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Posts Tagged ‘Mansfield Park’

During the late 18th century, early 19th century, trains on gowns were de rigueur. I chose to show the two gowns below, since the styles were popular when Jane Austen was a teenager (first image) and wrote the first editions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice (second and third images).

1785-90 Sheer embroidered cotton muslin lined with pink silk taffeta - Galliera

Sheer embroidered cotton muslin, lined with pink silk taffeta, 1785-1790. Galliera

Silk Dress 1795 The Kyoto Costume Institute

Silk Dress, Kyoto Costume Institute, 1795

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

As Regency styles evolved and the 19th century  progressed, trains were worn largely on evening dresses.

 

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

I have often wondered how delicate muslin gowns survived the harsh laundering that was required to remove stains made from dusty floors and muddy pathways. Even the grandest ladies wearing the most expensive dresses promenaded on gravel walkways or shopped along city or village streets. How did they manage to keep their hems clean in an era when paved roads and sidewalks were almost impossible to find?

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Until macadam roads became widespread, roads across most of Great Britain remained unpaved. Village roads were especially notorious for becoming muddy quagmires during rainy days. The deep ruts in this village scene, illustrated just five years before Jane Austen’s birth, say it all.

Detail

Detail of  the road in New Cross Deptford

Dresses worn by working class women stopped at or above the ankles, and for good reason! These women wore sturdy leather shoes that could withstand the dirt.

recto

Paul Sandby drawing of two vendors, 18th c.

City streets were barely better than country roads. While sidewalks protected dress hems, roads were still made of dirt. People tossed out garbage from their windows, and horse droppings made crossings all but impassible for pedestrians.

Dirt road_St. George, Bloomsbury

Dirt road, detail of St. George, Bloomsbury

Crossing sweepers were stationed along major intersections, sweeping a clearing for anyone willing to give a tip. Not only did horses pull carriages and wagons, but drovers led animals to market through village and city streets. The stench from their droppings must have been unbelievable.

street sweeper and wheeled plank Vernet_street_print

This enterprising street sweeper places a wheeled plank at strategic points to help pedestrians cross dirty roads. Print by Carle Vernet.

 

With time, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes.

By 1829, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes in “The Scavenger’s Lamentation.” Observe the piles of horse and animal dung left behind.

Jane Austen mentioned wearing pattens when she lived in Steventon. These devices elevated shoes above the dirt, but by the turn of the 19th century, pattens were no longer considered fashionable and were largely worn by the working classes, such as the midwife below.

Rowlandson, Midwife going to a labour.

Rowlandson. AMidwife Going to a Labour.

 

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I always view contemporary images for clues. Diana Sperling created some wonderful watercolours around the topic. In this painting, you can see how the trains of the dresses have somehow been hitched up in the back, especially with the first and third women.

dirt road_hazards of walking sperling

Hazards of walking, by Diana Sperling

After Elizabeth Bennet walks to Netherfield to visit her sick sister, Jane, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Bingley speak disparagingly about the state of her dress:

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.” – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8

Bingley’s citified and nouveau riche sisters were horrified at Elizabeth’s lack of decorum. To them, appearances are more important than sisterly devotion. One imagines that they would not have ventured out until the sun had dried the mud and they could be assured of a carriage. From the image below, one can readily see why Elizabeth’s hems were in such sad shape after her long walk in fields made wet by heavy rain.

Dirt roads

One wonders how helpful pattens were when dirt roads became quagmires. Although she was young when she painted these watercolours, Diana Sperling demonstrates a decided sense of humor in her paintings.

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella and Catherine became quickly inseparable, even calling each other by their first names in an age when only intimate friends and family could be on such terms.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. 

They pinned up the trains of each others’ evening gowns to prevent tripping, but also staining, I suspect.  (It must be noted that guests changed from their street shoes to dancing slippers before entering a ballroom, which probably reduced the amount of dirt trailed inside.) Nothing could stop the girls from seeing each other, not even “dirt” or muddy streets.

There were many ways to protect trains. In this film still, Gwynneth Paltrow’s Emma hitches her train on a loop over her wrist.

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

These French images from the late 18th century provide the best evidence in how ladies would protect their delicate dresses out of doors. While we assume that ladies did not expose their ankles to the public (they certainly did not in the Victorian era, but the Regency was a different time), the illustrations point out the practical habit of hitching a train over one’s arm.

corte de pelo a la victima

This French fashionista with her short, pert hair cut, reveals her roman style slippers as she promenades with her train carried over her arm.

Les Merveilleuses, by carle vernet

While this 1797 satiric image by Carle Vernet is making fun of fashionistas, one can surmise that the habit of carrying long skirts over the fore arm was widespread.

Wind and open windows swept dirt and dust continually into houses and visitors trod in dirt. No wonder maids needed to sweep floors daily!

Regardless of the efforts to keep streets, sidewalks, and floors clean, one wonders about the condition of the hems on women’s garments. Clothes were expensive before the advent of mass-produced cloth and were carefully recycled, even by the well-off.

Laundresses took an enormous amount of effort to keep clothes clean. One can only assume that the majority of women wore clothes with stained hems, and that only the rich could afford the expense of keeping their clothes looking spotless. Eleanor Tilney wore only white gowns, which told contemporary readers more about her economic status than pages of explanations ever could. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris frowned on maidservants wearing white gowns. These white clothes were not only above their stations, but they would require an enormous amount of time spent on maintenance.

Also on this blog: Trains on Dresses

 

 

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Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Inquiring readers, this rather serious topic of British slave ownership plays a role in Jane Austen’s world and her novels. She addressed the issue in an indirect way in Mansfield Park and Emma, with the Bertram fortune resting on slave trade and Mrs. Elton’s merchant father situated in Bristol, one of three major slave-trading centers in Britain. I am sure that her two sailor brothers related vivid tales of their travels in their letters and when they returned home for a visit. Jane, who was well-read and participated in family conversations, was keenly aware of human trafficking and exploitation. Ironically, a few years after her death, Charles actively patrolled the seas against the slave trade. In this post, Tony Grant addresses the legacies of British slave ownership. The British, godbless’em, abolished slavery decades before the U.S. and in a more civilized and peaceful manner. (Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon, is a frequent contributor to Jane Austen’s World. Visit his other blogs at London Calling and The Novels of Virginia Woolf. He traces his ancestry to the slave trade. As for me, I was born a Dutch citizen. The shameful actions of the Dutch in transporting slaves from Africa and their role in the slave trade is well documented.)

Image @University of York

Catherine Hall, Image @University of York

(Researched at UCL (University College London) by Catherine Hall Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History and her project team.)

The above title is an umbrella title which has been given to two projects, one called, “Tracing the impact of slave ownership on modern Britain,” and the other, “Legacies of British Slave Ownership.” These will lead to a further project entitled, “Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave ownership 1763 -1833.”

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

In 1974, I was in my second year of teacher training. I was doing a three year teacher training course at Gypsy Hill teachers training college situated on Kingston Hill, about a mile from the centre of Kingston upon Thames. The college was eventually amalgamated with Kingston University. The new university education department did not retain it’s rather romantic sounding epithet, Gypsy Hill, unfortunately. My teaching practice during that second year was to spend six weeks teaching English at Henry Thornton’s Secondary School situated on the south side of Clapham Common. It was a tough place to go as a young teacher. Although Clapham is not quite classed as inner city the area was home to lot of disadvantaged families some of them ethnic minorities and many of them West Indian in origin. Henry Thornton would have been pleased about the ethnic mix in the school. My first English lesson, reading and discussing, Cider With Rosy,by Laurie Lee, was to be with a class of fifteen-year-olds. As soon as I walked into the classroom a large powerfully built West Indian lad, swaying back in his chair staring at me, trying to stare me out, nonchalantly raised his right fist and smashed it through the pain of glass in the window next to him overlooking the corridor. I think the blood must have drained rather quickly from my face and I asked another pupil to get the head of year who came rushing to my help immediately. Coming from Southampton, on the south coast, this was my first experience of Clapham.

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

However that experience has many connections with Britain’s past history in the slave trade and with what I am going to write about in this essay. Henry Thornton, was born in Clapham on the 10th March 1760. His father had been one of the early founders of the Evangelical movement in Britain. His father and his cousins were bankers. In fact his brother Samuel Thornton became The Governor of the Bank of England. Henry himself was a very successful banker. The bank – Down, Thornton and Free – became the most successful bank in London. Henry Thornton is credited with being the father of the modern central banking system. He was a great theorist and wrote books about banking.

Henry Thornton

Henry Thornton

Henry became the Member of Parliament for Southwark, which is situated just across London Bridge from The City. However, he was unlike other bankers of the time. Britain’s wealth was closely tied up with the slave trade, but Henry Thornton was an abolitionist. Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, who incidentally met and worshiped together at Holy Trinity Church, which nowadays is directly opposite Henry Thornton’s school where I had my momentous teaching experience. He was foremost a campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. His close friend and cousin was William Wilberforce. The two men lived together with their families at Battersea Rise on the opposite side of Clapham Common to the church and where the school that uses his name is situated. Henry was the financier behind the Clapham Sect in their many campaigns.

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

Catherine Hall and her project team are endeavouring to understand the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping the history of Britain and its lasting legacy. They are focussing on various aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes, such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. How was slavery was involved in national and local politics? In Henry Thornton we see many of these aspects even if his actions and beliefs were contrary to the slave trade. He was a member of parliament who campaigned against slavery. He used his wealth to counteract slavery. I wonder if the West Indian lad who broke the window in my lesson realised that his destiny and the generations of his family before him were connected with the man whose name was on the school he was attending?

There is rather a surprising link and revelation about Henry Thornton in the research and data the UCL team has gathered. Kate Donnington, one of the PHD researchers on the team, has written a thesis about George Hibbert, one of the most influential characters and one of the major figures amongst West Indian merchants.

George Hibbett

George Hibbett

George Hibbert was a leading member of the pro slavery lobby and so one of the main adversaries of Henry Thornton over the slavery bill. However, Hibbert was a philanthropist and did many good works for charities. In 1824 he helped set up the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. Nowadays that has become the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which saves the lives of many around our coasts to this day. He was also involved in creating The Royal Institute. The running and creation of the Royal institute for the arts and science also involved, Henry Thornton and his brother John. It seems that individuals could be absolutely opposed to each other over slavery but work together in other aspects of the nation’s life.

This project by UCL is of national and international importance, but it also has a very personal meaning. Another of the researchers in the project team, James Dawkins, is studying the slave owning presence of his own family, the Dawkins, through the data collected. This inspired me to look up my surname, Grant, to see who amongst the Grant clan from North East Scotland around the Spey Valley, was connected with slavery. I didn’t have any hopes for direct ancestors to myself being involved in slavery unless were crew on the slave ships; we were labourers in the fields and workers in the whisky distilleries. We owned no land as such and certainly had no wealth.

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

I discovered there were many Grants involved in the slave trade and plantation ownership though. There were various Alexander Grants, not all the same person I am sure. Alexander, must have been a popular name amongst the Grants. In fact my son, Samuel, has Alexander as his second name. There is an Alice Grant, one of my daughters is called Alice, a Betty, and various Anne Grants. It quickly becomes evident that many women, perhaps through inheritances, were investors in and owners of slaves. The list of Grants goes on.There are one hundred and eighty five Grants listed. I have an uncle, John Grant. There are many John Grants in the list and my father is Robert and yes there are many Roberts in the list. My own family’s Christian names are amongst the most prevalent Christian names associated with Grants in the survey. But my surname Grant is one Scottish surname amongst hundreds. If my families name is mirrored in the survey by all the other Scottish clan names there must be an inordinate number of Scottish families connected with the slave trade.

"The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber's treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty."Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

“The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty.”
Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

I took one Grant to look at more specifically. Alexander Grant , the survey does not show when he was born but he was born at Abelour, Banffshire. He died on the 7th may 1854 He was a slave owner, planter and merchant on the island of Jamaica. He had Abelour House built for him in 1838. The house still exists today. His will left £300,000. His estates in Jamaica and Scotland were inherited by his niece, Margaret Gordon McPherson Grant.

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

An interesting character I discovered on the UCL website was Ann Katherine Storer (née Hill, 1785-1854) She was born in Jamaica, where she married Anthony Gilbert Storer. She inherited her husband’s estates after his death, which not only included his Jamaican estates but also Purley Park in Berkshire, England. Anthony Gilbert Storer died in June 1818 and Ann Katherine returned to Purley Park with her five surviving children. There were problems with large debts and disputes over recompense. A rather strange and disturbing story is related about Ann Katherine Storer. When she returned to England she brought some slaves with her to work at Purley House.

Slave ship

Slave ship

“In 1824, Ann Katherine Storer was accused of the maltreatment of Philip Thompson, a black servant who was bought as a slave in Jamaica and brought to England by the Storers. According to Philip Thompson’s testimony, “flogging was the usual punishment for any misdemeanour and he was often ill treated… One day in July 1824 Mrs Storer was already up when Philip rose at 6 am. Finding that he had not been up in time to clean the lobby she ordered him to be taken to the “whipping place”. After removing his coat, waistcoat and shirt, he then received about a dozen lashes from a hunting whip wielded by the butler so that the blood ran down his back… Mrs Storer was said to have been present and said [to Robert Stewart, the butler], “Well done, Robert, give him more”…

African slaves in Liverpool

African slaves in Liverpool

There is an element of sadism in this. She almost seems to take pleasure in the ill treatment of Philip. Ann was born and brought up on a slave plantation and was obviously used to dealing with slaves. This story made me wonder if this was a usual sort of treatment that was commonplace.

I mentioned above that the project team are focusing on aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. Money from slavery was used to build Abelour House in Scotland as one example and the estate still exist today. George Hibbet was a philanthropist as well as a slave owner and he did many charitable works including setting up the forerunner to the RNLI as well as the London Institution, which was for the diffusion of useful knowledge in the arts and sciences. He acted as both its president and vice president between 1805 and 1830. He was a member of a number of learned societies and clubs including the Freemasons, the Linnean society and the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Hibbet collected books, prints and art. He also inherited a house with its estate called Munden in Hertfordshire. I am taking George Hibbet as an example, but the point is that this sort of philanthropy and range of interests in the arts, literature, science, charities and so on is replicated throughout the four thousand individuals of wealth and property identified by this research.

Slavery and it’s proceeds were and are bound up with the whole of society, good and bad, and we must still be benefiting from it today. Eric Williams, the historian who wrote, “Capitalism and Slavery,” believes that the slave trade and slavery, “provided not only essential demand for manufactures and supply of raw materials but also vital capital for the early phases of industrialisation. This has been partially substantiated through the histories of particular family firms.”

Shackles

Shackles

In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in Britain and it’s Empire. In 1833 slavery was abolished by the British Parliament in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and The Cape. These people in the survey have been identified as the recipients of compensation for the loss of wealth when slavery came to an end. However it is important to note that what replaced it was not much better. The great sugar, tea. cotton and coffee plantations were still there. The slaves got their freedom but were then signed up to what was called an apprentice scheme. This meant that they signed up for work on the estate for a minimum number of years. Life did not materially or actually change for them. In many ways, it is interesting to think about what slavery is and means. Slavery is obviously the worst sort of work contract but we all have to work. We all have no choice once we have signed a contract. The conditions of work are very favourable on the whole for us but there are legal and social requirements we have to fulfill. The jobs we have can in no way be compared to the plight of a slave but there are degrees. Is working for someone else and being contracted to work a type of benign slavery?

The research Catherine Hall and her team are doing is fantastic but it has had its critics. There have been concerns both in the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean that the project team is white. One argument in defence is that white people as well as black people were all part of the slave trade. By putting the emphasis in the study on individual slave owners there is a fear that the case for reparations to be made by the state could be weakened. There is also a concern for banks and legal firms founded in the 17th century or before who have continued to this day and who have inherited the benefits derived from slavery in the past. The UCL group has said they are prepared to share their empirical data with these firms but also the contextualisation of that evidence.

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Professor Hall and her colleagues suggest that there are some key questions and problems that remain to be addressed:

  • “What proportion of Britain’s nineteenth-century wealth was linked to slavery?
  • How significant was this injection of capital into the burgeoning industrial economy of the 1830s?
  • Was investment in other parts of the empire seen as desirable?
  • How did this capital contribute to consumer spending – on houses, gardens, books or paintings?
  • Did philanthropic institutions significantly benefit?
  • We have also been exploring the political activities of the slave owners – to follow them in parliament, to see what positions they took on domestic and imperial matters, how active they were in local politics or what contributions they made to cultural institutions.
  • We have also investigated the ways in which their writings represented the slave trade and slavery.”

The UCL website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

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Ladies shoes, 1810

In a previous post, I discussed how ladies slippers and boots were so delicately made that they could not withstand much wear and tear. In fact, a lady would not venture to walk outside the house in rainy weather and would be confined inside, whether she was in the city or country. Jane Austen described a rainy day in Mansfield Park:

… to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plan of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty-four hours; the sound of a little bustle at the front door, and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule, was delightful. The value of an event on a wet day in the country, was most forcibly brought before her.”

1801, Two ladies in morning dresses, Nicholas Heideloff, Gallery of Fashion

In the country a lady would not soil her delicate kid slippers on grass or muddy lanes, but would walk along gravel paths in the shrubbery, as shown in the Heideloff image above. Elizabeth Bennet, who walked the three miles to Netherfield Park, muddying her petticoats in the process, would have worn sturdier shoes, such as those worn by the women in the watercolor below.

Studies of female figures with children, James Ward

Female fashionable attire in the eighteenth century was very ill fitted for country life, which is so largely spent out of doors. Indeed, it was not fitted for out door wear at all. No fashionable woman was properly shod in the first place, for the coloured shoes, which, as has been stated, all ladies wore, were not adapted for vigorous exercise, or damp weather, with their high heels and very open tops. Those were the kind of shoes worn for walking in London. Country life in shoes of that sort would mean endless expense. The wonder is that town bred women did not insist upon the shoemakers providing something more fitted for the dirty, uneven pathways. But, then, walking was not a daily exercise as it is now. Foot gear has undergone much reformation in the present century, in spite of the persistence of high heels…”

Knife Sharpener, W.H. Pyne. This traveling craftsman would have worn sturdy old boots like William Conway.

“… A notable itinerant trader of the middle of the eighteenth century, known to all Londoners, was William Conway of Bethnal Green, who made a living by selling and exchanging metal spoons. As he walked twenty five miles a day, Sundays excepted, his shoes were the most important articles of his attire, and these he made out of the uppers of old boots. A pair of shoes lasted him six weeks. He was an odd figure, with his long spindle legs encased in tight knee breeches, short coat, high hat, and bag slung over his shoulder.” – A history of English dress from the Saxon period to the present day, Volume 1, By Georgiana Hill , 1893, p 181

"Cash", Rowlandson, 1800. Note the dark leather slippers worn by the maid, and the sturdy buckled shoes by her elderly swain.

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Jane Austen’s novels centered around topics she knew best: hearth, home, neighborhood, and family. The following excerpts offer glimpses of the houses that Jane Austen described in her novels. Accompanying photos illustrate the interior of Chawton, a home in which Jane’s talents as a writer thrived. In Jane Austen’s Idea of a Home , S. M. ABDUL KHALEQUE discusses the difference between Jane’s ideal of a warm and loving home and the architectural characteristics of an impressive ancestral house:

Chawton House Dining Parlor

Chawton House Dining Parlor

In Mansfield Park, Austen makes it clear that physical facilities become useless if moral values are not properly cultivated. Although the houses like Rosings, Sotherton Court, and Northanger Abbey are spacious and magnificent, these are not worthy of consideration as homes. In contrast, the small-sized house of the Harvilles in Persuasion is a home because it exemplifies orderliness as well as other virtues, and the members of the family are always full of life and spirit in their house. Similarly, the Crofts turn their rented house—Kellynch Hall—into a home, a feat that Sir Walter, the owner of the estate, failed to perform; hence, his departure for Bath. What Jane Austen suggests is that physical facilities will be charming only when there is a correspondence between outward beauty and the inner life. Pemberley unites these qualities, and that precisely is the reason why it is a home, whereas some of the great houses are not.

This excerpt from Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 5, demonstrates that the John Dashwoods consider furniture to be symbols of possessions and wealth, not items to be cherished in their home:

Jane's Bedroom at Chawton

Jane's Bedroom

Mr. John Dashwood told his mother again and again how exceedingly sorry he was that she had taken a house at such a distance from Norland as to prevent his being of any service to her in removing her furniture. He really felt conscientiously vexed on the occasion; for the very exertion to which he had limited the performance of his promise to his father was by this arrangement rendered impracticable.– The furniture was all sent around by water. It chiefly consisted of household linen, plate, china, and books, with a handsome pianoforte of Marianne’s. Mrs. John Dashwood saw the packages depart with a sigh: she could not help feeling it hard that as Mrs. Dashwood’s income would be so trifling in comparison with their own, she should have any handsome article of furniture.

Contrast the above description with Lizzy Bennet’s first visit to Pemberley. As she wanders through the stately rooms of Mr. Darcy’s house, Elizabeth is struck as much by the mansion’s magnificence as by its attraction as a home:

The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. “And of this place,” thought she, “I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt.”

Jane's writing desk at Chawton.

Jane's writing desk.

Expectations loomed large for poor Catherine Morland when she received an invitation to visit Northanger Abbey. She hoped to finally get to see, feel, and experience a romantic and mouldering house like those described in her Gothic novels! Imagine her let-down when she accompanied General Tilney on a tour of the Abbey and realized he had modernized its grand yet comfortable rooms:

They set forward; and, with a grandeur of air, a dignified step, which caught the eye, but could not shake the doubts of the well-read Catherine, he led the way across the hall, through the common drawing-room and one useless antechamber, into a room magnificent both in size and furniture–the real drawing-room, used only with company of consequence. It was very noble–very grand–very charming!–was all that Catherine had to say, for her indiscriminating eye scarcely discerned the colour of the satin; and all minuteness of praise, all praise that had much meaning, was supplied by the general: the costliness or elegance of any room’s fitting-up could be nothing to her; she cared for no furniture of a more modern date than the fifteenth century. When the general had satisfied his own curiosity, in a close examination of every well-known ornament, they proceeded into the library, an apartment, in its way, of equal magnificence, exhibiting a collection of books, on which an humble man might have looked with pride.

Contrast Catherine’s disappointment with this cozy Christmas scene in Persuasion with two of the Harville children visiting Uppercross as Louisa recovers from her fall in Lyme Regis.

Republic of Pemberley

Christmas Celebration. Image: Republic of Pemberley

Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

To read more about this topic, click on these additional Links:

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I’ve wracked my brains trying to come up with kind things to say about this 2007 production of Mansfield Park. ‘Nice mansion.’ ‘Pretty garden.’ ‘Glad they shot this film in England.’ ‘Where can I get a red Jezebel parasol like Mary Crawford’s?’ ‘Cute pug.’ ‘Great cleavage.’

On a superficial level this is an enjoyable film, but nothing substantive happens. Every element that makes this powerful Jane Austen novel thought provoking and crackle with tension has been squeezed out of this 90-minute adaptation. The viewer is merely left with – pulp.

I watched this movie several times, hoping to get some sense of why director Iain McDonald and writer Maggie Wadey felt they needed to dumb down the plot. Mrs. Norris is now a merely irritating figure; the Bertram sisters are almost non-existent after Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth; there is no return visit to Portsmouth, in fact there is no Portsmouth at all; the Crawford siblings don’t seem to live any where; and Fanny has morphed into a sweet but stubborn, though slovenly chit who likes to play badminton and ride horses with her first cousin. Oh, and she’s wildly in love with him. One wonders why the tug of war between a young heroine who stands up for her values and moral convictions against those who are in control of her life has been reduced to a few verbal skirmishes and some minor mental anguishes.

I admit this is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, though that is by a small degree. Edmund Bertram comes across as a prig; and Fanny is much too staid and timid for my tastes. She is so morally upright that I would feel quite uncomfortable in her presence and not know precisely what to say. Whereas I suspect I could have a delightful and scintillating conversation with Lizzie Bennet, my favorite Austen heroine, or Mary Crawford, who always excited my interest more than Fanny. Not that Lizzie isn’t moral, but she does seem more approachable to me.

But I digress. Billie Piper is as far from my image of Fanny as any actress could get. Looking too modern, with features that are this side of tough, Billie is woefully miscast. I understand she chose to play Fanny, and I can imagine why. Going against type must be an attractive proposition for an actress. If she pulls off such a challenge, awards are in her future. But Billie didn’t pull this role off, and aside from her sweet, insipid version of Fanny (which is so incongruent with her looks), I found her disheveled hairdo and in-your-face cleavage distracting and not at all reminiscent of a proper Regency Miss.
The other actors and actresses were fine, especially Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Haley Atwell as Mary Crawford, and they did what pitifully little they could with the material they were given.

The film’s biggest mistake was to give Mrs. Norris (Maggie O’Neil) so little airtime and to turn her into a vaguely annoying character. Mrs. Norris is verbally abusive and she plays a significant role in Fanny’s psychological development. The fact that Fanny was able to withstand the hateful words and actions of this dark and oppressive character and to stick to the moral high ground despite all the pressures placed on her is a crucial element of Fanny’s make up. Yet this subtext was almost completely swept under the rug. A knowledgeable Jane fan had to search for it in this production, and someone who has never read Mansfield Park would not even be aware of it after viewing the film.

Towards the end of the film, Edmund’s and Fanny’s fun and light proposal scene is sure to win the hearts of many viewers. (Click on video below.) I must admit the scene is cute, but I felt manipulated. I snorted with derision upon seeing Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) sitting at the breakfast table (would she have bothered to get out of bed so early?), aware enough to observe the subtle looks exchanged between Fanny and Edmund, and actively engaged as a matchmaker.

If I were to give my Regency fan rating to this adaptation of Mansfield Park, I’d give it ¼ fan. After all, the pug, who remains uncredited, was adorable and eminently worth watching. For other reviews on Mansfield Park, click on PBS’s Remotely Connected My review of Northanger Abbey sits here; and click here for my review on Persuasion.

For other (older) reviews of the movie, click on the links below:

Read my other post about Mansfield Park here: Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford’s Downfall in Edmund’s Eyes.

Also click here for a short piece on the two actors who played Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park.

Billie Piper

Blake Ritson

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    These days it is not uncommon to see prominent cleavage shown in films set during the Regency era, most recently in ITV’s Mansfield Park, where the actress Billie Piper in the role of Fannie Price is dressed to show off her two best assets. Aside from her loose and riotous hair, with which I also find exception, this particular Fanny Price fails to exhibit in her daytime attire the modesty of character for which she is famously known. I understand the producers deliberately chose a livelier actress to play this rather stiff and morally upright heroine, but in my opinion they went overboard in “undressing” her.

    In The Mirror of Graces a Lady of Distinction writes: “Indeed, in all cases, a modest reserve is essential to the perfection of feminine attraction.” The author goes on to caution young women to “throw a shadow over her yet-unimpaired charms, than to hold them in the light…” In other words, modesty was the key for daytime attire. Bosoms were to be entirely covered, and if the dresses were designed with a low scoop neckline, they were “filled in with a chemisette (a dickey made of thin material) or fichu (a thin scarf tucked into a low neckline). Unlike today, cleavage was NOT a daytime accessory.” Rakehell

    In the image above, Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) is shown in proper modest attire; her friend Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) is not. One imagines that the director and costume designer hoped to demonstrate the difference between the young ladies’ temperaments through visual cues, but I found this inaccuracy to historical detail distracting.

    Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility clung to a much more accurate picture of the modesty women displayed in those times.


    A woman’s assets could be revealed during the evening, however. Evening gowns allowed even a girl on the marriage mart to bare her bosom and arms, but she was also required to wear long evening gloves that came up high or over the elbow. In fact, James Gillray famously poked fun at the evening fashions of the day, depicting a slut dressed in evening attire without gloves. Shameless!

    Despite Gillray’s satiric viewpoint, a young lady of quality would only dare to go so far and then would step no further, as shown in the rather chaste evening gown from Vintage Textiles below and in the fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces.

    Neoclassic silk evening gown with metallic trim, 1800Evening Gowns, Fronticepiece of The Mirror of Graces

    Read more about Regency Fashion on this Jane Austen Centre site: A Tour of Regency Fashion: Day and Evening Dress

    In addition, click here in order to read all my posts on Regency Fashion.

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