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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.

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