst American, Australian and British Janeites secured the rest. Susannah Fullerton took the lead in Australia and Maggie Sullivan sent out a rallying call in America and Chawton House made clear their aim over here. Janeites from around the world contributed money on the site set up by Chawton Cottage and Kelly Clarkson graciously sold it to Chawton Cottage. The ring will now have associations to Jane Austen, as well as to Miss Clarkson. The whole of the Jane Austen community will feel that they have a part of it because of their contributions. It will truly become a ring owned and loved by all. It has now gained another dramatic layer of history and meaning.

The ring will be on display at Chawton Cottage alongside other pieces of Jewellery, the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles and also a beaded bracelet, also owned by Jane, for all visitors to see.

The Arts Council’s reviewing committee secretary states,

The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the gold ring (width 17.5 mm; height 8 mm) set with a turquoise was probably made in the eighteenth century, possibly about 1760-80. In excellent condition, the ring sat in a later nineteenth-century case bearing the name of T. West, Goldsmith of Ludgate Street, London and was accompanied by papers documenting the history of the ring within the family of Jane Austen.”

The gold circle of the ring is 9 carat gold which is rather low in pure gold content and so denotes the ring as being an ordinary piece. The highest carat possible is 23 carat, which is almost 100% gold. It has been assessed because of its design and construction as being made between 1760 and 1780. The ends of the hoop of the ring curve round underneath the bezel. Taken with the thin hoop and simple oval bezel this suggest its date. Jane was born in 1775 so it is evident that the ring was not made for her originally. The provenance of the ring is based solely on letters and documents within the Austen family and only go back to Jane‘s ownership. After her death it went to Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Could it possibly have got to Jane in the same way? A relative dying and passing it on to Jane as a keepsake. It is something that Jane obviously wanted to keep. It’s simplicity and effectiveness would have appealed to her. On her finger it would have had a lustre under candlelight. It would have been something that other people would have noticed at any gathering such as a ball or family event such as Christmas.

Janes ring

Gold itself was not an easy commodity to come by between 1760 and 1780. The American war of Independence which waged between 1775 and 1783 made Gold a rare commodity. It was a vital constituent of the wealth of the nation. Britain had to pay for the War. Much gold came to Britain from Brazil in the 18th century, but because of the European war against France and the War against the colonies in North America getting gold here from South America was not an easy business. Transport ships could be captured or sunk. It pushed the price of gold up. Even 9 carat gold must have been expensive and hard to come by at the time. There were some gold mines in Britain  , at Dollgethlau in Wales, in the low border hills of Scotland and in Cornwall at the Treore mine near Wadebridge, the Carlson veins at Hopes Nose Mine and within the copper veins of Bampfylde, North Molton. The Romans first discovered gold in Wales so there is a long history of gold mining in Britain. It would be good to imagine that the gold in Jane’s ring came from one of the mines in Cornwall. She loved the West Country and had family holidays in Lyme, Sidmouth and Colyton.

There is a turquoise gem set in the ring. Turquoise is meant to be a bringer of good luck. It has been found in the tombs and on the artifacts of many Egyptian Pharaohs and important people. It can change colour under certain circumstances. Turquoise is found all over the world. It is associated with copper mining and indeed Cornwall, where copper has been mined it is also associated with turquoise. Because of the geopolitical state of the world in the 1770’s onward, Cornwall, like the gold in Jane’s ring, is the most likely source of the turquoise. It has also been suggested that the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring might be a special variant called Ondontolite. Ondontolite is also called bone or fossil turquoise. It is a gem formed by the infiltration of surrounding minerals into fossil bones. This would fit with the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring because, Dorset and the West Country have rich fossil deposits.

Jane’s ring is therefore connected to wars, national financial need, geology, the mining industry and mining communities and the lives of their inhabitants, which were being developed exponentially with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, social status, personal attractiveness, social occasions and mystical meaning. A designer designed it and a craftsman made it and a shopkeeper sold it. It is one symbol of economic and social endeavour within an historical context.

In the novels rings and jewellery have their importance and meaning. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia describes how her carriage overtakes the curricle of William Goulding and she lowers the window and lets her ring be seen. Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey looks forward to the day that friends and neighbours will envy her her, “exhibition of hoop rings on her fingers.” These two examples are of characters who show vanity and self-importance but in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, who receives the present of a small cross from her brother William, is at pains to find just the right simple chain to wear it with and show off her brothers generosity. William cannot afford the chain to go with the cross and Edmund eventually comes to Fanny’s rescue with just the right sort of simple chain for her to wear. The jewellery in the novels  seem to portray elements of character. They show Jane Austen’s understanding of the use of jewellery. This adds to the importance of the turquoise ring that Chawton Cottage have managed to now acquire.

In the Arts Council assessment of the ring, in the part where they describe the provenance of the ring, they describe documentary evidence for it belonging to Jane and various members of her family through the generations.  The report sets out the ownership of the ring after Jane’s death. The other point to be made is the report in the news that the ring is, ” a never seen before ring owned by the novelist Jane Austen.”

The family for generations have kept the ring  to themselves. Jane is one of the most pored over, read about and speculated upon authors in history. The family appeared to want to keep something of her just to themselves, their own private bit of her.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

One member of the family in each generation was given guardianship over the ring. So what was special about the keepers of the ring? After Jane’s death Cassandra owned it. She passed it on to her sister in law Eleanor Austen, the second wife of Henry Austen, “as soon as she knew I was engaged to your uncle.” Henry had been Jane’s favourite brother and it was he, whilst a banker living in London, who had arranged for her novels to be published. Eleanor passed it on to Caroline Mary Craven Austen, the daughter of Jane’s brother James. Caroline Austen passed it on to her niece Mary Austen Leigh who passed it on in turn to her niece Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh. Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh then passed it on to her sister Winifred Jenkyns in 1962. Apart from the obvious observation that the ring passed along the female line what else can we deduce? The ring was adapted for the use of somebody with a smaller finger than the original owner. A bar of gold, called a stretcher, has been fitted at a later date, probably by the company T West Goldsmiths of Ludgate Hill which is named on the inside of the box holding the ring. It seems that the ring was worn and not just kept as a memento. This might suggest things about the owner in each generation. A memorial ring, which this is, especially after Jane’s death and passed on through the family, commemorates Jane through generations. The wearer and owner could almost be seen as a surrogate Jane to the family in each generation. It is unlike a memento, such as a piece of furniture or a vase, which is set at a distance from people to be viewed. This ring has a different connection. It was worn on occasions. One wonders what occasions the Austen ancestor in each generation would wear it? When you wear an item belonging to somebody you take on aspects of that person. It’s not just the touching of the object which makes a connection with that person and the past but it is also the using it as they would have used it. They almost, in a way, become that person. A little like an actor wearing a costume,however in a case like this, wearing Jane’s ring would have been much more personal and evocative than merely playing a part.

Durer's image of a rhino

Durer’s image of a rhino

Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, wrote and published “A History of The World in 1000 Objects,” in 2010 and broadcast his readings of the book on BBC radio 4. In his description of the first of his 100 objects, the Mummy of Hornedjitef (circa 240BC), an object taken out of chronological order in MacGregors 100 objects, he uses it as an illustration of how knowledge develops. The interpretation of the mummy has changed as more research has been possible. The Mummy is a vivid example of the work of the academic. Neil MacGregor states that the work of an Archaeologist or Historian is to gather the evidence and make the best of the evidence they can. This changes over time as more evidence emerges but the archaeologist can only do his best with what he has. MacGregor gives Durers portrait of a rhinoceros, drawn in 1515, as an example. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros. He drew his portrait from first hand witness accounts. He did his best with what evidence he had. The drawing is completely wrong. I have used the evidence I have got for Jane’s ring and gathered other evidence to answer questions as they occurred, from various sources but I, like Durer, don’t really know.
Clarkson, had almost the last word. This was her reaction to Chawton Cottage buying the ring from her,

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

Chawton actually had the last word. They hoped for a long and fruitful relationship with Kelly and hoped she would visit the ring at the cottage.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen's ring at a concert.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen’s ring at a concert. Image @Mirror News

Everybody appears to be friends!!!

Here’s Kelly’s song in Love Actually, The Trouble With Love Is, with scenes from the film

Mirror News: Kelly Clarkson Jane Austen ring row

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The History of Goody Little Two Shoes was one of the moral lesson books that Jane Austen owned as a child. These seem to have been popular in the Georgian era. Another book with moral lessons came out two years after her death. Entitled The Accidents of Youth, its tales were meant to warn children of risky behaviors and improve their moral conduct. The tales would have been scary enough to make me think twice as a child. I love the Internet Archive, which allows you to read the books virtually intact, with illustrations and original font type. The only thing you can’t do is hold the book or feel the thickness of the pages.

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

accidents of youth2

accidents of youth3

Interestingly, these accidents beset children today, especially those left to their own devices in the countryside.

accidents of youth4

One young man aims at a bird with a slingshot and kills his mother, a horrific tale. Another’s hair is set on fire by a candle.

accidents of youth5

Kitchen accidents were quite common. After death from childbirth, kitchen fires killed more women than other accidents combined. In these stories children are warned of the dangers of hot kettles and catching one’s clothes on fire from coming too close to a fireplace. In the first image, a cast iron pot, hanging directly over the fire on an iron hook tips over, burning the child. Billowing skirts caught fire in fireplaces, as the second image attests.

accidents of youth6The final image in this post shows the danger of a broken glass window and a young boy falling from furniture that he had rearranged at play. Another, earlier book entitled The Blossoms of Morality and published in 1806, concentrates on the instruction of young ladies and gentlemen”. The stories include “Juvenile tyranny conquered” and “The melancholy effects of pride”.  One can imagine that, after reading Fordyce’s Sermons to his young children, Mr. Collins would have picked up these books to read to his children.

I wonder how long the concentration of today’s youth would have lasted when listening to these morality tales. One nanosecond? I think not.

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