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Inquiring readers, It’s such a delight to receive first-hand information from a friend who lives in the U.K. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, writes about his impressions of seeing the BBC2 special last Sunday entitled Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. The scenes were filmed in Chawton House wherein a Regency ball was reconstructed in a way that Jane Austen’s contemporaries knew well, but whose meanings in many instances have been lost to us. I had the privilege of watching the show as well and have interspersed my comments as if Tony and I were engaged in a dialogue. (Italics represent my comments.)  Let’s hope this special will be available soon the world over.

Amanda Vickery. Image courtesy of

Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. Image courtesy of BBC2

It is Winter, 1813.

Amanda Vickery and Alaister Sooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph and who also presents art history programmes for the BBC, present this amazing programme. It is one and a half hours long and, being a BBC production, there are no breaks or intermissions.

The programme is a tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The producers have taken the Netherfield Ball as their focus. They did not choose the Merryton Assembly ball, which was a public ball where everybody from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was eligible to attend. The Netherfield Ball was a more intimate and select affair and by invitation only. One would be assured to rub shoulders with only the best families in the community.

Jane and her sister and mother lived in Chawton Cottage, where Pride and Prejudice was prepared for publication. It was a time when courtship was a serious business. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing and drawing,” Jane wrote, and a man had to marry well if he was to secure his dynasty.

Research into costumes, food, dance, music, carriages, conversation and so on focussed on the year 1813.

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds. Image courtesy of Chawton House

The writers and producers consulted and interviewed professors and experts about the minutiae of Georgian life. One professor, Jeanice Brooks at Southampton University, showed Alexander Sooke the very music manuscripts that Jane Austen wrote out by her hand with little cartoon doodlings in the margin.

Jane Austen doodle in a music manuscript

Jane Austen’s doodle in her music manuscript. Image @BBC2

That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer. (For me too, Tony!)

Popular music was widely collected at the time and summarized for the piano. Jane Austen must have spent hours copying music in her neat hand, for there are quite a number of her music manuscripts still in existence. 

ivan day food expert

Ivan day, historic food expert. Image @BBC2

The food was researched to the minutest degree. Ivan Day and his kitchen staff used Georgian cooking implements, although the Georgian cooking range at Chawton House was not in working order, so they used modern ovens. The recipes were authentic and came from Martha Lloyd’s cook book and other original Georgian documents.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Martha Lloyd’s recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Food denoted status. Game shot on a gentleman’s land was turned into a partridge pie, a symbol of upper class dining. At the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bingley would be sure to provide only the most excellent food, such as fresh grapes, nectarines and peaches in winter, which would have been expensive to import or grow indoors in hot houses. The grand spectacle of the supper table, with its silver platters, silver dishes, and silver tureens, gave an overall impression of austentation [sic] and of the host’s status. 

Ivan Day's recreation of Solomon's Temple, a very difficult flummery to recreate.

Ivan Day’s recreation of Solomon’s Temple, a very difficult flummery (Georgian jelly) to recreate. Image @BBC2

Stuart Marsden, an expert in Georgian dances and a former ballet dancer, assembled students from the dance department of Surrey University at Guildford, about twenty miles north of Chawton, to dance at the ball. Although these young dancers were fit and professional, in their Georgian costumes and in the full glare of hundreds of candles, they suffered from heat and encroaching exhaustion as the evening went on.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few have survived.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few of these fans have survived. As all fans of the Regency know, they also served as the perfect tool for flirtation. Image @BBC2

During the course of the evening, the dancers were supplied with Portugese wine and fortified negus punch. Punch a la Romaine, or Roman punch, was a mixture of rum or brandy with lemon water, lemon meringue and a very hot syrup. It was a sort of creamy iced drink that was 30 or 40 percent alcohol, a Georgian equivalent of a cold Coca Cola that cooled the dancers down between dances.

Punch a la Romaine

Punch a la Romaine. By the end of the night the dancers were a little tipsy, shall we say. The spoons used in the production belonged to the Prince Regent and came from Brighton Pavilion. Image @BBC.

Although Chawton House is large, the room where the dance was held seemed rather crowded once all the dancers were assembled. Candles blazed everywhere. The men wore stiff jackets, waistcoats, and neck high cravats. The ladies, whose bosoms were exposed, also wore many layers. They had donned swaths of petticoats under their skirts, and wore long stockings and long gloves. One can imagine that with the press of bodies, heat from the candles, constant exertion in long dance sets, and frequent imbibing of alcohol that the assembly quickly felt heated.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was and how 300 candles and all that exertion might have heated the dancers.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was, and how the blaze from 300 candles and hours of exertion might have heated the dancers. I was amazed at the lack of evident sweat.

It was interesting to find out that everybody knew how a long a dance would last from the length and quality of the candles. There were four-hour candles and six-hour candles. For this production eight-hour candles were used.

The finest, most expensive and clean burning candles were made of beeswax. Up to 300 might be used for a ball – quite an expense, for the cost was around £15, or a year’s wages for a manservant. Less expensive (and smokier and stinkier) were tallow candles, which were purchased by the less wealthy. The very poor had to make do with rush sticks, which didn’t last very long.

Peoples’ wealth and position in the upper and gentry classes were evident from the outset. Hierarchy pervaded all strata of Regency society. Social signifiers included the materials used for clothes, their style and the embellishments they had personally chosen for their costumes, the cut of the material and garment, the very buttons they had on their costumes, and so on. These details would reveal not only their status but their personalities too.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made and reflected personal taste and input. In addition, the outfits “reflected the range of social rank and social division by cut, color, and texture.” Appearance meant everything at a ball. Many refashioned their frocks from hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin, creating “hybrid” fashions, for the value of these outfits lay in the material, not the design of the dress. Individual details and features were immediately evident to Jane Austen’s contemporaries, for fashion and jewelry represented a public display of one’s assets. Image @BBC2

Silk would be worn by Miss Bingley, for it was a rich and expensive fabric. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst would have worn the latest fashions from London, which is quite evident in the film costumes of Pride and Prejudice 1995. Lydia Bennet would have chosen a fine gown,  for she was fashion forward for a country girl (and her mama’s favorite), whereas Mrs. Bennet would have worn a print gown with a frilly but modest matronly cap that denoted her status as a woman with some authority. The Bingley sisters would have sneered at the simply styled hybrid dress that the Bennet sisters might have refashioned from a combination of old clothes and newer fabrics.  If you were a good needlewoman, such a gown might have been embellished with embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Shoes were changed in the cloak room, for some people walked quite a distance to get to the ball, and even soldiers exchanged their Hessian boots for dancing slippers. Over the course of the evening, delicate dance slippers might be worn down to a thread.

Historical makeup and rouge pots. Too much, and a lady might be labeled a trollop.

These are Sally Pointer’s historical makeup and rouge pots for rosy cheeks (even for the redcoats, like Wickham). Apply too much color and a lady might be labeled a trollop. Image @BBC2

Everything – one’s clothes, actions, and relationships – how you arrived at the ball – could be read and interpreted. This was one of the main points made by the programme.

It’s not so different today, really, is it Tony? At a glance we can tell who is fashion forward, who is a frump. Whose jewelry reeks of Tiffany’s and who shopped at Walmart. We know from each others speech, friends and business associations, educational background, and other social signifiers who belongs in our social strata and who does not. My mother especially had a keen sense of which of my suitors suited and who did not. Her primary social signifiers were persons of moral character and compassion. It was who that person was inside that mattered, not what they wore or what possessions they had acquired. I suspect that during the Regency such distinctions were also important. Jane Austen was a genius at distinguishing wheat from chaff, and ferreting out the foibles of her contemporaries.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns. The hooded cloaks reminded me of the medieval era and monks. Image@BBC2

I noticed how most of the actors in the production walked to the ball holding lanterns. Carriages were expensive. If possible, those who had carriages would arrange to pick others up and bring them. If not, the guests walked to the ball. A similar scene was shown in Becoming Jane, where guests arrived on foot and walked along a lane strung with lanterns. Back in those days balls were planned to coincide with a full moon for maximum light at night and for a bit of safety from bandits and robbers. One wonders about such well-laid plans in rainy England, where a blanket of storm clouds would block the moonlight and rain would soil the hems of delicate ball gowns.

The most interesting thing I found from the programme was the meaning of the dance. This Darcy quote, “every savage can dance,” is used to highlight that the dance alludes to something primal. Elizabeth and Darcy have their most unguarded conversation during a dance. Interestingly, the Savage Dance was a craze in 1813 and taken from a song and dance routine from a musical based on Robinson Crusoe.

Balls, to quote Amanda Vickery, were sexual arenas of social interaction. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth dance around their sexual attraction for each other. The truth is that in those days single men and well-protected young and unmarried ladies could not spend one moment in private with each other before they were officially engaged. But at a dance they could touch each other (through gloved hands) and flirt and talk at length without a chaperon breathing down their necks. The long dance sets were strenuous and required stamina, however. To quote Amanda Vickery, “The entire ball is hard work, with physical, social, and emotional investment and cost.” The cost being one of expenditure (looking one’s best) and exertion (maintaining one’s stamina.) 

dance chawton

Dancing the cotillion. Image @BBC2

Young ladies and young gentlemen practiced and prepared for the balls from childhood on. They had to be good and graceful at dancing to be admired and looked at. This was necessary for their futures, for they were actually dancing for their lives. You were likely to dance with a person from the same rank and expertise: they endured these dances for a very long time with one partner. There were moments of physical contact and movement. Aristocratic young men like Darcy sought strong and accomplished women to be the mother of their children for the sake of inheritance and future generations of their families. Young women needed to attract a good catch for their happiness and futures too. So much effort and hope was invested in the “ball,” for a girl’s future could be sealed at a dance.

No wonder the excitable Lydia Bennet went ballistic when the Netherfield Ball was announced! She was not only man crazy, but she had a competitive streak in her, frequently pitting herself against her older sisters. I was also struck by how much dancing masters could make per person from dance lessons. Every young boy and girl from a respectable family was expected to practice dance steps. It was quite a telling detail for Jane Austen’s contemporary readers that Mr. Collins is a poor dancer and that Mr. Elton exhibited such ungentlemanly conduct towards Miss Smith at the Crown Inn ball, where Mr. Knightley (a true knight in shining armour) came to her rescue and saved her from public humiliation. Mr. Elton’s reaction towards Miss Smith pointed out how much Emma misjudged Miss Smith’s tenuous connection to the gentry, for Mr. Elton thinks too highly of himself and his own social standing to ally himself to the bastard daughter of a gentleman.

 Alaister Sooke makes the comment that for all its finery and sophistication the ball (it was decorous and tightly controlled) was also primeval, with the subconscious very much in play. The way the dancers were dressed, with women revealing lots of cleavage and the men revealing their groins in tight-fitting trousers, was totally sexual in nature.

men's breeches

The dancers get fitted for their breeches, which revealed quite a bit of the male anatomy, especially the groin area. Image @BBC2.

You are so right, Tony. Let’s take the case of menswear ca. 1813. Although the colors were muted, the silhoutte was quite athletic. The front of a man’s coat was cut high so that his body was fully revealed in front from the waist down. Men tucked their long shirt tails between their legs, which served as underwear. Because their calves were exposed, it was important for men to dance well, since all their steps were in full view. Women’s legs were hidden by their skirts and they could make a mistake or two without much notice.  I was struck by how much the modern dancers enjoyed the evening and how much their costumes and the setting affected them.

corset

The ladies in the series wore authentic underwear. Underneath the muslins  and silks they wore undergarments consisting of a chemise and petticoat. There was actually a lot going on below the skirt, but the ladies  generally went knickerless. Even when women wore underdrawers, the crotch area remained open and they remained so until the late 19th c. or early 20th century.  Crotchless knickers were the norm! Image @BBC2

A courting couple made sure to reserve the supper dance for each other (or the dance just before the evening meal), for this meant that they could extend the time they spent together to include the meal, which was generally served at midnight. In the series, Ivan Day and his staff slaved to make the dishes, for they were served à la française (in the French style), or all at once. Preparing dishes for such a service required a great deal of skill and Herculean effort, for hot meals needed to be served hot, while delicate ices needed to remain frozen until they were consumed. At the dinner table in this special, a mild scene of chaos ensued, with servants bringing platters from one end of the table to the other, guests handing platters around, and others reaching across the table to sample a tidbit. Ragout of Veal, one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, was served. This dish was frequently mentioned by her, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. As an aside, one could readily discern at the supper ball which guests had manners and those who did not.

Ragout of

The ragout of veal at the supper dance was associated with high living. Image @BBC2

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Gentle Readers, ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’, a television special hosted by Amanda Vickery, was aired in Great Britain just before Christmas. Frequent contributer Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon and is the blog author of London Calling, graciously sent in his review. Those who cannot watch the show might enjoy this BBC radio interview. During the last eight minutes, Amanda Vickery discusses ‘The Many Lovers of Jane Austen’ with Libbie Purvves. You will need to download aBBC iPlayer.

On Friday 23rd December at 9.30pm BBC 2 showed Amanda Vickery’s exploration of the world of Jane Austen.

Vickery filming The Many Lovers of Jane Austen

Amanda Vickery wanted to explore how and why generations of readers have been won over to Jane Austen by just six classic novels. She takes us from the JASNA annual conference at Fort Worth, Texas; to Althorpe House, the ancestral home of Princess Diana’s family; Chawton Cottage, where she lived the last years of her life; her tomb in Winchester Cathedral; Bath, where Jane Austen is revered and celebrated; the trenches of The First World War; Sotheby’s auction house in London, where a global bidding war ensues over a fragment of Jane Austen’s writing; to Hollywood and the silver screen, and tries to discover how Jane Austen became a national treasure.

Vickery among the stalls at JASNA Fort Worth

The programme starts with Amanda Vickery strolling around the multitudinous market stalls laid out within a vast arena in the conference centre at Fort Worth. There are country and western singers and hundreds of people dressed in Regency fashions supplied by a costume company doing a very brisk trade. This is what the conference appears to be about, trade and commerce, almost “rampant commercialisation,” as Amanda Vickery describes the scene. The spin-off culture and the merchandising of Jane Austen is very evident at the Fort Worth conference. Amanda Vickery is almost surprised to find that there are actually many committed readers of the novels present. There is a mixture of popular devotion and academic prestige.

Images of The Many Lovers of Jane Austen @Shanitsinha

Trade and commerce, this is what lies at the heart of America and what has made America. The great driving force that drives a nation appears to drive the American people response to all they encounter, including Jane Austen. This intense commercial activity could actually be their way; their only way, of saying they love Jane Austen. It’s their default reaction. I think commercialisation and art have a very close relationship. Art and literature are made and written but they also have to be sold and for writers to develop they need to make money. But the balance has to be kept. The piece of art or novel has to be paramount. All this spin-off culture of nick knacks, crafts and spin-off novels can be in danger of burying the original creation.

Google screen shot of "Jane Austen"

Amanda Vickery next moves to London and visits Sotheby’s, the auction house, where she attends the auction of a fragment of Jane Austen’s handwriting. It is an edited piece of The Watsons, one of her two uncompleted novels. Vickery handles the piece reverentially and reads it to us straight from Jane Austen’s very own handwriting. A great privilege for her and for us. She discusses the meaning of the fragment with the curator at Sothebys. It is the only piece of first draft written in Jane’s own hand still in existence. The words on the page are the first words that formed in her mind, which she then wrote on the paper – a very special document.

The Watson's manuscript with Jane's handwriting and edits

The Sotheby’s expert estimates a price of £ 300, 000 for the document. Amanda Vickery watches the auction taking place and we are there with her. The price soon goes past the £300,000 mark and continues on and upwards. It is eventually sold to the Bodleian Library in Oxford for a colossal, £850, 000. Nearly a million pounds. Everybody in the auction room is shocked and amazed. I could feel my heart thumping away just looking at the TV screen. Amanda looked flushed too. The document is a financial investment but in going to the Bodleian it will be displayed and used for academic and literary purposes. The importance to the Bodleain is obvious but it also means that it is kept here in the United Kingdom and remains a national treasure.

The Bodleian Library reading room. Image @The GuardianUK

So how did Jane Austen become a national treasure herself?

To start with her first readers were members of her own family. Jane would read to Cassandra, her sister, in their shared bedroom before the fireplace at Chawton. They would read, reread, act out scenes and discuss ideas together. Her brother, Henry, the banker, negotiated with publishers on her behalf. Professor John Mulllen suggests that Jane Austen wasn’t as private and shy as some make out. The statement of “By a lady,” on the title page of Sense and Sensibility, was not so much an attempt to be anonymous but to portray to the buyer of her book certain expectations. A novel,” by a lady,” suggested a certain plot arc; unmarried woman meets eligible bachelor, then courtship with certain misunderstandings occur, but all works out in the end and they marry. She was advertising a social and psychological drama of courtship. It was a commonplace deceit. Jane was aiming her novels at a certain readership. However there is little evidence and few clues about who first bought her novels. Lady Bessborough, a distant ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer, who lived at Althorpe, bought Sense and Sensibility, because she discusses the novel in letters to her friends. Austen’s novels would have been read out loud in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy as a sort of group event.”

Earl Spencer reading Jane Austen at Althorp. Image @BBC

Soon after Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41, her novels went out of print and for a few years and they were no longer sold. The Romanticism of the 1840’s epitomised by the Brontes with stories set on wild moors and characters with wild passions, became all the vogue. Emily Bronte thought that Jane Austen was in  “denial about human psychology.” But if you really read Jane’s novels all the emotions and human frailty, the passions and the lusts, are quietly there beneath the surface not being broadcast loudly from some windswept moor. The Brontes for all their brilliance probably misread Austen because they were so caught up with their own wild passions. The emergence of circulating librarie,s however, saw her novels being reprinted. These libraries needed a vast source of material to fill their shelves, and writers who had gone out of fashion were brought back into fashion for new readers who had a great appetite for novels. As these became accessible to a broad swathe of society an increasing number of lower middle class people started to read her novels.

Yellow back version of Northanger Abbey

By the end of the 19th century Jane Austen got a boost through the development of the railway system throughout the British Isles. People on long journeys needed something to do so W.H.Smiths opened book shops and newspaper booths on the railway platforms. They published books that had been out of print and out of copyright because they could do this cheaply. Published  in standard yellow covers, they became known as yellow backs. Jane Austen’s novels were one such series of  yellow backs that were sold to travellers on long train journeys. They became popular again. In the late 1800’s, Persuasion became what we might term low price pulp fiction.

James Edward Austen Leigh

The real turning point in the success of Jane Austen was in 1870 when James Edward Austen Leigh wrote a biography of his relative’s life and so created the Jane Austen myth. Professor Kathryn Sutherland, talking to Amanda Vickery at Chawton Cottage, describes how the family took the only portrait they had of Jane, the rough sketch drawn by Cassandra and commissioned an artist to create a new, beautified copy of it so that they could publish it with James Austen Lee’s biography.

"Saint Jane"

There was very much a sense of the Austen family beginning to shape a view of Jane that they wanted the world to know. Amanda Vickery describes this mythical Jane as “Saint Jane.”

Amanda in Bath

These days, Bath, in Somerset, likes to think of itself as the spiritual heart of the Jane Austen culture. The fact that Hampshire, where she loved most of her life, has far more to do with Jane Austen appears to pass them by; perhaps more accurately, the Bathites would like us not to notice. Jane Austen used the setting of Bath in two of her novels, Persuasion and Northangar Abbey. In Persuasion especially Jane portrays the underclass side of Bath alongside the rich upper-class side. She herself was never reverential of Bath.

2008 Jane Austen Festival, Bath. Image @The Jane Austen Centre Online

Today Bath holds its festival once a year with balls and hundreds of people parading the streets in 18th century costumes. It is the home of the Jane Austen Centre positioned half way up the hill in Gay Street. But it appears to me that these are more attempts to create a tourist trade. They want the custom. Jane Austen herself did live in Bath for four years in various houses around the city, the family seemed to be forever on the move, but she was not particularly happy there. She felt that she had been torn from her dear Steventon in Hampshire by her parent’s sudden wish to retire and move to Bath to have a good time. Similar to the Fort Worth experience, Bath appears to be out to make money from Jane. Bath does create a world focus for Jane Austen and brings her to the attention of many. So it’s not all bad.

Jane Austen in the trenches of WWI. Image @BBC

In 1894 Sir George Saintsbury coined the term, Janeite. Rudyard Kipling was a renowned Janeite and so were other writers and academics.Rudyard Kipling wrote an article about a group of World War I soldiers in the trenches who read Jane Austen novels. Life in the trenches was horrific from more than one point of view. It wasn’t just the horrors of  “going over the top,” but it also included boredom, filth, lack of clean water and the deafening sounds of artillery, shell shock,and just grinding fear. Soldiers required a reading material that could take them away from this hell on earth. Jane Austen became very popular amongst soldiers in the trenches because she took them back to a pleasant land, a good, a peaceful England of quiet gentle manners and drawing rooms. William Boyd Henderson writing a letter home describes how much he enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s Emma. Winston Churchill is renowned to have said, when he was ill with a fever, “antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice have cured me.” Rudyard Kipling is said to have read Jane Austen constantly after hearing of his son, Jack’s, death in the trenches of the First World War.

F. R. Leavis

After the First World War there was a great need for the civilising power of culture , the humanities and English Literature, to be part of the salving cure for damaged and bereft lives. F.R. Leavis, the great English Literature don at Downing College Cambridge was the driving force behind all analysis of English literature. The Professor of English literature at Downing College between the 1930’s and 1960, his was the dominant and dominating view that all others looked to. He talked about the great tradition and said there were only five great writers of the novel: D.H.Lawrence, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, George Elliot and the mother of them all, Jane Austen. Leavis’s view held dominant for decades and few could survive criticism of this view. Careers could be and were destroyed or limited if anybody went against him. Professor Janet Todd tells Amanda Vickery that Leavis thought English literature could save the world.

Female cast in Pride and Prejudice, 1940

In 1940 Hollywood took on Jane Austen when Pride and Prejudice with Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson was produced. In the 1960’s the BBC produced a whole series of costume dramas portraying Jane Austen’s novels. In 1980, Pride and Prejudice was filmed again. Amanda Vickery says, ” It was as though Jane Austen was trapped in the Quallity Street tin.” It was a Laura Ashley version of Austen. This suggests that perhaps each generation gets the Austen they deserve. Each decade produces productions of Austen that reflect the age they are made in.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

In 1995 came Andrew Davis’s wet t-shirt version with Colin Firth emerging from the lake at Pemberley, wet to the skin, pumping testosterone. A film for the young with hormones. There is lovely scene with Amanda Vickery taking the part of Elizabeth Bennett as Darcy/Firth emerges from the lake and Amanda gives Elizabeth Bennett’s lines in response to Darcy and the two films are cut together as though they are one. The 1995 film still appears to be the most popular version, even now in 2011, anyway it appeared to be so with the hordes of fans at The Forth Worth assemblage. Andrew Davies was the main guest speaker and he was very very popular. Do Janeites create a hysterical response like a form of Beatle mania? Well, perhaps not. They don’t throw their knickers at Andrew Davies; they just receive, rather cheekily, tiny black lace thongs in little black net bags provided with Willoughby’s phone number. Apparently Willoughby is sounding rather exhausted, if polite, on the phone these days!!

Andrew Davies. Image @The Telegraph

Dr Cheryl Kinney, a gynaecologist and the organiser of this year’s JASNA conference at Fort Worth, denies that the Willoughby knickers are a way of increasing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases so that she can make money curing people. The contemplation of this possibility makes Amanda Vickery laugh like a drain. Yes, we DO get the Austen we want.

We are left with a thought for the future: Austen has peaked in the west. Could  China and Japan be the next stops perhaps?

Other reviews: These will give you more insights and images!

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Update: New Photos! Inquiring readers: Tony Grant (London Calling), who lives in England, has graciously reviewed the third (and final) episode of Amanda Vickery’s At Home With the Georgians: Safe as Houses, and pulled images for us to view.

In the first episode, A Man’s Place, we were introduced, by the delectable, Amanda Vickery, to the Georgian concept of owning your own house, no longer an elite aspiration but now a desire and need of the,”middling,” classes too. Then in the second episode , A Woman’s Touch, we were shown how decorating the interiors of these homes began a revolution in society. It introduced us to the concept of taste, affordability through mass production, advertising and in essence the beginning of the modern world. Now, in this the third and final episode Amanda Vickery introduces us to the concept of safety, security and personal space and through our homes, the invention of the family and individuality. The ideas we have today of what modern man and woman are, of how we see ourselves and what our personal needs are, the Georgians began.

Amanda Vickery surveys London at night

The opening shots of this programme show Amanda in shadowy profile on the rooftops of nigh time London contemplating the scene as indeed Batman does over Gotham City in those nightmarish films. Both contemplate the evils that lurk, the crimes that could happen, and the monsters that might perpetrate these horrors. We often think of Batman and Gotham City as a sort of Gothic nightmare but as this programme unfolds we might consider that Batman surveys the same fears and possibilities of crime the Georgians did in their cities, towns, villages and homes. This is what Amanda is introducing us to, the Georgian preoccupation with crime, especially against the householder.

Amanda Vickery outside the fortified Georgian house

The Georgians had their homes with beautiful interiors but “the Georgian idle was hedged with nightmares.” Dangers were without and within the home. Privacy and security were their greatest challenge. Walk past any Georgian terraced house and it is easy to notice the similarities between the exterior of a Georgian house and a castle. There are wrought iron palisades with sharp-pointed spearheads along the front of most Georgian houses.

Georgian House defenses, The Royal Crescent

Between the fence and the house exterior wall there is often a deep drop down to a basement floor where the servants live and work. This is like a moat, a further protection. There are often steps up to a massive front door, often studded with iron nail heads but always very sturdy. This is like a castle gate or portcullis. On the door often there are heavy brass knockers resembling a lion or Greek Goddess. This is perhaps the Greek gods of antiquity providing protection or a sign of aggressive protection by the lion. The door furniture inside the Georgian front door is very impressive. Amanda enjoys having a go with numerous bolts, top and bottom, massive locks that need hefty looking keys and that take some strength to wield and bars that have to be eased into place, slotting into iron slots.

Georgian door knockers, to keep evil at bay, perhaps

In Georgian times there were no insurance policies to cover crime and theft. There was not much of a police force. A town or district might have a night watchman who patrolled for part of the night along a few given roads. There was no official curfew although most people were locked up and in bed by 11 o’clock. Stories of horrors were rife in the cities. Journalists, as nowadays, loved a good story and would stoke the fuels of fear and neuroses.

Locking up at night

Amanda explains how this need to protect the home, which was seen as sacrosanct, by society and the law, was taken very seriously. A man’s home was his castle. The judiciary was keen to create laws to protect the householder. In Georgian times the number of crimes that could carry the death penalty increased from 50 to 200. It became known as The Bloody Code. Breaking and entry into a man’s home whether anything was taken or not, carried the death penalty. Mere theft on the street might not.

On a dark night, the light from the nightwatchman's lantern is so ineffective that he fails to see the burglars behind him. Image-detail of a Rowlandson caricature.

No fortress is totally impregnable. There were always weaknesses The roofs or as they were known, “the leads,” were a way into houses. Roof tiles can be removed and sky lights were weak.

Skylight, a possible thieves entrance

Some dire and extreme measures were taken to protect homes. Servants might sleep across doorways with a blunderbuss beside them. The interior doors to each room were locked. At nighttime a Georgian house became like a prison with the inmates locked into their cells. The owners of large estates might set mantraps within their grounds. This was a vicious spring-loaded contraption with a set of iron-serrated jaws that could sever a man’s leg and at least smash the shinbone. These were chained to stakes anchored in the ground so the poor unfortunate caught by one of these was trapped like a hunted animal.

For the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Georgians were rather prone to neuroses and imaginings of all sorts. They believed in poltergeists, ghosts and all sorts of nocturnal occult beasts. Their homes had to be protected from these sorts of intruders. The chimney was open to the sky so this was a way for evil spirits to invade their homes and it had to be protected. A tender scene in the programme shows Amanda discussing with an expert in the field of the occult some of the personal objects the Georgians would hide in what they thought were vulnerable places where these spirits of the night might get in. Recesses up chimneys and cavities within walls and under the stairs were filled with items, often over generations. The occupants thought they would deter things of the occult. A little child’s shoe might for instance attract a poltergeist and distract it from attacking the child itself. So these things were seen as spoilers or like lightning conductors that misdirected an evil force.

Amanda Vickery showed many documents from her iPad

The way a Georgian household was formed also had its dangers. The patriarch of the house, the owner, perceived dangers from the very people in side his house. Who could he trust? Mr Fenner of Salisbury Court in Spitalfields had a family of nine. These were not a wife and seven children, he had a wife, but he had three lodgers, three servants and one apprentice. This was classed as his family. It was very hierarchical. Mr Fenner was the lord or King of the household, his wife was second in charge and then everybody else had their place, with the apprentice at the bottom of the pile. A house was a microcosm of Georgian society. Amanda tells us that we know about the Fenners only because there was a fire in Salisbury Court. It was taken to court and the apprentice and the Fenner’s cat were the suspects. The cat may have been seen as the embodiment of a witch.

A garrett. Image @Tony Grant

Houses were designed to enforce this hierarchy or sort of apartheid. The poor servants lived in the basement and in the garret at the top of the house. Large houses incorporated separate staircases; separate living rooms, essentially separate houses within the whole structure of a mansion or large house. New laws helped enshrine the separation and bolster the security of the owner. There was a law against the theft by a servant and theft by a lodger.

A secretaire

Servants were not only considered to give lip service but eye service too. A householder could not guarantee the thoughts and schemes of the people under him. All sorts of inventions were created to keep things secret and personal so prying eyes and fingers could not steal and find out things they should not. Right into the very heart of the Georgian household, secrecy and personal security was a concern and could never be guaranteed but it was strived for, vigorously.

Examining the compartments of a secretaire

One piece of furniture Amanda shows us is a secretaire, a French invention. It is a writing desk with secret compartments to keep notes and letters safe. It has draws and sections accessible by servant to fill the ink well or replace the quill but the written thoughts of the owner are in compartments not accessible to any old so and so.

Examining ladies pockets

Even clothing was designed to keep personal items safe. Women had large pockets attached to a belt fastened around their waist underneath two or three layers of outer garments. A slit in their outer dress allowed them to slip their hands into these copious and deep pockets within their clothing.

House holders, created strict rules for their servants and lodgers. No part of a house belonged to an employee or lodger. Apartheid had to be maintained and a strict ladder of authority had to be maintained. Amanda in her inimitable way finds the exceptions when this hierarchical structure could have been broken and all could have been destroyed. One, Benjamin Smith, a Leicestershire solicitor and a widower had a sexual relationship with a servant he called Newbat (her surname).  He wrote about this in detail  in his diaries. “He was lonely and had a cold bed,” Amanda described. He couldn’t help himself. This liaison threatened to destroy his whole world. Newbat began to control him with her sexual wiles. Eventually Benjamin found a new wife and Newbat was given her marching orders.

Benjamin Smith and Newbat

Oh dear me, the weaknesses of men!!!!!

This brings us to the most poignant and I think the most important part of this third episode. Amanda discusses what individuality and personal freedom really mean and how it developed in Georgian times. We all might, if we are lucky, consider that personal space, time to ourselves, privacy, when we need it, as very important even essential to us as individuals. It was not certain that you would have this sort of freedom if you were a Georgian.

The Georgians believed that you should have somewhere private. The King James Bible decreed that individuals should have a room set aside for personal private prayer twice a day. Large houses had small rooms built into them called closets. These rooms at first were specifically for prayer but very quickly they became used for private moments of all sorts. A place to keep personal objects, paintings, or even pornography. It could be place where a woman or man might have clandestine affairs.

Anne Dormer entrapped in her marriage

Amanda , as always, has uncovered the sad painful examples through her thorough reading and research into Georgian diaries. Anne Dormer and Robert Dormer lived in a beautiful Jacobean Mansion. They were in the top two percent of the wealthy of the country. Robert was intensely jealous. He stalked his wife’s every movement. When she walked in the grounds of the estate he would count her steps and watch her from a window. If she paused to look at anything he would question her intensely about it. She had no privacy. Her home was worse than a prison. The experience took its toll on her health. She could only be free when her husband died.

Servants shared rooms

Amanda discusses the apt question, “What about the serving classes who owned no property, had no closets, shared bedrooms, and had no personal space or time? What of them?” Servants all owned what was called a locking box. Within this they kept their personal items, the items, which gave them an identity. Their house, their room, their home was reduced to a small box. Amanda poignantly relates how some of these boxes were wallpapered inside. That tells you volumes. We are shown some of Hogarth’s pictures portraying the life of Moll Flanders. In the final scene when Moll is dying you can see in the picture that another maid or prostitute has broken into Moll’s locking box. At the end of her life even her most intimate personal possessions are now no longer private, no longer hers. She has lost everything.

Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress, Plate 5. Image @Tate Britain

So what happens if the wealthy, the householder, falls from grace and loses everything. In many towns, wealthy, Christian minded, merchants, would build what were called alms houses. These were small, quite comfortable houses, which provided some security and enabled families to stay together and offered some aspects of comfort and privacy. With this charitable act not all was lost. However towards the end of the 18th century a new form of provision was created for those who had fallen on hard times. This was the workhouse. A pitiless, regimented institution that stripped people of all privacy and independence. Almost anything was preferable to the workhouse.

A workhouse

The buildings of many Victorian workhouses remain today in towns and cities throughout England. They are put to other uses now. They were solidly built and once converted and modernised actually make great office space or trendy apartments. I wouldn’t like to live in one because of the memories and the history.

Geffrey Alms Houses (museum), Shoreditch

There are times in this series that I could cry for these very real people who Amanda reveals to us through their diaries. Amanda Vickery more than once pauses, a lump in her throat, as she finds it difficult to continue because of the rawness of some of the lives she has uncovered.

Geffrey Alms Houses, Shoreditch

Over these three episodes Amanda Vickery takes us through a journey showing how the creation of the modern household was invented. The concept of family was different in Georgian times but we can see how it developed and how we have got to where we are now from this Georgian starting point. The concept of personal freedom and personal space was in it’s infancy, struggling for acceptance. Amanda has described to us in this series the start of the modern world. The programmes are good at showing how marriage and relationships between men and women were changing and developing. I think it is worthwhile watching. I hope Amanda creates more programmes of this sort. They are thought-provoking. They make us ask questions about our world and ourselves.

Amanda Vickery and the actors who helped the Georgian Era come alive

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In the second episode of At Home With the Georgians: A Woman’s Touch, Amanda Vickery mentioned metamorphic furniture and (remarkably) turned a desk into a bed. A visitor to Tony Grant’s excellent post left this question: What is metamorphic furniture?

Modern example of metamorphic furniture: hall table/card table

Tony answered the question admirably. This mechanical furniture, wide-spread in Georgian times, had a dual use. A small folding staircase could be transformed into chair or desk, such as a writing table, library table, or card table. These pieces of furniture were great space savers, as I can attest. Only last week I transformed my faux-Georgian hall table into a card table for my guests. I never guessed until Tony’s post that I owned an example of mechanical furniture. Sweet!

The only change I would make in the video (besides the annoying lilt in my voice) is to make sure that the next time I film an example of my furniture, it is thoroughly dusted and cleaned! Extra points if you can spot my pooch in one of the scenes. His hang dog expression tells me that he was out of sorts, having been told to stay put.

This Victorian piano at the Brooklyn Museum pulls out into a bed. Fascinating. The video is available to view until March 2011.

READ MORE: If your interest in the topic is piqued, Clive Taylor (who also left a comment on the previous post) has written a dissertation on the topic (click here to read The Regency Period Metamorphic Chair) and sells metamorphic library chairs/stairs in his shop, Parbold Antiques.

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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Written by Tony Grant, London Calling

Inquiring reader, I reviewed the first episode of At Home With the Georgians, A Man’s Place. This week, Tony reviews the second episode, A Woman’s Touch, adding his unique humor and male perspective.

We have just had the second part of Amanda Vickery’s ,”At Home With Georgians,” aired on our screens. Vic wrote an excellent review of the first programme which dealt with the growing craze and indeed need the Georgians developed to own their own homes. Owning a house became a requirement to attract a good partner in marriage. Amanda Vickery’s seductive, sometimes amusing, tongue in cheek, highly intelligent way, entertained us to a very enjoyable , incisive analysis of this craze.

Amanda Vickery, At Home With the Georgians, A Woman's Touch

You must take into account Amanda Vickery’s origins when viewing this series to understand the full subtlety of her presentation. She is a Lancashire lass brought up in the northern mill town of Preston. Just listen to that smooth Lancashire accent. Girls and indeed boys are educated in the hard knocks of life up there and a hard; millstone grit type of humour that can get you through anything is all part of the upbringing. Witness that sassy smile ,sideways look, the very northern words she uses, the continual gentle flick of her fringe from in front of her eyes. Oh yes, she has learned all the tricks. A very powerful woman indeed.

Amanda and her big desk.

In the first episode a wealthy merchants desk makes an appearance. Remember that scene? Amanda sits behind it and drapes herself across it, looks straight at us and intones, “Look at me, look at my desk,” as she caresses it’s polished smooth surface lovingly. Pure, naughty northern humour. By the way, the desk makes another appearance in this second episode. Amanda would be great as an entertainer in a northern working mens club. They would love her. I roared with laughter. But, what is so very very beguiling about Amanda and her presentation and what is most attractive is her deep intellectual analysis underlying her humour. We get all the layers of meaning that oozed unconsciously from this period. Amanda has uncovered the lot.

Touring an open house

This episode begins with Amanda touring what seems to be an ordinary every day persons home, with other visitors. This is not as strange as it seems. Here in London we have a weekend in the summer every year which is called London Open House weekend. People can apply to open their homes for the public to visit. Anything from Hampton Court to a local semi in my road can be listed on their website. This year I went to Sir John Soanes House, an 18th century architects house in Holburn and the next day to a small house in Wimbledon owned by an architect who has taken Soanes ideas and incorporated them into his own 1950’s box shaped home. The comparison of ideas in both was very striking. Amanda makes the point that visiting people’s homes is not new. It started in the 18th century and is just as strong and vibrant a custom today. When we visit people’s homes, be they friends or strangers, we overtly or subconsciously gather ideas for our own homes. For the Georgians, and this is the point of this episode, getting ideas for their own interiors was a passion. DIY, home improvement, home magazines and adverts are not new. They began in 18th century England.

Georgian furnishings were a matter of taste

Amanda introduces us as indeed the 18th century gentleman and his wife were introduced, to the concept of taste, which originated in France but was very quickly taken up by the English. Taste is a minefield, get it wrong and you will be ridiculed. Get it right and you will be a success. Amanda asks us and we must search our own souls, “Do you have good taste? Do I?”

Furniture catalogue

The aristocrats and the wealthy opened their houses for the public to come and see. They were the arbiters of what was good and bad. The,”middling classes,” also wanted artefacts of good taste in their homes. So entrepreneurs and craftsmen like Matthew Bolton produced cheaper versions in Sheffield plate, of the things the rich had. A whole new market opened up with the middle classes owning their own homes. Factories like Wedgwood churned out the stuff and it was greedily bought up.

Show room of Wedgwood and Byerley, Great Newport St and St. Martin's Lane, London

Artifacts and furniture were big business and created a need for salesmen and advertising. The modern world was being invented.

If you had your own home and you have decorated it and filled it full of what you think are beautiful objects, it’s no good keeping it to yourself. It needs to be seen. So visiting for afternoon tea was invented. The Georgians took to this craze big time. Amanda tells us about an entry in one diary, where one lady visits four or five friends in one day. Amanda’s inimitable Lancashire phrase for this is, “She hardly had time to park her bum.”

Metamorphic furniture had several functions and saved space

Metamorphic furniture made its’ appearance at this time. A great opportunity for a bit of toilet humour shall we say from our Amanda. She shows an incredible commode that you or I would be proud to eat our angel cakes off.

Amanda converts a desk into a bed

Some did get it wrong and big time. Amanda refers to two diaries in particular. One diary written by a Mrs Hewett relates how, just after marrying, she became ill and had to recuperate at home with her mother. James Hewett had bought a magnificent new house. He was very ambitious. However it was not decorated and because James was in a hurry he decided to go ahead and decorate it himself. It nearly destroyed their marriage before it got going. Another aristocratic family had it all but they didn’t socialise. The husband hated women and he couldn’t see the point in having visitors. This did destroy the marriage. Amanda is very good at balancing her view with the sad and painful experiences of some.

Social seclusion destroyed Lady Stanley's marriage

One of the points of this programme is that with interior decoration the home became the realm of the woman of the house. It was their palette, their creative space. Women decided on the decoration in the 18th century. It made homes comfortable, gentle, seductive places. Not the male testosterone fuelled (quoting Amanda here) interiors of the previous Stuart period.

Georgian woman decorating her home

Visiting and socializing was a vital element too. If this was got wrong too there could be dire consequences.

Amanda Vickery's iPad

Finally please note how Amanda caresses expertly her iPad. It’s a lesson in using new technology seductively. After this three-part series I hope we are going to see a lot more of Amanda Vickery PhD, Professor of Holloway College London. I think she is fantastic. I would marry her. (I hope my wife didn’t hear that.)

The third installment of this series, Safe as Houses, was shown last Thursday. Look for Tony’s review of this episode soon.

Safe as Houses is the third episode of At Home With the Georgians

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At Home With the Georgians: A Man’s Place, the BBC2 special, is hosted by Professor Amanda Vickery, who shares her expertise and unique knowledge gleaned from diaries written during that fascinating era. In the series about Georgian houses, shown in three installments in Great Britain, Dr. Vickery provides a fascinating insider’s view of what home and hearth meant to the individuals she showcases.

Host and scholar, Dr. Amanda Vickery in carriage

An 18th century gentleman, it seemed, yearned as much for domesticity as the Georgian woman. During this period the middle class began to earn enough money to purchase houses and furnish them in a style that reflected the owner’s tastes, character and moral values. Until a man could afford to head a household, his place in society as a full citizen was not fulfilled.

Dr. George Gibbs's letters to Miss Vickery

Take George Gibbs, a West Country doctor, for instance, who worked hard to woo his sweetheart, Miss Vickery. His future domicile and its furnishings were topics of much conversation in his letters to her. He looked for a house all over Exeter that would satisfy her as much as himself – “one with a good parlor with sashed windows and painted blue and with two chambers, tolerably good, and one hung with paper.”

Dudley Ryder fantasizes about a home and family in his humble one-room bachelor pad

Twenty-three year old Dudley Ryder, law student and son of a tradesman, yearned in his diaries for a wife to soothe his lonely nights and take care of him. He lived in squalid lodgings while studying law, eating his meals in chop houses and living a lonely bachelor existence.

In a contemporary cartoon, a bachelor cadges a meal from an irritated married friend

His dreams would not be realized for another twenty years when he married the daughter of a rich West Indian merchant.

Dudley Ryder as a respectable married man

Dudley not only came into his own later in life, but managed to acquire a quite handsome estate.

The Master Key to the Rich Ladies Treasures listed eligible ladies according to region and type

For these men, eligible brides were at a premium. A book, “Master Key to the Rich Ladies Treasures”, listed all the eligible women (and their incomes) in the land.

A lady's fortune and other assets could be consulted

Today, we think of the marriage mart in that long ago age as a “meat market” in which the bride went to the best prospect. Yet Georgian women longed as much for domesticity as the man yearned for a wife to complete his ambitions in becoming head of a household with a family.

John Courtney's house had curb appeal, unlike its master

Some men had more difficulty than others in acquiring a proper mate. John Courtney, who lived in a handsome house in the market town of Beverley in Yorkshire with his mama, was rejected eight times during his search for a wife. In this instance, Dr. Vickery makes the point that there was more to wooing a future wife than the prospect of living in a fine house – the man himself needed to have some finesse in the ritual of courtship and show some self-awareness.

The cost and maintenance of a carriage and horses was the equivalent of a helicopter today

Once the couple was married, the man could spend the family money as he wished. Much of a man’s financial outlay was on himself and his interests, such as horses, carriages, and leather (symbols of speed and virility) and on the sort of equipment that would be the equivalent of today’s laptops and flat screen tvs.

18th c. male items for sale today

Not surprisingly, the personalities of Georgian women varied. Not all were meek and mild. Miss Mary Martin from Essex was a rather complicated (and very bossy) individual. She was capable and demanding, yet womanly.

Miss Mary Martin oversees renovations

Engaged for seven years to her cousin, Colonel Isaac Rebow, she took care of his interests when he was away on garrison duty, jokingly writing to him, “I will only add that my breeches hang extremely well.” She was a powerful fiancee, able to oversee the hiring and firing of servants, look after storing Isaac’s wigs, and see after his provisioning. After they were married, she made sure that her husband was as happy in bed as out of it.

Charlotte Lucas was quietly content with her decision

At this juncture, Dr. Vickery points out that Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, chose the security and status of a married woman, knowing she would be married to a buffoon. Through marriage she gained status and respectability. But what happened to a woman who never married? Unfortunately, as Jane Austen sagely wrote, “ There are not so many men of fortune in the world as there are pretty girls who deserve them.” In the 18th century, Dr. Vickery states, one out of three artistocratic girls were never married, for there were not enough estates to go around.

Even a buffoon of a husband did not detract from Charlotte's pride of home

And, indeed, Jane Austen in Mansfield Park wrote vividly about Fanny Price’s mother, who married down the social ladder. She took on her husband’s status, that of a lowly lieutenant, and lived a life of misery, poverty and want. Her tablecloths were surely dirty, whereas in the Georgian age a clean one was considered a sign of virtue.

Gertrude Savile, unhappy spinster

Dr. Vickery talks in detail of a lonely spinster, Gertrude Savile, who lives on sufferance in Rufford Abbey, her brother’s grand house in Nottinghamshire. Timid, shy, and pox marked, she hated her gilded caged life and struggled to find some social and emotional meaning in an existence that forced her to beg for “every pin and needle” and “every pair of gloves”.  Even the servants treated her with contempt and thus she chose to remain within her rooms, with her cat her only comfort. In her diary she poured out her anger and sadness, using words like “miserable”, “unhappy”, “extremely miserable”, and “very unhappy”.

Gertrude Savile's agitated scribbles and crossings

Poor, poor Gertrude would never know the joys of managing her own household and overseeing her own brood. Her scribbled screams of rage and crossings leapt out from the pages of her journals.

George Hilton was full of self-loathing for his inability to control his base habits

Lifelong bachelors also felt the bitter pangs of loneliness. George Hilton, a dissolute 27-year-old squire, never married. He spent his time carousing in taverns, drinking to so much excess that he “fell paralytically drunk 220 times in eight years”. Even the men he drank with had no desire to introduce George to their eligible female relations.  Graceless George had a house filled with pewter and devoid of womanly touches. His only female companions were prostitutes, which in a Christian society meant that he lived in sin. George died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave on the fells.

A serene view of Chawton Cottage

Romance and marriage for the Georgians was as complicated in a different way from courtship today. Women had fewer choices to make their way in the world, as poor Gertrude Savile situation as a spinster without prospects demonstrated, but many Georgian men yearned for domestic bliss as much as their women. Dr. Vickery ended the episode in Chawton Cottage, reminding us that another spinster, Jane Austen, chose to live a creative and productive life. Gertrude, who wallowed in her misery and anger, likely did not have the family support or innate talent that Jane had, and thus she was doomed to sit in her rooms alone.

Jane Austen's writing table, Chawton Cottage

I enjoyed this first installment by Dr. Vickery thoroughly. Her approach to what could have been a very dry topic was refreshingly unscholarly and accessible to even the most historically challenged (yet her script is backed up by impeccable sources.) While actors portrayed the diarists in various settings, we are shown the portraits of the actual individuals (when possible), and are shown their homes or a close facsimile.

Amanda Vickery reads Dudley Ryder's diaries

I did wonder, however, how on earth Dr. Vickery was allowed to handle valuable manuscripts with her bare hands. (Does not the oil on our fingertips eventually eat into the parchment? Are scholars exempt from having to wear gloves as they handle rare diaries that are stored in archival boxes?)

Portrait of Dr. George Gibbs

And I was a bit taken aback at her reaction to Dr. Gibbs’s portrait. Yes, he was a jowly man and did not resemble her fantasized movie star hero, but his lack of handsome looks in no way detracted (in my mind) from his tender feelings and consideration towards his wife and children. See this clip on YouTube. Still, this special made history come alive in a way that made me feel that I had met several people from a former time, and gave me a more complete understanding of their yearning for domestic bliss.

Next episode: A Woman's Touch, 9 Dec

BBC 2 will air the second installment, A Woman’s Touch, on Thursday evening at 9 PM. Viewers in countries round the world can only sit back and patiently wait for this excellent series to head their way.

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