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happy birthday Jane AustenJane Austen was born on a bitterly cold night on December 16, 1775.

Little is known about birthday celebrations on one’s natal day during the Regency era. Jane makes no mention of them, as far as I know, in her letters and novels. Please correct me if I am wrong. Common sense tells us that family members recognized this important day, but how? Perhaps a special meal was made and a handsome present or two were given. In Persuasion, Jane described a Christmas celebration in Uppercross, which gives us a sense of how a boisterous family celebrated an important event:

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.

The rich might have made more of a fuss for a loved one’s birthday – gifting a girl with a diamond brooch or a pearl pendant or the young heir with a sporty phaeton.

In celebration of Jane Austen’s 240th birthday, I’ve made a list of the gifts that people exchanged in Jane’s day, and came up with a variety of items that her family and friends might have given her:

  • Brother Edward, a plump goose and a brace of pheasants from his lands
  • Brother Charles, a gift of exotic spices and tea from the West Indies.
  • Sister Cassandra, an exquisite embroidered shawl made from fine cloth given by brother Frank.
  • Her friend, Madame Lefroy, a year’s subscription to a circulating library.
  • Brother Henry, several music sheets of songs that were the current rage in London.
  • Her mother, a clever poem in her honor, and her father, ink, goose quills, and paper for her literary pursuits.
  • Her good friend Martha, special recipes to prepare Edward’s gifts of food.

 

An other article about Jane’s birthday on this blog:

Baby Jane Austen’s First Two years: Happy 235th Birthday, Jane!

 

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OK, I’ll be the first to admit that this short YouTube video of Persuasion is a bit juvenile, and the language and concept somewhat puerile. But the video IS funny in a weird sort of way. It was the result of an English project based on Jane Austen’s classic. If you want more comics, check out Eric Cochran’s hysterically funny website. As he cautions: “If you haven’t read Persuasion you should! Unless you’re a dude…”

I think Jane would have laughed her cap off.

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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.

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If you know about Librivox and haven’t returned because you were unhappy with the recordings, give the site a second try. You will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of new recordings of several beloved novels. The audio recordings are free, and the site lists thousands of classics that are now in the public domain, including Jane Austen’s novels.

It seems that people with good voices and who know how to read and take on the right inflection for each character have been busy rerecording certain books. I am thinking specifically of Pride and Prejudice, Version 3, read by Karen Savage, and Northanger Abbey, Version 2, and Persuasion, Version 2, both read by Elizabeth Klett. Elizabeth is an American, but her ability to take on a British accent and do it well (to my ears) is uncanny. More versions are in the works for some of the other novels, including a third version of Persuasion by someone whose voice sounds quite lovely. Notably, no plans are afoot to rerecord Mansfield Park, which had so many different readers that I became quite dizzy keeping track of them all.

You can listen to these free audio files on your computer or MP3 players. I am so hooked on listening to Jane Austen’s novels while I am driving that I own two nanno Ipods – one for Jane’s works alone. Today I shall drive to my parents’ place for Mother’s Day. I am looking forward to the experience, as I am halfway through Northanger Abbey, and then plan on switching to Version 2 of Persuasion. Life is good.

Click here to view a listing of all Librivox’s recordings of Jane Austen’s novels.

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In 1795 Cassandra Austen became engaged to Reverend Thomas Fowle, a man eight years her senior. He had been one of her father’s pupils and had known her since she was six years old. The engagement remained a secret, for although Tom’s cousin, Lord Craven, had appointed him his domestic chaplain and presented him with a living at the rectory of Allington in Wiltshire, the couple had almost no money, at least not enough for marriage. Since Tom’s prospects of making a decent income in the near future were slim, the couple decided to wait to marry.
When Lord Craven sailed to the West Indies, he took Tom along with him. It took courage for Tom to make this decision, for a sea voyage was fraught with danger, but he hoped the pay off would result in his marriage to Cassandra. Correspondence between the couple would not be easy, and letters would arrive only sporadically. Tom prudently made out his will before he left, and he and Cassandra spent one last Christmas together before he set sail in the new year.

Nearly two years later, on February 1797, Tom caught yellow fever and died. Upon learning of his death months later, a broken-hearted Cassandra went into full mourning. She faced her loss with a quiet resolution that brought out her younger sister’s admiration. Jane was writing Sense and Sensibility at the time, and one wonders how much of Elinor’s stoic character was inspired by Cassandra’s restrained grieving. Later Lord Craven said he would never have taken Tom along on a dangerous voyage had he known of the younger man’s engagement. The bittersweet irony of that statement must not have been lost on Cassandra.

Jane was to later write about another fiancee’s loss in Persuasion. Like Tom, Captain Benwick waited to marry until he had made his fortune at sea. Ironically, his fiancee Fanny Harville dies without ever knowing about the Captain’s promotion or fortune. The following scene in the novel mirrors the doomed engagement of Cassandra and Tom:

Captain Benwick had some time ago been first lieutenant of the Laconia; and the account which Captain Wentworth had given of him, on his return from Lyme before, his warm praise of him as an excellent young man and an officer, whom he had always valued highly, which must have stamped him well in the esteem of every listener, had been followed by a little history of his private life, which rendered him perfectly interesting in the eyes of all the ladies. He had been engaged to Captain Harville’s sister, and was now mourning her loss. They had been a year or two waiting for fortune and promotion. Fortune came, his prize-money as lieutenant being great; promotion, too, came at last; but Fanny Harville did not live to know it. She had died the preceding summer while he was at sea. Captain Wentworth believed it impossible for man to be more attached to woman than poor Benwick had been to Fanny Harville, or to be more deeply afflicted under the dreadful change

As she wrote her novels, Jane shared her work in progress with Cassandra, her confidante. The following passage occurs near the end of Persuasion:

How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been, – how eloquent, and least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! – She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

When Cassandra had finished reading this passage, she “marked it and added in the margin, ‘Dear dear Jane! This deserves to be written in letters of gold.’ (Grosvenor Myer, p. 54.) More than any action, those written words express the extreme anguish Cassandra must have felt on learning of Tom’s death. They had been so cautious! But had they been ‘over-anxious cautious?’ Is that why the words should have been written in gold? Had Cassandra been able to turn back the clock, would she have married Tom regardless of their lack of money? Would a less prudent Cassandra have encouraged him to tell Lord Craven about their engagement?

In his will, Tom left his fiancee a legacy of 1,000 pounds. The interest from that money would help to support Cassandra for the rest of her life, especially after the death of her father, when the small amount would help to augment the income the Austen brothers contributed to the living expenses of their mother and sisters.

While Cassandra would mourn Tom until she died, Captain Benwick’s heart was not so constant. Although he grieved for Fanny, his heart was soon consoled by Louisa. Jane made her point about the constancy of a woman’s heart through Anne Elliot’s unforgettable statement:

“The one claim I shall make for my own sex is that we love longest, when all hope is gone.”

Image of Cassandra (?), JASA

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Update: First and foremost, I want to relate the exciting news that PBS’s blog, Remotely Connected, has published my thoughts about Persuasion. If you have any questions about the movie or book, please feel free to drop off a comment. I will be more than happy to address your opinions or questions.

Masterpiece Theatre Classics boasts a new interactive site. Click here to view it.

Laurel Ann from Austenprose, my co-blogger on Jane Austen Today, has included on her blog a short biography of all the bloggers and online personalities who have been offically asked by PBS to discuss the Jane Austen movies on Masterpiece Theatre.

In addition to all this fabulous news, find a full description of all the characters in Persuasion on Jane Austen Today.

Last, but certainly not least, Margaret Sullivan of Austenblog shares her opinion about The Complete Jane Austen series. What I love the most about the editrix of this fabulous blog is that she doesn’t mince words.
Tomorrow night PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre will kick off its 8-week The Complete Jane Austen Series. This Sunday, look for Persuasion, to be aired at 9 pm. EST on all PBS stations. And stay tuned to the PBS website for some fabulous features in the future!

Can’t wait to see the movie? Read my spoof of Persuasion here on Jane Austen Today.

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BBC Dorset offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the Cobb at Lyme Regis. You will need a flash player to view this moving panorama.

After securing accommodations, and ordering a dinner at one of the inns, the next thing to be done was unquestionably to walk directly down to the sea. They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme, as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left; and, as there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger`s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. – Jane Austen, Chapter 11, Persuasion.


Panoramic Earth Lyme Regis shows both a 360 degree panoramic view and a google sattelite earth map of the region.
Go to Britain Express for some fabulous photos of Lyme Regis.
See Persuasion, Sunday January 13th on PBS Masterpiece Theatre, 9 p.m. EST and 8 p.m. Central time. Click here to enter the Press Room with its descriptions of The Complete Jane Austen Series and show times. And click here for PBS’s The Complete Guide to Teaching Jane Austen, a 28-page PDF document that is sure to teach and delight the discerning Jane fan.

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