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“after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some curious water-plant, . . .” –Pride and Prejudice, chapter 43; Elizabeth Bennet, the Gardiners, and Mr. Darcy do a bit of “botanizing” during their walk at Pemberley.

On May 30 and 31, 2020, Chawton House hosted a refreshing Virtual Garden Festival. If you missed it, you can still watch most of it online. You can virtually tour the beautiful Chawton House Gardens with Chawton House volunteer Yvette Carpenter or walk the Jane Austen Garden Trail with Clio O’Sullivan. An intriguing section of the gardens highlights a pioneering woman botanist of the eighteenth century. She lived in an era when science was the nearly-exclusive province of men.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herbal Garden

The Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is inside the Walled Garden built by Edward Knight. In Jane Austen’s letter of July 3-6, 1813, she wrote from her home, Chawton Cottage, that her brother Edward Knight was enjoying his property at nearby Chawton House. She said, “He talks of making a new Garden . . . at the top of the Lawn behind his own house—We like to have him proving & strengthening his attachment to the place by making it better.” The garden Edward built (which was finished after Austen’s death) has been restored, and the Herb Garden was added in 2016. 

Each section of the Elizabeth Blackwell Herb Garden is planted with medicinal herbs that were used to treat different parts of the body. For example, the Chest Bed includes herbs used to treat ailments of a person’s chest, such as coughs. The other sections are Head Beds, Digestion Beds, and Skin Beds. Carpenter tells us that many of these medicinal herbs, such as rosemary, were also used in cooking. Others have -wort as part of their names, indicating they were used for healing. For example, doctors today still recommend the use of St. John’s Wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. In the 1700s, Blackwell said it was used against “melancholy and madness.” Other herbs, as the narrator points out, sound magical, like the dragon tree, snakeweed, and mandrake.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Blackwell, Lady Botanist

The plants in this garden are described in a book owned by the Chawton House Library. A Curious Herbal (1737-9), by Elizabeth Blackwell, is said to be the first herbal produced by a woman. It was also far superior to other herbals available at the time. An “herbal” was a book of plants used as medicines. Blackwell drew and colored 500 meticulously-detailed color plates, each of a different plant, with its flower, seeds, and fruit. Along with each plate is the name of the plant in various languages, a description of it, and how it was used medically. The British Library shows 42 pages of A Curious Herbal online, with summarized information about 38 of the plants. (The Biodiversity Heritage Library offers a complete scanned version.)

Amanda Edmiston, an herbalist and professional storyteller, tells Elizabeth Blackwell’s story. According to Edmiston, Elizabeth was born around 1707 in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Elizabeth eloped with a physician named Alexander Blackwell. His medical credentials were called into question, so they fled to London and she set him up in a printing business. (In Scotland, unlike England, women kept their own property after marriage, so she had the money to do this.) Unfortunately, Alexander was also not qualified to be a printer. He got deep into debt, and ended up in debtor’s prison. Elizabeth, penniless, stayed loyal to her husband, and looked for a way to support herself and their young son, and to pay off his debts. 

Elizabeth Blackwell came up with a plan as she and her son enjoyed the Chelsea Physic Garden. Physic meant medical; the plants in this garden were used to treat illnesses. It was filled with exotic plants. Sir Hans Sloane, a respected doctor and renowned naturalist, had collected the plants on his botanical journeys around the world. Many, including cocoa, came from the Americas. Elizabeth became friends with Sir Hans, as well as with the director and the head gardener of the Physic Garden. They supported her idea of creating a whole new herbal, including both native and imported plants. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, who rented the garden from Sir Hans Sloane, also officially approved her project. This support was crucial, since otherwise the scientific work of Blackwell, a woman, would probably not have been accepted and respected. 

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden, near the statue of Sir Hans Sloane, 1750. Wood engraving by T. W. Lascelles after H. G. Glindoni, 1890.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Even after Blackwell’s achievement, women botanists of the 1760s had to disguise themselves as men to study plants. In the 1790s, a clergyman wrote that it was “unseemly” for girls to study botany. But with the approval of medical and botanical experts, Elizabeth had been able to publish her groundbreaking Curious Herbal

A Curious Herbal

Before this time, most plants in herbals were not drawn from life. For example, mandrakes were often drawn with the root in the shape of an actual man and were said to scream as they were uprooted (as Harry Potter experiences in his magical herbology classes!). Elizabeth Blackwell, however, drew all 500 plants directly from real plants, some from the Physic Garden and others from other collections in Europe. Her illustrations were thus completely accurate. They can still be used today to clearly identify plants. 

It was said that her husband Alexander wrote the text of the book while he was in prison. Edmiston speculates that it’s more likely that Elizabeth did the writing herself. She had access to experts and to a library including texts that she often references. The idea that Alexander, a male physician, had written the text was probably a fiction to make the book more acceptable.

Elizabeth Blackwell published a section of the herbal with four plants every week, from 1737 to 1739 (about forty years before Jane Austen’s birth). Serial publication made her knowledge available and affordable for many, as well as giving her a regular income. The book did well and raised enough money for her to pay her husband’s debts and get him out of prison. However, he then took a job in Sweden. He got caught up in a plot there to overthrow the king and was executed, just as his wife was about to travel to join him. So Elizabeth and her son were on their own again; we don’t know much about the rest of her life.

 

 

 

In Edmiston’s further videos, she tells stories about many of the plants in Blackwell’s herbal. In Afternoon Tea with the Curious Herbal, we learn about cucumbers, tomatoes, green tea, chocolate, and coffee. Part 3, A Walk Through a Garden, includes stories about rosemary, St. John’s wort, lavender, yarrow, sage, and lemon balm. Take a look!

Other Lady Botanists

Blackwell was not the only woman botanist who published about plants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In “The Women Who Wrote Plants,” Katie Childs introduces us to other women whose books on botany are in the Chawton House Library. 

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. Cover of the Penguin Classics edition

My favorite title is The Wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Mary Roberts, published in 1822. The “wonders” are described in a series of letters; perhaps imitating the approach of the famous naturalist Gilbert White. (Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne in 1789 was a groundbreaking book on the natural world and ecology. You can visit his house, which is now a fascinating museum, just a short drive from Jane Austen’s house at Chawton.) Roberts also wrote A Popular History of the Mollusca, with 18 color plates showing varieties of seashells and the creatures that live in them. It doesn’t sound like a “popular” subject, but perhaps it was in her day!

While women were not expected to write adult books on botany during Austen’s lifetime, it was fine for them to write botany textbooks for children’s education. These are quite detailed, like adult books. Priscilla Wakefield’s text for children, Introduction to Botany, was published in 1796. She wrote it as a series of letters, with color illustrations. In Katie Childs’ presentation, she tells us that Wakefield was a Quaker social reformer who started a maternity hospital. Elizabeth Fry, the famous Quaker prison reformer, was Wakefield’s niece.

Cover of An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection.

An Introduction to Botany by Priscilla Wakefield, Cambridge Library Collection. 

Botany did become a fashionable pursuit for elegant ladies. Botanical Rambles (1826), by Lucy Sarah Atkins, is subtitled, “Designed as an Early and Familiar Introduction to the Elegant and Pleasing Study of Botany.” The ability to draw plants accurately became an “accomplishment” ladies aspired to. Books were written specifically on how to draw plants, including information about the plants themselves. Watch Ms. Childs’ talk for more about early female botanical writers, and to see illustrations from their books.

Beatrix Potter, Expert on Fungi!

Speaking of discrimination against women in science, especially in botany: Much later, in 1897, a paper on fungi by Beatrix Potter (yes, the author of Peter Rabbit) was presented at the Linnaean Society in London. However, since she was a woman, she was not allowed to present, or even to attend the meeting. Her paper, presented by her uncle, was not taken seriously since it was written by a woman. Today, though, Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of various fungi are used around the world to identify species of mushrooms.

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books. ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215

Les Champignons by Beatrix Potter book cover, French Edition, ABE Books, ISBN 10: 2909808211 / ISBN 13: 9782909808215.

Highlight of the Festival: Gardens in Jane Austen

On Sunday, the Garden Festival offered some presentations specifically for gardeners, so if gardening is one of your passions, you may want to check those out.

For Jane Austen lovers like me, though, the highlight of the festival was “Love in the Shrubbery: Gardens in Jane Austen’s Life and Works.” Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, finished out the festival with this charming presentation. In it, she shows us gardens Austen knew. She also explains and illustrates those terms like shrubbery and wilderness, describing places where Austen’s ladies and gentlemen walk. Did you know that shrubberies had paths made of gravel to keep the ladies’ feet dry, since wet feet were considered potentially fatal? (Think of Marianne Dashwood, sitting in wet shoes and stockings before her near-fatal illness.) If you only have time to watch one video from the Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival, I recommend this delightful 28-minute presentation.

I also joined in an engaging creative writing workshop led by Claire Thurlow, “A Garden Writing Retreat.” Claire encouraged the participants to imagine ourselves in our own special gardens as we write. While that workshop is not available online, you might use Kim Wilson’s talk, or any of the virtual garden tours from the festival, to enjoy time in a virtual garden today. I hope it will refresh your soul.

Note for anyone who might be wondering: There was also a later Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman to graduate in medicine in the United States, in 1849. Both Blackwells were pioneering women in the medical field of their times.

A Word About the Author: Brenda S. Cox blogs on “Faith, Science, Joy, . . . and Jane Austen!” at brendascox.wordpress.com . Under the category “Science” at her site, you will find other articles on science in Jane Austen’s England, including women of science like Caroline Herschel and Mary Anning.

Quote from Austen’s letters is from p. 224 of Deirdre Le Faye’s fourth edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Links embedded in the article:

 

 

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“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” This line from Mrs. Elton in Emma is quite humorous, but the quote itself holds an eternal truth for most of us. There really is no place like one’s own home.

For Jane Austen, “home” was in Hampshire, a lush, green county in the south of England. She seems to have been happiest there, and it’s no wonder. When I visited there in June, it was as lovely as ever. The narrow country roads wind slowly through gentle hills and are lined with tall trees and thick bushes. Large, green fields stretch out for miles beyond. Here and there, there are houses set far back from the road. The storybook villages that pop up every few miles are complete with thatched roofs, wood and brick buildings, and picket fences around the gardens.

The air is still and quiet there. But for the cars that pass by every so often, it’s like stepping back in time.

STEVENTON

Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life was at the Rectory in Steventon, and it surely brought comfort to her in many ways. She grew up there, was educated there, and spent many happy years with her family there.

Image 1 Rectory Site (1)

Rectory site today. Image Rachel Dodge

The lanes become more and more narrow as you near Steventon. Queen Anne’s Lace grows in profusion and the undergrowth presses close to the road. Trees grow up over the roads to form deep green tunnels of dappled light. Though the Rectory was torn down long ago, one can see the place where it once stood. Today, it is a large green field dotted with white sheep.

Image 2 Steventon Walk to Church

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge.

Driving further up the lane to St. Nicholas Church, where her father Reverend George Austen was the rector, one enters a tunnel of trees that stretches around a bend and out of sight. It’s not hard to imagine Jane and Cassandra walking that beautiful lane on a fair Sunday morning to attend services at the church.

Image 3 Exterior Steventon Church

Exterior of St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Image Rachel Dodge

The church itself is still in use today and looks the same as it would have in Jane’s time, making it quite unique. It is a small, simple church, built around 1200 by the Normans. In the heat of summer, its thick stone walls provide a cool, quiet place to sit and look, ponder, or pray. People from the neighborhood are known to stop by to visit and pray.

Image 4 Interior Steventon Church (1)

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge

Highlight: When we were there, one of the locals showed us how to open the door, which is kept unlocked for any who wish to visit and rest. The church is a place of stillness and beauty with its soft, rose colored-light from the mosaics and stained-glass windows.

Image 5 Wheatsheaf

Wheatsheaf Hotel, Basingstoke. Image Rachel Dodge

Up the road three miles is the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Basingstoke (known as the Wheatsheaf Inn during Austen’s life), where Austen walked to post letters and collect the family mail. Though it has since been expanded and updated, and now houses a lovely hotel and pub, the original building is still visible.

CHAWTON

The Austen family left Hampshire in 1801 when her father retired from his position as rector, and by all accounts, Jane Austen did not find that same home-comfort she had known at Steventon until she came back to Hampshire again years later. In 1809, several years after her father’s death, she moved with her mother and Cassandra into “the cottage” at her brother Edward’s estate in Chawton, Hampshire. Though Austen traveled frequently to visit family and friends during her adult years, Chawton Cottage and its surrounding areas once again became her true home.

Image 6 Jane's House Sign

Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s house sign. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House Museum, or Chawton Cottage, is where Jane lived until she moved to Winchester to seek medical attention toward the end of her life. The lanes, the village, the church, and the areas surrounding Chawton became the happy backdrop for the most prolific period of writing in Austen’s life.

Image 7 Jane's House Front

Front of Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House is open for tours daily and is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens. Baskets of books by Austen sit on benches in the shade for any guest who wants to sit and read. In the kitchen, there is a station set up for making lavender sachets and another where visitors can practice writing with a quill. There are also straw bonnets and dresses for guests to borrow if they wish to enjoy a more authentic experience!

Image 8 Roses Entrance

Entrance to Chawton Cottage with rose bower. Image Rachel Dodge

Inside the home, there are many items that are original heirlooms belonging to the family or are similar to what Jane would have known. I sat and played the piano (left image), which they allow visitors to do if they are pianists. In the dining room, one can see the Knight family’s Wedgwood dinner service, the tea things Jane would have used to make tea, and Jane’s writing desk (right image). Upstairs, guests can view the bedrooms and read more about the history of the family.

Image 9 Piano

Piano, Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 10 desk

Jane Austen’s writing desk. Image Rachel Dodge.

Highlight: At Jane Austen’s House, I met and spoke with a descendant of Austen’s, Jeremy Knight. He grew up at Chawton House (or the “Great House”), as did his daughter Caroline. When I visited, he was standing in the bedroom of Chawton Cottage, where Jane and Cassandra once shared a room, happily sharing Jane Austen’s history with visitors. What a treat! For further information about Chawton Cottage, you can read more here: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/

Image 11 Bed

Bed inside the room that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared. Image Rachel Dodge.

St. Nicholas Church, Chawton is larger and more grand than the church at Steventon. Though it does not look as it did in Austen’s day, one can see the evidence of years of history inside and out. Like the church at Steventon, the church at Chawton is still a working parish church today.

Image 12 Chawton Church Exterior

Exterior, St. Nicholas, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 13 Chawton Church Int

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: If you walk around the back of the church, you can see the graves of Jane Austen’s mother and sister there. (Austen’s grave and memorial are found at Winchester Cathedral in Winchester.) Both women lived long, full lives, unlike our dear Jane.

Image 14 Graves at Chawton

Gravestones of Jane Austen’s mother and sister. Image Rachel Dodge

Chawton House and its gardens are open for public tours today. The Elizabethan era house, originally owned by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, is now a library and study center devoted to women writers. There is also a tea shop inside the house.

Image 15 Chawton Great House Ext

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 16 Chawton House Int

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: Caroline Jane Knight, daughter of Jeremy Knight and 5th great-niece to Jane, released a book in June called Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. It tells her personal story of growing up at Chawton House, the family’s Christmas traditions, baking with her Granny, and helping in the tea room. She is the last Austen descendent to have grown up in the house (before it was sold and later became the Chawton House Library).

Caroline has also formed the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping support literacy in communities in need worldwide. https://janeaustenlf.org/

For more on the history of Chawton House, you can read more here: https://chawtonhouse.org/about-us/our-story/

CELEBRATING 200 YEARS

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death later this month, there are many special events all around Hampshire this summer and throughout the year. The people there are proud of their Austen heritage.

As part of the 200th year celebration, Jane Austen’s House Museum has a special exhibit called “41 Objects.” The number 41 marks the number of years that Jane graced this earth, and the objects can be found in and around the museum. Read here for more: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/41-objects

Image 17 41 Objects Plaque

Chawton Cottage plaque. Image Rachel Dodge

 

Image 18 41 Objects Wedgwood

Wedgwood china, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

One highlight for those visiting Hampshire during the “Jane Austen 200: A Life in Hampshire” celebration is the “Sitting with Jane” park benches. These “Book Benches” are scattered throughout the Hampshire area and are part of a public book trail. Each of the 24 benches focuses on a Jane Austen theme as interpreted by a professional artist. Fans can take photos sitting on the benches and post them to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SittingWithJane. Visit http://www.sittingwithjane.com/ or search @SittingWithJane on Twitter to see the benches or learn more.

 

Image 19 Steventon Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 20 Chawton Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

For a full list of the events and exhibits scheduled for this year, you can read more here: http://janeausten200.co.uk/

If you have the chance to travel to England, visiting Jane’s beautiful Hampshire countryside is a must. Hampshire has all of the charm and beauty of modern British culture alongside a long, rich, and vibrant history of the past.

Other posts about Steventon, Chawton Cottage, and Chawton on this blog – Click here to see posts.

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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

More on the topic:

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Inquiring readers, periodically Christine Stewart sends us her impressions in her quest to understand Jane Austen and study her novels and life in Embarking on a Course of Study. Here is her latest submission. Sandy Lerner, whose successful career as co-founder of Cisco Systems provided her with the fortune to renovate Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s  second grand house, and found Chawton House Library, spoke about Jane Austen’s concept of money and wealth in “Money Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?” at the JASNA AGM in NYC earlier this month. While I found her talk to be riveting (the salon was packed) and thought-provoking, some of us disagreed with a number of points she made. (More about that speech in a later post.) Christine also recently heard Sandy speak at Goucher College. Here are her impressions.

Sandy Lerner, savior of Chawton House, now Library, author of the P&P sequel, Second Impressions, visited Goucher last night to give a talk, a reading, and sign copies of her book.

Sandy Lerner at Goucher, image @Christine Stewart

About Sandy Lerner

If you’re not familiar with Lerner:  “Lerner in 1992 bought and restored an estate once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, called Chawton House, in Hampshire, England. She has transformed it into the Center for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, and is currently underwriting the digitization of the works of female authors who lived in England between 1600 and 1830. The 10,000 volumes, not all of them novels, include works by Austen, Mary Shelley, Frances Sheridan and Maria Edgeworth, among many others, as well as a collection of cookbooks by Quakers.” (Piedmont Maverick by Suzanne Gannon). Lerner co-founded Cisco Systems with her (now ex) husband, and later a cosmetic company called Urban Decay, which sold unusual (at the time) nail colors like green and blue. Their slogan was ‘Does Pink Make You Puke?’ She once posed naked on horseback for Forbes Magazine. In short, she is an interesting, eccentric, wicked smart woman who owns a farm in Ayrshire, Virginia. She bought a 125 year lease on Chawton House in 1993.

My friend Clare and I went to the talk at Goucher College in the (still shiny and new!) Athenaeum. This is where Alberta Burke’s famous Jane Austen Collection  is housed. The Batza Room, where the Jane Austen Scholars talk every two years, was packed (50-75 people). So were the chairs. We were all pretty much sitting on top of each other, so that made it rather unpleasant when a man reeking of onions and gin sat down next to poor Clare. She bore it bravely, but we joked about how much we wished women still carried lavender scented handkerchiefs to bury their noses in.

Goucher’s president Sanford (Sandy) Ungar was there, which always signals that the visitor is a big deal, as if we didn’t know! Outside the door, the table was laden with the very prettily bound books (sort of blue and leathery looking) and elaborate bookmarks from Chawton Library, which you received when you bought the book. I couldn’t get a clear shot of the table because of the swarm of people.

Sandy Lerner at Goucher College

When Lerner took the podium, the first thing she said was that she had just decided what she was going to talk about, which might give you an indication of how well prepared she was. Clare and I enjoyed the talk, for what it was, a quick summary of her love of Austen and buying Chawton and what it is today, and a quick recap of writing the book, with some lamenting about not receiving the proper reviews, how agents and editors won’t talk to her, because she self-published. I think she spoke for, maybe 15 minutes?  (My notes on her talk will follow the post.) There was an awkward pause and she offered to read, but didn’t have a book (!). One was borrowed from the audience and she read for 10 minutes, a very quick scene between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Read more for my notes about writing the book on my blog, Embarking on a Course of Studyhttp://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com/2012/10/sandy-lerner-visits-goucher-second-impressions.html

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Gentle Readers, these fantastic images are by Tony Grant from London Calling. The text are quotations from the fabulous Chawton House Library site.  This site is rich with information and history. I am so impressed with the section on chickens, which were rescued and given a chicken-friendly coop for roosting and free ranging. The horses are magnificent as well. Sandy Lerner has done a magnificent job of turning this once ruin of a house into an historic library and museum. As Tony’s images show, this house is a world treasure .

Drive leading to Chawton House. Image @Tony Grant

In April 1551, the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to wish to acquire a large estate.

Front entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The medieval manor house was replaced by John Knight’s grandson, also called John, with the largely Elizabethan house that can be seen today.  – History

Window detail. Image @Tony Grant

Eaves. Image @Tony Grant

Climbing shrub. Image @Tony Grant

Side view with side door. Image @Tony Grant

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s.

Edward is introduced to the Knights. Image @Chawton House Library

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived. Image@Tony Grant

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life.

Image @Tony Grant

Sandy Lerner. Image @The Telegraph

By 1987, when Richard Knight inherited, parts of the house were derelict, the roof leaked, timbers were rotting and the gardens were overgrown with scrub. The decline was halted in 1993 with the sale of a 125 year lease to a new charity, Chawton House Library, founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation.

Kitchen garden entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The grounds and gardens at Chawton House Library continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the eighteenth century together with Edward Austen Knight’s early nineteenth-century additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. – The estate

Kitchen gardens. Image @Tony Grant

The Library Terrace was built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904-05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens.

Going round the back of the house. Image @Tony Grant

View from the gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Gravel paths are not typical of the English Landscape period and were probably introduced by Edward Knight II (1794-1879).

View from one of the gravel paths. Image @Tony Grant

According to Montagu Knight, the brick Upper Terrace was built in 1901. In the early twentieth century this was a broad grass terrace with a central gravel path, recently uncovered.

Image @Chawton House Library

In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime: in 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her brother Frank:

‘[h]e [Edward Austen Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon’s; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house’.

However, her brother’s plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817. – The estate

The grounds. Image @Tony Grant

The farm buildings. Image @Tony Grant

The fields. One can see the horses. Image @Tony Grant

The Wilderness dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements.

St. Nicholas Church. Image @Tony Grant

Church Copse. This area to the rear of St. Nicholas Church was cleared between 1999 and 2000, revealing the Knight family pet cemetery and the rear lychgate into the churchyard. Of particular interest in this area are the several large, important eighteenth-century lime trees and a yew tree, probably from the same period. – The estate

Image @Tony Grant

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Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.

Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.

When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.

The stories are truly original.

The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!

The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.

Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.

Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.

Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.

Jane Austen would have approved.

The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.

Sarah Waters at Chawton House, July 2009. Image @Chawton House

In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.

In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.

The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.

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Inquiring Reader, This post is the second part of solving the mystery of Cassandra Austen’s age in the 1841 census, which reader Craig Piercey brought to my attention. A number of people became involved in the mystery of Cassandra’s age, which was 68 at the time the census was taken, but was listed as 65. To review the situation, click on this link and read the emails sent to explain the anomaly.

The first letter came from Laurel Ann of Austenprose, who had left a comment on the first post.

Vic,  I have come across many discrepancies on census enumerations. The process is part of the problem. Families were asked to fill out their own sheets and then they gave them to the enumerator who transcribed them onto the sheets of record. The original family sheets do not survive. There is always the possibility of illegible handwriting, transcription error, the family did not understand the directions or people lied about their age! It is not considered a primary source document by the government or family historians. Cassandra’s christening record would serve as a legal record of her birth. Since her father filled this out, we can be pretty certain that it is correct. It is also confirmed in family letters. By her death in 1845 it was required to report deaths to the new Registrar and would have included a doctor’s verification. That is the best explanation I can offer. The government was primarily interested in  numbers. They used the data for general ranges like the number of children under 10 or men of military age etc. The fact that exact ages are listed from 1851 onward is a bonus to family historians now, but not so much for the government then. Census records are not an exact science. I am glad you had so much interest in this puzzle. The discrepancy does appear odd to one who has not done family research.  I hope this is helpful. LA

St. Nicholas Church at Chawton, taken by @sneakymagpie

Laurel Ann was not the first person to point out that the Census taker would use a general number that could be divided by five. Before I received her answer, I had written to Ray Moseley, Fundraising Administrator of Chawton House. He replied promptly:

Dear Vic,

Sarah Parry our education officer at Chawton House has replied as below. I do hope that this helps. If we can of any further help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Ray

Cassandra and Cassandra Austen grave

Hi Ray

I think that the following might be an explanation.

This is the web page for the 1841 census on the National Archive website: http://search.ancestry.co.uk/iexec/Default.aspx?htx=List&dbid=8978&ti=5538&r=5538&o_xid=24149&o_lid=24149&offerid=0%3a21318%3a0 It makes the point about how ages were recorded on this census and notes if over 15, the ages “were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years”.

I also had a look at Deirdre le Faye’s A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family (Cambridge University Press 2006). The entry referring to the 1841 census reads:

“June 6, Sunday
National census this year shows CEA [Cassandra Elizabeth Austen] living at Chawton Cottage, with three maids – Mary Butter, Emily Kemp, Jane Tidman – and one manservant, William Sharp. HTA [Henry Thomas Austen] and Eleanor Jackson are also there on census night.”

Cassandra was born on 9 January 1773 and would have been 68 on the night of the census so it would have been correct, by the format of the 1841 census, to show her age as 65.

Henry would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 1841. He was born on 8 June 1771. The 1841 census was taken on 6 June – just two days before his 70th birthday. So the figures are correct as Henry would have been 69 on the night of the census so again, by the format of how to record ages in the 1841, census it would therefore have been quite correct to show his age as 65. Henry’s surname isn’t shown on the census because the mark below the “Austen” of Cassandra’s name and alongside Henry’s Christian name is the equivalent of ditto marks.

Hope this helps.

Best
Sarah

Chawton Cottage

Sarah’s explanation dovetails in with other speculations, but because she works for Chawton House as an education officer, I will take hers as the last word on the subject.

Tony Grant, London Calling, wrote Louise West at the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton about the same time that I wrote Chawton House, and her reply, while supportive, did not include additional information.

Hi Vic,
I just received this today from Louise West at Chawton Cottage. Remember our exciting foray into working out Cassandra’s age? … Here you are. – Tony

Dear Tony

Many thanks for sharing with me this interesting correspondence.  I really admire all the effort that has gone into trying to solve the mystery and wish I could offer anything more illuminating but I’m afraid I’m as much in the dark as you are.  If you uncover anything definite I would be very interested to hear.

Best wishes

Louise West
Collections and Education Manager
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Chawton
Alton

So, gentle reader. This is the end of our research into this topic. I hope others have found this journey into uncovering a mystery as interesting as I have. Thank you for stopping by, and thanks to all who have answered our emails and helped, especially Laurel Ann, whose initial comments and follow-up email unlocked the mystery first.

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Elated readers: You have a chance of winning one of three copies of Dancing With Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House Library, and compiled by Sarah Waters. The book will be available in your local bookstore on October 19th!

For a chance to win, just leave your comment. Please address this topic: What kind of story about Jane Austen or her characters would you be interested in reading?

Contest ends October 20th. Names will be drawn through a random number generator.

So sorry: Only those who live in the U.S. or Canada are eligible to win. THANK YOU for participating. Contest is closed.

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Chawton House Library has in its collection a rare green suit worn by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. The suit – a child’s frock coat with matching breeches – looks very similar to the clothes young Edward is seen wearing in the Wellings Silhouette, which depicts his presentation to his adoptive parents. The suit is made of green silk, while the coat is fully lined with gold taffeta. Edward apparently liked oversized buttons, which can be seen in this frock coat and in the Grand Tour painting he had commissioned during his travels through Europe as a young man.

As you can see from the images of the suit (below), extensive and expensive conservation work is needed to stabilize the suit’s condition to prevent its further deterioration. Work on long term preservation is required before the suit (which was made in 1789 ) can be displayed, and donations are needed for its long term preservation.

Edward Austen Knight on the Grand Tour

The suit’s provenance is impeccable. While experts can’t categorically say that this is the actual jacket worn in the Wellings silhouette, it certainly belonged to Edward. The suit was passed down through generations of the Knight and Bradford family, and finally ended up in a dressing up box belonging to the Bradford family. The Bradfords are relations of the Knight Family and also descendents of Edward Austen Knight. Richard Knight, current owner of Chawton House, was given the suit some years ago by the Bradford Family.

Edward a fortunate child, had two families who considered him their son: the Austens and the Knights. The following history (which is reproduced by permission), chronicles how Edward Austen was adopted by the Knight family, a practice commonly followed by childless couples of the time:

Rev. George Austen presents his son Edward to the Knight family

The freehold of Chawton House has remained in the Knight family ever since the sixteenth century, though on many occasions the ownership passed laterally and sometimes by female descent, requiring several heirs to change their surnames to Knight. Sir Richard Knight, who inherited at the age of two in 1641, had no children and he left the estate to a grandson of his aunt, Richard (Martin) Knight. His brother, and then his sister, Elizabeth, inherited in their turn. During the first part of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth undertook the further development of the house and gardens. She married twice, but again no children were born, and when she died the estate passed to her cousin Thomas Brodnax May Knight, who united it with his own large fashionable property in Kent, Godmersham Park.

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s. The Austen’s had six sons and two daughters, and the Knights adopted the third eldest son, Edward. Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life. Her career as a novelist took off with the publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, and she went on to publish a further three of her novels while at Chawton (two more followed shortly after her death). She lived in Chawton almost until her death in 1817, only moving to Winchester near the end of her life to be nearer medical care.

This meeting and subsequent adoption is a pivotal moment in English literary history because, had not Edward been adopted by Thomas and Catherine Knight, and then inherited Chawton House, his sister, Jane Austen may not have been able to complete her novels and as a consequence, probably the most famous women writers of the age, would never have been discovered.

The Library intends to eventually display the suit in the Oak room at Chawton House, a room well known by Jane Austen and where the original of the ‘Wellings’ silhouette is located. Supporters are asked to donate funds for the project, which will cost £12,000 ($ 17, 318). A stockman and environmentally controlled cabinet need to be custom-made for a secure display. A child’s mannequin, which must be constructed of conservation quality materials, will also be made for the display.

Green silk Breeches, dated to approximately 1789.

Frock coat with lining

Additional plans include making a replica suit to show to school children. Students and visitors will learn about the social history and background of the suit, including its style and construction, and from what materials the suit was made (silk and taffeta), who made it, and where the silk came from.

To make a donation, click on the link to the Virgin Giving website.

About Chawton House:

The house is open to the public for ‘Open’ tours in the afternoon of Tuesdays and Thursday each week, and pre booked tours most days of the week. Conferences  based on studies of the ‘Long’ 18th Century and women writers are scheduled regularly. Last year an important three day international conference was held to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Jane Austen’s arrival in Chawton. The event was attended by Austen scholars from all over the world. In excess of 8,000 visitors visited the house, gardens and library last year.

Chawton House (Image from website)

Chawton House Library works in partnership with Jane Austen’s House Museum to provide high quality visits to both sites for primary, secondary and A level schools and colleges. These include presentations of Jane Austen Life and works, tours of both houses, workshops relating to dress, manners and the use of herbs, dancing in replica clothing and an opportunity to handle real objects from the period of Austen’s life. For this work both Houses were awarded a Heritage Education Trust award.  Restoration of Edward’s suit is integral to the history of Chawton House and also has an important place in the interpretation of the life and legacy of Jane Austen.

Thomas Draddyll in 1789 wears a typical boy's suit of the era. Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Breakdown of Project Costs

  • Conservation of the Suit: £6629.35
  • Display Case: £4788.13
  • Mount or Stockman: £587.50
  • Replica Suit: £646.25
  • Total Project Costs £12,651.23

More on the topic:

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Gentle Reader: This is Christine Stewart’s fifth post for this blog. Christine has embarked on a year-long journey on a Sense and Sensibility inspired project that she chronicles on Embarking on a Course of Study. Herewith are her impressions of Country Dancing, her interview with Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at the Jane Austen House Museum, and her chat with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College

I’m officially six months in to this project and, lately, many things have happened to move me forward, as well as set me back due to my own occasional tendency towards doubt that got the best of me!

The most exciting was a correspondence with Rebecca Smith, writer-in-residence at the Jane Austen House Museum. Ms. Smith is the great, great, great, great, great niece of Jane Austen and is installed there for six months (until May 2010) working on a novel (she has already written two, which can be found on Amazon).

In response to my question, “How has being in Jane Austen’s house affected your writing and your feelings about yourself as a writer?” Ms. Smith writes:

“Well, I think the first thing I have noticed is how 200 years now seems to be such a short time, and I think this has changed the way I feel about everything.
If 200 years isn’t so long, the past and its people are more present, and less seems to be lost. I find this comforting. One of the odd and lovely things about being here is that some of the objects in the Museum are things that were once owned by my great aunts. For instance, a box that was carved by Jane’s brother, Francis, was, until not that long ago, something that my Aunt Diana kept cereal box and cracker toys in for the amusement of visiting children; and some of the smaller portraits I recognize as having once hung on their walls. I only had vague ideas of who these various Austens were when I was growing up – I probably wasn’t paying attention – but here they are now. It is as though I am following them round and we have all ended up where we should be. I do have this feeling – probably quite misplaced – of coming home. And this is ridiculous – why should I pay more attention to this branch of my family tree than any others? I have some really interesting Scottish ancestors too, including a captain who was shipwrecked on an island and was rescued to tell the tale. I had an Indian grandmother who died when my father was tiny – we know close to nothing about her. These stories are what I’m interested in writing about at the moment. It will be fiction, but the novel I’m trying to finish follows the story of five generations of a family from Hampshire to Canada and India and back again. I’m only going as far back as the Edwardians and the novel isn’t to do with Jane Austen.
I’m interested in ideas about home and belonging (and not belonging). But I can see that it is rather convenient of me to feel the pull of Jane Austen’s cottage in Chawton, which happens to be gorgeous and only 27 miles from where I live, rather than the houses in Scotland or India or Canada or the north of England where other ancestors dwelt.”

The title of the novel she is working on is tentatively called The Home Museum, which sounds welcoming and intriguing all at the same time. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to write in the same house in which one’s ancestor wrote so brilliantly. There’s a longer answer to other questions on my website.

I also hosted an English Country Dancing lesson that took place at the end of January in the ballroom of the Baltimore Hostel, a renovated 19th Century home in downtown Baltimore. There are pictures on my website of the room and the dance in progress. We had a wonderful professional, English, caller, Mr. Michael Barrelclough, who taught us five dances. We had eighteen people and by the end of the second dance, I could look down the set and see everyone becoming more comfortable and familiar with the style of English Country Dancing and the steps.

English Country Dancing, Emma with Kate Beckinsale

We still stumbled and Michael led us through some sections several times until we got it, and we laughed and laughed. It was one of the happiest evenings, and I felt so much more confident about my ability to remember steps and understand the calls. I worried less about messing up and just had a marvelous time. There’s something about these dances that is both down-to-earth and elegant and you feel both giddy and graceful at the same time. Everyone wants to have another dance so, we shall!

I’d like to say I’ve made progress on the dating ‘the Jane Austen way,’ but I have not. December – February is my busiest time of year at the arts council and I’m barely keeping my head above water – or should I say snow? The back-to-back snowstorms in the last few weeks set me back quite a bit and rescheduling meetings and Poetry Out Loud competitions completely took over.

There’s also the cost. I’m a state employee and due to our mess of a budget, state employees are required to take 8 furlough days, which is shredding my paycheck. I can’t afford a $30 or more fee for online dating services every month. Maybe in a few months, once the fiscal year ends and we, hopefully, have a balanced budget (or I have a decent tax return!).

In the meantime, I will do what practicing I can at any events I attend, of which there are many when one works in the arts!

Most recently I sat down with Juliette Wells, the Burke-Austen Scholar-in-Residence at Goucher College this year. Dr. Wells teaches at Manhattanville College in New York and was here for a week to give a talk, meet with faculty and students, and do research in Goucher’s Austen collection, donated in 1975 by alum Alberta Hirshheimer Burke (1928) at the time of her death. This nationally-recognized collection consists of Austen first editions, rare period publications related to the life and landscape of rural England, and Alberta Burke’s own notebooks of Austen-related memorabilia and correspondence with Austen collectors and scholars. The Burkes also donated letters to The Morgan Library in New York, where the current Austen exhbit is taking place.

A little trivia: apparently, her husband, Henry Burke, cofounded JASNA with Joan Austen-Leigh and J. David Gray just a few years later in 1979, so the first 25 years of JASNA’s archives are also housed at Goucher.

Dr. Wells was interested in, and supportive of, the project, and I’ll be posting more info about our meeting soon, along with a picture and a podcast of her talk at Goucher. She is writing a book called Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, and is exploring how Austen has been appropriated and absorbed by popular culture through film, television, and books. She completed a fellowship at the Chawton House Library last summer.

You can read one of her articles in Persuasion at this link.

and find a link to an interview on Penguin Classics On Air at my website. She was the editor of the recent electronic version of Pride and Prejudice published by Penguin Classics, that includes all sorts of wonderful extras about fashion, architecture, dancing, and etiquette.

You can also read about the mini-crisis I had about this project, mostly because people began asking me about whether or not I wanted a book deal and if so, what was the purpose of the project, and I realized I didn’t have a thesis and did I want a book deal like Lori Smith was angling for when she had her blog that turned into A Walk With Jane Austen ?!?!?!

Deep breath!

So then I became very overwhelmed and lost sight of the joys and the basics of what I was doing. I realized I did need to figure out the purpose of the project for myself, and let the rest fall where it may.

This led me to an examination of character through the unlikely source of Pamela Aidan’s trilogy Fitzwilliam Darcy, A Gentleman which was the only reading I could manage during the storms. It’s both cozy and anxiety-provoking to be caught in snowstorms, knowing you’re missing all your commitments and how much catch up there will be….Plus I had a dead battery and every day I left the car at the dealership they seemed to find something else wrong with the it!

But back to my crisis. Did I figure out that darned purpose? I did, with Dr. Wells’ indirect help.

Next weekend I’m off to NYC to visit The Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit.” Some friends are going and we’re taking a video camera, so watch out!

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Edward Austen Knight

[Marianne] “’What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?’
‘Grandeur has but little,’ said Elinor, ‘but wealth has much to do with it.’‘Elinor, for shame!’ said Marianne; ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction as far as mere self is concerned.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Elinor, smiling, ‘we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?’

‘About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.’

Elinor laughed. ‘Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.’” – Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility, volume 1, chapter 17

“To be above vulgar economy” … was one of Jane Austen’s express wishes, yet on the surface it would seem that her rich brother Edward contributed very little to Jane’s and her mother’s and sister’s notions of security. How was it that Edward’s fortunes were so very much above that of his family, and why did he not do more for his sisters and mother than provide them with a roof over their heads and a small annual sum?

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Rev. George Austen presents his son, Edward, to Thomas Knight and family

Edward, third son of the family … became the favourite of some wealthy childless relatives of his father, the Thomas Knights. They met him as a 12-year-old when they visited the rectory at Steventon on their wedding journey. When they left, Edward accompanied them for the rest of the trip and subsequently went frequently for holidays at their estate. Eventually, when Edward was 16, they adopted him as their heir. – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

The Austens must have been thrilled beyond belief when Thomas Knight, George’s rich, childless cousin, took an interest in Edward, his third son. The practice of childless couples in adopting an heir from a less fortunate branch of the family was not an uncommon one for wealthy relatives to take at the time. When Edward inherited his estates from his adopted father, he became richer than Mr. Darcy, earning £15,000 per year from his investments against Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 per year. Multiply this number by 50 and you have an approximate amount of how much income Edward enjoyed in today’s terms.

Godmersham Park

Godmersham Park

And yet, with such a rich brother, Jane and her sister and mother worried a great deal about money after the sudden death of Rev. George Austen in Bath in 1805. Three of the brothers rallied behind them. Edward’s initial pledge of £100 a year almost doubled his mother’s income of  £122 from a small South Seas fortune, and both Henry and Frank pledged £50 apiece per year to support their mother and sisters. Cassandra received a small income from Tom Fowle’s £1000, which he had bequeathed to her in his will.  Even so, the three women were forced to move in March to more affordable rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend Martha Lloyd, shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.

The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.”- Soft and Loud, JASA

Panorama of Chawton

Panorama of Chawton

Edward finally came through for his mother and sisters. Four years after his father’s death, he refurbished Chawton Cottage and invited them to move in. It was in this cottage that Jane was at her most prolific, polishing off earlier versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and famously writing Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. In skimming through a variety of biographies, many authors treat Edward’s seeming parsimony with a hint of contempt. The Knights had a history of generosity towards their poorer Austen relatives. Thomas Knight, second cousin to Rev. George Austen, gave him two livings that were valued at £210 the year that Jane was born. At Steventon, the Austens also had land to farm, which was an important factor in their diet and maintaining their self-sufficiency. The Austens also took in boarding pupils, and by the time Rev. Austen retired , he was earning almost  £600 per year, the same amount that his eldest son, James, made towards the end of his life.

Jane, her sister and mother had fallen on hard times. Financially dependend on their families, they are forced to move in March to rented living quarters on Gay Street, and then to Southampton in 1806, where they, along with their friend martha Lloyd shared a house with Frank Austen and his new bride.
“The move to the house in Castle Square, Southampton in 1807 brought much cheer to Jane. The house, she noted, was not in good repair but it had a large garden. Her accounts for 1807 show that from her allowance of £50 she spent £2.13.6 to hire a pianoforte.” JASA Soft and Loud,
Finally, four years after his father’s death, Edward Austen Knight refurbished Chawton Cottage for his mother and sisters, and had them move in. The walled garden, designed by Edward Austen Knight on the advice of his sisters Jane and Cassandra, is being recreated to provide not only flowers but organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs, some of which will be used in contemporary recipes to be prepared in the kitchens. The church where Jane’s mother and sister are buried sits halfway up the drive.(from Chawton site)There had always been generostiy from the Knights towards the Austens. .

Jane’s mother, Cassandra, who was related to the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, placed a great hope that her rich childless brother, James Leigh-Perrot, would leave money to her eldest son James. While James Leigh-Perrot provided James with a clerical living and some supplementary cash, his property eventually went  not to James, but to his son, James Edward, who was Jane Austen’s biographer. James Leigh-Perrot left nothing to his sister Cassandra, even knowing that she lived on a small income. He might have supposed that her uber rich son, Edward, would take care of his mother, which, in a fashion he did. Why did Edward not contribute more to his mother and siblings?

This is mere conjecture on my part, but Edward did the best he could under the circumstances. Yes, he was rich beyond imagining, but his responsibilities were many and heavy. He inherited two large estates, which were the physical embodiment of his inheritance. The laws of primogentirue demanded that as the heir, he should keep everything intact, from the land, which provided the income, to the house and all the family heirlooms within it. The heir was merely a “keeper” of the estate and the family name, and his actions were proscribed. Edward was more a tenant than an owner, and he was duty bound to turn over his entire estate to his male heir. – The Country House, JASA.

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage

Running these estates, with their attendant servants and necessary improvements, took an enormous, some would say crippling, amount of resources. In addition, Edward’s family was large. His first wife, Elizabeth, died after giving birth to their eleventh child. Add his seven brothers and sisters, his biological mother and adopted mother and her family, the Knight family, and the ever widening circle of nieces and nephews, and the even larger circle of aunts, uncles and cousins on both the biological and adopted sides, and you can imagine the pressures Edward must have felt all around.  Had he doled out what we would deem as adequate support to all the needy individuals in his extended family, Edward’s estate would soon have been frittered away.

Chawton House

Chawton House

One cannot fault Edward too much for moving prudently and cautiously, for he was obliged first to his immediate family and the need to provide for adequate dowries for his daughters and support for his younger sons. I do fault him for not helping Jane to repurchase her manuscript, Susan (renamed Northanger Abbey), for the measly sum of £10, so that she could pursue its publication, but for all we know she might have never applied to him for help.

I sometimes wonder if the Austen women were as destitute as people today conjecture. Unlike 90% of their countrymen, who rarely traveled outside of their immediate area, the Austens traveled frequently, visiting friends and relatives. They were able to keep two servants and supplement their diet with vegetables from their kitchen garden, and received an endless supply of milk from Edward’s cows. Jane secured a modest but extra income from her writing, and the three women lived off a yearly income of  £500 pounds, which was only  £100 less than Rev. George Austen earned, who had a family of eight to feed, in addition to his boarders. Jane’s eldest brother,  Rev. Frank Austen, managed to keep a carriage for his second wife on an income of  £600 per year. I am not saying that the three women were rich, by any means, for, like Elinor Dashwood, they lived frugally and prudently, but they did dine frequently with Edward and visited him over extensive periods of time at Godmersham Park, which must have been as luxurious an experience as any visit to a high end resort.

After Thomas Knight died, his widow, instead of waiting until her own death, handed over the family estates to Edward, who from 1798 lived the life of a country gentleman at Godmersham in Kent. When Mrs Knight herself died in 1812, Edward and his family, as stipulated in her will, took the name of ‘Knight’, prompting his eldest daughter Fanny (a favourite niece of Jane Austen’s) to write in her diary that now ‘we are therefore all Knights instead of dear old Austens How I hate it!!!!!’. Fanny’s aunt Jane wrote more calmly to her friend Martha Lloyd that ‘I must learn to make a better K.” – Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

Edward was the Austen's third oldest child

More on the topic:

Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.

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Jane's Window View, copyright Keith Mallet

Jane's Window View, copyright Keith Mallet

Gentle Reader, Keith Mallett wrote to me to say that he visited his homeland of England for the first time in 35 years after moving to Australia. One of his fondest memories of the trip is of a visit to Chawton. When he was a teenager living in England he used to almost drive past the house on the way to and from boarding school each term, but “I have to admit Jane Austen was not high on my teenage reading list.”

We can sympathize, Keith. Not many teenage boys relate to Jane. Not many men do, either, so it is my pleasure to share your insights with my blog’s readers. I also thank you for giving me permission to publish your photograph. How apropos that is was raining that day, for I have often imagined Jane finding excuses to stay inside and write.  Keith wrote in his journal about Jane:

It can be taken for granted that I am a fan of Jane Austen’s writing – I find the acute social commentary woven into the fabric of the romances and intrigues of those Regency days quite fascinating, and wonder how much the novels reflect Jane’s own personality and desires. She would have been a fascinating person to meet. But sadly I was too late by 191 years. I could only tread the bare floorboards of the house, peer into the rooms that contained her life all those years ago and take a few photographs. But she was suddenly present as I looked out from the window of the bedroom she shared with her sister, Cassandra. She must have looked out through the rain-spattered panes many a time, perhaps pondering on the chances of walking on that day, or absently plotting the life of one of her creations. They were dedicated walkers, and I suspect even the dirty weather of my day there would not have deterred that walking. The bedroom window looks out over the back yard to the out-buildings: where the day-to-day domestic tasks would have been done: the baking, the washing, and drawing cool water from the depths of the well.

More About Chawton House (where Jane’s brother Edward lived) and Chawton Cottage (where Jane lived with her mother and sister):

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