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Archive for the ‘Regency’ Category

by Brenda S. Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fans

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

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

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

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

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

For more lovely fans, see Candice’s website.

Coin Purses

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

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

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

Vinaigrettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume étuis

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

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

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

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

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

Cosmetic Cases

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

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

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

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

Candice Hern writes Regency-era novels.

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

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Regency World

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

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

All images courtesy of Candice Hern, used by permission.

For more information, see also:

Fans: Essential Accessories, including the language of the fan

Reticule: The Regency Purse

A Fashionable Accessory

The Reticule and Purse

 

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

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By Brenda S. Cox

Last week we looked at the lady “Rock Stars of the Regency” identified by Dr. Jocelyn Harris at this year’s JASNA AGM.* The other two Regency celebrities, who Jane Austen certainly knew about, but almost certainly never met, were the Prince Regent and Lord Byron. Both were flamboyant, charismatic, and extravagant. Jane Austen certainly did not like the prince, and I doubt she thought very highly of Byron. Let’s take a look at these two gentleman.Then I’ll add another famous gentleman, one I think she might have admired.

The Prince Regent (1762-1830)

As you probably know, King George III’s eldest son became Regent of England during the king’s madness from 1811-1820. When his father died, the Prince Regent became King George IV, until his own death in 1830.

The Prince Regent, later King George IV, by Henry Bone, 1816, public domain, wikimedia

Sometimes called “Prinny,” the Prince of Wales (heir to the throne) was an elegant man with a wide education, excellent artistic taste, and great charm. As a boy, his father insisted that he be taught simplicity and hard work. The prince was whipped severely for any laziness or lying. However, he disappointed his father’s hopes. The prince was known for his faults more than for his strengths.

By the time he was seventeen, he was already involved with several women. A series of many mistresses followed. Although he could not legally marry without his father’s consent, he went through a form of marriage with a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzerbert, in 1785. This quasi-marriage to a Catholic caused him difficulty with Parliament, who were often being asked to pay his bills. (Catholics faced many restrictions at this time, and if the prince were actually married to a Catholic he could not legally become king.)

Prinny constantly ran up amazing debts. He lavishly furnished his mansion, Carlton House, running up almost £270,000 in debt! Parliament helped him defray that debt, partially. He immediately began another project, the even more opulent and fantastically expensive Marine Pavilion at Brighton.

In 1789, the king appeared to be going mad, probably because of the disease porphyria. The prince’s supporters tried to get the prince declared regent. His enemies attacked him as being Catholic, or married to a Catholic, and as a gambler who spent his time with unsavory people. Newspapers condemned the prince as “a hard-drinking, swearing, whoring man” who “at all times would prefer a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon” (quoted in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The king recovered, and the prince did not become regent yet.

To get his debts settled, the prince agreed to marry his cousin Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. Caroline and the prince had one daughter, Charlotte. (Charlotte eventually died giving birth to a stillborn child, so she never inherited the throne.)

The prince’s marriage to Caroline was miserable from the start. The prince soon went back to his mistresses, and Caroline was later also accused of sleeping around, though it was not proven.

The king lapsed back into madness in 1811, and the prince was sworn in as regent. His political policies were unpopular. Oddly, considering that his formerly-beloved Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic, he was strongly against giving any civil rights to Catholics.

In 1820 his father died and he became King George IV. He did not want his wife Caroline to be queen, so he put her on trial for adultery. She was not convicted, but she died a few weeks after his coronation.

George IV’s years of indulgence, gluttony, and drinking took their toll, and he became more and more ill. He died in 1830.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

The Prince Regent was a fan of Jane Austen’s. He requested, via his librarian, that she dedicate Emma to him, and she reluctantly did. He apparently read her books often, and kept a set of them in each of his residences. She did not return his admiration.

Jane Austen reluctantly dedicated Emma to the Prince Regent, at his request.

In 1813, when the Regent was in the midst of a controversy with his wife, Austen wrote about her in a private letter: “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband” (Feb. 16, 1813).

Why did Jane Austen “hate” the Prince Regent? I imagine there were multiple reasons:

  • He treated his wife very badly, avoiding her, flaunting his unfaithfulness to her, slandering her, and finally putting her on public trial. Earlier he had also been unfaithful to his first “wife,” Mrs. Fitzherbert, and even allowed others to slander her in Parliament.
  • He was extravagant, wasting the country’s money. He was a Sir Walter Elliot on steroids, not willing to give up any pleasure, inordinately proud of his position, and always spending far beyond his income.
  • He was known for drinking, gambling, laziness, and of course sexual immorality. He also apparently had little regard for church or religion. Austen did not appreciate such shortcomings.

For more on the Prince Regent: Colleen Sheehan speculates delightfully about all the places in Emma where Jane Austen may have been making fun of the Prince Regent in “Jane Austen’s ‘Tribute’ to the Prince Regent: A Gentleman Ridiculed with Difficulty.” Mr. Knightley, as a true gentleman, contrasts with the Regent. Be sure to follow the link at the end of Sheehan’s article, which takes you to a second article with an entertaining alternate solution to the “courtship” riddle!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” That’s how one of Byron’s lovers, Caroline Lamb, described him. George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron, was as famous and infamous as the Prince Regent.

Lord Byron, replica by Thomas Phillips, circa 1835, based on a work of 1813. © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Byron’s narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, based on his travels in southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, took London by storm in 1812. The upper classes adored him. He was quite cynical about society and its institutions, however. He called his country’s leaders “The Mad—the Bad—the Useless—or the Base” (from an epigram written in 1814).

Byron soon became known as much for his love affairs as for his poetry. An affair with married Caroline Lamb, whom he called a “little volcano,” ended when he got bored with her. She, however, blatantly pursued him everywhere. (Her husband, by the way, later became Lord Melbourne, the prime minister who so much influenced young Queen Victoria.) She even published a popular novel, Glenarvon, based on her marriage and her affair with Byron.

In the following years, Byron continued to write romances about Byronic heroes: broody men with dark secrets, in exotic settings. He also continued to have torrid affairs with married women. He became close friends with his married half-sister Augusta, who he considered the only woman who understood him. It’s possible, but not proven, that he was the father of her daughter Medora, born in 1814.

Perhaps the desire to squash rumors about his relationship with his half-sister contributed to Byron’s decision to get married in January, 1815. He married Annabella Milbanke (niece of Lady Melbourne, Caroline Lamb’s mother-in-law). Apparently they were fond of each other, and Byron “esteemed” her. However, the marriage was a disaster and they separated in January, 1816. She believed he was insane.

They had a daughter, Augusta Ada Byron. (That daughter became Ada Lovelace, one of the developers of the first computer.) One of Byron’s later lovers, Claire Clairmont, gave him another daughter, Allegra. Allegra died of a fever at age five. Byron also had a child with one of his maids, and he provided for her.

Byron spent money extravagantly. He inherited his title and family estates, but they were already deeply encumbered by debt. At first he refused to take payment for his writing (making his publisher rich instead), but by 1814 he began to accept, and even negotiate for, large amounts for the copyrights of his books.

Byron continued traveling, writing, and having affairs. His newer books, including Don Juan, increasingly shocked society. His original publisher finally refused to publish any more of Byron’s books, but Byron quickly found another publisher.

Lord Byron eventually got involved in the Greek struggle for independence, which suited his romantic ideals. He fell ill and died in Greece in 1824.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Byron’s personal life was doubtless repugnant to Jane Austen. His open adultery with a long series of married women, and his taking sexual advantage of maidservants, would both have disgusted her. I imagine she also thought poorly of his extravagance and debts. What about his writing?

Lord Byron was the epitome of the literary movement, Romanticism. He wrote and lived the untamed passions of individual desire, the wildness of nature, imagination, and vision. Jane Austen epitomizes the best of the opposite movement, Rationalism. It emphasized self-control, order, harmony, balance, and logical truth. Austen and Byron did have something in common, though: both used irony and satire to confront flaws in their society, though in different ways.

Austen, like others in her society, read Byron’s books. In 1814 she wrote unenthusiastically, “I have read the “Corsair,” mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.” There is no indication that Byron read Austen’s books. Byron’s wife, however, wrote in 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was “a very superior work . . . the most probable fiction I have ever read.”

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick talk about Lord Byron and Walter Scott and disagree about their merits. They also mention Lord Byron’s “dark blue seas.” Benwick appreciates the “impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony” in Byron’s Giaour and Bride of Abydos. Anne doesn’t think Byron’s poetry is healthy reading for the grieving Benwick. She encourages him to read more prose, especially works by the “best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.”

Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss how to pronounce the title of Lord Byron’s Giaour. (Online dictionaries say it’s something like JOW-er, or jowr. Merriam Webster says it means “one outside the Islamic faith.”)

According to the editors of the Cambridge edition of Persuasion (Janet Todd and Antje Blank), Giaour and Bride of Abydos “have exotic eastern settings, in which despotic rulers murder disobedient women and moody, passionate heroes are consumed with grief and guilt over violent crimes they commit.” They suggest that Anne Elliot’s alternative reading would have included Samuel Johnson’s articles in The Rambler. Johnson recommends (in issues 32 and 47) that in times of calamity, loss, and sorrow, we turn to hard work, diligence, and keeping our minds busy with other things.

I think Anne might also have recommended another of Austen’s favorite writers, William Cowper. Cowper suffered with depression for much of his life. One of the remedies that helped him at various periods was keeping busy with meaningful tasks, especially writing. Both Johnson and Cowper were known for their devotion to God; Byron, on the other hand, was known for his religious skepticism. Both Johnson and Cowper died well before the Regency, so we can’t consider them “Regency rock stars.” However, both were very popular authors that Jane Austen admired.

For more on Lord Byron and Jane Austen, see “Romanticism, a Romance: Jane Austen and Lord Byron, 1813-1815,” and “Jane Austen and Lord Byron: Connections.”

For those who like their history presented as fiction, I enjoyed this novel, based on Byron’s marriage: Dangerous to Know, by Megan Whitson Lee.

Lord Byron” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) offers the next generation’s perspective on Byron’s religious views.

On Samuel Johnson, see “Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library.

On William Cowper, see “William Cowper: Joy and Depression, Glimmers of Light in the Midst of Darkness,” “’With what intense desire she wants her home’: Cowper’s Influence on Jane Austen,”  and “William Cowper, Beloved of Jane Austen.

William Wilberforce? (1759-1833)

I want to nominate one more “rock star of the Regency”; this time, one that Austen may have admired, though she doesn’t mention him. In an age of corrupt, self-seeking politicians, a mad king, and a profligate Prince Regent, M.P. William Wilberforce lived a life of integrity, devotion to God, and concern for the poor and downtrodden. Wilberforce was much loved and respected in England, even by those who disagreed with him, for his gentle kindness and his persuasive speaking.

Statue of William Wilberforce at St. John’s College, Cambridge University

Wilberforce is best known for leading the fight against the slave trade and slavery. Thomas Clarkson, who Jane Austen said she “loved,” worked with Wilberforce. Clarkson collected evidence and wrote books promoting abolition. Wilberforce and his friends persevered for almost twenty years, against great opposition, until the British slave trade was abolished in 1807. The House of Commons, who had previously voted down Wilberforce’s proposal ten times, this time gave him a standing ovation. The fight continued until slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, as Wilberforce was dying.

In contrast to other “rock stars” of the Regency, Wilberforce lived frugally. He was wealthy, but during his lifetime he gave away most of his wealth to people in need and to various causes he supported. For example, he supported groups working to relieve the miseries of climbing boys (chimney sweeps’ apprentices), to reform prisons, and to prevent cruelty to animals. He helped start the first “free church” in the country, a church in Bath where the poor got the best seats on the main floor rather than being marginalized because they could not pay pew rents. He also financially supported free education for the poor. However, he was not a radical, and he has been criticized for supporting government crackdowns on rioters and protesters, and for opposing labor unions.

Wilberforce was also a leader of the Evangelical movement in the Church of England. (Please note that the word evangelical did not have the same political implications that it has today; it meant, and technically still means, those with certain religious beliefs.) He wrote a best-selling book which challenged the shallow faith of the upper and middle classes of his day.

William Wilberforce’s Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Obviously Jane Austen would have admired Wilberforce’s faith, lifestyle, and integrity. In 1809 her sister was trying to persuade her to read a letter by Evangelical Hannah More, and Austen wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” However, by 1814, her niece was considering marrying an Evangelical. Austen wrote “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” She was not an Evangelical herself, but apparently her attitude toward the Evangelicals was very positive at that point. Wilberforce’s actions and reputation may have been one reason for that change.

For more about Wilberforce, see “William Wilberforce’s Joy”  and “William Wilberforce.”

 

We have now considered Jocelyn Harris’s five “Rock Stars of the Regency,” plus my own nominees for others.

What do you think of them? And what do you think Jane Austen would have thought? Who would you add to this roster?

 

In the presentation for the *Jane Austen Society of America’s Annual General Meeting, the “rock stars” were skilfully played by:

Emma Brodey as Emma Hamilton

Deborah Barnum as Dora Jordan

Linda Troost as Fanny Burney

Christopher Duda as The Prince Regent

Paul Savidge as Lord Byron

Jocelyn Harris, as the narrator, was dressed as Dolly Parton.

“Rock Stars of the Regency” was originally scheduled to be shown at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but instead, of course, it was online.

 

Sources: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

Please note that the thoughts about Austen’s responses to the rock stars are mine, not Dr. Harris’s.

 

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

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Who were the famous and admired “rock stars” of Regency England? At the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM) recently, Dr. Jocelyn Harris identified five charismatic celebrities of Regency England. Jane Austen would certainly have known about them.

Dr. Harris chose:

  • Emma Hamilton
  • Dora Jordan
  • Fanny Burney
  • The Prince Regent
  • Lord Byron

Who were these people, and what might Jane Austen have thought about them? As I watched their presentations, I thought that Austen probably didn’t think very highly of some of them. See what you think.

Emma Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton is best known for her love affair with the naval hero Lord Nelson.

George Romney was captivated by Emma Hamilton’s beauty, as were other artists. This shows Emma as Circe.

 

Early in her life, Emma Lyon worked as a housemaid, but her classical beauty and vivacious spirit brought her to the attention of several rich young men. She became the mistress of one, had his child, then moved in with one of his friends. That friend traded her to his rich uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in exchange for becoming his uncle’s heir. Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, married Emma and made her Lady Hamilton in 1791; he was sixty and she was about twenty-six.

In Naples, Emma became known for her dramatic “attitudes.” She wore classical Greek dress and struck a series of poses representing various emotions and classical stories. She was very expressive and visitors loved to watch her. She was also talented at learning languages. She helped her husband, and later Lord Nelson, with diplomacy. After a few years, she became seriously overweight, but apparently was still enchanting.

Emma Hamilton by George Romney, circa 1785 ©National Portrait Gallery, London.   Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Around 1798 Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson fell in love. Both were married to someone else. But they seem to have adored each other. She bore him three children, though only one survived, a daughter named Horatia. Nelson said of her, as she was courageously seeing him off to sea, “Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons.”

Emma’s husband died in 1803, then Admiral Nelson died in 1805. Emma was heartbroken at Nelson’s death. She received a large legacy and annuity, but continued her extravagance until she was imprisoned for debt in 1813. Friends helped her get released. She spent her final days, drunken and bedridden, in Calais, France. Her daughter Horatia tended her until she died in 1815. When Horatia returned to England, she was taken in by Nelson’s sisters, and ended up marrying a curate and having a large family. She acknowledged that Nelson was her father, but refused to acknowledge Lady Hamilton as her mother.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

In her letters (Oct. 11, 1813), Austen says that she is tired of biographies of Nelson, though she hasn’t read any. Perhaps his open adultery diminished his glory in her eyes, though we don’t know for sure. Her brother Frank wrote admiringly of Nelson’s judgment and decisiveness, and his ability to motivate others. He said nothing of Nelson’s moral values, however (Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, 1913, chapter 12).

Austen makes no mention of Emma Hamilton in her writings. Dr. Harris speculates that Mrs. Smith of Persuasion, whose maiden name was Miss Hamilton, might have some connection to Emma Hamilton, or even Emma Woodhouse herself, as Emma Hamilton was also known as a matchmaker and lady bountiful. To me it seems unlikely that Austen would have named either of them after such a scandalous celebrity. In Mansfield Park, fashionable Mary Crawford thinks of adultery as folly to be concealed. However, it seems to me that Austen agrees with her hero and heroine, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, who consider it serious sin. So I don’t think she would have thought very highly of Emma Hamilton.

For more on Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), see “Emma at Home: Lady Hamilton and Her ‘Attitudes,’” which includes further links.

 

Dorothy Jordan

Dorothy Jordan was a famous actress of Austen’s time. In her early years, she shone in a variety of roles, but eventually settled down to become a comic actress. Sarah Siddons (who might be considered another Regency “Rock Star”) was the queen of tragedy, and Dorothy Jordan was the “comic muse.” A woman of several names, she was also called Dora or Dorothea. She was born Dorothy Bland and when her father deserted the family she became Dorothy Phillips. She was commonly known as Mrs. Jordan, though she never married.

Jordan’s parents were a vicar’s daughter who had become a London actress, and an Irish captain whose father, a judge, disinherited him for his liaison with Jordan’s mother. (They may have married, but as minors, the marriage was not valid.) Her father later made a legal marriage in Ireland to another woman.

By 1779, eighteen-year-old Dorothea was working as an actress in Dublin. She was seduced by her manager, conceived his child, and fled when he threatened her with debtor’s prison. (Her manager reminds me of Willoughby with Eliza, only even worse!) She got another job in Leeds, where they called her Mrs. Jordan because she was pregnant (therefore “Mrs.”) and had crossed over the water to get to England from Ireland, like the Israelites crossing the Jordan River in the Bible.

She gradually moved up in her profession, until she was acting in the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. There she became the mistress of Richard Ford, son of the court physician, and had three children with him.

In 1790, Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence (third son of George III), fell in love with her and she became his mistress. He provided her with an annuity of £1200, a carriage, and provision for all her children. However, she continued to act around the country, and she shared her income with the duke. People wondered which of them supported the other!

She bore ten children to the duke and acted as his wife and hostess. However, in 1811 his debts were increasing and he told her they had to separate so he could marry someone rich.

Mrs Jordan from The Life of Mrs Jordan by J Boaden (1831), public domain

Mrs. Jordan continued acting, to great acclaim, and traveling. She was very well-paid, but generous and extravagant. Late in her life, while she was in ill health, her son-in-law defrauded her of much of her money. She died impoverished near Paris, with only about £10 to her name.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Austen mentions Mrs. Jordan in a letter (1801), admiring Cassandra’s resignation when she could not come to London and see Mrs. Jordan. According to Dr. Harris, in 1814, when Jane was looking forward to seeing the play “The Devil to Pay” and expecting to be “very much amused,” Jane was going to see Mrs. Jordan perform. No doubt the sisters, great fans of the theater, much admired Mrs. Jordan’s acting, as everyone else did. We don’t know what Austen thought of Mrs. Jordan’s personal life. Harris speculates that Jordan’s personality, arch, playful, bewitching, and frank, may be reflected in Elizabeth Bennet.

Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a faithful and domestic “wife” to the Duke of Clarence for many years, and popular opinion held that he should not have deserted her. Their children, who received the surname FitzClarence, were of course illegitimate. Fitz-, by the way, simply means “son of,” though from the 1600s it came to be used for illegitimate royal children. (Did the Fitzwilliams of Pride and Prejudice have an illegitimate royal ancestor? Or were they from an older Norman family, perhaps descended from the younger son of a warrior named William? It could be either.) Clarence’s oldest son, by Mrs. Jordan, could not inherit the throne after the Duke of Clarence became King William IV.

In Emma, Emma thinks Harriet is well-born, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. However, it turns out that Harriet is the daughter of a tradesman. Emma thinks, “The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.” Did Jane Austen herself think that that it was acceptable for those with “nobility or wealth” to have illegitimate children? Or was she continuing to make fun of Emma’s snobbishness?

Personally, I think that as a devout Anglican, Austen would not have approved of Mrs. Jordan’s liaison even with a duke. But, she may have felt sympathy for a couple who loved each other but were not legally allowed to marry. And Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a good influence on her Duke. I see no firm evidence either way for Austen’s opinion. She certainly admired Mrs. Jordan as an actress.

For more on Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816), see “Mrs. Dora Jordan—The Comic Muse.

On Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), see “Austen’s Regretted Mischance to see Mrs. Siddons” and “The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons.

 

Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay)

Our third “Rock Star” was a popular novelist like Jane Austen, but Burney was much more well-known in her time than Austen. Burney came from a more conventional middle class background than Emma Hamilton or Dorothy Jordan did. Her father was a well-known music teacher who went on musical tours of Europe; Fanny helped him with the books he wrote.

Her family brought her into contact with some of the leading people of her day, including Samuel Johnson, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, writer Hester Thrale (later Piozzi), bluestockings Elizabeth Montagu and Hannah More, and many others. Austen, of course, did not move in such intellectual or social circles.

Like Jane Austen, Burney published her first book, Evelina, anonymously. Not even her father knew that she had written it until some months after it came out. (He had disapproved of her earlier writing, but liked Evelina.) It was well-reviewed and over 2000 copies sold. Bookstores in fashionable spas and in London had a hard time keeping it in stock. Burney’s next, longer book, Cecilia, was also a great success.

Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) engraved from a painting by Edward Francis Burney (Portraits of Eminent Men and Women, 1873), public domain, wikimedia

After a few years without writing, Burney was offered a place at court, as second keeper of the robes to Queen Charlotte. Her father persuaded her to accept, for the family’s advantage. However, Burney was miserable with the drudgery and routine of court life. She did have one adventure, though, when King George III, in a fit of madness, chased her around Kew Gardens. After five years she asked to retire due to ill health, and was allowed to go.

At age forty-one, Fanny met a French military officer, D’Arblay. They fell in love and were married. Fanny’s father was unhappy about the match, since Fanny had little money and D’Arblay had none. However, they had a happy marriage. Their son Alexander was born about a year and a half after their wedding.

Fanny continued writing; mostly plays that were not performed in her lifetime (one was performed for one night, but was an immediate failure). Her novel Camilla, though, was another success, and provided enough money for the D’Arblays to build their own home.

While Fanny’s siblings sometimes acted scandalously, she herself lived a conventional, moral life. Her books express solid moral values, while showing the restrictions placed on women. She died in her home in London in 1840. Fanny Burney has been called the mother of English fiction. She was one of the first successful English novelists.

Jane Austen’s Perspective

Burney’s novels Cecilia and Camilla are mentioned in glowing terms in Northanger Abbey:

“‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

Jane Austen subscribed to Camilla. (That means that she gave financial support for it before it was published, something like a Kickstarter campaign today.) In her letters, Austen also mentions characters from Burney’s novels. The novels seem to have influenced her own. Harris also speculates that Burney’s experiences at court, recorded in her journals and passed on by Austen’s mother’s cousin Cassandra Cooke (Burney’s neighbor), might be reflected in some of Fanny Price’s experiences in Mansfield Park. Austen obviously admired Fanny Burney’s work, and I think she would have admired Burney personally as well. Jocelyn Harris calls Burney and Austen “sisters of the pen.”

 

Two other women authors of Jane Austen’s day might qualify as “rock stars,” in terms of popularity, even more than Fanny Burney. Maria Edgeworth, whose novel Belinda is mentioned in Northanger Abbey along with Burney’s novels, was the most successful novelist of her time, in terms of sales and income. Hannah More, whose writings Austen doesn’t seem to have cared for, wrote mostly nonfiction, a tremendous range of books for rich and poor, which were wildly popular. She wrote and worked for causes including the abolition of slavery, education for women and for the poor, and better moral values.

For more on Fanny Burney (1752-1840), see “Only a Novel: The Life of Fanny Burney.”  For more on Burney’s novels, and ways they may have influenced Jane Austen, see “Jane Austen a-Shopping with Burney’s Evelina.

On Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), see “Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen’s Forgotten Idol.

On Hannah More, see “Jane Austen’s Novels and Hannah More’s Life—Intersecting Planes” and “Jane Austen, Hanah More, and the Novel of Education.”

 

What do you think of these “rock stars” of Austen’s England? What do you think Austen would have liked and not liked about them? Are there other women of the time that you would nominate?

In Part 2 we’ll look at some gentlemen “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

Source: These summaries are based on entries in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, plus Jocelyn Harris’s presentation for the JASNA AGM, “Rock Stars of the Regency.”

 

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

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Available March 8, also as a Kindle book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? — What do you mean?”

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

“I do not understand you.”

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

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

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

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the interview! This was really fun!

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The Parks of London by Mary Elizabeth Brandon, 1868, on Dandyism.net discusses the dandies parading up and down London’s fashionable parks. After visiting that site, return to read some of my older posts about Hyde Park and the pleasure gardens.

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