Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cassandra Leigh Austen’

matters-of-fact-in-jane-austen-2012-x-2001Jane Austen scholars and fans have always known that there’s so much more to her novels than the mere surface description of a romantic tale. Janine Barchas, author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen, points out that in addition to Jane’s wit, intelligence , humor, and creativity in penning her novels, she associated her fictional characters with famous British families.  For the contemporary Regency reader, the Woodhouses, Fitzwilliams, Wentworths, and Dashwoods were the celebrities of their day. In  choosing famous names, Jane Austen ramped up her readers’ interest in her fictional characters by associating them with notable names, places, and events.

In her book, Barchas examines genealogy, history, and geography and comes up with some fascinating information that has recently surfaced via online documents and texts. I had always assumed that Jane pulled names out of a hat, or picked them for how well they fit the character. (Mr. Wickham for the charming villain, Mr. Knightley, who is kind and good and a bit of a knight in shining armor.) According to Barchas, that is not necessarily the case. Take Northanger Abbey, for instance. Among Bath’s wealthiest residents n the 18th century were the Allens from Prior Park, a grand and beautiful Palladian mansion that was visible from #4 Sydney Place, the house in which the Austens resided before Rev. Austen’s death.

Janine Barchas (l) and Juliette Wells (r) at the Brooklyn JASNA AGM.

Janine Barchas (l) and Juliette Wells (r) at the Brooklyn JASNA AGM.

The Dashwood family gained a notorious reputation, with one of its members, Sir Francis Dashwood, becoming a prominent libertine in the Hell-Fire Club. The garden in his mansion, West Wycombe Park, featured risqué statues and Hell Fire caves. In contrast, the Ferrars (Ferrers) lived staunch Catholic lives in their medieval manor, Baddesley Clinton. Interestingly, Stoneleigh Abbey, where Jane stayed with her mother, whose family were the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, is only a half day’s ride from Baddesley Clinton.

And then there are the Wentworths, the grandest family of them all. Names seen on the Wentworth genealogy tree include Woodhouse, D’arcy, Bertram, Watson, and Fitzwilliam. Wentworth House in Yorkshire is quite grand, with vast grounds and public paths. After the “real” Frederick Wentworth died in 1799, his estate was passed on to the Vernons. (Shades of Lady Susan!) The contemporary Regency reader would have known that the Whig Wentworths resided in Wentworth House, while the Tory Wentworths lived in Wentworth Castle.

history of england_jane_cassandraThe History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st, by a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian.

At the books beginning, Barchas mentions Jane Austen’s love for word play, riddles, and puzzles. The History of England, written when Austen was 15, was illustrated with 12 small watercolor portraits by Cassandra, Jane’s older sister.

CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)reversed

Portrait of Jane Austen by Cassandra, 1810.

According to Annette Upfal and Christine Alexander: “the portraits which Cassandra drew into her sisters’ historical satire are encoded with veiled meaning.”

Mrs Casandra Austen

Mrs Cassandra Austen

They argue that Austen’s summary discussion of kings and queens was comically interpolated with recognizable portraits of namesakes: brothers Edward, Henry, and James Austen, for example, stand in for Edward VI, Henry V, and James I, respectively. Similarly, cousins Mary Lloyd and Edward Cooper may have served Cassandra as models for Mary I and Edward IV. “

Upfal and Alexander also matched the profiles and portraits of Jane and her mother to those of Mary, Queen of Scots (Jane) and that of Elizabeth I (Mrs Austen). Barchas devotes scarcely a full page to this information and yet, as you can see, one can spend many minutes trying to decide how Jane and Cassandra used their family members and friends as models for the historical characters.

The Nenries

The Henries: the 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th. Images from Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts.

Marys Elizabeth and Henry

Henry the 5th, Elizabeth the 1st, Mary Queen of Scots, and Mary I. Some images from Wikimedia Commons. All others from Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts.

cassandra james edward charles

James the 1st, Edward the 4th, Edward the 6th, and Charles the 1st

Austen family

Austen family

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen is not an easy read, for the book is crammed with facts, information, and new insights. One simply cannot skim over its pages, but should read each new chapter closely in order to learn what Jane’s contemporaries knew readily and well. Imagine an author writing a satirical novel today about a family going bankrupt and the daughters having to work for a living, using the Kardashian/Jenner family names and Los Angeles as a setting, and throwing in a crooked politician, lobbyist, Wall Street banker, and well-known radio talk show host. We would laugh and guffaw and understand the associations and jokes, but two hundred years from now, readers would be left clueless. In this book Barchas acts as our Regency guide, pointing out to us what was once obvious.

This is a serious, scholarly work, one that I highly recommend to readers who enjoy new and illuminating perspectives about Austen’s novels and life.

Janine Barchas is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin. She is the author of Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel.

Order the book here:

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Jane Austen’s mother, Cassandra’s

features were aristocratic; her hair was dark and her eyes an unusual tint of grey. She had an instinctive tendency to depreciate her own appearance; it was her elder sister Jane, she always insisted, who was the beauty of the family. But Cassandra did admit to a certain vanity concerning her fine patrician blade of a nose.” – Jane Austen, a family record by Deirdre Le Faye, William Austen-Leigh

However, by 1782, when her daughter Jane was only 7 years old, she was described as having lost several foreteeth, which made her look old.

Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane Austen's mother, with her patrician nose and missing foreteeth

Modern dentistry was still in its infancy when Cassandra Austen gave birth to her eight children. While the wealthy could afford dentists, rural folks still depended on the village blacksmith, who only knew how to pull teeth. Market fairs sold tinctures, toothpowders and abrasive dentifrices.

Lucy Baggott, of Wychwood Books, says: ‘It was not uncommon for the local farrier to draw teeth to relieve toothache of those in desperate pain, for then the blacksmith in many rural communities doubled as a tooth drawer. ‘There were many dubious practices adopted: hot coals, string, forceps, and pliers to name a few. Children were lured to sacrifice their teeth for the supposed benefit of the wealthy in exchange for only a few shillings. One print reads: “Most money given for live teeth”. – Dental Quackery Captured in Print

Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845), Dentist Teeth Patient, 1827

We do know this: tooth extraction was painful and a most unpleasant affair before the age of ether and anesthetics.

In two letters to Cassandra, on Wednesday 15 & Thursday 16 September 1813, Jane [Austen] describes in some detail accompanying her young nieces Lizzy, Marianne and Fanny, on a visit to the London dentist Mr Spence. It was, she relates, ‘a sad business, and cost us many tears’. They attended Mr Spence twice on the Wednesday, and to their consternation had to return on the following day for yet another ‘disagreeable hour’ . Mr Spence remonstrates strongly over Lizzy’s teeth, cleaning and filing them and filling the ‘very sad hole’ between two of the front ones. But it is Marianne who suffers most: she is obliged to have two teeth extracted to make room for others to grow. – The Poor Girls and Their Teeth, A Visit to the Dentist, JASA

Tooth maintenance and dental hygiene were not a new concept. The aristocrats suffered more cavities, for they could afford sweets and foods that would eat into enamel, but they did use tooth powders, tooth picks, and toothbrushes to keep their teeth clean.

The ancient Chinese made toothbrushes with bristles from the necks of cold climate pigs. French dentists were the first Europeans to promote the use of toothbrushes in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, created the first mass-produced toothbrush. Toothpaste: modern toothpastes were developed in the 1800s. In 1824, a dentist named Peabody was the first person to add soap to toothpaste. John Harris first added chalk as an ingredient to toothpaste in the 1850s.- History of Dentistry

Isaac Cruikshank

The caption to the above cartoon states: Dentist. 18th century caricature of a fat dentist with his struggling, overweight female patient. The patient is begging the dentist not to pluck her teeth out like he would the feathers of a pigeon. People who eat large amounts of sugary food are often both overweight and suffer from dental decay. Image drawn in 1797 by British artist Isaac Cruikshank (1756-1811). – Science Photo Library

Tooth Extraction, William Henry Bunbury, mid-18th century

Extractions were by forceps or commonly keys, rather like a door key…When rotated it gripped the tooth tightly. This extracted the tooth – and usually gum and bone with it…Sometimes the jaws were also broken during an extraction by untrained people.”- BBC

A timeline of dentistry in the 18th and 19th centuries:

1780 – William Addis manufactured the first modern toothbrush. 1789 – Frenchman Nicolas Dubois de Chemant receives the first patent for porcelain teeth. 1790 – John Greenwood, one of George Washington’s dentists, constructs the first known dental foot engine. He adapts his mother’s foot treadle spinning wheel to rotate a drill. 1790 – Josiah Flagg, a prominent American dentist, constructs the first chair made specifically for dental patients. To a wooden Windsor chair, Flagg attaches an adjustable headrest, plus an arm extension to hold instruments. 19th Century 1801 – Richard C. Skinner writes the Treatise on the Human Teeth, the first dental book published in America. 1820 – Claudius Ash established his dental manufacturing company in London. 1825 – Samuel Stockton begins commercial manufacture of porcelain teeth. His S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company establishes and dominates the dental supply market throughout the 19th century. – Nambibian Dental Association

Annotation of the above cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson:

This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the real practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor children and transplanted in their gums. The dentist present is portrayed as a quack. There are even two quacking ducks on the placard advertising his fake credentials. He is busy pulling teeth from the mouth of a poor young chimney sweep. Covered in soot and exhausted, he slumps in a chair. Meanwhile the dentist’s assistant transplants a tooth into a fashionably dressed young lady’s mouth. Two children can be seen leaving the room clutching their faces and obviously in pain from having their teeth extracted. As people lost most of their teeth by age 21 due to gum disease, teeth transplants were popular for some time in England although they rarely worked. – Wellcome Images

Thomas Rowlandson – A French dentist showing a specimen of his artificial teeth and false palates Coloured engraving 1811 Image @ Rowlandson, Wellcome Library

Dentures did exist:

Perhaps the most famous false-toothed American was the first president, George Washington. Popular history gave Mr. Washington wooden teeth, though this was not the case. In fact, wooden teeth are impossible; the corrosive effects of saliva would have turned them into mushy pulp before long. As a matter of fact, the first president’s false teeth came from a variety of sources, including teeth extracted from human and animal corpses. – A Short History of Dentistry

Carved ivory upper denture, late 18th century. Image @Skinner Auctioneers

As always, the upper classes had the upper hand:

The upper classes could afford a greater range of treatments, including artificial teeth (highly sought after by the sugar- consuming wealthy). Ivory dentures were popular into the 18th century, and were made from natural materials including walrus, elephant or hippopotamus ivory. Human teeth or ‘Waterloo teeth’ -sourced from battlefields or graveyards- were riveted into the base. These ill fitting and uncomfortable ivory dentures were replaced by porcelain dentures, introduced in the 1790’s. These were not successful due to their bright colours, and tendency to crack.Before the 1800’s, the practice of dentistry was still a long way from achieving professional status. This was to change in the 19th century – the most significant period in the history of dentistry to date. By 1800 there were still relatively few ‘dentists’ practicing the profession. By the middle of the 19th century the number of practicing dentists had increased markedly, although there was no legal or professional control to prevent malpractice and incompetence. Pressure for reform of the profession increased. – Thomas Rowlandson, “Transplanting Teeth (c.1790) [Engraving],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #164, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/164 (accessed August 10, 2011). Annotated by Lynda Payne

More on This Topic:

Read Full Post »

This weekend as we celebrate Mother’s Day, my thoughts turn to Cassandra Austen,  wife of Rev. George Austen and mother of Jane Austen. Cassandra was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey.  In 1806, the recently widowed Mrs. Austen visited Adlestrop Rectory in Gloucestershire with her two daughters, where they stayed with her cousins Rev. Thomas Leigh and his sister Elizabeth.  During their visit,  Rev. Thomas Leigh learned that the Hon. Mary Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey had died and that he would inherit the great house, whose origins go back to 1154. The Austen women traveled with Rev. Leigh to Warwickshire. In the following letter, Mrs. Austen writes glowingly about their stay at the mansion:

“STONELEIGH ABBEY,
“August 13, 1806.

“MY DEAR MARY, – The very day after I wrote you my last letter, Mr. Hill wrote his intention of being at Adlestrop with Mrs. Hill on Monday, the 4th, and his wish that Mr. Leigh and family should return with him to Stoneleigh the following day, as there was much business for the executors awaiting them at the Abbey, and he was hurried for time. All this accordingly took place, and here we found ourselves on Tuesday (that is yesterday se’nnight) eating fish, venison, and all manner of good things, in a large and noble parlour, hung round with family portraits. The house is larger than I could have supposed. We cannot find our way about it – I mean the best part; as to the offices, which were the Abbey, Mr. Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up direction posts at the angles. I had expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had pictured to myself long avenues, dark rookeries, and dismal yew trees, but here are no such dismal things. The Avon runs near the house, amidst green meadows, bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.

Stoneleigh Abbey, 1808, Humphrey Repton

“At nine in the morning we say our prayers in a handsome chapel, of which the pulpit, &c. &c., is now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate, coffee, and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and dry toast for me. The house steward, a fine, large, respectable-looking man, orders all these matters. Mr. Leigh and Mr. Hill are busy a great part of the morning. We walk a good deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun, even in the middle of an August day. I do not fail to spend some part of every day in the kitchen garden, where the quantity of small fruit exceeds anything you can form an idea of. This large family, with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes, cannot prevent it from rotting on the trees. The gardens contain four acres and a half. The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is great quantity of rabbits, pigeons, and all sorts of poultry. There is a delightful dairy, where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese and cream ditto. One manservant is called the baker, and does nothing but brew and bake. The number of casks in the strong-beer cellar is beyond imagination; those in the small-beer cellar bear no proportion, though, by the bye, the small beer might be called ale without misnomer. This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head, a bit now and a bit then.

Stoneleigh Abbey, Gatehouse. 1807

“Now I wish to give you some idea of the inside of this vast house – first premising that there are forty-five windows in front, which is quite straight, with a flat roof, fifteen in a row. You go up a considerable flight of steps to the door, for some of the offices are underground, and enter a large hall. On the right hand is the dining-room and within that the breakfast-room, where we generally sit; and reason good, ’tis the only room besides the chapel, which looks towards the view. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing-room and within a smaller one. These rooms are rather gloomy with brown wainscot and dark crimson furniture, so we never use them except to walk through to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing-room is the state-bedchamber – an alarming apartment, with its high, dark crimson velvet bed, just fit for an heroine. The old gallery opens into it. Behind the hall and parlours there is a passage all across the house, three staircases and two small sitting-rooms. There are twenty-six bedchambers in the new part of the house and a great many, some very good ones, in the old.

Bedroom, Stoneleigh Abbey

There is also another gallery, fitted up with modern prints on a buff paper, and a large billiard-room. Every part of the house and offices is kept so clean, that were you to cut your finger I do not think you could find a cobweb to wrap it up in. I need not have written this long letter, for I have a presentiment that if these good people live until next year you will see it all with your own eyes.

Arch, Stoneleigh Manor, Repton, 1807

“Our visit has been a most pleasant one. We all seem in good humour, disposed to be pleased and endeavouring to be agreeable, and I hope we succeed. Poor Lady Saye and Sele, to be sure, is rather tormenting, though sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh, but she fatigues me sadly on the whole. To-morrow we depart. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth, which afforded us much entertainment, and I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle, which we are going to see to-day. The Hills are gone, and my cousin, George Cook, is come. A Mr. Holt Leigh was here yesterday and gave us all franks. He is member for, and lives at, Wigan in Lancashire, and is a great friend of young Mr. Leigh’s, and I believe a distant cousin. He is a single man on the wrong side of forty, chatty and well-bred and has a large estate. There are so many legacies to pay and so many demands that I do not think Mr. Leigh will find that he has more money than he knows what to do with this year, whatever he may do next. The funeral expenses, proving the will, and putting the servants in both houses in mourning must come to a considerable sum; there were eighteen men servants.” – Letter, Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends

More on the topic:

Images: Plants info

Bedroom image: UK Student Life

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Read Full Post »

As Mother’s Day approaches, one’s thoughts turn to Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane’s mother (1739-1827). In reading the dry biographies that are written about her, I asked the question:

What was she really like?

By all accounts, she lived a life that was representative of the gentry and a woman’s married status, that of wife, mistress of the household, and in charge of children and servants. She had a reputation of running an economical household, but she was also witty and lively, and much loved by her quieter, more scholarly husband, George. She gave birth to eight children, all of whom survived, a miracle for those times. Later in life her health deteriorated and the family moved to Bath, known for its restorative waters.

I found one colorful description of Jane’s mother by a student who was taking a Jane Austen course. She described finding and testing some old recipes for the class’ gala ball:“Jane Austen’s mother, for example, wrote out the recipes, but she did it in a very poetic way, so she’d make a poem about how to make pound cake,” said Jess Gunraj, a junior. “I think the main difficulty in making the recipes was just how to write it out so that anyone who picked up a recipe card would be able to figure out how to make this.”
From An Evening With Jane Austen, Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram,

Chawton House Dining Parlor

Here is a description of her mother in Jane’s letter to Cassandra in 1798:

“You have already heard from Daniel, I conclude, in what excellent time we reached and quitted Sittingbourne, and how very well my mother bore her journey thither. I am now able to send you a continuation of the same good account of her. She was very little fatigued on her arrival at this place, has been refreshed by a comfortable dinner, and now seems quite stout. It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious, and really drove as fast as Cax.

Our next stage was not quite so expeditiously performed; the road was heavy and our horses very indifferent. However, we were in such good time, and my mother bore her journey so well, that expedition was of little importance to us; and as it was, we were very little more than two hours and a half coming hither, and it was scarcely past four when we stopped at the inn. My mother took some of her bitters at Ospringe, and some more at Rochester, and she ate some bread several times.”

The bitters confirm Cassandra’s poor health. According to Wikipedia, bitters is a type of British ale with an alcoholic content of up to 45%. In Jane’s day, this restorative, prepared with herbs and citrus and dissolved in alcohol, was used as a patent medicine or digestif. It was ingested in small quantities (or one would hope.)

Later in the letter, Jane makes the observation, “My father is now reading the “Midnight Bell,” which he has got from the library, and mother sitting by the fire.”

The scene is one of domestic bliss, and echoes the many biographies that exist about Jane’s life, which describe a happy childhood with parents who loved their children and each other. Though in poor health even while Jane was alive, Cassandra Leigh Austen outlived her daughter by ten years. You can visit her grave near Chawton Church, where she lies besides her daughter, Cassandra Elizabeth.


For biographies about Jane’s life, click on the following links:

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: